Reconstructing Faith and Questioning Morality

By: Andrew S
February 8, 2013

If you have wandered into one of many of the related Mormon Stories communities (whether Mormon Stories itself, A Thoughful Faith, the Mormon Stories Podcast Community Facebook group) or even some non-Mormon Stories sites (such as the exmormon subreddit or the Mormon Expression Facebook group) in the past couple of weeks, then you should be well aware of the latest three-part episode series on Mormon Stories (conducted by Sarah Collett of A Thoughtful Faith). Entitled John Dehlin and Faith Reconstruction, the three-hour interview features John navigating through his faith journey (especially as it has occurred since Mormon Stories start).

John Dehlin

This summary does not do the interview justice. And this post will not do the interview justice either. Over the three hours, Sarah leads John through often painful memories about the personal and familial strains of running what basically is Mormonism’s podcast empire, as well as the challenges of creating a post-literalistic secular community and seeing some of its constituent branches stray from the original mission. The challenges of ego and the cult of personality. But John also discusses his personal progression, ending ultimately in what the title of the podcast describes as a reconstruction of faith — John’s coming to terms with the LDS church.

As I mentioned before, this post will not do the interview justice. Instead, I only wanted to talk about one recurring topic of the interview — a topic that John and Sarah meander in and out during all three parts. John has always attracted controversy, and this time, some of his comments regarding the relationship between faith crisis and morality have stirred outrage from many disaffected Mormons. In this first part of a two-part series, I will provide a partial transcript of selections (3000 words!) from the three sections where John and Sarah discuss morality on the faith journey. Whether you have or have not listened to the podcast yourself, from reading these selections, then you should have some initial thoughts to share.

In part two, I’ll respond with my own commentary.


[20:02] SARAH: Would you say that when you use the word decline, you’re thinking in terms of intellectual connection to the doctrine of the church, or are you actually thinking in terms of spirituality…or is there a connection between the two for you?

JOHN: That’s one of the main things I’ve learned…but I was mostly engaging intellectually. I had disconnected emotionally, in many ways, and spiritually, and I said: “What matters is figuring things out in my brain. And I just need to know whether it’s true or false. Whether it’s a fraud or whether the church is what it claims to be. And emotions and spirit need to be put on hold until I can think it through…” And that didn’t turn out good for me…there were all sorts of problems with that, but that’s what I was doing. And so, if I would neglect the spirit, people, or relationships, or my own inner work or process, none of that mattered…that for me, looking back, made it in many ways, a flawed endeavor, in terms of how I handled it.

[22:00] JOHN: In ways, [helping people with their issues] feeds you emotionally and even spiritually, but I hadn’t done the soul work to be in a solid emotional place to handle that way…I wasn’t like Frodo…I wasn’t humble and meek and peaceful…I was disturbed inside…and so, I was carrying the ring as a really traumatized, inadequate, prideful, egotistical person.

[25:33] SARAH: Did anyone ever accuse you of not being spiritually in tune…did anyone ever come to you and say, “Wow, you seem to be prideful” — you know, the sins that are associated with questioning…were you accused of that or did you escape that?

JOHN: Well, the pride thing is something I look back on now; at the time I never felt prideful…I felt like I was being humble; I felt I was just doing God’s will and helping people…[snip]…I think that for sure, even before the podcast started, once I became enveloped by these difficult questions, Margi always felt there was a cloud over me…like the light in my eyes had gone out…that I was always in my head, always stewing…And even though I can pull out congeniality and warmness and friendliness as like a cloak I can put on…I’ve been in a dark place in my soul for probably 20 years…but Margi saw it and the kids saw it…

[27:46] SARAH: On a side note, a lot of people that go through the questioning process at some point deal with the question is there a god at all…and a lot of people come to the conclusion that there is no god. They face atheism and they embrace it or they decide that fundamentally they have the god gene or they crave god despite that question…did that ever occur to you and when did you really face that question?

[30:31] JOHN: …This was during the time I was working at MIT, and my faith started to unravel completely…and I remember a day when I was sitting in my hotel room, and I just said to myself, “I’m not sure there’s a god, and I’m not sure that there’s anybody watching me; I’m not sure that there’s any absolute standard for morality; I’m not sure there’s an afterlife…and if that’s the case — I started questioning what was right and wrong, I started questioning my decision to have gotten married when I did, my decision to marry Margi. it was weird how all of these dominoes just fell…Joseph smith fell, and then Jesus, and then god…and then it went straight to marriage…and there was a time for probably a couple of years where I just felt like there probably wasn’t a god and that probably lead up through my interview with John and Zilpha Larsen.


