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Friday, 27 January 2012

First Encounters with Institutional Mormonism

Elder Holland angrily defends the historicity of the Book of Mormon
LDS General Conference, October 2009

There has been an apologetic firestorm in response to questions raised by DNA about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Links to much of this scholarship have been provided on official church websites. However, this academic kerfuffle took place some time after my first personal interactions with senior leaders of the church and LDS apologists. I observed a striking contrast between the way I was treated by local leaders, who trusted and respected me, and more remote senior leaders and apologists who instantly treated me as a critic and enemy of the church. This is an account of those interactions.

Encountering the science
I first came across DNA research on Native Americans in July 1998 when I was serving as a bishop of an LDS ward in Brisbane, Australia. Over a period of about 2 weeks I read about 30 research papers that presented the mitochondrial DNA lineages of about 2000 American Indians from about a hundred tribes scattered over the length of the Americas. It was clear that over 99% of their DNA was derived from Asia and was probably brought into the Americas in excess of 12,000 years ago. DNA studies also showed that the female ancestors of the Polynesians came from South East Asia and not the Americas. 


The first research paper describing the presence
of Asian DNA mutations in Native Americans


For two weeks I wrestled with the research. I struggled with the complete discrepancy between the research and my understanding of the Book of Mormon and the doctrine of the Lamanites. Like all Mormons I knew, I believed that Native Americans and Polynesians were largely descended from Lehi. This doctrine had been reinforced in my mind by every aspect of the Mormon culture I was immersed in. I knew many Polynesians in the church in Australia and they all thought of themselves as Lamanites.

For most of this 2-week period I firmly believed that the Book of Mormon was true; but I also had a growing knowledge that Native Americans were not related to Israelites. The intense cognitive dissonance this created was eventually resolved on the 3rd of August. When I woke up that morning I no longer believed that there were any Lamanites to be found. I no longer believed that the Book of Mormon was a historical document connected with the true origins of the American Indians. This was a devastating discovery that had an immediate impact on many other beliefs. Since I had based my testimony on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, as many prophets had counselled me to do, my belief in the truth claims of the church were also severely compromised.


If I had not been the bishop I could have quietly dealt with this challenge to my faith. But I was the bishop and I had severe doubts. To continue in my calling was unthinkable. I had no alternative but to ask to be released. I met with my Stake President two days later and asked to be released. He asked if I could hold on until a new bishop was called, but I insisted I be released as soon as possible. Within a week I had met with the entire Stake Presidency to discuss my reasons for asking for a release. All local leaders who knew me showed respect and kindness in the way they treated me. Not once did I detect judgement or anger. All of us were upset with what was happening. I was released about two weeks after meeting with my Stake President and a member of the Stake Presidency acted as bishop until a replacement was found. Releasing a bishop and calling a new one is not a simple process, and typically takes about 6 weeks in Australia.



Mormon Apologists
At about the time of my release the Stake President introduced me to a man named Warren Aston, who also lived in Brisbane. I was told that Warren was aware of many challenging issues and may be able to help me solve the problems I was struggling with. I gave Warren copies of a couple of the DNA research papers, we spoke very briefly, and we never met again. 

I learned afterwards that Warren Aston was a travel agent who specializes in tours to the Middle East. He is also famous in LDS apologetic circles for discovering a stone in Yemen carrying the inscription "NHM". Aston claims this stone may have been connected with the Book of Mormon location Nahom where Lehi built an alter. Intriguingly, noted Mormon scholar Terryl Givens believes that the evidence Aston has uncovered is among the strongest archaeological evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. Warren Aston is also a noted UFO researcher.




A couple of days after meeting Aston my Stake President rang to say that he had received a fax for me from the Foundation for Apologetic Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University.  The fax had the appearance of a published research paper, and was authored by Scott Woodward and John Tvedtnes.  Scott Woodward was Professor of Microbiology at BYU and John Tvedtnes was a BYU linguistics scholar who had published numerous apologetic articles on a wide range of subjects. 





I was alarmed by the tone and content of this document. Just weeks before reading it I had been faithfully serving in the church. The implication that I was a critic of the church looking for evidence to tear down the Book of Mormon was extremely disturbing. During my release I had never criticized the church. I had also not publicly questioned church teachings.  In private meetings I had presented leaders with the facts I was currently unable to reconcile with my beliefs. I was in fact trying to get in touch with senior leaders of the church to discuss the difficulties the DNA research would create for the church in the near future.

I was also very surprised to see Scott Woodward’s name on the FARMS document. I had begun corresponding with Scott about the research and he had always been very courteous. We were both trying to identify senior leaders we could talk to about the issues raised by the DNA. It turned out that Scott was unaware of the FARMS document. He recalled having a brief discussion with Tvedtnes several months previously about the DNA issue but that was all. He was very annoyed that his name had been put on the article without his knowledge. To do such a thing in scientific circles would be unthinkable.

Area Leaders
Within a couple of weeks I received another surprise in the form of a letter from the Area President, Elder Featherstone. I had never spoken to Elder Featherstone before. I learned afterwards that he had not even spoken to my Stake President before writing to me. He had written based on second hand accounts of what was going on in Brisbane with a wayward bishop. His letter was clearly intended to fill me with fear and guilt.  Fear that I would hurt my mother, family and future generations in my family. Fear that I might shake the faith of others who looked up to me. Fear that the eternal lives of my wife and family would be put in jeopardy.  Fear that I would become a “hollow shell” of the man that I once was.




All the people I have spoken to who have known Elder Featherstone agree that he is a genuinely kind man. His letter is simply the natural reaction of a person defending a belief system they are incapable of questioning. In spite of this it was an appalling letter to send and I shudder to think of the number of Mormons who have received similarly abusive letters from their church leaders. 

Featherstone interpreted my actions as a threat to his beloved church and his letter was purely aimed at defending the church. I had asked to be released because I had honest doubts and it was the right thing to do. I could not simply pretend that I was not troubled and continue on as bishop. At the time I was still shocked and confused and had not even decided that I was going to leave the Church. Elder Featherstone later apologized for sending the letter without first talking to my Stake President (who was also surprised by the contents of his letter). 

The area leaders initially questioned the validity of the science and assumed that my interpretation was incorrect. They were of the view that the American Indians were Lamanites and if the science doesn’t agree with that conclusion then the science is wrong. I corresponded with Dr Woodward on about four occasions until I became even more convinced of the seriousness of the situation. In the midst of his lengthy defences of the Church he acknowledged that greater than 98% of American Indian DNA came from Asia and that this conflicts with current thinking in the church regarding the whereabouts of the Lamanites today. He confirmed that scientists at BYU had tested over 6000 American Indians from Peru and they came up with the same problem of virtually all the female DNA lineages coming from Asia. To date this research has not been published.

After communicating with scientists at BYU and reading numerous FARMS publications I wrote to the Area President detailing what I had learned and I asked for his advice. Should I accept the new FARMS theories limiting Lehi’s impact to a small colonization and at the same time reject the words of the prophets or should I reject all the science and go back to what the Book of Mormon and prophets have said? This is the response I received soon afterwards.





Elder Featherstone's inclusion of dialogue I could memorize and quote to those inquiring about my status was particularly troubling. Like a mindless zombie I could say...

"We are all tried in different ways in the Church; and through those trials comes either increased faith and greater commitment, or a lost faith. I am committed to spending as much time as I need with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price to get my previous witness back again as it was before.”

The thought of memorising and then delivering these words to inquiring members was sickening.  I had reached the end of the road. To stay an active Mormon it was clear what my future held. I would become a pariah and the subject of pity. The only way I could survive in the church would be to stop thinking, keep my doubts to myself, and lie to those brave enough to genuinely inquire about how I was getting on. Ironically, I would have become a "hollow shell" of the man I once was in the church.  

By December 1998 my wife Jane and all of our children (aged between 5 and 15) had decided to stop attending the church. We moved to Canberra a few weeks later and we have never regretted our choice to this day. All of our children have happily grown to adulthood with no religious beliefs. They are wonderful people who are free to make their own choices and they are starting to make important contributions to their community. 

82 comments:

  1. Wonderful that your family left Mormonism; however, very sad that your children have NO religious beliefs. How about you and your wife?

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    1. We don't have religious beliefs either. This will probably sound shocking for people conditioned by their religion or their society to think that people with no beliefs have sadder lives. But this is a myth. Many of the most secular societies in the world are the most prosperous and happiest. Australia is a very secular country and there are plenty of atheists here, including our Prime Minister. Being an atheist isn't demonized like it is in the US.

      I was conditioned as a Mormon to consider other religions false. For a few months after we left I considered looking into other faiths but then lost interest.

