Overview: Final Summary on the Issues of Mormonism
We’ve now had almost forty overviews covering topics ranging from Joseph Smith’s early days as a treasure digger all the way to his later theological creations such as polygamy, the temple ceremony, and the evolution of foundational miraculous events such as the Transfiguration of Brigham Young.
In this final overview (for now, anyway) I want to summarize what the previous 38 overviews tell us about the truth claims of Joseph Smith and Mormonism, about the church as a whole, and what we can all do with the information when we discover the church is not what we were raised and conditioned to believe it is.
Yes, You Can Prove the Church is Not True
As I covered in the overview on apologetics, often times the church sets up an equation that intentionally creates an impossible burden in order to state that Joseph Smith couldn’t have possibly have written the Book of Mormon. Other apologists and church leaders will fall back on the idea that “we can’t know everything,” and as such you can’t prove *any* religion or belief true or false.
I want to be clear that this is simply not true, and you absolutely can measure the truth claims of the church against the evidence. There is no way you can ever prove if Jesus was resurrected or not because we simply do not have good contemporary records, but with Mormonism it is a modern church with an impressive amount of records that we can research to assess their truth claims.
The reality is that there are so many problems with the truth claims of Mormonism that the only way to even give it plausibility is to either say that God wanted to have contradictory evidence to maintain a need for faith or that every field of scholarship is simply wrong. This is not an overstatement – it really becomes that simple.
Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Egyptian papyri for the Book of Abraham and we can measure what he translated against what the papyri actually says, and Joseph Smith got it wrong. There is just no getting around it – Facsimile 3 is a true smoking gun because not only did Joseph Smith get the figures completely wrong, but he translated the Egyptian characters above them and they are, without any question, wrong. In other words, even if you argue that the church doesn’t have the source material for the Book of Abraham itself (and as I showed in the overview, they absolutely do), Facsimile 3 shows us that Joseph Smith translated the Egyptian characters wrong there.
Beyond the Book of Abraham we can show that Joseph Smith defrauded people in treasure digs where he never found any treasure, and then used both the very same rock in a hat and ‘seer’ technique to produce the Book of Mormon. Does that alone prove the Book of Mormon is not true? No, but that’s why we have all of the overviews on biblical scholarship, anachronisms, and surrounding influences that just happened to find their way into what is supposed to be an ancient text.
For example, without a global flood the entire premise of the Book of Mormon crumbles. We provided quotes in the global flood overview that made it clear that the church taught that the Americas were wiped clean for the origin story of the Jaredites and Lehites to arrive and populate the continent.
If the Tower of Babel is not a literal event, the Book of Mormon again falls apart because the Tower of Babel is crucial to the Jaredite story which leads to the interpreters which just happened to be buried with the plates. If the Tower of Babel is not a literal event, then the interpreters are made up which was a *physical item* that Joseph Smith claimed to receive. Secular scholars (and even many religious scholars) do not believe that the Tower of Babel is a historical event because there were multiple languages before the Tower of Babel would have been built, and that this story was an etiological myth created as a polemic against ziggurat worship.
The same can be said for Adam and Eve, which is a story that was unknown to the earliest Bible prophets yet is all over the texts of Mormonism. Just as with the Tower of Babel, history tells us that the Adam and Eve story was written as an etiological myth and was a late addition that occurred when the Pentateuch was being compiled, yet Joseph Smith brings it into the Book of Mormon as a literal event which tells you that the Book of Mormon is not a true, ancient text.
We can look at how the sermons in the Book of Mormon mirror the preaching during the revivals around Joseph Smith, even including details such as preaching on towers and platforms, the meetings lasting several days, the sermons being recorded for those who couldn’t be there to hear, and the idea of “talking in heads” that the Book of Mormon actually talks about which is a 19th century method of preaching for hours off just a single sheet of notes.
Then we can look at how Joseph Smith retrofitted and altered the foundational stories of the church such as the First Vision and priesthood restoration along with implementing some horrific doctrines such as polygamy in the voice of God because he knew that his followers would listen to what they believed were commandments of God to do things that went against everything they believed in.
