Mette Ivie Harrison

My daughter isn't a Mormon anymore

Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison

A guest post by Mette Ivie Harrison

My second daughter no longer considers herself a member of the LDS Church.

This isn’t because she hates Mormonism. She had some good experiences growing up as a young woman in the Church—and some bad ones. She struggled with reconciling science and religion, but she also enthusiastically worked on getting the Young Womanhood medallion when she was still twelve years old. She read the entire body of scriptures. She went to seminary for several years.

But ultimately, she said, she did not believe in God. She heard over and over again from others about how they saw the hand of God in their lives and how God heard and answered their prayers. She tried to do the things she was told to do, but she felt nothing. And rather than accept that this was because she was unworthy of God’s love or that she had done something she must repent of, she ultimately gave up a belief in any God at all.

What do Mormons do with those who genuinely experience no spiritual promptings, no connection to anything beyond this world?

I felt this emptiness myself when I went through a faith crisis about ten years ago. I remember going to a church therapist and asking her if I still counted as clinically depressed if I felt fine in every other aspect of my life but simply felt no spirituality at all anymore. She said that I was probably no longer depressed, but she didn’t answer what I should do about the block against all spiritual feeling.

I am still working on building up this aspect of myself, and I admit that I find myself questioning even the small spiritual feelings that I do get. Am I making them up? Do I wish to feel God more than actually feel him?

I honor my daughter’s choice to become an atheist. She has already taught me a lot in her life and I suspect she will teach me still more. I have no sense that she will eventually return to the church, but that’s not required for us to have a loving, deep, committed mother-daughter relationship. I don’t necessarily believe that she has to go through a Mormon endowment ceremony to go to heaven. I’m not so sure about what happens after death myself. When she says that she believes there is nothing there, I don’t argue with her. When I go to the temple with my other children, I don’t see “empty chairs,” as my father-in-law once said. I share something with them that I don’t share with her, but I share other things with her I don’t share with them.

Is there a way that Mormons could be more inclusive of members of our church who don’t feel God’s presence in their lives? Could they be part of church meetings and service projects, speak their own minds, and continue to feel that there is a place for them?

My younger sister who is an atheist is firmly convinced that she has to do something to save the planet right now. She gives money to micro funds worldwide and is extremely environmentally conscious because she does not believe that there is any supernatural force that will save Earth in the future if she doesn’t. I feel strongly that there are many atheists who are deeply moral and that we as Mormons need to acknowledge their views.

I loved Elder Uchtdorf’s talk “Come, Join With Us” and wish that its promise had been more fulfilled in the months since it was given. Secular Mormons have something to say to the rest of us. For example, they could teach us to talk about scriptures as metaphors without always insisting that Noah had an ark that he filled with every animal on earth (when, as my daughter pointed out in the last class she ever attended, not even every kind of beetle that exists today would fit into the ark as specified).

My daughter is not the only Mormon kid who grew up without a sense of spirituality, and plenty of adults experience the absence of God. Stretching our version of Mormonism to include them would be good for all of us. We could learn something about what spirituality really is, and about love and service.

Maybe we need them as much as we think they need us.

Mette Ivie Harrison is a novelist whose whodunit The Bishop's Wife has earned rave reviews since it was released late last month. She has a PhD from Princeton University and is a nationally ranked triathlete. She is a monthly guest here at Flunking Sainthood (for some of her previous posts, see here and here).


  1. If done honestly and reasonably; science and religion can go together quite well.

    The Bible is not a scientific document. The Bible largely is a parable, that teaches God’s MORAL LAWS for humans. The study of science, is the study of God’s PHYSICAL LAWS of human’s environment.

    Religion is the study of God’s moral laws. Science is the study of God’s laws of nature.

    Though the Bible isn’t directly related to religion. Religion has largely inspired and motivated science.

    The creation of the universe; implies a creator (God).

    Studying science and nature is like looking at the footprints of God.

    The vast majority of scientists I know, are nonconventional, but religious.

    It’s impossible to scientifically concretely prove or disprove God. Many things in science can’t be absolutely proved. Whether in science or religion; it takes some degree of faith.

  2. Mette, I feel for your daughter and all others who do not believe in a God. One thing I am sure of–God believes in them and loves them. I also believe there is a place in the church for those who question and those who somehow do not feel His spirit.

    I do want to make a comment on the Noah’s ark thing. We do not really know if the flood was a global or localized flood. But there are flood myths in many of the middle east cultures, so I don’t think it can be totally dismissed as not having happened. There would likely have been room for all species in that part of the world at that time that needed to survive to have fit in Noah’s ark. When I say “that needed to survive,” I mean that there are species that go extinct all the time. A very brilliant man of my acquaintance once said he believed a species went extinct if there were no more spirits of that species to come to earth. And we know that new species are being discovered from time to time. There may have been some animals or insects in Noah’s day that did not need to board the ark because their time was over. We don’t know the whys and wherefores of a lot of things but as far as God is concerned, faith is more important than exact knowledge. I don’t always “feel the spirit” myself, but I have felt it and I could never deny my Heavenly Father’s existence. As for whether or not your daughter will go to “heaven” remember that there are three degrees of glory, each one of them more wonderful than this life.

