Sunday, July 28, 2013

Life is a test - The Parable

I am kind of tired of the lame excuse that God can't be more involved in our lives because then we would have no agency, God can't have prophets that actually prophecy or show signs because we wouldn't have any choice, or that God has to make the choice appear 50/50 so that you have to choose.  All because, OBVIOUSLY, life is a test.

Well, this is a really stupid test if it is one.  If you ever had a test in school that was like the one God is supposedly giving us humans, you would probably talk to the college and try and get that professor in trouble.  Let me demonstrate the inherent absurdity of said test with a parable.  Note, that this reflects the beliefs about prophetic revelation that I have gleaned from reading apologetic sources, removing a lot of the power of prophets, etc.

The Test
There once was a group of students that were going to be given a test.  They do not know that they are going to be given this test, nor will any of their past knowledge be on the test.  They are, essentially, starting as a blank slate (for the purposes of this test).  As luck would have it, the professor decided to be out of town between the now and when the test is supposed to be given, so they won't be learning anything from him directly.

Luckily, the professor decided to send out letters to all of the students.  Sadly, he was in a foreign country with an unreliable postal system.  Many of the letters got lost, some got damaged and were discarded by the students on arrival, some got lost after they arrived.  Some precious few, however, got to their destination and were read.  These students now knew that there was a test coming, they still didn't know what would be on it, but that they needed to start studying.

They had proof of the test through the letter, unfortunately the professor did not provide any way for the students to know that it came from him.  Due to this, many of those that received the letters did not believe the test was coming, and due to the lack of evidence of the letter coming from the professor, most of the other students did not believe the group that had received letters.

To counter-act all of this miscommunication, the professor called up one of the students personally and told this student about the test, as well as how to study for it.  Sadly, the line was garbled, and it was hard to tell it was the professor calling.  Nevertheless, this student decided that they needed to go around and tell everyone that the test and how to study.  This student had no proof of privileged knowledge, and was a little kooky to boot, but quickly amassed followers among the students.  Unfortunately, this student was unable to clearly communicate how to study, and the study guide that this student wrote was riddled with errors and inaccuracies.  At least, the professor thought, they were going to be getting some studying done.

The professor also made sure that his teaching assistant knew all about the test and was available for questions.  The only problem is that the teaching assistant has a speech impediment.  The assistant's speech impediment is so bad that few students can really understand him, and the majority of them simply think they are hearing things if the teaching assistant tries to talk to them.  The professor also tasked the assistant to try and spread the news about the test and how to study.

There was also a study guide available from last year's test (which is identical to this year's), but the professor made clear (in his phone call) that last year's study guide had been corrupted, and while it had some good things in it, the students would need to take any questions to his teaching assistant in order to determine what is relevant to this year's test.

There were also many different students that had decided to start their own following.  Each group claiming different tests, with different test material, using different study guides, and different test dates.  This situation became so confusing that most students didn't know what to believe with regards to when the test was or what to study.  Many of the students started to send e-mails to the professor complaining about this.  As the professor hear more and more about the chaotic situation, he knew that this was what he intended all along.  Surely, thought the professor, this would be an ideal test, only those that passed the test would be worthy of a good grade.

-- The End --

I could keep going with this and flesh it out more, but I think this shows the quality of Mormon God's 'test'.
Really, why wouldn't it be a reasonable test if we had infallible prophets, perfect scripture, and visible miracles.  We would still have to make a difficult choice to accept God/Jesus/The Gospel.  Think about it.  Just because you know how you should act, does not mean that it is easy to act in that way.  Simple example, everyone knows what the speed limit is and how to avoid a speeding ticket, yet how many people still get them?  Or murder, steal, lie, cheat, etc?  Doing the "right" thing is pretty damn hard, even when you know, perfectly, what it is you should or should not be doing.  How does knowing what you need to do remove the element of choice?  People would not have to make a choice to believe.  There is nothing commendable about making a choice to believe in God when that choice is not logical nor rational based on the current evidence at hand.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shaken Faith Syndrome - My Response Ch 2 - Ch 4

Here is part two of my series on "Shaken Faith Syndrome," the book by Michael Ash.  I was asked to read by my parents, but I must admit that I am having a hard time continuing to read this book.  It is just so inane on so many levels.  Let me dive into why that is.

He presents a lot of narrative, but is very light on justification.  He seems to just want you to accept what he says as an expert testimony.  In the end, it turns this into a compelling book for someone with one or two small questions, not someone well studied in all of the problems.  Someone who is just looking for a quick-fix justification to solve their problems, not someone who is deeply intellectually disturbed by what they have read about mormonism and is going out of their way to identify where the answers lay in an objective manner.

He gets off to a great start.  One order of ad hominem attack mixed with a side of unsupported argumentation.  All of chapter 2 is a rant against ex-mormons.  Which is interesting in and of itself.  What place does a rant like that have in a book about keeping the faith?

Anyway, back to his attack.

