New Normons Series: Why I joined the church I was sure was a fraud

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By: Jake Parsons //

In June of last year, a pair of LDS missionaries knocked on my door in Oklahoma City. I told them I was busy (I wasn’t) so they asked if they could come back another time. I agreed, trying not to be rude, but I had no intention of ever seeing them again. They came back a second time and I gave them the same routine. They came back several more times, and I either wouldn’t open the door or would just tell them I was too busy to meet.

But before I elaborate on all the tricks I used to avoid them, let me give a little backstory.

My early religious perceptions

I grew up “Christian,” by way of having prayed Jesus into my heart at some point as a toddler. In high school, I got a little more serious about my faith after some family turmoil. I started to read and study the Bible constantly, attended Church regularly, and had what I believed at the time was a “personal relationship with Jesus.”

After a few years of doing my best to be a Christian, it simply wasn’t filling any of the holes in my life I had sought to fill in the first place. The scriptures I had studied so diligently seemed hollow and untrue. I quickly noticed the problem — I didn’t believe any of the things I had “faith” in. I had never searched for truth in my religious life, and at the age of 18, I realized I had accepted the truths others claimed, but none of it was true to me.

Around this time, an LDS friend invited me to take the lessons with the missionaries. Having grown up in Southern California, I’d known plenty of LDS kids in my youth. Aside from a slight social awkwardness, the kids were mostly normal. They were almost universally nice, hardly ever swore and although they seemed very happy, they were always missing out on most of the fun. They were a little different, but certainly didn’t fit most of the stereotypes I’ve heard throughout my life.

Danny Ras circa 2002

Jake’s “mostly normal” LDS friend Danny

So as a 19 year old I decided to take my friend’s invitation. What I heard in the lessons was interesting, but nothing that changed my view of God in the slightest. Having already decided that the Bible and the story of Jesus Christ wasn’t true to me, the story of a supposed prophet in 19th century America finding a gold bible went over my head like a gold balloon.

I believed in a God, knew I wasn’t Him, and resigned myself to figure out the rest, whatever it was, whenever it happened.

During the next 10 years, I didn’t spend much time considering my lack of faith. Of the time I did spend, I worked to reassure myself I was being the most logical person in an illogical world. And in a world where most believe in some form of a talking donkey, people swallowed by whales, virgin births, mistranslated papyri, modern prophets, ascensions to heaven to meet God, directional praying, etc., it wasn’t difficult to assume that I knew better than any of them.

Then on that day in June, the LDS missionaries showed up on my doorstep.

Avoiding Mormon Missionaries 101

I’ve told you I tried to avoid the missionaries, and I really did try. But for some reason, I couldn’t flat out tell them no. It was an odd feeling to say the least; I’m generally the first one to send an unwelcomed stranger away. Be it a Jehovah’s Witness (“I worship the Great Hawk; get off my porch”) or a lady selling skin care products in the mall (“Sir, can I ask you a question?” – “I believe you just did…”)

I had this strange desire to hear them out, even though nothing in my temporal life was out of sorts. I was reasonably successful for a guy in his twenties, I wasn’t going through any sort of emotional or financial distress and I wasn’t overly conflicted about my view of the world. But, for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to look them in the eye and send them away.

rocking chair

 

Of course, that didn’t stop me from continuing to spend weeks going to great lengths to avoid them. I’d park elsewhere to make them think I wasn’t home or I’d hide under the window in my living room if I heard a car door shut. In one particular instance I was late in getting out of my chair, leaving the missionaries standing on my doorstep watching my empty chair rock back and forth while my car sat in the driveway. I figured surely, as socially awkward as I perceived Mormons to be, they could take a hint as obvious as the ones I was giving them.

But they didn’t take the hint, and I finally relented. Our first lesson was short and rushed, but there was something reassuring about my decision to let them in and in agreeing to read what they asked. We set a time to meet again, but I decided to go to a bar with some friends instead. Of course, the missionaries wasted no time in following up the next day and we had another lesson. This time, they left me a few scriptures to read, one of which was Alma 32.

Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.”
-Alma 32:16

As I read Alma 32, I began to pace in between verses. It was certainly odd to find myself walking around because of the power of words I knew to be untrue. I went through this question over and over again:

“How can this fraud stir my emotions like this? This is still a fraud, right?”

It was an experience powerful enough that I committed shortly later that I would do what the missionaries asked: read what they asked and pray like they asked. I then committed to the missionaries that I would look them in the eye when I gave them my answer. In my head, there was still a zero-percent chance I would ever become a Mormon. There were too many holes, too many inconsistencies. But I couldn’t deny there was more to it than I had anticipated.

At some point I realized that I was wasting my time by trying to guess how my journey would end. Maybe I would become a Mormon, or maybe I wouldn’t. Whatever decision I tried to convince myself to make would surely be the wrong one. How can I honestly find “truth” if I immediately dismiss everything as untrue?

Preparing for faith

As I continued the lessons, the missionaries would occasionally bring members, which changed my perspective just a bit. I knew the missionaries would be leaving my neighborhood reasonably shortly; they were only here to spread the gospel, not make friends. But the members were different. They live where I live. They were willing to be accountable for everything the church entailed long after the missionaries left. If my neighbors were willing to make a commitment to something I didn’t think was true, I figured I should at least make the commitment to decide what I actually believed.

As the lessons progressed, I followed through on giving things up in my life that might block an understanding of a higher power, excluding one: I wouldn’t give up watching football on Sundays in order to attend church. For weeks, I made excuses or just told them I wasn’t going to come. Finally, one week, I agreed to attend exactly one hour of church.

