disclaimer: I will be recounting my own experiences in a direct and straight-forward manner. None of this is intended as disrespectful to those who believe differently, it is merely a statement of my personal conclusions and how I reached them.
Continued from this post.
The last straw that pushed me out of Mormonism was the question of whether this religion -- or any other -- could have the true and final word on the nature of God and the afterlife.
Before getting there, however, there were a few glaring sign-posts along the road. The first one was the evidence -- or lack thereof -- for the Book of Mormon.
Where did the Native Americans come from?
I knew that the "true" answer was written by Nephi and Moroni and all the rest in the pages of the Book of Mormon. I also knew that no one -- outside of Mormonism -- proposed that the Native Americans had arrived by boat from the Middle East.
I remember sitting in American History class -- probably in the seventh grade -- watching a film showing how the Americas were populated by migrations across a land bridge from Asia.
I thought to myself If only they knew the truth. If only they had the idea to look for evidence that these people arrived by boat, they would find it.
Another part of me said These researchers promoting these theories of Native American origins -- they aren't bitter anti-Mormons out to destroy the church. The church probably doesn't even show up on their radar. They say the Native Americans migrated on foot from Asia because they dug up evidence out of the ground and that's the conclusion it pointed to. If the same types of researchers used the same types of evidence to piece together the history of some unknown tribe in Africa or an island somewhere, I would believe them.
But some incompetent and mistaken archaeologists and anthropologists weren't sufficient to dissuade me from the truth.
Worse was later when I heard from some Mormons who were all excited about the research of Thor Heyerdahl and how it was such a boon to proving the Book of Mormon right. I pressed for details and found that he had constructed a boat using ancient techniques and had sailed it across the Atlantic. So he had shown that Nephi and Lehi's journey was not physically impossible. Do we have any evidence that it actually happened? No.
I was left forcing out of my mind the obvious question: That's the best you can do?
The point that was the most painful for me to try to rationalize was later -- when I was about fifteen or sixteen -- and I heard my parents talking about the Book of Abraham.
Like any good Mormon kid, I knew that Joseph Smith had translated some ancient Egyptian documents, found with a mummy, and that they had turned out to be a record written by Abraham of his time in Egypt. I had also learned that the original papyrus was lost, and was thought to have been destroyed in the great Chicago fire.
This story made perfect sense from a Mormon perspective. Like the golden plates that were taken back into heaven after Joseph Smith translated them, and like the Nauvoo Temple that was destroyed by fire after the Saints left for the promised land in the Salt Lake Valley, the Lord took Abraham's writings back once their purpose was fulfilled.
Then one day I heard my parents say that this story wasn't true, and that, in fact, the Book of Abraham papyrus had been found, and was in the possession of the church!!! Not only that, it had been in the possession of the church since before I was born!!!
This was very upsetting. I couldn't see why I would ever have been told this "Chicago fire" story unless... Unless the existence of the original was something that we needed to avoid talking about. The nail in the coffin was when I learned the rationalization in the very same conversation: "Maybe Joseph Smith didn't really translate the papyrus, maybe the papyrus inspired him to receive the Book of Abraham text as a revelation."
This was a terrible blow, to learn that the physical evidence had been hidden away as a shameful thing and to hear an upsetting hint as to why.
I know that today's modern, Internet-savvy Mormons all already know that the papyrus is in the possession of the church and that no scholar -- Mormon or otherwise -- claims that it is anything other than ordinary Egyptian funeral documents that have nothing to do with the Biblical patriarch Abraham nor are even remotely from the right time period to have been written by him. So one might claim that it was my own foolish ignorance or lack of study that led to me to be shocked by this information. I suppose that nowadays they're saying that they never really claimed that Joseph Smith literally translated a record that Abraham himself had written "by his own hand upon papyrus" and that information about it was never obscured or hidden away. But that's not what it was like back in the 1980's. People just didn't talk about such "deep doctrines."
For a teenager, I was actually relatively well-informed about the "meat" of Mormonism (as in "milk before meat"). I knew about polygamy and "celestial polygamy" (the fact that Mormons believe that there is polygamy in the afterlife even if polygamy is not currently practiced by the church).
I had learned in seminary about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the "Vilate Kimball test of faith" story. That's the one where Joseph Smith has a revelation that he is to take Heber C. Kimball's wife Vilate as one of his own plural wives, Heber and Vilate are terribly distraught but finally agree because it's the will of God, and then Joseph Smith says that God was just testing their faith, and that in fact God would be okay with Heber keeping Vilate as long as they give Joseph their fourteen-year-old daughter Helen in her place...
For both of those stories, I remember thinking "Hmmm, that's pretty weird."
But as disturbing as those stories were, neither one struck at the root of my faith like the question of whether Joseph Smith really had the ability to miraculously translate ancient records.
to be continued...