Ash starts with accusing ex-mormons of obsession and going through "dissonance management."  He goes through a long and drawn out explanation showing how formulaic ex-mormon exit stories are.  His study (and his analysis) seem to ignore the plethora of confounding variables that exist (like one obvious one, how about they are all the same because of the one common denominator: the teachings of the LDS church).  He makes the mistake of assuming that because he has found a formula (I will not go into whether or not it actually is true), that must mean that they are all unfounded.  Which is a ridiculous notion right out of the gate.

One thing is obvious.  Ash does not understand the ex-mormon community.  In fact, few LDS faithful do.  I would assert that they do not WANT to understand them (I have seen this in my own family by my sister completely rejecting me for perceived offenses, thinking I sent anti-mormon links, when I sent her a link to an apologetic website).  I believe that this stems from a fear of their being right or having found some "silver bullet" that will ruin all testimonies.  They don't want to hear it.  If Ash and his colleagues want to be taken seriously anywhere but with strict LDS adherents, they need to spend the time to understand the dissenters, instead of trying to trivialize and vilifying them.  If they were to spend this time in understanding, their works would gain a great deal of veracity and force.

One side note, he seems to be setting himself up as an expert on human psychology, but he is making amateurish mistakes, it is kind of embarrassing to watch.

Even looking past the pompous overestimation of the quality of his own work at FAIR (see middle paragraph on page 23), the fact that he likes to throw around titles of "LDS researchers" (without specifying their field of study, which is important when identifying the validity of their research/claims) while disparaging "anti-mormons" for doing the same, the overly pompous and arrogant tone (phrases like "Attempts to correct their misunderstanding of science are often met with evasiveness and hostility" page 24 come to mind), and his myopic view of open-mindedness (to be open-minded is to agree with Mormonism, anything else is closed-minded), his rhetoric simply falls flat.  He simply seems to be out to dehumanize ex-mormons.  If you can discredit them as people, then all of the sudden it becomes easier to get LDS faithful to discredit their truth-claims.  This is a simple trick that many mass manipulators like to use (see anyone trying to sell you a product, a political idea, or a religious philosophy).

The other part of chapter 2 seems to be a drawn out justification of his job at FAIR, does that mean he feels insecure about it?

That aside, he has this consistent need to reiterate that ex-mormons leave because of their "overly fundamentalist views."  He asserts that we need to be more loose about our mormonism (my words, not his).  The big problem is that mormonism loses all effectiveness and purpose once you remove what he calls "fundamentalist" views.  This is his downfall.  In fact, he does a great job of discrediting all of Mormon revelation, prophets, and scripture, all within a few short paragraphs.  Better than any anti-mormon could have done in a whole book.

He explains (after the manner of mansplaining) that prophets are really just men.  We can't expect them to be perfect (false dichotomy), but that they are just like the rest of us.  There is a quorum of prophets in order to decide unanimously on policy, if they all agree, then that means the holy spirit has spoken.  He asserts that what the prophets say is not doctrine, doctrine only comes from the scriptures (OT, NT, BoM, D&C), anything other than that was said by men, and is perfect, they can just as easily be wrong.  He makes a drawn out point of showing that prophets are influenced by their local circumstances, culture, environment, etc.  That we should expect cultural biases (such as those against blacks and women) to be natural for men of their times, and not disturbing.  Therefore what they say doesn't have to come from God, it can just as easily be their own invention.  This throws out prophets as a reliable mechanism for learning.

The only mechanism we are given to determine this is the people.  The church (in democratic method, I guess?) determines what is doctrine, the holy spirit confirming to each and every one of us whether something said is doctrinal or not.  This leaves the individual as the highest authority, not the leadership (so why would we need prophets, scriptures, church, etc. when the spirit is the only thing that can teach truth?), but this also ignores the fact that people will receive differing inspiration from the spirit on what is doctrine.  This throws out the spirit as a reliable mechanism for learning.

Once we realize, thanks to Ash's own reasoning, that we cannot rely on prophets (we can only rely on them to not lead us from God, he makes it clear on that regard, but he fails to demonstrate any guarantee that prophets will actively leads us TOWARD God), it only follows logically that the scriptures can't be trusted.  They were written by prophets, who are fallible men who aren't special in the "speaking for God" department.  Thus, the scriptures all suffer from the same unreliability and fallibility as the prophets themselves do.  This throws out the scriptures as a reliable mechanism for learning.

With all three of those gone, Michael Ash has single-handedly, and within the course of a few paragraphs, thrown out all of Mormon epistemology.  I.e. there is no way to learn or know anything within the context of mormonism.  With that, mormonism is completely thrown out the window.  With that, this book is now trash, and I can move on with my life.

Not so fast.  It is obvious that he is wrong, and that we need to hold prophets to some standard, they need to be better than normal men in some way.  The scriptures need to be directed by God's hand, as do prophetic utterances, as does the spirit.  In short, there needs to be specific, objective measures in determining what is and isn't doctrinal.

