Text of talk given to Cornwall Humanist Society on 21st January 2014 at Truro, Cornwall, England.
(Video link at bottom of page)
Plato’s Allegory of The Cave
Imagine some people that have lived in a cave their whole lives, chained on their stomachs so that their heads can only see the wall opposite the cave’s opening.
The only light that they see is that which comes from the entrance behind them projected onto the wall. The world as they know it is only shadows, but they think that these shadows are the real thing. They think that the shadow of a bird flying past the cave entrance is a real bird and so on.
One of the prisoners is released, his shackles removed, and he is allowed to turn around for the first time and see outside the cave. At first the light is blinding and he is afraid of it. He wants to stay back where he was in the comfort of the surroundings he knows and the reality he believes in. But eventually his curiosity gets the better of him and he ventures out of the cave.
For the first time, he sees reality for what it really is and he is a bundle of emotions. Overall, he is elated to see what a beautiful world exists beyond the cave. Every sense is heightened and he can see color and touch physical objects that he knew before only as silhouettes.
Excited and still concerned about his fellow companions, he runs back inside and tries to convince them that the shadows they see are not real; that reality lies just behind them and all they have to do is come with him and see. His statements are met with contempt and his sanity is questioned by the others.
– Allegory of the Cave can be found in Book VII of Plato’s best-known work, The Republic
This is similar to my experience leaving the Mormon Church.
My Exit Story
I am third generation and a life-long member of the Mormon Church, having attended all the various Gospel Instruction classes from an infant to adulthood.
I served faithfully as a full-time proselyting missionary in the England Manchester Mission gaining over 20 converts.
After finishing my mission at 21 years of age I trained as a Podiatrist whilst being called on the Stake High Council (Diocese of Devon & Cornwall) as a 21 year old returned missionary full of enthusiasm for the gospel.
I served in most of the Church leadership capacity both at local Ward (Parish) level and Stake (diocese) level. Finally serving faithfully for almost seven years as Bishop of the Helston Ward, which I still consider was the most rewarding & happiest time of my Church service.
I am married to Elizabeth and we have four children ages 13, 16, 19 & 21.
We are still members of record for the sake of 50 of our extended family who are all currently active Church members, apart from my younger brother David & his family, and a nephew and his family.
My journey of discovery started a couple of years before I resigned as Bishop when my wife discovered that one of her friend’s had left the Church, having previously been a Branch President in Scotland. My wife discovered the website which her friend had made detailing the historical issues he discovered which had led to his apostasy. (http://www.exmormon.org.uk/tol_arch/atozelph/twosides.htm)
The information she read disturbed her so much she approached me about it. At the time, as a faithfully serving busy Bishop, I just dismissed it all as satanic deception & reassured my wife the Church was true & we both continued to serve faithfully.
After about two years my brother David started to ask me questions to stimulate my rational mind into thinking analytically. David was interested in neuroscience & psychology, so the questions were around the topic of positive psychology & the optimal conditions for human flourishing & well being. David understood that the Church belief system did not foster the best psychological conditions for promoting happiness & psychological thriving, which is partly why there is so much depression in the Church, due mostly too so much guilt & shame combined with a culture which prioritises perfection.
The crux came when David posted on Twitter a public criticism of the Church regarding its treatment of homosexuals. I was angered by what I perceived as David’s outright hostility to the Church I loved, so as Bishop I felt a responsibility to chastise him & warn my brother to desist in his public criticism of the Church. At the same time, I didn’t want to spoil the good sibling relationship I felt we had, after being estranged from him for a while following David’s initial apostasy from the Church three years earlier. So I sent a short message saying, “Why be so critical of the Church in public Dave?”
The response I got back from David surprised me because it was so compassionate, & demonstrated so much altruistic concern for the suffering of others that I was inspired to find out for myself if this could be true.
One of the first things I did was check on the suicide rates for 16-25 year old homosexuals in Utah, and was rightly shocked at how many people are indeed suffering due to the strong anti-gay stance by the Church.
I then checked if Joseph Smith did indeed have child wives, by searching on Chris Tolworthy’s website.