[14:50] SARAH: One of the questions that occurred to me as you were speaking earlier…[snip]…did you maintain any practice of spiritual development during that time? Were you in a place of saying prayers or did you look for or experience things from a spiritual perspective? How was that side of your living going?
JOHN: I had stopped going to church for the most part; I had stopped paying tithing; I didn’t read the scriptures, stopped praying, stopped going to the temple…and I was even questioning basic morality and whether I wanted to stay married and whether I wanted to stay committed to my family…I was as estranged and ostracized spiritually and morally as I could be. I still kept most of the commandments, but no…I was completely spiritually neglectful and malnourished. And emotionally disconnected from everybody…

[18:04] SARAH: You mentioned how you had started doing all these conferences…were you alluding to this idea that you were trying to use these conferences as a way to establish some sort of spiritual community again?

JOHN: Yeah, absolutely…[snip]…The angel on my shoulder said, “No, you want humanity to advance; you don’t want people to just throw their morality away.”

I started seeing people — and I was doing it — there’s this weird thing that happens when you lose your faith in Mormonism…you immediately start questioning your morality. Wow! I’ve never had sex before I was married…I’ve only had sex with one person…like, I don’t know anything! What if sex is way better with other people or in other ways…or, what am I missing? Is alcohol cool — like I’ve still never tried alcohol — but what if that’s really fun and interesting? And I just started saying: there’s this whole world out there that I haven’t experienced, and maybe I wouldn’t have married Margi if I had to do it all over again…maybe my family would be better off if Margi and I were to split, because…we’d be getting along better. (Why weren’t we getting along? Because I was totally emotionally disconnected.)

But you start thinking these things, and you start wondering — wow! these other women are attractive…or experimenting sexually…and you start thinking about this whole world and you see these people…it sorta reminds me of Lehi’s dream and the great and spacious building and you start seeing this stuff and it’s enticing and it looks fun. But the good Mormon boy in me and the angel on my shoulder would always say: “That’s dangerous; that’s scary…you don’t want to go there” And you don’t want to lead people there, and that’s what I felt like was happening…all these people were just checking out of the church and then they were dropping their spouse and they were sleepin’ around and drinking and doing drugs and doing all this scary stuff and I just felt irresponsible…I felt like that was irresponsible. So, I started these communities thinking: I’m not trying to create a religion because there’s no theology or doctrine here, and I don’t want to be a prophet — that was a broken model, in my mind — …but somebody’s got to bring these people together to support each other.

[snip]…I was just trying to experiment and model post-literalistic secular spirituality and community.

[29:11] SARAH: The Larsen interview for me…I recognized in your language that fully deconstructed language…because I had spoken that too…I had gone to that place where I have fully deconstructed…and it came out loud and clear, that language. and I think people who have gone through that recognize that…and it’s not like we’re coming at it from a place of, “Oh, he’s spiritually low.” We just know what it means to fully, fully accept doubt…in terms of God, and everything — meaning, morals, everything — to have a place of uncertainty be your base…so it’s interesting…because from that point, it’s been one year. And I think it’s generally well understood in the Mormon Stories community that there’s been a shift…[snip] I’m fascinated in how you recover from this place, and I also want to know if you, looking back at the conferences, is your overall takeaway a regret that you did them, or do you feel they were beneficial?…[snip]

JOHN: …I’m ambivalent about them. I think that we worked really hard to have an uplifting and constructive tone…and for the most part, we succeeded….great talks, great musical performances, great attendance…[snip]…I don’t regret them…and I think that a lot of good things came from them, and they still bearing fruit…but three things I feel badly about…one is that they came at such a heavy cost to my family, [snip] and you know, no success can compensate for failure in the home — it’s true. [snip] The second thing is that…[snip] people would bear their testimonies at the end — the little story sharing — and every one or two testimonies would say, “Thank you John Dehlin”…and it felt dangerous, it felt egoic…[snip].

At the time I felt like my motives were pure…at the time, it was just all about the pain and suffering, but that part was awful. I needed to be there because we’d get bigger draws if I attended, and if I spoke, people would come….[snip]…So there was some element of the cult of personality that I just was never comfortable with and felt that it was dangerous…because I felt I was having them trade one prophet for another, one set of dogmas for another, and I didn’t feel it was good for me to put myself in that position.

But the third thing that’s been really hard is to keep witnessing what happened. And people ended up leaving the church. People that had been believers weren’t, and then got divorced, and again, what would happen after these conferences? In some of these communities, they would hold parties, and they’d smoke weed and wives would make out…and I never watched people doing sexual things, but I’d hear about a lot of behaviors that felt dangerous — and I don’t judge that…I don’t look at those people as bad, and I don’t enforce my morality on others, and I’m not morally perfect at all, but I just sat and said, “I’m glad that people are getting together, and I’m glad that they are having a good spiritual experience…but I worried that they’ve traded down. That yeah…there are problems with the church, but there are lot of problems with trying to have an open marriage, and to be honest, I’d probably pick the problems of trying to be the church over the problems of trying to navigate an open marriage, or becoming addicted to drugs, or committing adultery…and it just seems like naturally the outgrowth of so many of these communities

