My Problem with California
I grew up in the 80’s, in a middle-class suburban neighborhood in Orange County, California, only a short drive from Disneyland and world-famous beaches. The weather was nearly-always mild and pleasant. It rained maybe once or twice a year.
I grew up in the LDS Church. We were tight-knit. We had roadshows, fantastic holiday activities, moving firesides, etc. Did scouting for several years, got my Eagle. I attended early morning seminary (from 6am to 7am every morning, kinda like a Pre-First Period at high school, except it was held in the stake center every morning M-F) all four years — I even had perfect attendance during my Sophmore year.
By the time I left California in the early 90’s to attend BYU Provo, I was SO DAMN HAPPY to get away from everything I knew throughout my childhood and teen years that I didn’t once call home for nearly 6 weeks! I didn’t contact ANYONE to give them my dorm room mailing address, my new phone number, nothing. The first contact I had from “home” was my father — he reached me by phone in my dorm room after having spent over an hour twisting BYU phone-operators’ arms, trying to convince them that he really was my dad and to patch him through to my room. He was livid and demanded an explanation as to why I hadn’t called or contacted anyone back home since I left, causing everyone to be worried sick about me.
I was stunned — not at my father but at myself. “It’s been nearly six weeks, and I really haven’t called home once, have I?”
That night I thought long and hard about it: here I am surrounded by people who are terribly home sick, who have been calling their family almost daily, and yet NOT ONCE have I thought about my parents or my hometown. I missed my siblings, but I didn’t miss anyone or anything else… at all.
It was then that I realized the extent to which my late-childhood experiences were so upsetting, frustrating and traumatic — especially in regards to “Church” and Church-connected activities — to the point where I felt nothing, absolutely no closeness or sense of “belonging” whatsoever, to the ward, stake, chapels, leaders, teachers, parents, schools, classmates, neighbors, parks, stores, sidewalks, community centers, landmarks, streets, gutters, ANYONE, ANYTHING and EVERYTHING I had known for the preceding 18 years: it could all be devoured into the belly of the San Andreas fault, and I wouldn’t miss one single aspect of any of it. I couldn’t have cared less.
25 years later, other than some pangs of nostalgia for some minor things, within only a handful of days after arriving for a visit, I still feel like clawing at the walls to just GET THE HELL OUT OF CALIFORNIA. Every time I leave, I internally hope that it’s the last time I ever step foot in Orange County ever again. I have never missed it. I highly doubt I ever will.
I’ll spare you the full rant — instead, here’s the nutshell: parents bitterly divorced when I was eleven; viciousness ensued for years; being the oldest child I became the “go-between” between my parents as well as between parents and siblings (all while I’m simultaneously singing Families Can Be Together Forever at Church); I was bullied/belittled/tormented horribly throughout junior high-school (not quite as much in high-school); I was belittled/shunned/tormented by my LDS peers at Church and at seminary; and I witnessed endless hypocrisy, favoritism, ward cliques, and self-righteousness at Church. Every single day — no matter whether I had to go to school or go to Church — was a day where the only way I could deal with it was in telling myself “Let’s just get this sh– over with.”
There were no good days; there were only comparatively-not-as-bad days.
Looking back, I have come to understand and appreciate that I actually had it better than a handful of others. I have also come to understand that my attitude was extremely sour and unable to appreciate a lot of genuine good that I did get out of family, or school, or Church, or whatever. I have come to “get it” that my bitter outlook was heavily due to the bubble of childhood sweetness being violently burst by my parents, then fueled into a ranging bonfire by the torrential junior high years and early teens attending ward/stake youth programs. It wasn’t until the first couple years of attending BYU Provo that those bitter flames began to die down.
Here’s the most important thing I have come to understand: it’s not California, IT’S ME! To this day I still struggle to not feel anything but hate for California. But, that’s MY problem. It has nothing to do with Orange County, California. Nothing! It’s a beautiful place. It’s a dream location for many people. What did California ever do to me? I spent 18 years of my life there, yet I despise it so completely. Why? Because the most traumatic, unbearable times of my life occurred there — and those scars still smart so painfully that I have associated and conflated everything about my parents’ divorce, my horrible junior high school years, and all the years of disdain, rejection, and mocking by ward/stake peers at Church……. onto the entire state!
So, again: it’s not California, IT’S ME! It’s my problem. Yet I project it onto California.
Testimony Building Blocks
In the LDS Church, we like to think of our testimony (or, to more aptly put it, our various convictions of what is true) as a collection of blocks which stack upon each other, like Jenga blocks stacked upon the floor:
- I know that God lives.
- I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
- I know that the Bible is a record of true ancient prophets (even if it has some corruption/translation errors).
- I know that the Book of Mormon is also scripture from true prophets.
- I know that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God.
