A Bit About Me: My Story

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Free Ranger
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A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by Free Ranger »

I realized that because I use terms like Mormon and present a heterodox/unorthodox view of things that I might be misunderstood. So let me briefly give my background and story.

I will begin with my anti-Mormonism phase:

I resigned my membership around 2005. I had been questioning and deconstructing my faith as early as probably 1999. I was one of the first listeners of John Dehlin's Mormon Stories podcast. In fact, I would go on his podcast and in the comment section I was the "anti-Mormonism guy" among all of these New Order Mormons. In fact, at one time John Dehlin asked to message me and we had a long conversation where he tried to get me to come back to the Brighamite Church and at that time I told him that if he continues down this nuanced-Mormon road saying the things he does he might get in trouble with the Utah-based Church. He brushed me off and kept trying to convert me to being a New Order Mormon. Although he never liked that term. The next day he "othered" me by calling me an anti-Mormon in a disparaging way and it felt like a betrayal after we had just had a long and friendly chat on Messenger. I thought he understood my point of view. Fast forward to now and my warning to him came true.

I have been on the internet a long time. I watched as Dr. Shades put up this forum and would lurk on it but I was more active posting on the postmormon forum before it was hacked. I tried going on the Mormon apologetic forums but kept getting mistreated and censored and it felt like a waste of time.

At one point I had conversations with Daniel Peterson and at that time I was telling Peterson the Church needs to be more honest about the seer stone which they had not yet "come clean" about. Then I saw Daniel Peterson on the PBS documentary The Mormons, discussing the seer stone and they even flashed a seer stone on the screen, and I wondered if my conversations, or similar conversations with other exmormons, motivated him to do that.

Also, in the early 2000s, I had long conversations with another Mormon apologist who was defending the seed of Cain doctrine by appealing to Old Testament times, and he was popular on the internet. I cannot remember his name. But we stopped talking because I disagreed with his theory. His website of course disappeared after 2013, or before.

Then I eventually got the attention of Louis Midgley, who as everyone knows is very hostile and mean-spirited.

I had a website and a blog that was anti-Mormonism for about a decade. Some of my research was quoted by Steve Benson.

How I got to my current phase:

Growing up in California, I was raised in the Utah-based LDS Church but around age 8 when my parents divorced we did not go to Church much after that. We only went to church occasionally. My father was always a full-blown devout "McConkey Mormon" in his devotion, so his influence led me to continue to be somewhat active LDS as a teenager. ... Side Note: after the 2013 Race and The Priesthood essay, my father, still devout now, agreed to toss out his early first edition of Mormon Doctrine by McConkie when I told him it contained "false doctrine" (as of 2013). ... So in my teens I achieved my eagle scout. I went to LDS youth dances from age 14 to 18, but just like in the movie The Departed, where they discuss how Leo DiCaprio's character would act one way on the weekend and another way the rest of the week, that was me. Nobody in my high school knew I was raised-Mormon, and in my mind I really wasn't a "Mormon" in that for me my non-Mormon friends were more like me. I did not relate to devout, true believing Mormons as a teenager.

After being bullied at one point in middle school being shy for a time, as many of us experience, I learned to defend myself. I remember watching Rocky 4 in the movie theater, and that had a profound impact on me and my being interested in physical fitness and boxing and developing my body at an early age. I was into weight lifting and amateur boxing and did not follow any of the pious church rules as a teenager.

I did benefit from Mormon culture and socials as a teenager, as it taught me to socialize without drugs or alcohol, and getting my eagle scout and getting University educated was a good experience. Before my mission I would be at the LDS dances one week and at the secular clubs in California another week. Then I would go to a Mormon social like volleyball one day and then go with a non-Mormon friend to a bachelor party with "dancers" the next week. I basically had two sets of friends, liberal Mormon friends and secular never-religious friends.

After my mission, before I resigned my membership, I joined a college fraternity and fit in with that crowd though I was slightly more reserved as a return missionary. Point is I am not your stereotypical raised-Mormon type.