I would love to have someone present what that is, but Michael Ash would dismiss that notion as "fundamentalist," but I just went through why that is problematic reasoning.  Even if my argument about the spirit not being reliable is wrong, that means that the spirit is the only reliable means of learning, and that we can just figure out ways to learn from ourselves and the spirit, on our own.  Why waste time at church learning about pioneer history, canning, home teaching, and missionary work?

Ignoring the whole problem with prophets that Ash has created (because, if we don't, this whole exercise is futile anyway), we can move on to some of his specific claims.

He says that prophets aren't infallible, nor should we expect them to be.  I honestly have only seen very few people who assert that prophets are infallible, we know this, his statements to the contrary are an obvious strawman argument.

In reality, the expectation is that prophets have some above average spirituality and righteousness, would be ahead of the times (he talks to God after all), and be truthful and consistent when it comes to doctrine.  These things have all been shown to be false about modern prophets, in fact, many have been among some of the worst men around.  Joseph Smith with his Warren Jeffs style polygamy.  Brigham Young with that and a large dose of church sanctioned murder on top of that.  Gordon B. Hinkley with blatant lies about doctrine on camera and later confessed to church members (see the whole incident surrounding "I don't know that we teach that").  We don't expect infallibility, but we do expect "God's chosen prophet" to be better than the average member, most of the average members don't struggle with lying about doctrine on camera, sleeping with their friend's wives (or 14 year old daughters), or murdering those that disagree with them.

Sidenote: I especially like the phrase "While the Word of God may contain errors..." - page 41.  Every Christian would go apoplectic if they were to hear that.  If God's word isn't perfect, what's the point of having an "all powerful, all knowing, perfect being" tell us anything?  How can we know he is doing the telling?  Silly thing to say, on Ash's part.

Sidenote:  They seem to rely on their readership's ignorance.  Ash consistently mentions that "anti-mormons take quotes out of context."  But he never provides any examples, and I have rarely seen this done.  In reality, I believe that this preys on people's lack of time to go back and read original sources.  Many that read this will think to themselves "I haven't looked back at any of the original sources, maybe it would make sense in context?"  I don't see how taking things like murdering apostates and adulterers, castrating young men to marry their fiances, or marrying 14 year old girls (the justification for this is that that was common marrying age, I have seen stats that would argue that the average marrying age was early twenties back then) can be put into a context that makes them okay.  But maybe I have a "faulty" moral compass, who knows, maybe one of Ash's prophets that can't prophesy can tell me.

Finally, this brings me to chapter 4 (which is short, so bear with me), which is on doctrine versus tradition.  He tries to make a distinction between that which is taught to be doctrine, and that which is believed to be doctrine.  In my mind, this is a faulty premise.  Doctrine and prophets' speaking has a causal relationship with tradition.  Granted, some traditions are created by people who start doing things on their own, but the majority of what is done as tradition is the fault of the prophets themselves.  Therefore, when we are determining the likelihood that prophets are authentic, it makes sense to examine the culture that their speakings and teachings have created, in addition to studying the ephemeral doctrines (that change as convenient or popular).  In this light, prophets don't really appear quite as authentic.  I guess you could call this a more hermeneutic approach to the doctrine versus tradition discussion, but I think it more accurately represents what is going on.

As a final note, I want to cover Ash's example of prophets believing in the earth being flat.  Ash pulls this ridiculous notion out of thin air that "past prophets believed the earth was flat, but we don't hold that as doctrine."  First off, we have zero proof of this.   Second, even if prophets did believe it, it is irrelevant to the conversation.  No prophet talks about a flat earth, nor did they ever teach it as doctrine.  It is silly on Ash's part to assume that we believe that all beliefs of prophets are doctrinal.  What we hold prophets to is what they utter AS DOCTRINE.  When prophets talk about the need to murder people by spilling their blood for them to repent, or that God and Adam are the same person, and they teach this as doctrine, then we have begun to find evidence against their being authentic prophets of God.  Not when we have something silly like "prophets believed in a flat earth."   Nice try, Ash, but you need proof of that, and then you need to demonstrate why it is relevant.  You have done neither.

Thanks for reading.  I will keep working my way through this mess of words that likes to parade as a book, and will keep posting about my "misadventures."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Shaken Faith Syndrome - My Response Introduction and Ch 1

I was asked to read two books by my parents.  The first is "Shaken Faith Syndrome" by Michael Ash (an LDS apologist).  At first, I was going to simply get rid of the books, but then I decided to go through them and make some counter-points.  I was going to prove to myself (and to my parents) how shoddy the best of the LDS answers really are.  I have known it through my casual interactions with LDS apologetic information, but I haven't looked into myself in depth.  Well, here is my chance.  So far, I have gone through the first chapter (and the intro) of Ash's book, and here are the things that I found.  I apologize in advance, there isn't a lot of sense to the order in which these comments appear.  Some day I may take the time to organize this into a better flow, but for now, it will stay as is.

His academics are terrible.  He loves his logical fallacies.  Specifically, ad hominem attacks, poisoning the well, appeal to emotion, appeal to the masses, and begging the question, just to name a few.  Here are some more concrete examples.

