Margaretta and I fell into an uneasy peace. We did alternate going to church together. But beyond that, we did not discuss our religious differences.
I continued my search for the truth, feeling an urgency to uncover the roots of Mormonism. It was important, I felt, to find out where I had gone wrong. I hoped understanding might eventually lead to deliverance for Margaretta, too. So night after night, usually after she and Erin were in bed, I pored over books and papers on the kitchen table.
To understand Mormonism, I knew I first had to understand Joseph Smith. The Church teaches that Mormonism stands or falls with the prophet Joseph. For Mormons, he was the innocent fourteen-year-old farm boy praying about which church to join, who was suddenly confronted by God and directed to "restore the True Church."
Yet Mormonism produced polygamy and polytheism backward steps in civilization. And it produced a monolithic hierarchy which has bred social problems that discourage sociologists. (1) The more I studied, the more I realized that Mormonism undermines the entire structure of orthodox Christianity.
What had gone wrong? How could Joseph have gotten so far off base? Worse, how could so many people follow him? How could I have followed him? And could answering these questions help to change anything?
Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet. I soon discovered that his claim was not unique. In America, prophets are numerous. And of the many American religions they have started in the last two hundred years, some remain sizable, like Smiths Mormonism, Mary Baker Eddys Christian Science, and Charles Taze Russells Jehovahs Witnesses.
The Presbyterian evangelist Charles Finney referred to Joseph Smiths upper New York State as the "burned-over district" because of the variety and intensity of religious fervor there. The area was called "psychic highway" and looked upon by orthodox churchmen as a hotbed of "ultraism" where settlers brought with them an experimental approach to religious and social ideas. Contemporaries of Smith germinated such movements as Shakerism, spiritualism and the sexual communism of the Oneida community. (2)
How, I asked myself, could one judge a man who claimed to be a prophet? When someone like Joseph Smith claimed to be sent from God, how did one determine if he was acting on his or on Gods behalf?
When presented with a choice between Joseph Smith and the apostle Paul, I had chosen instinctively to believe the Bible. But why? Were there any reasonable grounds for my doing that?
I knew, of course, that the Mormon Church undermined the authority of the Bible. Our Eighth Article of Faith read:
We believe the Bible to be the Word of God insofar as it is translated correctly. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God.
Joseph Smith was fond of saying, when he came across something in the Bible he didnt like, that "an old Jew without any authority" changed the scripture. (3) And Mormon apostle Orson Pratt published a pamphlet in the 1850s called The Bible Alone: An Insufficient Guide, in which he wrote:
What evidence have they [Protestants] that the Book of Matthew was inspired by God, or any of the books of the New Testament? (4)
The Mormon Church maintained that the Bible was unreliable, and that we needed a prophet to straighten out the confusion. Such a prophet would disregard previous revelation and speak whatever he would as Scripture. Brigham Young had stated:
I have never preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they cannot call Scripture. Let me have a privilege of correcting a sermon, and its as good a Scripture as they deserve. (5)
Mormonism, in its claim to be the only True Church, and despite its claim that Jesus was the Christ, had cut itself off completely from Christianity. Joseph Smith had declared that there was no spiritual representative on earth until he came along, and that all other religions were evil. He said that all other priests and their followers, "without one exception, receive their portion with the devil and his angels." (6)
Orson Pratt went further. He called Christianity the work of the devil " a perfect pack of nonsense corrupt as hell ." (7)
I also found in my studies that, as Joseph Smith had pitted his revelation against the Bible, orthodox Christianity agreed unanimously that the Mormon Church was a non-Christian cult. According to The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, for instance, "The doctrines taught by the Mormon church deny most of the cardinal points of the Christian Church." (8)
By the same token, the rest of the world, Jew or Gentile, secular or Christian, declared categorically that the text of the Bible was accurate. (9) Through the science of textual criticism, supported by thousands of Scripture fragments and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we could be sure that we possessed, preserved with minute accuracy, what the apostles John and Paul and others actually wrote.
