Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why I leave, Part 4: Loss.

I loved the Book of Mormon when I was younger, as did everyone around me (as far as I could tell). By my mission age I had done what was asked of me: I read the Book of Mormon (more than once), I prayed about it, and I got that good feeling that everyone told me later was the "confirmation" that the book was true (whatever that means).

I really let myself really get into the book, too. My favorite story was of both Mormon and Moroni, the final characters in the book. Mormon amazed me because of how strong, yet loving he seemed. He was a leader of an army at 16, and until his death was an untouchable, nearly unbeatable General. His always seemed the inferior force, yet he managed to squeak put draws from the jaws of defeat more than once. He didn't love war, though, and whenever he could he tried to stop the wars from continuing. I admired his courage, his conviction, and his willingness to step into danger for the sake of those he cared about, even when he knew his efforts were ultimately in vain.

It's somewhat embarrassing to admit this now, but I even created a fanfic of the story when I came home from my mission, though I never wrote it down entirely. In short, I was a Mormon fanboy in every sense of the word.

Moroni hit me even harder because of the clear loneliness he must have felt (or at least what I imagined he must have felt) after his father (Mormon)'s death. He spent over 30 solitary years wandering the wilderness after his people were destroyed. He was a warrior, too. I had in mind a picture of a lone wolf, who avoided fights when he could, but wasn't afraid to defend himself when the need arose. But he was filled with the same love his father had, so I was sure he would choose not to kill his enemies if he could avoid it.

I connected with him even more because of his clear weakness. He was a prophet, but he wasn't afraid to write down his struggles and difficulties. More so than Mormon, Moroni seemed approachable, human, not so different than me. I often thought that if Moroni could live alone for all the years he did, and yet grow during that time, certainly I could get over my problems, fears, and difficulties. Even now I still admire the character somewhat, though the story has since lost some of its luster for me.

Like I mentioned before, by mid-March 2011, I had found physical evidence that proves almost conclusively the Book of Abraham isn't what it appears to be. My emotional attachment to Mormonism wasn't really in that book, though, so I thought I'd be able to jettison my faith there while still remaining Mormon if only I could keep my faith in something else. The Book of Mormon seemed an obvious object of that faith.

Inevitably, though, my struggle with Abraham had given me inklings of problems in other areas of Mormonism. The Book of Mormon wasn't immune. My other studies made it impossible for me not to investigate the claims.

I wasn't naive enough this time to go directly to an apologetic source like Fair Mormon, so I went first to the critics. It was refreshing for me to find that the good critical sites (such as did their best to present both sides of the argument. Rather that slogging through lop-sided dither like I found at Fair Mormon, I quickly understood both the official position of the church (where it existed) and the detailed arguments and evidence that challenged that position. Mormon Think even had links directly to apologetic information like Fair and Farms (now the Maxwell Institute).

I studied the evidence for some time (it was at least two weeks). Although the information was much easier to bring together this time, I was much more reluctant to give up my emotional connection to the truth of the Book. The evidence was clear, though. Let me again give the main points. I'll be a little more detailed here because of how important the book was to me. I'll try to start with the most damning evidence (in my view) first.

  • The Book of Mormon claims (or at least it did when I was on my mission years ago) that the Lamanites, originally from the middle east, are the principal ancestors of the American Indians. (since then, the introduction to the the Book of Mormon has been changed to say they are "among the ancestors" of the American Indians.) If this is actually the case, there should be evidence, in the form of mitochondrial DNA, that would show the connection between Middle Eastern and Native American groups. A detailed explanation would take too long, but in short there is absolutely no evidence of Middle Eastern mitochondrial DNA in any Native American populations ANYWHERE in the Americas. Their DNA, which fits with evidence from other sources, indicates ancestry from east Asia, not Europe or the Middle east. This has been confirmed by both Mormon and non-Mormon scientists.
  • If the Book of Mormon record is correct, we'd expect evidence of large scale wars with hundreds of thousands of deaths. Just counting the final battle in Mormon suggests over a million dead Nephites. That evidence just doesn't exist, though. This is in contrast to the campaigns of the Roman Empire, for example, where much smaller forces left easily identifiable evidence of the battles they fought. Even if, as apologists claim, the evidence has been lost to the more humid central and South American climate, that doesn't explain why clear evidence of the Mayan, Olmec, Incan, and Aztec civilizations exist. The Mayans even existed at the same time the Nephite-Lamanite civilization supposedly did, yet only evidence of the former civilization has come to light.
  • Even in Texas evidence of a small civilization has come to light, a civilization that is much smaller than the claimed size of the Lehite civilization. Yet still the sprawling Lehites are nowhere to be found.
  • The Book of Mormon is full of anachronisms. It suggests the existence of horses, wheels, wheat, barley, and steel, just to name a few, where none of these things existed in the Americas before Columbus. No mention of Native American staples like pumpkins, squash, or potatoes exist in the Book of Mormon, even though archaeological evidence continually recovers these staples, but never finds evidence of wheat or barley. 
  • The Book of Mormon contains many passages that appear to be complete quotes from the King James edition of the Bible. As the King James version is a translation of a translation of a translation (of many transliterations), it contains mistranslations and errors that clearly didn't exist in earlier versions of the text. Tellingly, the Book of Mormon contains many of these mistranslations word for word from the King James version.
  • The place names and people in the Book of Mormon bear an uncanny resemblance to names of cities, towns, and geological features that existed in upstate New York in the early 1800's. Some names are exactly the same, while others are just one or two letters away from the New York names. If only a few names bore this resemblance, we could chalk it up to coincidence. The problem is there are literally hundreds of these parallels in the Book of Mormon. It is difficult to explain this fact inside a Mormon context.
This isn't everything. The list continues like a bad dream. Only this dream was real. An apologetic response might be able to explain one or two of these points alone, but with each new point of evidence it became more difficult for me to reconcile my beliefs on the Book of Mormon with the evidence. By the beginning of April 2011, I had concluded to my own chagrin that the Book of Mormon was fiction. I felt like I had lost a good friend. I could no longer use Moroni as an example of a real person I could emulate - clearly that "real person" was only real in the eyes of the original author of the Book of Mormon.

At this point, the blocks just came tumbling down like the house of the foolish man in that primary song. President Gordon B. Hinckley said it best: "Each of us has to face the matter - either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing." He was and is still right. Problematically for the church, though, the evidence doesn't support the kingdom of God theory in the slightest, and I knew it. I had to acknowledge the fact at this point that I no longer believed. I could no longer consider myself Mormon in any meaningful sense.

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