  3. Ms. Harrison’s open-mindedness on this issue indicates to me that she is probably also an atheist, but one who is not willing to recognize or refute her religious conditioning. The fact that she so willingly accepts her sister and daughter as atheists indicates that all three are obviously intelligent; the only difference is that Ms. Harrison enjoys the comfort of her tradition more than the others. Give it time…truth and intelligence, when combined with time, lead to wisdom.

  4. Sheer arrogance. To suggest that an intelligent, well-spoken Mormon is surely an atheist in denial? Please.

    Your comment illustrates perfectly that hatred and a close-minded refusal to accept the varied beliefs of others is present in both the religious and atheists alike.

  5. I honor my daughter’s choice to become an atheist. She has already taught me a lot in her life and I suspect she will teach me still more

    Pity you could not honor anyone else’s aversion to contemplating pathetic manifestations of the Stockholm syndrome.

  6. But if her daughter is flipping through channels on the TV and comes across LDS General Conference, she will only need to hear one sentence and be touched by the Spirit and come back to the Church.

    (I don’t really mean that. I just wanted to illustrate what your comment sounded like.)

  7. As someone who is in the same boat as your daughter, THANK YOU for reacting this way as a mother and valuing your relationship with her. The kind of empathy you’ve shown is, I’m sure invaluable to her.

  8. Maybe He withdraws himself to test the faithfulness of the initiate?

    Athiesm is a religion with a faith claim of which they just dont know the question they are asking.

    It is impossible to prove a negative and to say that God doesn’t exist is an unproven faith claim.

  9. Religious belief does not preclude intelligence, although I know a couple atheists who soothe themselves with that belief. In my experience, it takes greater intelligence to keep a mind open to all possibilities and continue to dance with them. One can find people like that in and out of church. One can also find narrow, prejudiced arrogance in and out of church, as demonstrated here.

  10. “Jesus told us indeed that ‘God is a spirit,’ but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the ancient fathers generally, if not universally, held it to be matter: light and thin indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter.” Thomas Jefferson letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820

    “all spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure” JS D&C 131:7-8

    “Supersymmetry breaking is an anthropic requirement. One could not build intelligent beings from mass less particles. They would fly apart. ” Stephen Hawking

  11. Eleanor—not suggesting “in denial”, but rather “in transition”, which, after all, is the trend these days. Behold the power of wisdom.

  12. Are you open to considering there is not a God? I have just met too many people who want others to be open-minded, but they themselves are not so much.

  13. I agree, your response does certainly demonstrate that arrogance.

    Most atheists arrived at their conclusion only after considering the many alternatives or having been raised in a religious environment. How many religious people spent as much energy understanding why atheists feel the way they do?

    In fact, atheists tend to be more knowledgeable about religion than most religious people ( The author’s daughter is a great example of this as well.

  14. Its easy to over complicate things. Often those feeling of connection with God come to the surface doing the basic simple things. Reading the scriptures, singing hymns, serving others…kind acts of service, wiping the slate of past problems. Its ceasing to do what shouldn’t be done and doing what should. God’s light is always shining. its discovering how to remove the blockage between it and you.

  15. That’s why no one who considers himself a thoughtful atheist does make that claim. That’s a claim made by SOME not-so-intelligent atheists, but more usually by theists about atheists to discredit them with the tarry Brush of Faith, not a claim atheists make for themselves. Personally, I think that’s hilarious! “You people’s beliefs are just as faith based as mine, which means you’re no better than I am!”

    Whom you’re talking about are anti-theists. And I have to agree with you myself, and I am most definitely an atheist– well, actually, an it-doesn’t-matterist, but I’m not going there right now. Only an idiot would make the claim “THERE IS NO GOD!”, as if that’s an established fact.

    I do have to admit that I suspect the anti-theist is right, but as I said, it doesnt really matter except to the theists, and I’m not even so sure about them. But even so, even if there is a god, that’s not the same thing as proving its the Christian God. Much less a three in one God.

    My bets are that if there is a god, it’s Koschei the Deathless, Who Made Things As They Are. As Koscei says in the Book of Jurgen:

    “What are your beliefs to me, who made things as they are?”

  16. Ms.Harrison, as far as I can tell, logic dictates there are only three possibilities for religion, based upon the claims of absolute truth that each religion makes. Either one is true and the rest are false; or none is true and all are false; or most entertainingly, all of them are true. (We’re assuming we know what “true” means, of course).

    We have the word of each and every faith that it is the truth and all the rest are shams. Taking that at face value means that all are false, unless we can devise a means of testing them for being the truth. So far, the only method that works is slaying all of the unbelievers. Every other method has failed. even Christianity has only been able to reach about 1/3 of humanity in 2000 years, and we still haven’t determined which version is valid.