Going back to being a teenager, I would occasionally drink beer and engage in safe/protected sexual activity with my girlfriend. So I was not really "Mormon" like many people growing up in certain parts of Utah, I was more of a "typical California guy."
Growing up in Southern California, I was however always somewhat involved in Mormon activities on the periphery; for example, even after my mission as a young single adult, when I was begining to question the Church again around 1997, but believing in the core principles but not being dogmatic about the "pious rules," I would go to Mormon socials like the church dances and firesides as a "liberal Mormon," and I would always make friends with only other "liberal Mormons," i.e. the non-uptight types. The "TBM" types would always comment on my unorthodox personality, irreverent sense of humor, and general non-pious behavior. I would defend myself by quoting J. Golden Kimball and bringing up his cooler attitude. The women of course always seemed to love the "bad boy," so compared to the other "up tight" types, I was mysterious and intriguing to many TBM young women; but I tended to date converts or recently divorced women because they were more unencumbered from Augunstinian indoctrination (that has infultrated Brighamite Mormonism, which I discuss a lot on my blog). They also preferred my nonjudgement attitude regarding them not being raised-Mormon and fitting into the pristine mold.

Going back to my teenage years during high school, nobody knew I was Mormon and when I saw the Mormons gathered in the quad on my high school campus, I just considered them "dorks" to be honest. They just came off to me as "magoo," see: https://youtu.be/KWYAuxBgk_0
I was a teenager, what can I say. I don't think that way as an adult.
I had gone from low social-status in middle school to one of the so-called "cool kids" in high school by my Junior and Senior year, mostly because I became involved in weightlifting and developed a muscular physique, combined with being 6 foot tall and engaging in amateur boxing, all made me a formidable presence. At that time, while I had not read or studied philosophy at all, in hindsight I was pretty much an Aristotelian, Pragmatist, and Nietzschean in my attitude and outlook; but as a middle child growing up amidst all high-testerone brothers I was known as "the peacemaker," being empathic and conscientious deep down, and I always felt bad after any fight I was in, which was always in self-defense. I despise bullies to this day.

All of that changed when my older brother decided to go on a mission. I always looked up to my older brother and as every exmormon knows, due to a lot of positive peer pressure I convinced myself to go on a mission. I did read the Book of Mormon all the way through and prayed about it but felt absolutely nothing. I have always been an intellectual person and I have family members who are on the autism spectrum, a lot of engineers and clockmakers and very mechanical and analytical people; but I also have people in my family who are very artistic and creative. I am not autistic but I have this analytical nature as well as a kind of artistic and creative side. I'm a "philosopher poet" of sorts. The point is I have never been the type of Mormon that waxes on about seeing angels or having a "burning in the bosom." For me it was simply pragmatic, not knowing any of the issues in the Mormon Church in the 1990s, at that time I just felt it was an overall good social fraternity and I had no reason not to believe in God or Christianity as a teenager, and so I decided to go on a mission.

I first realized that there was a difference between Mormon Scripture itself and the "Brighamite Institution" when I was honest with my church leaders before my mission during "worthiness" interviews and as a result I was told that I had to stop masturbating to go on a mission. I served my mission in Brazil but I started to have doubts about the "seed of Cain" doctrine. At the time I also suffered a knee injury, so I came home on medical leave and during that time I tried to come up with some answers to what I saw in the Church as racist ideas. I won't go into great detail here, but I was given some Mormon apologetic material which actually misled me to think I did not have to believe in the seed the Cain doctrine at that time (1990s), this was before 2013 and the Race and the Priesthood essay, and so I was able to in good conscience complete my mission because I was misled by this apologetic literature. I'm not a fan of most Mormon apologetics to this day. But some of it does have some utility.

