Another part of Kyler Rasmussen’s investigation was published on the Interpreter Foundation website:
Estimating Evidence Episode 6: On an Unpleasant God
This article by Maureen Proctor in Meridian magazine really touched me:
“To those who think it is a ‘relief’ to leave the Church”
I have often encountered the same statement: People who have left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have spoken of how liberated they now feel. The Church had made them mentally and emotionally unhealthy, had made them feel worthless and guilty, had left them ashamed, judged and condemned; now, however, they can raise their heads.
I’m willing to consider the possibility that many of those who say such things are doing it honestly – although I can’t help but note that some of the people who most loudly claim to be happy with their release seem to be rather embittered. and angry, or at least not visibly happy. And that, in at least two cases that I know of, men who claimed that their marriages had improved considerably by leaving the Church divorced within a few years.
I think, however, that we must take these demands seriously and try to deal with them in a kind and pastoral way.
But I think their response to their Church membership rests on a false understanding of doctrine. I never fully understood their claim; their experience was certainly not mine. Not that I do not daily fail to meet the standards that I believe I must respect, but because, for me, the Gospel is light and optimism, hope and assurance. Joy and peace. I never felt oppressed or condemned. And I think – I sure hope – mine is the most common experience: Many years ago, when I was either a student at Brigham Young University or a brand new faculty member, the famous political commentator George Will spent two or three days on campus. Later, when he wrote about his experience in a column, he commented on how cheerful and coffee-free everyone at BYU seemed. He actually thought, he said, that the young Latter-day Saints he observed might benefit from at least a little more. Anguish. I have sometimes had the same reaction. We can take this a bit too lightly. I suspect we don’t fully appreciate (who can?) Christ’s atonement, or understand the seriousness of our condition without it. But I think I much prefer this error to its opposite.
When I was in high school, I read the famous July 8, 1741 sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by American preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards. As it was supposed to, it made a deep impression on me – but probably not the impression it was supposed to. Here are some passages, to make you feel your mind or, if you are already aware of it, to refresh your memory:
The God who holds you above the pit of hell, just as one holds a spider or a loathsome insect above a fire, hates you and is terribly provoked; his anger against you burns like fire; he considers you worthy of nothing but being thrown into the fire … you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most odious and poisonous snake is in ours. . . .
The wrath of God is like great waters which are dammed up for the time being; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, until an outlet is given; and the more the stream is stopped, the faster and more powerful its course, once released. . . .
The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow prepared on the string, and righteousness bends the arrow to your heart, and bends the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God. , and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation, who for a moment prevents the arrow from becoming drunk with your blood. . . .
The sword of divine righteousness is wielded over their heads every moment, and it is only the hand of arbitrary mercy, and the will of God alone, that holds it back. . . .
It would be a wonder if some who are now present were not to be in Hell in a very short period of time, before the end of this year. And it wouldn’t be surprising if some of the people that’s now setting here in – this healthy, calm, and safe boardroom, would be there before tomorrow morning. . . .
The demons look at them… like greedy and hungry lions who see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the moment held back; if God removed his hand that holds them back, they would fly over their poor souls in an instant.
My impression was one of disgust. It’s not the God I believe in, not a God I could love. I can understand why we worship him out of terror, but not out of affection or even, really, out of reverence. He is not the God of the Bible, properly understood. He is not the God who revealed Himself through the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration. That God is a good and gracious Father, who “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). He does not eagerly try to catch us in sin and error, happily seeking to damn us. On the contrary, “God our Savior. . . that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth ”(1 Timothy 2: 3-4). He wants to give us all he has and make us what he is. “Though your sins are like scarlet,” he said through the prophet Isaiah, “they will be white as snow; if they are red like crimson, they will be like wool ”(Isaiah 1:18).
But there is another reason why I find it difficult to understand those who claim to have been set free by their apostasy from the Church, and by what I often assume is their abandonment of their covenants and their rejection of the commandments.
In my experience, more than one indicated that they felt perpetually guilty as members of the Church. Presumably, they hadn’t been loving or kind enough, or hadn’t been entirely honest, or hadn’t worked hard enough, or had been late or angry, or had failed in an assignment. But, for me, such obligations do not simply flow from the Church, so leaving the Church would set me free. I can’t imagine whether he was a Latter-day Saint or not, not trying to be loving and kind, or being satisfied with a poor and unruly job, or feeling no dissatisfaction with myself after letting others down, finding myself without progress, just stalling with my life. I do not want to be so. And I don’t want to live in a society with such people. Even if I were out of the Church, I would still try (I hope!) To be a good parent, a good and faithful husband, a faithful friend, a productive member of a community and a welcome resident in a neighborhood. To break free from these felt obligations and commitments would, in my opinion, be a horrible thing. I should not don’t hesitate to be angry, uncivil or disagreeable.
Plus, while this can obviously be taken to debilitating extremes, guilt or remorse can be a good thing. We should feel guilty when we are mean, when we are disloyal, when we cheat or steal or renege on our promises. We should feel ashamed when we behave badly in public. Not to feel such guilt would be a sociopath.
In this regard, guilt is like pain. It’s an indicator that something is wrong. There are people who don’t feel pain. Does this sound wonderful? Well, consider: such a person could be leaning against a stove with his hand on a hot burner and be totally oblivious to the problem until he smells of burning flesh. (There have been, apparently, such cases.) Such a person would step on a twisted ankle, causing further and possibly irreparable damage, and would not be aware of stomach pain which would have to do with it. ” take them to the emergency room as soon as possible. Seen this way, pain and guilt can be useful indicators for navigating mortal life. Being without them would put us far off.
Posted from St. George, Utah