Friday, December 31, 2010

My Personal Story

Here’s the story of how I went from true believing Mormon (TBM) to religious skeptic. 

First, a little background.  I was raised in a very active LDS home. I come from serious Mormon pioneer stock and am a 5th or 6th generation Mormon. I am an Eagle Scout and I graduated from seminary, went on a Mormon mission, went to BYU, married in the temple, and served in various church callings including Gospel Doctrine teacher and a member of the bishopric. I am happily married and have four wonderful kids.  

I'll get into the particulars later, but in short, I had doubts about the Church going back to my teenage years. Specifically, I had doubts about Joseph Smith, polygamy, and blacks and the priesthood. Later, as I learned about evolution, I became troubled with the LDS view of human origins because it didn't fit well with the scientific facts I was learning in college and medical school. I never investigated these issues that troubled me and mostly accepted the apologists' explanations for them. The doubts never really went away, but I got good at putting them "on the shelf" - at least until I finished medical school and was about half way through my anesthesiology residency. That's when I could not ignore the doubts any longer.  

I read Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling during my anesthesia residency. It was a faithful examination of the real story of Joseph Smith from a believer's perspective. I came away  from this book thinking that Joseph Smith was very human, very fallible, and prone to human foibles and weaknesses. However, I still could make space in my faith for a two-dimensional Joseph Smith: part prophet, part man. When Joseph was a prophet, he was inspired. But when he was just being “Joseph” he was just as fallible as the next guy. 

However, Joseph Smith introduced the doctrine of polygamy while in his prophetic role. He taught that God demanded him to practice it, to instruct leaders of the Church to practice it, and that it was necessary for salvation. In learning the details of polygamy, I learned that Joseph Smith lied to his wife about it, he lied to the church about it, and he repeatedly lied to the public about it. Hugely influential books for me on the subject were Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard Van Wagoner and In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton. 

What was disturbing was that this history - readily available to anybody, and extremely well documented by the Church - was very different than what I had been taught. The discrepancy between the actual historical account and the “faithful version” taught by the Church struck me as dishonest. Uncomfortable facts of history are carefully scrubbed from Church publications and are not discussed during church or seminary. 
Other troubling aspects of LDS history include Joseph Smith's  involvement in the occult, magic and gold-digging using magic stones which he later used to translate the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s heavy involvement in Freemasonry (which Joseph borrowed heavily from to create the Mormon temple ceremonies), the anachronisms in The Book of Mormon, the lack of any archaeologic, linguistic, or DNA evidence of Hebrews in America, glaring problems with the translation of the Book of Abraham (the papyrus he translated is actually a common pagan funerary text called “The Book of the Dead” that has nothing to do with the Book of Abraham), theocracy in Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Utah, racism practiced in the Church towards blacks until 1978, and opposition to the Civil Rights movement, LDS opposition to gender equality - especially during its political involvement fighting the ERA amendment and the Proclamation on the Family, and most recently its unethical opposition to same-sex marriage (including its behind-the-scenes involvement with Prop 8). 
This is only the barest of introductions to the issues I investigated.  I read voraciously for months from the most reliable sources I could find, trying cautiously to avoid both anti-Mormon and pro-Mormon bias. When the dust settled, I concluded that it was extremely improbable that the LDS church was anything other than a human invention and that our leaders were no more inspired than anyone else. 

What’s odd is how, one day, it just clicked. I woke up on Sunday Dec 28th, 2008, ready for a busy day of bishopric meetings, interviews, and Church services. But by the end of the day, I had told my bishop that I didn’t have a testimony anymore. I told my wife earlier that same day in between meetings. 
Initially, she was devastated. But as we communicated (which we have always been good at), and as she read the same information about LDS history, our viewpoints eventually converged.

I then examined Christian theology and my belief in God and found it just as vacuous and untenable as Mormonism.  Great claims require great evidence. However, during my search for answers about Jesus and God, I found no evidence that was reliable and convincing to me. 

However, I did not become morally unhinged or nihilistic after losing my faith. I think people can be moral without religion. I don’t feel any less moral than I did before. In fact, I feel a greater connectedness to people than I ever felt before. I feel a greater sense of wonder and awe about life. I feel free as I never have before. I feel life is a wonderful and precious journey that I'm lucky to be on. In short, I’m very happy with where I am now, and have no regrets with my search for truth. Life isn't perfect, but I think I’m as happy - maybe even a little happier - than the next guy. Of course I don’t know everything. But I feel very confident about my conclusions regarding the LDS church. I wouldn’t leave if I didn’t. 
My parents and siblings did not take the news well. There have been some tensions there. But we are arriving at a workable situation. It has been frustrating since the Church can condition members to ostracize and judge someone who leaves the church. Sometimes it can lead to family estrangement (ironic in a religion that claims to put family first). To some, I am an apostate, proud, sinful, intellectual, lazy, a bad father, blinded, etc. But we’re working through it. 
Anyway, I enjoy reading about and discussing religion. I still find it fascinating even though I don't believe in it as I once did.  I believe there are many ways to find happiness in life.  Religion works for some people. But it doesn't work for me.  I don’t have any desire to dislodge people from their beliefs, nor do I have any motive for making converts. My missionary days are over. But I do find it enjoyable to talk to people about religion.  
And maybe this is why I chose to start this blog. I need a voice, an outlet. There is no outlet for disagreement or opposing views in the Church, which is why I don’t attend anymore. My parents and siblings, for the most part, are not interested in talking to me about what I think. My opinions are too dangerous to their faith.  I understand why, and don't blame them. It's the system we were all raised in. We're taught to be scared of contrary facts and opinions, lest they damage our faith. They have too much to lose given the sunken costs of a lifetime of LDS membership. 