…and I don’t want to color them as these debaucherous…immoral…because that wouldn’t be fair. Beautiful, moral, healthy friendships…[snip] Good things have happened, but I couldn’t help but feel responsible for the bad. And at the end, so much of the discourse in these FB communities…they just became post-mormon, angry groups…because it’s really hard to moderate respectful discourse in one forum, but in 90 forums, where people are meeting face to face…it’s impossible…so the whole enterprise of Mormon Stories, which was “we support you if you believe, we support you if you want to stay, but we support you if you want to go” — all the communities became in effect postmormon communities, and I felt like — I don’t want to be just another postmormon or exmormon community…we don’t need that…there’s plenty of that. And I certainly don’t want to be that…[snip]

SARAH: …On the one hand, I’m frustrated, because that is such a stereotype that is placed on people — “you leave the church, that means that…you’re going to start sinning.” On the one hand, I feel frustrated because that hasn’t been my own personal experience, that hasn’t happened for my husband and I, but we’ve gotten that judgment…but on the other hand…we have to acknowledge that that does happen…I guess it’s hard to look at in the face.

JOHN: Well, yeah, and I’ve gone back and forth, because I was almost there…I was moving in that direction, so I’ll go on the record — can you leave the church and be moral? Absolutely? Can you leave the church and be happy? Absolutely? Does leaving the church mean you’ll become an adulterous, drug-using, immoral person? No, not necessarily! And does all that happen in the church? Yes, in different places…so I don’t mean to stereotype this…and I don’t even mean to say that it’s bad…I’m very sure that many of these people were responsible, they went through things, they grew from it, and they’ve ended up in happier places, so I do not say all this out of a way to stereotype or condemn or judge…but all this stuff was happening in association with what I was trying to do…and it felt more serious than I was competent and spiritually and emotionally mature to steward and shepherd. I was not the soul that could lead a movement responsible enough to feel good about all the implications of what I was doing. I just wasn’t a good enough man to be able to do it.

SARAH: So it sounds like you hit rock bottom.

JOHN: yeah, totally.


[9:21] JOHN: We talked a little bit about people leaving the church and then sometimes falling into dangerous things or getting divorced…I want to say two things on the record. Number 1 is I absolutely believe that some divorces need to happen and some people’s lives improve when the divorce happens…and some families get happier when the divorce happens. And some people become more moral when they leave the church, or more ethical, or more happy…and I want to make sure that it’s explicit that I validate that path completely…that that is all possible and many people do it.

But I also want to validate this: that I know many Mormons who get to the place where when their faith unravels, they start to question their love for their spouse, they start questioning the importance of keeping the family together, and most importantly, they might find another woman that they think might be their soulmate, or they start looking at a lifestyle outside, where they say, “I wouldn’t have married this person, I wouldn’t have made these choices, and all this other stuff now looks like what I was called to do. This person might be my soulmate or this life will be the true authentic life.” And it can feel very real and compelling and enticing, and it can feel like it’s what you were meant to do…to cast off the shackles of all these bad decisions that you made in association with the church and then go live this true authentic soulmate life, possibly with someone else.

What I just wanted to also go on the record with saying is that can be a mirage, and it is also very possible that the love you’re seeking, the emotional connection you’re seeking, the emotional and intellectual and even sexual fulfillment that you think will be found by taking this completely different path can be unearthed and discovered and enjoyed right in the place where you’ve been for 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, if you’re willing to not engage the world purely with your intellect, but you’re willing to say emotion matters as much as intellect, and spirit matters as much as emotion and intellect, and love and listening and connection matters as much as intellect and integrity…you can find and discover depths of emotional intimacy and connection and love and fulfillment that you would have thought was not possible where you were

…I just wanted to let the listeners know that that also is possible…and the price that you have to pay is to take the intellectual down, raise up the emotional and the spiritual and the family and the community connections, and start experiencing life from a multidimensional standpoint where your integrity and your truth intellectually that you suppose is legitimate and credible…that you’re willing to say there’s a spiritual truth that also matters…and it is a different language that the intellect…

What are your reactions? Are there any parts of this interview that bother you? Are they fully addressed elsewhere in the interview?

37 Responses to Reconstructing Faith and Questioning Morality

  1. John Gustav-Wrathall on February 8, 2013 at 3:59 PM


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  2. John Gustav-Wrathall on February 8, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    I can’t say I disagree with what he’s saying here. It matches some of my observations as well — both my own observations of my personal life as well as my observation of others.

    I think he does his due diligence by pointing out that the stereotype of “lost faith = immorality” is just that… It’s a stereotype, the equation doesn’t always hold. But… There is a connection between faith and morality. I’m not sure how reasonable people can deny it.

    If you believe in a kind of sacred canopy, a kind of cosmic accountability structure (whether you define it as karma or the final judgment), it changes how you move through the world.