    The Statement that none is true and all are false is the statement of atheism. Atheism strictly speaking isn’t a statement about God, therefore, it’s a statement about religion. Anti-theists make the claim “There is no god”, but as the theists have noted, that requires a faith that matches theirs.

    The entertaining option is that all of them are true. That’s progressive religion for you. Unfortunately, it also means that no one is special, no one is god’s BFFF, which is supremely disappointing for some people who claim Capital T Truth.

    Barring finding a valid test for religious truth, what all three logical alternatives share is that religion is a metaphor some combination of mortality, awe, wonder, purpose. Spirituality, joy, compassion, hope, fear, empathy, and a few other qualities, one of which I am fairly certain is NOT morality. I suspect we don’t all share these qualities in exactly the same ways and proportions, because we’re all different.

    Thus some atheists are very moral, some spiritual people detest religion, some religious people are just Torquemada’s waiting for historical opportunities. If your daughter needed God in her life to address her metaphorical needs, I’m sure she would have one. If she needed religion, she would be attending church.

    I suspect your real problem, if there is actually one, is that your daughter has shown she can live a good, productive, caring, loving, moral life without any other reason for it that it seems like a good idea. (Unlike some religious people who are kept from lives of murder, rapine and pillage simply because God is watching them, or so they tell me.) It makes her life better, and the lives of those she loves better. And what does that say about you, the values you have lived by, the things you believed to be true, and tried to impart to her?

    My point is that it doesn’t really matter. You may need the metaphor to fill those needs, and you might always, or at some point, you may not. She may not, not now, maybe or maybe not ever.

    It’s all about what gets you through the day.

  17. Sure, to some extent. But we all must navigate the world based on what seems most likely true, disregarding what seems remote.

    For most people, whether you’re a believer, agnostic or atheist depends on the definition of God being contemplated. For instance, the broader your definition of God (i.e., some higher power, etc.) the more reasonable it is to believe or reserve judgment. The narrower you define God, the more implausible it may seem, making belief unreasonable.

    If you define God as the pantheon of Greek deities, aren’t you an atheist too? Are you really exercising “faith” that the ocean is not controlled by Neptune? It may be “possible,” but it’s so implausible that, for all intents and purposes, you’re compelled to reject it and move on.

    You and the atheist have more in common that you realize. You both reject the 1,000’s of gods worshiped by humans at one time or another–all of them, except yours.

  18. We do know what leaders teach: see, for example the jan 1998 Ensign article “the flood and the tower of babel where it makes it clear we believe only in the literal world wide version. See quotes from early leaders that declare it was the baptism of the earth. Those that find such teaching and question are often pushed out by those fundamentalist in the church, or worse, moderates who say “it works” when they can’t find a way to make prohetic and spiritual utterances fit. They may want to belong, but shifting lines makes it much easier to abandon an illogical world.

  19. Thanks for sharing this, Mette. I love how supportive you’ve been of your daughter.

  20. “If done honestly and reasonably; science and religion can go together quite well.”
    Isaac Newton certainly thought so, but Darwin’s theory of evolution is not compatible with a creator god. Christianity presents man as a special creation, not merely another animal. For the first three billion years or so, life in and on earth was only microscopic bacteria. Their presence transformed the planet (oxygenated the atmosphere), allowing for the rise of all the forms we can see, in the last half billion or so years. There have been many species of men fanning out of Africa across the world during the last few million years. We carry their genes, and pass them on to our children.
    This scientific reconstruction of history is the result of the efforts of thousands of scientists, painstakingly collecting fossils/ bones and other evidence, over the last two centuries.
    The details keep changing as new evidence is accumulated, but the outline is clear. No creator god is needed, much less discovered.
    The feelings and psychological desires that religion addresses are themselves a result of evolution. Religion itself is our creation, in an attempt to satisfy these instinctual desires.
    Like all animals, we reproduce, fear death and flee suffering. Unlike most animals, we suffer in anticipation of suffering and death.

  21. samuel Johnston
    “Darwin’s theory of evolution is not compatible with a creator god”

    Your assertions are false and unscientific.

    Like most scientists, I believe in evolution and God. I believe evolution is a tool of God’s.

    NOT that everything in Darwin’s original theory is correct and NOT that everything in the Bible should be taken literally. The Bible and Darwin’s theory are both good works.

    The Bible is largely an abstract parable with a deeper truth.

    samuel Johnston
    “Like all animals, we reproduce, fear death and flee suffering.”

    Again your assertions are false and unscientific. Your assertions are false stereotypes.

    Not everyone reproduces, fears death or flees from suffering.

    Some people choose not to reproduce. Some people don’t fear death, and many people don’t flee from suffering. Some people (Christians or not), will put themselves in position where they risk or sacrifice their lives or otherwise face suffering to sacrifice themselves for their families, loved ones and or society.

    Jesus and John the Baptist risk imprisonment, suffering and their lives on a matters of principles trying to make this world a better place. Many other people have done the same thing.

    I have faced reprisals and have risked my life standing up to common criminals. I have faced reprisals and have been threatened with arrest; standing up to corrupt government officials.

