Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind has turned into an interesting read so far. The various sketches of some of the ministers interviewed have been very informative and enlightening. We now hit the last sketch before we get into the real meat of the study. The next guy is Joe the Mormon Bishop. It should be noted that the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Saints (The Mormons) does not have a professional clergy. Instead it has respected men fill church leadership positions in addition to their normal occupations. Joe is currently forty and filling a five year term as a bishop in the Mormon church.
Joe directly contributes his fall from faith to the internet. It was his internet browsing that caused him to start questioning his faith on various levels. One big thing was that he had been taught that Joseph Smith had translated the book of Mormon with the help of s scribe but the reality is that Joseph Smith didn’t even reference the plates but used a seer stone and a hat he would look into to get his revelations right from God. It started to make him wonder why the golden plates were even mentioned at all seeing that even the Mormon records do not reference an actual translation process. The Mormon church makes no reference to him looking in a hat but the records are there. It simply was not something people talked about.
Joe tried to keep his faith by looking at things symbolically, but the problem is everything in Mormonism is based on the testimony “I know” not “I believe”. A symbolic interpretation allows you to say you believe but not you know. Spiritual experience does not help you either, because all religions claim spiritual experiences. it has gotten to the point that he knows the claims of the Mormon church are bogus and so he does not believe in them but is a hopeful agnostic when it comes to believing in God.
It has been rough for Joe and his family. There whole life as a family is rooted in the Latter Day Saints. It is part of who their family has been for several generations. The influence of the Church for him has been positive not negative and gives his wife and other family members significance. It is just he views it as so completely wrong. he finds himself in the very difficult position of being one of the people trying to bring people back into the fold, but is a lost sheep himself. he wishes the Church would lighten up a little and give Mormon’s more breathing room but he also admits that that is not likely to happen. He is just glad his five year term is half over.
Honestly, I have to say that I looked at Mormon belief and wondered why anyone believes it at all. Joseph Smith kept a journal and when I read parts of it is clear he was a person of great intelligence and imagination and used that to create a religion by making crap up while he looked in a hat. There is some debate as to whether he was imaginative as one guy says Smith took his fictional story and made it into the book of Mormon. Honestly, if he hadn’t been ‘martyred’ and a very able and firm handed Brigham Young hadn’t taken over, I doubt the Mormons would have amounted to much. Honestly, Joseph Smith to me was an intelligent, imaginative young man who used his charisma to build a following. One of the perks of that was polygamy which also indicates he was a horny young man who wanted to legitimatize having sex with more than one woman in a society at the time that frowned on that.
That said the one thing I have noted from talking to a few former Mormons is that all this was kept from them as they were discipled into the faith. It wasn’t till the internet era that this stuff has been hard to keep a lid on. The South Park episode on Mormons and the subsequent Broadway Musical highlight the difficulty of keeping people from the information that calls Mormonism into question. Not to mention that cults made up of offshoots of Mormonism don’t seem to help either.
Now this guy does not fall into the pattern of the other five. He is exactly what the author’s theorize about the New Transparency of the internet and its affect on faith based ideas and religions. He is different in that he is not professional clergy and not seminary trained. He is simply a guy who found his faith challenged by the free flow of contrary opinion on the information superhighway. This is actually happening a lot and it causes me to wonder how many people, let alone clergy are in the same boat. Upholding their faith publically, but going home and having none when they turn off the lights for bed.
I would comment deeper but this guy kind of is different enough form the other four that the only real observation I can make is that when counter opinions to faith were presented by either internet or seminary, all of these guys began to question what they believed. It is an interesting phenomena that does indeed merit further discussion, which is the subject of the next part of the book.