Thursday, December 13, 2012

An Economic View of Divorce and Mormonism

....Aaaaand we're back.

This blog post has been brewing in my head for months now.  I have shown it to more friends in rough draft form, fretted over it, and bothered my wife with it more than any other idea I can remember.  I guess that sounds like I think what I have to say is a big deal.  Maybe I do.  In reality, I think my thesis is blindingly self-evident; surprising for only about 30 seconds.

I am going to make some observations and analysis on the economics of marital dissatisfaction, divorce, and Mormonism.

Throughout the process of apostasy I have concurrently worked my way through a reconception of happiness, relationships, sex, marriage, and, of course, divorce.  I do not know of anyone who takes the prospect of divorce lightly, especially when it is their own.  One of the hammers that hurt in Oaks' October 2012 talk was the reminder that the Church teaches about the evil of DIVORCE, not the evil of an unhappy marriage.  Coming out of his sermon I found myself concluding that there are essentially two competing perspectives on the interplay of happiness and marriage.

            Being married is important (with or without attendant happiness).
            Being happy is important (with or without attendant marriage).

Let's make a couple of base presumptions. First, I am acutely aware that happiness and marriage are strongly linked.  I don’t want to make an argument of causation or correlation, but rather to acknowledge that marriage has something to do with life satisfaction in either direction.  Second, if you find that the first half of my marriage perspective dichotomy feels right to you, don't worry.  I am not going to assert that you don't prefer happy marriages as the dominant setting.  I won't argue that your prioritization of marriage eclipses your prioritization of well-being.  I am simply observing a hierarchy of preference.  In observing that hierarchy, I feel comfortable making an argument that the Brethren and Church doctrine is more aligned with the first observation and that secularism is more aligned with the second.

Economics is the study of choice amid restraints and frequently we describe those choices with supply and demand curves.

A demand curve is drawn slanting down to the right.  The Y axis represents the price of the good or service, and the X axis represents the quantity of that good or service consumed at any given point.  The curve illustrates that at the highest possible price demand is essentially zero, and that at a price of zero the demand is 100%. 

A supply curve is drawn slanted up to the right.  At a price of zero, no one is willing to supply the good or service, but as the price goes up, more and more providers come into the marketplace until at a certain point, essentially everyone would choose the profession in question over any other.

The intersection of the supply curve with the demand curve is the point at which market equilibrium is achieved and the number of people willing to pay X is exactly equal to the number of suppliers willing to work for that amount.  (Reality is never this clean, as we shall see, but in the aggregate the theory works out pretty well.)

Divorce can be thought of as a supply and demand intersection.  We'll talk about cost here, but only part of the cost is financial.  A large portion of the cost is to be found in other areas.  In divorce, the demand curve describes marital dissatisfaction.  In terms of cost the demand curve says that if divorce costs everything no one will want it and if it costs nothing everyone will choose it.  The supply curve describes the cost of the supply of divorce.  On the supply side, as the cost of divorce increases, fewer and fewer people will choose it.  The intersection of the two curves represents the decision point at which people choose to divorce.  The intersection describes the point where marital dissatisfaction justifies the cost.  It will describe the per capita divorce rate as well as a relative description of the cost.

It turns out that divorce rates have been studied across religions.  The Barna group ran a fairly well known survey of divorce within a number of religious groups and found that divorce was highest among Evangelical Christians, middle in other denominations (including Mormons at 24%) and lowest among the Atheist/Agnostic/Secular crowd (21%). 

Regarding the lower incidence of divorce among Seculars, you may be inclined to point out that fewer Seculars marry, that they marry after more consideration, and so it is reasonable that among the smaller group that marry, there are fewer divorces.  On this point I will agree with you and then there will be a pregnant pause as the implications of this observation sink in.  Mormon family counselor extraordinaire Brent Barlow was also inclined to point out some of these factors in a blog post he wrote responding to the study.  In particular, Dr. Barlow focused on three "non-religious" factors for the higher divorce rates in the Bible Belt and Utah:  Low income, marrying at a younger age, and the (aforementioned) relative percentage of the population married compared to more secular geographic regions.  I am mystified how he feels justified calling those factors non-religious, but, oh well.

Back to the economic modeling. 

In the platonic world imagined thus far, this simple model would describe marital dissatisfaction and the likelihood of divorce in a faceless population devoid of additional factors.  But, of course, additional factors will allow us to segment the population and observe the effects.

Let's imagine that subset 1 represent Seculars and subset 2 represent Mormons.

What are the factors that will cause divergence between these two cultures?  It seems to me that the most obvious is the observation that Mormon doctrine, culture, ritual, covenants, etc. all raise the cost of divorce substantially.  Significantly, according to Mormon doctrine, in order to ENTER HEAVEN, one must be sealed in the Temple.  The incredible emphasis on the family (much lauded by the casual and active Mormon observer alike) in the Church flows from this heavenly imperative.  The sealing covenant is eternal, is the key to exaltation, and is a covenant with God as much as it is a covenant with one's spouse. 

There is simply a much higher cost of divorce for Mormons than for their secular neighbors.

Economically, this would be represented by the Mormon supply curve shifting to the left of the supply curve for secularists who have (at the very least) no conception that earthly marriage is among the prerequisites for eternal reward.  By shifting to the left we see that, at all levels, it costs more to get divorced for Mormons than for Seculars.

The immediate effect of this is to create a new intersection of the supply and demand curves for Mormons which is substantially to the left of the earlier intersection.  The new intersection predicts that because of the higher cost of divorce in Mormon culture there should be a substantially reduced quantity of divorces.  The cost is so high that few would choose it. 

Presented with this analysis, if one believes that it is better to be married (happy or no) than not married, then the Mormon culture and doctrines that underlie this effect have some coherence. 

However, this isn't the end of the story.

However, the Barna survey actually tells a different story than what we predict via the model.  Mormons don't get divorced in reduced quantities than seculars.  They (and their fundamentalist religious cohorts) get divorced at a substantially higher rate. 

Headed back to the model, there are only two alternatives to consider.  One is that instead of being more expensive, the cost of divorce in Mormonism is actually much lower than it is for Seculars.  One would have to argue that the cultural stigma and the metaphysical pain for atheists at the prospect of the dissolution of marriage is substantially higher than it is for Mormons. 

Ummm, yeah.  So...

The other simple alternative to bring up the predicted divorce rate is to shift the demand curve to the right, representing a systemic increase in dissatisfaction.  In other words, if we accept the reasonable premise that divorce has a higher social cost in Mormonism than it does in secularism, then in order to predict the higher quantity of divorces in the Mormon population (that one observes in reality), marital dissatisfaction must be generally higher in Mormonism than in secularism.  With the new intersection, one also observes that the relative cost of those divorces has ratcheted up even more compared to the secular population.

But wait.  Mormons place a huge emphasis on the family and home (Family, isn’t it about time?).  If it is the most important thing in their lives, why would they have systemically worse marriages?