    Even animals will sometimes risk their lives and suffering to protect their young or other members of their society.

    You don’t know much about religion, science, history or nature.

    John Doe
    “Though the Bible isn’t directly related to religion.”

    Correction: Meant to say: “Though the Bible isn’t directly related to SCIENCE.”

  22. Mr. Doe,
    A plain contradiction is not even an argument, as it lacks a statement of reasons (reasonableness).
    Examples: “Your assertions are false and unscientific.” (reasons?)
    “Your assertions are false stereotypes.” (because?)
    “Even animals will sometimes risk their lives and suffering to protect their young or other members of their society.” Darwin covers this topic in “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex published in 1871.
    All humans have instincts drawn from the same gene pool, but the proportion varies from individual to individual. In addition, humans do not always act solely on their instincts, but can choose to ignore or act contrary to them.

  23. @ samuel Johnston
    You are arguing out of both sides of your mouth. The Darwinism that you put forward now, contradicts your previous assertions. lol

    Your posts are weak on religion, science, facts, etc.; but strong on argumentative fallacies. lol

  24. Atheism is most definitely NOT a religion, as has been suggested here. It is, in fact, a conclusion.

  25. Cheryl “Atheism is most definitely NOT a religion”

    Atheism meets most definitions of religion.
    IE. One of the definitions of religion. “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe”

  26. John Doe, if all atheists were astrophysicists, that would perhaps be the case for them, but most atheists I know don’t hold any particular set of beliefs about the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. Rather, it’s simply accepting the universe as is, and not driving themselves mad trying to make sense of it all. I had many sleepless nights as a child trying to understand how a god could make something out of nothing, because nothingness is somethingness, if you think about it. At the same time, I feel very close to the religion in which I was raised, and have not left it at all. I don’t practice it with the all the trappings of my youth, but I still feel it and identify with it, and always will. There is one thing science and religion have in common, and that is that the mystery of the universe — that “somethingness from nothingness” — remains the same for both. So there remains within me that little spark, that doesn’t entirely eliminate the possibility of a god, because after all, why would that be any more absurd than the fact that we are all here to begin with?

    That said, I wish all parents could be more like Mette. Thinking for oneself and loving others for the clearly good people they are and not for what they might believe or might not believe is something I think God would want.

  27. Cheryl

    Instead of believing in a Creator, societal morality and reason; atheists believe that the universe was created magically without reason or morality.

    Most scientists are religious, though they are often non-conventional and tend to be nondogmatic. That’s why scientific theories often have religious nomenclature. IE the “eve gene”, “vacuum Genesis” etc.

  28. John Doe, morality doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with religion; in fact, religion and belief in God has proven time and again that the opposite is often true. Just tell that to my great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that I never got to meet, because good Christians decided that they didn’t deserve to live. And don’t tell me that those people — and not just of the WWII era — weren’t “true Christians.” I don’t care if they never went to church (although more did than didn’t); they had no problem celebrating Easter and Christmas. If not being practicing Jews didn’t exempt people from being identified as Jews, who were rounded up in their synagogues, which were then set on fire, or were gassed and thrown in ditches and ovens (if they didn’t die of starvation and exposure first), then saying that the perpetrators weren’t “true Christians” is laughable.

    And so the converse is equally valid: That being an atheist doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual in question lacks a moral compass. I believe that the morality of an atheist has a purity often absent in believers, who often act out of a fear of God or the afterlife, more than out of simply doing what is right. Also, atheists are no more or less complicated than believers. There seems to be this idea that we’re all far left liberals with a deep-seated hatred of the right, who vote only for those who would serve their own interests. Yes, I’m pro gay marriage and anti-religious right…but I also voted for Mitt Romney. I’m a registered Democrat, but I can’t recall ever voting for anyone in a Presidential election who wasn’t a Republican, with a single exception many years ago (Bill Clinton). And I find that many (if not most) bleeding-heart liberals are among the most intolerant people around; just as much or even more than those they rally against.

    I also don’t believe that — poof! — the universe was created magically. If anything, to believe the idea that some single, all-powerful being created somethingness out of nothingness, and then said, “Let there be light!” and suddenly there was light, seems to fit the description of magical exactly.

    I also have no issues with those who are believers; I have some very devout friends (most of whom are Christian), who often say that they keep me in their prayers, and I thank them. Why do I thank them? Because they are doing something that means a great deal to them, and I am grateful for their kindness and friendship. If someone wishes me a Merry Christmas (which has never been my holiday, being Jewish), I thank them and wish them a Merry Christmas as well — because after all, they’re wishing me something nice.

    Everyone has a right to believe what they believe, or not believe what others believe — as long as their beliefs or lack thereof don’t hurt or infringe on the rights of anyone else, whether directly or indirectly, or through action or inaction. It’s pretty simple, really.

