I’d always felt as though I was confined. Bound up mentally, emotionally, and educationally. This was because of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons).
Don’t get me wrong, my parents encouraged me to think; they just cautioned me to not think too much.
I always resented the fact that I was a Mormon, even as a young child. I was envious of the freedom my non-member friends had (of which I was deprived). I remember dreaming up ways in which I could get out of the church yet still receive eternal salvation I was expected to desire.
I was about six or seven when I told one of the neighborhood kids that I wanted him to push me out of our tree fort so I could get amnesia. The thought was I would not remember the doctrines of the church and therefore not be held accountable for breaking the rules.
He decided to not push me out of the tree house, by the way.
My dad was friends with a veteran of Vietnam and, consequently, he had nervous ticks and was never capable of sitting still. I once asked my mom why he was was so jittery and, instead of telling me the truth, my mom decided to say; “It’s because he drinks coffee.” Subtly (and dishonestly) trying to reinforce the fact that the only right way to live is the way the church prescribes.
As the years went on my critical mind was suppressed by the culture of oppression in the church. I ended up putting my childhood doubts into food storage, as it were, saving them for a later time when I’d need them.
I received my patriarchal blessing when I was 13 and it told me that the example of Joseph Smith would be of ‘great inspiration’ to me. I was admonished by the patriarch that I should study his work. Oh, sweet irony.
At this point in my life (13 or 14 years old) my childhood friends had begun to experiment with alcohol, tobacco and marijuana and I was tempted to indulge as well. I never got the chance to, though, because when I expressed these temptations to my parents they immediately pulled me out of school. I ignorantly decided to shut out all of my friends, even my neighbor Karl who I had known and been friends with since the age of two. I decided it was for my own good. I was home-schooled after that and, like many home schooled students, my focus was primarily on the religion of my parents.
We were so poor that we couldn’t buy the Mormon-penned text books I wanted, so I just read the Doctrine and Covenants instead. I moved on to the Pearl of Great Price and gazed in wonderment at the illustrations and how they were labeled. The Lost nerd in me was titillated by the facsimiles’ “Ought not to be revealed at the present time.”
I did all the research I could on Joseph Smith and church history. I read everything I could get my hands on. No Man Knows My History, Porter Rockwell: A Biography, I really mean everything! I borrowed from the church’s library the dramatized church history on cassette tape. The bishop actually gave me some stuff from the chapel’s library that had been replaced with newer CDs. He even gave me a key to the library. I spent hours in there and I read a lot. I studied, just as the patriarch had proposed I should.
Needless to say I steeped myself in the church when I was an adolescent. I’d always had a thirst for learning and, seeing as I had no proper textbooks, I settled for the stuff I could find at the church. The Pearl of Great Price was my favorite read. I felt like it had the most interesting of the church’s doctrine contained in it.
It came as quite a shock to me when I was reading about the Papyri Scrolls in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (which I found in the library at the church): “The Papyri Scrolls do not mention Abraham at all, they’ve actually been translated and they contain the Book of the Dead, a common Egyptian embalming tutorial.” (I’m loosely paraphrasing here. What’s important here is that this is how I perceived such a revelation.)
This was a shaking admission; that a book contained in the church’s own library refuted the entirety of church doctrine. Joseph Smith did not translate anything from the scrolls, he made it all up! And if he made that up, who’s to say he didn’t make up the golden plates, too?
Let the cognitive dissonance commence!
I immediately asked my bishop and my father what the explanation was for this. My father initially dismissed this as anti-Mormon literature. Neither one of them believed me and I had to show them the encyclopedia for them to take me seriously. They had no good answers.
During my studies of Joseph Smith and previous to finding this shaking revelation in the encyclopedia, I remember thinking to myself that I had an easier time believing in Joseph Smith than I did believing in Jesus Christ or even in God himself.
I felt dirty for thinking such a thing, like I had somehow sinned and was damned for doubting. But I tried to apologize my atheistic thoughts by saying that if I believed in Joseph Smith that meant I had to believe in god! He was a prophet called of God after all.
So when I read this one entry in the encyclopedia, it subverted the entire foundation of my faith. I didn’t believe in god, Jesus, and now not even Joseph Smith! I tried so hard, toiled with all my might. I tried to rediscover my faith with the fervor and diligence one would expect of the greatest missionary. I read everything I could get my hands on… yet I found nothing to satisfy the whispering truth lodged in the back of my mind.