“Let your light shine bright,
so that others may see their way
out of the dark.”
As a young child, I received my first copy of the Book of Mormon, which contained a sincere testimony written in the front cover. The testimony mentioned that the only way to know if this book was true was to ask God in faith. I had previously read and heard many of the Book of Mormon stories, but I had never thought to ask if they were true. I will never forget the feelings I had that night when I asked if the Book of Mormon was true, and I felt an answer to my question. I interpreted the warm feeling I had as I thought of all my family members who believed in the book and thought to myself: “It is true.”
Fast forward many years. By now, I had served a full-time mission, served in many leadership positions at the ward and stake levels, and I had preached the Book of Mormon in many lessons and talks in many areas around the world. My testimony and love of the book had grown in depth and in scope. I knew it was true.
But then something happened that changed everything. I came across reliable, true information that disproved the book’s historical authenticity. I had never before heard of all the historical anachronisms, the verbatim plagiarism, the overt paraphrasing of popular 19th-century books and sermons, the complete lack of archaeological evidence, the doctrinal edits over time, or the well-established invalidation of its companion scriptures such as the Book of Abraham. I had no idea what the real history was or who the real Joseph Smith was. All I had known before was a beautiful but unfortunately highly modified and romanticized narrative that was completely different from the real history. Now I found myself learning something in direct conflict with my most treasured beliefs, and I found myself in total denial. I believed that the book would certainly be able to withstand any scrutiny. But as I searched for truth, my journey of discovery took me on a much different path than I had anticipated. I gradually moved from denial to confusion and perplexity. After much study and prayer, I started absorbing the magnitude of the alarming but real truth: that the Book of Mormon appears verifiably to be a work of fiction. Once I was finally able to humble myself and let go of all my personal convictions and biases, I was able to absorb the magnitude of the overwhelming truth, which was more heartbreaking and disappointing than I ever would have imagined.
The problem, of course, was that these discoveries struck right at the core of the church’s truth claims. If the Book of Mormon was not true, then I had always been taught that this would mean that “this whole Church is a fraud.” Thus, when I first found out the truth about the Book of Mormon, I experienced painful cognitive dissonance, insomuch that I underwent a massive migraine headache for 24 hours. This was unusual in that I normally never experience headaches of any magnitude. I researched all the possible explanations and hypothesized as to any alternative explanations that had not yet been proposed, yet have been unable to find adequate answers. In fact, by the time I took into account all of the explanations from the apologists, the Book of Mormon seemed like a totally different book than what Joseph Smith said it was. I checked and double-checked the references and found out that the problems were validated from official sources. I then experienced another massive migraine for over 48 hours as I tried to reconcile my new knowledge with my beliefs. I felt as though my head was about to explode because I was having to re-write my cerebral hard drive with all the new information I was receiving. For someone who has believed in the Book of Mormon so fervently all these years, my heart was now truly broken. This news was the most surprising, tragic, and heartbreaking news I had ever received. (To see all my months of research, click this link.)
The irony, of course, was that I had felt spiritual feelings and promptings many times as I had read the Book of Mormon. In fact, I love the Book of Mormon. It is an inspiring book, a book that testifies of Christ and has blessed my life. Yet, as I reflect back, I had always been troubled by certain parts of it, such as the Lamanite skin turning black because of sin (and then turning white when they are righteous, and dark again when they are wicked), and so many of the Book of Mormon prophets quoting Paul or other Bible passages so overtly. And besides the racist notions and the Biblical paraphrasing, there were also teachings in the Book of Mormon that sometimes seemed to contradict Christ’s heart-centered gospel. These problems all seemed so unreasonable, yet I would dismiss these thoughts because they threatened my beliefs. As I reflected over my spiritual witnesses of the Book of Mormon, I realized that I had also felt spiritual promptings and positive, uplifting spiritual confirmations that were just as potent while reading other books such as Les Miserables, which is unquestionably a work of fiction. So perhaps works of fiction can still produce spiritual promptings and confirmations, and thus I could not correctly interpret my spiritual witness of the book as a valid justification for believing its historicity? Then one day, when my wife and I were watching a fictitious movie, I noticed a tear or two in her eye—along with many others in the theater who were touched—during a particularly moving scene. I started to realize that the reason we were all feeling the Spirit was not because the movie was historically true—for it was fiction—but because parts of it were true in principle. The principles being portrayed were of love, sacrifice, and goodness. I recognized that there was a ring of truth there—it was the Spirit I was feeling—even though the movie was portraying a fictitious story. I started wondering if this was why I was having similar feelings with regard to the Book of Mormon—because it contains many true principles such as faith, hope, and charity. I also started wondering if these principles really could have been derived from other “inspiring” sources, rather than ancient Native Americans. (For more on how spiritual feelings relate to truth, see this post.)