It’s so painful to realize that the church is not true. I remember when I finally stopped going I was out in the backyard with our dog, and I just sat with my back to the fence and he came over and sat by me. I remember feeling so alone because my wife was staying in the church and I had no one to talk to about it (this was before the vibrant online communities where you can find people to talk to), and I was still too afraid to hop on Google and start doing the deep dive.
But no matter how much we want something to be true, the evidence is still going to be there even if we pretend it’s not real. This is why the church’s talks about “doubting your doubts” and “staying in the boat” can be so effective, because it plays on our fears about what will become of us if we leave and it keeps us from going down the rabbit hole of church history.
Joseph Smith made testable truth claims, and with time those truth claims have failed the test of scholarship, history, and science in just about every applicable field. Most religions simply do not have the modern claims that can be tested in such a wide and conclusive manner which is why you can prove the Mormon church is not true – not because of my opinions or speculation, but because the evidence is so overwhelming that there is simply no other choice that can withstand scrutiny.
Applying the Same Thinking to Mormonism As We Do Elsewhere
The bottom line is that if you’re willing to apply the same critical thinking to Mormonism that you would to any other religion, religious leader, or organization, there is no escaping the fact that you can prove that the truth claims of Mormonism simply do not hold up. We have scriptures that we can show are not ancient, failed prophecies from Joseph Smith, and many biblical scholarship mistakes that simply would not happen if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God.
I’m not sure what more to say here, but I know how painful it is to read and to process what is a complete paradigm shift from beliefs we were raised and conditioned to tie our identities to. It’s painful, but it doesn’t make the problems any less real.
A good example of this was a few years ago when I was spending time with believing members and the subject of politics came up. At the time a presidential contender, Elizabeth Warren, had a story come out that she had changed her story between the first time she publicly told it and when she would write a book later that helped launch her political career.
On the surface I absolutely agree that her changing story is problematic, but what was jarring to me was that these believers were attacking Warren for changing her story which they confidently stated proved her to be a fraud. This immediately made me think of the First Vision, so I began asking questions that would apply to the First Vision but I never mentioned the church.
One of these believers replied to me that not only does Warren’s changing story prove that she was making the story about being fired for being pregnant all up, but that “with Google you can’t get away with these kinds of things anymore.”
And don’t get me wrong here – Elizabeth Warren had a lot of supporters and apologists for her at the time as well claiming that changing her story did not diminish the truth of it, which was also very similar to how apologetics work in the church. My point is that they could instantly see that *she* had changed her story because they did not agree with her politically, but could never make the connection to Joseph Smith’s claims in founding the church.
Again, I never brought up the church, but if you then took that statement and said “In that case the First Vision and priesthood restorations absolutely did not happen,” they would never agree. In fact I probably would have been thrown out for bringing it up.
But the reality is that the moment we apply the same critical thinking about Mormonism that we do with any other religion, politician, or organization, we can see quickly that the truth claims of Mormonism fall apart when we apply critical thinking using evidence, scholarship, and their own documentary history.
While this might seem incredibly oversimplified, the truth is that applying critical thinking to a core belief is one of the most difficult things we will ever do. As I covered in the spiritual witnesses overview, our brains are wired to protect our core beliefs, which is why an Elizabeth Warren fan will avoid watching that story be covered on Fox News just as a Donald Trump fan would never accept negative coverage of him on MSNBC as fair or truthful. We seek out sources and people that will confirm our already formed beliefs, and putting them to the test is an incredibly difficult barrier to break through even within ourselves.
It’s why so often when I make a claim about church history I am asked some form of ‘where did that information come from?’ To a believer, information is only valid if it comes from a place that they trust as a source of reliable information such as church leaders or church owned entities such as Deseret News, KSL, Ensign Magazine (now Liahona), etc. This is where the church has been so effective at information control, because it immediately makes us question what we’re seeing simply because it’s from an outside source that we’ve been conditioned to distrust.