  29. Absolutely the author should honor her daughter’s choice to turn to atheism. When I did the same thing, it grieved by (non-LDS) Bible-believing parents greatly – but they never stopped loving me or I them. Nor did I ever stop loving the beauty of Christian belief or doctrine, even though I was convinced that it was all a myth. Morality wasn’t an issue – well, I confess that I was not perfect about premarital chastity and I had never even heard of the Word of Wisdom, but my standards of personal conduct remained very high regardless. Throughout all of this and even to this day, my closest friend (other than my wife, I mean) has been and remains a firm atheist – he never really considered any alternative – and is also easily the most moral guy I know.

    So none of that is the issue. Everybody has to figure out for himself or herself his or her place and purpose in this Universe. According to Mormon belief, that is exactly why we’re here. And there doesn’t particularly have to be one right answer, although we’re ultimately better off finding God and His will than not. But for what it is worth, I don’t particularly think that moral conduct includes some of the really snarky, dismissive behavior you see practiced by some (not all!) atheists, such as some of the examples on this page, who mostly want you to know how much smarter and more rational they are than you. That’s just their own mythology! I didn’t do any of that in my 20+ years of atheism and I find it appalling when I see it now.

    When it comes to families, love is the only answer and it will prevail over all.

  30. And you prefer to believe that God was created magically out of nothing. For the record, I don’t know of any atheist who believes the universe was created magically our of nothing. I certainly don’t.

  31. I grew up LDS, but have since left the church, any church or religion for that matter. I cannot say a “God” or science answers the questions of “creation” or expains the notion of what a “soul” is. I know I was created, I am alive and have something unique mine – a soul. As far as an after-life; I hope there is one. But hope is a comfort, and is not faith. I hope, with some certainty, tha I will have a chance to see my family and friends again in some after-life – for what is the soul if not a mortal presence that I believe extends beyond my current body. My hope is my soul is my true identity that allows me to exist and recognize the existance of others, and awaits me and will defined me in the after life. If this borders on faith, then so be it.

  32. @ Ben in oakland

    You’re in denial.

    Atheists believe that God didn’t create the universe, that it’s just magic. lol

    Atheists don’t have a rational explanation for things like the Big Bang, and vacuum Genesis. But to Christians things like the Big Bang and vacuum Genesis; can make a lot of sense.

  33. I have considered it. Actually, what I have considered is that we can never know the true nature of God. God is possibly something between the homeless person I walked by last week without acknowledging and the unknowable energy at the base of all matter that responds to us in every moment whether I am capable of feeling it or not. I have had too many prayers answered in astoundingly specific and inexplicable ways to not believe in Something.

  34. I can only speak from my own experience. I have never heard a religious person say “I thought he/she was smarter than that.” when they found out someone had stopped believing in God. Usually they are concerned about the person’s happiness, eternal progression (because they still believe in it) and relationship with believing family members. The atheists I have known go to a great deal of trouble to make sure religious people feel their contempt, and I have been on the receiving end it. Agnostics, however, seem content to be and let be because they have no skin in the game. I kinda like that.

  35. There are many who now believe that science is somehow incompatible with religion. Isaac Newton, (one of the smartest men who ever lived) firmly believed in God and science.

    Some people have a hard time seeing God’s influence in the world. But any reasonable person should have no problem seeing Satan’s power on it. Its an issue atheists never seem to discuss. We may look similar to monkeys, but why are humans capable of horrific evils that animals are not? Animals are not evil, but some people are.

  36. Mette – Thank you for this beautifully written piece. From a very young age, Mormonism teaches us not to trust ourselves, not to trust our own voice, not to believe what we see and feel every day even as we experience it directly. It’s a challenging journey to rebuild from that crumbly foundation, and it will likely always be hard to navigate.

    It’s a wonderful thing to remember that we can, at any time, truly experience the miracle of actually being right here on this green earth, breathing, and trusting our physical experience in this world. Truth is not objective or black and white as the “white tide” would have you believe. For you, and for your daughter, the experience of “truth” in your lives if what you actually feel as your own. It’s a lovely way to live your lives. You have my total unconditional respect and admiration for your courage in doing what you really know is right.

  37. “Atheists believe that the universe was created magically without reason or morality.”

    I don’t think you understand atheists’ arguments. I don’t think there’s anything at all magical about the universe. I think that its origins have entirely natural causes and no supernatural, all powerful being was involved even if we don’t fully understand these processes yet, that doesn’t lead me to the God of the gaps as an explanation. Because I don’t understand something does not mean God-did-it.

    Among many reasons, I don’t believe in God because emotional confirmation isn’t enough and the results are unreliable due to thousands of false positives across numerous religious sects. I require evidence of a different caliber than a theist. I was a theist once, I thought warm fuzzy feelings were good enough once, but now I consider them to be simply a portion of human emotional range which is exploited by religious organizations. I also felt those sorts of feelings when I shouldn’t have, like when listening to certain non-religious songs. I don’t buy the “portions of truth” confirmation argument, because it causes a de facto implication of partial lies also being confirmed. There are numerous explanations for why people have these experiences, if you want to learn more, look into information about elevation and frisson.