To my horror I discovered the terrible extent of Joseph’s polygamy & polyandry by cross-checking on familysearch.org. A Church owned site.
The most significant thing I did at this point was to ask myself the question, “If the Church was not true, would I want to know?”
It then became almost a full time job to try to prove that all this uncomfortable information about the Church was false. I wanted to believe in the beautiful fantasy of the Church belief system, but the more I studied, the more my belief system crumbled.
The studying became compulsive night & day. Work became a chore & seemed to obstruct my more important priority of trying to find the truth about the Church.
My recently re-awakened rational mind would no longer accept truth based on feelings alone, I needed firm evidence. I bought many books by current Church authors & ex-members. As well as studying from many different Mormon websites including MormonThink, FAIR, & FARMS (Maxwell Institute). Some of the source materials are included on Steve’s Personal Blog in the links page -(https://stevebloor.wordpress.com/links).
What hurt me the most was discovering that the Church leaders I loved, including President Gordon B Hinckley, had repeatedly lied to me & the rest of the Church about various aspects of Church History, & doctrines, by changing the facts to sound more faith-promoting & leaving out crucial details.
Having been taught all my life to value truth & avoid deception, this new understanding about the Church practice of ‘Lying for the Lord’ seemed alien to me.
I was most upset to see President Hinckley obfuscate & lie on camera when interviewed about the doctrine of ‘God being once a man, & men having the potential to become Gods’.
Honesty & integrity were & still are my guiding principles in life.
After just over a month of incessant studying & praying I came to the painful realisation that I could no longer continue to serve as Bishop whilst doubting my testimony, without being a hypocrite, despite my love for the members of my Ward .
As a non-believer, whilst still the Bishop of the Ward, I tried my best to help the members understand what it is like to be a faithful committed member who suddenly has a change of belief. I tried to help them understand that many members leave the Church for doctrinal reasons and not because of being offended, or being weak or wanting to sin.
I was desperately preparing them for the shock which was coming their way within a few days after this talk when I would resign as their Bishop.
My focus was on helping them to understand, because I believed that understanding and love drives out fear. I knew my resignation as the Bishop would hurt many of the Ward members I loved so much. The talk was my attempt at reducing their pain when I resigned as their Bishop.
I carefully planned the sacrament talk over several weeks. Then on the Saturday night prior to the event I had a panic attack. I didn’t want them to think I had given the talk to gain their sympathy when they later realised I had resigned. At that point I wasn’t thinking of what they thought of me in resigning, only of their pain at hearing the news and I began to think they would think my only reason for giving the talk was to gain their sympathy, which it was not. I very nearly pulled out and I seriously considered just phoning the Stake President and resigning that night.
But my (ex-Mormon) brother counselled me that this opportunity was a rare one which could help many people and I should just grasp it.
So I did. It was one of the most emotionally difficult things I have ever done. (https://stevebloor.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/compassion-for-those-who-leave)
Within days of presenting the talk I had resigned as Bishop and sent each of the Ward members a letter clearly and unambiguously notifying them of my reasons for no longer believing the Mormon Church was the one true Church of God. (https://stevebloor.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/resignation-letter-as-bishop/)
Having resigned as bishop I agreed, under threat of excommunication, to avoid speaking about the difficult issues for the Church. Since either resignation from the Church or excommunication would have hurt my extended family, who are members too, I agreed to keep quiet.
However, after about a year which allowed emotional adjustment & some hurts to heal, I felt the time was right for me to unseal my lips which the Church forcefully closed.
Having written a personal blog, which recounts my discovery & struggle with the uncomfortable facts about Church history and origins, and my resignation as bishop, I opened it to the public so others could gain hope and courage from my experience.
In April 2011 it was viewed over 14,000 times in a week & had to be password protected to safeguard family members feelings. There is a tremendous need in the Church for honesty & candid talking, and my resignation letter as bishop seemed to resonate with thousands of members hearts & minds as they desperately look for the courage to face their own epiphanies. Three years later my blog has received over 130 thousand views with the rapidly growing interest.