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    2. @ Anonymous

      Oh, so you want religion do you? If you've been to the Temple do they sound familiar words :)

      I too left the church after many years and since doing so have become a Born Again Pagan :) returning to my early ancestral religious roots. Now, my church is all around me. I hear natures hymnal music whenever I step outside, and walking on Mother earth and being part of its scene is where I get my spirituality from. This is the best Calling I've ever had :)

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    3. I, too, am an ex-Mormon (and former BYU student). And I am now free from any religion, and I can understand how a freed slave must have felt. And I know that I am certainly not alone in this! Robert A. Steinegger, Portland, OR

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    4. To add to the chorus, I am an ex-mormon, returned missionary, and BYU graduate. I hold no belief in God and never have I felt happier or felt more of a drive to do good in the world. The erroneous notion that we can't be happy or moral without religion is very powerful for the church to keep people in fear.

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    5. I was naive enough to believe the statement "we have nothing to hide" so I embarked on the journey to prove all the "anti-mormon" lies were just that, all lies. Wow, did I ever get a huge dose of reality. It seemed that the more I looked, the more facts I discovered - the information was abundant, the sources were credible, the result: an undeniable realization I had been duped. So, I did the only thing anyone with self respect could do - I removed my membership from the organization. I was fortunate because I was a convert and I knew what life without mormonism was about. Since I discovered the plethora of truths which uncovered the scam, and then left the organization, my life has been 1000% better in every regard. Now, if my TBM wife would just wake up and smell the roses, then we'd be much better off. Some day her eyes will be open and she will have the knowledge leading her to a better life, void of their deceitful teachings.

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    6. Why the hell, that is sad that Simon has no religious beliefs? Christianity is as much of a fairy tale faith as Mormon religion is.
      Simon freed himself from the shackles of empty & unsubstantiated faith.

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    7. Artin, I do respect that atheism is a legit choice after facing undeniable evidence, but Christianity has a history that is as least 90% true with 90 % certainty, while Mormonisms foundational proof scripture contains a history that is not even 10 % true with 10 % certainty. So in one instance you have a discredited record and in the other instance you have a record that is only partially within the reach of science.
      Not the same - its a big difference.

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    8. Walter Melbourne, I completely disagree. One thing that opened my eyes was the research of Bart Ehrman. Both the Mormon religion and mainstream Christianity are false. The only difference between the two, is that one of the falsehoods is much older.

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  2. Thank you much for sharing your story. I appreciate your courage in holding to truth as you understand it in the face of dire warnings from your religious leaders. It took courage that many doubters lack. As a former devout Mormon who has similarly discovered the joy that comes with freedom from religious belief, I can say that you have done a wonderful thing for your children and descendants.

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  3. Simon,

    Thank you for sharing this very personal experience. Your final two paragraphs are particularly powerful. Your courage and intellectual honesty are traits that Mormon leaders and apologists would do well to emulate. Great work Simon.

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  4. I find it interesting as well as disturbing that the idea of looking for the Truth is discouraged. I firmly believe that trying to convince one of the truth by telling them lies is as low as one can get - especially in the name of religion.

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  5. Thanks so much for sharing this story, however we cannot read the contents of letters -- the typeface is too small and blurred. Is there a way you can enlarge the letters to be readable?

    Your info is most helpful as we have a family member immersed in the dilemma of (trying) to teach the B of M course this year in SS. This story will help her see the bigger picture, at least if/when she's ready.

    Thanks!

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    1. I've been struggling to find a way to improve the image quality. I'll get there, but this is the best I can do for now. You could try clicking the images, capturing them and saving the images to your own computer. Then you can examine them at higher magnification. Let me know if that works.

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    2. Okay...practiced copying/pasting into word doc and was able to enlarge...still very faded and fuzzy, but clear enough to read and understand.

      Thanks so much again. Your saga is reflective of the horror so many of us are going through. It really helps everyone when brave souls are willing to go deep in sharing of personal experiences. Now I need get your book and read it!

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  6. Excellent case study of spiritual abuse!

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  7. You have inspired so many of us over the years with your courage and your love of truth. It is very interesting to find this blog written by you instead of about you. Thank you for sharing your journey and helping others to realize they "are not alone."

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  8. You portray yourself as an innocent victim. How about those members who verify that you did at one time bear a testimony of the BoM? Surely a scientest knows the value of keeping notes, i.e. a journal! Your memory is vague and your scientific mindset delivered its pathetic judgment of a spiritual record.

    Mark my words, a voice, the truth, will haunt you all your days, and because you failed to endure your "trial of faith," your demise will be justified, and your inability to lead a balanced life, and teach it to your children, will reap a sorrow unknown.

    Where's your wife in all this?

    Don't conflate your heartless and shallow existence in Mormonism with the wonderful, Christ centered preaching of the Book of Mormon. You're not the first scientist who lost faith, but look around, you're surrounded by scientists who regained faith. All the best and God bless!

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    1. Minus the Mormon-specific references, this comment by "Anonymous" could have been written by any religious fundamentalist from any sect. The point is always the same: No matter what, my church is right, because it's my church.

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    2. Anonymous Jan 29

      The post describes the way LDS apologists and senior leaders treated me at a time when all I had done was ask to be released because I had doubts. I explained that the DNA research troubled me and I needed to be released. It was highly inappropriate for me to be labelled a critic of the church for asking to be released. It was also highly inappropriate for an Area leader to write to me without first speaking with my Stake President.

      From then on I became very uncomfortable with the way LDS apologists have handled the issue. I didn't go public until March 2000, almost 18 months after leaving the church.

      I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon. And what was that testimony? I felt warm emotions as I read it. Who taught me that warm emotions is the Holy Ghost revealing truth? The Mormon Church. I no longer trust my feelings to reveal truth to me. Plenty of people feel strong emotions about their churches.

      Please note that rude comments reflect poorly on the polite majority of Mormons. In future you may wish to keep this in mind.

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    3. Hi there, Anon. Your assertion that "a voice, the truth, will haunt [those who leave the church] all [their] days" pretty funny, considering I left the Mormon church nearly three years ago and have had no such thing. I've also found no difficulty in leading a "balanced life". And I even have journals from when I was an active, believing Mormon, so yeah, I could provide you with sources to prove I once had a testimony.

      It's sad you're so wrapped up in your faith that you can't even entertain the idea that people live happy, wonderful, fulfilling lives outside of your religion. I pity you.

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    4. The voice comment speaks to me a bit...mostly because I am an active LDS person and have been all of my life...served a mission, temple marriage, EQ instructor. The problem is the voice has been talking to me saying things like "does this make sense? It doesn't really.." and "so...Brigham young just decided africans are not worthy of the priesthood and a long line of prophets were not inspired enough to figure it out?" and the big one "if this is the lords plan of happiness...why is it so few of the congregation look or act truly happy..."

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  9. I admire your courage. What you did was not easy. Your children and their children can only benefit and learn from your experience. Critical thinking is so important! The Mormon Church gives "questioning" lip service, but only if the answers you receive are "church approved". Thanks for your inspiration!

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  10. Simon, It was coincidental to see this today, as just yesterday I spent a large part of the day reading your book, Losing a Lost Tribe. I went to the US for a funeral in July, and picked up some books in English, and someone recommended your book. It was only yesterday that I began to read it. I am impressed - well done. Of course, I haven´t finished the book, and surely have more time to think about it, but quickly, I wanted to thank you.

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  11. In Bill Maher's movie, "Religulous," two stalwarts of the Ex-Mormon Community, Tal Bachman and Bill Gardiner describe the "instant social ostracism" that occurs when one abandons one's faith in Mormonism.

    I've met both of these men, and Simon Southerton as well, and they are all compassionate men of conscience who simply couldn't continue to maintain the charade of a "true believer."

    And yet the process of exiting the faith creates very real consequences and punishment for clinging steadfastly to what are obvious facts and scientific truths. Doubters are even vilified for availing themselves of the support offered by the various ex-Mormon and post-Mormon sites and conferences. One LDS site characterizes one such website as "worse than pornography" in terms of the potential harm to one's testimony.

    That is doubtful. One can go to ecclesiastical authorities and receive guidance for dealing with pornography. A "loss of faith," however, is a much more heinous offense.

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    1. You're are kidding right, Southerton was not deep in Mormon territory, but in fact has benefited from his changed position greatly as most scientist with whom he associates ARE agnostics, so by leaving Mormonism, he joined a wonderful majority, not minority.

