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Holy Shift: An Epistle of Paul to the Mormons

Introduction. In this paper I intend to defend my remaining, idiosyncratic Mormon beliefs. I do so because I don’t want my critiques of corporate Mormonism to be dismissed as the product of disbelief. This defense may irritate some because I am an excommunicant of the LDS Church, the husband and brother-in-law of excommunicants, and the father of would-be excommunicants. Nonetheless, I will press on.

Historic Racism. I was moved to pen this apologia by the LDS Church public relations department’s attempt earlier this year to deny Mormonism’s historic racism. When I read this denial, I thought to myself: Holy shift! Lying for the Lord has become bold enough to defy a considerable body of contrary evidence. Almost immediately there appeared in the  media and on the Internet[i] reminders calculated to awaken people out of ignorance and amnesia (self-imposed and otherwise), calling to mind: (1) statements of Brigham Young that black and white spouses in a racially mixed marriage should be put to death[ii] (a sentiment of undeniable racism in this world); (2) the opinion of apostle and First Presidency counselor Alvin R. Dyer that a dark skin in this life is a mark of lack of valiance in the pre-mortal war in heaven[iii] (an idea that extends racism to a time before time); and (3) the 129-year-long policy defended by LDS Church leaders that denied priesthood ordination to black males—despite Joseph Smith’s ordination of two black men, Elijah Abel and Walker Lewis[iv]–a policy that began about the time of Joseph Smith’s death and that excluded blacks from temple marriage and the highest heavenly realm[v] until it official ended in June of 1978 (a policy that extended racism to a time after time).

Blaming God. True believing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not think the Church or its leaders should be blamed if blacks were relegated to the back of the Mormon bus until 1978. In their view, the Church is not racist. It is just following orders. For this same reason such believers do not regard the Church as misogynist, homophobic, tribal, elitist, or xenophobic. For them the problem is not human prejudice but divine revelation. Thus the blame for historic racism is displaced from the Church, its leaders and members to the Lord.[vi]  Holy shift, indeed! Is it any wonder people—LDS people in particular—become atheists? It is easier to believe in no God than in a bad one. Blaming God is a cottage industry evidenced by the shift in the view of hell. Hell was once a place of justice where the wicked (the Borgias, Henry VIII, Cromwell, and other autocrats and warlords) were sent by God in the next life to suffer for their iniquities in this one. Now-a-days, we picture hell as a place of injustice in this life where the poor, the underprivileged, the downcast and the outcast suffer at the hands of the greedy, the powerful, the despotic, and the violent. Hell has shifted from a place of justice hereafter to a place of injustice here and now,[vii] suggesting that the view of deity has shifted from a God of justice and mercy, to a God of injustice and indifference.

Promoting Atheism. Atheism is aided and abetted by such a view and by those who claim that God plays favorites, that God loves us but not our rivals, competitors, or enemies, and that God justifies our estimation that we are more righteous than others.  People who believe such things are complicit in promoting atheism and are themselves on the slippery slope to disbelief, what Joseph Smith called the “high road to apostasy.”[viii] To believe such things is not to believe in God, but in the idol of one’s own power and goodness—a false god that must eventually fail the expectations of the idolater. The LDS Church’s historic denial of priesthood to blacks, its current denial of priesthood to women, its continuing opposition to gay marriage, its failure to oppose greed, warmongering, and environmental exploitation—in short, its opposition to nearly every social justice issue of the last 100 years[ix] has done little to image God as just or merciful.

False Teachings. In the LDS Church’s April 2012 annual general conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, delivered an address entitled “The Doctrine of Christ,”[x] in which he attempted to shift some responsibility for some false teachings back onto Church leaders by admitting that not all their utterances constitute “doctrine”:

“At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. . . . The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such. . . .”

This remark characterizes the incidental opinion of leaders, including presumably their racist opinions and statements, as non-doctrinal, non-prophetic and non-binding. He went on to say:

“The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest.”

Here Elder Christofferson lays the burden of distinguishing opinion from doctrine upon Church members, making them not leaders ultimately responsible for judging when a leader is or isn’t speaking by the spirit. When I read this, I wanted to say to him:

Holy shift!  You mean members can decide when their leaders are speaking the truth?   That wasn’t my experience! But wait. If all those racist statements made by church leaders were not true, then what were they? Elder Christofferson, are you telling us that they were false? That false teachings were spoken from the conference pulpit in the name of Jesus Christ?  Elder Christofferson, you didn’t say this directly, but what else could you have meant?  What else can the Saints infer?  And if this is so, what are we to make of the reliability of our prophet leaders?  If Brigham Young could teach false doctrine, why can’t Thomas S. Monson?  If Brigham Young could be wrong to prohibit African American male members from priesthood ordination, from temple marriage, from a resurrection in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, couldn’t Thomas S. Monson be wrong to prohibit gays and lesbians from temple marriage, from a celestial resurrection? Couldn’t Church leaders be wrong to teach members not to pray to Heavenly Mother, not to ordain women to the priesthood, not to allow them to serve equally in church offices, even in its highest councils? Elder Christofferson, you tell us that church leaders do not always speak doctrine, but you failed to explain how to distinguish a doctrine from a dumb idea. Wasn’t this the point of a talk given by the late emeritus general authority Ronald Poelman to the effect that the gospel is holier than the Church—a talk he was required to re-tape in the Tabernacle, a re-taping that was overlaid with a fake cough sound track to make it appear that the restated speech was the one he had originally given rather than a revision?  Elder Christofferson, in your talk, you suggest that perhaps some teachings of the leaders aren’t true. I suspect racist teachings fall into this category.  But you did not have the courage to say so outright.  You did not have the courage to recant the racist statements of these leaders.  You did not have the courage even to mention racism as a false teaching or even a leader’s personal opinion.  In short, you did not make a statement of repentance.  You and your apostolic brothers apparently do not have the courage of St. Peter to admit your errors as Peter did when he repented of refusing the company of gentiles in the primitive Church.  It is impossible to repent without a recognition of sin.  Your statements, Elder Christofferson, are not motivated by penance but by a desire to cover the Church’s sins, to gratify its pride, to exercise its vain ambition, so that it can continue to seek to exercise control or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, contrary to the revelations of God.[xi]Of course, I could never have the satisfaction of such a face-to-face confrontation. 

Dissent. As a Catholic in the 1950s, I had heard the claim that the Pope was infallible, but like most Catholics I didn’t really believe it. Later, as a Mormon, I heard the claim that the Mormon Prophet was fallible, but unlike most Mormons, I actually did believe it. I was later surprised to learn that Church leaders and most members did not. In my teens, I was converted to Mormonism because I saw it as a corrective to the harsh teachings of Protestantism and Catholicism. I found especially inviting the idea that for Mormons the scriptures were open. Revelation continued. The Saints were a family not bound by any fixed creed or systematic theology. This had all sounded good to me as a convert. During law school what began to bother me, what led to my disappointment, what made me a dissenter, a dissident, a critic of corporate Mormonism were, first, its corruption of the gospel and, second, its retreat from the revelations of the Restoration by those appointed as their advocates and custodians. It seemed to me that modern Church leaders were as eager to extol the outward accomplishments of their forefathers as they were slow to acknowledge their most distinguishing beliefs. It seemed that Mormons had a diminished view of Jesus and a love-hate relationship with Joseph Smith.

In the 1970s, my expressions of religious discontent were restricted to my fistful of Mormon friends at BYU. Only in the mid 1980s did I make my disagreement public. My complaint was not that LDS leaders are without priesthood authority, but that they are without doctrinal competence. They promulgate a performance-based religion of obedience and works and are too proud, elitist, and blind to accept chastisement for this profound error. Like the communist bosses in Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Church leaders are blind by choice—not because like Oedipus they have seen their offenses and can no longer bear to look upon them, but rather because they wish never to see their failings so they can continue to put themselves beyond criticism and the need to repent. Eventually, I was excommunicated for reproving Church leaders for replacing Christ’s gospel and Joseph Smith’s revelations with an unworkable self-improvement program—betrayals they accomplished with the kiss of lip-service.