I've always been an independent thinker and somewhat rebellious as a nonconformist and don't like anyone pushing me around and telling what or what not to believe, whether it's fundamentalist religious types or pushers of political ideologies. When all my missionary companions on the mission and the mission president either told me there's nothing wrong with the seed of Cain doctrine, or they knew nothing about it, or they defended it and I should just get in line and accept it, I uprightly rebelled in good conscience and left my mission.

If anyone has ever tried to leave their mission, let me tell you you have to have cajones of steel because they throw everything at you to manipulate you to stay. Even though I had a legitimate knee injury, I did not tell them that I was also doubting the Church's racial teachings at that time in the mid 1990s. My last companion knew, and we both stopped proselytizing while I wrestled with my doubts, but he was a cool dude and so it was just between us. So, all the Leaders just knew that I had a legitimate knee injury, but they still did not think that I should go home and the mission president tried everything to get me to stay in Brazil and do physical therapy there instead. But I insisted on going to the USA for medical care. At one point he even got my parents on the phone. But I just kept repeating my position over and over with an iron will until they finally let me go home.

Then at home I had to deal with the stake president who refused to release me. Even though I've always approached religion rationally and more metaphorically, I am also prone to scrupulosity and so I wanted to be released until I decided to go back on a mission. I felt like there was some "spell on me" being set apart as a missionary and they needed to undo the "spell" or something. I was 19 or 20, give me a break. I think he knew I was a bit superstitious about not being released yet and he used that as leverage. He was the controlling type and refused to release me unless I said I was absolutely not going to go back on a mission. I told him I needed time to recuperate my knee and think about things and had told him about my doubts and questions about the blacks and the priesthood issue and the seed of Cain and was thinking things over. He did not respect my individuality and free will and refused to release me. To this day I get angry thinking about it. He also refused to discuss my issues with the racism in the Church (this was pre-2013) and just kept telling me to pray about President Hinckley, the Church prophet at the time. I came back the next time I saw him and said okay I prayed about Hinckley, I felt nothing. Now, why does the church have racist doctrines and continues to publish books that have racism in it, I'd ask? Again the same avoidance-measures, did you pray about Hinckley, again. As if all my doubts would magically go away if I obeyed his orders, and his again, "No, I will not release you." I still could not imagine a life outside of Mormonism at that time, and I was superstitious about not being released. Anyway, long story short, I gave into the peer pressure because at that time I saw my future being in the Mormon Community even if as a "liberal Mormon" as I always had been, and I found a way to disbelieve in the seed of Cain dogma, and so I ended up completing my mission in Independence Missouri. It was actually a good thing I finished my mission there because I learned to think of Mormonism outside the box of the Brighamite Church and learned different ways of approaching Mormon Scripture and how other Smith-Rigdon Restorationists interpret things differently.

When I came home from my mission and was at college my independent nature and critical thinking mindset led me to dig deeper into this seed of Cain issue and that began, as most exmormons know, years of studying everything. I mean I read everything, I even sat down and read that giant book by the Tanners', Mormonism: Shadow or Reality. I would drive and visit "Ex-Mormon for Jesus" because they had some original documents in their bookstore, and it was there that I met and talked with one of the guys who played a temple worker in the Godmakers movie. But when the lady running Exmormons for Jesus told me how she was talking to a child and said to the child, "If you don't believe in Jesus you could go to hell," I knew right then and there I wanted nothing to do with that version of Fundamentalist Christianity. And then I read Dan Barker's book Losing Faith in Faith, and that began my going down the road of reading every major atheist book I could get my hands on and listening to several atheist podcasts, etc.; and it wasn't long before I moved from Mormon to nuanced Christian to deist to agnostic to atheist to nihilistic atheist.

Being an atheist felt fantastic for a long time at first, my analytical brain just loved it, deconstructing and dismantling and debunking felt awesome. In many ways it was a form of cognitive therapy to overcome any residual scrupulosity. I just loved watching theist and atheist debates and seeing the Fundamentalist Christians lose the argument, as I saw it. I jumped on the bandwagon of "religion is the bane of society" and if we could all just become atheists and ultra rational like Spock on Star Trek we could create a civilized utopia. Looking back now I think I was being naïve.