Coincidentally, at the time I was reading “The Power of Positive Thinking,” by Norman Vincent Peale, a non-Mormon who was not affiliated with our church and who did not hold the priesthood, and I stumbled on something very interesting. Regarding a visit he made to a depressed man, he said:
“I sought for guidance and found myself, quite to my surprise, standing beside him and placing my hand upon his head. I prayed, asking God to heal the man. I suddenly became aware of what seemed to be the passing of power through my hand which rested upon his head. I hasten to add that there is no healing power in my hand, but now and then a human being is used as a channel, and it was evidently so in this instance, for presently the man looked up with an expression of the utmost happiness and peace and he said simply, ‘He was here. He touched me. I feel entirely different.’ … Apparently the clogged channel in his personality through which the passage of power had been impeded was opened by an act of faith and the free flow of energy was renewed.”
I read this by complete coincidence at the time I was wondering about many of the spiritual experiences I have had, and couldn’t help but wonder if God isn’t working through other people of other faiths just as much as He works through us, and perhaps we really weren’t the “one true church” as I had always been taught.
I also began to realize that if the Book of Mormon isn’t really historically authentic, then this might explain all of the strange blunders our church has made over time, because perhaps we aren’t getting the clear, high-definition signal to heaven that we had believed and hoped we had. I know that I grew up under the impression that God was speaking rather directly and clearly to the prophets and apostles. Now I began wondering wondering if—instead of high-definition pictures—we were getting more of a salt-and-pepper static, low-bandwidth, highly intermittent signal from heaven? Maybe that was why the prophets seem to have made so many troubling assertions? It appeared, for example, that we were very wrong about the blacks being the seed of Cain, “a murderer from the beginning,” when we know now that the first humans originated in Africa and were black for many thousands of years before lighter skins gradually emerged. So because the African race is actually our true beginning as humans, how could Cain have been turned black if he already was black? Perhaps we were wrong to declare that the blacks came from a murderer, hence their black “mark”? I was so surprised when I found out that this doctrine came from the Pearl of Great Price, not Genesis. I have African-American friends who are incredible human beings, with hearts and souls just as capable of living noble lives as anyone else. I started wondering if maybe Christ would be displeased with some of the statements in the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price regarding dark skin color correlating to sin or curses. Maybe He wouldn’t want us to believe things like that? It just didn’t seem right to me.
Also, during a trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, my wife and I discovered that all humans on the earth originated in a small part of Africa. This got me thinking: Why would God would reveal to Joseph Smith that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri and have this canonized in our scriptures? I looked into the facts and found out that the Americas are actually one of the very last places that people inhabited. It seemed that too many of our “revelations” were turning out to be “wrong,” and now our beginnings were looking so questionable that I just didn’t know what to think anymore. I didn’t expect Joseph or any other prophet to be perfect, but it did seem reasonable that I should be able to expect his words to be true if he declares that they are a “revelation from God” or when they are canonized in our scriptures as “the word of God.” The apologist response to this problem was that “the exact location of the Garden of Eden is not important to our salvation,” but I began to wonder if it was somewhat important to our salvation if the erroneous location was one of the many clues that the path I was pursuing was not leading me to truth and salvation. I started wondering: If we were wrong about the blacks, wrong about the Garden of Eden, wrong about the Book of Abraham, even wrong about the Book of Mormon, etc, then how do I know we are not wrong about the things we are preaching now? Were we wrong because they are “the mistakes of men, so condemn not the things of God” because the prophets were indeed called of God but they are fallible, mortal humans? Or was it actually because they were not called of God in the first place? These were the weighty questions I was dealing with that placed me in an ethical quandary because I only wanted to follow what is true and right.