Jake & Elder Harnish

Jake with Elder Harnish–looking thrilled to be at church

I walked into a church service for the first time in years that Sunday and was amazed at what I saw. Unlike the relative calm, uniformity of the churches I’d been to, this was total chaos. There were kids running up and down the aisles, some of which appeared to go unclaimed by a parent for more than half an hour. The entire hour was filled with screams, cries and utter mayhem. One particular baby sat in front of us and gave the death stare to one of the missionaries for a solid 15 minutes. It was uncomfortable to say the least.

Then there were the adults! I had never seen such a hodgepodge of people. There were people of all ages and of surprisingly diverse ethnic backgrounds. There were some people dressed professionally, while others appeared to grab whatever wrinkled pair of khakis, thrift store dress shirt and dirt stained tie they could find.

I left amazed that THAT was the church they kept bugging me to attend. Yet when I came home, I didn’t regret going. I had a strange feeling that I had done something right. Two weeks later, I gave up insisting on watching my favorite team on Sunday and agreed to attend church until I found an answer about Mormonism.

Finding an answer

As I continued to attend church, read the Book of Mormon, and pray, I became desperate to find an answer. Some answer. Any answer. My experiences searching all of the deep doctrine and claims about Joseph Smith that I was sure would disprove everything, turned up a lot more truths than I had imagined, while raising questions in my own mind about what truth is.
The missionaries, increasingly frustrated by my inability to find an answer, would encourage me to pray for specific things. I obliged, but instead of getting the answers they wanted, I’d get answers to questions I hadn’t asked.

They kept pushing me to just make a decision, to take a leap of faith: Is it true or isn’t it true? I didn’t know. They endlessly tried to explain how I would come to feel a spirit I couldn’t presently feel. Surely, they thought, I must be doing something wrong. Of course, I was every bit as frustrated. It’s not as if making painful sacrifices and meeting with strangers in formal attire is a hobby of mine. I wanted the answer the Book of Mormon promised, or I was soon finished with the whole thing.

My second baptismal date came and went, and I was seemingly no closer to an answer than when I started this process. By this point, I had read the entire Book of Mormon, and countless other LDS and non-LDS sources all trying to find truth. But I still had so many questions left unanswered. I was at a familiar crossroads from my youth; how can I base my life on something I don’t know to be true?

Then, it happened. My friend Danny invited me to write a post about my experience investigating the church for Normons. As I began writing that post, I struggled to explain exactly what led me to keep looking for an answer that I wasn’t sure even existed. Then something happened that changed that post into this post.

I remembered reading Alma 32, which was the kick that started my search. On a whim, I picked up one of the many Books of Mormon I had collected by then and flipped right to it. As I started to read the same chapter I had read countless times over the previous months, I began to feel something that to this day I can’t describe. I dropped the Book of Mormon on the table and paced. I kept asking myself the same question as if my mind was a broken record: “Is this it? Is this it?” After several minutes of asking myself a question I already knew the answer to, I got down on my knees and prayed. I don’t remember what I said in my prayer, but I will never deny the feeling that I had reached out and touched the very face of God. And, in turn, our Heavenly Father touched my heart with a feeling of love and hope that was undeniable and stunningly beautiful.

It was an answer more obvious than anything I had ever experienced. I’d sooner accept 2+2=5 as truth than deny the answer I received on my knees.

image

From left to right: Elder Hoddy, Jake, Elder Evans, Elder Harnish and Danny at Jake’s baptism


All of a sudden, the questions I had, and even still have, about the gospel were turned on their heads. The deep doctrinal issues that had brought me great trouble about the church now brought me great peace. As I searched far and wide for evidence, trying to find the total case for or against the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ, I found the truth to be beautifully simple and before my eyes: our Heavenly Father loves us, and through our Savior Jesus Christ, he has provided a way for us to return to Him.

I don’t know the gospel is true because my mind could finally make sense of it. I know the gospel is true because of the personal and powerful witness that filled my heart.

I know the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to soften the hardest of hearts, turn anger into love, provide peace in turbulent times and bless those who weren’t looking to be blessed. I don’t know those truths because someone told me about them, I know them because they happened to me.

And if all that isn’t true, nothing is.

image

Jake and Danny. BFF4L’s.

66 comments

  • Beautifully written!
    So happy for the JOY you have found.
    We served with Danny in Zambia and will love Danny forever as well.

  • What a great story. Thanks for sharing. You can’t hide from the missionaries. They never give up. They keep coming back. I am so glad they did! Welcome to the church you never thought you’d join. :-)

  • Jake, the same thing, well almost,happened to me. That feeling of love and having my thoughts completely turned around was one of the if not the most powerful experience I have ever gone through. I went from not believing there was a heavenly father to knowing him and knowing that he knows me in a heartbeat. He provided that for me and I’m so happy he provided that for you.
    Welcome .

  • Jake this is awesome. Great writing, and I commend you for not giving up on your curiosities and be willing to face yourself! Welcome to a place I too call home.

    And Danny, you took what we suggest over at Everyday Missionaries one step further. Rather than just asking people to review a blog post of yours, you asked someone to write one! Brilliant.

  • As a convert myself, I really loved reading this. Thank you for the new series you guys are doing! It’s been 11 years since I was baptized, and even though the questions keep coming, there are things that I always go back to from my conversion experience. Those are what I hold on to when those questions arise. :) Thanks again!

  • I think this one will be going viral very fast. Somebody passed it on to me, I shared it and already there are two or three sharing it from mine.

    This rings so true to those of us who know and love the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  • I love this so much.

    I was baptized at 19 after I started going to church w/ my boyfriend so his parents wouldn’t hate me. I had NO idea that I’d ever get baptized, but 18 years and 2 kids later…

    thanks for sharing your story.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience. I have a son serving a mission right now, and even when the a street contact gave them a wrong phone # and address, for them to return too, and they discovered it didn’t exist, they still were able to find his home. The Lord is aware of each of us, no matter how we sometimes try to avoid.