My complaint stands today. The First Presidencies and the Councils of the Twelve of the LDS Church—decent men with good intentions—have, over time, countenanced a virtually unopposed retreat from the teachings of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith into idolatry. Brigham Young seemed aware of this for he once observed that idols are not created by bad men, but by good men trying to keep the people from slipping into greater error.[xii] Curiously, if it hadn’t been for Joseph Smith’s insistence on polygamy and polytheism, the LDS leadership might have crawled back into the welcoming arms of Protestant and Catholic orthodoxy. The polys, however, slowed this retreat, which I fear is now accelerating. 

False Gospel. The Church-correlated twisting of the gospel of Jesus Christ into a program of petty virtues and family values has for years been in high gear at 47 East South Temple Street and is nowhere better evidenced than in the September 23, 1995, publication entitled “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” a document whose content has replaced Christ’s gospel as the LDS Church’s primary message to members and non-members alike.

The gospel is the message of salvation by grace spoken by the mouth of the Lord when he was present on earth. The Proclamation on the family is the message of salvation by works mandated by Church committees. The gospel proclaims a divine mystery; the Proclamation proclaims a human mandate. The gospel emphasizes the Son’s sacrifice for sin; the Proclamation forefronts the alleged Father’s demand for compliance. The gospel exalts the individual; the Proclamation regulates the group. The gospel is repentance and forgiveness; the Proclamation is commandments and judgments. The gospel frees the soul into a spiritual family; the Proclamation imprisons it in a biological one. The gospel transforms; the Proclamation defines. The gospel is a calling; the Proclamation is a creed. The gospel includes; the Proclamation excludes. The gospel leads to joy; the Proclamation leads to arrogance for those who imagine they are in compliance with it and to despair for those who don’t.

In raising this complaint, I have been accused of arrogance, of believing I am right and everyone else is wrong. Actually, the LDS apostles believe they are right and anybody who even questions their authority is wrong. I believe simply that the gospel should be preached and that I should be heard—and not me alone, but anyone who takes religion seriously and wants to participate meaningfully in his or her spiritual community. The scriptures say that anyone inspired of the Holy Spirit speaks the word of the Lord and that those with desires to serve are, by virtue of that desire alone, called to the work.[xiii] If the apostles hold the keys, it is to open the way for others to serve, not to lock out those of whom they personally disapprove. If the apostles have been chosen to teach, it cannot be to teach the drivel of a false gospel; it cannot be to starve their listeners; it cannot be to spew forth bromides in the form of porous fables that invite compliance to corporate demands. Milk, before meat, yes. But not swill! I have said this directly to at least one of the Twelve, and I will say it here again: The apostles need to get out of town, permanently; they need to travel somewhere like China and preach the gospel that Jesus preached and perhaps become martyrs there for Christ’s sake—since some of them are so keen to make martyrs of others. At least they need to stop inducing comas with their conference addresses. And, they need to get out of the real estate business. They need to think much less about the temporal and much more about the eternal—they really do—not because I say so, but because Mormon scripture says so. Certainly, I am not the only one who can read. The gospel of Christ and the revelations of Joseph Smith seem more honored by them in the breach than in the observance.

Church leaders cannot serve God and mammon. They cannot serve the Lord while preserving the interests of the corporate Church. The ecclesiastical institution owns billions of dollars of real and personal property free and clear of liens in scores of jurisdictions throughout the world.  It owns farms and business interests; it has a mammoth budget that must be managed and accounted for; it has lawyers, accountants, architects, real estate professionals and other advisers that must be attended to; it operates schools; it produces publications; it requires public relations experts to manage and protect its image; it pays an army of employees—not to mention the missionaries and members who serve without pay.[xiv] All this requires constant caretaking, money and energy. The LDS apostles, acting as a board of directors of the vast LDS ecclesiastical empire, have a duty to grow, preserve and pay for its holdings, interests and investments. To do this, they confound sacred materiality with profane materialism. They encourage acquisitiveness and discourage equality. They countenance sins of calculation and condemn sins of passion. They require Church members to tithe on gross rather than disposable income, a policy that favors rich over poor. They amass Church property free and clear of liens while ordinary members are mortgaged to the hilt. They allow the Church to become more conservative and capitalistic. They profit from gender inequality in the work place. They seek political and economic power by forfeiting compassion and demonizing feminists, intellectuals, and homosexuals. Thus, they render unto Caesar that which is God’s and unto God that which is Caesar’s. Consequently, they cannot castigate the world for its inequalities because they contaminate the Church itself. They cannot call to repentance this or any other nation, kindred, tongue, or people without exposing the Church’s wealth to attack, seizure, or destruction. They do not preach Joseph Smith’s complex, rich and fascinating teachings that proclaim universal salvation, deny the existence of hell, call for equality, communalism, stewardship of the environment and decry greed, exploitation, violence and war; instead, they mute the message of the Restoration and recite mind-numbing anecdotes in its place. And so, the outward kingdom is maintained at the expense of the inward kingdom. In the long, chilling shadow of these apostolic errors, many complicit men and some women have profited and prospered by the promulgation of heresies that replaced the gospel and the revelations and that serve the privileged to the detriment of the disadvantaged. I understand these errors may not have been first made out of malice or for personal self-interest. But they are spiritually fatal nevertheless.

Critics of my critique will say that it is unfair and unbalanced; that I am blind to the many laudable aspirations and achievements of the Church and to the personal goodness, integrity, and dedication of many leaders at every level; that I am blind to the determination of both leaders and members to improve lives, to make bad people good and good people better, to promote rectitude and honor; that I am blind to the hierarchy’s efforts to protect people from unnecessary pain, from despair, from the vicissitudes of life, from the evils of hostility, intemperance, and addictions of all kinds; that I am blind to the Church’s promotion of personal honesty, loyalty, integrity, education and industry, to humanitarian and charitable service. But I am not blind. I acknowledge all these accomplishments and aspirations of the LDS Church, its leaders, and its members. I see nothing wrong with any of these ends.

My complaint is not with ends, but with means. My lament is that virtue cannot be achieved by compliance to the demands of corporate Mormonism or by mindless obedience to its leaders. The praiseworthiness of its objectives cannot compensate for the worst of all the errors of the LDS apostolate: The failure to preach Christ’s gospel of spiritual transformation based on faith in the unconditional love of God and their replacement of that gospel with a legalistic regimen of corporate rules and expectations of conformity driven by the carrot and stick of rewards and punishments, approval and disapproval, acceptance and rejection, fellowship and disfellowshipment, advancement and exclusion. Holiness cannot be achieved by substituting loyalty to the Messiah and the Holy Spirit with fawning obsequence to the corporate Church and its management.

Of course I could be wrong about this. But is it probable? Is it probable that holiness can flow from idolatry? Is it probable that Jesus would let his prophets, seers, and revelators become profiteers and regulators? Would replace the Mormon watch cry “the kingdom of God or nothing” with the ejaculation, “Let’s go shopping!”? Is it probable that the Atonement—the Messianic sacrifice of divine power, voluntarily accomplished as a pure grace of unconditional love, to rescue us from our blindness, power-lust and egocentric cruelty and to sanctify us as joint-heirs in glory—is just a crass debt repayment plan? Is it probable that Christ liberated us from the Mosaic Law, rendered the Ten Commandments a palimpsest for his Eight Beatitudes, transformed the Hebrews’ tribal solitary God of war into a cosmic plural Godhead of peace, and suffered himself to be crucified to death in order to inflict upon us the very religious legalism he so relentlessly castigated when he was on earth and then, in the latter-days, to authorize his modern apostles to seduce people with the promise of eternal life only to grind them up in a church machine? Yes, I could be wrong. Mormonism may not be what I think it is. But is it probable that the Restoration has degenerated to what it has become by revelation?

Remaining Beliefs. Clearly I have been unable to discard many Mormon beliefs. After my excommunication, I lost my faith. I no longer have the faith of my youth.  But I still believe after my fashion for reasons I will presently address. Some people are dogmatic believers or disbelievers. Dogmatic theists can easily turn into dogmatic atheists. I have noted this shift in some Latter-day Saints. This has not been so with me. Despite the force of my complaining rhetoric, I am not dogmatic because I understand that people can and probably should differ with me and because I can and do change my mind. My remaining beliefs are seasoned with doubt; and those doubts are seasoned with belief. I say this because I have been wrongly identified as a Mormon neo-atheist. But I was not excommunicated for disbelief. Almost no one is. I was excommunicated for my beliefs, including my belief that the leaders of the Church are fallible, unreliable, somewhat oppressive, prosperous white males who have held and do hold some nonsensical and damaging opinions. In short, I was excommunicated almost 19 years ago for believing pretty much what Apostle Christofferson implied in his last conference address.