He likes to assert things as being true without supporting evidence.  For example. Ash repeatedly asserts that anti-Mormon information is all blatant lies, complete fabrications, or taken out of context.  The constant assertion that LDS critics "purposely bear false witness" or give "blatant misrepresentations of truth" without any real examples (there is one weak example that I will discuss under "covering up") to support is claim is laughable from any intellectual standpoint.

"In many cases, there is really no way to resolve the issue without the input of additional information (such as the additional insights given by revelation or additional scripture)." -page xiii
This statement presumes that, a) further revelation and scripture are possible/exist and b) the other side doesn't have substantive arguments that have not been adequately addressed.  He states over and over again that there are "answers" to all "anti-Mormon" attacks, but he does not discuss how that implies that they have been answered satisfactorily.  He assumes that by merely discussing a concern, you have sufficiently guarded it against all attacks.  This is akin to assuming that because I have put up a fence of sticks, your tank cannot possibly get into my yard.

It is common to find Ash misrepresenting the position of his "opponents" to make them easier to attack, here is one prime example:  "While it is true that the Internet makes vast amounts of information available to people all over the globe, it is a fallacy to think that all information on the web is equal in quality." -page xi
News flash: nobody asserts that this is true.  However, by representing this as the "anti-Mormon" position, it makes is much easier for a doubting Mormon to nod their head and say yes (see Dale Carnegie's how to win friends and influence people, Carnegie mentions that one way to win people over is to get them to say yes and agree with you as much as possible).  Once the opposing side has been presented in such a ridiculous light, it becomes much harder to sympathize with them.

"...people tend to believe those things that they read." -page xi
He puts this as a negative.  Reality is people believe well corroborated stories.  He either does not understand the opposing positions well enough to accurately represent them, or he is willfuly engaging in deceipt.  Many "anti" sources are well documented, with ample research from primary sources, and given in context with the "pro" information.  Most Mormons leaving the church (who then become detractors) spend all of their initial research time only on "LDS approved" sources due to their church indoctrinated fear of the evil "anti-Mormon."  They only turn to outside sources once they are sufficiently deconverted due to the lack of real answers to hard questions that they are discovering every day.  This fear of outside sources is readily seen (and propagated) by Ash's book.

Speaking of "anti-Mormon", he used these terms all throughout his work, but he never bothers to define them.  What is "anti-mormon" anyway?  Anything that isn't church approved?  Anything that hasn't gone through a "faith-promoting" whitewashing (as advocated by Ash)?  Anything that casts a negative light (whether historically accurate or not) on LDS "heroes"?

Another fun quote:
"Search engines do not rank sites by the quality of their research but rather by popularity or even who pays the most." -page xi
This is silly.  Misrepresenting (or maybe he is simply ignorant) how search engines rank things does not help his point.  Google, for example, is a purist when it comes to search rankings, and being the clearly dominant search engine, this is an important point to make.  Google does not let people pay for search ranks (please, correct me if I am wrong), but ranking is done purely through their Page-Rank algorithm.  There are advertising slots that are sold (these appear above and to the side of the real results), but the only organisations that have the funding to pay for that much advertising tend to be those that are official LDS (see all of the Mormon ads, etc.).  Most LDS critical sites (such as tend to be grass roots efforts funded by individuals.  See also groups such as the More Good Foundation, which is a group that spawns tons of cloned websites in order to increase Google search ranks of pro-LDS information.  It doesn't help inform, it merely floods "anti" information away.

He seems to contradict himself at one point claiming little real religious education, but then also claiming that many people are coming across anti material.  He claims that most people are unaware, but he acts like everyone has access to this wealth of information.  Well, Mr. Ash, which is it?  Make up your mind.

Lots of appeals to emotion, lots of emotionally charged language.  If you are trying to make a strong, intellectual claim that all of the "anti" claims are groundless, why do you need to resort to gaslighting (more on this in a sec), emotions, ad hominem attacks, poisoning the well, etc.  Why do your facts not stand of their own accord, but require cheap devices (that sadly work all too well) to be forceful?

He likes to engage in a form of gaslighting.  By making the detractor position appear so unreasonable, by misrepresenting the position of "antis", by ignoring and discounting the validity of "anti" information or real concerns that LDS doubters have (and in some ways vilifying them), he creates a strong case for doubting your own beliefs and perceptions.  This is a form of gaslighting (a type of psychological abuse).  To attempt to discredit the doubters and detractors so is a reprehensible form of scholarship.  Shame on you Michael Ash.