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  12. If you believe in the Holy Bible you will realize that the Native Americans are the true Israelite people. Mormonism is just a lie, it may have some truth, but it is corrupt and worthless. The belief that Native Americans are Israelites came when the pilgrims realized this fact. It was always contested by non- believers as yourself, but never proven. Until modern times we have DNA, which if used incorrectly can be used as a basis of discrimation. Simply comparing Native American DNA to modern jews is not sound scientific reasoning. The KJV Holy Bible is the only incorruptible truth. Genesis 10 Table of Nations: Japheth= Caucasian, Ham= Black, Shem= Mongolian/Chinese. Genesis 10:25 Heber had two sons, Peleg and Joktan. These two are the Hebrew patriarch. Genesis 10:30 Joktan and family migrated to the far east and became the Chinese. Translated from Hebrew according to the Holy Word they went to the Orient, not Arabia as so called scholars claim. Peleg/Mongolians are the ones written about in the Bible. Yahweh chose them and gave them the Holy Land, until they became debased from idolatry. God exiled them to the four corners of the earth. I trust more in the Word of God then black listing of the Israelite Native Americans. Japheth are deceived, yet you can still have redemption. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Amen

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    1. Native American and Israelites? Oh please! Bronze aged myths (Bible) from the Middle East have nothing to do with ancient America. Want to know what the Pilgrims in America really did? They used their Bible to justify killing women and children.

      On May 26, 1636 the men were away, leaving more than 400 family members in the village. The women, children and elderly went to bed. They had no idea that all but five of them would never see another sunset.

      John Mason praised the God of the Bible for the success in killing so many people.

      http://www.archive.org/stream/briefhistoryofpe00maso#page/30/mode/2up
      Page 30
      "Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the place with dead bodies!"

      http://www.archive.org/stream/briefhistoryofpe00maso#page/34/mode/2up
      Page 35
      "It was the Lord's doings, and it is marvellous in our Eyes! It is He that hath made his work wonderful, and therefore ought to be remembred."

      John Underhill justified the killing of women and children in the name of the God of the Bible.

      http://www.archive.org/stream/briefhistoryofpe00maso#page/80/mode/2up
      Page 81
      "Sometimes the scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents. Sometimes the case alters; but we will not dispute it now. We had sufficient light from the word of god for our proceedings."

      Scientists are trying to tell the world the truth about America's indigenous people. They are trying to show the world a beautiful people with a rich and deep cultural history and heritage of their own, outside of the Bible. And because Simon spoke up to show that Mormons are not portraying things correctly he gets attacked.

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  13. You deleted a post, nevertheless, your casual assurance and pathetic legacy and leadership for wife and kids has been checked.

    Better repent and choose something other than the Book of Mormon as your fodder.

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    1. The post was deleted because it was rude.

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  14. It amazes me how some LDS members who self-proclaim themselves to be very honest and very knowledgable on the Lamanite-DNA issue maintain a strong testimony of the LDS church. Yes I know it happens but I'm dumbfounded on how they do it. If they've really studied up on the dialogues over this Lamanite-DNA issue then they'd certainly be aware of the sincere 1K Father Lehi Descendant Scholarship offer I made several years ago which has not yet had any takers. What I offered and I repeat my offer now publicly and suggest that any takers email me to my Yahoo account which alex_degaston is my userid on any specifics I may have not answered here on how this scholarship shall be awarded and disbursed. The scholarship is for 1000 US dollars to be paid directly to any bonafide accredited university in the world to assist the scholarship recipient with tuition, fees, or any other legitimate college education expenses that this recipient has or will incur as a student. This scholarship will be awarded to the first legitimate application who emails me the following:

    a. Full name, birthdate (year, month, day), and home mailing address.
    b. Picture of applicant.
    c. University name, address, and applicant's admission date.
    c. Legally notarized affidavit in the USA or at a USA Consulate overseas made under penalty of perjury signed by the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints certifying that the individual (mentioned by full name, birthdate, and church membership number) is a literal descendant of Father Lehi; and that the notary is a legal notary who declares under penalty of perjury that they witnessed the signature.
    d. Legally notarized affidavit under penalty of perjury signed by the applicant stating that parts a, b, and c are true.

    As soon as an application is received it will be acknowledged and the award will be announced and made quickly within 10 days unless there is a dispute. No disputes will be made on complete applications (i.e. parts a, b, c, and d) without me first publicly providing a case number from a law enforcement agency as I shall honor the first legitimate full application from any individual who is certified by the church president as being a literal descendant of Father Lehi.

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  15. Hi Alex,

    Make that 2K. I'd be happy to chip in a grand as well. Perhaps a Polynesian will apply?

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    1. If the president certified somebody, what would that prove?

      You wouldn't dispute it and the application wouldn't be held to account.

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  16. Mr. Southerton,

    Without any religous beliefs, what do you belive happens to you when you die? Thanks

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  17. I believe you stop living and will be remembered by your loved ones.

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    1. May I suggest that that in itself is a religious belief?

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  18. Mr. Southerton,

    Thank you for the work you have done in regards to DNA lineage of the Native Americans.

    I was born and raised a Mormon, attended seminary, institute, served an honorable two-year mission in the Philippines, married in the LA temple, and I am no longer a Mormon. I found my way out of the cult by learning more about cosmology and realizing that the Mormon cosmological model is not supported by the evidence. Though I was out of the cult before I read your book, I find your book was inspirational because you approached your scientific study as a way to support your faith much as I did with my look into cosmology. I can tell you are an honest seeker of the truth and the evidence led you out of the church. If the church were true the evidence would have supported it. It is as simple as that.

    I wonder what sort of stipend Vaughn Featherstone receives from the church as a General Authority? It bothers me that he would sit in judgment of you while lining his pockets with the tithes from the believers. I suppose it goes to show that the best con-men believe themselves...

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    1. That's funny. I have almost the same identical background and exit story. The study of cosmology woke me up when I thought it would merely strengthen my Testimony. So glad I am out. Life is better out here.

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    2. praydude said, "If the church were true the evidence would have supported it. It is as simple as that."
      If all religion could be proved or disproved, we would never need faith. And you cannot just assume anyone who defends his religion is receiving monetary gain, as you suggested with Featherstone. I'm certain, especially in the LDS faith, that careers are not set aside in order to receive a stipend from the church while serving as a General Authority. That's a ridiculous idea.

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    3. The Mormon Church set itself up for this level of scrutiny. Most religions are smart enough to not make such bold statements like “Native Americans are descendants from the House of Israel.” The Mormon Church made that assertion when they created the Book of Mormon and now they are back pedaling from this position because the scientific evidence does not support this. Asking its members to disbelieve the evidence (or ignore it) to support their faith is stupid, or perhaps dangerous because cults demand this level of cognitive dissonance from their members. Ignoring the evidence and simply relying of faith leads to megalomaniacal leaders who sleep with everyone’s wives…aka “Joseph Smith syndrome”. The Mormons pride themselves on their level of faith thinking that faith leads to ultimate truth and it does not. Faith leads to blind followers who give up their money to develop a billion-dollar mall project.

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  19. Simon: I was curious about Featherstone's (ironic name) comment about your Mother being very devout and suggesting the heartache you may bring upon her with your apostacy. Coincidentally, today is Mother's Day as I write, but I am curious to know if you were able to sway your Mother in the way your family went--with you.

    When I left, I risked my relationship with my parents, but they never wavered in their love for me, though they remain believers. I was fortunate. I'd like to think you got the last laugh on VJF regarding his comment.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience. It is all very enlightening.

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    1. My mother has remained a devoted member. From time to time it has created tensions but overall my relationship with my mother remains strong.

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    2. I do wonder why those who leave want to take others with them. I have serious doubts but my wife and many others find great solace in the gospel. I honestly envy them and find no need to dash their beliefs.

      I do know it can be difficult when you get those sad looks and treatment as if you are going to burn in hell to not want to shut them down.

      I believe the BoM has some good teachings, as do many other religious texts...and one of those are to try to find common ground and to avoid contention. Turn the other cheek is still good advice.

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  20. Chuck Borough: Religion is not and never has been about a search for "truth." That's what science is about. Religion is about other important things, giving people great social advantages and a better way to live. Thousands of religions all thinking they are the correct one is huge data. Many think thousands are worng and just one is right. Given a thousand religions, one of which is yours, all 1000 of them say I'm wrong. 999 of them say you're wrong. I like my position better; mine is a far stronger argument.