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  3. Cylon on February 8, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    Of course there is a connection between faith and morality *for the faithful.* But faith is not the only source of morality, and the question we should be asking is not just “does faith affect morality?” but “how does faith affect morality?” The answer to that question depends entirely on the specific faith under examination, but I’m sure you’re aware that the relationship between faith and morality is not always a positive one.

    As for the interview itself, I’m rather perplexed by John’s insistence that he had to tone down his intellect in order to bring his emotions and spirit back into balance. I can only speak to my own personal experience, but partially ignoring what my intellect tells me is not emotionally satisfying to me at all. I’ve never been able to keep it up for any length of time. But I can certainly empathize with his recognition that spending so much time and energy on Mormon Stories was taking away from his personal relationships and mental well being. I don’t blame him at all for cutting back on that.

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  4. Mike S on February 8, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    There is a complex relationship between the simplistic “faith=morality”. I think that the LDS Church, like many other faiths and world-views, certainly encourages us to be better people than we would be otherwise. But a few comments:

    1) I don’t think we have any exclusive “lock” on the concept. Someone who is a good Muslim or Catholic or Hindu or Buddhist is simply a good person. And there are many people I know who don’t believe in God at all who would be much less likely to take advantage of me than members of my own religion. So saying that someone who questions their LDS faith is necessarily going to question their morals is simplistic.

    2) Some of what John talked about is natural. Once you start to question some basic assumptions with which you have been raised, it seems natural to question other ones. But the key is to NOT throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because someone doesn’t feel that the LDS Church is right for their spiritual journey doesn’t mean that they should question what it means to be faithful to a marriage. Examine the converse – suppose someone gives up the Catholic faith of their fathers and becomes a Mormon. Does giving up the faith of their childhood also mean they should commit adultery?

    3) Some of the things that someone might “try” aren’t necessarily “sins” in an of themselves. Someone might decide to try a glass of wine. So what? Christ drank wine. Joseph Smith drank wine. Billions of people have a glass of wine with dinner and suffer no untoward effects. Some of the things that we consider “apostate” aren’t really eternal principles, but are current “club rules” defining what it means to be a “Mormon” in 2012. If someone doesn’t consider themselves “Mormon”, they may not follow the “rules” anymore.

    John has certainly been on a journey – one which he has been willing to share with the world. As he worries about, I’m sure there are some people who may have left the LDS Church and done other things as a result of his influence.

    But at the same time, I am convinced that what he has done has HELPED many, many people. Many people feel a connection to Mormonism yet don’t feel like they fit the “mold” of the picture-perfect Mormon. John has given hope to many that they can be individuals, that they can define their own relationship to God, that they can take the good from the Church, and most importantly, that they are NOT ALONE in feeling this way. He has helped make it possible for these people to STAY Mormon in spite of their perhaps feeling inadequate.

    Best of luck to John on his journey.

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  5. ji on February 8, 2013 at 8:45 PM

    But the good Mormon boy in me and the angel on my shoulder would always say: “That’s dangerous; that’s scary…you don’t want to go there” And you don’t want to lead people there, and that’s what I felt like was happening…all these people were just checking out of the church and then they were dropping their spouse and they were sleepin’ around and drinking and doing drugs and doing all this scary stuff

    I was just trying to experiment and model post-literalistic secular spirituality and community.

    So maybe John has found peace after his sojourn in the desert, but what about those who followed him there who are still lost out there? I question that kind of morality.

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  6. Howard on February 8, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    Wow what is being described is the collapse of an entire belief system like a house of cards! Apparently belief in the church (not the gospel) was so interwoven with the rest of the belief that a perception of the church being false took everything down with it! Something similar can occur when the parental part of our personalities is rejected and decathected. There is no question that the church provides guidance for people who are willing to turn over their autonomy but it is stunning to see how totally interwoven and non-compartmentalized it can become, leaving them helpless, naive and vulnerable.

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  7. Tristin on February 9, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    I think this raises some really important questions that we all have to ask ourselves as we deconstruct and reconstruct our own faith. When we let go of the structures that upheld our beliefs about how the universe works, we must replace them with a new structure or give in to nihilism and meaninglessness.

    I, personally, have no answers to the question of what remains when we let go, but I can appreciate John’s concern about his role in leading people halfway through the wilderness. We can only be led through the deconstruction. We must do the reconstruction ourselves, and many that begin such a journey aren’t yet prepared to finish it. Would it be better if they never began? I don’t think so, but I do feel for the pain they are going through.