I come now to a holy shift of my own—a shift away from any further castigation of those who sit in the uppermost seats, who love to be called “Elder This” or “President That,” [xv] who prize no one’s devotion or sacrifice above their own, and who have so often lied about or hidden the real Mormonism that they can no longer tell the truth of it. I’m going to shift now to the question why I continue to believe many Mormon teachings despite my criticisms and my uncertainty. This has been a tough question for me.  In thinking it through, I realized that my belief does not arise upon my emotions or upon my commitment to tradition. My belief is mainly a matter of choice. I have chosen my beliefs despite my emotions and the traditions I have inherited in and out of the Church.

Obviously, it is impossible to prove the null proposition that God does not exist. Apart from that, I have discovered several other reasons for my choice to believe, foremost of which is that I like the teachings of Jesus and Joseph Smith; at least, I like my interpretation of them. They seem the best explanation for my experiences and for my understanding of the world.  I know there are no proofs and few evidences to support these teachings. That’s why I’m not certain of them. But I choose to believe them largely because I like them.

What Mormon teachings am I talking about? Well, for starters, I like Joseph Smith’s rejection of the orthodox idea that the divine is totally other and his heterodox assertion that divine is physical and spiritual, [xvi] male and female,[xvii] and inhabits time and eternity.

I like the teaching that Jesus is the Supreme Being, the Creator and Redeemer of the world—at least the male presentation thereof—and that he is, as stated on the frontispiece of the Book of Mormon, “the Christ, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself to all nations,” who was incarnated, crucified, killed, buried, and raised from the dead with the power of the Holy Spirit to lift mortality into everlasting life. I like the idea that Christ is God because it means that the Creator is the Savior, the Father is the Son, the Guardian of Justice is the Dispenser of Mercy. It means there is no superior Father who sends his Son to do the dirty work in Gethsemane or on Calvary to redeem the creation. Rather, as Abinadi declares in the Book of Mosiah: “God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.”[xviii] I like the Mormon teaching that the divine becomes human so the human can become divine, that the perfect becomes imperfect so that the imperfect can become perfect—not to satisfy the demands of some implacable justice, but to deliver us from our mortal plight by loving us first, thus making it possible for us to love in return. I like the idea that the work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of each person is God’s work,[xix] not the work of angels, or saints, or apostles, or prophets, but of the “Holy One,” who is the keeper of the gate and employs no servant there.[xx] I know there is no proof for this soteriology, but it is symmetrical—a fearful symmetry—that moves and fascinates me like a Bach invention.

I like the teaching that the cosmos is a paradox of spirit and matter,[xxi] equally eternal and inextricably entangled—a surprisingly quantum notion given its 1832 appearance in the Mormon cannon.[xxii] I like the related teaching that the glory of God is a tangible substance: intelligence, or light and truth, the indivisible essence of each soul; I like the implication that Jesus is the truth, that his female Redeemer counterpart, Sophia, is the light—the light of Christ—the Holy Ghost, the unseen member of the Godhead—Christ within us—who contents herself with being secretly present with her children, comforting, inspiring, blessing, nourishing—all motherly works—and let’s not forget, “reproving betimes with sharpness.”[xxiii] I like the idea of a co-equal Mother in Heaven, a Creatrix, and Redemptrix. It supports my belief that women have an equal claim to the fullness of the priesthood[xxiv] and that the Relief Society was organized to be a “kingdom of priestesses.”[xxv] I like the fact that in the temple women stand up with the men when they are simultaneously told: “With the robe on the right shoulder you can officiate in all the ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood,” a ritual assertion that priesthood doesn’t work properly unless men and women function in it as equals, as joint tenants and joint heirs.

I understand that Joseph Smith had mixed motives for promising things to women. It is beyond me why modern people are shocked that Joseph promised elevated status to the women who agreed to marry him polygamously. Such a promise is implicit in nearly every monogamous marriage proposal in the world.  Marriage, at minimum, is the culturally sanctioned exchange of sex for property, security, and maintenance. Some are scandalized by the revelation of multiple marriages—polygamy, polygyny, and polyandry. I agree that these ideas are recipes for domestic disaster and, additionally, reinforce the false notion of salvation by works—only this time the alleged works of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their multiple wives. On the other hand, given Joseph Smith’s teaching that the spiritual and physical are eternal and his emphasis on the literal resurrection of the body with all its parts working, I can understand why a system of multiple coupling was advanced—perhaps with the idea of offsetting the prospect of sex with the same partner forever and ever. Nevertheless, to me polygamy makes no sense for weak and jealous mortals whose bodies flag and fail or for their earthly children who need the unconditional love and attention of committed parents. I understand that Joseph Smith married some quite young women.[xxvi] But whether or not this is truly abusive depends on the times and terms. It has not always been thought to be so. No one was shocked or scandalized when my father’s sister Lena at age 15 married a man 14 years her senior. Decades later, as a boy I overheard my mother remark to that aunt: “You were kind of young to marry, weren’t you, Lena? I mean, how did you deal with the . . . you know?” In the 1950s, a proper woman like my mother could not utter the word “sex.” But Lena knew what she meant. “Oh that,” said my aunt. “Well, it was a surprise. But it was worth getting my own kitchen.” Joseph Smith promised his women more than a kitchen.[xxvii] He promised them the fullness of the priesthood on an equal footing with men, and he included them in the Quorum of the Anointed that ran the Church shortly before he was murdered.[xxviii]

I like the teaching that all but a handful will be saved in a kingdom of indescribable glory,[xxix] even those ignorant of the gospel, even those who have not received the ordinances, even those who have been driven out of or have left the Church because of its sins.[xxx] I suppose we will all believe ourselves to be in the highest kingdom because it will be the one that makes us happiest. Those who like food will be with Julia Child. Those who like wine will be in a place like the Napa Valley. Those who like sex will find themselves in high school. Those who like general conference will be with the Brethren. And those who like Fifty Shades of Grey—well frankly I’m not sure where they will be. Maybe a creative writing class? After some holy shifts, each of us will find for ourselves the best place in the universe. This is universal salvation.[xxxi] It is a way better idea than the crappy concept that only 1% gets saved and the other 99% is pre-destined to hell. No wonder so many fundamentalist Christians are Republicans.[xxxii] I like the old Mormon teachings because they make sense to me. I also like Martin Luther’s insight that though Christ’s apostles hold the keys to bind and loose on earth and in heaven,[xxxiii] they have no power to bind what God has loosed or to loose what God has bound.

True, I don’t like every Mormon doctrine or practice. I don’t like the idea of an eternal ladder of gods, one above the other, for ever and ever.  I don’t like the idea of three degrees of glory as an eternal caste system.[xxxiv] I don’t like genealogical research. I don’t like being told it’s fun—by people who either don’t do genealogical research or don’t have any fun.[xxxv] I don’t like home teaching; or family evenings. I don’t like most meetings at all unless they’re catered or I’m speaking. And yet, I like many Mormon doctrines even if they are a bit goofy, but, honestly, no more so than the doctrinal offerings of Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, New Age beliefs, or scientism. I believe what I believe not due to proof, but often due to preference. Of course, not everything I like is true; and not everything I dislike is false. And I’m certain of none of it. I happen to like proof when I can get it. But proof of the supernatural is really hard to come by. Hells bells and Higgs boson! Proof of the natural is tough enough to get—and expensive. I accept some religious ideas without proof. Let me explain why.