I was greatly troubled because I absolutely loved our church. I knew from many personal experiences that God can work through (or perhaps despite?) Mormonism, and that He has blessed my life and the lives of many whom I know within this church, through our loving service to one another. And yet, it also seems that He works in the lives of billions of others across the earth, and He cares for and answers their prayers just as much as mine. I came to the realization that we are spiritual beings with spiritual sensors, and those spiritual sensors resonate with goodness. When we are exposed to uplifting principles, we feel it. Ironically, the answers to my prayers changed, and I began to feel the Spirit confirming to me that these “problems” with the Book of Mormon were indeed legitimate, that there is great error within our claims of truthfulness, and that God is not constrained to Mormonism for blessing and saving souls, as I had believed. That was the impression I got while praying over these matters. There was no question in my mind that this is a wonderful church that does much good for many, many people. Yet maybe some of the things we are doing in this church are not what Christ would do? For example, I just wasn’t sure anymore what He would think of the Book of Mormon, if it is not historically true and we are declaring that it is? I just wasn’t sure He would want to perpetuate an untruth like that. I am a firm believer that he who earnestly seeks the truth shall find it. I prayed earnestly and humbly, dropping all my previous personal convictions and biases and opening my heart—yielded and still—to God, asking Him to demonstrate the truth to me. I had faith in God, and my faith in Him was the only thing that helped me through this “truth ache.” It was a “truth ache” because it truly made my heart ache. I did not wish to cause any trouble; I only wished to know the real truth. I only wanted to really see things “as they really are.”
These problems led me to a serious predicament—a predicament that I never before would have even imagined myself in, because I felt that living the real truth is essential to my integrity as a follower of Christ. As my wife and I watched a favorite Christmas film, “Miracle on 34th Street,” I saw the movie in a new light. In a dramatic scene, the profound question was asked: “Which is worse: A lie that draws a smile, or a truth that draws a tear?” I pondered this question very often. I have come to the understanding that it is better to know a disappointing truth than a comforting lie. I sincerely desired to know the truth. I only wanted to do God’s will.
As I continued faithfully attending church, magnifying my callings, attending the temple, paying tithing, reading the scriptures daily, praying more than ever, I was simultaneously experiencing growing cognitive dissonance. Every day I read the Book of Mormon, I discovered more issues inside it and the problems became increasingly evident—especially once I had read so much of the original source material such as the books and scriptures and apocrypha and family experiences that simply appear to have been “remixed” into the Book of Mormon. I was not looking for the negative—I was looking for the truth—but some of the problems became so puzzling that became difficult to read the Book of Mormon without acquiring more doubts. The more I understood, the more it became apparent that the book was a fictitious work of the 19th century. And when I prayed, the answer received every time was that the problems are real, that the book is not historically true, even though there are many wonderful, true principles within its contents. I was seeking with an open, sincere heart and with faith Christ, believing that I would receive and with every intent to act upon my answers, while living a righteous and good life of service and consecration. Sadly, the results were much different from what I expected when I started this new journey of truth-seeking regarding the book’s historicity.
I know what it is like to fully believe in the Book of Mormon. But now, hearing a testimony of it from someone else doesn’t do much good because I can understand what it was like to be under that impression. I was there once, and I didn’t know then what I know now. I knew that the book had great, true principles within it and I had positive spiritual feelings about it while praying, and that the people I loved most all loved and valued the book, and now I realize that doesn’t necessarily mean it is historically true. But being dedicated to Truth, and I would rather know a disappointing truth than a comforting lie. I felt awakened. I cannot maintain my personal integrity by perpetuating untruth. I feel a moral imperative to be true to myself by accepting the truth, no matter how disappointing it may be.
This is my story. I hope it has been helpful to you in some way, especially if you are one of the many people experiencing similar “crises of faith.” My goal is to provide information on this blog that has been helpful to me, in case it is helpful to you. It is also to share the truth in the kindest and gentlest way possible, while still being direct and open, so that those who are “awakening” can hopefully have a less painful experience than mine. Many people who discover the truth feel hurt and betrayed, and some become bitter and vindictive against the church. I do not feel this way. I understand that most of the people who were teaching me untruth throughout my life were well-meaning, good people who were sincere. My desire is that we can transcend the untruth that we have been taught all our lives and begin building our lives more on the principles of truth and love—two eternal principles that I believe can take us very far.
Continue to Gentle Awakening Presentation Series.
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