- I know that God continues to call modern prophets today.
- I know that the LDS Church is the only true Church on the earth.
- I know that President Monson is God’s chosen prophet today.
- and on and on and on….
To place one’s convictions of truth in this manner — this kind of “testimony building” — is dangerous and counter-productive. There’s several reasons for this:
1) Like an unstable Jenga tower, the entire “building” becomes vulnerable should even one of the testimonial blocks ever be questioned, doubted, and/or cast aside.
2) As these blocks of testimony are built up, they are invariably encouraged to be tied to one another, as in a manner of: “The Book of Mormon is true, therefore Joseph had to have been a true prophet.” “The Church must be God’s only true Church on the earth, because Joseph was the prophet chosen by God to restore it.” The resultant effect is that the blocks are all tied to each other — thereafter they completely stand or completely fall, not unlike a giant wall of glued-together Jenga blocks.
3) When thinking of convictions in this manner, gradually there can be an unconscious shifting of the primary and/or foundational truth — the basic, core truth upon which all other convictions rest.
In the modern LDS Church, there is an over-emphasis on the importance of modern prophets, to the point where even the scriptures (including the actual words of Jesus Christ in the New Testament) take a back seat to whatever the “living oracles” feel like tellings us:
“The Bible is a good thing, the Book of Mormon is a good thing, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants is a good thing. They are the words of the Lord. But I say that the living oracles of the Church are worth more than all of them. If we could have but one of them, give me the living oracles of the Priesthood for my guidance.” — Apostle Marriner W. Merrill, Conference Report, Oct. 1897, pg. 6
If anything, this sentiment has only intensified over the past few decades, leading to the vast majority of the membership to shift their foundational conviction from a personal testimony that Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, to a salvation-dependent trust that the leadership structure of the Church is infallible. (While LDS members seem ready to accept the possibility that a minority of the leadership can be compromised/fallible, they have been sufficiently conditioned that the president and/or a “majority of the twelve” can in no way ever lead the Church astray — thereby this becomes their foundational conviction block in their testimonial building.)
All of this visual tinkering of testimonies seems to be an extension of Christ’s analogy of the wise man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. (Matthew 7:24-27) However, while Christ’s simple and direct analogy is apt, the Jenga testimony building-blocks scenario doesn’t stand up. (ha ha ha)
All truth is able to “stand” upon its own merits — no truth should ever be “bound” to another truth, irrelevant of how closely they connect.
Additionally, there is only one foundational truth. Only one. Jesus is the Christ. That’s not a block — that’s the floor. The entire floor. It’s the foundation of every single thing in this world that can possibly considered “true” — for all things testify of Him. (Alma 30:44)
Christ is the rock to build upon. All other “truths” are absolutely worthless if they do not testify of Him.
“And Then I Threw the Baby Out With the Bathwater…”
The fruit of all this misplaced testimony-building/conviction-gluing folly is becoming increasingly apparent as the years roll on. As has been discussed copiously on many Mormon-themed blogs, the LDS Church is bleeding membership at an astounding pace — and it’s not so much new converts as it is lifelong and multi-generational LDS members. It’s alarming to the point of being declared an epidemic by some.
All it takes to get a feel as to why it’s happening is to listen to a couple dozen random Mormon Stories podcasts. Almost invariably you’ll hear expressions along the lines of:
- “I couldn’t continue to ignore discrepancies in the official accounts of Church history…”
- “I researched [this] and [that], only to find that the Church and FairLDS apologists had very unsatisfactory answers to secular researchers/critics and/or to my concerns…”
- “I felt betrayed, ignored, and lied to by Church leaders…”
- “I didn’t get any feedback to my prayers. I felt abandoned by God. I became increasingly frustrated.”
… and then, of course:
- “I lost/gave up/cast aside my testimony.”
In listening to these kinds of interviews, with very few exceptions it quickly becomes obvious that:
- There’s an attitude of informational entitlement: “I refuse to accept any response that requires me to exercise any more faith. Give me secularly-satisfactory, scientifically/historically-grounded explanations!”
- There’s an expectation that Church leadership and historians can answer whatever concerns they have, but that they are either: (a) refusing to answer them honestly and forthrightly, (b) refusing to release documents/data which can set the matter to rest, and/or (c) refusing to admit that they themselves have no clue how to answer their concerns. (And, unfortunately, Church leaders and historians are doing a marvelous job of convincing everyone that they’re doing all three simultaneously.)
- There’s bitterness, not patience — most often stemming from resentment of how Church leadership treats/addresses them/the general membership in such an informationally-condescending manner.