History and Myth. I have heard many Mormons claim to know the Book of Mormon is true, particularly if they haven’t actually read it. But these days, for Mormons and non-Mormons alike, that book is as much a stumbling block to faith as a stepping stone. In my view, the most important question to be asked about the Book of Mormon is:  What is God up to by revealing the Book of Mormon as a history when it can’t apparently be proved? To answer this, I first note that both history and myth are constructs of the imagination. Both involve stories. However, unlike myths, histories are based on characters and events that are verified by methodologies that tie them back to records or artifacts whose provenance and content meet certain pre-established and accepted standards of reliability. The purpose of history is to describe what really happened. Myths are more concerned with the patterns, relationships, attitudes, powers and structures that illuminate and shape our understanding of what happened, what is happening, and what can happen. I think of historical events as objects and of myths as lenses that make those objects clearer. Myths arise upon our deepest assumptions, expectations, predispositions, and aspirations—that are often invisible to us; but that enable us to make sense of the world, whether we perceive it to be a spheroid floating in an expanding space-time continuum or a flat disk resting on elephants, resting on the shell of a turtle after which it’s turtles all the way down.[xxxvi]

One of the most common but overlooked mythic patterns is the oft-employed literary structure famously noted by Aristotle, namely, a beginning, middle, and end.[xxxvii] History does not have this structure. History is ongoing. But historical narratives usually assume this tripartite architecture because it is so satisfying. Most fiction assumes this form, as do essays, articles, news reports, movies, music, and dance. Coming to climax is not just a sexual aspiration, it is ubiquitous.  Even the construct of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis is a version of this pattern. Beginnings, middles, and ends are not found in nature, not really, because in nature one form generally unfolds and transforms slowly into a related form, mostly without bright demarcations.[xxxviii] The Aristotelian pattern is not observed in nature but is imposed upon it by the imagination. The life of Abraham or of Abraham Lincoln, for example, cannot be understood if left tangled in a chaotic mass of detail. What makes sense of such a life, what prioritizes a nearly infinite number of facts, is the judgmental arrangement of selected details to suggest a purpose very often situated beneath the narrative arc of a beginning, middle, and end. This occurs so often, that we lose the sense of its mythic origin. Beginnings, middles, and ends seem like facts just as causes and effects seem like facts; assumptions about the reliability of sensory experience seem like facts, too. But these are not facts. They are stories that persuade, convince, and even convert because they arise upon mythic structures and assumptions that our culture accepts and expects. Selection, arrangement, quantification, measurement—each has a mythic basis because all such effort is not merely the mental work of reason; it is equally the work of intuition. Both reason and intuition are products of the imagination. Thus, the telling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, the writing of the gospels of Jesus , the creation of poems and novels, the discovery and employment of vanishing points and perspective, of the ordinate and the abscissa, the Fibonacci sequence, linear equations, negative and imaginary numbers, the calculus—all these are products of the mind. They sprang from the imagination of some and were created to fire the imagination of others.

Imagination. The imagination—including both reason and intuition—is paramount because our lives are not nurtured and shaped by facts solely by our sensory perceptions. Our lives are nurtured and shaped by our perceptions of facts, perceptions that stand apart from direct observation. These perceptions are the building blocks of our personal belief-structures. Our shared belief-structures constitute our intellectual culture, be it the culture of family, clique, tribe, clan, church, school, corporation, military, nation, or state. John-Charles Duffy refers to these as “our plausibility constructs” in his brilliant 2008 two-part Sunstone article “Mapping Book of Mormon Historicity Debates.”[xxxix] These structures by which we gain, weigh and transfer information and knowledge are set forth in symbols in the language of words, mathematics, music, art, binary codes, and even rituals, all of which are products of and resident in the imagination. This is so of our religious belief-structures as well.

Religious belief is often disdained now because the spiritual is not easily distinguished from the fanciful or delusional. Though faithful Jews, Christians, and Muslims may be entirely mistaken in their beliefs, I do not consider them crackpots. The faithful Mormon’s belief in gold plates, angels, and visionaries is not in the same category as the belief that, for example, humans are immortal aliens previously incarnated on other planets[xl] or that alien astronauts visited and genetically altered ancient Sumerians.[xli]  There are several reasons for this distinction:  First, such science-based religions seek to debunk the supernatural by transferring the object of faith from the transcendental to the imminent in order to propose a purely scientific explanation for life and human culture by relocating from human culture to extra-terrestrial culture the most profound and persistent philosophical and theological questions that have perplexed and preoccupied the greatest human minds in history, questions that these religions recast in pseudoscientific jargon without actually engaging them meaningfully; by pushing these questions into a distant past or a faraway space, they avoid the inquiry by a process of deferral, rather like opening one nesting doll after another. Second, though these belief-structures claim to be scientific, they often rely on secrecy, encryption, or inner circles of adepts, while ignoring accepted scientific methodologies, including the requirement that hypotheses be supported by repeatable, demonstrable, and quantifiable evidence accessible to others and subject to peer review. Third, these religions are often couched in narratives that turn out to be woefully shallow, obvious, and boring when compared with scriptural narratives that are interrelated, unfolding, and polysemous.

Mature religious belief must not only be distinguished from pseudo-science but from the reductionist interpretations of religious literalists like the anti-gay Fred Phelps[xlii] or James Dobson, [xliii] president of Focus on the Family. It must also be distinguished from the assertions of naïve positivists like evolution rhapsodist Richard Dawkins[xliv] or the empirically biased skeptic, James Randi.[xlv] The religious imagination that can accept without oversimplification the existence of a spiritual world beyond sensory proof must be distinguished from the truncated imagination that can accept only the existence of a solely material universe but ignores or disdains scientific consensus, method, or proof. But even as I say this, it is apparent that the line between the imagination that accepts both religion and science in their respective realms and the fanciful imagination that confounds these realms is not so bright and bold as one might hope. This is evidenced by some of the characters who have navigated the sundering overlap of these two oceans of perspective. In this confluence, we find Nicola Tesla, a reputed visionary-crackpot in his day, now credited with discovering alternating current, the electric motor, remote control, radio, and a device he guilelessly named the Tesla death ray.[xlvi] But here, too, we find Sir Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, a praised and respected polymath, author of 340 books and articles including his 1869 Hereditary Genius, who, for all his positive works, is now discredited as the father of eugenics.[xlvii] Even for geniuses, it is hard to distinguish wheat from tares in the broad fields of the imagination. And yet, the imagination and its progeny—when illuminated by caution, compassion, common sense, and self-criticism—have power to bring mortals into contact not only with the imminent natural world but with the world of the transcendent and divine, which though beyond scientific proof, is not in some other place, but is entangled with the material world generally and with us in particular.

Epistemology. Perhaps, the Book of Mormon is presented to dispel the notions that history is a true story and myth is a false one, that reason can be trusted and intuition cannot, that imminence and transcendence, material and spiritual are separate and incompatible and that the former is real and the latter is not. The Book of Mormon and its provenance suggest that these dichotomies are not contradictions but complementary elements of paradoxes like yin and yang, male and female, pleasure and pain—elements that are inseparably connected. This is why we cannot determine the truth of the Book of Mormon by archeology—not that there’s anything wrong with that. But archeology is about facts not truth, a point made in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”[xlviii] Facts do not get us to truth except through the intermediary of faith. Facts have to be believed before they can produce a concept of and faith in what’s real. A jury is given facts, but its members must believe those facts before they can declare their belief in the truth of the innocence or guilt of the accused. This applies to all facts. The need for faith would still exist even if the Church possessed the gold plates. Even if the gold plates were shown to be ancient, and the writing inscribed thereon to be reformed Egyptian, and its translation to be accurate, the truth of the book’s content would not be settled. We could still doubt its report of the divine and supernatural the way we doubt the significance of the date December 21, 2012, in the Mayan Calendar. Archeology might prove Joseph Smith to have been sincere, but it could not prove either his prophetic calling or the Book of Mormon’s theology.

So, the first principle of my personal epistemology is that faith, not fact, is the substance of things hoped for or the evidence of things unseen.[xlix] The second principle is that nearly everything is unseen because nearly everything lies outside our personal knowledge.  We rely almost entirely on hearsay, on second- and third-hand reports. The Book of Mormon is a second- and third- and even fourth-hand alleged historical report—alleged because its historical claims cannot be proved scientifically. This is not a cruel test or a perverse requirement. It is so because the past is not a fact. It is a story. Stories are not subject to scientific proof as are physical phenomena. The Book of Mormon is not a fact that can be proved; it is a story that instantiates that the Mormon Restoration rests upon and draws its power from myth and history equally—a point that would be obscured if the Book of Mormon were merely prophecy, parable, or proposition. This book and the books of Moses and Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price call us to accept the power of myth even as we accept the power of history and to accept, too, that both are works of the imagination that seek to influence complementary elements of the human soul.