Maybe my journey will be helpful to someone else out there searching. Maybe someone else reading this will feel that they are not alone in the world. 


  1. god bless you for taking the sack off your head josh..i am with you 1000% monomo

  2. Hey Josh, I'm gonna read your whole blog before our NY trip. U r my long lost twin but u read more than me so I know this will be a learning experience. God bless... ;-) And I enjoyed reading your story.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story Josh... It very closely parallels my own. I was impressed with your list of favorite books... many of which I have read myself - I knew you had read the science of good and evil by your reference to Bioaltruism above - I'd like to recommend my favorite... The age of Reason by Thomas Paine.

  4. stumbled upon this blog,,, enjoying all of it and your story very much. Thx for sharing so much!

  5. Thank you for such a great blog that you have made. I look forward to reading more of the content here.

    Your story has much of the same paths as mine in regards to the crisis of faith. Thanks.

  6. Thanks Josh,
    Sometimes I wonder well what about Hatch, Reid, Romney et al but I guess once you KNOW then its fairly simple...I really would be a hypocrite to stay with no testimony even after having a very strong one for 30 years...thanks for your blog!

  7. After 33 years in the church I came to the same conclusion over the last 12 months. I used my own ability to discern whether Joseph Smith was honest or dishonest regarding the origins of the Book of Mormon.

    I had often heard, and obviously knew, that if Joseph Smith fabricated his experience and that the Book of Mormon was fiction that the rest of the church was false.

    After reading a number of books, discussing the facts with other active members and using my own objective mind I came to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fraud. It's obvious that other early church leaders were drunk with power and committed crimes against members and non-members alike.

    I am struggling to pull away and find myself in a very difficult position. Ido find some comfort in knowing that I have come to the right conclusion regarding religion. The most I can say is that I do believe in deity and hope to live a good life.


  8. I'm currently reading "Rough Stone Rolling," and I've noted the other books you mentioned. Would you (or any of your readers) mind listing some more books that fall into the category of not whitewashed but not fiery anti-Mormon?

  9. Good question. I'm my most recent blog post, I recommended some LDS books. But here are some that I'm thinking would be good to start with:

    Good books about polygamy:
    Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard Van Wagoner
    In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton

    Books about the making sense of LDS scripture:
    An Insider's View of Mormon Origins by Grant Palmer
    By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus by Charles Larson (the last chapter is weird)
    Losing a Lost Tribe by Simon Southerton
    Early Mormonism and the Magic World by Michael Quinn
    American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon by Dan Vogel

    Books about LDS leadership:
    Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power by Michael Quinn
    Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power by Michael Quinn
    David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism by Greg Prince

    General History:
    Mormon America by Richard Ostling
    No Man Knows My HIstory by Fawn Brodie (probably my favorite LDS history book)

    Not a complete list - but it's a start.

    Happy reading!

  10. Stumble upon this blog and had to make a comment. You obviously have read a lot, but there is always much more to explore, especially from the past. As a non believer in gods or God, you should have no objections that anything from the past can convince you otherwise. Forge ahead and start with the "so called" Church Fathers. What made many of them choose martyrdom instead of your current position which would have been much more convenience for them not to mention much safer. Any one who finds religion fascinating as you stated should go back into history and learn as much about it as possible.

  11. Josh,

    I love your blog. I'm studying religions now and am starting with the Mormon church. I found out that JS apparently used some of the words used in the Septuagint when quoting from Isaiah. Some examples of that are in 2 Nephi 12:16, 2 Nephi 12:20, 2 Nephi 7:2. I found this information at this website:

    I'm searching and trying to find an answer for this that makes sense. Could he have had access to verbiage in the Septuagint?? Was this verbiage in the original manuscript or was it added in later (since there have been over 3,000 changes to the book excluding punctuation and spelling errors) after JS started learning Hebrew? Or, is the only explanation that of "divine inspiration"?

    My children are going to be influenced by the church in one way or another through my family on both sides no matter how hard I try to keep it away from them. I have girls and DO NOT want them to feel forced to believe they have to accept polygamy as a practice sanctioned by God - as I felt I was. So, I am trying to be someone they can go to for answers when my family tells them to forget everything else and just read the Book of Mormon to find the truth (like I was always told to do).

    So far, almost everything I've studied about the Book of Mormon can be chalked up to JS making it up (especially since he didn't start "translating" until at least 5 years after his first vision...he had years to gather information to help him "make up" the book, not 60 days like we're always told). However, this new finding about the Septuagint verbiage is stumping me...unless we have proof that he had access to it somehow or someone else sometime later added it in. It's hard to say what was in the original manuscript because it was destroyed by water after JS buried it in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo house and Emma's 2nd husband dug it up 40 years later. It's unfortunate that we don't have the full original manuscript to know for sure what was added to what JS originally dictated to his scribes.

    I'm guessing you've come up on this very thing and I was wondering what your answer is. I look forward to your reply.


  12. Did some research with regards to my question/comment above and this is what I discovered:

    Joseph Smith moved to Pennsylvania prior to his "translation" of the B of M. Charles Thomson translated the Septuagint into English and in 1808 it was published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

  13. Hey Josh! I stumbled on your blog while doing a little research for my own on a piece I'm writing about Mormon polygamy - the original doctrine vs the PR representation today.

    My story is actually very similar to yours and I feel like I share your approach towards candid, frank, but non-evangelical conversations with family and friends about what I doubt and what I now believe. You can check out my story here:

    Send me your email if you'd like, I'd love to chat some more - mine is