I do not intend to Mormon Bash. I love Mormons. The majority of my extended family are all active True Believing Mormons. My Mormon family & friends are some of the nicest, kindest, most compassionate & generous people you could meet.
Excerpts from my Sacrament Talk ‘Compassion For Those Who Leave’ :
I presented this talk to the ward members in sacrament meeting as an attempt at helping to prepare them for my upcoming resignation as their Bishop.
Knowing that compassion eases one’s own pain I hoped it would ease the members suffering at the shock & stress of my resignation.
The talk was really well received by the members.
How strong is your testimony?
On what is it based?
Would your testimony stand up to indisputable evidence to the contrary?
We have been warned that in the last days many of the elect will leave the church.
Many faithful, devoted, and dedicated members are leaving the church they once loved due to “unintentional consequences of their search for truth”.
These were people who were fully committed temple going, tithe-paying members.
In 2009 it is estimated that over 83,000 members left the church.
Many members, including leaders, are resigning their membership, NOT DUE TO SIN OR WEAKNESS, but due to reading or listening to something which changes their PERCEPTION OF TRUTH.
Can our relationship with those who leave the church withstand these changes in THEIR BELIEF?
The General Authorities have warned the Bishops, through the Stake Presidents, to “Prepare for a mass exodus from the church, even from the leadership.”
We believe that, because of their actions and disbelief, they we will no longer be a part of our eternal family. THAT REALLY HURTS!!
Its a very emotionally charged subject.
But it’s becoming a common problem. Most of you here have loved ones, including friends and family, who have trodden this path. Or we know of someone.
It’s far too easy to be judgemental, or even to fear those who leave.
I have certainly found this to be the case for me. I rarely associated with my brother, his wife and children, or spoke with them. I found it too difficult to discuss things openly and be candid for fear of getting into an argument.
Sometimes we fear they will adversely affect the testimonies of our children.
My relationship with them has been made even more difficult because I am also their bishop and have a role to play to protect the church.
But it’s often even harder for them. Have you ever thought how it might feel to be THEM?
Imagine for a moment what it must be like. “The best way to understand someone is to try to put yourself in their position”.
Imagine that “Everything that you had thought about yourself, others, and the world was built on a lie! All the time you were growing up you felt different and did not know why. The way you looked at life was based on who you thought you were and on what you believed to be true.” Your world would just crumble around you! You would not know what to trust, let alone who to trust! You would have to re-learn almost everything; the way you interacted with others, your values and more.
What if every major decision you made was based on what you thought was truth? There would be so much fallout your head would be spinning! You would most likely experience ‘rage’, ‘despair’, ‘grief’, ‘sorrow’, ‘anguish’, ‘more anger, mistrust, confusion’, and run through a ‘whole gamut of emotions’. The longer you were members of the Church and the more you genuinely believed it to be true, the more severe the trauma coming out. Someone who had been LDS all his or her life will experience greater hardship than someone who had been a convert of only a year or two. But even those who leave after just a couple years experience a great sense of loss when they leave. Leaving Mormonism is not as simple as waking up one morning and deciding to rip up one’s temple recommend. It doesn’t come after hearing or reading a couple negative things about the Church; if it were just a few contradictions you could easily readjust your thinking or put them on a “back burner” to deal with later. For an active, believing Mormon to conclude that Mormonism is not true takes a long and painful time of intensive study, prayer, deliberation and soul searching. Many risk losing family, including their spouse, children, and extended family, as well as their best, maybe only, friends.
Some who leave say it feels like a death in the family, or a divorce.
Control Paradigm In The Mormon Church
The Church uses techniques of undue influence which are well understood in psychological circles.
They are many and varied and used to inculcate subconscious biases, phobias and prejudices with which the members then go on to filter all the information they then receive.
Some of these subconscious biases and phobias cause feelings of fear, guilt & shame as well as reciprocation and loyalty.