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  21. Thank you for your courage to maintain this posting space, and your integrity and honesty. It is sad that those pretending to be Disciples of Christ do the opposite.
    May you continue in happy and healthy living. The atonement and his sacrifice are for all of us specially the honest and pure of heart.
    Maria

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  22. Like many others, I have had my faith crises. However, Mr. Southerton and others, I find your troubles with the DNA claims and Elder Featherstone to be very whiny and juvenile. Let me first address your uneasiness with Elder Featherstone. The first letter posted surely exposes his over-zealous attitude, but he clearly was coming from a place of concern for his fellow man. Yes, he was clumsy and somewhat brash, but seemed to have realized this in the second letter, where he restates his desire to help you feel the love comfort that can be found within the church. To throw everything you held dear after only two weeks of reading was hasty and shows your stubbornness. I get that it is a difficult decision, I've been struggling with separate issues in my membership for six months. However, I'm not ready to discount all that is said by others (whether my superior or otherwise)because I believe my intellect and research cannot by misguided. I found Elder Featherstone's second letter to be genuine and loving. Because you and others could not see this shows your own judgmental perspective. Being judgmental and zealous goes both ways!
    The DNA issues seem pointless to me. Who really cares where Native American Indians came from? As a field of scientific study, I can appreciate it's usefulness or intrigue, but as a position to prove or disprove the Book of Mormon is lame. I can only assume that early believers of the Book of Mormon were so eager to be validated that they believed the Lamanites were Jewish descendants. So this theory was perpetuated. I don't care that it is likely inaccurate. Maybe the Lamanites died off, maybe our science is incomplete, or maybe our Native Americans are just Asian descendants. This really seems to me to be a non-issue. To devote your life to disproving the Book of Mormon on this one non-issue seems quite pathetic. I can appreciate helping others along in a faith transition in either direction, but your self-congratulating shows your arrogance and disdain for believers.

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    1. I misspoke...I believe that the early believers of the Book of Mormon were so eager to be validated that they came to the conclusion that Native Americans were of Jewish descent. This belief perpetuated through the generations and became common knowledge, as do traditions and beliefs in all cultures. Every religious and non-religious culture has misguided interpretations. The leaders of our church conduct their lives according to their own zeal, perceptions, and traditions as does everyone. I just think this DNA issue is REALLY overstated.

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    2. Cathryn: The "prophets," since Joseph Smith, who claim to speak for god as his mouth piece have all said the Native Americans are the Lamanites and they have also said that the Book of Mormon is the word of god and is a true book--over and over again. The book says the Lamanites decended from Lehi and that he came out of Jerusalem. Therefore, DNA is a big deal because it shows the Mormon claims to be grossly false. Falsity is the opposite of truth. I never accuse the church leaders of conspiring to dupe the world. They are duped themselves. I am intimately familiar with the culture, having lived it. But wanting so badly to believe in something because it was a held belief by your forefathers, does not make it true or right, and virtually all religions are guilty of this. The LDS people would be just as good people if they weren't religious at all and they may be perhaps even more moral. The only arrogance I see comes from the "arrogance of certainty" which all religions, especially Mormons, put out there to the world. Sure, they do it with the spirit of love, yet passively judgmental, but it is still arrogance, and now that the certainty part is being challenged, the real truth seekers will emerge, and those who ignore facts will continue in their blissful ignorance and continue to brainwash and dupe their children as well. That is sad. If children were allowed to grow up devoid of religion until their frontal lobes were closed (about age 20) nobody would join any religion. Clinging to a religious backdrop is not necessary to live a moral life, and in fact only promotes self delusion and living a lie which sets a dangerous pattern for human life.

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    3. Have the leaders said that ALL Native Americans are Lamanites? People make sweeping generalities all the time. Do we need to be quite so literal? Like you, I do not believe that the leaders of the church are trying to dupe the members, but I also do not believe that everything that comes from the General Conference pulpit/Ensign/BYU is absolute truth. Talks and essays are more often based on theories and opinions and somehow they get swooped up into part of our culture, becoming "knowledge." I'm just saying that people get offended by an idea WAY too easily. Mr. Southerton just seemed way too eager to throw the entire culture (good and bad) away because he was offended by one issue where he claimed superior knowledge. To then dedicate one's life trying to dissuade others from believing in a peaceful, service-oriented religion is arrogant, stubborn, and self-serving! And you cannot possibly make the claim that "LDS people would be just as good people if they weren't religious at all and they may be perhaps even more moral." Certainly, they would be less judgemental, but my time away from the church has not been spent trying to please a compassionate God by serving and loving others. And "intellectuals" are just as arrogant and judgemental as those within the church, believing that members are "blissfully ignorant." Am I only a truth-seeker if my truth agrees with yours? Perhaps some "cling to a religious backdrop" because they know that by doing so, they will more easily live a moral life? There is room for improvement on both sides of this issue.

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    4. Cathryn: Pretty touchy feeley! What, everyone can just believe what they want regardless of what truth is? Everyone has their own truth. I have no problem with people getting together and having meetings and pot lucks. But they should call it a social club and not a religion based on fables that everyone claims to be true or wants so badly to be true. It is silly. Would you start a Leprechaun club that really believes in that nonsense and worships at the pot of gold at the base of a rainbow? It's nice that all religions seek to do good for humanity--or so their adherents are convinced, but they don't need it and it is the height of delusion to pretend. These people vote based on supernatural thinking. Decisions about Middle East diplomacy are being made by people with Armageddon, God's will will be done viewpoints--welcoming another holocaust essentially. That is just one example. Thousands dying of Aids because of Catholic views on contraception; female genital mutilation--all in the name of keeping the wonderful social architecture of religion alive because it may produce some good for some people. You have such little confidence in mankind and so much confidence in the power of silly mush. I know the Mountain is there because I see it and I have climbed it. I have much more insight that one who has not gone there or bothered to look at it. That is blissful ignorance. There is a difference in knowing and believing. You are trying to have both. Give it up already.

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  23. Sadly 40% of Mormons that find out the lies in Mormonism, end up leaving and believing there is no God at all, because Joseph Smith said the Bible couldn't be trusted! The Bible has plenty of evidence to back it up and when something in the Bible just doesn't make sense, it is because you really need to take the whole Book as a whole. God is real and so is eternity with him and Hell without him. Hell is a long time when you are aware that all you needed to do was accept and believe in Jesus! John 3:16 For God so loved the world, That he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life! Jesus did it all!

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    1. Ha ha! Thanks for the laugh. Your comments are so eerily similar to the true believing mormon's comments. There is plenty of evidence that Bible is true, like the world is 6000 years old, mankind came from the garden of eden, Noah saved every species of plant and animal life from a world-wide flood, that the tower of Babel is how different languages arose, that a burning bush gave you the commandments, that Jesus existed, etc. etc. I would bet a lot of money that you don't even know who wrote the John 3:16 scripture that you cited and that you don't know who decided that it should be included in the cannon of Christian scriptures.

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  24. I found your blog from the link on Mormon Stories. I haven't listened to the podcast yet. I am not an apologist anymore, and my disaffection is not with the Church, or with the Book of Mormon, but with apologists and FAIR. I sympathize with the fact that you have lost faith, and that I don't condemn you for it. But I'd like to extend an invitation. I have never had faith that the Brethren are experts on how to deal with disaffection other than to let people go from the Church. They were never experts on science, and that was not their call, and I don't believe that they ever claimed to know how to deal with science. I have no congnative dissonance with either science or the Book of Mormon. I just have two separate datasets of partial truth that have not converged yet. I have big long lists of things from the Book of Mormon that haven't been found yet, and that is how I look at it. There is no use dwelling on that fact as far as I can see, other than to concede that it is the case. I believe that to make a statement that they have not been found yet is a statement of faith. I believe that a statement of doubt is to say something like the fact that they have not been found yet has something to say about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I don't believe it has to. I believe that the Book of Mormon is true, but it only presents a partial truth about Native Americans, and the rest of the truths are to be found in science. When I say partial truth, I don't mean that half of what it has to say is a lie. I mean that it only presents part of the picture. Just how science and the Book of Mormon interlink has not been found yet. I know that statement sounds a lot like Elder Featherstone's statements to you. But a better methodology to finding truth is not immediate rejection, but to pray for patience and to pray that over time, God will give you the keys of knowledge necessary to have enough faith to go on. I'm not going to tell you that you gave up too soon, or to pass judgement on you. I just think that in your current situation, you still have the option of coming back to the Church when you find those keys, and I hope you do. Those keys that you can find will be the keys to a new faith, definitely a different kind of faith, but still, a new faith. If you have enough faith, or even desire to have God reveal those to you in his own time, I think that he can lead you back to the Church in his time and in your own time when you feel comfortable with it.

    I don't feel that you are on the wrong path, but I think that in time, because you are a seeker of truth, that if you are willing to have faith in God that he can reveal keys of knowledge to you, and if you are willing to come back when he calls you back, that you will be given the means to do so. I just hope that you do. I know that with enough time and patience, that the keys that I speak of are out there, not of a perfect knowledge, but enough to find faith. Not blind faith, but keys that give indication enough to know the direction in which faith is eventually to be found. I pray for you that you will look for those keys, and pray to find them.