Joseph Smith wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. He wanted to be a prophet of the God of the Bible, yet he wanted to throw out the Bible. To me, it wouldnt wash.
At some point in Josephs ministry, he penned the Eighth Article of Faith in an attempt to cover himself by discrediting the Bible. By taking that position he was saying, in effect, "When the Bible agrees with me, it is right. When it disagrees with me, it is wrong."
In addition to discrediting the Bible, Joseph proposed the concept of plurality of gods. (10) The idea that men could become gods had bothered me from the first time I heard it in priesthood class shortly after I joined the Church. Polytheism the belief in the existence of more than one god was the bedrock issue of Mormonism. The more I studied, the more I concluded that polytheism was Mormonisms basic error.
Joseph Smith not only believed and taught polytheism; he even boasted about it. He claimed to have always preached plurality of gods, and he told his congregation, "You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves the same as all Gods have done before you until you are able to dwell in everlasting burnings and to sit in glory." (11)
Brigham Young embellished Josephs theory, saying: "Man is King of Kings and Lord of Lords in embryo." (12)
Some Christians I had spoken with were surprised to hear that the Mormon Church taught such things. I made clear to them that Mormon polytheism was not some deep, dark truth that only a privileged few Mormons mutter to each other in the tops of the temples. This polytheistic doctrine was believed by every serious Mormon.
The Bible taught from cover to cover, on the other hand, that there was only one God. This belief in monotheism was the cornerstone of all Judeo-Christian thought. (See Appendix A: Monotheism.)
As I cried out to God for knowledge and understanding, I came to see that all occult "revelation" ultimately produced polytheism. Every false religion attempted to de-deify God and to deify man. Christian Science told us to discover our own "Christ-consciousness." Jehovahs Witnesses told us that Jesus was "another God."
At the same time, I suspected that polytheism was packaged more successfully in Mormonism than in any other contemporary Western religion. In Mormonism as nowhere else, the lie of the deceiver in the Garden was subtly perpetrated: "Dont listen to God. Listen to me and you will become like God."
The more I studied sometimes late into the night the more I discovered that Mormonism was a contradictory maze from beginning to end. Mormon prophets contradicted each other as well as the Book of Mormon and other Latter-day "revelation." Mormon revelation was not, as the Church claimed, a clear stream of truth revealing Gods will for man, but a sinuous river of dark backwaters and bottomless whirlpools. (See Appendix B: Confusion Among the Prophets.)
I learned, for instance, that Mormon history was marked by controversy and cover-ups. The web of confusion of Mormonism was so complete that, to preserve his sanity, the faithful Mormon was forced (if he were to remain faithful) to accept the current position of the Church on any given matter. Truth was what Salt Lake City said it was on a particular day.
Apparently nothing in Mormonism was too sacred to change. The Fourteen Articles of Faith had been changed to the Thirteen Articles of Faith. Polygamy was introduced, defended, then set aside. Entire sections of the Doctrine and Covenants had been rewritten. And the Book of Mormon, called the most perfect and error-free book ever produced, had been altered in nearly 4,000 places since the 1830 edition. (See Appendix C: Changes in the Book of Mormon.) The Church had even "re-edited" Joseph Smiths mothers biography of the prophet.
I found that the study of change and false prophecy in the Church was boundless, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. In one statement, for example, Joseph Smith said the inhabitants of the moon were tall, about six feet, dressed in the style of Quakers and lived to be about a thousand years old. (13)
Brigham Young said that men inhabited not only the moon, but also the sun. (14)
Joseph prophesied that Jesus would return by 1891. (15)
Brigham declared that the Civil War would not free the slaves. (16)
Some of the things the Church asked the faithful to believe bordered on insanity. Brigham Young said the earth was alive. (17)
Orson Pratt said that before men and women are born on earth as babies, their spirits are adult-sized in heaven. When they are born, their spirits are compressed, which causes a loss of memory. (18) He also said vegetables have spirits, are the offspring of male and female vegetable spirits, and are capable of being happy. (19)
As I looked at the contradictions and confusion, alterations and prevarications that went into the mix of Mormonism, I marveled that anyone could believe the doctrine. I marveled even more that I had not only believed but taught it.