    I understand human need to feel like life has a purpose, but I think that finding your own purpose is arguably more rewarding than being given one. Humans are notoriously bad at finding patterns where they don’t exist, which is why we shouldn’t trust just our own impressions, but seek other opinions and information for proof. However, we shouldn’t seek proof to fit our conclusions – which will lead to confirmation bias – we should seek information in neutrality, and let the evidence point the way.

    We feel a need to feel special, and I think that from that need, we created concepts of gods to soothe our fears of the afterlife and of meaninglessness. Humans have only been observing religion since 50-75 thousand years ago in our ~200 thousand year existence.

    I do not put credence in the validity of any Abrahamic religion because archaeological evidence suggests that Judaism evolved from an older religion and I see no reason to follow what seems plain to me to be a human construct. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the source for several Old Testament stories. I would no sooner be convinced to worship the god of Abraham than I would be that Zeus is not the predecessor to Jupiter. El, Yahweh, Baal and Asherah (groves in LDS scriptures) all came from that ancient religion preceding Judaism. El was in the early Bible primarily, but a cult of Yahwists took over and so Yahweh became the primary god. Yahweh was the war deity.

    Judaism started out as a polytheistic religion, it eventually moved to monolatrism until around the Babylonian exile and eventually became monotheistic. The Hebrew people were influenced by invading and neighboring cultures just as any other group of people are. Their history and culture is fascinating, but upon inspection, I cannot conclude that there was anything divine involved in it. I like their afterlife mythology which involves a year of torment followed by entrance into the Garden, it seems fairer than eternal separation from your family either in the Mormon view where families can be divided by kingdoms or in the typical Christian view with Hell as the destination for the wicked/unbelievers. Jews do not at all observe the being Satan, he’s entirely a Christian creation, Satan as a powerful being would be contrary to modern Judaism’s strict monotheism. Nebuchaddnezzar is who was being spoken about in Isaiah when talking about Lucifer, and in Jewish belief, the serpent in the Garden was only a trickster. Named “Satan” in the Old Testament was always under God’s control, and was a tool of God. Only the story of Job has Satan personified. God for Jews is the source of all things, good and evil because having an evil opposing being threatens God’s sovereignty.

    Maybe there is a god, I honestly don’t know, but I’d lean towards ignosticism at this point in regards to such a being. Functionally it boils down to “define god,” before we could even test for such a being’s existence.

    Morality is actually a human construct, but that doesn’t make it less real. I still think that we should treat each other with love, respect, empathy and provide service to each other. I think humanity has a great deal of potential for good. I think we’re far closer to a Star Trek utopia than we are to an apocalypse, but only if we work hard at it and don’t rely on a supernatural force to fix our screw ups.

    If God as seen in Mormonism exists, why wouldn’t he be wroth with us for being poor stewards of the earth and relying upon him to “fix it” in the Millennium?

    I think that the simple explanation for the use of nomenclature like “Eve gene” is cultural and linguistic rather than religious. Many scientists are religious, I won’t deny that, but to say that because they’re using these names it means that they’re religious seems like a bit of a stretch. I am not sure that you should be arguing that because they named something some way that it means that they believe in a certain thing.

    If you’re going to ridicule atheists’ thinking, perhaps you should read up on their arguments first.

  38. “It’s impossible to scientifically concretely prove or disprove God”

    That’s the oldest cop out in the book. What it essentially boils down to is the believers saying “well, you don’t know for sure, and I don’t know for sure, so since neither of us know for sure, that means I know, for sure, and it’s unprovable so I must be right”.

    Not knowing the answer doesn’t make a false answer correct. It never has and it never will. I could just as easily substitute “the fart of a rainbow colored unicorn” as the catalyst for all of existence and by the same logic that this statement makes, be correct.

    Don’t accept a lie just because the truth isn’t known.

  39. I like that, Cheryl. That seems a very clear explanation, and I can relate to it. Am I wrong in thinking that the state of your belief is more like agnosticism than atheism, though?

    I am a convert to Mormonism (four years ago) and so my knowledge is limited, but I assume you are not LDS? I ask that, because I think the LDS belief is that the world was not created ex nihilo, but from existing materials, which I think that fits beautifully with the idea that our bodies are made of the same materials as the distant stars. There are so many cool things like that in this philosophy.

  40. I do not believe in ghosts, fairies, pixies, sprites, gnomes, or banshees; and yet, no one claims that I must have faith to disbelieve any of those. But when I say I disbelieve the existence of God, suddenly they claim I must have faith to do so.

    And when they say that I must have faith, they are really saying that I believe what I believe for no good reason. By saying that I must have faith just like they do, they are really saying that they believe what they believe for no good reason. Either that, or they are admitting that I have as good as reason for being an atheist as they do for believing in God.

  41. I don’t know how you can make such an assumption. I could be the author’s daughter. My mother is deeply immersed in her Mormon faith, feels absolute certainty of the existence of God, even with times of struggle and doubt, and yet she could have written this article.

  42. But many LDS people like yourself think an atheist cannot be happy and cannot “let be”. How do you think it feels to an atheist to have people worrying about their eternal progression? It feels like you think of us like drug addicts who need an intervention.