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  8. Howard on February 9, 2013 at 7:12 AM

    It appears that the layered indoctrination by way of repetition over time is very,very insidious. To exaggerate (but not a lot) for affect; the starry eyed “I believe” of the song sung in the play BoM apparently gives way to the institutionalized Shawshank Redemption prisoner raising his hand for permission to pee. White shirts, dresses, number of earrings, caffene or not? Even minutia-thinking is provided for you! Failing to think for one’s self and conflating the gospel and/or morality with the church appears to place one at risk for a rapid collapse of nearly their entire belief system when they discover the church is flawed. Perhaps fear of this collapse in themselves or in others accounts for TBMs zeal in believing literally even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary and may therfore account for their unwillingness to openly discuss the church or allow it to be discussed. This may also be why the church is sometimes called a cult – it may require a deprogrammer (therapist) to safely extract you if you’ve stopped thinking for yourself.

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  9. Andrew S on February 9, 2013 at 8:23 AM


    Thanks for commenting with your thoughts. I’m going to have a post next week with my major thoughts on these parts of the interview, but for now, I will try to respond to some of your comments.

    re 2

    John G-W,

    I like how you phrase things in your last paragraph — and think there’s definitely something to that. But I wonder if that’s not also a problematic idea — like, should people be motivated by the idea of a cosmic accountability structure or something else?

    re 3


    Yeah, the emotional/intellectual split was another theme that I heard often in the interview — I only captured some of the bits that I thought related to his points about morality, but there were a lot more.

    I guess I’ll get more specific next week, but an issue that I see (and I do think that John is aware of these) is that many times, people also have emotional or spiritual problems with the church, not just intellectual ones. I have read from many people that they had all of these emotional issues with the church, but they didn’t deal with them because they believed the church was true. Losing the foundation of historical or theological beliefs freed them up elsewhere.

    And then, as you say…trying to put intellectual issues “on the shelf” or otherwise put them away is an emotionally tough thing to do.

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  10. Andrew S on February 9, 2013 at 8:34 AM

    re 4

    Mike S,

    Great comment…I definitely see your points here…

    With response to your second point, though, I agree that “the key is to NOT throw the baby out with the bathwater”

    …but isn’t it possible that some folks might not be able to determine which is the baby and which is the bathwater? I mean, for someone with an integrated worldview that includes a moral code inside it…the worldview itself seemed like the baby…but that went out the window with the faith crisis or whatever.

    re 5


    Interesting, succinct comment. I especially am intrigued by your use of “followed” — I don’t think I quoted it here, but in the interview, John mentions how he was uncomfortable with the perception that he was a “leader” of a group. So, it would seem to me that part of the reason he’s changing his relationship to Mormon Stories is because he doesn’t want to be seen as leading people into the desert or responsible for leading them out.

    re 6


    But is this specific to the church? I guess one thing that puzzles me is that this is something that is true of many conservative, “strict” churches — and it seems to correlate well with their vibrancy in contrast to mainline or liberal denominations.

    re 7


    This comment intrigues me for many of the same reasons that ji’s did.

    Do you view John Dehlin as leading people into and through faith crises?

    (I always thought that the crises happened independently. Mormon Stories or John D is more like, “Well, if you’re here, then here’s some things you might want to listen to…”)

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  11. Howard on February 9, 2013 at 8:59 AM

    No I don’t think it is specific to the church but I don’t think it is very common either. If by strict conservative churches you mean the Christian Right I think that is a very different and much more benign mix of subconscious manilipulation elevating playing into the contaminated biased judgemential thinking of the base over the implied claim of frequent ongoing divine guidance and the impossibility of being led astray. This is the subconscious vulnerability of the right but the left has it’s subconscious vulnerability as well, they are most easily manilipulated but playing to and reinforcing their victim hood.

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  12. Howard on February 9, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    Let me be more clear, the LDS version is particularly pathological to those who turn over their autonomy to the church. Both the left and the right are led by manipulating their subconscious bias. You led the right by acting like their parent and creating agreement with them on parental topics by using a lot of shoulds oughts, discipline and law and order in you retoric. You led the left by pretending to rescue them; vote for me and I will see that the government gives you _______. The LDS church while politically conservative actually offers both but more potently endangers one’s belief system by claiming the church (not the gospel) is the only true path to heaven, that the church (not the gospel) is the only broker for ongoing divine guidance and the prophet (the church, not the gospel) cannot lead you astray. Follow the prophet (not the Spirit…okay well you can follow him too if you can figure out how to hear him, but follow the prophet). When the prophet speaks the thinking is done (I know, this is supposed to be obsolete but many still think this way.). Lay over this unique frame of reference the idea that the outside world is bad and flat and view it all through the Pollyanna denial filter of lovely, praiseworthy or of good report which seems to be the correlation departments mantra.

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  13. kd on February 9, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    I think the problem lies in the fact that both faith and morality occupy a different part of our psyche than the deconstructionist (or technical) side of our psyche. If we don’t listen to the faith side then we will stop listening to our morality as well. Also its natural to question the spirit once you question the church. Some enlightenment philosophers talked about the dangers of embracing the technical way of thinking using this type of language.