"If Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, then the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the temple ceremonies, and all the doctrines which Joseph was instrumental in restoring, are true." -page xiii
Not only is this black and white thinking, which is a logical mistake, but it simply isn't true based on LDS philosophy.  This claims infallibility (or near infallibility) of  Joseph Smith.  If he was a prophet, then everything he revealed came from God, if he isn't, none of it is from God (according to this quote).  What about the stuff that has been shown to be wrong by simple science? (Book of Abraham, Kinderhook plates)  What about the stuff that, when pressed, the apologists themselves will claim that he was "speaking as a man."  If prophets are known to speak "as men," what measuring stick are we to use to determine which of their prophetic utterances come from God, and which from himself?  If prophets sometimes speak as men, how much of the Doctrine and Covenants is from God?  Which revelations can be ignored?  Did Joseph Smith make a mistake in the temple ceremonies, somewhere in the Book of Mormon, in something else he restored?  This is a question that is difficult to answer, even though it is a favorite defense of the Mormon "defenders of the faith."

"...inoculating them against the damage that might be inflicted by critical attacks." -page xiii
"Ideological inoculation, like medical inoculation, introduces a small dose of a harmful disease." - xiv
Things like this make me smile and puke at the same time.  Really, so facts are a disease and we need inoculation against them?  The truth needs no inoculation, it will stand on its own once all of the facts are examined.  Do we need to inoculate our children in elementary schools against "anti-gravity information" or against "anti-math" websites?  The notion is absurd, and yet the LDS people have all completely taken for granted that the one great truth that stands above all other truths needs defense against facts.

"Because faith is not a perfect knowledge..." -page 3
This is a nit-pick, but if faith is not a perfect knowledge, why is the basis of every testimony borne in the church "I know," not "I believe?"

"Questioning the things we do, believe, or accept is normal..." -page 3 (emphasis in original)
Really, then why is it vilified in church culture, and by church leadership?  Why are those that choose to publish church history and ask the hard questions (not in an "anti" fashion, but while trying to learn the truth and retain their faith) excommunicated (see editors of MormonThink, or men like Lyndon Lamborn).

At one point, Ash uses an LDS blogger for a lengthy quote.  Not only is this silly in an intellectual argument, but the blogger's comments are absurd.  The comparison is made between "questioning" and "doubt," where questioning now means that you are asking questions without sinning, where doubt now means that you are questioning while sinning.  This blogger completely ignores the validity of real doubts.  When you have no rational reason to obey a "God given" commandment, why do so?  This blogger says the following: "The power of doubts, often raised by those whose motives are themselves in question, to destroy faith, family, and hope, is markedly diminished the minute one says in sincerity, 'I will do the things the Lord has commanded whether my questions are resolved quickly or ever because...'". - found here
First off, this is begging the question of the truthfulness of that which you doubt.  When you are honestly trying to seek an answer to the question "Is this information true?" it is a logical fallacy to assume that the information is true before examining any other supporting or detracting evidence.  You need to examine both sides of the issue to get a full picture.  He assumes that doubters "destroy."  This is a commonly spread Mormon misconception.  Taking each one separately, those who destroy faith are those that spread falsehoods as fact (whether ignorantly or willfully), those who destroy family are those who hold religious observances over familial connections (all while professing families to be the most important thing on earth), and those who destroy hope are those who vilify and demonize those who simply (at one point) were seeking to acquire further light and knowledge.

On page 5, Ash tells a story about President David O. McKay.  As the story goes, McKay, as a young man, held severe doubts as to the truthfulness of the church, but he still held on tight to the rod and did everything he should, and came out a faithful member in the end.  I personally don't believe one bit of this story.  If President McKay had had such misgivings, doubts that "shook him," why would he make the choice to continue on in his path?  His motives to guide young people into staying in the church at all costs call into question the veracity of his story.  At one point the claim is made the McKay "never believed it for most of his life" (page 5), which doesn't add up with the purported behavior that followed (faithful LDS life for the rest of his days in spite of doubt).

He also likes to participate in "blaming the victim."  He makes claims that it is "too rigid" a belief system or too "fundamental" views that cause a person to disbelieve.  He also claims that members that believe have developed "mature ideologies."  These kinds of views are not helpful to positive relations with non-believers, although they help to ease the feelings of cognitive dissonance that felt by members hearing about those doubting and leaving the church.

Ash claims that "Critics, however, often ignore facts that do not fit their assumptions." (page 5)
To me this seems like projection.  I have never seem the amount of fact ignoring anywhere else in my academic and non-academic life experiences as I have among the LDS faithful and LDS apologists like Michael Ash.  If he wants to point fingers, he should remove the proverbial beam from his eye.  In fact, there are many so-called "anti" sources that seek to provide as balanced a view point as possible, and attempt to gather both the "faith promoting" side as well as the "faith detracting" side of the story.  There are many LDS critical sources that are very good at the academic honesty that is so lacking in Ash's work.

Ash has a whole section on Cognitive Dissonance, the ironic thing is that he quotes LDS researchers on the topic, and not an objective psychology expert.  Seems like an academic mis-step to me.  He claims that there are four ways to resolve cognitive dissonance.  The first seem to be those that he touts as admirable, and the last as dishonorable.  The first is to reject new information as false, he claims that this is effective, because (according to him) "most" anti-Mormon information is baseless propaganda anyhow.  Somebody needs to tell him that repetition does not make it so, but then again, isn't that what the Mormon faith teaches with regards to testimonies?