To be clear I am not trying to imply that members are mindless robots – I’m making the point that when you are conditioned to question outside source, you will do so without even realizing you are doing it. That doesn’t mean you’re “brainwashed,” but it does mean that you have the same confirmation bias that every person has except that it has been shaped and molded by the church since the time you were singing songs in primary.
Putting the Puzzle Together and Letting the Pieces Fit Naturally
One thing I’ve pointed out before is that church history is like a giant puzzle where you’re trying to put it all together in a way that maintains faith, but at some point you realize that a lot of the pieces do not fit together in a way that matches the correlated narrative of Mormonism.
That leads us to just set aside certain areas of the puzzle because we know the pieces don’t fit in the way we need them to, and we just move on to another area of the puzzle until we get to a point where the pieces don’t fit naturally and move on again.
Since I’ve started studying church history, one of the most fascinating and rewarding aspects is that the pieces started fitting together naturally once I let go of my previous beliefs and just followed the historical evidence, scholarship, and science behind the truth claims of Mormonism.
Instead of trying to jam pieces together that didn’t fit in order to excuse Joseph Smith changing the First Vision account many times, I saw that the evolution of the accounts actually tracked along with his teachings about the godhead elsewhere and I realized that he was retrofitting the First Vision to match his later theology.
While as believers we tend to just ignore that the priesthood story doesn’t quite add up, as I dove into the accounts I discovered that it wasn’t even Joseph Smith who retrofitted the story of Peter, James, and John into the story, but Oliver Cowdery who would be elevated in the church almost instantly after creating and introducing this story.
Again, I realize that putting the pieces together naturally is a difficult process because it requires us to let go of those core beliefs that many were taught since birth, but once you start to see the pieces fitting together not only does the truth about Mormonism become inescapable, but it’s also freeing to realize that those doubts you had were not misguided, but your brain trying to tell you that things just did not add up.
The puzzle analogy is one that is likely used by all sorts of religions and groups, but I really feel like for me this has been the most rewarding part of doing this overview project. Initially the website started with some of the annotated gospel topics essays, but it never really was intended to try and connect the dots between all of these problems with church history.
By setting up the project in this way, I think it shows that a lot of these problems are actually connected in church history, and that when you take them in totality is actually makes a lot of sense even if it ultimately shows that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God and that this is not the one true church of God.
I hope that for those of you who have followed along with me on these topics that the order has been helpful and that by doing it in this way that you could see the puzzle pieces start to fit together as well. This was a project that I was asked to do and as I tried to visualize how to best illustrate how you can prove the church is not “true,” I really thought about how you take a puzzle and put it back together in a way where the pieces fit together naturally.
Of course many people will not agree with what I’ve written, and there’s nothing I can do about that. But I would ask those who are reading this and who are angry about something I’ve written to let me know because if I did get something wrong I want to correct it, and if the information is correct I want to explain to you why I have come to that conclusion through this research. Again, what I’m trying to do is to show why the pieces fit together in the way this overview is setup and I am happy to answer you if you want to reach out in good faith.
What’s Good About Mormonism Isn’t Unique, and What’s Unique About Mormonism Isn’t Good
As I finally wrap this up, I do want to state here very quickly that the church does do some good things. When I joined as a convert, I loved the focus on family which I felt was a very positive influence on my life. I loved the community the church brought, which has served useful to so many when emergencies arise or someone in the ward was in need.
I don’t in any way want to say that the church is 100% bad – these overviews have only been about establishing the truth claims of the church and the actions of leaders – not about the members of this church, of which most are not aware of the details in these overviews. Personally I do not speculate on what the leaders believe, but I do believe that the members as a whole are well-intentioned people who are trying to do their best to live a better life.
With that said, I do believe that often times the leaders of the church and apologists cite the good that the church does as a way to set aside the historical issues when members have doubts. I think this is a difficult position to take and the reason for that is simple: All churches, community organizations, and groups have great aspects about them.