In Mormon theology, the soul is a paradox of spirit and body which an individual senses as one’s interiority and exteriority, a view that contradicts the traditional orthodox teaching that  the soul as one’s transcendent essence, or Platonic ideal, or Aristotelian form. Mormonism rejects rigid dualities. Thus, the transcendent and imminent are of the same essence; both spirit and body have appetites. The body hungers and thirsts for food and drink and touch. The spirit hungers and thirsts for freedom, illumination and meaning. The spirit is refreshed by art, music, stories, and myths, even as the body is nourished by food, drink, and sex. Mormon scriptural texts call us to accept equally both history and myth, both reason and intuition, as products of the imagination and as sustenance for the spirit. The solidity of history, science, and rational proof is the spirit’s food; the fluidity of myth, symbols, and the arts is the spirit’s drink.

There was a time, not so long ago, when our culture prized most highly the schooling of the imagination. But the humanities have become undervalued in the current age of greed and concupiscence. Today, training is esteemed more than education—training in the procedures of law, business, accounting, medicine, and the like—all of which are touted in our corporatized colleges and universities as highways to success, to power, pleasure, and leisure with few warnings that such training, untempered by the humanities, usually stunts and corrupts by encouraging a life of physical pursuits lived in a context of clichés that kill contemplation and depress and debilitate the individual and eventually the community.

From my personal epistemological perspective, because we inhabit, we are told, a universe 96% of which is comprised of unobservable dark matter and energy, our knowledge cannot depend on our sensory perceptions alone. Our understanding must depend in some measure upon our mythic perceptions of the world seen and unseen. Our knowledge must include knowledge of our own invisible interiorities. For this knowledge, we must rely in part upon the intuitive faculties of our imagination, including our religious imagination, which may be the only sanctuary on earth where we can encounter a living God. I understand that it is an extraordinary claim that the transcendent and the divine are real but can be located in no more visible place than the soul and detected by no better means than the imagination. But I have come to believe that this is must be so. To know the transcendent and the divine, each soul is called to give equal weight to subjective and objective experience, to reason and intuition, and to accept that faith not fact leads to the proof of the unseen. In Mormonism, salvation is the grace-empowered sanctification or spiritual illumination of the soul that leads to its completion.

Perhaps, for this reason, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is within. The transcendent and the imminent are not polarities. The divine and the human are not polarities. Rather, they are the complementary elements of paradox that penetrate and enfold one another like lovers. The spiritual world does not exist in some other space or time. It is available to each soul in the numinous present. The past and future exist for us only in memory or in anticipation. For mortals, the past is forever a fading recollection, while the future is forever an imagined projection. For us, only the present is real. That reality, both in its imminent and transcendent manifestations, resides in the mind and is perceived only instantaneously in the sensory experiences that pass into memory even before their report can be spoken. Our present experience is but a fragment—a quantum—of the eternity that mortals but briefly encounter in its fleeting and processional temporality. The Old Testament identifies this experiential present with God’s name: “I am that I am,” signifying the Eternal Now that exists only in the apperceptive mass, which is the locus of the imagination.

           Typology. Thus, it is not with our reason alone, but with our maturing religious intuition, in a fruitful and flowering imagination, that we must read scripture and concentrate upon the self-referential types and anti-types we find there. I am referring to symbols, to the literary types and antiphonal types that pepper the narratives of our sacred texts, beginning with the Garden of Eden as a type or symbol of the perfection or completion of God’s creative work, followed by the fall from Eden as a type of the descent into imperfection, followed by the long lamentable narrative of scriptural history, which is consummated by the  literary type of a New Jerusalem (an anti-type of the Garden of Eden), symbolic of a new Paradise that represents a return to perfection, but of a higher order of completion—a perfection informed by the wisdom gained during the decent into imperfection. These types and anti-types trace a trajectory that begins on high, descends, and then ascends to a new height—another version of the mythic beginning, middle, and end, which end is really a new beginning. Northrup Frye discourses on these types in his book, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (Harcourt, 1982), which treats the Bible as a single literary work, despite its piecemeal provenance. Frye refers there to the repeated trajectory of perfection, descent, and renewal as a “U-shaped” narrative that appears in one Bible story after another—the stories of Noah, the Exodus, of Job, and of Jonah. This same trajectory can be noted in the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham—stories that commence at home, from which the protagonists must flee toward a promised land where prosperity leads to pride, conflict, war, destruction, and then repentance and redemption. In the Book of Mormon, the consummation is typified by the appearance of the resurrected Christ to the remnant, which then enjoys four generations of peace, prosperity and equality before descending again into imperfection, turmoil, and final annihilation of the white race, but with the promise of redemption through the love of God.

These “U-shaped” narratives trace the trajectory of the reigning Messianic anti-type: the premortal perfection of Jesus; followed by his incarnation, suffering, trial, crucifixion, death, descent into hell; followed by his resurrection to everlasting life. This preeminent pattern is pointed to again and again in scripture and in the Mormonism ordinances of baptism, confirmation, the temple endowment ceremony, and the course of one’s mythic journey from womb to tomb as charted in Mormon soteriology. In this pattern, imperfection is made essential to the progress of the soul. Though the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak; nevertheless, the spirit, too, is imperfect. It, too, can sin. It can be egocentric, intolerant, and blind to its own immaturity and iniquity. The sins of the spirit are as detrimental as sins of the flesh—drug addiction, greed, physical and sexual abuse. Nevertheless, imperfection is the road to wisdom.  For this reason repentance must be valued over sin-avoidance or hypocritical cover-ups. Imperfection of both spirit and body must be admitted as indispensable to growth and maturation rather than denied or despised. Jesus’ descent from perfection to imperfection and ascent from imperfection to a higher perfection is the eternal round that traces our mythic journey. These patterns contradict the orthodox obsession with perfection and establish imperfection as the seedbed that flowers to completion in a new and more replete paradise.

As Frye points out, these types and anti-types are self-referential because they do not point to authenticating proofs outside the text. The New Testament does not seek to prove that Jesus really lived by reference to historical documents or events. Rather, the New Testament validates Jesus by demonstrating that he fulfills the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament while simultaneously validating the Old Testament by showing that its prophesies are a type of and fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament. This is not proof as we know it because it points not outward to verifiable evidence but inward to its own textual content. Such texts are poor in proofs, but rich in symbols.

The contemporary world prefers propositional over symbolic language. This is why many Mormons struggle with the endowment ceremony, which is as symbol rich as Church meetings are symbol poor. The sacred is mostly communicated in symbols and rituals like the cross or baptism by immersion (representing the katabatic descent of the divine and the intersection of heaven and earth), or like holy oil or the laying on of hands (representing the dispensation of divine grace or the Holy Spirit). Symbolic language preserves the dynamism of religion by allowing its meaning to be revealed in ever-fresh contexts from age to age while avoiding the static inertia of propositional theology. Symbolic language works against the consequence of fundamentalism, namely, the termination of revelation and the manacling of the divine in chains of literalism. The gospel in symbols not only inhibits this spiritually lethal result, it blocks the eradication of vital but undesirable elements of a spiritual tradition. In each of the religions that originate with God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, the most troubling doctrine is the insistence on the embodiment of the divine. In Judaism, the divine word materialized on tables of stone and was later inscribed on the scrolls of Torah; in Christianity the Word was made flesh in the person of the Nazarene; in Islam the word of God was revealed by the Prophet and recorded in the Quran; and in Mormonism it was reified in and translated from gold plates. Each tradition begins with an incredible story of divine embodiment. Each story is set forth in “texts” rife not with propositions and proofs but with myths and tropes that embody meanings and are therefore largely insulated from deliberate manipulation, extirpation, and corruption.

Transformation. And yet, these sacred texts do offer proof to those who take the symbols and myths to heart. This proof is offered in an unexpected form, a subjective form, a personal form. That proof is the transformation of the soul and the illumination that the soul itself is the Christ-like creation that must incarnate, suffer, die, and be raised to a higher level of completion. This proof is not inscribed on stone, or scrolls, or gold plates but on the fleshly tables of the heart,[l] a changed heart. The call to transformation or rebirth is the crux of the message of the covenant. It is the call to the soul to take up its cross, to be immersed into the waters of imperfection, to suffer, endure, die, and be raised to a new completeness. Not the self-referencing scriptural tropes nor any evidences provable by science or to reason alone, but rather the transformation of the soul itself is the proof promised by scripture of the reality of the cosmic purposes of the divine. Presaged by sacred narratives and facilitated by symbolic sacraments, this transformation—subjective though it may be—forms within the soul a braid of faith, hope, and charity that evidences the transcendent reality that entwines the imminent.