  43. It is impossible to prove that unicorns don’t exist. So why not believe in them?

  44. Or look on the sunny side of life, there is always something good to look and strive for. If you call it light from god, or goodness, it works. Both the atheist and believer who know this will find a happier life.

  45. I don’t know who “they” are but I agree that faith is not required for your position of disbelief. On the other hand, I think that you are either expressly or implicitly adopting one or more ad hoc assumptions about ontology. I don’t think that the assumption(s) are the same thing as faith, although they sort of work the same way in the sense that they are themselves not subject to disproof or contradiction.

    If you say that you are not going to be persuaded by anything other than empiricism, then OK, that’s your position. But nothing forces you to that position and it denies that there is any other way to discern spiritual truth. I appreciate that you do in fact deny that – but you offer no proof. The most you are going to do is try to tell people what you think the “rules” are for “proof,” or not, but those rules are just conventions that have been developed over time for resolving questions about the physical world and its natural order, conventions that could very possibly not be particularly applicable in other contexts.

    If you’re interested, read W.V.O. Quine, Two Dogmas of Empiricism (1951). (Quine himself was a firm atheist, so don’t worry that you might be reading subversive literature.)

  46. Jana, I didn’t mean to be confusing. Please understand that I do not think that an atheist can’t be happy. I was merely explaining what I think is going on in the mind of a long-time faithful believer when someone they love leaves the church and (even scarier!) God. I was single most of my adult life, so I imagine you must feel like I felt when some well-meaning auntie would admonish me to find a nice man and get married. It made me not want to be around her no matter how much I loved her. But, if you grew up in the church, then you must be able to understand how terrifying your disaffection is to them. Give them time and if they can’t respect your decision, give them distance. I am a convert and have only been in this culture for four years and I can certainly understand it. I do not have the same immersed belief in everything they way born and raised members do, and I’m not sure I’m capable of it. But there is much beauty in this doctrine and in these people. It’s a place I want to be and I have much to learn about being a good disciple of Christ. Hopefully I have enough time to get better at it before I die.

  47. What is the point of this article? Although the daughter no considers herself a member of the LDS Church, the author does not indicate that she has asked, and has had her name removed from Church records. Accordingly, the daughter can continue to participate in Church activities (other than Temple work) as much or as little as she wants to–no big deal. The daughter is not required to tell anyone that she now considers herself an athiest. If asked to give a prayer or a talk, she can merely decline as Church members sometimes do. Of course, the daughter is likely to feel progressively less comfortable attending those Church activities which focus primarily on worship according to LDS beliefs–but since she no longer believes in the doctrines of the Church, this should neither be surprising nor concerning.
    For those who believe in the doctrines of the LDS Church, freedom to choose one’s beliefs (aka “free agency”) is central to spiritual development. The fact that some choose not believe (and are freely allowed to do so and to express their nonbelief) should provide more meaning to those who choose to believe.

  48. “The fact that some choose not believe (and are freely allowed to do so and to express their nonbelief) should provide more meaning to those who choose to believe.”

    Beautiful thought. Oh that that parenthetical statement were realistic. There’s the rub.

  49. It’s been many years since I had one of those amazing experiences. Most of the time I just muddle through the days and say uninspired prayers and wonder what I’m missing. Sometimes I feel emotional at church, but I feel that way sometimes over movies, too. Hormonal, maybe. But I don’t expect things to be perfect and I don’t expect to understand everything. I grew up in an alcoholic home with parents I loved, so I’m pretty comfortable with cognitive dissonance. I hope you can be happy with where you have landed.

  50. Wow. Believing Satan exists because humans commit evil acts? Thanks for providing a new argument in an age old debate.

  51. If not all scripture should be taken literally, where do we draw the line? How do we determine which parts are literal and which parts are parable or just false?

  52. Such a typical Mormon response: fear-mongering (“I share a warning”), and assuming sin (“through temptation, to violate laws”). But members of TSCC are open-minded, right?

  53. I believe that all humans have faith. What is different about us is the object of our faith.
    Some of us have faith and believe that everything around us is just a happy accident–that stuff came from somewhere and mucked around for a few billion years and now there are babies and butterflies and Beethoven and galaxies, to name some specifics. At it’s most basic, I believe that this is faith in “what.”
    Some of us have faith and believe that behind all that is around us and amazing is a Mind, a First Cause, a Creator, a God. Some of us take this a step further and believe that we have a responsibility for a relationship with that Great Spirit. At it’s most basic, I believe that this is faith in “who.”
    I do not believe that there is any conflict between faith and science at all–I believe that science itself requires a lot of faith. I believe that what is different is the object of faith.
    There is a lot that science does not yet know: where or what is the other 96% of the mass of the universe, for example; or what exactly is the vernix that covers many newborn babies; or what holds protons together at the center of an atom to permit the electrons to twirl around them.
    So I believe that we all have faith. What is different is the object of our faith.

  54. Excellent analysis of the truth table with regard to different religions. I wish that more people on all sides of the god/religion debate understood what you have written.