A phrase I heard early on in my faith journey was that “what’s good about Mormonism isn’t unique, and what’s unique about Mormonism isn’t good.” I believe that overall this is a fair statement because the good things that members often cite are done by many other organizations every day. I did not touch upon finances in these overviews and maybe will get to that down the road, but the church holds over $140,000,000,000 in an investment fund that they do not help the poor and needy with, but have funded two massive church projects with including City Creek Mall.
That is a problem for me because there are so many local charitable causes that actually spend every donation on helping others instead of using those donations to amass a level of cash on hand that rivals the biggest companies in the world. I would encourage all members to consider donating their tithing to local charities that will use those funds to immediately help others instead of being used to purchase large real estate deals, but I realize that is a decision that could have implications for temple recommends.
On the other hand, what makes Mormonism unique is, in my opinion, not good. Polygamy is a horrific teaching and it is still the doctrine of the church today. Both Russell Nelson and Dallin Oaks are eternal polygamists and when they pass on they expect to live with both of their wives to have eternal sex with. I believe this is a horrific idea because their first wives had no say in the matter, and yet their eternity is determined by the men they married and they will be "destroyed" if they do not accept these additional wives.
The temple experience itself was what destroyed whatever testimony I had left and I think is an area that is both unique to Mormonism and, in my opinion, unhealthy. That’s my personal opinion, but the secrecy in the temple is bizarre as have been the practices that the temple has been used for over the years.
In addition to the temple ceremony, I believe garments are a terrible thing that is unique to Mormonism. No one told me about garments before I went to the temple, which as a convert was absolutely jarring to be told about. Furthermore, I never knew as a member that I was wearing Masonic symbols on my long, church-approved underwear, which is another area that just lets you know that there are some serious issues with the authenticity of the temple ceremony as a whole.
While the church claims to have a living prophet, we have yet to receive any meaningful revelations since Joseph Smith. As we covered in the overviews on revelation, even the lifting of the priesthood/temple ban was not a revelation in the sense we think of revelation, but a group statement that would allow use of the Brazil temple. That ban on members with African lineage from receiving saving ordinances is another area that was unique to Mormonism and was allowed to continue in the church for almost 140 years.
Often times the leaders of the church say “we don’t know” when asked about difficult topics, which is so deflating when you realize the entire reason for this church is to have a living prophet who can answer our questions and see a future that we cannot. What good are prophets if they can’t actually answer the difficult questions? I cover a lot of this in our overviews on revelation, but it definitely is something that should be a good thing, but is instead of a big letdown.
Another unique element to Mormonism that sounds great as a member but is really horrendous outside of it is the idea of family separation. In most churches the belief is that you will be with your family after you die – ask any Christian person if they expect to see their family in heaven if you have any doubts of that.
But in Mormonism they create the problem to sell you the solution, and in doing so hold the threat of eternal family separation over you in order to get full obedience to the church. This led many to call Prophet Russell M. Nelson’s April 2019 General Conference talk the “Sad Heaven” talk because it spoke so freely about families being separated for eternity for not doing all of the things that the church requires in order to be together forever.
Of course the idea that some people will go to heaven and some will go to hell is not unique, but in Mormonism heaven is tied directly to obedience to the church while in most Christian religions it’s not about obedience to a specific church, but rather being a good person and seeking forgiveness for your sins. If you don’t fully pay tithing, obey leaders, and wear temple garments with Masonic symbols on them, you will become an ‘empty chair’ in your eternal family’s heaven. It’s a really awful use of fear to keep members from looking elsewhere, but it’s effective at controlling the thoughts and behaviors all the same.
The overviews have covered other unique elements of Mormonism such as the Word of Wisdom, the anti-LGBT policies, the theft of the true identities of Native Americans and Polynesians, and so much more. You can read the overviews for more on those, but the reality is that almost everything that is true “unique” about Mormonism is just not something that would be viewed as good or healthy by almost anyone who is not already all-in on the church.
Again, I fully admit that assessing whether or not the church is good is a subjective matter. I believe that we can prove the church is not true by many different fields of study, but in my opinion the things that make Mormonism unique are not good, and for that reason I do not believe the church is worth my devotion and obedience when I can find the good elements elsewhere without the baggage that comes with the church.