- There’s an astonishing unwillingness to humble one’s self to the dust and beg — really beg — God for answers. It’s as though they’re telling Heaven, “I’ve had enough of this! I’ve been suckered by the Institution of Mormonism all my life, and now I realize just how badly I’ve been duped. You owe me big time, God. You let this happen to me. You owe me some answers. If you love me, if you have any respect for me, you’d better start talking.”
- There’s also an astonishing unwillingness to consider any input, data, evidence, or relevant information that comes from anything other than “established, accepted” secular experts/research/conclusions. Perhaps the most infuriating, widespread example is the deliberately ignorant summary of: “There’s zero DNA/archaeological/geographical/whatever evidence that supports the claims/narrative of the Book of Mormon.” (cough-cough-RON MELDRUM!!-cough-wheeze-FIRM FOUNDATION!!-cough-sputter-HOPEWELL TRIBE!!-cough-cough-YOU JUST WANT TO WALLOW IN SELF-RIGHTEOUS FURY AND STICK IT TO THE CHURCH LEADERS!!-cough-cough-YOU CARE MORE ABOUT YOUR PRIDE THAN WHAT IS TRUE AND WHAT ISN’T, AND THAT’S WHY GOD HAS IGNORED YOUR PRAYERS!!-cough-cough-COUGH— sorry… I gotta get that cough checked out.)
I’ll be frank: I find it deeply painful to listen to these interviews; I can’t make it all the way through most of them — primarily because listening to people expound their unbelief is as enjoyable as being forced to watch an abusive mother use one hand to beat her sobbing infant child, and use a cell phone in her other hand to complain about how worthless her child is.
Really, listening to these people detail their regression from belief to unbelief is akin to listening to mother after mother say:
“I finally realized how nasty and horrible that soapy bathwater was. I felt so betrayed by the soap salesmen, I was so angry when I discovered just how self-serving and dishonest they are, that I just threw everything out, tub and all. I can’t find my baby now, but I’m making all kinds of wonderfully sympathetic new anti-soap friends who are explaining to me that I never really had a baby in the first place, and I certainly never needed soap to begin with — I was brainwashed by those soap-selling bastards to think I had a baby all this time. I’m doing so much better now, and I’m trying to explain to my soap-loving friends that each of them don’t really have a baby either — it’s all so well explained by advanced physiological experts today as to how we mentally, emotionally and physically trick ourselves into thinking we have a baby when we really don’t. We need to let go of all that self-delusion and meaningless responsibility. Just throw it all out — it’s nothing but a form of self-repression.”
That’s the imminent fruit of all this testimony-blocks-glued-together tripe: a cataclysmic implosion of all convictions, followed by a resolute, pride/disgust-fueled, stiff-necked state of unbelief. B. H. Roberts’s worst fears are coming to pass at an accelerated rate:
“Suppose your youth receive their impressions of church history from “pictures and stories” and build their faith upon these alleged miracles [and] shall someday come face to face with the fact that their belief rests on falsehoods, what then will be the result? Will they not say that since these things are myth and our Church has permitted them to be perpetuated… might not the other fundamentals to the actual story of the Church, the things in which it had its origin, might they not all be lies and nothing but lies?”
– B. H. Roberts, Assistant Church Historian from 1902-1933, Editor and compiler of the Documentary History of the Church (Quoted from Defender of the Faith: The B. H. Roberts Story, p. 363)
Roberts then demonstrates the correct attitude to adopt when faced with data that exposes flaws in one’s convictions:
“[Some say that] because one repudiates the false he stands in danger of weakening, perhaps losing the truth. I have no fear of such results. I find my own heart strengthened in the truth by getting rid of the untruth… as soon as I learn that it is based upon worthless testimony.” (ibid)
The Testimony of The Moon
To John Dehlin — and all the guests on the Mormon Stories podcast series who have abandoned their sacred convictions of their Savior and Redeemer — no matter whether it was out of frustration towards the ongoing deception of those who claim to be His “prophets, seers and revelators”, or due to your favoritism of secularly-satisfying debunkings of God and His painstakingly patient, long-suffering work with highly imperfect people who are now dead and cannot defend or explain to your satisfaction the records they have left behind — I have something to declare:
It’s not God, it’s YOU.
You’re completely at liberty to surrender your faith in a supreme creator, just as I am completely at liberty to continue projecting my bitterness and painful memories on the state of California. However, I have finally come to recognize and confess that it’s not California, it’s me! Hopefully before it is too late, each of you will look in the mirror and confess “It’s not God, IT’S ME!”
You are at liberty to join the armies of secular scientists, who look into the cosmos and choose to see nothing but endless epic-scale incidents of arbitrary cause and effect, originating from a theoretical “big bang” (never mind what caused this “bang”). However, after having tasted and experienced the fruit of the Tree of Life, then trodden it under your feet as you walked away, your eternal fate for siding with these myopic-visioned individuals will be far more horrendous than you can possibly imagine.