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  14. shenpa warrior on February 9, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    @Howard – re: “claiming the church (not the gospel) is the only true path to heaven, that the church (not the gospel) is the only broker for ongoing divine guidance and the prophet (the church, not the gospel) cannot lead you astray” – In this way, I think the church for many people becomes an idol, something that it need not be but fills the role of God in place of God himself. I can totally see why people fall off the wagon sometimes when they’ve basically been worshipping an idol for their whole lives – even to no fault of their own.

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  15. Howard on February 9, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    Yes, this is a very good description! In addition the idol subtlely suggests and enables the idol worship perhaps with the good intention of binding members to the church. All is well until the deconstructionist part of a member’s psyche peeks and discovers the idol they worship has been deceptive. The church, the gospel and morality should not be conflated, they should be held as seperate belief systems each capable of standing or falling on their own.

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  16. shenpa warrior on February 9, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    Good addition – I think it probably IS done with noble intention.

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  17. Jeff Spector on February 9, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    The Church is more tangible to many and so their worship is sort of directed at it rather than the missing HF and Jesus. So, yes, it can become the idol.

    the Church is merely the vehicle to give us the opportunity to worship communally and to find opportunities to serve others. It also provides some ordinances we require.

    The Church doesn’t save us, doesn’t ultimately forgive us and doesn’t welcome us into heaven.

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  18. Douglas on February 9, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    I question not faith, nor morality, and especially not our Savior whose grace and gift of eternal life He so freely offers. I question those pompous arses that get on their respective self-righteous high horses about it.

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  19. Chris on February 9, 2013 at 8:58 PM

    Without meaning to judge or criticize the choices and feelings of anyone else, I am grateful that my faith is founded on my faith in and love for my Savior Jesus Christ. When the crisis of faith hit me and troubling information about the church’s history surfaced, my faith in God has remained intact as I have reconstructed my views about an imperfect church led by imperfect, fallible leaders.

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  20. Howard on February 9, 2013 at 9:27 PM

    Nice to see how Chris’ faith in diety (not the church) insulated him from the imperfect church.

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  21. Howard on February 10, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    The LDS church is a flawed (imperfect) temporal church, it largely performs saving ordinances for the living and the dead which is simply temporal symbolism. It also sets and enforces behavioral standards for it’s members. In practice it actually does very little spiritually in spite of the brethren’s impressive titles. So while it may remain on earth as long as there is an earth it is temporary to each of us because we are just passing through to something more spiritual. The afterlife church cannot be a mirror image of the temporal church because what’s the point of mimicking symbolic temporal saving ordinances? Do you plan to be baptized and sealed again in the afterlife? What’s the point? Isn’t there more to becoming like Christ than ordinances and obedience? So do not attach you belief to the church, to you the church is just a baptismal fount and a sealing room, it is safer to attach your belief to the Godhead and/or the gospel. Also, the church has no monopoly on morality so search out a broad base of non-Mormon reasons for being moral and attach you belief there.

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  22. kd on February 10, 2013 at 4:51 PM


    The value of the church goes beyond its authority over the saving ordinances. In fact there are two vital functions of the church that are gospel mandated.

    1) Revelation for the whole. While it is possible for me to receive revelation for myself and have a vibrant relationship with God, revelation has more roles than simply individual. Were it not for prophets and the divinely designed institution to disseminate their revelations we wouldn’t have those doctrines of salvation that we all now enjoy. As well there needs to be revelation to guide the believers of christ in temporal affairs (like the building of small temples) interpreting and introducing scripture. Plus revelation is needed to achieve the second purpose.

    2) Unity in the faith. Church isn’t merely a governing body designed to make sure everyone has the same lesson every sunday. Church is supposed to uplift and unite the members. There are spiritual blessings that can only come about if we are treating the gospel in a communal way. Of course it is incredibly hard to become like the group that followed Alma or 4 Nephi, but that is the ultimate purpose of the temporal church. The fact of the matter is that the church is so diverse that the leadership needs to cater to the lowest common denominator. As we become more united then we will be able to advance as a church into greater spiritual blessings. If you are ahead of the curve then lift those around you.

    The fact is as imperfect as the Church may be it is still instituted by God. Focusing on its weaknesses without realizing its value(as it is with individual faith) is counter-productive.