This is the blindingly obvious part; counterintuitive until you see it.

If a sociologist removed the religious identification and simply observed Mormon marriage culture in action they wouldn't be shocked at all to see high levels of marital dysfunction.  According to the sociological predictors of marital success, Mormons do almost the whole thing wrong.  It's as if they are trying to have the most terrible marriages possible. (One thing they do get right, shared faith is a predictor of marital success.  Go Mormons!)

Packer has taught, "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.  A study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."

While it may be true that cultural indoctrination can be counted on to produce indoctrinated behavior, this says nothing about the effectiveness of that behavior for producing desirable results.  There are key areas where Mormon doctrine and culture runs counter to predictors of marital happiness.

1.    The brethren encourage young members to get married very early, with very short courtships, having little consideration for long-term compatibility because they have been taught to trust in the compatibility-making power of shared faith.  

2.    Mormons are taught to have many children and to have them early.  For decades leaders have praised young college students who make the decision to not forestall a family while in school

3.    While high levels of education predict marital success, education disparity predicts strife. Mormon men are among the most highly educated population in the United States, but Mormon women frequently drop out of college to take care of young children as stay-at-home mothers.

4.    Mormon sexuality is truly the gift that keeps on giving as both Mormon men and women generally perpetuate sexual thought patterns and behavior that contribute to marital dissatisfaction.  Explicitly, implicitly, and via creative object lessons, girls are taught to fear sex and think of it as their wifely duty, and boys are taught that if they can just make it to marriage they will have access to as much as they need.  This teaching takes place in a larger culture where discomfort about the subject of sex is incredibly high and amid doctrine that teach that sexual sins are next to MURDER in seriousness.  Young people marry quickly out of fear that they may "screw up" and cause irreversible damage to their souls.  As many are taught, the nails can be pulled from the board, but the holes remain.

Entire books about Mormon sexual dysfunction could (and should) be written, but I think among the most illustrative cultural tidbits is the fact that morality, modesty, purity, and virtue are essentially only taught as sexual concepts in the Church.

5.    Mormon culture is also heavily tied to gender roles that, in themselves, create unrealistic expectations for both women and men.  Men are expected to shoulder the burden of providing well for a large family all alone.  Women are told that they will find the greatest life fulfillment as a caretaker and permanent domestic servant.  The working father and the stay-at-home mother is explicitly taught as the ideal

In a societal bubble this would exact its own inevitable damage, but (non-polygamous) Mormons live almost entirely integrated into the secular world.  Consequently, Mormons are constantly present to the conflicting evidence that the narrative they have been taught does not work.  Cognitive dissonance forces the creation of explanatory narratives or cherry picking evidence with religious zeal in order to support the (false) notion that this Leave it to Beaver lifestyle is divinely appointed, as opposed to a relic of, well, the era of Leave it to Beaver.

6.    Finally, echoing Brent Barlow's earlier observation on finances, Mormons across the board have at least 10% less financial resources than their secular neighbors.  Because tithing is usually paid on gross income, its impact on net disposable funds as a percentage is actually much higher.  Luckily, Thomas Monson came to the rescue in the April 2011 Conference and counselled young men to not put off marriage because of concerns about financial stress.  He then went on to talk about how sad it is when he has to handle sealing cancellation requests from divorcves that came about because of financial problems and lack of communication as well as other problems.  Hmmm....

This list could go on and on.  If you are an active, believing member, I could offend you even worse than I'm sure I already have.  But sociologists and psychologists would agree, with this list or a longer one, the ultimate results are damaging to the health and well-being of individuals and marriages.

I wanted to find out what happens to these couples after faith crisis.  Among our circle of friends there is plenty of evidence for divorce coming out of faith crisis.  I've also been impressed with the (apparent) level of marital happiness among my post-crisis friends.  If I take the strong position that Mormonism is damaging to marriages, what happens after a faith crisis?  Not wanting to be subject to my own biases and availability heuristics, I decided to issue a survey to try and get some reliable numbers. 

I suppose I must disclaim that my survey is subject to a number of potential problems.  The sample is self-selecting.  The wording may be (most certainly is, in fact) biased.  And I could have asked for different information; better information.  I also don’t think the results here can be compared with results from other studies.  Divorce statistics are complicated.  I wouldn’t recommend making a comparison of my divorce statistics against baseline from another study.

Nevertheless, in a few days I collected about 600 responses.  The qualifier to take the survey was participation in a marriage in which one or both of the spouses had undergone a Mormon faith crisis.  I asked a few background questions which turned out to be interesting in their consistency.  Almost no one among my respondents joined the church "for" their spouse/spouse to be.  83% of the respondents were born to an active family, and almost 80% of the spouses of respondents were.  82.6% were married in the temple and 88.5% reported that at the peak of faithfulness as a couple both were active, believing members. In 47% of the cases both spouses went through a faith crisis, and in 49% only the respondent went through crisis.  73% of the respondents became atheist/agnostic/secular following faith crisis.  10% still described themselves as Christian (non-Mormon).  Of the spouses that underwent faith crisis 66% became atheist/agnostic/secular, and 15% still claimed Christianity.

But the thing I found particularly fascinating about the survey results were the descriptions of marital status among the two groups.  Among those where only the respondent had disaffected from the faith, 26% reported that they had divorced, were divorcing, or were separated.  An additional 40% reported that they were still married with tension.  In other words, roughly 2/3 of respondents reported less-than-optimal marriage status post faith crisis.  (Actually, I did find these results a little surprising.  It was surprising that the numbers were not higher for both divorces and tension.) 

Among the responses where both spouses experienced faith crisis, however, it was a totally different story.  The divorce rate for this group was only 7% and only an additional 13% reported married with tension.  There was nearly a 4x reduction in divorce and a 3x reduction in marital tension when both spouses had a faith crisis. 

This result blew me away, and I don't want to speculate as to what it all means, but I'm having a hard time not coming to the conclusion that one of the best things you can do for your marriage is for both of you to lose faith. 
And so here we are at the end of this little analysis.  I will admit it makes me sad.  It makes me sad that the cultural framework I grew up with, that advertised itself as being the basis of happy family life, actually produces the opposite in marriage.  It makes me sad that the people who still believe in that framework will almost universally reject this kind of analysis.  It makes me sad that they are (that I was) conditioned to believe uncritically in the inherent good of that system. 

I guess this is my pulpit pounding moment.  People speak generally of the good the Church does in their life all the time, but I believe it less and less.  They claim that for any specific harm, the good vastly outweighs it.  I don't believe it any more.  I don't think the evidence supports it.

Sure, I believe that the Church fills a need for social structure and meaning, but I don't believe that its achievement in that regard is anything more or less than the natural consequence of being a socially binding organization.  As time goes on, I find more and more evidence that the tangible net effect of Mormonism is harm; that where it does good, it provides the kind of generic good that many, many social organizations can fill.  But when it reflects the specific traits that make it "Mormon", harm is usually the result. 