His second method of resolution is to reject the new information as unimportant, he then launches into a description of confirmation bias.  What he does not do, however, is to demonstrate how he (and those that follow his viewpoint) are avoiding making the same mistake of merely confirming their prior biases.  (Side note, another academic faux pas, he is citing a lot of FAIR sources, which doesn't add to his credibility, and doesn't prove his point.)

His third method of resolution is to add information to validate the original belief.  He makes a few more claims without any basis, and also assumes without reason to that all our prior beliefs are necessarily good and need to be retained.

His fourth method of resolution is to reject the old beliefs.  He again proceeds to assume that the correct move to make whenever we experience cognitive dissonance is to hold on to our old beliefs.  This is simply laughable.  There are plenty of times in (religious and not) situations where we are simply wrong and need to accept new information as accurate and true.  If we were to follow his advice in this section in all situations in life, we would always believe our first conceptualization of any given topic, and could never modify them.  Which is obviously silly.

I mentioned that I would discuss his section on "covering up" church history.  He claims that the church doesn't hide it, and he cites several (some current, most not) sources that discuss the polygamy of Joseph Smith.  He also asserts, without evidence, that it is the feeling of betrayal that makes people leave the church (his evidence is a Mormon pontificating on why people leave, not an actual study of why people leave, maybe he should have watched John Dehlin's clip?).  He makes a good point that the church may not be willfully covering things up, but if that is the case why are things still "hidden" in some ways?  His argument is that we should not expect to be discussing these things in sunday school or in the ensign, because these are meant as primarily faith promoting works.  This is simply not true.  As any long-term LDS member will testify, there are regular lessons and articles that are primarily historical information.  The fact that we do not discuss real history in these "historical" lessons is where the "cover up" and betrayal comes from.  The proper counter-argument from Ash would be that those are not mandated from the church, but come from Sunday School instructors themselves, but this is an evasive argument that ignores the real matter at hand.

Finally, he spends some time quoting posts from the "Recovery from Mormonism" message board (RfM), and he merely takes enough time to belittle the posters (or at least use language to automatically make them appear less credible).  In fact, he quotes one poster and uses a [sic] in  a four word quote.  Any respectable author will tell you that to use a [sic] is often inappropriate, it only serves to make the person you are quoting look foolish, unless you have a really good reason to do so.  In academic circles actively pointing out spelling errors like this is an insult, and serves no other purpose.  It may be necessary if the text is old (in which case it shows difference in language usage, colloquial usage, etc.), or for similar reasons.

Anyway, this first bit was an adventure.  Quite ridiculous, stay tuned for the next section of my reading.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sent In My Resignation!

Sure, this might be a bit blasphemous, but after sending in my letter I ended up burning my quadruple combination.  That was a lot harder to burn than I expected, but I found it to be a rather cathartic experience.

I sent my letter to the bishop and to the church records office.  The bishop replied and we set up an appointment.  He finished up my paperwork soon after we met.  I won't go into much detail about the whole process just yet, I will leave my full story for another day.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Interesting Statistics

Looking at the numbers reported in conference over the past 40 years shows some interesting results.  I went and collected them myself, but afterwords I realized that all of the same information is already available at in a convenient spreadsheet format.

I have a bunch of different graphics that I will discuss separately.  A lot of these will break the page formatting, deal with it.

Birth Rates

The birth rate per 1000 is really interesting.  Births are estimated based on the number of babies blessed (reported almost every year).  It is a good indicator of the birth-rate among active members.  It is interesting to note the decline in birth rate since the seventies.  It is also interesting to note that the birth rate was unrealistic for Mormons even in the seventies.  The US average was 14 per 1000 in 2012, this is roughly 2 children per woman.  Mormons are notorious for having many children per family, so the 2 child per woman number is going to be extremely low (more on this later).
 Here, you can see an interesting trend of number of births has remained roughly the same since the seventies, even though the deaths are all over the place.  In fact, deaths (which has to be estimated based on last year's membership, plus this year's births, plus this year's converts, minus this year's membership (this should give the number of members lost, which would include deaths, resignations, and excommunications, but it is obvious from the numbers that it cannot include all three of these things) are really interesting, given that there are several years with a negative death rate.  How this happens, I don't know, they must have changed the way they count people during those years, who knows.  Anyway, deaths have also remained consistent over the last 40 years.

The consistency would show that there isn't really a net increase in active families over the years, which means that a lot of people are leaving the church, and that the reported numbers simply include a lot of people that don't consider themselves Mormon nor do they want their children to be Mormon.

This graphic shows the estimated active membership based on what the birthrate "should" be.  If the birthrate was the US average for 2012 (14 per 1000), then the membership would be around 9 million today, if, however, the birthrate were closer to a more realistic 28 per 1000 (4 kids per woman, and having grown up in a family of 4 kids that was considered small, I would bet this number could be higher), the number of members is just under 5 million.  Interesting to see that the estimated active membership is barely reaching the same levels that were seen in 1982.