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    2. Most reasoned response so far. I feel exactly the same way.

      For me there have been "absolute" experiences of truth revealed to me that I cannot deny, then there are issues/history of the church that do not sit well, then everything in between. For the issues that do not make sense I have found that parking them for a while to be the best approach - you will find your answers in time - not because some clever apologist found some way of unexplaining things. But I think you learn line upon line and eventually your spiritual maturity and search for truth catches up or aligns with your life's experiences and it was right at that time to be taught that principle.

      But I cannot deny these "absolute" truths, and without sharing details, tell me that God lives (whatever form He takes), that the temple sealing is real and that revelation through priesthood blessings is real also. These experiences make these truths knowledge now - no longer faith. For everything else I have faith and am happy to park them for a season. That does not put me in denial. I just won't be driven about by every "sweeping" wind of science - only for it to be contradicted only years later. It is as much a moving target as anything.

      What I don't understand though is why most of the respondents here are so hell-bent on discrediting the BoM. Is there not some other motive/agenda taking place? Why bother destroying the limbs of the lifeless body you have already cut off at the neck?

      Mr Southerton in his first letter claimed to the church leaders he still retained a firm testimony of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father. Yet, the same studies he uses to prove the invalidity of the BoM would also show the Bible to be false - and with it Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc. The Bible talks of Adam and Eve leaving the garden of Eden 6,000 years ago and being the first parents - not 30,000 years ago. But in time I see he has completely lost his testimony of the Savior also.

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  25. I am completely offended and shocked by Brother Featherstone's letters. He was condescending and disrespectful. It was completely inappropriate to reprimand you as if you were a wayward teenager. I don't see the letter as being written out of love or concern for you. You do not demonstrate true love by trying to shame and control another. And I didn't think the second letter was that much of an improvement.

    I love that in the first letter he says, "Hey we referred you to Scott Woodward to resolve your doubts about DNA - he is a world-renowed expert!" Then when you ask him about Scott Woodward's theories, in the second letter he says, "Ignore what Scott Woodward says - experts don't really know anything - just follow the prophet!"

    As a side note, isn't anyone else completely disturbed that the Church/FARMS is putting Scott Woodward's name on a paper he didn't write and without even asking his permission? I hope he raised hell about that if for no other reason than to protect his integrity as a scholar.

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  26. This whole blog and the multiple replies has been informative. I grew up in a religious community and joined the Buddist faith in college and finally accepted the LDS faith in later years. I have studied religion, history, philosophy and related subjects for many years and have concluded that while there are contradictions in these subjects there is always the probability of "testing ones faith" if one subject is studied to the exclusion of all else. The subject of evolution is one such topic which obviously contradicts the Bible, the Koran, The Book of Mormon and so on. Is evolution, as we have been taught, the answer to mankinds appearance on the earth or is it a distraction allowed so that people are placed in a position of believing the "fairy tale"? In my life I have noticed that what science believed and taught 30 years ago is very different than what is taught now. Yet no one talks much of the "revisions" in scientific discoveries over the past 70 years. People tend to believe that Science gives us ever increasing truths without realizing that some of those truths have changed over years of new discoveries. I have faith that science will catch up with gospel truth and that both will be seen fully. That time is not yet! I could care less about Evolution or DNA research. I have seen the positive aspects of the LDS faith and look to the time when these things are resolved, but I certainly am no going to throw away a great belief system for a bunch of scientific data.

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    1. Louis--like millions of people in the world, you are burdened with the science vs. religion conflict and don't know it. You very badly want to have your cake and eat it too, that is to say that you assert your religion is true and compatible with science--or at least will be in the end. You have beautifully illustrated one of the biggest problems with this issue. You,like many people, clearly do not understand "science" and the "scientific method" in uncovering truth. The Scientific method is based on postulating questions based on initial observations, then conducting experiments to test the postulates and to observe the evidence that exists. Then these postulates and findings undergo extensive peer review to compare to the experiences and observations of others who conduct similar testing and examine the evidence. If conclusions can be made in favor of the assertions as fact then it becomes a full-fledged theory (or canon of facts). THEORY: is a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena. E.g. Einstein's theory of relativity, Atomic Theory, Germ theory, Evolution, Mathematical theory, etc. Of course the science taught 30 years ago is different than what is taught today--we know a Hell of a lot more today than we did then, with all the education we have gleaned and the accessibility to information, via Internet, and high speed travel, satellites, MRI machines, Hyper-computing capability, etc. As our body of knowledge changes and advances over time, science appears to change, but it is merely advancing and expanding based on what is known already from precedent. Your belief that science will catch up with gospel truth is like saying an airliner will understand the eagle when it catches up to it. The airliner has quickly surpassed the eagle in flight and in fact sucked it into it's engine and spit it out the exhaust and is now thousands of miles ahead. You cannot prove something does not exist, like god, leprechauns, or unicorns, but with the overwhelming scientific evidence that we now know and possess, those concepts and ideas are completely silly and ludicrous to hang on to--regardless of how good they make us feel. They are no longer worthy targets of investigation, they are so silly. There is a mountain of evidence to explain where religious ideology came from, how it evolved over centuries of civilization's attempt to explain the unknown, and quell their fears, and assert power to control people. It's a lot like little children when they finally utilize their rational mind and look at evidence when they make the realization that Santa Claus is a myth, and they were lied to by everyone. Religion is merely a more sophisticated Santa for adults who don't bother to read or follow the latest scientific discoveries. DNA evidence, and Evolution is a body of FACT. Religion is not a theory, it is a mere hypothesis, an assumption to explain the unknown, that can be tested and shown to be without merit. It has been shown unequivocally to be without merit. Support for religious belief from the standpoint of evidence is nothing but an empty laboratory--a huge void. Most assertions made by religious doctrines can easily be shown as hoaxes, and their founders as charismatic charlatans often possessing personal histories of lying and defrauding. DNA clearly refutes the assertions made in the Book of Mormon and by Presidents of the Church. The LDS officials are back-peddling to alter their statements to fit the new evidence. Soon the BOM will be officially regarded as an "analogy not to be taken as a literal story." That assertion is already being bandied about among some Mormons. Of course without any evidence, church officials of any faith can simply say, god will soon come and make sense of all of this, just keep having faith. "And if you don't, I will smite thee, do you want that?," says god.

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    2. It must be understood that science and religion answer two, very different questions. One has to do with measuring the observable around us and the other has to do with the ultimate meaning of those things that surround us. For example, science answers the question "How does the body work?" Religion answers the question "What is the purpose of the body?" These are questions such as: Is the body something that needs to be overcome or something that is necessary for eternal progression?
      I conduct social science research nearly every day. My colleagues and I look for patterns across mountains of data, trying to understand the workings of people. I've had the good fortune of working with some of the most of the well-respected scientists in the U.S. None of us would say that what we are discovering is ultimate truth. We are simply discovering the patterns that exist at this moment. That's all any scientist is doing.
      An assumption of the physical sciences is that the laws of physics work the same way everywhere and at every time. That is how the age of the earth is calculated, how we calculate how distant stars are, etc. They base all of their theories on what they can observe NOW. If that assumption ends up being false (and I see no way to prove that it is true or false) then every calculation is wrong. And we must see that we've really been at this game of science for a very short time. Not that we haven't made a lot of progress, but given that we can't even measure 95% of the universe (i.e., dark matter and dark energy) we still have a long way to go.
      All this adds up to while we as scientists do the best we can, we cannot answer questions about ultimate purpose. Any such statement is a matter of faith and not science. Religion and science answer different questions.
      Whether or not Native Americans came from the middle or far-east is a scientific matter. Not a theological one. The two seem are conflated here. The theology of Mormonism does not hang by that thread. There are good, devout Mormons who believe in Joseph Smith as a prophet but believe that the Book of Mormon is not history. That's OK for them. Statements about Native Americans being Lamanites are seen as metaphorical or something that was misunderstood. However, their theological roots are strong. They believe that Jesus is the Savior and that the theology as presented by the President of the Church is from the mouth of God. They don't try and mix the two when they really don't work together. Two wholly separate questions.
      Sometimes church leaders conflate the two and it does cause some problems (see all the other posts above). But those are the mistakes of men and women and not of God. I personally believe the Book of Mormon is actual history in the sense that Nephi was an actual person. I don't see DNA evidence discounting that. All the evidence says is that the DNA wasn't found. Of course then we enter the realm of hypotheses about whether or not something exists or ever existed which is, again, the realm of religion and religious experience.
      But how can we live on the unprovable? We all do. Most assumptions we live our lives on are in the realm of the unprovable; that love is real, that we have the ability to choose, that humans have intrinsic worth, etc. If you subscribe to any of those you subscribe to something outside the realm of science. We all decide what we believe. If someone says they experienced their sins being taken away by Christ then we should honor that as experiential knowledge. You can write it off as an entirely psychological experience, but I would listen to the person and try to understand them. Maybe you'd end up with the same experience if you did. And, it's a very good experience.
      Those "liberated" from Mormonism should also be listened to. Is their experience of liberation better than liberation of sin as Mormons experience it? That is the real question here. I know my answer and would be glad for additional discussion.