    You stated that there is no test for religious truth. Insofar as debate and science are concerned, I concur wholeheartedly. Questions like the existence of God and the truth of any religion must be treated as axiomatic. One can accept or reject them, but none of us can prove the truth of any such statement to anyone else.

    Still, the unprovability of truth does not equal the unknowability of truth. I explored several religions, including the one I was raised in. Then, I met God. Now I know which message actually comes from him, and which messages come from the minds of men. Once you have met God, it is impossible to question his existence. Once he tells you his message, it is impossible to mistake it for messages of mere human origin.

  55. Doubt is the keystone of science, credulity the keystone of religion. Doubt and credulity cannot co-exist – if one believes there is god, he does not doubt it. That’s why science and religion are irreconcilable.

  56. Highly intelligent people can be schizophrenic. So what? Highly intelligent people can be religious because they are also emotional and many highly intelligent people are slaves to their emotions. Fear is the most potent emotion of all for the vast majority of people and they are comforted by elaborate fantasies of eternal life. Those fantasies require a god(s) to be fulfilled.

    There is no getting around the fact that mysticism is rooted emotion and is irrational.

  57. Author

    If this is indeed a sincere comment from Richard G. Scott, the LDS Apostle, welcome to the blog and thank you for sharing your views. We’re glad to have you participating in this discussion, even if some here will disagree with your statement above.

    If, however — as seems more likely — this is someone impersonating an LDS Apostle by referring to a General Conference talk in the first person, I hope you are alive to the irony here. You’re accusing Mette of being susceptible to the promptings of Satan even while falsifying your own identity. Lying about who you are doesn’t exactly give you moral credibility in lecturing others about “the laws upon which spiritual communication is founded.”

  58. Diane, thank you. You can learn about my background just below this. I do seem to be closer to agnosticism than atheism, I suppose; I definitely hover somewhere in between.

    I am familiar with the concept that the world was created from matter already in existence. Being that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, that certainly makes a lot more sense to me. But still, how we are here at all — and by “we” I mean not only humans, but every single species and organism here on earth — continues to puzzle me.

  59. I agree that it is unlikely – to the point of impossibility – to be Elder Scott. The paragraph (“I share a warning . . .”) is lifted verbatim from the linked remarks, which were themselves a lead-in to a part of the talk dealing with the corrosive, anti-spiritual effects of pornography. We can probably agree that pornography has those qualities, but it would not have anything to do with the topic here.

    It is also possible – Jana, it does not appear that you have considered this – that the pseudonymous posting originates with someone who is *opposed* to the ideas being expressed, and who wishes to masquerade as the Apostle for the purposes of satire, mockery or ridicule. While the words, in context, are not deserving of satire, it could well be that the person who lifted those words out of their context thinks that they will seem inappropriate when dropped into a different context. I think that this is even more likely than the possibility suggested here by Ms. Riess.

  60. This is not what “Mormonism teaches,” regardless of age.

  61. Author

    Yes, satire is a possibility I had not considered. Posting under someone else’s name is disrespectful in either case.

  62. Author

    I have confirmed that this is not the real Elder G. Scott, and have spammed the comment.

    Folks, impersonating a public figure, particularly a religious leader, is not acceptable. Anyone who tries it here will be banned.

  63. What if there were dozens of hundreds of arks all around the world, and we just happen to know about Noah’s. Sure there are plenty of ways we can justify our faith, but more interesting is the notion in Mormonism that the Earth itself is a living entity, requiring the same symbolic washings of its inhabitants. What a remarkable notion. And isn’t that what faith is really about? Looking at things with a different perspective, seeing a deeper meaning through a belief even if that belief defies scientific logic?

  64. Honey, atheism is a religion like clear is a color. Millions of people have worshiped thousands of different gods in this world—I just choose to worship none of them. Get off your high horse.

  65. Much of my life has been filled with people I cared about but were non believers so far as God or religion was concerned. I have learned to accept that simply because I found out I could not change or alter their beliefs. Their friendship matters as much as it always had, and I was allowed to grow as a result of discovering I had little influence in the formation of their belief system.

  66. My uncle did not beleive in God however he was an active member of the church all of his life. His wife was a temple going member and he wanted to support her. Also he liked the things the church did so he treated church as a club. Other people were Lions or Rotary he was a Mormon, that was his club. He was actove and he was honest about why. I reapected him for it.

  67. “Feelings” are notoriously unreliable and change at whim. Basing one’s eternal outlook on how one “feels” is like building a house on quicksand. Better to build a personal case for objective truth and stick with it come what may. Everything else is shifting sand.

  68. I think there is room for doubters in the Church of Jesus Christ. Not feeling an answer or some spiritual call is a tough way to go to church or any organization that assures the practice that there will be spiritual answers and confirmations. I pray for your daughter, family and friends who do not posit much faith in God, and all of us have honest struggles with things that we cannot see or empirically measure yet can at least feel strongly within.
    I recommend to do as CS Lewis did: keep reading.
    Keep going.
    Best wishes.

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