The estimated activity rate is obtained by considering what the average active members per unit (ward/branch) would be.  Most wards split at 300 active members to keep membership between 100 to 200, this does not count all of the small wards and branches.  Taking two estimates, either an average of 150 or 200 active members per unit gives this graph.  Showing that activity rates are likely around 30% or 40%.  For the more likely number (in my estimation) of 150 per unit, the estimated membership is just under 5 million (which is close to other estimates that I have computed, and the current popular estimates that I have seen outside the church).  This graph also shows a steadily decreasing activity rate in the church.

Missionary Related Statistics
The number of converts per mission is remaining steady, but there is a small downward trend.  Either there are fewer baptisms overall or it is taking more missions to achieve a similar level of baptisms.

The number of converts per missionary shows a similar downward trend.  Each missionary is achieving less, which means that it takes a greater amount of effort to find and baptize each person now (as compared to the eighties or seventies).  This will likely get a lot worse once the number of missionaries skyrockets (due to the missionary age change).

This shows that the percentage of members that are missionaries is going down.  Another indicator of the number of members being grossly inflated.

The number of full-time missionaries has flat-lined after the turn of the century.  This will change now that the age has been reduced.  Not much more to say here.

Here is the converts per missionary compared to the converts per unit.  Converts per unit is quite a bit lower now, and has been in steady decline.  One hypothesis here is that the church is trying to continue making new units to give a show of growth, when in actuality they are merely spreading their membership more thinly.

Stakes, Wards, and Branches
Nothing really interesting to say here, but I include it for completeness, and it is interesting to see that the church made stakes much smaller for a while, and then ever since they have been generally getting bigger (in absolute member count, maybe not in actual active member count, who knows).

You can see the trend upwards, more members per unit.  This is a strong indicator for increased inactivity rates.  Since each ward requires a certain number of active priesthood holders, and they try and keep wards relatively small, this indicates there aren't enough active priesthood to grow the number of units commensurate with the growth of the membership numbers, thus there are more names associated with each ward, even if the number of active members per unit is remaining the same (it might even be going down if the pattern in my area of salt lake is any indicator of the rest of the world).

I like this graphic shows the increase in units (first derivative) compared with the increase in the increase in units (second derivative), this can be seen like speed (change in position) versus acceleration (change in speed).  Neither of these have a consistent trend, even though the growth of reported numbers has been a consistent increase in roughly 200,000 to 300,000 per year for a long time running.  In fact, the increase in units has slowed considerably, and never really recovered from the dip in 1999.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Five Key Points

I wanted to compile a list of key points that, for me, make the Mormon church absolutely undeniably false.  This will make for an easy thing to share with those that call into question my change in beliefs, as well as a few good talking points with those that are starting to question their belief.  So without further ado, here is the list.

1. Joseph Smith's Polygamy/Polyandry

Among members of the LDS church, Joseph Smith had a large number of polygamous adventures.  He had over 30 wives (something like 33).  Some of these wives were as young as 14, and some were still married to their (living) husbands.  Some of the women Joseph Smith married after he had sent their husbands out on missions.  Does this sound like the behavior of a prophet?  Definitely not, especially when he claimed not to have practiced polygamy, and the church still claims (for the most part) that he was either not married to more than one wife, or that he was celibate with those plural wives (which is demonstrably false).

More info:

2. The Book of Abraham is a Proven Fraud

The original papyri that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Abraham have been found, quite a while ago, actually.  Due to the finding of the Rosetta stone and the ability to translate Egyptian, the Book of Abraham has been translated into English by less than divine means.  It turns out that the Book of Abraham was nothing more than a common funeral document buried with mummies, that the facsimiles were incorrectly finished (they were found damaged and incomplete, but there are other copies of the same thing) and incorrectly translated (just one example, the "high priest" performing the sacrifice was supposed to be Anubis).  Also, the funeral document was written long after the time of Abraham.  Finally, the Egyptian alphabet that Joseph Smith was creating was completely off from the actual translation.  Three strikes, and you're out.

The kinderhook plates are a corollary to this.  Look them up.  Those and the Book of Abraham together show that Joseph Smith couldn't translate a thing, whether with divine assistance or not.

More info:

3. Exponential Decay of Prophecies

I have touched on this previously, so I will keep this one brief.  Why is it that Joseph Smith had tons of prophecies, many of the false ones having been covered up, and every single one of his successors had progressively fewer prophecies.  In fact, the number of prophecies follows a power law curve (in case you cared).  Why is it that the most significant prophecy in the past 30 years was either the lowering of the missionary age (can you even call a policy change a revelation?) or the declaration to the world on the family (the family is important, nothing new here).  Prior to that, the only revelations since Joseph Smith have been squashing polygamy (more likely due to social pressure, the prophet was about to be arrested after all), and allowing blacks to have the priesthood (more on that in a sec).