Right from the beginning when learning about Mormonism, either as a child or as an investigator, people are told to pay attention to their emotions. During those lessons, the ones teaching will “bear their testimony,” often with sincere and heartfelt emotion. Those learning, then have their own emotions interpreted for them…”The warm feelings in your heart that you are experiencing? That’s the Holy Ghost telling you that what we are saying is true.” Then the investigators are invited to pray & ask of God for themselves, and told to focus on their feelings “because that is how God will reveal the ‘truth’ to them.”
But neuroscientists know that these heightened emotional feelings are just a result of the release of oxytocin and they also know that in states of heightened emotions the amygdala can switch off the prefrontal cortex reducing the ability for rational thought and lowering cognitive ability.
In these states of heightened emotions fearful biases are introduced like “if you don’t read your scriptures every day you are allowing Satan to have power over you.” “If you let one drop of alcohol touch your lips then you are not worthy of God’s Spirit.”
There are very big fears about leaving the Mormon Church bringing misery and despair. They believe those who leave are deceived by Satan and in his power. Most believe that only true happiness is to be found through Mormonism.
Plus one of the biggest phobias is the fear of losing a family member for eternity in the afterlife if they or their relative are not faithful. People even get divorced over a spouse’s change of belief. In the Mormon belief system, if a child leaves the Church that son or daughter will no longer be a family member in the next life. They are almost as good as dead to them.
There are very strong fears that anyone could lose their cherished Testimonies of The Gospel at any moment, so there is constant, forceful reinforcement of the dangers of falling into Satan’s grasp.
It’s all too easy to see the irrational fear-based superstitious beliefs evident in my former religion now I can look at things from a more neutral perspective.
In my opinion the Mormon Church & the gospel it preaches is a modern mythology & fantasy world which cannot stand on a foundation of facts, only of faith! Faith being evidence of things not seen! Or “believing things with insufficient evidence” (Sam Harris), Or “Pretending to know things you don’t know” (Peter Boghossian)
Faith based, superstitious belief systems need continual reinforcement with rituals & testimony bearing etc.
The General Authorities of the Church are 100% correct when they say our testimonies are fragile! Of course they are, because there is no factual foundation, only a fictitious fantasy world, which though it may seem wonderful to those immersed & invested in it, is still a delusion!
The greater the potential loss, the greater the need for superstitious ritual. Hence twice daily personal prayers, prayers with our spouses, family prayers, scripture study, church service, testimony bearing, temple attendance, home & visiting teaching, family home evenings, prayers on food, prayers for safety in travelling, continuous prayer in the heart, weekly sacrament taking, frequent hymn singing about the beliefs, frequent leadership meetings & training, regular PPIs, frequent auxiliary training meetings, payment of tithes and offerings, twice yearly Stake Conferences, twice yearly General Conferences, monthly fasting, strict rules & commandments, heavy expectations for doing family history research, having a years home food storage, daily journal writing, expectation to send children to serve on missions, etc, etc.
The more sacrifice can be extracted from its adherents, the more heavily invested they become & the stronger their superstitious faith becomes.
It all makes complete sense that these belief reinforcement strategies are so important, when you recognize the belief system for what it is, irrational fear-based superstition!
My friend Corban Rushworth summed up my feelings about religion well with this statement:
“I think religion is like an illegal drug – it doesn’t matter whether it’s ‘true’ or not, people like it because it makes them feel good. But it also has nasty side effects, can be very expensive (10%), and can lead to addiction.
“A Mormon rationalising his faith, even after learning that it is not literally true, is like a drug addict in denial. He has become psychologically and physically dependant on the good feelings that religious participation gives to him, even though another part of his brain knows it’s an illusion.
“It’s not really a metaphor though. It is quite literal. The dopamine is released in the same way when a TBM sits in the Celestial room at the temple as when a cocaine addict shoots up. Both have found ways to artificially enhance their pleasure by altering their brain chemistry – one through drugs, the other psychologically.”
People sometimes say that I ‘lost my faith’, but I didn’t ‘lose’ my faith, just like I didn’t lose my belief in Santa either. I haven’t lost anything!
I have gained freedom from oppression, from mind control, from guilt, shame and fear.