This seems to be where most members who study church history end up (not every person, of course), which is what eventually gives us our internal permission and desire to step away from Mormonism altogether. While the process is different for everyone, walking away from a system with such a high level of structure and control over our daily lives comes with a sometimes overwhelming transition.
Prophets, Seers, and Revelators
I’ve mentioned this in the different overviews, but one of the biggest draws of this church to me as an investigator was that we are led by a living prophet who can guide us through these difficult times. I was then taught how we have fifteen men ordained as prophets, seers, and revelators who can communicate directly with God when they needed answers or guidance to lead the church in the right direction.
After I joined the only two problems I knew about were polygamy and the priesthood/temple ban on members with black skin, and it never sat right with me that a loving God would allow the church to ban members with dark skin, and it really bothered me once I began looking into church history that this same loving God stayed quiet about the ban but also, we are told, sent an angel to command Joseph Smith to take young women as polygamous brides.
Then I noticed that the Doctrine and Covenants pretty much ends after Joseph Smith’s death, although I hung on to what I was taught as the momentous revelations of the lifting of the priesthood ban and the Proclamation on the Family. While there was no steady stream of revelation as with Joseph Smith, they did have these revelations that as a member I felt were confirmation that this church was indeed led by a prophet.
The problem, however, is that once you dive in you can see in their own words that the lifting of the priesthood ban wasn’t a revelation, but a meeting to decide how they would open the Brazil temple if they couldn’t allow those with black skin inside. It wasn’t the horrific treatment towards the black community that forced the church to seek revelation, but a business decision as they both needed to have attendance at the new Brazil temple along with giving members there a reason to pay tithing knowing that they would not be deemed worthy to step inside the temple.
I covered this in much more detail in the overview on racism in the scriptures of Mormonism, but this is a massive problem in that what is taught as a revelation was anything but a revelation. When it comes to the ‘family proclamation,’ I have learned since going down the rabbit hole that the document was effectively a legal document to provide standing in cases about same-sex marriage.
In other words, the two biggest claims to revelations since polygamy was ended (that was not a revelation, either, but a manifesto) were not revelations, but corporate moves to further the interests of the church. We have fifteen prophets, seers, and revelators and they never provide revelations, they can’t foresee and warn the church of something like the COVID pandemic, and they certainly can’t get answers to the problems such as DNA and the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham translation, or getting their policies on the LGBT community right.
The flipside of not having any canonized revelations since the early days is that they attempt to imply that every change is revelation, such as Russell M. Nelson calling the November 2015 policy of exclusion on the LGBT community revelation just as it was creating huge headaches for the church due to the well documented harm it caused.
Again, we can show that the church is not true by using scholarship, history, and their own documents, but when we look at the totality of the church’s history is also shows that these men are not being led by God. When people asked Joseph Smith for answers to the questions of their day, he could rattle off a revelation on the spot in the voice of God regardless of whether or not it has since been proven false.
Unfortunately in modern times the leaders of the church realize that when they make definitive statements via revelation that they will be judged for the accuracy of them, which is why they are so terrified to actually do it. Even Russell Nelson rushing to declare the November 2015 policy a revelation completely backfired on him, which forced the church to come up with a new revelation 3.5 years later to erase the previous revelation.
I don’t mean to sound sarcastic here, but we have fifteen men that I was told as an investigator are the only fifteen men who could communicate with God, and they never actually reveal anything but generic warnings and promises if we remain faithful and obedient to the church. Again, if you were looking at any other religious leader, church, or organization that claimed to have fifteen men that spoke to God and yet never were able to actually prophecy anything specific that was coming towards us, what would you say about their claims to being the one true church of God?
Stealing Our Identities and Selling Them Back To Us
In the overview about race and the scriptures of Mormonism I included a video of a Polynesian woman who talked about how their identities were now tied to being the descendants of the Book of Mormon people, which is a horrible teaching from the church that steals their true history and cultural identity.