  • Okay, first of all, this was really funny. My husband and I laughed a lot about Avoiding the Missionaries 101. But then as we kept reading, I cried. I remembered that feeling–the one where you *know* Heavenly Father knows you. In simple ways. In grand ways. In EVERY way. And knowing that changes me life all the time. Whenever I’m caught up in the world, face doubts, or get down because of life’s challenges, all it takes is that whisper from Him to know what I know. He loves us. Always has. Always will.

    Thanks for sending another whisper my way. God bless!

  • Jake, you’ll soon realize first impressions are right, and it IS a fraud. I predict your total inactivity to come within two years and complete “apostasy” within five. Within 10 years, you’ll make it official and resign your membership.

  • “or not” to be added to what BD just posted. It all turns black and white with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You are in and loving it, or not. You fight and hate it, or not. Way to make you choice and stick with it. God Bless.

  • January 8, 2014 at 10:49 am //

    “It was an answer more obvious than anything I had ever experienced. I’d sooner accept 2+2=5 as truth than deny the answer I received on my knees.”

    Although I don’t doubt the sincerity of your feelings, no feeling could every compel me to disregard reason, which is what you seem to imply in the above quote. I think you would be better served had you gotten a few different perspectives as you studied the scriptures.

  • January 8, 2014 at 1:46 pm //

    I second what David Wendell said.

    I have heard several people from different faith persuasions make claims like yours. “I know Christianity (or Islam or Judaism or Mormonism) is true because of a feeling I got.” In the end all this tells us that feelings do not reveal truth.

    You state: “How can this fraud stir my emotions like this? This is still a fraud, right?”

    Certain parts of the Hobbit and other works by Tolkien cause powerful emotional responses in me, but does this mean I should believe that Hobbits and Elves are real? Perhaps Alma stirred in you powerful emotions because they speak of universal ideas that can be found in several other sacred religious texts as well.

    Emotions are fickle, and I cannot understand why anyone would give them so much weight; especially when several other factors with more evidence run counter to the claims of Mormonism.

    • Hey James!

      I don’t respond to every comment we get, but I wanted to try to address yours.

      We believe that this stirring of “emotions” is a manifestation of God’s love, as given by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. We believe every person on earth is able to experience these feelings, no matter their religion. We also don’t believe these experiences are limited to time spent inside a church. So for example, being nature, feeling love from a family member, or feeling profound truth described in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, are all ways you could feel the spirit of God’s love, positivity, and truth. As Mormons we don’t claim to have a monopoly on truth, or on these wonderful feelings. We believe truth can be found in many places, but that the fulness of the truth comes through the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

      The tough thing about religion though, is that it must be felt before it can be understood. That’s why no matter how many times you, as a logical person, read Jake’s post, and as many times as Jake, as a logical person, tried to reason his way through religion, it won’t be possible to really find an answer. The moment Jake describes when getting his answer, while similar to the other stirrings of emotion we’ve talked about, is different. Receiving a witness of the truth of the Gospel is unique in its clarity and power. I can only tell you what I know from my experience, and that is that the witness of the truth of the Gospel is overwhelmingly happy and truly undeniable. It is powerful in a way that is impossible to put into words.

      The feelings Jake is describing are more than emotion–they are a witness of truth given by a powerful source. I know it sounds crazy (honestly sometimes it sounds crazy to me too) but the truth is that you never know til you try. Just sayin ;)

      • January 8, 2014 at 4:09 pm //

        Thank you for the response. As a disclaimer I should note that I was born and raised LDS, and after doing graduate study in history and philosophy left the faith. Also, I am not mocking the original author, but providing an honest critique of what I see as a flawed spiritual methodology. I also acknowledge that experience is powerful and somewhat important, but reason is equally, if not more, important.

        “”We believe that this stirring of “emotions” is a manifestation of God’s love, as given by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. We believe every person on earth is able to experience these feelings, no matter their religion. We also don’t believe these experiences are limited to time spent inside a church. So for example, being nature, feeling love from a family member, or feeling profound truth described in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, are all ways you could feel the spirit of God’s love, positivity, and truth. As Mormons we don’t claim to have a monopoly on truth, or on these wonderful feelings. We believe truth can be found in many places, but that the fulness of the truth comes through the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.”"

        That’s all well and good, but my question is how one can base such an authoritative claim on emotions. Take my own case, for instance. I was LDS for 25 years and had several “spiritual experiences” or witnesses several times, but the powerful experiences and awe I have encountered during Roman Catholic Mass or Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy is even more powerful. Does this, de facto, mean that these faith traditions are more true because they had more of an emotional impact on me?

        In the case of the author, why should one conclude that the LDS faith is true rather than just concluding that there are good statements in the Book of Mormon?

        “”The tough thing about religion though, is that it must be felt before it can be understood. That’s why no matter how many times you, as a logical person, read Jake’s post, and as many times as Jake, as a logical person, tried to reason his way through religion, it won’t be possible to really find an answer. The moment Jake describes when getting his answer, while similar to the other stirrings of emotion we’ve talked about, is different. Receiving a witness of the truth of the Gospel is unique in its clarity and power. I can only tell you what I know from my experience, and that is that the witness of the truth of the Gospel is overwhelmingly happy and truly undeniable. It is powerful in a way that is impossible to put into words.”"

        And if I was, say, a Muslim or a Jew who could point to not just experiential reasons for belief, but could also provide a strong logical case for my beliefs would that make my beliefs superior to yours? If not, why not?

        “”The feelings Jake is describing are more than emotion–they are a witness of truth given by a powerful source.”"