The conclusion of this economic exercise and the follow-up survey were actually both a real surprise to me.  But once I got over the shock, they made me think that there is a real need for more dispassionate analysis of the tangible, measurable effects of Mormonism in people's lives.  If it does good, we need to figure out where the specific good is and do a much better job of rationally and calmly exposing the bad.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Truth DOES Circumscribe into One Great Whole… But this is Not It.

It’s time to unpack the back half of the previous post.  Let’s talk about approaches.

When we say that something is true, what do we mean?  Honestly, I usually hate this question because I associate it with impending dissembly. 

True means… true.  So, that’s not very useful (some truth, after all, is not very useful). 

True means… an accurate description of reality?  Yeah, I think so. 

Why is something an accurate description of reality?  How does it qualify? 

I guess something is an accurate description of reality when it is PREDICTABLE.  Not sometimes predictable.  UTTERLY predictable. 

Let’s take an example.  Is math true?  Yes, I think so.  2+2=4.  This is really an abstract principle, right?  It’s not describing anything in particular.  It describes a lot of things in general.  But it describes them always, and accurately. 

Now, some smartass will want to go all quantum and talk about Heizenberg.  That’s fine.  Heizenberg’s uncertainty principle is… certain.  At the right moment it is ALWAYS there.  Heizenberg’s uncertainty principle is PERFECTLY CERTAIN.

Science describes the evidence in PREDICTABLE ways.  So, the same smartass may point out that physicists don’t believe Newton the way they used to, that truth is somehow changing.  And I will punch that smartass in the face to demonstrate Newtonian principles.  Newtonian physics are predictable.  There are contexts where they are no longer predictable.  That doesn’t make them false.  It makes them inapplicable for the context.

Humans have incredibly complex brains, but our conscious capacity is not incredibly complex.  You can effectively prove the fallibility of free will by simply asking someone to memorize a 7 digit number and then offer them a snack.  In the previous post I glossed over the fact that when it comes to complex decisions, we have a huge subconscious process that provides us answers in the form of… feelings.

I think there are a few things that are worth pointing out here.

One.  The programming for that subconscious process is NOT a product of modern technology.  Our programming harks back to the early days of man, i.e. yesterday in an evolutionary time scale.  Back to the time when societies didn’t exist, when food was what you found and killed, when religion was what you thought about the sound of thunder and the stillness that crept into your friends when they wouldn’t wake up again (where the hell did they go?).  This is fine except that it means that our programming is susceptible to all kinds of shenanigans by those who would manipulate it.  Those systems are easily fooled by modern sophisticates.  We have names for all these ways of fooling each other, but that doesn’t make it any less effective.  I can explain confirmation bias and Stockholm Syndrome to you and you will still exhibit them.

Two.  Humans are the most successful species on the planet because we are the most social.  The most effective forms of torture are isolation techniques.  We are absolutely wired to CARE ENORMOUSLY about our social ties.  When people do not exhibit normal sympathetic responses to the pain of others, we label them sociopaths.  They are socially broken.  There is no form of human breakage that we regard as more hopelessly broken than social breakage. 

Three.  That subconscious mechanism is not all that concerned with figuring out philosophical truth, per se.  It is concerned with figuring out how to make decisions.  Our big brains want to figure out the way to predict the effects of our actions.  We’re not going for INTERMITTENT predictability.  We want CONSISTENT predictability.  Which brings us back to truth.  When I can consistently predict outcomes, my modern brain takes a number of abstract principles and tells me that I have found TRUTH.

Four.  Evolution has wired us to fool ourselves with regard to our ability to predict.  One easy root to look at is the problem of type one and type two errors.  Type one errors are false positives.  Type two errors are false negatives.  Type one errors are evolutionarily harmless.  If I hear the rustle in the grass and believe it to be a snake, when the snake isn’t there, I am still alive.  Type two errors will win you a Darwin award.  When I hear the snake in the grass and think it is just the wind rustling, I die.  Evolution favors type one error makers.  Hence, evolution favors credulity.  Evolution favors faith.

Let’s talk about Church, shall we?

Assuming that you, like I, were brought up in the faith it looked something like this:

I was taught from the beginning that the Church is TRUE.

The vast majority of my social group (family and friends) reinforced this to me.

I believed it.

I liked it.

I found “evidence” (in the emotional epistemology presented to me) to help confirm the belief structure that strengthened my primitive primate relationships.

Sound familiar?

So what happened?

We can approach this from MANY directions.  I would say that we could approach this from ANY direction and the result would still be the same. 

The Church makes a number of TRUTH claims.  I am positing here that TRUTH ultimately boils down to PREDICTABILITY.

So, when the Church makes a truth claim, it is hard for me to not compare that with a scientific claim.

What about faith, you say?

Let’s take a look.

When I went to Church and heard nice, comforting stories about how much Jesus loved me, and how special and lucky I was to be born in a chosen generation, and how lovely it would be to be one of the few lucky ones to live with my mommy and daddy forever, I was told that the nice, comforting feeling I had was God’s spirit.  As I got older (and the messages became less warm and fuzzy) I didn’t feel that comforting feeling so much.  Life got complex, and frequently uncomfortable.  The feeling became UNPREDICTABLE.  The feeling wasn’t TRUE.

So I prayed and I studied the scriptures.  The scriptures describe a process of communication with God that we call prayer.  In the scriptures, prayer is answered unambiguously, and CONSISTENTLY.  There is no second guessing the answer.  There are no unanswered prayers in the scriptures. 

The process of prayer in the scriptures is PREDICTABLE.  The practice of prayer in modern life is NOT PREDICTABLE.

But we all know that life doesn’t work like it does in the scriptures….. Woah!  Hold on a minute.  Why doesn’t it?* 

Spiritual phenomena in the scriptures are commonplace.  Spiritual experiences in the 21st century are remarkable.  In the scriptures they are PREDICTABLE.  In modern life they are NOT PREDICTABLE. 

But what about faith, you say?

Yeah, what about it?

Faith is action/obedience/loyalty/trust based on a conviction of… PREDICTABILITY.  Faith is when I do something because I believe the result will be a certain way.  The scriptural concept of faith (consistent with its other bronze age philosophies) presupposes the desired result.

But, you say, maybe God is testing you.

Maybe He should indicate somewhere that He is going to screw with me this way, then.

You just have to believe.

Well, maybe God is a liar.

No, you say, He says he isn’t a liar.

Every liar says he isn’t a liar.

No, you say, God says that if He lied, He would cease to be God.

I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.  Better yet, I’ve got an MLM scheme I want you to join up with.

You say, God can’t be consistent in His responses or it would obviate the need for faith.

Well, a) you’ve forgotten that we already established the fallibility of that premise above, and it just brings us back around to the lying problem again.

But don’t you want to have faith?  Don’t you want to believe?