I beg each of you: reconsider. Come back to Christ. Forget everything else you have problems with — Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, LDS Church, whatever — and just embrace Christ.
If you are drowning in your unbelief to the point of conviction that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that testifies of divinity, I present to you the Testimony of the Moon.
Esoteric researchers Christopher Knight and Alan Butler published a book in 2005 called Who Built the Moon? They were so perplexed by their mathematical findings of the moon and its properties in relation to the sun and the Earth that they concluded that it is an artificially-created satellite.
Mathematician and researcher Michael Onstott summarizes their findings as follows:
“[They] discovered numbers relating to sun, moon, and earth that are too perfect to be the product of random chance. For example, consider a solar eclipse: when one happens, the moon completely covers the sun disc. The only reason this can occur so precisely is because the moon is exactly 400 times smaller than the sun, and happens to be 400 times closer [to the earth] than the sun during the eclipse. The earth also turns 400 times faster the moon. The odds [that] these three seemingly-unrelated characteristics would all converge on the number 400 is literally astronomical.”
It gets even more astonishing. Really take a moment to ponder the undisputed extended ramifications that author/researcher Christopher Knight expounds upon in his findings: (emphasis added)
“The Moon sits very close to the Earth yet it is widely regarded as the strangest object in the known universe….
“The Moon is not only extremely odd in its construction; it also behaves in a way that is nothing less than miraculous. It is exactly four hundred times smaller than the Sun but four hundred times closer to the Earth so that both the Sun and the Moon appear to be precisely the same size in the sky – which gives us the phenomenon we call a total [solar] eclipse. Whilst we take this for granted it has been called the biggest coincidence in the universe.
“Furthermore, the Moon mirrors the movement of the Sun in the sky by rising and setting at the same point on the horizon as the Sun does at opposite solstices. For example, this means the Moon rises at midwinter at the same place the Sun does at midsummer. There is no logical reason why the Moon mimics the Sun in this way and it is only meaningful to a human standing on the Earth….
“Another factor was the obvious message that has been built into the Moon…. The language of the message is base ten arithmetic, so it looks as though it is directed to a ten digit species that is living on Earth right now – which seems to mean humans….
“Not only is the Moon an apparently impossible object, it has some unique benefits for us humans. It has been nothing less than an incubator for life. If the Moon was not exactly the size, mass and distance that it [is,] there would be no intelligent life here. Scientists are agreed that we owe everything to the Moon. It acts as a stabiliser that holds our planet at just the right angle to produce the seasons and keep water liquid across most of the planet. Without our Moon the Earth would be as dead and solid as Venus….
“[F]or thoroughness we checked every planet and moon in the solar system to see if there was any pattern. Amazingly, [everything] worked perfectly for every aspect of [Earth’s] Moon, but did not apply at all to any other known body – except the Sun. It was as though we had found a blueprint where the Moon had been ‘manufactured’ using very specific units taken from Earth’s relationship with the Sun. The more we looked, everything fitted – and fitted perfectly in every conceivable way….
“The question of why the Moon had to be built is easy to answer: To produce all life, especially humans.”
Keep in mind, this is not coming from religious persons, or even people who support the theory of Intelligent Design. The authors conclude that — are you ready for this? — highly advanced humans from the future sent machines back in time billions of years to remove a massive portion of Earth’s surface (which resulted in the Pacific Ocean) and then shaped, placed, and initiated the orbital rotation of all that mass with astonishing precision, thus creating the Earth’s moon. Knight even summarizes this theory as “the only one… that is 100% scientifically possible.”
The Moon testifies that it was created. It was formed by a Creator. For those who are born-and-bred atheists, who have never tasted anything spiritually rewarding throughout their lives, it’s understandable that they would seek to conclude that the moon was made by time-traveling future humans, or by aliens, or whatever non-deity they wish to dream up.
But for you, there’s no excuse. Own up: you’re just like me and my projected hatred of California. Out of frustration, bitterness, pride, secular-minded disgust, spiritual disappointment, and/or self-righteous fury against the equally-self-righteous spiritual frauds leading the LDS Church, you refuse to exercise any appreciation or faith in your Creator — but it’s not Him, it’s YOU.
Cast aside your pride, your bitter pain, your angst, your distrust towards your imploded convictions, and find Christ: the Creator, Savior, Redeemer, and Sufferer-of-All of this world.
This Easter season, find Him. Make peace with Him. Appreciate that He suffered, and continues to suffer, far more than you.
It won’t be long before He unleashes harsh, long-overdue justice upon those who pretend to be His modern day oracles. They have rejected Him, yet live well and enjoy endless fawning from those who continue to be duped.
If you don’t make amends with the precious baby you threw out along with the filthy bathwater, your fate will be like unto theirs.