I started to realize there are extremes on both sides of any spectrum. When I was visiting an ex-Mormon cousin we watched the Godmakers 2, and my "spidey senses" were tingling and my nonsense meter was going off watching this documentary. Doing research I realized that even the Tanners said it was full of lies and character assassinations. Being both somebody who is analytical and rational yet conscientious and ethical, the next time I went to the Exmormons for Jesus bookstore, I told them they should not sell the the Godmakers 2 and gave them the article by the Tanners, and because she respected the Tanners she took the Godmakers 2 out of her shop. This was the beginning of realizing that humans are fallible and that the extremes on the spectrum are almost always problematic. In other words, the religious extremists are one thing and the anti-religious extremists are another. I remember having a conversation with some atheists once as an atheist myself at the time and we were disagreeing and I then quoted Richard Dawkins and all of a sudden they switched gears and started to agree with me. And I was like wait a minute, why didn't the merits of my argument stand alone? Why did I need to bring in an authority figure?
I slowly progressed from nihilistic atheist to my position now over ten years, which is that I am an extremely unorthodox/heterodox pragmatic Christian, who does not fit into any particular dogmatic box or theological framework. I'm an independent thinker who has read widely and has simply reconstructed a faith-stance based on multiple sources, as diverse as integrating views from Marcus Borg and John Spong to Jordan Peterson's psychological approach to the Bible. I only recently began reconstructing a philosophical Mormon position the last 5 years which was largely influenced by a combination of factors, but mostly from reading almost everything that Nietzsche wrote and several books about his philosophy. I discuss Nietszche and Mormonism on my blog here: http://emergentmormon.blogspot.com/

So that's a little bit about me in brief, I am not a literal believer but see things in terms of psychology and metaphor and mythopoetic utility. Because of my moderate points of view I am always pissing off everyone on the extreme ends of the spectrum. That is nothing new to me. I only ask that people be civil and we discuss ideas and allow me to change my mind if better ideas or a worldview is presented. It's actually through good arguments and evidence that I changed my mind from a Brighamite Mormon to being an atheist and then changing my mind again to a kind of spiritual pragmatist, especially because of all the scientific evidence on the benefits of spiritual ideas on the psyche and one's physiology. I find the pragmatic Christian arguments quite persuasive and the scientific evidence that some kind of "spirituality" is likely good for your mental health, combined with my own anecdotal evidence from personal experience in experiencing an increased sense of well-being and self-confidence through entertaining what I call the Emergent Mormon Perspective at http://emergentmormon.blogspot.com/, which has led me to continue down this road as an individual approach to reconnecting with my Mormon ancestors on my own terms. However, to be clear I'm simply sharing my opinion and ideas and I am in no way seeking to convert or persuade anyone else who is happy and content where they are at. As Nietszce said to paraphrase him, you have your way or worldview or thinking of things, and I have my way, as for the only true or right way to think about life and existence, it probably does not exist because we are subjective beings with different perceptions and feelings and experiences.
So basically, assuming Nietzche is right and all worldview opinions are a matter of subjective preference and taste or tasting, I'm simply presenting an option that has worked for me and is my liking to my taste and preference. It tastes good to me. It is my personal preference and I am merely sharing it and asking for polite dialogue and an exchange of ideas. I'm willing to change my mind through good arguments and evidence, but I ask that people be civil and not engage in personal attacks.
Last edited by Free Ranger on Tue Jul 04, 2023 2:39 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by High Spy »

Truth mixed with lies is what temple dialog tells us.