No, why would I?  Is it PREDICTABLE?  No.  Is it TRUE?  No.  So, is it useful in my life?  No.

What, in all of this tortured theology IS PREDICTABLE?

Nothing.  There is nothing for me to hang my faithful hat on.

BUT YOU COULD MAKE IT WORK ANYWAY!!!!! (The last ditch effort)

…… I’ve got to stop now for a second, because I’m about to burst into obscenities.

I’m sorry that it makes you feel so uncomfortable that I don’t believe the same way you do.  I understand that it is built into your primate DNA; that your humanness is not built to appreciate plurality.

There are two main points left to make.

One.  If it makes you feel good, live it.  I understand that the human need to succumb to social pressure is MUCH MUCH greater than the need to conform to truth.  We can’t get around it.  I can’t get around it.  We’re built that way.  The need I have to conform to social pressure is MUCH greater than my need for truth.

If it makes you feel good, follow your feelings.  If the GOOD it does for you, outweighs the BAD, please, feel free.

I wasn’t happy any longer inside.  I did not feel good.  It did not work for me.  Please stop asking me to pretend it did.  There should be absolutely no surprise that what I believed as a child, shifted as a man.  That doesn’t mean I was an insincere child… it means I am a sincere man.   

Two.  If it works for you, it’s not because it works as advertised.  We all acknowledge that it doesn’t work as advertised through all kinds of doctrinal subterfuge.  “God is testing you.”  “He was speaking as a man.”  “The Church is true, but the members aren’t.”  “It was the Lord’s will.”  “Sometimes the blessing doesn’t come until the next life.” “You should pray more, then you will understand.”

It doesn’t work as advertised.  None of it.  It works (at best) INTERMITTENTLY.  But TRUTH is PREDICTABLE.  If it works for you; if it makes you feel good, it’s because you are reconstructing it to fit your circumstances.  Take a good solid look at the way God interacts with people in the scriptures, and then take a good solid look at the way He interacts with you.  Then mull over the uncomfortable fact that if you were to actually have the kind of spiritual life the scriptures describe, you would be locked up as a lunatic (see William James first essay in The Varieties of Religious Experience).

Gerald Lund’s recent book Divine Signatures is one long discussion about how IT DOESN’T WORK AS ADVERTISED.

I thought it was so thoroughly, refreshingly honest when Daniel Peterson said (on his Mormon Stories podcast), “If you want to believe, I can help you.  If you don’t want to believe, I can’t help you.”


The reiteration of my simple, still a little sad, conclusion:  I can’t find a single direction from which to approach it that will provide a toehold to begin.  I can’t find a single satisfactory angle. 

If it were TRUE, it could be approached from EVERY direction. 

If it were TRUE, it would be PREDICTABLE.  It would be CONSISTENT.  It is not.

The TRUTH does circumscribe into one great whole, but THIS is not IT.

*Any conscious admission of this constant shifting space is simple proof that it’s all made up.  The greatest proof of the untruth of the New Testament is the Old Testament.  Even 5,000 years ago, an everlastingly loving God is not allowed to be an immoral reprobate. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Epistemology: The Tension Between Thinky and Feely Truth

One of the unexpected side benefits of leaving the fold is you are almost certain to upgrade your vocabulary with exciting new words.

Without a doubt, my favorite has been:  Epistemology.

As a good Mormon I was familiar with the concept of epistemology, but I didn’t have a label for it.  Epistemology is the study of belief structure.  How do you decide what you believe?  What are your criteria for validity?

This is, of course, a very Mormon question, and Mormonism has an extremely well-defined epistemological framework.  It is most famously represented in the Book of Mormon in Moroni 10:4-5.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

This is the very heart of the Truth PropositionTM of Mormonism.  But it requires a follow up.  How does this Holy-Ghost-Manifestation business work?

LUCKILY, GodTM was kind enough to provide the Church with further light and knowledge in D&C 9:8-9.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

I submit that the combination of these two references forms the cornerstone of the Mormon concept behind finding the truth.  You will FEEL it.  (Anyone who wants to read the bottom line synthesis of this concept need look no further than Boyd Packer’s gem for the ages, The Candle of the Lord)

Moroni seems to think that this is acceptable for any type of knowledge needed.  He may have appreciated these thoughts from Stephen Colbert:

Colbert is one of the brilliant satirists of our time, but Mormons don’t blink an eye at the idea of feeling their way to enlightenment.  They may not attempt to feel their way through calculus or mechanical engineering, but MAJOR LIFE DECISIONS are expected to be felt, rather than calculated.  These include what job to take, whom to marry, when and how many children to have, how much money GodTM needs from me to get by, and of course (the big Kahuna) how to “know” the Church is true.

Apostates laugh derisively about this.  What silliness. 

One of the calling cards of LDS disaffection is a cry for greater rationality.  Apostates want to abandon the open embrace of feely truth, and get down to the serious business of thinky truth.  Not surprisingly, this feels right to me, too.

Neuroscientists, on the other hand, are waggling their goatees knowingly.

It turns out that humans are LOUSY at thinky truth.  Jonah Lehrer explains in How We Decide that reason is pretty much always used post hoc to support our conclusions.  In other words, we feel the thing that we think is true, and then our brilliant minds quickly construct a platform to support those ideas. 

This was recently (depressingly) elucidated on the Freakonomics podcast as well. 

Those pesky neuroscientists keep coming up with more and more data to suggest that in decision making, the more complex the decision, the more muddled we get by trying to rationally study out the arguments.  In a complex situation, evolution has wired us to make the best decisions based on… our gut instinct. (Jonah Lehrer again)

But this seems wrong.  In fact, it feels wrong, too.  There is a game being played on us. (Is it ironic that the empirical data that informs us that feelings are the way to decide, itself, feels wrong?)

This is problematic for me as an apostate.

And so, the second guessing begins. 

So, was I wrong to conclude that the Church’s truth claims can’t be true, and that it is better for me to leave an organization so overtly hostile to gays and covertly hostile to women?

Good question.

Is the intellectual dream of a reasoned world a complete pipe dream? 

Do the feelies have it right? 


Let’s clarify for a moment: Lehrer (and his neuro-nerdy cohorts) is not talking about arriving at truth.  He is talking about arriving at DECISIONS. 

Mormons conflate the “decision to believe” that the Church is true, with some arrival at objective truth.  We then confound the visibility of that fact to ourselves by using the (ever-so-reassuring) phrase, “I know” when what we really mean is, “I believe”.

Reassuringly, the search for truth, also known as science, is unimpaired by this disturbing news.

The Church is still as simply (and objectively) untrue today as it was in 1830.


I feel better.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A recent poem

This blog needs to get off the ground again.

Here is a poem I wrote recently.  I want to write poems more often again...