        As I said before, I have heard this claim from people from multiple faith traditions, and since it is logically impossible that both Islam and the LDS faith can both be the fulness of truth something is fishy.

        • January 8, 2014 at 5:31 pm //

          I felt a strong emotional response reading this comment. Not kidding. It resonated with me. And since it opposes what the church teaches, I have to rely on reason and evidence to tell which way my feelings are directing me. Reason and evidence are not really good friends with the church.

  • January 8, 2014 at 2:33 pm //

    So what does it mean when I have that same feeling about something completely contradictory to the church? Am I deceived of Satan? (D&C 50:2) And how am I supposed to know which magical feeling is the right one?

    • This comes from the Book of Mormon:

      Moroni 7:15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to ajudge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
      16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
      17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

      Ether 4:12
      Book of Mormon
      And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good. – This is referring to Christ.

      I was born and raised in the LDS church. My whole life I had heard of these crazy stories of how people received revelation that the Church of Jesus Christ was true. I prayed and prayed and never got the same, crazy, undeniable answer that others had received. I didn’t understand why. I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing – praying, fasting, reading the scriptures etc. and no crazy feeling came or at least the one I thought I would get.

      While reading the scriptures, I read several that basically said that anything that persuaded me to do good was of God. I figured although I wasn’t getting this undeniable feeling, I did know the things the Book of Mormon asked me to do were good and therefore of God. So, I was going to continue to do them because they made me feel good.

      I ask Will, do the scriptures above help answer your question? Do you think Satan would persuade you to do something good?

      As I continued searching for an answer to whether the church was true and doing those good things the Book of Mormon talked about, I never ever experienced the huge moment when I just knew it was true. I did, however, come to recognize an interesting feeling I often had only when I prayed, read scriptures, went to church, served others, etc. and did those good things I was asked to do. I now know that I completely over-passed my answer. That this small feeling was my answer that the church is true. I know this feeling is God’s love for me. A witness that the things I was doing were good and were right. Never do I get this answer when I have bad thoughts or do questionable things.

      It is difficult to listen to what other people have experienced and how they figured it out, and honestly, the only way you can figure it out is to do it yourself. So, just do it. What’s it going to hurt?

        • January 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm //

          So when I have a great feeling in another church when they say I’m saved and that implies that I don’t need to go to the temple, is that a confirmation of truth? If I read the Qur’an and it tells me Mohammed was a prophet and Islam is the right way, and it makes me feel good, is that the right path for me? This is the experience of literally BILLIONS of people in this world. I hope you’re not saying god is misleading them into good. Because Satan surely wouldn’t lead them into something that does so much good for them, according to the scriptures you shared.

          • I totally agree with you. There are universal truths which can be found in any religion and as the scripture says, anything good is of God so of course you would feel good if you were learning about a universal truth. I can go on and on and never get my point across to you. All I can recommend is to try it out yourself and see what you discover – get on your knees and pray, read the Book of Mormon, and take the time to pay attention to how you feel when you pray and when you do good things? Will you take the challenge?

          • January 8, 2014 at 10:35 pm //

            I’m an RM. I know a thing or two about praying about the BoM. I also know that the church’s epistemology is unreliable for determining absolute truths. I get the feeling that you think if I or someone else “just tries it” we’ll have this magical experience and know that the BoM is true. But keep in mind that for every one person that feels the BoM is true through prayer, there are no fewer than 10 that never get a confirmation. I have witnessed it first hand. It’s not because they didn’t try or weren’t sincere.

            Since I’ve taken your challenge, will you take the challenge of applying the scientific method to the truth claims of Mormonism? That means trying to disprove any truth claim the church makes. Make sure to look through original sources while studying issues like the multiple first vision accounts, Joseph Smith’s practice of polyandry, the Book of Abraham problems, etc. MormonThink.com will help you on your journey. Good luck to you.

          • Thank you, and to you too! I did not know that you had already tried it out. It only seemed that you were talking a lot about what others were doing, that’s all. I was not sure what you had experienced for yourself and I am glad you have tried it out. The partial reason I share what I have found with other people is that it brings me happiness. I hate arguing about religion because there is no love in it. If you feel love from God and happiness in your life then I think you have accomplished what most are still looking for. I know God loves all of us and would never stop connecting with us in whatever way that is.

          • January 9, 2014 at 11:30 am //

            The main reason I share what I have come to know is because it has brought me greater happiness than I ever had within the LDS church. Having a free mind and not worrying about doing what someone else thinks is right is an amazingly liberating experience.

            Where you’ll surely contradict yourself, Emily, is when I ask you if Mormon baptism and temple ordinances are necessary for salvation. You say that it’s great if someone finds happiness in another religion, but at some point you and all believing Mormons believe that everyone must become a Mormon if they want to eternally live in God’s presence. That implies all other religions are wrong, at least in part, and the LDS church is more correct than the rest. This is an assertion that I wholeheartedly disagree with now.

            Scientologists believe in a version of their history that is demonstrably untrue. I’ve yet to find a Mormon who disagrees with that after seeing the evidence. But when that same line of thinking is turned around on Mormons – that is, examining Mormon history and truth claims with an objective eye – they shut down and throw out answers like “we don’t know all the answers” and “my feelings confirm that 2+2=5 even though I’m holding 4 apples in my hands and can see that 2+2=4.”

            Indoctrination is one of the most powerful forces on the face of the planet, and the Mormon church has mastered it. A big reason for this is the feelings and experiences one has in this mindset bring happiness, even if they are reflective of something that is not true (read about the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult for a prime example). Psychology predicts and explains it all but only those who are willing to face the facts and understand how the world works will ever find out the actual truth of Mormonism.