Often in these late-night sessions I would put my head down on the table and pray, thanking God for cutting through the confusion, and praying He would do so soon for Margaretta and Erin.
As I reviewed my experience in Mormonism, I recognized the deep forces that worked on me. When I joined the Mormon Church, recently out of the Navy and hungry for meaning in my life, I had longed for love and acceptance. Presented with the clean orderliness of Mormonism, I had made a conscious decision to alter my lifestyle drastically in order to gain that acceptance. I wanted to be "in."
Such a desire for acceptance, I learned, is what feeds people into occult religions, whether Mormonism, Moonieism, or Hare Krishna. The perfect cult candidate is a young, dissatisfied idealist. For this reason, all cults try to become visible on college campuses. (Mormondom aims even younger: Practically every high school has an outreach building adjacent to school property.)
I was to learn, through psychological studies of former cult members, that a process occurs in the mind that psychologists call "snapping." Snapping occurs when subjects are forced, in order to gain acceptance among cult members, to make a leap of faith requiring them to discard their question-asking mechanism. They are compelled to put their minds on the shelf, at which point a basic, mind-altering experience occurs. (See Appendix D: Psychological "Snapping" in the Cults.)
When I met the Mormon missionaries, I was searching for personal fulfillment. And in order to be accepted, I was willing to make decisions that gave the Church control over my mind.
When I first heard the statement in my priesthood class, "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become," I was shocked. My conscience rose up against the blasphemy. And at that instant I had a decision to make: Either I would listen to my God-given conscience, or I would submit to the authority of the cult.
For one instant in that priesthood class, my conscience had asserted itself. No, I had cried out within myself. Thats blasphemy. I will never be a God! But I wanted acceptance. After Ed explained that this was Joseph Smiths revelation, and when he pressured me to accept the teaching, I made a potentially fatal decision: I capitulated. I accepted what I instinctively knew to be false because the price of resistance was too high. I bought into the concept that there was no essential difference between God and man, and in so doing violated my conscience.
Likewise, my first trip to the temple had repulsed me. But by the seventh trip, my revulsion was only light nausea. Much later, as I read the temple ceremony, I would be overwhelmed that I had participated in high-level occult prayer circles with signs, symbols, secret handshakes and blood oaths. I had stood mutely by and observed temple plays in which Christian pastors were portrayed as Satans dupes.
What I had really done was to exercise my freedom of choice at the expense of my conscience. I had violated something innate, something the apostle Paul says is born within every man the knowledge of the Creator God. My heart had become darkened, and I had "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man" (Romans 1:23).
Such violations had led me on a path away from light and into darkness, spiraling downward into the black confusion of the world of the cult. I took part of my mind, created in the image of God, and put it in a plastic bag and placed it on a shelf.
I could now clearly see that Mormonism was, as Dr. Walter Martin (the foremost authority on non-Christian cults) termed it "a polytheistic nightmare of confused doctrine masquerading as the Church of Christ."
Pushing back my chair one night and laying aside my glasses, the rest of the house dark and quiet, I got up from the kitchen table where I had been studying and went to the living room window. Outside the March night was crisp and cold. Snow still covered the streets and was piled high on the corners. I watched a car come nearly to a complete stop as it felt its way through our intersection.
I had finally worked my way free from the hold of Mormonism. I had a solid hold on the God of the Bible. I only wished Margaretta could see what I saw. But she was not receptive.
O God, I prayed, its so clear to those who see, yet impossible to see unless You give vision. O God, my wife and my daughter .
My prayer trailed off as I gave them over into His hands. He gave me no peace. My times were in His hands, there could be no other way.