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  23. LDS Anarchist on February 10, 2013 at 5:15 PM

    I didn’t listen to the podcast, I only read the OP. My reaction: I can’t relate to John’s experiences. I’ve mentally gone through all the “what if” scenarios and their logical conclusions, like John, and yes it leads to questioning marriage, etc. But each must weigh the evidence, according to one’s experiences, and the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, which I’ve received from time to time, always stand in the way of left-brain-mind foundational doubt. Take away those manifestations and I could easily throw the religion away. I’ve always tried to approach the gospel in a right-brain-heart way, because this is what the scriptures teach. When I’ve done this, the manifestations ensue. When I’ve taken a purely intellectual approach, the heavens close. The manifested miracles I’ve experienced are more real to me than daily life. So doubt doesn’t affect the foundational reality of the gospel. I’m sure of its truth. My doubts lie elsewhere, in my own ability to repent, live the gospel and access gospel blessings. I’m at the point of attempting to work out my own salvation before the Lord with fear and trembling. John seems to be stuck at the point of learning whether the gospel is true or not. Again, I can’t relate, since I never approached the gospel with doubt of its veracity, but approached it believing it was true and was subsequently given a confirmatory manifestation by the Holy Ghost, so deconstructing and reconstructing faith and questioning morality is not something I’ve literally done. I’ve mentally gone through this process using “what if” scenarios, for I routinely re-analyze my faith from time to time, from top to bottom, especially when I come across new information, but the conclusions I inevitably arrive at are always the same, meaning that the gospel continues to remain true.

    In short, the gospel to me is the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, of which I have experienced from time to time. That is the only gospel I know. So, when I preach the gospel, I say, “The Holy Ghost told me this, the Holy Ghost told me that.” Many don’t believe my words because they’ve never had comparable experiences. I suppose I might react the same way had I not had these experiences myself. But the fact of the matter is that I find many of the accounts credible because they accord with my own experience.

    Without experiencing the gospel ourselves, through the manifestations of the Spirit, we must rely upon the gospel experienced by others. Without confirmation, it becomes easier to say this or that person is full of $#!+. Without confirmation, it all looks like a fantasy, delusion or lie. So it may be that John has not, yet, received any spiritual witnesses.

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  24. Howard on February 10, 2013 at 6:46 PM

    Thank you for your well written comment kd. The fact is as imperfect as the Church may be it is still instituted by God. Focusing on its weaknesses without realizing its value(as it is with individual faith) is counter-productive.. Generally I would agree with this but given we are discussing the near total belief system collapse that can result from the insult and betrayal innocent members can experience by learning of the church’s ironic deceptions, I have focused on it’s weaknesses here in order to construct and highlight a strategy to reduce one’s vulnerability. Offsetting benefits do little or nothing to support that goal.

    Unfortunately in practice revelation for the whole rarely takes place except at the minutia level and that appears to be more inspiration than revelation. Unity in the faith takes place wherever two or more of us are gathered in his name. Those who walk in the Spirit typically do not find unity in faith on Sunday at LDS services because as you point out they are focused on the lowest common denominator. Communal spiritual blessings come from being one it is a merging of spirits, this is grad school stuff that simply doesn’t take place at an elementary school level service.

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  25. hawkgrrrl on February 11, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    What really resonated for me is the description of not having done the soul work required to really get past the ego in the process. It reminded me of some of the missionaries I knew in my mission who were there for the wrong reasons. They coerced people into doing things, they gloried in their successes, they judged people when they weren’t successful, but ultimately it was all about them. The church is full of people who haven’t done any real soul work.

    I met a recently widowed guy at a retreat once who gave me a weird compliment. He said I was very spiritual (by which I think he meant honest and open-minded), and he hastened to point out that he hadn’t met many Mormons who were also spiritual. His experience was that the more religious a person was, the harder for them to be spiritual, maybe because they already get their approval from the religion – they have their reward. They don’t actually do the relationship with God because the organization gives them that.

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  26. Carey on February 11, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    I think we tend to want to empower members with the notion that we have absolute truths that are objectively verifiable (signs) that will withstand all scrutiny because after all they are in fact “true”. Then when people learn of some of the weaknesses and difficulties with various aspects of these signs their conviction crumbles. At least thats what it was like for me. It required a lot of re-learning to come to understand that the Lord’s plan involves us coming to Him in weakness. That faith isn’t knowing things that are objectively true, its be willing to rely on my own subjective non-verifiable experiences that I had to build on. Its be willing to call the fruit that comes from that good.

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  27. chanson on February 11, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    What I just wanted to also go on the record with saying is that can be a mirage, and it is also very possible that the love you’re seeking, the emotional connection you’re seeking, the emotional and intellectual and even sexual fulfillment that you think will be found by taking this completely different path can be unearthed and discovered and enjoyed right in the place where you’ve been for 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, if you’re willing to not engage the world purely with your intellect, but you’re willing to say emotion matters as much as intellect, and spirit matters as much as emotion and intellect, and love and listening and connection matters as much as intellect and integrity…you can find and discover depths of emotional intimacy and connection and love and fulfillment that you would have thought was not possible where you were

    If your marriage is worth staying in, then it is worth staying in regardless of whether the church is worth staying in. It is a separate question — you do not need the church to tell you whether or not your marriage has value.