I apologize
am not apologetic
and ungrieved find myself
grieving I am sorry
that I am not sorrowful
to say I am
at odds
with you
I must be
simply set
I did not want it
and ran from it
towards it
so we become

Your crystal
thoughts are fragile
mine smashed against
the tough planks
sent me scattering
there is a mess to clean up
red wine
has stained
bloody red
maybe it’s a miracle

Am I broken?
Am I the boy
Or now the bowed man?
Did I regain myself?

I apologize
am not apologetic
faithful bridegroom
reborn heretic.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Guest Post: A Rational Response to the Theistic Approach

Following up from the guest post of September 27, another friend, Gale, has provided a very lovely rebuttal explaining why the Cosmological Argument presented by JB has problems.

While JB’s post didn’t mention it directly, he presented a type of argument known as the Cosmological Argument.  While I will respond directly to the arguments he actually made it is useful to know that there are many different flavors and variations of the Cosmological Argument.

The first premise (that whatever has a beginning is caused to exist) does indeed seem highly plausible.  This is because we extrapolate from our experiences with the world around us and make inferences about reality.  This simple extrapolation process (inductive reasoning at work) is highly pragmatic and makes for a valuable tool for understanding reality.  However, by its nature inductive reasoning cannot offer us absolute certainty.  It can merely give us degrees of confidence.  However, when we are considering causality, our record seems sufficient to allow the assumption that there are causes for everything we observe.

There are potential counterexamples to causality, most popularly quantum mechanics (as JB made mention).  Some activity at the level of quantum mechanics seems to offer evidence that may or may not counter our understandings of causality, dependant on factors that are as yet not entirely understood.  For the purposes of this discussion, though, I will accept the premise of causality in the universe, which seems highly likely if not absolutely certain, and certainly pragmatic.

Premise two was that the universe had a beginning. Current cosmology indicates that a beginning is likely, or at least a point in the past beyond which we are unable to extrapolate based on our current understanding of physics.  One of the problems we have here is that we cannot actually “see” beyond a certainly point in the past, and much of what we do “see” is from inference, not observation.  The nature of a “beginning” proposed by the big bang theory stretches our very understanding of what it means to have a beginning, and what that beginning may have been like.  The very notion of a big bang is itself an extrapolation back through time, rewinding the accelerating universe backwards.  At some point, we can’t rewind any further with our current understanding of the laws of physics.

It is believed or proposed that matter, energy, space, and time are interrelated and expressed as characteristics of our universe, with the big bang often described as the origin of space, time, matter, and energy.  All of which invites the question: What existed before the big bang?  But this very question is meaningless, as we cannot measure something as before, when the very time we use to measure such things is a property of the thing which we are trying to examine the before of.  In other words, how do we even talk about time and causality before the universe, when we have no frame of reference to determine the sequence of events?  Time is an essential element of causality, and without time we’re stuck.

Just so you understand, I’m not claiming that there was not time before the universe.  There may be such things as time, space, and matter external to the universe, or there may not be.  There may be additional dimensions, or there may not be.  There may be a limitless cosmos of which our universe is one small part, or we could occupy the only universe that exists.  We can speculate endlessly on the possibilities.  Theoretical physicists do just that, and create new math to describe the possibilities.  The problem is that they have not yet been able to develop experiments that could begin to give us clues about what the reality may actually be like, or which current ideas, if any, are correct.  I hope that they do, but at this point we have to acknowledge that we just don’t know.  The causality we addressed in the first premise can only be applied with certainly within the universe. Beyond the scope of the universe we are speculating, and thus far speculating is all we can do.

JB proposes that we can surmount the obstacle of identifying a beginning by citing the problem of infinite regress.  In short, infinite regress is the statement that a potential infinite is possible, i.e. infinite in one direction (forward), but a true infinite (backward as well as forward) is not possible because we’d have to traverse an infinite to get from the beginning to the present, and we could never traverse an infinite to arrive at the present.  Of course the argument does seem to self contradict in that it assumes the existence of a beginning (even when not expressly stated), when a beginning wouldn’t exist in an actual infinite.  In neither physics nor math is an actual infinite a problem, it only becomes problem when viewed from the intuition of a human mind.  The thing is, our minds are decent (not great, but decent) at intuiting things on our own scale (of space as well as time) because we developed in this middle ground.  We don’t intuitively grasp matters that happen at the very small or very large scales.  Neither do we intuitively grasp matters in the smallest measurements of time, or in the largest measurements of time, let alone in infinite time.  We continually attempt to apply concepts of the finite to the infinite.

JB stated that we cannot count down from infinity, but this again assumes that we can start at a beginning or end, or in other words that a beginning or end is a relevant concept when dealing with an infinite.  It would be better stated that you could start at any number above or below zero and count in either direction for as long as you like (or forever if you prefer).

The example given of the immortal figure recording his history is similarly flawed.  In the example it takes one year to record one day, so the figure can never “catch up” to the present but is always dreadfully behind in recording his history.  When you examine the most recent recording you would have to go back to a day infinitely in the past.  This, of course, assumes that the task was begun at “the beginning”, i.e. the history recording is also a task that has gone on infinitely in the past.  JB concludes that an infinite past is thus impossible, as opposed to the task within the infinite simply being meaningless in the context.  A set of all odd numbers is infinite.  A set of all integers is also infinite.  For any subset of numbers there are twice as many integers as odd numbers, but there are not twice as many integers as odd numbers in totality as both are infinite.  In the history example there is far more time occurring than history being recorded.  In many ways this is just like the numbers example I just referenced.  The difference is that with the numbers we can run in two directions infinitely, which if done with history would be prophesy for the eternities backwards and history in the eternities forward (assuming there was a point in which time lapsing and history recorded crossed).  Since in physics we can run time in either direction and everything works just as well, this doesn’t actually create a problem.  There is no reason why we must assume that the task of recording history has always been taking place, and there is no perceived conflict if there is an actual starting point within the infinite spectrum.  Within the laws of physics and math there could be a potential infinite going forward as well as a potential infinite going back. We only hit walls when we try to start at the end of infinity (in either direction) and move to the present, and that is because we are trying to restrict the infinite with properties of the finite.

I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea that the universe began.  Intuitively it is appealing (even if I understand that my intuition is not useful here).  I’m just not 100% accepting of the idea either.  It hasn’t been demonstrated or proven, logically or physically.  However, I’ll accept the conclusion about the universe beginning in order to proceed with the argument (and because I actually do believe it to be the case, even if I don’t have sufficient reason to conclude that it is).

At this point JB pauses to evaluate his arguments thus far, reminding us that he has not committed any logical fallacies.  I agree, but he spoke prematurely, since his logical fallacies follow this statement, they don’t precede it.