The reality is that while the church directly steals the true history of the ancestors of Native Americans and Polynesians with the Book of Mormon, they also take our identities away from us as well. We are taught that we were the chosen elect in the pre-existence that fought the adversary’s plan and as such were able to obtain a mortal body to experience this life before we return to the Celestial Kingdom… if we do everything the church requires in the meantime.
When we go to the temple we are given a series of handshakes that we will need to return back to the Celestial Kingdom along with a “new name” that I was taught was the name I was called in that pre-existence. These teachings absolutely strip our real history and identity from us in order to sell the promise of exaltation back through obedience to the church.
My experience in the temple was a horrible one which I’ve detailed elsewhere, but I did not know when I received my “new name” that every other man in the temple that day received the same one. I was led to believe this was a name given by revelation only to find out years later that it was literally a name pulled off an index card and that every other man that day was apparently also called that name before receiving these mortal bodies.
It’s just one of the many ways that the church chips away at our identity so that we willingly give it to the church, and the church then holds the promise of exaltation over head by using that very identity that they’ve created. This would be OK if the church was true, but it’s not.
The idea of the pre-existence was created with the Book of Abraham, which as we’ve shown in the Book of Abraham overviews was a completely incorrect translation by Joseph Smith and used outside sources to provide a vehicle for Joseph Smith’s evolving theology including the idea of a pre-existence.
All of these ways that the church tries to provide us an identity that they can then use against us can be very harmful whenever you begin to question the central truth claims of the church, and the moment that we give our identity to the church it becomes that much more difficult to get it back once we start to see that the church is not what it claims to be.
Patriarchal blessings are another area where the church attempts to shape your identity by revealing what tribe you're from, but as I covered in the overview on revelations these patriarchal blessings have been proven false over and over again. Yet how many members will refer back to these blessings throughout their lives even though they are often cookie-cutter blessings that will be almost identical to anyone else who receives one from the same patriarch? It is a very easy way for the church to take our identity and replace it with one that is completely tied to the church.
As I said above, before I joined the Mormon church I never for a second thought I would not be with my family upon death, yet in Mormonism Joseph Smith created that problem to sell you the solution. The same can be shown with the church as a whole, where they create this new version of heaven (Celestial Kingdom) in order to sell you the solution which is completely obedience to church leaders until we die.
In selling us the solution, they are asking for us to do the following:
Covenant to full obedience to the church, including a promise to give everything to the church (not God) in the temple
10% of your income for life to a church with a $140 billion investment fund
Wearing church-required underwear with Masonic symbols on them every day for the rest of your life
Following the Word of Wisdom which forbids healthy drinks such as coffee and tea while allowing energy drinks, soda, and sugary drinks
Telling leaders about our private, intimate details in order to be declared worthy or unworthy
Following prophets even when they are proven wrong by science, society, or their own revelations just years later
I know I sound flippant here, but the reality is that the church uses Joseph Smith’s treasure digging techniques in that they are constantly telling you that the reward is just around the corner if only you’ll continue to fund and obey their commands, except instead of buried treasure it’s eternal rewards that can never be proven false unlike Joseph’s treasure digs.
Since I started the website I’ve gotten emails and messages from people who are in the middle of a faith crisis and they often will ask some form of “what am I supposed to do” after learning about the church. The reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach here, and I just want to be clear that it is never easy to navigate a faith crisis even if it is ultimately worth it once you are through the ‘dark night of the soul’ that comes in those initial stages of realizing the church is not true.
Many members are terrified to leave because they have tied their identity to the church. If you listen to interviews of those who leave, and I recommend listening to some Mormon Stories interviews of those who have stepped away, many will have similar fears such as whether or not they can be good people if they leave the church or if they can raise their kids to be good people out of the church.
The reality is that people are people. In the church or out of the church there are great people and there are terrible people and there are all sorts of people in between. There are people who would help you out with the most mundane problems and there will also be people who abuse women or children. I don’t say that to be down on the church, but to point out that no matter where you go, you’re going to find amazing people just as you will come across people that you will want no part of. While the church teaches us some great ways to treat and serve others, there is no reason that you can’t take the good with you when you leave the church while leaving behind the bad.