4. Rampant Racism and Sexism

The church is filled with a history of racism and sexism, that still lasts until today.  Church leaders used to teach that blacks were black because they were less valiant in the premortal existence, were descendants from Cain (this comes from the Book of Abraham) and thus weren't entitled to hold the priesthood, and that they would never hold the priesthood.  This really speaks for itself rather well, anyone that resolves this uses a lot of mental gymnastics in order to overcome this sticky point.  In addition to this, the church treats women as second class citizens.  They are only allowed to hold positions of authority over other women or children.  Their only place (it is taught that this is the best thing they can do with their life) is to be a mother and to raise their children.  They are essentially discouraged from having a career, and are looked down on if they don't get married and have children.  They are seen as objects to be passed around between men (if you are faithful, you will be given to a faithful priesthood holder in the next life).  In the temple women make covenants to obey their husbands and not God, we also learn in the temple that women will be allowed entrance to heaven by their husbands (when getting married, the husband stands in the place of God for his wife at the veil).

5. Book of Mormon Anachronisms and DNA

The Book of Mormon has several problems.  First, DNA analysis on Native Americans shows that they have Asian roots and not Jewish roots.  Look this up, there are several angles to tackle this, and none of them work in favor of the Book of Mormon.  Second, there are a ton of anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, meaning there are things that the Book of Mormon references that Joseph Smith, while writing it, would have known about, but that didn't exist in the time or place of the Book of Mormon.  There are references to animals and crops, and there has been no evidence for those animals (such as horses) or those specific crops being available at that time in the Book of Mormon.  There are references to materials (e.g. steel) with no evidence that the steel was there, no evidence of the facilities existing to make the steel, no evidence of the techniques to make steel, and no evidence of the waste created when making steel.  There is more, but studying this out has not been a strong point of mine.  In addition to this, there is no evidence of the many battles that took place.  There were supposedly millions of people slain near New York (there are many other locations), but not one shred of evidence of there being millions of bodies, or other evidence of remains being there.  This is not the only large scale battlefield.  How do the traces of two civilizations of that supposed size simply disappear without a trace?  Also, the population growth necessary to reach the numbers of people that died in these battles is simply unheard of, especially with the numbers of deaths found in the battle portions of the Book of Mormon.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Myths, Regrets, and Reform

First, I want to mention an interesting movement that has come to my attention.  Check out these 95 theses, I find most of them are interesting points that Mormons should think about and realize about their own religion.  95 Theses for Mormonism

Next, I want to mention an interesting study done by a man named John Dehlin.  This study was instigated by higher ups in the church, and it was given as a presentation to some general authorities.  I think it is a lot more accurate than what most people believe.  Most mormons think that people leave the church because they are offended, want to sin, are lazy, or never had a testimony to begin with.  This research debunks that.  5 Myths

I think that the myths are more of a defense mechanism.  To prevent yourself from believing that people leaving have a valid reason to do so (cognitive dissonance), they need to perform ad hominem attacks or use some other method to show why the person leaving the church has some sort of problem or undesirable quality, instead of the person staying in the church being misguided. It takes a lot to overcome this defense mechanism.

Finally, I want to talk about 3 regrets.  I may attribute the source wrong here, but I have heard about this both from exmormon sources and from church.  Apparently, there was some sort of trauma nurse that did a survey of people on their death bead.  She compiled a few big regrets that people commonly expressed, here they are.
  1. I wish I had spent more time with those I love.
  2. I wish I had lived up to my potential.
  3. I wish I had let myself be happier.
I would argue that leaving the church helps a person to prevent all of these regrets, while staying in the church will cause a person to have these regrets.  Let me argue why.

First, I wish I had spent more time with those I love.  While the church claims to have a family focus, it doesn't actually allow for that much family time.  There are extra activities most days of the week that pull you away from those you love, there are extra meetings to fulfill callings, and hours of actual church meetings.  Not to mention extra things you should be doing on your own, including temple worship, scripture reading, etc.  As a Mormon, you really don't have all of that much time to spend with your family relative to what you could and probably should be spending.  Ergo, leave the church and have more time to spend with those you love.  Ergo, prevent this first regret.

Second, I wish I had lived up to my potential.  The church stunts your potential.  Your "greatest potential" is to be subservient to the church.  You need to give up all of yourself and stop doing what you want and start doing what the church wants in order to "fulfill your potential."  You need to go on a mission and waste that time, you need to aspire to excel at church callings, and God forbid you get called in as a general authority, then you just serve the church and you accomplish nothing for the rest of your life.  Leave the church and have the opportunity to live up to your potential as a human being, use your intelligence fully, use your opportunities to the maximum extent.

Third, I wish I had let myself be happier.  I don't need much to argue this point.  The massive amounts of guilt in the church, the constant search for forgiveness and exoneration, the fact that Utah is the highest depression rate/antidepressant usage in the country, and the high levels of perfectionism.  The church makes people unhappy.  There is some happiness with the delusion of communion of deity, but that obviously is far outweighed by the depression and sorrow caused by the church.  For your own happiness, you should avoid Mormonism.