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    3. Justin, you said "It must be understood that science and religion answer two, very different questions. One has to do with measuring the observable around us and the other has to do with the ultimate meaning of those things that surround us."

      I agree, and that is the heart of the problem. Through the Book of Mormon the LDS Church has staked a firm claim in the realm of science. The true origins of the ancestry of American Indians is all about observable facts...not meaning.

      You said "I personally believe the Book of Mormon is actual history in the sense that Nephi was an actual person. I don't see DNA evidence discounting that. All the evidence says is that the DNA wasn't found. Of course then we enter the realm of hypotheses about whether or not something exists or ever existed which is, again, the realm of religion and religious experience."

      If only it was that simple. Science has found no evidence of Middle Eastern people in the New World. You need to explain how the Book of Mormon narrative is compatible with that fact. Because the narrative has led millions of Mormons and all its prophets to believe Middle Eastern people made a substantial impact on New World civilizations.

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    4. The point you make about the narrative of the Book of Mormon is an important one to address. Early on the narrative was sold even more strongly. As you know, the Book of Mormon was originally billed as “a history of the Indians.” That’s often how it was sold. That is what people were interested in. Its theological contributions grew in appreciation over time.

      Of course those claims relate to a particular theory about the history of the Book of Mormon. A historical theory that gets revised as new information is added. At first it was assumed and taught that the events of the book took place in the U.S. However, that was revised when expeditions in Joseph Smith’s day found ancient roads in Central America (previously a sticking point, people didn’t think native peoples made roads). Joseph enthusiastically revised the idea that the events took place in the U.S. to it taking place in Central-South America. The historical-theoretical model of the Book of Mormon was revised based on new evidence.

      And that’s the same thing DNA is doing, revising some of our historical models about the Book of Mormon. That’s all. Now some people believe that the revision writes the Divine right out of Mormonism. But that’s not so. Whether we’ve had the correct historical model doesn’t discount the central doctrine of Mormonism or the Book of Mormon, that Jesus was resurrected. The Book of Mormon, whatever its origin (though I have stated my view above), has done really a remarkable job at supporting that central doctrine. Its explication of atonement, resurrection, original sin, guilt, etc. make, as I see it, the doctrine of Christ wholly plausible. This also includes epistemological guidance (i.e., how to “know” something) on these topics.

      The historical model of the Book of Mormon has actually been under constant revision over time. DNA is a newcomer to that discussion. A VERY newcomer. Because of it things may be revised to say that Laman and his family were entirely wiped out by the indigenous population and that the indigenous population just became referred to as Laminites (not far fetched given the extreme differences noted later on) and that the Nephite blood was also wiped out later. Genocide is not unheard of. But the point is that there is a people here on the continent who have a legacy of interacting with God’s people and who God loves just as much as anyone else and thus inherit all His blessings.

      Not saying that’s what happened, but that would be one revision of the historical model that is in concert with never at any time now or in the future finding traces of the right DNA.

      Yes, inaccurate narratives of the Book of Mormon have been sold. That really is too bad. For example, I see the movie “The Testaments” and how Mayan temples are portrayed as Nephite temples. That is one particular historical model. One that’s probably not accurate and that does bother me. However, that doesn’t stop me from crying every dang time I see Christ appear and minister to the people in that movie. Christ is the central theme and within the realm of religion.

      Yes, some people start in the church on the premise of a particular historical model of the Book of Mormon and that becomes central to their faith. Missionaries and church leaders have even sometimes encouraged it. It really is too bad they do because, again, that’s up for scientific debate whereas the central theme and experience of Mormonism (the personal redemption experience of each member) is really what our religion is about and is within the realm of religion to discover.

      But because some people start from an erroneous premise doesn’t mean the central premise is incorrect. Sometimes people have to back out totally of the church and then come back into the church through the correct premises. I’ve seen it more than once. If they come in by any other door they are going to find themselves lost.

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  27. As Mormons we were led to believe that, over time, the populations in the Americas that descended from Lehi were immense, I personally find it hard to believe that even if a genocide took place that all Lehi's family were decimated. If we believe Spencer W. Kimball, that decimation/genocide would also have had to have taken place on all the south sea islands. I'm sure all indigenous peoples/tribes warred with each other, but we still have living DNA evidence today of peoples that emanated from these cultures, so why not Lehi?

    I was attracted to the concept that the church had a living prophet, the mouthpiece of God the Father, and so presumed prophets were privvy to all Celestial things. I believed Spencer W. Kimball, shortly before being a prophet when he said in the July, 1971 Ensign, entitled “Of Royal Blood”

    "...And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea, for in the middle of their history there were those who left America in ships of their making and went to the islands of the south seas"

    "...Now the Lamanites number about sixty million; they are in all of the states of America from Tierra del Fuego all the way up to Point Barrows, and they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand..."

    Whenever errors are later found about statements made by "Prophets" the church is always quick to point out that they are only human and as such had their own opinions. I'm sure they must have back peddled drastically when Mark E. Petersen spoke about: Race Problems - As They Affect The Church, Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954.

    "The Lord segregated the people both as to blood and place of residence. At least in the cases of the Lamanites and the Negro we have the definite word of the Lord Himself that he placed a dark skin upon them as a curse -- as a punishment and as a sign to all others..."

    "Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood... This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in their lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa."

    Mark E. Petersen even stated in his discourse "We who teach in the Church certainly must have our feet on the ground and not to be led astray by the philosophies of men on this subject"

    Please excuse this tongue in cheek remark, I'm not a geneticist but it's my understanding that DNA shows we all originated from Africa. If that's the case, do we assume that we were all at one time cursed with a dark skin but slowly became a blessed people as mutations within the DNA to those of us worthy of it, took place and our skin turned pale? For me, "Religion" and its "Leaders", have a lot to answer for.

    Did these prophets of God really practice what they preached by praying about these things, feeling a true burning in their bosom, before teaching their "true" insights and doctrine?

    Yes, let's keep our feet on the ground, and take our heads out of the sand.

    I remain a firm believer that when I leave this life I won't be asked which church did I join, I expect the main question to be "How did you love?".

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    1. Yes, religion and religious leaders will have a lot to answer for. Including most of the kindness and love shown in the world through the centuries.
      Those who are religious are far more likely to give service than those that don’t participate in religion. For Mormon’s that’s particularly true. Even after accounting for the mountain of service they give to the church, the still give more service to the community than the most service oriented of other religious people (see the Pew forum on the topic here: http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Mormon/Mormons-and-Civic-Life.aspx). Sure Mormon’s need to be better at building bridges with those not of their faith, but that is the challenge for everyone, to reach out to those not closely associated with us.
      Religion makes most people better (and that is from a statistical, research standpoint). It being close to father’s day, below are three articles of original research in respected journals about how religious fathers have better parenting than non-religious fathers. To say nothing of the higher marital quality, on average of course, of religious people.
      Yes, we can place blame atrocities through the ages on religion. But that ignores the role of religion in the great good that has been done as well. Further, if you look up who were the greatest mass murders of all time, the undisputed top spots all go to the extremely anti-religious. Religion actually plays a crucial, though sometimes abused, role in the peace of the world.
      Further you can be grateful to religion for your belief that love is the defining characteristic of the saved soul. Religion has preserved that idea through the centuries for you and others.
      But religion does something more. I’m sitting down writing this just after having cleaned the home of a young father who will have probably died by the time you read this. An extremely sudden and serious illness struck him. A call went out to help and within an hour there were 12 people in his home cleaning from top to bottom. There are numerous others in action at this moment working to make the family as comfortable as possible.
      Organized religion gave everyone the knowhow of what to do, who was in charge, and how to best meet the needs of the family. This father was not particularly active in the church. He didn’t hold a calling. But people were there, are there at this moment, to help. I really didn’t know him that well, no one did. There is no way without organized religion we would have been called on to help this particular person, and there was no one else to fill in that gap.
      Yes there are other, secular organizations that do the same thing. But again, if you read the research I put here, you’ll see that religious affiliation accounts for good things above and beyond engagement in civic service activities. And let me know if you can find better, more rigorous research than this.
      We can be annoyed with the positions church leaders have taken. We can even say that because of those statements they can’t possibly be what they claim to be. But to ignore the great good they do is to create an incredible distortion about some of the most service oriented and loving souls the world has to offer.
      Yes, religious leaders have a lot to answer for. Particularly the Mormon ones. I only hope that when my life is done I will be able to give the same answer.