In my own life I believe this transformation is occurring slowly and almost imperceptibly and in my declining years has caused me to see multiple and simultaneous meanings in a single utterance thus creating polysemous possibilities of hope while eliminating dogmatism; it has allowed me to sustain hope despite depression, to temper with mercy my natural demand for justice, and to accept the material world and the female principle on a equal footing with the spiritual world and the male principle. This process has not made me a better person than others, but it has altered the course of my descent into despair; it has allowed me to have, if not faith, at least some hope and some charity—although as you can tell from the opening critical section of this paper, whatever charity I have is neither perfect nor sentimental, is predisposed to diminution by irritation, and is prone to lapses.

Vision. My last reason for my remaining Mormon beliefs is that I have been witness to a number of unquantifiable, indemonstrable, and unrepeatable experiences that, in the aggregate, I cannot account for except as evidence of my chosen and uncertain beliefs. I will conclude by relating two of these true but improbable experiences:

In 1982, Apostle Bruce McConkie, in a BYU devotional address, reprimanded BYU religion professor George Pace by telling his students and the readers of his book, What It Means to Know Christ,[li]to ignore Pace’s admonitions to seek a personal relationship with Jesus.  McConkie’s speech was punishing, vindictive, and un-apostolic.  It palpably damaged Pace in his person and career. I mention it because in that same year and in direct contradiction to the admonitions of this errant apostle, Jesus himself made an unscheduled, unexpected, and apparently unauthorized visitation to my father, Sam.

Yes, Jesus appeared to my dad.

I must explain that my father was no saint, Latter-day or otherwise. He was never my friend or mentor. He was not a role model. He was distant and preserved that distance by making himself intensely unlikeable. In the presence of non-family members, he oozed his own brand of saccharine sweetness. But beneath this lurked a propensity for meanness and withering sarcasm that could erupt unexpectedly into violence. He was quick to inflict corporeal punishment, which in his defense was considered in the 1950s essential to good parenting of boys in particular. I think the only book Dad ever read, besides technical manuals, was the novel Candy[lii] that featured the farcical sexual adventures of an eighteen year old girl—or so I’ve read on Wikipedia. More to the point, my father was decidedly un-religious. His knowledge of Christianity approached absolute zero. He hadn’t attended Mass since he was a boy. He appeared not to have a spiritual cell in his body. His thoughts seemed of the earth, earthy. I believe he suffered intensely and in silence from his World War II combat experiences and was unable to recover from them.

At age 67 in 1982, Dad’s chances of having a spiritual experience were about the same as Hitler’s in 1942 of converting to Judaism. And yet, a spiritual transformation did occur—not to Hitler, but to my father, who was a Hitler in his own right but without Germany. Quite a few of my friends and family witnessed this transformation and considered it a miracle ranking somewhere in the vicinity of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. I can’t remember now the month or day, but I remember the hour—7:00 am. Margaret and I were awakened by the phone.  It was my mother, Rose, calling from the Utah Valley Hospital where my dad had been under observation part of the previous day and all the previous night after falling off a ladder while changing a light bulb in his garage and breaking his wrist. I swear: this is not a set up for a joke.

“What’s wrong?” I asked my mother. “Did he have a heart attack in the hospital?” This was not unlikely; he weighed over 320 pounds.

“No,” was her reply. My good, loving, and long-suffering mother seemed—well—pissed.

“What?” I asked.  “Did they discover cancer?”

“Come over,” she said. “I’m not talking about this over the phone. Bring Margaret.”

“What’s going on?” I pressed.

“Just come over,” she said.  I wrote down the room number she gave me and hung up.

A half-hour later we were standing in my father’s private hospital room. Margaret cradled Elizabeth our second born while I held Angela, our eldest. My mother was standing near the head of Dad’s hospital bed scowling, her arms folded defensively across her chest. My father was sitting up against fluffed pillows with a look on his face both sheepish and strangely beatific.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Sam,” said my mother to her husband, “you tell them just like you told me.”

I looked at my dad. Margaret took the other seat in the small room.

“What?” I urged.

“He says he saw Jesus Christ,” said my mother, not skeptically but with irritation.

I looked at the two of them dumbfounded. “What?” I said.

“Tell them,” demanded my mother.

My dad, whose ordinarily closed and purplish countenance shone as I had never seen it shine, proceeded to relate the following story: After breaking his wrist, he had been driven by my mother to Utah Valley Hospital, checked in, and deposited into this private room. Since my parents had moved to Utah, Dad had not acquired a regular doctor here. The hospital personnel were reluctant to medicate him until they had consulted his physician in California. So Dad had been in agony most of the night. About 4 a.m., through the door of his room, my father said that he had heard screaming followed immediately by the sound of hospital personnel rushing down the hall to the bedside of another patient who, he learned later, died that night. After the hall had cleared, Dad, who was lying on his side holding his injured wrist, heard his name called: “Sam.” He lifted his head slightly to see who had spoken. But no one was there. A moment passed. He heard the voice again: “Sam.” Dad then noticed that the light in his room was brightening. He said he thought something was wrong with the electric current. The light kept getting brighter, and Dad became alarmed. The light continued to intensify until, in his words, it became “unearthly.” He said he then sat up and let his legs hang over the side of the hospital bed. (Later, when my brother Joe asked him how he had managed to push himself into a sitting position with a broken wrist, Dad seemed taken back: “My wrist didn’t hurt anymore; nothing hurt,” he told Joe, recalling a detail that had escaped him.) Dad said he was terrified because, in his words, “It was as if the sun had come out of the sky and was just outside the window.”

Margaret and I looked at each other.

“Go on,” I said.

Dad said he then saw a man standing in the midst of the brilliance between him and the door to his room. He told us he recognized Jesus at once. Wide-eyed, Dad said: “I could have picked that face out of a crowd of millions.”

“What did he look like?” I asked.

The first thing Dad described was his Visitor’s clothes: “He was strangely wrapped,” said my father, “in something like a robe.” Dad said that it was so brilliantly white it seemed alive, and around Jesus’ waist was a red sash. His hair was long, dark auburn, parted in the middle, and every hair in place. His eyes were large and dark—maybe brown or dark blue. He stood on the ground. His hands were at his sides. He was young, not tall and had, to quote Dad, “a runner’s build.” Dad told us that for awhile the two of them just looked at each other. I gathered that Dad must have thought: This is it, Judgment Day! For he then said that Jesus told him: “Sam, you haven’t been good; but you’re not that bad either. You have time to make amends with your wife.” At this point, Jesus made a gesture of inclusion and said: “You have a wonderful family.”  I t was then Dad noticed the wounds at the base of Jesus’ palms. “They were fresh,” said Dad, “a lively red.” Those were his words: “a lively red.” This was not a turn of phrase I ever expected to hear from my father. Dad reported that Jesus then told him: “Make amends with your wife.” And then he said, “All will turn out well.” My father reported that something more passed between them, something important that he could not recall. He said they looked at each other in silence for what seemed like a long time. The light then began to gather around Jesus, who lifted off the floor and suddenly was gone. My father then slumped sideways onto the hospital bed and again felt the pain in his broken wrist.

Margaret and I stared at him in silence.

“I checked his chart,” said my mother abruptly. “He hasn’t had any medication at all.” Then she added: “What I don’t understand is why Jesus Christ would visit a bastard like him.”  Mother’s reaction was not entirely unwarranted. She was a lovely person who had endured Dad’s verbal abuse for many years and felt understandably that Sam was not worthy of this experience. Later I suggested to her that the visit may not have been a reward, but an intervention.