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  28. Howard on February 11, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    Chanson, I agree with what you said but one of the problems of a social paradigm of innocent early marriage intended to last a lifetime or more is that it can bind two people to no growth or at least very, very slow growth existence. This made more sense in a world of farming and ranching when they died at half today”s age. Sure you can argue that they can grow together within the gospel and many do but that is also very slow growth as the gospel as practiced by the church has advanced very little in our lifetimes. But personal growth is capable of greatly exceeding this rate of change and the problem is both partners do not grow at the same rate or in the same direction so this threatens the slower growing partner and therefore the marriage. When people begin to seriously question their beliefs and assumptions if they are unaccustomed to major change they are cautious even fearful to make such a big change as leaving the church or their marriage or both so they delay often until they can no longer maintain the charade and everything collapses around them. If they haven’t grown much personally along the way they are left to flounder, without adequate coping skills they are largely directionless and rudderless.

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  29. Howard on February 11, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    The romanticized idea that my better half completes me is often said glowingly as if it is some kind of ideal. It isn’t. Psychologically it is a disaster because it is a relationship based on symbiosis rather than intimacy. The math that explains it is 1/2 + 1/2 = 1. This math also explains predefined gender roles. The healthier model is two whole people coming together in love to form an intimate partnership. The math explaining this is 1 + 1 = 3. The problem is few teens and early 20s are whole people yet and if they lock into a young marriage they have little change of becoming whole during the marriage because such a marriage restrains growth due to insecurity. I believe plural marriage practiced by both genders over several generations was designed to transcend this problem as well as the immature emotions of jealousy and possessiveness.

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  30. anonlds on February 11, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    He talks about how his communities become post mormon communities. How else could it be when the church so strongly condemns anyone who participates in anything uncorrelated. I say that as someone who snuck to part of one conference, but being someone who is fully in the church couldn’t risk my reputation by associating openly. The problem is the church doesn’t allow people to associate in extracurricular church stuff, so only the people who are out of the church feel free to go.

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  31. anonlds on February 11, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    I have a great deal of respect for John. One way to look at the role he played is one of therapist for the masses of the disaffected. The main therapeautic task he performed was providing validations to peoples feelings which they haven’t been getting at church. What a spiritually taxing thing to do.

    John talks about pride and how people bore testimony thanking him all the time. I think he is incredibly humble. There is a term in psychology called transferance and therapists are warned about it.

    To quote wikipedia

    “In a therapy context, transference refers to redirection of a patient’s feelings for a significant person to the therapist. Transference is often manifested as an erotic attraction towards a therapist, but can be seen in many other forms such as rage, hatred, mistrust, parentification, extreme dependence, or even placing the therapist in a god-like or guru status.”

    I think that is what happened to many who looked toward John. He is correct to be uncomfortable with it and therapists are trained on how to handle that, but most therapists deal with that on an individual not group basis.

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  32. chanson on February 13, 2013 at 7:17 AM

    Howard I agree with you (except the part about plural marriage).

    The church teaches people to get married ASAP, before they have much relationship experience. And I don’t mean this as a code word for sex, I really mean that young people are encouraged to get married before they’ve had enough experience with relationships to make a wise decision.

    Many people get lucky, but the rest are stuck with the teaching that any marriage can work as long as both partners stay faithful to the church. Then when the rains come down and the floods come up and wash the sand away, some decide that they should stay with their marriage even though they’re not sure it’s built on anything anymore.

    Sometimes that’s the right decision. But in such cases, it can be very threatening to hear that they didn’t have to be in that kind of marriage — that they could have done things differently way back when, and that would have been OK. Sometimes people then conclude that marriages on principle need God or the church in order to survive — and they project that judgement inappropriately onto other people’s marriages.

    The main problem with that strategy is that it leads to encouraging the next generation to repeat your mistakes, instead of helping them learn from your experience.

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  33. Andrew S on February 13, 2013 at 7:53 AM

    Speaking of Mormon cultural practices on marriages that might have an impact on divorce, someone linked me to this post from late 2012.

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  34. [...] Dehlin posted on January 28th, that people are still reacting to? Well, John was so dismayed by the negative reaction that he actually traveled back in time to January 27th to apologize in advance before it ever [...]

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  35. [...] matters. This is where John Dehlin is, for the most part. Mormon Stories is no Dialogue. Yet, in his interview on A Thoughtful Faith, he describes that much of his Mormon Stories experience (whi…. In a Facebook discussion about that interview, one of my FB friends remarked that the problem he [...]

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  36. [...] basics of this post are that it was supposed to be a quick followup to my previous post at Wheat and Tares, which was a partial transcript of John Dehlin’s intervie…. (This podcast episode drew a lot of discussion at Main Street Plaza, by the way.) The basics were [...]

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  37. […] neurotic people with miserable lives? After leaving the church, many of their marriages fall apart. Many lose all sense of morality, but what’s even worse, they aren’t even good at being non-Mormons. They do not have […]

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