      Bartkowski, J. P., & Xu, X. (2000). Distant Patriarchs or Expressive Dads? The Discourse and Practice of Fathering in Conservative Protestant Families. The Sociological Quarterly, 41(3), 465-485.
      King, V. (2003). The influence of religion on fathers' relationships with their children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(2), 382-395.
      Wilcox, W. B. (2002). Religion, convention, and paternal involvement. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64(3), 780-792.

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  28. Thank you for sharing your story and for the courage and integrity to do what you have done. I too am one of those 40% of ex-mormons who eventually came to realize that reality does not support the existence of a creator god. Especially one that is plagued by human frailties such as anger, jealousy, playing favorites, etc. I, like Einstein, don't see the logic in an all powerful being that rewards or punishes the objects of his creation. It was a difficult journey to turn away from "Absolute Truth" but I can testify that my life is so much more fulfilling without being haunted by the fear and guilt that trying to live the Mormon ideal brought me. I was an apologist and am ashamed of how I had to twist reality to come up with explanations to the contradictions in scripture and Mormon history. Life is so much more precious and beautiful to me knowing that this is all I get and I am content with that knowledge.

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  29. Please understand that my comments above are not with the intent to minimize the good that is undertaken by religions, or any humanitarian organization whether it is bounded by religion or not. I was merely trying to stay on topic on this blog associated with what we now understand from the findings within the science of DNA and how I had been misguided in my thoughts by senior LDS leaders.

    I personally know, from living in Utah, of youth that have committed suicide from the untold pressures placed upon them of their expectation to serve an LDS mission, or from the emotional pressure to maintain "LDS standards" when all they really wanted to do was to be themselves and live "their" own life. Utah is also known as the Prozac capital of the west. Is there any wonder? I also know there are those that have gone on missions and it has changed their lives for the good, but all leaders of religion, whether it be the Pope, or LDS General Authorities, have an immense responsibility to ensure that the doctrine they preach is as accurate as possible, and in my mind should be going out of their way to ensure its members have the truth. Just look at what Simon Southerton had to endure when trying to get scholarly answers on DNA from BYU, and the farce, and pressure, that followed from LDS leaders, just from searching for truth.


    http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18563_162-510918.html
    http://www.lifeafter.org/mormonsuicide.asp
    http://packham.n4m.org/prozac.htm
    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=4403731&page=1#.T9i-h9WnPKI

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    1. It is also important to note that Utahans lead the country in taking medications in general: a very medically oriented people, particularly for a highly religious people. So that actually explains a lot of what you’re talking about. Further Utah has an extremely high birth rate and therefore higher rates of postpartum depression that often accompanies birth. So we can’t make a one-to-one assumption with those numbers at all. Also, I have actual data from a random sample 200 Utah LDS mothers of teenagers and 250 mothers of teenagers in Seattle (non-LDS). They took standardized depression and anxiety tests (among literally hundreds of other questions). You raising this question made me look to see if there were differences.
      There aren’t. The LDS and non-LDS women were no more likely to have anxiety or depression symptoms. Though the LDS women reported higher marital quality than the non-LDS (consistent with other research on religiosity). This analysis hasn’t been published yet so you’ll just have to take my word for it. This is the only actual data I’ve seen comparing LDS and non-LDS women. The rest is anecdotal and making connections where we probably shouldn’t.
      YES there are depressed LDS women. That HAS to be addressed. We MUST do something. But these rates aren’t (at least from the data I have) higher than other, similar, non-LDS women. Too many unhelpful generalizations are made.
      And church leaders are constantly acknowledging the issue. My Ward has had two, yes two, different activities dealing with women’s mental health. In General Conference there are consistent messages about it. That is particularly for women. Just watch President Uchtdorf’s message in the General Relief Society meeting this last conference. I would say the church is hyper-aware of depression, probably to the point of misdiagnosis.
      Yes, the issue did take a while to address, but all of society has lagged in acknowledging mental health issues. When issues like this arise it has been my experience that church leaders are very responsive.
      Further, most young people in the church are able to internalize very well the positive messages they receive about their divine nature and infinite worth along with the ideas that we need to repent and become better. However, those prone to psychopathologies (and they exist in and out of LDS culture) can’t internalize the positive messages and only focus on the negative. Of course family culture or some leaders may also turn them away from the positive and that is a huge tragedy. I see it all too often, people no longer being able to internalize positive messages about themselves. But that’s not because the messages are absent, it’s because their world view has been skewed.
      So when we have instances where someone commits suicide because they felt they could not live up to the standards we most certainly have to take a long hard look at who we are and what we are teaching. This kind of thing should not happen. But placing the blame on leaders of the church is to ignore serious mental health issues that exist.
      The church leaders are aware of this potential problem and are working very hard on it. To say it’s a problem is correct, to ignore the response is skewing the picture.
      And that’s what this is really about (getting back to the topic). One side claims that the church leaders are skewing the picture, the other side claims the LDS leaders are being skewed. The reality is likely somewhere in the middle. It’s not just one side here that is seeking the “truth” and the other side trying to “cover it up.” Again, from my experience with church leaders they are intensely exacting in their messages, trying to get it right. They don’t swallow a single piece or research whole-sale. That is just smart. But they also don’t ignore it and allow it to influence them, like changing the intro to the Book of Mormon to reflect the bit of data we’ve gained. In my opinion they really have done an admirable job. I know you disagree but I feel I need to try and clear some question up that are out there.

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  30. Thanks for publishing this and congrats on leaving the Cult!

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  31. I've taken an active interest in the DNA 'challenge' for the last few of years. It supported the decision (among other things) of a close friend and also a close relative to leave the church, so I've spent time exploring it too.

    I'd accept that people in the church have over-simplified the connection to Lehi. It's also true that this connection gets the attention of a lot of Native Americans/Polynesians/Mesoamericans. They are a culture without an established written history or scripture (in contrast to cultures like Europe, the Middle East and Asia who all have very rich written histories, cultures, identities). As a missionary in Belgium, I remember telling a family from Belize about the Book of Mormon and it's connection to Central America - and their instant interest. I would imagine that's part of why the church is so successful in Latin America and Polynesia. If there is no link, it is indeed deceptive. If there is a link, it's reasonable to celebrate their discovery of a regional scripture, identity and connection with God.

    If you assume for a moment that the Book of Mormon is a historical record of a group of people who inhabited central america (and I know a lot of you on here won't), then we need to ask whether the following two claims are able to co-exist:

    1. Lehi is a common ancestor of indigenous people of North/South America/Polynesia.
    2. There is no DNA link between the people mentioned above.

    Having an ancestor does not mean having common DNA. The work of Mark Humphrys is interesting on this count. He is not a Mormon and has nothing to do with the Lehi DNA debate. In fact he's probably never heard of it. He's a lecturer at Dublin University, a mathematician, computer modelling specialist and an avid genealogist. He has shown that Mathematically speaking, everyone in Europe is related to Charlemagne. This is because everyone has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. By the time you get to the 13th century, you have more direct ancestors than have ever been human beings - about 80 billion.

    His website says the following:

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    This is not about DNA (Genealogy is not Genetics)

    These findings do not necessarily have any implications for our DNA. To descend from someone does not mean you necessarily inherit any DNA from them. These findings do not conflict with the idea that most or all of your DNA is inherited from your local area. Even if you do descend from the Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs, that does not mean this can be detected in your DNA. In fact, there may be no evidence at all of these findings in humanity's DNA. And yet the findings can still be true.

    To see this, imagine one Western European sailor blown off course in classical times, say 100 AD, and landing in the Caribbean, with no way home. He is not killed but rather taken in by a tribe who need strong young men.

    He mates with one of the native women and has children. 1/2 of their DNA is European.
    The children mate with pure natives and have grandchildren. About 1/4 (can be more or less, by chance) of their DNA is European.

    The grandchildren mate with pure natives and have great-grandchildren. About 1/8 (more or less) of their DNA is European.
    And so on.

    By 1492, all of the Caribbean is descended from him, but his DNA is extinct. There is no evidence of his existence in the DNA of the living. He is everyone's ancestor, but no one has his DNA.
    In summary, we are interested here in genealogical descent, not genetic descent.

    You can read more of his writings here: http://humphrysfamilytree.com/ca.html
    And here: http://humphrysfamilytree.com/ca.genetic.html#dna.mrca

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    (Continued below as I wrote too much!)