I have 100% confidence that I can raise my kid to be a great person out of the church because I was raised by good parents who were not members and that ultimately if the only reason you’re treating others nicely is because you’re afraid of not getting into the Celestial Kingdom, you’re doing it wrong anyway.
Other members can’t even imagine leaving because they have family that are in the church, and the wedge it creates when leaving can be too much for people who are afraid to disappoint their parents and siblings. Again, if you spend time listening to the stories of members who leave (Mormon Stories really is a great resource for this), you can see that this is a very common fear and it makes sense – many families will treat you differently if you leave the church at least in the initial reactions.
The point is that there’s no good answer here, and I just think you need to navigate the journey in the best way you can. I made a lot of mistakes when I started down the rabbit hole, and I wish so much I could have that time back because it might’ve made things easier had I not allowed emotions to get the best of me, but I quickly discovered that a lot of people make those same mistakes because we’re human and the shock of finding out the church is not true can be overwhelming.
What To Do and What Not To Do
Again I don’t want to give the impression there is a one-size-fits-all approach here, but there are a few things that I learned the hard way personally and tips from others that I think are good advice when you go through this journey.
The first thing I would say is that you should not talk to your family about what you have learned until you’ve had time to process it, verify the information you have, and can talk about it without being overly emotional. As I’ve mentioned in previous overviews, the backfire effect is a real thing and if you attack the church to believing family members not only will they not listen to what you have to say, but they’ll actually believe in the church more strongly because they’ll feel persecuted and it creates the ‘backfire effect.’
This is something I was guilty of and I wish I could do it over, but I remember just being floored as I started seeing the evidence about church history and feeling so betrayed by the church I converted to and still am a member of record in. It is very difficult to just let it sit in your head as you dig in and find out what is true and what isn’t, but I highly recommend finding online communities you can talk to before you talk to family. Learn from their mistakes and successes and use them to lean on when you’re feeling emotional so that you don’t lose your cool when talking to family members.
Another thing I would not do is to use overly loaded language. Just as I hate when the church calls those with doubts “spiritually bankrupt snake-oil salesmen,” an “unruly child,” or a “lazy learner,” there’s no reason to call those in the church names or to degrade the members who don’t know better about the church’s history.
Along those lines it is, in my opinion, both inaccurate and unhelpful to call Joseph Smith a pedophile, which apparently I did early after initially diving into church history although I honestly don’t remember doing it. Joseph Smith was not a pedophile – that is a very specific term and does not fit Joseph Smith’s actions as he was attracted to girls much older than 14 as evidences by the many polygamous relationships where sex was involved. It is much more effective to look at the manipulative, coercive, and abusive methods that Joseph Smith used while implementing polygamy than it is to call him a pedophile, which will only fracture any conversation you hope to have with believing members.
Don’t call the church a cult. I know when we’re feeling betrayed we all want to punch back, but it is such a loaded word that has a different meaning to so many people and it’s just not helpful. While I believe the church engages in behaviors that cults throughout history have utilized, I never call the church a cult because it’s ultimately not relevant or helpful. Talk about what the church does to control members whether it’s garments with Masonic symbols, tithing requirements, or restricting what members can eat and drink without labels about the church – the evidence speaks for itself and loaded fighting words will do nothing to help others ‘wake up’ to the evidence.
My last bit of advice is not to blame yourself, your parents, or your ancestors for being a part of a church that is not true. While I want to blame the missionaries for telling me a history that was simply not true, they almost certainly did not know any better. I’m pretty sure my in-laws believe I am a person that has been deceived by the adversary, but the truth is that they do not know a lot of this and they made the best choices they could based on what their parents raised them to believe.
So many of us have to wrestle with ancestors who were in polygamous marriages (as a convert I do not have this connection), and many members feel like leaving the church dishonors their sacrifices. Those ancestors did not have access to Google or to the vast amount of church documents to know that the church is not true – they had their emotions manipulated into thinking that God wanted them to enter into polygamous relationships and they did the best they could with the information they had.