          • Will, I have really enjoyed and appreciated our conversation. I am so glad that you are happy! Do your beliefs involve a God? Do you believe in God? And if so, how do you know? You talk about believing in what is in front of you. I am not meaning this in any rude way and I am honestly just trying to figure out exactly what you are saying, but if you do believe in God, how have you witnessed Him?

          • January 9, 2014 at 2:48 pm //

            I appreciate the conversation as well, and am also glad you find happiness in your flavor of belief.

            My personal belief does involve a god, but not in the sense that Mormons believe anymore. I also don’t believe that a person needs to believe in god to find true and completely fulfilling happiness in this life. My answer as to how I know is I don’t. I haven’t come across any reliable way that a person can “know” that god is real. This is where faith and hope bridge the gap for me, but I don’t spend countless hours or 10% of my money pursuing that belief. If God is there and he is just, then he sees my struggle and desire to do good and will reward me for it. If he’s not there, then I haven’t wasted so much of my life in endeavors that ultimately do no better than alternative paths can.

            My question to you and every other believer still goes unanswered though: do I and everyone else need a Mormon baptism and temple ordinances to reach ultimate happiness and life with God in the eternities? Does anyone get into his presence without those things? Because if the answer is that I do need those things, then Mormons need to step up their game and get the word out like they used to do. But if that’s not the case, they need to quit knocking on doors and teaching a narrative that isn’t fully true and making promises to people that ultimately don’t matter. You can’t have it both ways as a believer in Mormonism. Either the church’s dogma is correct and needs to be strictly followed, or it is not fully correct and any other faith tradition will do.

          • Hey Will,

            I definitely could try and attempt to answer your question. I don’t know if you would like to keep writing on this post or some other way. I do feel though that I could give you a thousand different answers and you would never appreciate any of them or be open to any of them. I guess what I am asking is, are you curious in my answer or are you trying to prove me wrong and shake my faith? I am clearly just interested in what you believe and why that is. You say that you don’t want to take the time that LDS members do to practice their religion or figure out whether the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, but you have enough time to continue writing and criticizing us for our faith. So, why do you keep writing? Again, I am not trying to have animosity between us, just pure curiosity.

          • January 9, 2014 at 5:06 pm //

            Then please, if you would, answer my question. I want to know if Mormons really still believe what they have believed since the days of Joseph Smith or if that has changed. Because when I was active LDS, *I* certainly believed that everyone needed Mormon ordinances to go to heaven. Yet I find so many Mormons on the internet who are afraid to admit it. If that’s what you believe, then just say it already.

            I also feel like we could go on for hours and hours discussing this, and you would not be open to my perspective. If you think I’m wrong, then go ahead and read through cesletter.com. Then watch the Psychology of Belief videos by AntiCitizenX on YouTube. The thing is, Emily, I have lived your beliefs. I loved them. I was willing to give everything for them. Until I found out that I had not been told the entire truth, and had in fact been deceived on many fronts. It was a very distressing and difficult thing for me, but I’m glad it happened to me. I want to be a genuine person who lives in reality and finds happiness that way rather than pretending that certain things are true.

            If you have an answer for me, I would actually be ecstatic to hear it. I would love to hear a believing perspective that embraces reality. I don’t care if your faith is shaken or remains. If it makes you happy, that’s fine by me. I just get a little peeved when people parade their belief all over the internet and in real life when they don’t even know the history behind it all, and especially when they are too timid to say what they actually believe.

          • Will, I will answer your question the best I can, it will take some time and I will get it to you. I still ask you though, and maybe I need to read your entries again to see if you answered it but I don’t think you did. You say you believe in God, I ask you what makes you believe in Him? You talk about logic and reasoning, so how do you know He is there?

            Again, I thank you for our conversation. It probably was not intended on your side, but it has strengthened my testimony.

          • Will, I will answer your question the best I can. It will take some time but I will get you your answer. I don’t think you answered my question, how do you know God exists? You may have said through faith and hope. How did you achieve that exactly? Prayer, did you feel it, did you read about it, did someone teach you? You keep talking about logic and reasoning, so logically, how do you know God is there?

  • I *know* exactly how Jake feels. We watch the movie Elf as a family every Christmas Eve and I receive a VERY clear spiritual witness each time Santa’s sleigh finally takes full flight over the crowd at the end of the movie. Intellectually I know Santa to be a myth, but I cannot deny the testimony of the spirit.

  • Yes, as expected, here come the mockers and scoffers. It’s remarkable how Lehi’s dream holds true to life.

    Don’t listen to them, Jake. You know what you have experienced and you know it transcends mere emotion. Enjoy the fruit of the tree and continue to press to the path. You’ll never regret staying true to the principles of the gospel.

    And there’s certainly no need to disregard reason. Those who think you have are engaging in black and white thinking of their own. Believers find as many logical reasons to see God’s hand in this work as doubters find to doubt.

  • January 8, 2014 at 4:24 pm //

    Another way of conveying my critique is as follows:

    Ahmed claims that his Muslim faith is the most true faith and he knows this through personal revelation, mystical experience, or whatever you want to call it.

    Joseph claims that his LDS faith is the most true faith and he knows this through personal revelation, mystical experience, or whatever you want to call it.

    If we agree that, by definition, there can only be one “most true” thing in any category, it necessarily follows that either Ahmed or Joseph, or possibly both, is mistaken.

    How are we to determine if Ahmed or Joseph is more correct in their assertion? Appeal to history? Science? Philosophy? These all seem like better bases for faith since they aren’t completely subjective, and each of these categories allows for discourse.

    Anyone is free to continue to believe as they do for completely subjective reasons, but such a basis of faith is problematic not only because it is unpersuasive to others, but because it has no rational force.

  • I see that you did not engage in mocking, James, and I was not referring specifically to you. But when a story like this is told there are always those who can’t resist jumping in to cast doubt upon it.