More remarkable than my father’s story, was his face—normally flushed with purple and somewhat hostile. As he told of this experience, his countenance was translucent, open, and (So help me!) childlike. Unexpected? Yes. Incredible? Absolutely. But there are living witnesses of all this who would back me up because that very day I called my closest friends and family and insisted they visit my father and quiz him about his experience and assess for themselves whether it was an hallucination, evidence of a psychotic break, an invention, the result of some deep-seated psychological need, a deception like the devil appearing as an angel of light, or the real thing. The conclusion we reached over the next months was that Sam truly believed in this visitation and that its affect on him was entirely salutary. His meanness evaporated. He was remained awed and humbled. He displayed no arrogance. And he lost his penchant for causing other people pain by pushing their buttons. We who knew him knew that he could not have invented the details of his experience. My dad, despite his many faults, was no liar. I don’t think he ever lied about anything, even his gambling habit. He was not at all conversant with Mormonism and could not have patterned his description after Joseph Smith’s First Vision because, despite my conversion and that of his other sons, Sam had never bothered to inquire into our chosen religion. Dad recognized his profound ignorance of the Christianity and asked my brother Lawrence to take him to a bookstore where he could read something about Jesus’ life. Larry recommended the J.B. Phillips’ translation of the New Testament so Dad could read the Gospels in plain English. While in the store, the clerk mentioned that there were other, more authoritative translations of the Bible available. Larry told the clerk that Dad needed something a less heavy since he was a novice. The clerk then beamed and said to my father: “So, you’ve only recently met the Lord?”

Dad looked at him and then whispered to my brother: “How does he know?”

Over time Dad’s countenance became less lucent but never returned to what it had been> He readily admitted that he did not understand the meaning of this visitation and that the details of it were fading from his memory; but he insisted that it occurred as he had described it until his dying day in February of 1997. Later, I learned that my father made a point of calling his sister Florence in Detroit and telling her of this experience. My aunt Florence responded not with incredulity, but with the surprising story that my grandfather, Paolo, had also reported that Jesus visited him while he was drowning in the Mediterranean just before his fellow sailors pulled him to safety. This story my father had never heard, which is evidence that his family was not inclined to advertise. I tell the story now because it explains, in part, why I doubt my doubts.

My second experience was even more personal. At 4:00 o’clock a.m. on Sunday, September 12, 1993, I had what I call a presentment. I use this word because my experience was neither a dream nor a vision. That morning, awoke with the clear and distinct perception that I had just been addressed from the end of our bed by four personages, two males and two females, as elegant as—but not identical to—the elongated regal statues that grace the eastern portals of Chartres Cathedral. Though their identity was uncertain, I remembered clearly what they had been told me. I awakened Margaret and related to her that I had been forewarned that on that day, September 12th, I would receive the official summons to a disciplinary council that would be held a week later and would excommunicate me from the Church. I told her that we had been encouraged not despair, that my excommunication was part of a larger sequence of events, and that all would be well. That very afternoon, while some trustees of the Mormon Alliance were meeting at our house as previously scheduled, there was a knock at the front door. When I opened it, I was greeted by two smiling men in suits, representatives of Stake President Kerry Heinz. They declined my invitation to come in and handed me an envelope. From it I removed and read the official summons to a stake disciplinary council to be held the following Sunday—September 19, 1993—the first day of my exile.

Conclusion. And so, I return to where I began, to my status as an excommunicant trying to explain my doubt-riddled beliefs and my belief-riddled doubts that waiver like distant images in the desert sun. Visions or mirages? I understand that the instances I just related can easily be explained naturalistically. But everything can be explained naturalistically, or supernaturalistically, or conspiratorially. I believe that somewhere in his book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton observed that, if pussy willows blossomed into kittens every spring, it would not be seen as a miracle but as the workings of a natural law.[liii] Everything is miraculous until we get used to it: the earth floating in space full of electromagnetic fields, hundreds and hundreds of millions of galaxies with no end in sight, the intelligence a child, the expert playing of a violin, the marriage of opposites, the attraction of likes—and overweight me driving on this planet’s north-western hemisphere in my Lincoln listening to Mozart and, to beat all, managing somehow to believe what I still believe of Jesus and Sophia, of Joseph Smith’s revelations, and of the Mormon Restoration.

I have no better explanation for my lingering and unstable beliefs than this: In unexpected times and places, the mind can empty of its hopes and fears and be filled, instead, with intimations—like a melody just beyond the hearing of the ears, like a fragrance that has not quite assailed the nostrils. There at the fulcrum of the certain and the uncertain, at the cusp of the mundane and the sublime, the everyday can suddenly open upon the extraordinary, the temporal, upon the eternal. And for an instant sometimes something can present itself—something beyond the dichotomies of belief and unbelief, beyond the literal and the symbolic—a glimpse beyond the seeing of the eye: an inner vision—yes, a vision—as improbable as the parting of sea or sky, as unlikely as an angel appearing to a Jewish virgin or a Yankee farm boy, as unexpected as the mysterious removal of a stone from a borrowed tomb or from a buried box of golden words; a vision, as insistent as a dove winging cloudward against the pull of earth, as a soul sojourning beyond history and myth—yes, an insubstantial yet insistent vision of undiscovered countries and promised glories that surpasses all imaginings.


NOTES

[i] See for example: (a) Brooks, Joanna, “Racist Remarks by Popular BYU Professor Spark Controversy,” February 29, 2012, http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/joannabrooks/5748/racist_remarks_by_popular_byu_religion_professor_spark_controversy/?comments=view&cID=25881&pID=25870#c25881;

(b) Mueller, Max Perry, “Is Mormonism Still Racist? Comments from a BYU professor stir up a troubling past,” New York Times, March 2, 2012,

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2012/03/mormon_church_and_racism_a_new_controversy_about_old_teachings_.html ; ReformMormonism “Racism and Mormonism – An Apology, http://www.reformmormonism.org/lib/racism-apology.htm ;

(c) kiwimormon, “Racism and the Mormons: A case of Brian’s lost shoe?” http://kiwimormon.com/2012/03/13/racism-and-the-mormons-a-case-of-brians-lost-shoe/ ;

[ii] Brigham Young Addresses, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated Feb. 5, 1852, located in the LDS Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah

[iii] “The reason that spirits are born into Negro bodies is because those spirits rejected the Priesthood of God in the pre-existence. This is the reason why you have Negroes upon the earth.” (“For What Purpose?,” a talk given by Alvin R. Dyer at the Missionary Conference in Oslo, Norway, March 18, 1961, printed in The Negro in Mormon Theology, pp. 48-58)

 

[iv] Bringhurst, Newell, G.  “Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks Within Mormonism,” http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Dialogue_V12N02_24.pdf

 

[v] Id.

[vi] In 1995, black church member A. David Jackson asked church leaders to issue a declaration repudiating past doctrines that treated black people as inferior. In particular, Jackson asked the church to disavow the 1949 “Negro Question” declaration from the church Presidency which stated “The attitude of the church with reference to negroes … is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord … to the effect that negroes … are not entitled to the priesthood…. Ostling, Richard and Joan (1999), Mormon America, Harper Collins. pp. 103–104. ISBN 0-06-066371-5. The church leadership did not issue a repudiation, and so in 1997 Jackson, aided by other church members including Armand Mauss, sent a second request to church leaders, which stated that white Mormons felt that the 1978 revelation resolved everything, but that black Mormons react differently when they learn the details. He said that many black Mormons become discouraged and leave the church or become inactive. “When they find out about this, they exit… You end up with the passive African Americans in the church”. Id. P 10.5 Other black church members think giving an apology would be a “detriment” to church work and a catalyst to further racial misunderstanding. African-American church member Bryan E. Powell says “There is no pleasure in old news, and this news is old.” Gladys Newkirk agrees, stating “I’ve never experienced any problems in this church. I don’t need an apology. . . . We’re the result of an apology.” The large majority of black Mormons say they are willing to look beyond the racist teachings and cleave to the church in part because of its powerful, detailed teachings on life after death. Broadway, Bill (1998-05-30), “Black Mormons Resist Apology Talk,” Washington Post, http://www.ldshistory.net/1990/mhablack.htm. Hinckley, then church president, told the Los Angeles Times “The 1978 declaration speaks for itself … I don’t see anything further that we need to do”. Church leadership did not issue a repudiation. Id. Church apostle Dallin H. Oaks said: “It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that…. The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it… I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking… Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies.” Dallin H. Oaks, Interview with Associated Press, in Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, 5 June 1988; see also, “Black Mormons Resist Apology Talk”. Washington Post. http://www.ldshistory.net/1990/mhablack.htm.  Ramirez, Margaret (2005-07-26). “Mormon past steeped in racism: “Some black members want church to denounce racist doctrines,” Chicago Tribune. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-blackmormons,1,708682.story?page=1&ctrack=1&cset=true

[vii]See generally, Morera, Isabel and Toscano Margaret, eds. Hell and Its Afterlife: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Ashgate Publishing, 2010).