Reminds me of my IT friends comment that AOL is the virus. :lol:
huckelberry
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Re: A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by huckelberry »

free ranger, I am puzzled. You are the first person I have heard worry about seed of Cain as doctrine in the 90s or after. My understanding is that that song and dance went out with the end of the ban in 78. Now I have not been active in the church in those years so have no first hand experience. I have thought that the racial stuff was deeply enough embedded in Mormonism that I have not imagined the old stuff disappearing all at once. Still I thought it was against policy and specific instruction to teach seed of Cain after 1978. I would imagine some people still held the idea, quietly.
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Re: A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by Free Ranger »

huckelberry wrote:
Wed Jul 05, 2023 8:40 pm
free ranger, I am puzzled. You are the first person I have heard worry about seed of Cain as doctrine in the 90s or after. My understanding is that that song and dance went out with the end of the ban in 78. Now I have not been active in the church in those years so have no first hand experience. I have thought that the racial stuff was deeply enough embedded in Mormonism that I have not imagined the old stuff disappearing all at once. Still I thought it was against policy and specific instruction to teach seed of Cain after 1978. I would imagine some people still held the idea, quietly.
It was not openly taught over the pulpit, no. I learned about it around 1994 because there was an early edition of McConkie's Mormon Doctrine in my home as a teenager. My dad has since tossed it out post 2013. But even later editions of McConkie's book, that were given to the missionaries by their mission prez in my town as late at 1997, mentions blacks as the seed of Cain (at least indirectly if I recall correctly), but it says blacks are now entitled to the priesthood post 1978. In fact, what many don't realize is that McConkie's speech where he talks about new light and knowledge has come upon us and how he was mistaken about saying blacks would not receive the priesthood and to forget about everything he said on that matter. He was actually not saying he was wrong about black's being the seed of Cain but he was wrong about them not receiving the priesthood as soon as they did. If you read the original text of that speech which has been edited and whitewashed, he continues to refer to blacks as the seed of Cain despite their now having a right to the priesthood as of 1978.

Anyone who looked for "authorative" statemetns on the issue found these letters endorsing the seed of Cain, see https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/ans ... Statements

So the 2013 essay was the first "authroatative" statement, indirectly (though clearly) rejecting the seed of Cain as folklore. But unfortunately, the Church is still allowing that racist folklore to be published in books like Doctrines of Salvation, see https://deseretbook.com/p/doctrines-sal ... smith-3501 , which is being sold at the Deseret bookstore in my area. In it the seed of Cain dogma is taught, and then on the bookshelf across from it is Patrick Mason's book Planted where he references the 2013 Race and the Priesthood essay, which rejects the content in Joseph Fielding Smith's book on the other shelf. They who are in charge of that fail to see the contradition!

Thus, the process in Utah-based Mormonism of cleansing itself of past racism is a slow process due to the deeply embedded racism in the traditions and made up doctrines taught by the First Presidency themselves.
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Re: A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by huckelberry »

thanks Free Ranger, I am inclined to expect the Cain thing to persist quietly. It is easier to fit the idea of a necessary ban, necessary for some such reason as Cain, to come to an end than to accept the ban was an error. I do not see the church anytime soon coming to proclaim the ban was wrong and making an apology for the mistake. It is safer and more comfortable to think the ban necessary for some such reason.

I was active Mormon when the ban was the rule the seed of Cain thing openly spoken of. Ugly and seriously unrealisitic.
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Re: A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by Free Ranger »

huckelberry wrote:
Wed Jul 05, 2023 11:12 pm
thanks Free Ranger,I am inclined to expect the Cain thing to persist quietly. ... I do not see the church anytime soon coming to proclaim the ban was wrong and making an apology for the mistake. ... I was active Mormon when the ban was the rule the seed of Cain thing openly spoken of. Ugly and seriously unrealisitic.
I agree, the current Brighamite leadership is, from my perspective, more concerned with the reputation of the Church and maintaining the "aura" of infallibility, when in reality my re-reading of Mormon scripture itself from a humanistic mythopoetic point of view has led me to see that Joseph Smith himself dictates God chastising him and correcting him and others for errors on many occasions. And the early Church was full of leaders making mistakes and being corrected, meanwhile a lot of the Restoration Branches and groups/fellowships have no problem interpreting Joseph Smith as even a "fallen prophet" (like the RLDS). So it's really just the Brighamite sect that is the most defensive and afraid to admit they sinned with their racism for over a 100 years. Although they did blame a lot of it on Brigham Young in the 2013 essay, but they also mislead the reader into thinking it was basically all him and the racist folklore in the Church was never doctrine; when the honest truth is that that folklore was official Church Doctrine until 2013.