Having concluded (at least tentatively) that the universe had a beginning, and thus a cause, JB seeks to identify likely candidates.  He claims that there is no matter or time preceding the universe (or greater cosmos if there is more), so the ultimate cause must be immaterial and “eternal”.  This is where the first logical fallacy enters in.  After establishing that causality is an essential premise to his argument, and that the universe was caused, he claims to need something that is itself not caused (i.e. “eternal”) to provide us with a solid beginning point.  To make a generalized statement (one upon which the entire argument rests) and then later claim exception to the generalization is the fallacy of special pleading.  If causality must hold, then JB’s “first cause” must also be caused.  JB doesn’t like this as it raises concern about actual infinites, but we cannot have our cake and eat it too.  These problems are not easy, but we cannot shortcut our way through them.

If we are going to resolve infinite regress by claiming that one of the causes does itself not require a cause, why stop at a proposed idea of god?  Why not stop before that at the big bang itself, or back another generation to something else that caused god?  The reason is simple.  The Cosmological Argument in any form is not a reasoned approach to determining the origins or cause of existence, but rather a reasoned construction to reach an already held belief.

Even were special pleading not a problem, the solution offered is still problematic.  I personally hit a wall here.  JB proposes that there are things which exist outside of space, matter and time: abstract objects and minds.  This is given as a bold assertion, without evidence or argument to back it up, aside from relying on their assumed existence in order to draw a theistic conclusion.  I’d like to continue the discussion at this point, but to argue about the nature (or required definitional characteristics) of these immaterial non-evident objects and minds would be meaningless to me since I do not accept their existence.  I mean no offense, but it would seem to me like arguing about the disposition of unicorns or the flight speed of fairies.  It is just too far removed from a common point of agreement to bother trying to continue until we’ve gone back and established a foundation of evidence or reason.  In the mean time I will simply note that the statements made about this eternal immaterial mind (god, that is), seems to be a god by definition only.  In this way I see this as relying on the ontological argument, which is meant to define god into existence, making a premise the conclusion (or begging the question, logical fallacy two).

Perhaps JB does have it right and someday I’ll shake my head in wonder when I see the light, but if he is right it is not because of the arguments presented here, because arguments with serious logically fallacies cannot be used to demonstrate anything.  It doesn’t prove god, nor does it establish any degree of rational confidence in the existence of god.

I understand and respect the desire to provide a rational approach and basis for theology.  Indeed, I would love to be able to rationally demonstrate god’s existence.  It would be an earth shattering revelation to find a rational argument that demonstrates that god exists.  But even if JB’s approach is rational, the conclusion ultimately is not.  An argument that employs fallacies cannot prove anything, or lend weight to the conclusion.
I admire your desire to have these conversations, JB, and since you certainly disagree with much of what I have written here, I look forward to any responses you may wish to offer and the continuation of this dialogue.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guest Post: A Rational Approach to Theism

This post comes from JB who was kind enough to send over a well thought out argument for a rational approach to theism.

JB blogs quite effectively over at  Not of Mormon decent (or persuasion), JB is a seminarian with an interest in LDS-Evangelical dialogue.

One of the things JB does very well here is take me off whatever perch of self-assuredness I have regarding my own intellect.  JB's brain is way above my pay grade, but I figure I'll muddle through and figure it out.  Maybe you all can help me.  What are your thoughts?  Rebuttals? Questions?  Support?

Here it is:

First, it seems to be a plausible initial premise that whatever has a beginning of its existence is caused to exist. This is actually a very weak sort of causal principle; others include statements like “whatever undergoes change, has a cause for its existence”, or “whatever exists but could have not existed, has a cause for its existence”. These, while perhaps true, are stronger than is necessary for the argument here. The weaker form can easily be defended by invoking virtually any form of the principle of sufficient reason, which itself has weak and strong variants (e.g., “Every true proposition has a reason why it is true”; “every true proposition that entails the existence of some concrete contingent object has a reason why it is true”; “there is a sufficient reason why some contingent concrete objects exist, rather than nothing at all”; “possibly, there is a sufficient reason why some contingent concrete objects exist, rather than nothing at all”).

I'm actually convinced that the strongest forms of the principle of sufficient reason are both true and defensible, based on the work of Alexander R. Pruss (see his The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment; I need to get my hands on a copy of this again to re-review the argument); but, at the very least, it would seem vastly more plausible to accept some weaker form of the principle of sufficient reason (or of a causal principle) than not. Aside from its intuitive nature and its utility as a metaphysical first principle, the causal principle enjoys the utmost in inductive confirmation: we have extensive experience with things coming into being with a cause, and no certain experience of the contrary. Although quantum phenomena are at times suggested to be a counterexample, this is at most arguably true on some interpretations of quantum mechanics such as the Copenhagen interpretation, but is most definitely not the case (to my knowledge, at least) under, e.g., the Everett many-worlds interpretation or Bohmian interpretations of QM. Nothing in the empirical data requires us to deny causality even in the quantum realm. But even on indeterministic understandings of QM, indeterministic causation is causation nevertheless. Moreover, even on the most anti-causation construal, QM still retains a sort of 'material cause' in the energy-rich quantum vacuum itself. Hence, I don't think that quantum mechanics offers much in the way of counterevidence to what is otherwise a principle enjoying the best inductive support as well as the highest prior probability. In addition, some form of causal principle is foundational to scientific inquiry and, for that matter, practical life; were there no prohibition against utterly causeless events, why ought there be a cosmos rather than a chaos? These factors all suggest that, to draw a rather modest conclusion, the causal principle here employed enjoys considerably greater plausibility than its denial, and this is what is required for a successful philosophical argument. Furthermore, as a metaphysical rather than physical principle, this causal statement is universal in scope.

Second, it seems that our universe is a thing that had a beginning to its existence. Our universe can certainly, at least in the relevant respects needed here, be understood as a unitary thing; it exhibits distinctive properties all its own, and this is far more the case during its denser early life. Apart from the ample empirical evidence suggesting a beginning to the universe's existence, there are good reasons philosophically to regard time as finite in the past. For instance, suppose that the contrary is true: the number of physical events or set intervals that have become past is infinite. Then we might consider a thought experiment involving an immortal figure who, existing throughout the entire past, has always been writing an autobiography; stipulate also that he requires a year to record the events of a single day. When confronted with the question of the most recent day recorded, no day a finite time before the present is possible; the answer can only be a day infinitely prior to the present. This, however, is impossible, for the very same reason that counting down from infinity is impossible: infinity has no immediate precursor. The impossibility of the thought experiment cannot be attributed to any factor other than the supposition of an infinite past, which therefore cannot actually be the case. The past must be finite; that is, the temporal series of past physical events is not beginningless. But this just is to say that the universe had a beginning to its existence.

From the causal principle mentioned above (“whatever begins to exist has a cause to its existence”) and the premise that the universe had a beginning to its existence, it follows that the universe had a cause to its existence; the universe's existence is not a brute fact. Note that the argument is not circular, nor does it commit the fallacy of petitio principii, since neither of the two premises utilized so far rely on the assumption of the conclusion. One could be an atheist and accept the causal principle while (mistakenly, I think) denying that the universe had a beginning. Or, one could be an atheist and accept that the universe had a beginning while denying (very mistakenly, I think) the causal principle. Nor was theism invoked in the defenses of either premise above.  So far as I can tell, the argument involves neither formal nor informal fallacies.