    To me, it comes down to one’s choice of how to pursue religious truth. You seem to be geared towards the scientific method and that’s understandable for one with graduate training.

    I, too, have an advanced degree, am well familiar with the scientific method, and use it in my work. But for my relationship with God I am content with what I have found on my knees.

    It does not bother me that prayer may have provided different answers and different directions to different people. What I am most sure of is the reality of God. The answers He gives are between Him and His supplicants.

    There will be no ultimate intellectual answers to such questions in this life. We must each make our choice and see where it takes us. Jake seems to be happy with his and I am happy for him!

    • January 9, 2014 at 11:45 am //

      Robb – a few follow ups. I am trying to be respectful here so I apologize if I come across differently.

      1. When should you and when should you not apply the scientific method with respect to Mormonism? Can I apply it to the historical narrative as found in The Pearl of Great Price under Joseph Smith History? Can I apply it to claims that church presidents have made? Can I apply it to the necessity of temple ordinances? Where does it stop?

      2. If God can give contradictory answers that lead to the ultimate happiness of individuals who commune with him, why do we need Mormonism at all? Can a devout Muslim live in the presence of God in the next life without ever accepting the teachings of Christ and Mormonism, especially Mormon baptism, confirmation, and temple ordinances?

      • Your questions are clearly an attempt to engage in debate, Will, and I’m not going to bite. You and I are already happy with what we have chosen to believe. Let’s just leave it at that.

        • January 9, 2014 at 5:28 pm //

          It’s too bad you don’t want to have this discussion because you sound a lot like me, but on the other side of the fence. I feel like we could learn from each other. But if I’m being honest with myself, if I tried to talk to me 7-8 years ago, I probably would react the same way you did. Why would I try and challenge something that makes me happy? Why would I explore something that could lead me away from what I know to be true? Nowadays I ask myself, “Why NOT ask those questions?” If my beliefs are true, I have nothing to fear. They will win out in the end. If they’re not true, why am I wasting my time with them? And is there something better I could be doing instead?

  • Read it again, David. He HAD reasoned it out. Over and over again. He knew it was true, but wouldn’t let himself believe it. You tell me – what better way is there to find out if God is real and if Jesus Christ is his son, and if a particular church is right, than in sincere prayer, asking the originator of all truth – our Heavenly Father – if the things you have learned are true. Jake found out. I found out. So have millions of others.

    Here’s the catch though. Feel free to gather “different perspectives” all you want, just don’t attempt to tell others that perspectives offered by fallible man stand in any way comparable to the knowledge one CAN receive – directly from God – IF you humble yourself, desire to believe, really WANT to know and do God’s will, He WILL answer you. When you’re ready. See? It’s not whether or not God is real, it’s whether or not WE will know, let the blinders be taken from our eyes so that we can truly see. It takes our effort, we have to do our part. True humility is hard to achieve, but it is possible.

    • January 8, 2014 at 7:05 pm //

      You mention not relying on fallible men, but didn’t one of your highest leaders just say in October that the church and its leaders have made mistakes? Didn’t the church just barely publish an essay disavowing some of the specific teachings of LDS church presidents from only decades ago? What makes you think that their connection to god is any different than anyone else’s? Or in other words, why do we even need them when they make the same mistakes we do and communicate with god the same way we do?

      • January 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm //

        Isn’t it interesting that recent LDS “revelations” are either reversals of past “revelations,” common sense statements, or strategic moves?

        • January 8, 2014 at 7:15 pm //

          And new programs are pilot-tested experiments that get attributed to revelation by the general membership.

      • You know what is so amazing sir is that you have obviously left the gospel. Why then are you perusing this site and feel it so necessary to tear down someone else’s beautiful and faith building moment. He obviously put a lot of work and thought into joining a church that was so different than the life he had been living. He basically stated that he had left all religion and that he would figure it out. (Maybe you are at this point in your life) It is HIS moment of clarity that HE felt. You sir were not a part of that moment. Let him have his solid foundation of knowing and feeling Gods love without you tearing him down. You don’t have to try and save all of us from being foolish. (in your eyes) Everyone is entitled to their own knowledge without this crap.

        • January 9, 2014 at 9:09 pm //

          I believe that truth and understanding are important, even if it makes us uncomfortable. There seem to be two kinds of people in the world; those who seek the truth for its own sake, even if they don’t like it, and those who only see truth as important if it makes them feel good. I come to sites like these and engage in debate because I want people to think about their motives and ask themselves whether they too want to elevate the pursuit of truth over the pursuit of pleasure and comfort.

          If someone wishes to remain Mormon, then so be it. I wish them well and hope that it brings them closer to God. I will continue to pray that my Mormon brothers and sisters are guided to the Truth.

          • January 9, 2014 at 10:38 pm //

            James,

            You’re exactly right. Truth is much more important than comfort.

            I’m sorry if my story didn’t properly reflect that principle, but it’s the foundation of my life and my faith. My conversion story was my search for truth, and it was extremely uncomfortable.

            I didn’t want to give up tobacco, alcohol, and my night life. I didn’t want to have to cancel the two trips I had planned to Vegas (I was going to clean out every craps table at the MGM).

            Watching my language has been incredibly uncomfortable. Being unable to watch some football games on Sundays is uncomfortable. Telling my friends and family about my conversion has been excruciatingly uncomfortable. Service is uncomfortable. Missionary work is uncomfortable.

            I’m willing to forsake those comforts because I found truth. As you eloquently said, “truth and understanding are important, even if it makes us uncomfortable.” I couldn’t agree more.

            If commenting on websites like this gives you pleasure and comfort, please keep coming back. Just don’t expect any of us to confuse your search for comfort with the truths we know.