They could speed up the process of removimg all the racist ideas so I would not have to correct a missionary just recently, I discuss here: viewtopic.php?t=157731 , but that would require discontinuing books by general authorities that still contains racist nonsense and speaking from the pulpit in general conference and risking offending those who were taught those doctrines and them having a faith crisis and not paying tithing anymore. As the current Brighamite Leaders (the one's with the most power and influence) are more interested in maintaining a more "dictatorial stance" where it's wrong to criticize them even if the criticism is true, and for them to admit error would threaten their egos and affect tithing revenue if the perception of a near perfect reputation, as a prestine infallible church institution, is put into question.
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Re: A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by Don Bradley »

Free Ranger,

We have some things in common. My parents were converts, my dad a very strong McConkie Mormon. I was devout as a teen but encountered doubts as well. In 2000 I stopped believing, and in 2005 I left the church - had my name removed. Kishkumen on this board and I encountered John Dehlin during that period. John at that time thought that Kish and I were too negative toward the church! I became an agnostic and then an atheist.

I continued for a few years as an ex-Mormon atheist, and even went through a personal "new atheist" phase.

But then I discovered, as you have, social science research showing that religion, and specifically Mormonism, were good for people. So my new atheist phase did not last.

In the ensuing years, to my own great surprise, I became a deist and then a theist, and then also a Christian.

So - we have much in common!

I also sympathize with your own continued wrestling with Mormonism. I kept wondering how to make sense of it all, what to do with what I found of great value in it, and if I could ever participate in the community again. I was greatly moved by the vision of Zion, intrigued by mishrashic elements of LDS scripture, and much more.

In my case, this continuing engagement resulted in a return to Mormonism, in which I am an active participant and on which I work as a historian.

I'm not on the board often anymore, but am delighted to see you on here as a fellow traveler. After checking out your website a bit, I think you'll find a kindred spirit in Kishkumen, who is much more active on the board.

Don

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Re: A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by Moksha »

Don Bradley wrote:
Thu Jul 06, 2023 5:16 am
I think you'll find a kindred spirit in Kishkumen, who is much more active on the board.
Don

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Kishkumen is a very nice fellow, as is Don Bradley.
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Re: A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by Free Ranger »

Don Bradley wrote:
Thu Jul 06, 2023 5:16 am
Free Ranger,

We have some things in common. My parents were converts, my dad a very strong McConkie Mormon. I was devout as a teen but encountered doubts as well. In 2000 I stopped believing, and in 2005 I left the church - had my name removed. Kishkumen on this board and I encountered John Dehlin during that period. John at that time thought that Kish and I were too negative toward the church! I became an agnostic and then an atheist. ...

... In my case, this continuing engagement resulted in a return to Mormonism, in which I am an active participant and on which I work as a historian.

I'm not on the board often anymore, but am delighted to see you on here as a fellow traveler. After checking out your website a bit, I think you'll find a kindred spirit in Kishkumen, who is much more active on the board.

Don

In a different twist
Thanks for sharing Don, it is fascinating that we do seem to have identical timelines and experiences.

I am happy that you're able to be Mormon again and a historian, that's awesome. Kishkumen has always been polite to me on the terrestial forum, even when other's weren't, and I could tell he was cool. It's good to know that I have something in common with him.
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Re: A Bit About Me: My Story

Post by yellowstone123 »

Thank you free ranger. Wow! We share a lot of experiences.
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