[viii] Ehat, Andrew & Cook, Lyndon, The Words of Joseph Smith (Grandin Book, 1991) p. 413.

 

[ix] Equality for blacks, women, gays, and even for the poor have been either opposed or unsupported by the LDS Church throughout the latter 20th and early 21st centuries.

 

[xi] D&C 121:37

 

[xii] “What is commonly termed idolatry has arisen from a few sincere men, full of faith and having a little knowledge, urging upon a backsliding people to preserve some customs–to cling to some fashions or figures, to put them in mind of that God with whom their fathers were acquainted . . . . Idols have been introduced . . . to preserve among the people the idea of the true God.” Journal of Discourses 6:194

 

[xiii] D&C 68:2-6; D&C 4

[xiv] Winter, Caroling, Bloomberg Business Week, “How the Mormons Make Money,” July 10, 2012: “Mormons make up only 1.4 percent of the U.S. population, but the church’s holdings are vast. First among its for-profit enterprises is DMC, which reaps estimated annual revenue of $1.2 billion from six subsidiaries, according to the business information and analysis firm Hoover’s Company Records. Those subsidiaries run a newspaper, 11 radio stations, a TV station, a publishing and distribution company, a digital media company, a hospitality business, and an insurance business with assets worth $3.3 billion.

     “AgReserves, another for-profit Mormon umbrella company, together with other church-run agricultural affiliates, reportedly owns about 1 million acres in the continental U.S., on which the church has farms, hunting preserves, orchards, and ranches. These include the $1 billion, 290,000-acre Deseret Ranches in Florida, which, in addition to keeping 44,000 cows and 1,300 bulls, also has citrus, sod, and timber operations. Outside the U.S., AgReserves operates in Britain, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. Its Australian property, valued at $61 million in 1997, has estimated annual sales of $276 million, according to Dun & Bradstreet.

The church also runs several for-profit real estate arms that own, develop, and manage malls, parking lots, office parks, residential buildings, and more. Hawaii Reserves, for example, owns or manages more than 7,000 acres on Oahu, where it maintains commercial and residential buildings, parks, water and sewage infrastructure, and two cemeteries. Utah Property Management Associates, a real estate arm of the church, manages portions of City Creek Center. According to Spencer P. Eccles from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the mall cost the church an estimated $2 billion. It is only one part of a $5 billion church-funded revamping of downtown Salt Lake City, according to the Mormon-owned news site KSL. “They run their businesses like businesses, no bones about it,” says Eccles.

  “In addition, the church owns several nonprofit organizations, some of which appear to be lucrative. Take, for example, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), a 42-acre tropical theme park on Oahu’s north shore that hosts luaus, canoe rides, and tours through seven simulated Polynesian villages. General-admission adult tickets cost $49.95; VIP tickets cost up to $228.95. In 2010 the PCC had net assets worth $70 million and collected $23 million in ticket sales alone, as well as $36 million in tax-free donations. The PCC’s president, meanwhile, received a salary of $296,000. At the local level, the PCC, opened in 1963, began paying commercial property taxes in 1992, when the Land and Tax Appeal Court of Hawaii ruled that the theme park “is not for charitable purposes” and is, in fact, a “commercial enterprise and business undertaking.” Nevertheless, the tourist destination remains exempt from federal taxes because the PCC claims to be a “living museum” and an education-oriented charity that employs students who work at the center to pay their way through church-run Brigham Young University-Hawaii. . .

     “As a religious organization, the LDS Church enjoys several tax advantages. Like other churches, it is often exempt from paying taxes on the real estate properties it leases out, even to commercial entities, says tax lawyer David Miller, who is not Mormon. The church also doesn’t pay taxes on donated funds and holdings. Mitt Romney and others at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded in 1984, gave the Mormon Church millions’ worth of stock holdings obtained through Bain deals, according to Reuters. Between 1997 and 2009, these included $2 million in Burger King and $1 million in Domino’s Pizza shares. Under U.S. law, churches can legally turn around and sell donated stock without paying capital-gains taxes, a clear advantage for both donor and receiver. The church also makes money through various investment vehicles, including a trust company and an investment fund called Ensign Peak Advisors, which employs managers who specialize in international equities, cash management, fixed income, quantitative investment, and emerging markets, according to profiles on LinkedIn. Public information on Ensign Peak is sparse. . . .

     “According to U.S. law, religions have no obligation to open their books to the public, and the LDS Church officially stopped reporting any finances in the early 1960s. In 1997 an investigation by Time used cross-religious comparisons and internal information to estimate the church’s total value at $30 billion. The magazine also produced an estimate that $5 billion worth of tithing flows into the church annually, and that it owned at least $6 billion in stocks and bonds. The Mormon Church at the time said the estimates were grossly exaggerated, but a recent investigation by Reuters in collaboration with sociology professor Cragun estimates that the LDS Church is likely worth $40 billion today and collects up to $8 billion in tithing each year.”

 

[xv] See, Matt. 23:7

 

[xvi] Words of Joseph Smith, pp.340-362

[xvii] Toscano, Paul, The Sanctity of Dissent, “The Call of Mormon Feminism,” pp. 77-98 (Signature Books: Salt Lake City, 1994); see also Words of Joseph Smith. p.404, n.42

 

[xviii] Mosiah 15:1

 

[xix] Moses 1:39      

 

[xx] 2 Ne. 9:41

 

[xxi] D&C 93

 

[xxii] D&C 131:7

 

[xxiii] D&C 121:43

[xxiv] D&C 132

 

[xxv] Toscano, Margaret M. “The Missing Rib: The Forgotten Place of Queens and Priestesses in the Establishment of Zion,” http://www.bhporter.com/Porter%20PDF%20Files/The%20Missing%20Rib.pdf ; see also, “If Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843, Then Why Aren’t They Using It,” http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V27N02_231.pdf

 

[xxvi] The Fair Wiki, “Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Marriages to young women, http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith/Polygamy/Marriages_to_young_women

 

[xxvii] Toscano, Paul, “The Varieties of Irreligious Experiences: Emptying the Fulness of the Priesthood,” http://www.paultoscano.com/?p=31

[xxviii] Anderson, Devery S., “The Anointed Quorum in Nauvoo, 1842-45”, 29(2) Journal of Mormon History, 137-157 (Fall 2003).

[xxix] D&C 76:44-99

 

[xxx] D&C 76; Alma 17.

[xxxi] D&C 19:5-12

 

[xxxii] Domhoff, William G. Professor , Sociology Department, University of California at Santa Cruz, “Who Rules American?” http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

 

[xxxiii] D&C 128:8

 

[xxxiv] The Fair Wiki, “Mormonism and the nature of God/Infinite regress of Gods,” http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_the_nature_of_God/Infinite_regress_of_Gods

 

[xxxv] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Hi, I’m Brian: Why do Mormons do family history or genealogy research?” http://mormon.org/me/1H6S/

 

[xxxvi] An old joke mostly recently referenced in Hawking, Stephen, A Brief History of Time (Bantam Books, 1988).

 

[xxxvii] Aristotle in his Poetics stated that plot is the first principle of tragedy and that a plot must be whole, having a middle, beginning, and end.

 

[xxxviii] Wilbur, Ken, A Brief History of Everything (Shambhala, 1996).

[xl] Reitman, Janet, Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion (Houghton Mifflin, 2011).

 

[xli] Sitchin, Zecharia, The 12th Planet, (Avon, 1976)

 

[xlvi] Seifer, Marc, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nicola Tesla: Biography of a Genius (Citadel Press, 2001); see also Nicola Tesla, wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla

[xlvii] Gilliam, Nicholas Wright, A life of Sir Francis Galton (Oxford University Press, 2001);  see also Wikipedia, Sir Francis Galton, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Galton;

 

[xlviii] Lucas, George and Spielberg, Steven, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

[xlix] Hebrews 11:1

 

[l] Jeremiah 31:31-34

 

[li] Pace, George, What It Means To Know Christ (Provo, Utah: Council Press, 1981).

 

[lii] Kenton, Maxwell, Candy, (Olympia Press, 1958).

 

[liii] Chesterton, G. K., Orthodoxy (1908)

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