My parents joined the church in 1976. I was six years old. I was active in the church until 1992. During my teenage years my father served as a bishop of our ward in Goshen, CT. I had many friends in the church and have lots of fond memories of this time period.
During my early years, I believed in the church as much as anyone can believe in any religion. I have never felt anything that I could be sure came from a supernatural source, what they call the 'spirit'. I based my association with the church on the belief's of others, the comraderie of my extended church family, and pseudo-scientific proofs from books and movies like 'Ancient America Speaks', the 'Lehi Stone', etc. Science and logic have always been very important to me.
At 18, my parents gave me some options. I had to move out of the house, and if I went to Brigham Young University, or Rick's College, they would assist me by paying for half the costs. Naturally, I went to Brigham Young, the better of the two schools. BYU is about 99% Mormon, and Provo, UT is about 95%. While in Provo, I realized that the diversity of my home was one of the greatest things about it. When you have diversity, you have community standards that are based on the common beliefs of many different backgrounds and religions. Unnecessary restraints are dropped, and you are left with the core, essential standards that enable the most people to be the most happy. There is no majority trying to enforce its beliefs on a small minority. In my mind, diversity became one of the most important components of a free community, and later on my mission in Pittsburgh, I realized with horror that my goal of converting as many as possible would make that area more like Provo, Ut.
I am still amazed by the fact that BYU has a standards department. Although the department's name seems to change every few years, its role remains the same. If someone wants to report you for wearing shorts too short, beard stubble, swearing, kissing your girlfriend or being out too late with her, an out of the ordinary hair-style, drinking beer, etc., they do it here and the department has the power to expel you from school for good if they don't feel you are repentant enough. There are two problems with this. One, some of the things that they enforce probably aren't eternal truths and it would be laughable if they were, and two, when you intrude this much into someone's personal life you create a large potential for abuse. The existence of this at BYU to me means that the leadership of the church is unable to discriminate between eternal truth and their own traditions, and that the leadership of the church is not very concerned with the abuse of power or the potential for it.
About halfway through my mission, I realized that something was wrong. I realized that I didn't really believe in the church, and wondered if I ever would again. The more I learned about the church's doctrine and its history, the more ridiculous everything appeared. I also felt that our methods were somewhat deceptive and that we were preying on people who were lonely and were attracted by the extended family/friendship aspect of the church rather than its doctrine. It had some of the aspect of a cult. However, I felt that it would be wrong to quit halfway through and not give it a chance. I stuck it out and was honorably released after the proper length of service.
My mission president was a strange man. He rewarded missionaries with rank for 'telling on each other'. This would occur sometimes even if the telling was colored with fiction to make a better story, or even totally fictional. I still consider my mission to be a good experience, but occasional brushes with this type of thing made me realize that a life in the church might not be for me. Once you are married into the church, and have established most of your relationships within its framework, the leadership has quite a bit of psychological control over you. Disagreement with the leadership could lead to damage to your most important relationships. Even more so if they brought back the 'United Order' where control was more centralized. It would be hell.
Reading of non-approved books is heavily discouraged when you are a missionary. It was not until a few years later that I was able to learn important facts that I had no exposure to. It is a bad idea to tell a young adult what they can and can't read. Excellent books that deal objectively with issues are:
* 'By his own hand upon papyrus' by Charles M. Larson (he lost his Provo public school teaching job over this book) Excellent. Details the finding and subsequent translation of the Abraham papyrus in the late 1960's. The papyrus is a common funerary text, written a couple thousand years after Abraham. Parts of facsimiles in the Book of Abraham that were subject to suspicion by egyptologists are missing from the original, Smith or someone else drew them in. Some of the characters are even upside-down! Not to mention the text bears no resemblance. Smiths Egyptian grammar and the Book of Abraham translation manuscripts bear this out. Fraud is very evident here.
* 'Quest for the Gold Plates' by Stan Larson
Pretty good. Details archaeological search for remains of Book of Mormon peoples by Thomas Stuart Ferguson. He established the New World Archaeological Foundation, which was funded by the Mormon church. Ferguson later became a closet doubter. Many many old world animals, plants, technologies, and practices are mentioned in the Book of Mormon but are totally missing from the archaeological record of the Americas. No wonder not a single Book of Mormon City has been identified.
* 'Mormon Enigma Emma Hale Smith' by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery' I didn't know about Joseph Smith's treasure digging or polygamy. The Church is pretty quiet on this because the details are embarrassing. Emma probably didn't know about other wives at first and certainly never accepted it, although she was coerced to pretend acceptance. The whole Nauvoo experience was pretty nasty, with political, social, religious, military, and economic power almost totally centralized. The Nauvoo Expositor complains about secret practices of polygamy, and wants to reform Nauvoo government in its first and only publication.
* http://www.exmormon.org and http://www.irr.org/mit
These are good, objective sources of information on the web. The first is the LDS recovery page and the second is the Mormons in transition page.
I made the mistake of returning to BYU after my mission. This was a dumb decision, and I can't say much to justify it other than the fact that my family had been split by divorce, I hadn't kept in touch with my friends in Connecticut, and so the friends I had made my freshman year at BYU were the only human beings I really felt close to. During the first few years back my value system collapsed. I had originally based my system of ethics solely on religious beliefs, the fear of spiritual punishment. I found myself stealing, lying, etc. I was arrested for shoplifting. About this time I took a class on western government and it's philosophical foundations. I learned why we have the laws and values we do, and how laws have evolved over time. I also learned of the debt that each of us owe to society for our own self-identity, benefits of trade, specialization, etc. The role we play in society defines us and determines our future place in that society. This class taught me the real reason for having ethics, something religion could never do.
At this time I also made probably the best decision of my life. I determined that because I did not have many personal relationships that I valued, I would break with the church. I started being honest with people about my beliefs. I started seeking people who didn't believe in the Mormon church but were still ethical and respectable. This is difficult at a school that is 99% Mormon. I met a beautiful, intelligent girl while out dancing one night, and she was also very skeptical about the church. We have now been married 4 years and our relationship is based on honesty. Although we still live in a suburb of Provo and I work in Provo, people that know me know that I am not a believer and most accept it. Those that don't accept me as I am I don't give a damn for.
Scott Ferris 11/02/97