All that remains, then, is to investigate what could be inferred of the attributes of the cause of all space, time, matter and energy. (Even if the region we know as our cosmos were somehow spawned from a previous cosmos, as in certain controversial and highly speculative novel cosmologies, the above argument would apply just as well to any precursor cosmos; there can be no recourse to an infinite regress of cosmoi. Therefore, it is all space, time, and mass-energy that must here be accounted for.) The cause cannot, at least apart from the existence of the cosmos, be spatial, temporal, or material in character, as these are logically posterior to it. Whatever this cause is, then, it seems to be immaterial and eternal. It must also have the power to create a universe, which presumably is no simple task. Moreover, in contemporary philosophical discussion, there are only two known candidates for an immaterial and eternal entity: abstract objects, and minds. Abstract objects, by definition, are incapable of standing in causal relationships to anything; and therefore it stands to reason that, plausibly, the cause of the universe is an eternal mind (or minds, but the singular origin of the cosmos and Ockham's razor together suggest that the singular is more likely). This is further supported by noting that, of the two fundamental sorts of explanation ('scientific explanation' and 'personal explanation'), the lack of any possible (physical) laws to govern the origin of the first state of the universe indicates that the first sort of explanation is here inapplicable; the explanation must be of a personal sort, dealing in agents and volitions.

Hence, the conclusion I'd draw is that the more-plausible-than-not independent premises above lead to the conclusion that there is some cause of the first state of the space-time-matter universe; and that the most plausible characterization of such an ultimate, ultramundane cause is as an immaterial, eternal mind capable of generating the universe by an act of will. I would naturally hesitate to say that this argument proves that God exists, much less that this cause or God is adequately described by any particular religion or theological tradition. That would be overreaching the boundaries of this single argument. After all, nothing has been established about the cause possessing any other traditional divine attributes – nor, however, has the argument been intended to do that. However, it does seem to me that the conclusion drawn here renders theism of some sort more probable, in that no non-arbitrary non-theistic system tends to provide for such a mind causing the universe. A rather modest conclusion that I draw here is that the argument described above offers non-negligible rational support to theism.

It seems to me that the premises of this argument are both highly plausible and in fact true; the same is the case for many other modern 'theistic arguments' (e.g., modal ontological arguments, arguments from cosmic fine-tuning, moral arguments, arguments from consciousness, and so forth). Naturally, I think it at least very rational to accept those premises. Consequently, given the degree of support that those premises afford to the theistic case, I regard some form of more-or-less-classical theism as the most rational stance for me to adopt based on these sorts of grounds. This, of course, is excluding consideration of plausible epistemologies in which theistic belief is properly basic and hence intrinsically warranted; and also excluding consideration of apparent perception of the divine, which – when used to support simply the existence of God rather than any particular religious doctrine – is perhaps a stronger basis for belief than I had previously been prepared to admit (see, on this, Jerome Gellman's Experience of God and the Rationality of Theistic Belief). As a result, I submit that it is fully rational, in light of the evidence (that is, including philosophical considerations as well as mere empirical data), to be a theist of some sort.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Why I was a Good Mormon… Why I was a Bad Mormon

This is a bit of a confession.  This is not the story of my disaffection.  This is the story of my life in fragments that I feel are indicative of my journey.  I think back on all of these steps frequently.  I wonder how free agency was supposed to work differently.  I wonder if there was any possibility whatsoever that I could have stayed in the Church my whole life.  It goes without saying that there is much missing here.

I feel like it is important that I not recast my life story as one continuous slide out of the Church, away from faith.  It would be a great disservice to myself, and the people I love, to try to revise my personal history to seamlessly fit my present convictions.  Likewise, many of us will agree that whitewashing is a great disservice as well.  I want to be honest, even honest about my sins.
I do feel like you can look at those pieces and give a general indicator of whether they point to faith or away from it, so I have provided indicators as I see them.

Some people will read this and focus on my sins and satisfy their righteous judgment at my apostasy.  Some will see my sincere faithfulness and sympathize with my efforts. 

We are all wrong when we try to measure out the pieces of a life and come to simplistic judgments about the net balance of those pieces.