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  32. (Continued)

    I'm not aware of any claim in the Book of Mormon that the Americas were empty when Lehi arrived, nor that his descendants exclusively populated the two continents (and islands beyond) till the day Columbus arrived. But if Lehi existed, and if his decedents were mobile then it is factually accurate that all indigenous people of the Americas have him as an ancestor (just as they do to most other child-bearing people living in at least 1000 years before them).

    I agree that in the past it has been mis-represented by some individuals, over-spun to be a good 'missionary teaching tool' - and I welcome the challenge provided by DNA... but it does not provide any robust evidence in my opinion that Lehi couldn't have lived in the Americas and be related to its indigenous people unless (as I mentioned) you claim/believe that he and his family were the only source of inhabitants. If you come across Mormons who believe this, then they simply haven't stopped to think it through carefully. There are plenty of evidences in the Book of Mormon to show that there were other people living there before/during/after Lehi's family arrived.

    As for the experience you relate, I agree - it's frustrating when other members of the church are unwilling or unable to engage with 'difficult questions.' The 'just have faith and shut up' attitude usually comes from those who have never strongly questioned their motives and faith. They would rather be blinkered to challenges questions posed by Science and History because they are uncertain of the conclusions they would reach if they considered them for too long - I think it's a defense mechanism. I hope that the spread of internet and social media will drive more Mormons to strongly question the basis of their faith so that if they remain in it having considered them, they will be more compassionate/considerate of those who chose otherwise and will have reached a conclusion and life-choice that is based on well-considered answers to questions.

    I respect your decision to leave the church. I acknowledge you probably are now genuinely living a full, happy, balanced life with your family. But I don't see DNA as a reason for me to change mine.

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  33. To add to this, there are multiple other troubling aspects of Mormon history, polygamy, polyandry, Joseph's imagination etc, that are more challenging to answer. I still think it's plausible that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon himself. I haven't ruled it out and given the interest I have professionally and personally in history, research, data etc I will continue exploring and considering the facts, not just my personal feelings which are unprovable. Mormons don't 'know' - I think it's an unfortunate phrase that's taught to us. We may feel faith, confidence and emotional certainty. But we don't know.

    Anyway... it's an interesting read, I appreciate you sharing it... but I think DNA is a fairly wobbly argument against, but it easily gets the attention of people who don't understand genetics and genealogy.

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  34. The Book of Mormon says that everyone in the Americas descended from Lehi's group.

    [How that small group increase to the vast multitudes over the timelines given for the astronomical numbers killed in battles is another story. As is the failure to mention any of the flora and fauna native to pre-Columbian America, but including all the post Columbus introductions of grains, animals, linen and silk in the 600 BC to 423 AD Book of Mormon timeframe, along with "scimitars," metallurgy without a single archeological trace, unlike even the ancient Hittites, etc.]

    Gideon's straw-man argument is based on one person dispersed in a sea of others.

    [Which I believe is the current apologist view of the Book of Mormon actually occurring in an isolated area of central America out of contact with any of the native inhabitants over a thousand year period. And not the simpler explanation of the Spaulding manuscript type of ancient Roman civilization with 1820's Campbellite theology of Sidney Rigdon answering all the big questions of the day, not with any persuasive arguments, or any arguments at all, but just with prophetic pronouncements in the book. Like "When do children become morally accountable?" and "What of the Quaker's whose non-violence precludes service in the armed forces," etc. I particularly like the spring steel bows based on a mistranslation in the King James Bible, which don't exist even with today's technology because the operating characteristics would change throughout each day along with the temperature. But as D. Michael Quinn has written, much of Mormonism stems from a magical view of how things work.]

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  35. I Just discovered this today...and i am fascinated!

    I'm currently in a scientific career. My Grad School research was in immunogenetics. My data as well, collected in a Latin American mestizo population (at least 1/3 Native American blood) shows, using a phylogenetic dendogram (where i included data from other studies), that the native Americans are closer to the Asians, than to any other group in the analysis...and just now i'm re-checking my paper and realizing this!!!

    I recently discovered many things about the Church and i'm still in that downhill process. The deception is so powerful that i still remember, about 10 years ago, with a Nutrition degree, saying everybody that coffee, tea and alcohol were bad. I know now that i ignored tons of scientific evidence that shows (now even more than 10 years ago) that there is actually a lot of health benefits in the moderate consumption of these drinks. I was blind, i had to support what i believed so, i assumed exactly what that letter from your area president says: If everything in the world shows that coffee, tea and alcohol, you have to use "Faith" and say that all that evidence is from the devil...Now i can see so clearly!

    Genetics is absolutely fascinating for me...Please do not hesitate in share with us some research papers!

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  36. Simon,

    Thank you for you courage and dedication. I very much enjoyed your insights. I resigned from the church earlier this year. I am a physician in Colorado USA.

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  37. Simon,

    Sobering words to be certain. Like you, my wife and I left the Mormon church. Both life-long members; my family having ties back to the original founding of the church. We too struggled to reconcile the history that compounded to blatant cover-ups and downright hypocrisy.

    Where you and us diverge is in our continued belief following the break away from the Mormon church. My wife and I have always been truth-seekers and even in the church we studied the Book of Mormon faithfully. Admittedly, we never identified confluence between the Bible and the Book of Mormon, but we were reared to believe the BoM was the word of God. Although I still believe the Book of Mormon to be a fascinating written work of fiction that has a tendency to inspire, I am convinced it is not the work of God.

    Where our paths diverge:
    We still follow our Saviour Jesus Christ and have a firm belief in deity. But, we now have significant altering beliefs to His existence and who He genuinely is. We knew leaving the Mormon church would empty us into a tumultuous river of confusion that would seem unabated. We prepared ourselves to accept ‘truth’ at any cost. That truth came by reading only the Bible and learning the Book of Mormon was truly a work of fiction from a brilliant mind. The Bible is what drew us directly to Jesus Christ—the True Jesus Christ, not the one created by Joseph Smith and Mormonism.

    Discovering the Truth:
    We did not encounter the ‘burning in the bosom’ as described in Moroni in the Book of Mormon. Rather it came as undeniable truth. Truth that somehow, in a way I find difficult to describe, witnesses without ambiguity to the soul. Christ is Truth in the most purest form-without contradiction or confusion. Christ is God and not one of many gods as is believed in Mormonism. He is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost in one God. It is challenging to comprehend, but I find no evidence to the contrary.

    Where we are now:
    Both my wife and I have been abandoned by some friends and family. It is painful, but we endure. We are not sad individuals who sulk in misery. In fact we are happier than when we were Mormons. We chose to pursue our belief in a non-denominational Christian church that teaches only from the Bible. We still pray for direction and we do receive inspiration. Our lives have been profoundly blessed since we left the Mormon church, in fact in ways we could never have imagined. And we know we do not need religion, but we hold fast to our faith which is not the same. Joseph Smith may believe what he did, but I believe he was deceived by Satan. And if there is a Satan then there is a God. If there is a hell there is a Heaven. And eternity is a long time to be wrong! And my testimony is sealed in this Truth, that God lives and is our Great Governor and Author of our lives.

    I hope your life is filled with continued joy and happiness, Simon.

    May God bless you and your family.

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    1. Eternity is a long time to be wrong...this is so true! Thanks for your words, they've helped me in my journey to leave the Mormon church. I'm attending various Christian churches, to try & find one in which I feel the Spirit as I did before becoming Mormon at age 29.

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  38. Have enjoyed reading this blog. I left the church 20 some years ago after remembering Satanic Worship behind the Mormon Church...The bishop was the leader of the cult and also the church. So many members of the church were remembering this type of abuse that the church commissioned an apostle to interview these victims and find out the truth. His name was Glenn Pace and I worked with him for several months until a 13 page memo he sent to the brethren was leaked to the press...Do a google for him and you can read it yourselves. The major newspapers and TV stations picked it up (this was 1990) and the cover up began. Some silly spokesperson from the church called to tell me Brother Pace could no longer speak with me...(they sent him out of the country...I do think he went to Australia...funny!!! Anyway...The kind of abuse I suffered from the church leaders was unprecedented....In fact, I talked with a lawyer who told me I could sue the church for horrific Spiritual abuse and probably walk away with more than $10,000,000. HA...My journey has been remarkable and I have come to a sweet peace. I have been recently reading some interesting books about the Annunaki race --an advanced race that showed up on earth about 400,000 years ago. I am finding it fascinating in that the Summerian Records (oldest known records in the world and the earth seems to be burping up hundreds of thousands of these records) support this race who genetically engineered a race that began with ADAM with their DNA and the Homo Erectis and created US. Lots of food for thought and for me....The truth has set me free....All the best in this amazing glorious journey...

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    1. Long, yes...but full of good info for those currently in Mormonism, investigators, or those trying to feel good about leaving, such as myself.

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  40. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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