For me I try to take that and realize that they did what they thought was best for their children, and that cycle has continued for many of us until we came across the information for ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we can’t honor the choices they made while also realizing that when we know better, we can do better and create our own path. I realize that many members are proud to come from pioneer stock, but that’s no reason to stay in a church that is not true. At the same time, you can leave the church and still respect the sacrifices they made even if we now know those choices were made under false pretenses.
And with that comes not blaming ourselves. We didn’t know any better, and for me once I left I would look into these issues and think “how in the world did I not see this problem?” But the reality is that we are conditioned to trust and obey the leaders of the church, which makes it really difficult to see the problems for what they are until we hit that point where we give ourselves the permission to look openly at the new information and reassess our core beliefs.
We all make the best choices we can with the information available to us. This is no different even if it means we have to shift paradigms and redefine our identities, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I have found since I left that I am more caring to people who are more marginalized in society such as the LGBTQ community along with wanting women to have every opportunity that a man has, which as a member is difficult to see given that men are elevated above women through the priesthood.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, either. There are going to be days when you might be livid thinking about experiences you had in the church. I often think about my temple experience and feel awful because I knew at the time something was wrong but did not have the courage to walk out. But that is all part of the journey, and it gets better with time and there’s something very freeing about being able to make choices because we want to help others instead of doing it because it checks off a box in serving the church.
It will take time and patience, but I promise that it gets better. Through the last three years I have been able to talk to so many amazing people, and while not every story has a happy ending when it comes to the fallout with family and friends, almost everyone comes out better than they started even if there are some scary bumps along the way. I think that’s really encouraging not just for myself, but for everyone reading this as well.
Doing this overview project has been a very interesting time for me. I learned so many things I had not previously encountered and I really am still completely fascinated by Joseph Smith and the history of the church. As I said above, trying to study church history is like putting together a puzzle where as a member the pieces never really fit but we just kind of shrug and say “we’ll get answers in the next life,” but as you start to dive in the pieces fit because the evidence ties them all together.
I know it is offensive to many believing members to have someone say that you can prove that the church is not true, but I really believe that you can do that through the many topics covered in this project. The information I presented wasn’t my own work – in a lot of ways I approached these overviews like Joseph Smith where I took parts of surrounding sources and recompiled them in sections to try and make the information as clear and concise as possible.
The reality is that there are many fields of study that are clear that the Book of Mormon is simply not an ancient text. Not only did Joseph Smith leave his fingerprints all over the text itself, but there are advances in our knowledge since the Book of Mormon was released that has forced the church to redefine key words and ideas to accommodate what is accepted science such as DNA showing the Native Americans are from Asia as well as the idea that skin color is a curse from God.
It’s not just the Book of Mormon either, as we can show that the Book of Abraham isn’t just incorrect because the translations are wrong, but because the text itself has anachronisms and a lack of understanding that Genesis was compiled from two separate sources. Then we have issues such as Joseph Smith incorrectly stating that Abraham was commanded by God to take another wife, which is simply not true (just read the Bible) and was only used to justify polygamy to Emma.
If you’ve stuck around through all of these overviews, I want to thank you. I have really appreciated the kind words, emails, and messages I have received over the months of writing these pages. I hope they have been helpful to those of you that have had questions about the church, and I hope that I did a good job of outlining the church’s positions along with apologetic arguments to show why they simply cannot hold up under scrutiny.
I know how tough it can be to encounter this information and I know how devastating it can be with family and friends who don’t want to talk about it or treat you differently for leaving. I'm not going to lie to you and say that it's easy, but I will say that it really does get better and I hope that you can find a new community that you can build around. Please email me anytime to let me know about your journey as I love to hear from those who have made it to the other side.
While this is the end of the project for now, I do have more overviews I want to add in at a later time. If you have a topic you'd like to see added please let me know as I have a small list I still want to get to, but at the moment I feel like these overviews provide a pretty robust look at the issues within Mormonism.
Again, thank you for checking these out and going with me for the ride on these topics and I hope they've been helpful to you out there!