Why I Chucked My Mormon Faith and Became an Atheist
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But a smaller piece of information in a sidebar grabbed me by the necktie and wouldn't let go: According to the sidebar, when that angry mob burst into Smith's jail cell, he raised a gun and fired back.
Wait, a gun? What gun?
Nobody had ever told me about Smith carrying a gun. I had been a faithful church member all my life. I attended Sunday School almost every Sunday for over two decades. Why hadn't I heard about this gun before?
Let me clarify something: It didn't bother me that Smith had a gun or that he fired back. Hell, can you blame the guy? What bothered me was that this significant detail had been omitted in every version of the story I had heard since childhood.
I returned to the U.S. in 1999. My bishop assigned me to be the adult Sunday School teacher in the singles congregation. It was a cool gig, and not just because it got me a few dates.
But the position required plenty of research. And as I spent hours at my school's Internet stations preparing for each lesson, I discovered more bits of information that my church had kept out of the official manuals.
Sure, I knew early Mormon leaders practiced polygamy (I'm directly descended from a Mormon bigamist), but I believed that like the Old Testament prophets, God had kept strict watch over the practice. The Internet, though, showed me that one of Smith's plural wives included 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball; Did that make God a pervert?
The omissions piled up. Little by little, a pattern emerged: church leaders were hiding embarrassing information. Anything that painted Joseph Smith in a bad light -- besides, you knowing, claiming to have seen God and Jesus when he was 14 years old -- got scrubbed from the official, approved history. After just a few months of research, my faith was suddenly in crisis.
But I found more than information online. Quickly I discovered forums where other doubters struggled with the information they found. As I the read the questions had about Mormon history and doctrine, I soon realized I wasn't crazy.
The forum members were supportive. They encouraged me -- Not to ditch the church, but to earnestly seek information.
I sought counsel from my bishop. He discouraged me from seeking unapproved church material. "Ted, don't read that stuff."
But I couldn't stop. I couldn't forget what I was learning. I felt like Dorothy peaking behind the curtain.
So on a sunny afternoon I pedaled down the Pacific Coast Highway towards the library. I knew Fawn Brodie's book was at that branch -- the Internet told me so.
I don't currently own the book. And I'm too lazy right now to look up the exact quote. But I remember the feeling as I read the the eyewitness account of Smith's death. Yes, he had a gun. Yes, he fired back. Yes, my church lied to me.
I checked out the book. I never taught another Sunday School lesson.
Ten years have passed since that afternoon. The number of websites telling a more complete story of Mormonism's early years has exploded. Google "mormon" and exmormon.org shows up in the top results. I sincerely feel bad for today's missionaries preaching the gospel to today's always-connected generation.
In October, when Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer told the semi-annual gathering of the world's Mormons that homosexuality was "unnatural", bulletin boards lit up with links to articles and studies showing that homosexual acts have been documented in more than 1,500 species.