            I sincerely hope your search ends with as much peace and happiness as mine did.

            Jake

    • January 8, 2014 at 7:07 pm //

      “”Read it again, David. He HAD reasoned it out. Over and over again. He knew it was true, but wouldn’t let himself believe it.”"

      Reason: In the famous words of Inigo Montoya “I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

      “”You tell me – what better way is there to find out if God is real and if Jesus Christ is his son, and if a particular church is right, than in sincere prayer, asking the originator of all truth – our Heavenly Father – if the things you have learned are true. Jake found out. I found out. So have millions of others.”"

      The problem with asking God is, how do you know it is actually God answering? And once again, the problem is people from various faith traditions receive such “knowledge.” If Ahmed “knows” Jesus isn’t actually the Son of God because Allah said so, and Joseph knows he is because God said so, one of them is clearly wrong, and on what basis can you say Joseph is more right than Ahmed?

      Further, if we are going to talk numbers then we’ve got to bring in the many faith traditions that far exceed the LDS faith in membership. In the category of Christianity alone the LDS church is behind Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist, Presbyterian, and probably other denominations, and guess what? All of these traditions contain members who are confident that they are in the most true Church!

      “”IF you humble yourself, desire to believe, really WANT to know and do God’s will, He WILL answer you. When you’re ready. See? It’s not whether or not God is real, it’s whether or not WE will know, let the blinders be taken from our eyes so that we can truly see. It takes our effort, we have to do our part. True humility is hard to achieve, but it is possible.”"

      And if I say God did answer my prayers and told me that Mormonism is wrong and I should become Catholic, then what? On what basis do you demonstrate that I am wrong.

      p.s. I actually know several Catholics to whom this has happened who are now happily at home in the Catholic Church.

      • If you prayed and discovered that the Catholic church was right, then that is great for you! At least you would have tried it out. I think every one is doing a lot of talking and not a lot of trying. Just try it out!!! Maybe you will be surprised what you find.

  • Any “god” that would communicate absolute truth through the subjective medium of feelings can just as easily be dismissed through feelings.

  • January 9, 2014 at 12:09 am //

    A few months ago, I would have branded the author of this post a superstitious fool. Only a desperate dolt would cling to something so obviously false.

    But every word of the post above is absolutely true. You can call it “emotions” or “feelings”, but it doesn’t fit the real story. I know what happened, because it happened to me.

    If my story adds another witness of your faith, I’m glad. If it contradicts your view of your life, that’s fine.

    The answers I received for my life aren’t transferable. The truths you know are your own.

    If cynicism, smugness and trolling LDS websites gives you happiness and peace, you should keep it up. If attending Catholic Mass helps you be a better person and serve others, I’m all for it.

    I tried my best to be a cynical observer of moronic religions for over a decade. I tried to avoid LDS missionaries like they carried the bird flu. But I found something that improved my life and gave me hope when I wasn’t looking for it.

    It’s true to me.

    It’s also true for anyone that searches for it.

    P.S. Will, I took your challenge and was baptized. Give me a call sometime; I’d love to walk through it with you.

    • January 9, 2014 at 12:07 pm //

      Jake, I’d be happy to talk it over with you, but from my perspective, I can’t consider your confirmation of the truth of Mormonism valid until you’ve tried the same experiment with multiple other religions and books. And if you determine that at least one other religion is “true” by the same standard, then what? There are literally billions of people who have already done that exact thing.

      I’m guessing that if you did indeed take a deep dive into the Mormon past and are aware of Joseph Smith’s polyandry, the Book of Abraham issues (translation and anachronistic), Kinderhook Plates, BoM anachronisms, BoM citations of KJV Isaiah that didn’t exist at the time, BoM inclusions of KJV errors, etc etc etc (see cesletter.com for more), then you have relied on “shelving” a lot of stuff, or in other words, went with, “I don’t know the answer to these things.” That or you are not a true-believing Mormon, but rather some kind of cafeteria Mormon. Assuming this to be the case, I’d challenge you to go through AntiCitizenX’s “Psychology of Belief” videos on YouTube, and read books like “What You Don’t Know About Religion (But Should)” and “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)” so that you can understand the psychology of what is going on here from an outside perspective. James Nagel (aka AntiCitizenX) did a great interview on Mormon Stories that overlaps a lot with his YouTube series, but gives additional insight.

      From my own experience, I clung to Mormonism for a long time being aware of the thorny issues. It wasn’t until I began to study psychology that I really began to see what was going on inside my brain, and why I was getting confirmations of truth in the Mormon epistemology while at the same time being aware of things that completely contradicted Mormonism.

  • What an awesome story! Thank you so much for sharing. And what a small world! I saw this story on Facebook randomly from a friend in UT, and as I was reading, saw a picture of a young man I taught Sunday School to while we were stationed in WY! (It was Elder Harnish!) Thanks again for the uplifting story. It’s renewed my desire to read my scriptures and appreciate the gospel more.

  • That’s the exact same thing i experienced before i went on my mission! I was trying to disprove the church so i wouldn’t feel guilty not going on my mission but the opposite happened – I received that great feeling which I can never deny. Even to this day the feeling is so vivid I can imagine myself back when i was 18 years old holding the Book of Mormon, nervously shaking in the living room as I just realized that all those things i didn’t believe to be true, was indeed ALL TURE! Thanks for your post!

  • Elder Harnish is my little brother! Reading this touched my heart. Congratulations on your decision to be baptized and thank you for sharing your beautiful story!

  • January 9, 2014 at 12:57 pm //

    This will be my final note, and I hope people might take what I say seriously.

    As I stated previously I was Mormon for 25 years. I experienced the “confirmations” of its truth frequently spoken of among the LDS faithful. I was committed. Even as my studies of philosophy and history made certain aspects of my faith seem problematic or irreconcilable I held on.