Good: I remember when I was eight, at my baptism that coming out of the water I felt so happy, sort of glowing happy.
Bad: I was more than a little put out that I had to share my baptism ceremony with a little girl in the ward.
Good: I sort of worshipped Joseph Smith.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t struck by the story of his religious search, by his earnest testimony of having seen a vision; he knew it, and he knew that God knew it.
Bad: I remember starting to have fantasies about women and their bodies in kindergarten.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by female nakedness.
Good: I LOVED to sing the songs in primary.  I was in primary for the golden age of new songs (Armies of Helaman, Where Love Is, Love is Spoken Here), and I sang with gusto, on key, with my whole heart.  When we would visit other wards, the primary choristers were disappointed to learn that I wasn't going to be a permanent addition.  
Bad: As a young Boy Scout, when they told me I couldn’t bring a cassette player on campouts to play music, I brought it anyway.  By the time I was 14, I was firmly antagonistic towards the scouting program.  I refused to finish my Eagle with only two merit badges and my Eagle project to go.
Good:  The first time the Bishop asked me if I had a problem with masturbation, I had no idea what he was talking about.
Bad: Pretty soon I figured it out.
Good: For about 20 YEARS, I felt really, really bad about it.
Bad: That never stopped the behavior.
Good: I loved to go to the temple for baptisms for the dead.  I honestly tried to feel the presence of the spirits receiving their ordinances. 
Bad: I had my first real kiss at nearly 16 and never looked back.  I never felt guilty at all about serious make-out sessions.
Good: I never went past second base with any girl until I was married.  Somehow, I had the presence of mind to stop a few from going farther with me.
Bad: Over time, as an adult, I have resented my lack of normal sexual experiences as a kid (which my wife has repeatedly reminded me is both silly and useless).
Good: I had more than one strong spiritual experience that I felt was a confirmation of Joseph Smith as a prophet.
Good: I went to EFY at BYU as a teenager, and LOVED it.
Bad:  My best friend and I went there with our Young Men’s president’s suggestion to have a competition to kiss as many girls as possible there.  I lost… but didn’t get shut out.
Bad: I went to a high school for the performing arts, and developed friendships and love for many teachers and fellow students who were quite obviously homosexual, setting me up for serious cognitive dissonance later on as I would begin to seriously think about the doctrines surrounding the family and homosexuality.  I played a small part as a gay soldier in Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues.
Good: I went to early morning seminary and learned the scriptures.  I am a well-above-average scriptorian.
Bad: I eagerly looked for opportunities in seminary to say ass, damn, and hell when reading the scriptures.
Bad: I loathed the musical The Music Man.
Bad: I absolutely adored edgy, questionable musicals like Little Shop of Horrors, Sweeney Todd, and City of Angels (I was in all three in high school).
Good: I started to apply to Princeton out of high school, but after praying about it, I felt like I was supposed to go to BYU.
Bad: My favorite novel in high school was On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  I reveled in the stories of tearing across the continent in sex-soaked prose.  My favorite poet was Charles Bukowski.  I loved the old man and his horse, and red wine, and whores.
Good: At BYU I had an amazing Book of Mormon class taught by Vern Sommerfeldt.  It was from that class that I learned to love the Book of Mormon. 
Bad: I HATED my time at BYU.  I was depressed most of the year. 
Good: I was as earnest a missionary in Italy as you could find.  I put my whole heart and being into the work and loved it.  It was easily the best two years of my life.
Bad: In Italy I was faced every day with feminine nakedness everywhere I turned. 
Good: On my mission, I read MANY conference reports, and developed a real love of General Conference. 
Good: I read Believing Christ by Stephen Robinson and had a nearly pentecostal experience in really understanding the atonement for the first time.
Good: I remember reading a first presidency message by Pres. Hinckley about a young Asian man that gave up everything to join the Church.  “It’s true isn’t it? Then what else matters?”  That story stuck with me, knowing that nothing else mattered as long as it was true.
 Bad: I bought Italian suits and shoes and bootleg CD’s of my favorite bands on my mission; filling my suitcase for the journey home with the contraband and bottles of perfect, unfiltered olive oil.
Good: On my mission I decided to abandon my dream of being an actor, feeling strongly that I was to return home and move back to (dreaded) Utah.
Bad: God led me to my bride-to-be well past midnight, putting to bed the silly notion that the Holy Ghost goes to bed at 12.
Good: Although we were wildly horny, we somehow managed to make it to the temple without major incident.
Bad: I was definitely copping a feel outside the temple right after the ceremony.
Good: I told my young bride, who was happy to slide on the issue of wearing our garments at night, that I felt strongly we should.
Bad: I immediately discovered, to my tremendous disappointment, that all of the complexities, temptations, and problems around sex that I thought marriage would magically fix, did NOT get magically fixed.
Good: When we still didn’t have any kids, I proposed that we not watch any more R rated movies (a serious spiritual concession for someone who loves movies as much as I do).
Bad: Several years later when we were starting to have kids, I decided I couldn’t come up with a strong rationale why blind adherence to a standard about movie ratings made sense.  I couldn’t figure out a way to think about movies and literature separately, and I certainly couldn’t figure out how to reconcile all the things I loved about life with a life in cloister.  So we stopped.
Good:  In spite of the above statement, my favorite scripture was Adam’s declaration, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”  My wife put it in calligraphy for me and framed it as a special present.
Bad:  I would never have accepted the premise that evidence could (or should) be conclusively contradictory to the truth.
Good:  For virtually our entire marriage until this year, we paid tithing on the gross and kept fast offerings at around 5% of our gross income, believing that God would be generous with us if we were generous with Him.
Good: I never once broke the word of wisdom until after I left the Church.  I never had a drink of coffee or alcohol, never smoked, and never got high.
Good: I seriously wanted to be consecrated.  When Prop 22 was going on (the first version of Prop 8), we squashed any internal turmoil and went to meet with the Stake President, determined to give whatever he asked.  When he asked for $1000, I told him he could have more if he wanted, that we would give everything the Lord asked.  He took the $1000.
Bad: After we had kids, I remember the moment when I decided I didn’t want to sing in ward choir any more.  I wasn’t struggling in my testimony, I just didn’t enjoy it.  It felt like the real moment when I started to take my consecration off the table.
Good: I named my first son Joseph because of my love of Joseph Smith.
Good: I requested to be an early morning seminary teacher, and taught my heart out for four years.
Bad:  There was never a time when I didn’t strongly feel that the most wonderful things in life are the imperfections and flaws.
Good: When we didn’t have kids, we drove the hour each way to the San Diego temple twice a month.  We consistently went once a month until the last few years when I really started to have issues.
Bad:  When I turned 28 I decided if I didn’t get a rock band together, it would never happen; so I did.
Good:  I LOVED the temple, especially the veil and initiatories.  The first time I went through the veil I had a wonderful spiritual experience that has never left me.  Even now, I think about the veil fondly.
Bad: I started a company to work in the action sports industry and we threw parties at work for hundreds of kids with live bands.
Good:  When my (non-member) partner got a stripper for the birthday party of one of my seminary students and brought alcohol for our Christmas party, I decided I had to get out.  It wasn’t a good scene for a young, faithful, seminary teacher with little kids.  I told my partner I had to get out.  My wife and I prayed about it and felt inspired to move back to Utah.
Bad:  At the worst possible moment, I got the idea to start a hedge fund.  I prayed about it and felt strongly that it was a good idea.  I raised $1 million in the third quarter of 2007.  In January of 2008, the market went ballistic and the fund hemorrhaged $500,000.  It is a gross oversimplification to say that I have not been willing to pray for guidance since.
Good:  I watched every session of General Conference for over 12 years.  I got the conference CDs and listened to them over and over.
Bad:  I have always loved rock and roll and pop culture.  I have never felt the least bit guilty about worldly or suggestive music.  I never felt bad about not feeling bad about that, since I figured if the Holy Ghost wants me to feel bad about it, I will.
Good:  Until this February, in my entire life, I probably missed Church less than five times just because I didn’t want to go.
Bad:  When I was starting to really struggle with doctrinal issues, I flat out told the bishop that if God required living in a bubble to qualify for the spirit, I wasn’t willing to do it.
Good:  I started to read Rough Stone Rolling specifically because I felt like I needed a boost to my testimony of Joseph Smith.  When I could feel that it wasn’t helping, I put it down.
Bad:  After reading The Tipping Point, I got hooked on sociology books and behavioral studies.  I began to think seriously about the psychological underpinnings of human decision making and motivations.
Good: While active, I never read anything that could be considered anti-Mormon or even questionable.  I knew that there was danger there.
Bad: For as long as I can remember, I had a nagging awareness that if the Church wasn’t so totally true, it looked an awful lot like a fraud.  I became more and more aware that it was a self-confirming system.
Good: I tried to comfort myself by imagining that the truth would have to appear that way; that faith was necessary.
Bad:  Things began to nag at me.  Noah’s ark would not leave me alone. 
Bad:  I started to listen to NPR and watch TED talks.
Good:  I truly believed that all truth had to circumscribe into one great whole. 
Bad:  I refused to compartmentalize.  In fact, I tried not to.  I tried to think of how doctrines would look from different angles, and how they held up as you peeled back the layers of necessary implication. 
Bad:  The results were not encouraging.
Good: I believed in it all very literally.
Bad:  When I couldn’t believe in it literally any more, I couldn’t believe in it at all.