    Eventually, however, I did what Will recommends above. I asked, “how can I really claim that this is the most true faith tradition if I haven’t given the others a shot?” Thus I began a journey that took me through the philosophical, theological, and historical writings of faith traditions such as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Without going into detail about my personal beliefs as they now stand, I will say that I have experienced things that trump any experience I had in Mormonism ten-fold. In comparison, my “confirmations” in Mormonism seem trivial. I now adhere to a belief system that is self-evident and profound at both a spiritual and rational level.

    Now, in light of what I have said, ask yourself: “Why do I think my spiritual confirmations are more valid than James’s? In the end can I say anything more than “it might be true to me, but maybe it isn’t true for everyone?”" If the answer to the latter is “yes,” then I am confused about what “truth” means to you.

    • January 9, 2014 at 2:29 pm //

      This is awesome, James. I commend you for being brave and stepping off the beaten path as a (formerly) believing Mormon and discovering something even better. Most Mormons don’t think that’s even possible, but here you are as a living example.

      I know you said it was your last note here, but I’d love to read more about your journey if you’ve posted it somewhere.

      • If James has posted it elsewhere, perhaps the follow-up post on that blog can address why people like he and Will Roberts end up back on Mormon-themed articles writing lengthy comments about why they doubt and left the church. Both have proven true the observation that, “they leave the Church, but they can’t leave it alone”.

        After much searching James has found “a belief system that is self-evident and profound at both a spiritual and rational level.” Will, you’ve researched anti-Mormon topics at length and drawn your own conclusions backed by your psychology studies. So, you both “discovered something better”. Yet, here you are.

        You’re both either quite noble in sticking around to help enlighten the rest of us deficient in logic, reason, and the ability to correctly interpret our feelings. OR, you cunningly attempt to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of others.

        I wish you well in your search for truth and happiness.

        • January 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm //

          It is like Plato’s allegory of the cave. Those who find their way out and leave their peers in deception and darkness are selfish in doing so. The noble person will return to the cave to share the truth with his peers; however as Plato informs us many will not listen. Don’t you think people have a duty to share truth?

          • Yet, James, you have not shared any of the truth that you have found. You and Will have done nothing more than show why you believe Mormomism to be false, providing no real enlightenment to fill the void. I may be mistaken, but it sounds almost like you are less interested in sharing truth than you are interested in tearing down others’ faith. The market for critics of Mormonism is very saturated and your voice is merely one of many.

    • Congratulations James on finding peace in the faith you have chosen to follow. It seems to me that the 11th Article of Faith would be rather pointless if the Church, even in its earliest days, didn’t recognize the fact that good people such as yourself would find such peace elsewhere. Members of the Church who truly follow its teachings don’t trivialize your personal spiritual experiences, although it appears that you are attempting to trivialize theirs for motives only you know, since you are neither harmed by their belief nor benefited by their disbelief. It seems to me that Jake searched very deeply, just as you did, and he is very happy with the path he has chosen. I have been a member for 35 years and am also very happy with the path I have chosen. Good luck in the path that you have chosen.

    • I’m honestly wondering if it’s possible for you to formulate a single comment without mentioning your “studies of history and philosophy”. We get it. You are very learned.

      “O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Nephi 9:28-29)

  • January 9, 2014 at 10:44 pm //

    James,

    I sit here tonight after seeing this posted on my FaceBook page, reading it to my 10 year old daughter. It brought tears to my eyes and choked me up as I, like yourself am a convert to the Church. The post to my FaceBook page comes from knowing Elder Harnish. He is an Elder from our ward. His parents are amazing people. My daughter challenged me to write this post and so… I feel to tell you my story.

    I will make it short. I met my now husband in High School. He grew up in The Church but didn’t go on a mission. It’s always bothered him I think that he didn’t serve. His mom says it best… the mission doesn’t make the man, the man makes the mission. I hang on to that for his sake. He is a great person. He chose to share the gospel with me after we graduated and I always tell him, “I was your mission.” :-)

    I quickly pursued the same questions you had/have and called the missionaries to meet with me. I wanted my OWN Book of Mormon so I could mark the pages. By the second discussion I knew I wanted to be baptized. I had done as the missionaries asked, just the same as you and most remarkable was my first “shared” prayer to Heavenly Father, prompted by my now husband, then as my friend saying, “do you want to pray together about it?” I was mortified, embarrassed!!! Seemingly, against my will almost, I knelt down with him and immediately began to sob as the spirit overcame me. I cried. I am NOT a crier. I was proud to not cry. I come from a long line of very strong women and I did NOT cry. I had never felt so full in my heart.

    Your story, similar to mine in some aspects brings us to the end-all answer. You somehow know it’s true. And while I sit her and explain to my 10 year old daughter that she too will need to experience it for herself, I am reminded of the best thing that ever happened to me. Without that time I knelt and asked….. I would not be where I am now or who I am now. We will never have all the answers. There is much we are not intended to know yet I feel.

    I am excited for you! I hope like my husband, you will find that one person you are meant to share your life and hopefully the gospel with, perhaps you already have. I feel to tell you the Temple will bring many blessings to your life. Seek to attend the Temple regularly, something I have not yet mastered. But EVERY experience I can recall the spirit as amazing as it felt on me knees that first night!

    And finally…. A SHOUT out to a great person… Elder Ben Harnish!!! Here, in COLD Wyoming, we are always thinking of you!!!

    Marti VanTassell

  • Hi everyone. We appreciate your attention and interaction, but as this is a blog and not a messageboard, we’re going to close comments at this time. We’ll be posting many more New Normons stories so don’t worry, you’ll have the chance to argue again :) Thanks for reading!