C – I’ve never interviewed anyone before.
M – I’ve been interviewed lots of times.
C – I haven’t at all. I’m a pianist. No one interviews pianists. 🙂
M – I’m a Digital Analytics Manager. No one interviews them either. But somehow, Mithryn, he became famous.
C – How did you accomplish that? You must write very well, but are there other reasons for it?
M – I became Mithryn completely by accident. I got a job at an airline, and the thing about airlines is that everyone has two jobs – the airline job, and something else, like selling Tupperware or making jewelry.
C – Because you need more money or you’re bored out of your mind?
M – A little of both. Overstaffed, underpaid. We were living with in-laws, so I didn’t need a second job. But, I did have lingering questions from my mission, and when my oldest child, who is quite precocious, asked a question I couldn’t quite answer straight on my mission, I decided I’d turn that extra time into church research.
C – Kids have a funny way of piercing right through to the heart of things, whether they mean to or not. What was the question?
M – I don’t even remember, but it started me looking at Helen Mar Kimball, so it was likely about marriage, polygamy, or some such.
C – Jumping straight into the deep end.
M – The answer at my home growing up was always, “More research will answer it”, so I dug in. My brother focused on Greek and Latin, my father on Mesoamerica, so out of books of scripture I decided to go for modern church history and the Doctrine and Covenants. About three years later I had a ton of notes all researched from church sources, you know, to avoid those anti-Mormon lies.
I came across MormonThink.com and realized they were posting the same topics, the same answers, the same sources. I reached out to FAIRMormon, correcting two of their articles. They never responded. I reached out to MormonThink, correcting two articles, and both were changed within 24 hours. And the changes were pro-church! So, I began to post my notes on Reddit, more or less unedited, and people liked them. Hence, Mithryn was born.
C – You went where most people can’t or won’t. You had the ability and inclination to take on something very troubling. Three years is a long time to dedicate to research on a topic you probably didn’t want to figure out was false. That probably wasn’t your intent anyway. Still, you had the notes then, you had to have thought a great deal about it all, and you started reaching out in public forums. You must have been…what, defiant? scared?
M – I had full confidence I would justify the church and find the clear answers. It never occurred to me it was false until February of 2007, I think.
C – You started researching so you could answer what appeared to be a simple question. At what point did you realize you were onto something very disturbing? That something was very wrong with what you had been taught? I remember the day my shelf collapsed. Do you still remember the day? Was it a day, or was it stretched out over a period of time?
M – We flew up to Utah and I suggested my spouse and I go to the Salt Lake City temple. We’d never been and, to me, it sounded romantic. We got there and the temple worker read from a little card that the endowment had been changed to reduce sitting/standing for the elderly.
C – Yeah, it used to sound romantic to me too. The conditioning ran deep.
M – I listened closely to the ceremony and, afterwards, just had to talk to the temple president. I told him that the only change that day was “may to might” and he told me “you’ve got good ears”. I then said that both he and I knew the temple changes had been more than just sitting and standing. He asked how I knew, and I explained that my brother had told me, in the celestial room, when I got my endowments out. He had gone through just before 1990 and I was just after. “He shouldn’t have done that”, was the temple president’s response.
C – Deflection. Typical.
M – Then I felt there was something wrong with the LDS, so I delved into the FLDS, the order, and the Bickertonites. I visited Kirtland and the Restoration, Remnant and Community of Christ. I had long talks with the apostle at the Church of Christ, Templelot. But, I think the end of my belief came from the Michael Coe interview on Mormon Stories. He explained there was no gold until 700 A.D. in Mesoamerica (except the Incas). That meant no golden throne of King Noah, no senines or Ontis, and god continuously chastised the Nephites over the love of gold, and gold was different than steel or horses. Both Joseph and Moroni saw the same golden plates and used the same word.
C – And the air went right out of your world. It was over, then.
M – Mostly. But it was 2012, really, when I resigned. I learned they had tortured a college friend at BYU, showing him porn and making him vomit as part of reparation therapy.
C – You posted your notes on Reddit, then, thinking they would be clearly explained or debunked? And they weren’t, because they couldn’t be, and you felt…what?
M – I posted my notes on Reddit because it was a tiny place back then and no one cared. But Reddit is a fascinating place and people would post things they had heard and didn’t know if they were true. So, I posted a game. “Post the craziest thing you’ve heard, and I’ll source it from a General Authority”. Out of three rounds, only one person posted something I couldn’t source from a general authority.
C – Great game.
M – That’s probably the real moment people cared who I was.
C – You were LDS throughout your childhood?
M – Yes. Elder’s quorum president twice, Instructor for 7 years. Mission.
C – The works. Many don’t resign – it doesn’t matter enough to them to do so. But you did. Why?
M – I felt that human torture was my limit. It wasn’t science, because they had gotten the result of the experiment back in 1978. But, they continued, knowing it wouldn’t help people for over a decade.
Human torture, it turns out, is my point of no return.
C – I know many Mormons who wouldn’t shy away from it at all, if it’s deemed as being necessary to help the church and obey the church leaders. Obedience is everything – absolutely everything – and no amount of human suffering mitigates one’s responsibility to carry out heavenly obligations. It’s a total, willful abandonment of moral principles.
C – You resigned over an appalling practice that should never happen, and yet the church continues on. We have to wonder just how much they’re going to continue to get away with.
M – I think that’s where my books started. “The ABC’s of Science and Mormonism” kind of addresses that “belief in spite of evidence” approach many members take.
C – I can’t wait to read them. So, you resigned, you’re done, you’ve finally figured it all out. You were probably relieved, in some ways, but you probably also felt betrayed. Most do. But were you angry?
M – Betrayed. It’s a better word. Angry…kind of, but it really wasn’t until I was in Primary with my kids and I heard them saying things that were obviously doctored for the children. I forget the exact line, but I’d read the source and knew what they were referring to. But, someone had thought the full source/quote was too nutty for children or teachers to explain, so they basically lied to my little ones, and that was when the anger hit.
C – You sit in the Mormon Primary meeting and you think to yourself, “My child is more intelligent than this. My child deserves better than this. I deserve better than this.” The conditioning starts at birth. I didn’t realize the depth of what they were doing, in places like Primary, until I was out and could look back at it all objectively.
M – Right. I think that’s common. It’s so hard to see it from the inside – so hard that active members who read that will assume that I’m just misled and confused.
C – It’s often nearly impossible. I was questioning, in my own mind, all my life, but I STILL couldn’t see it.
C – So, you kick the church to the curb, then, and you resign. But, here is where the proverbial fork in the road appears. Some people, like you, continue to have faith in a deity. Some, like me, leave all faith behind. So, to you, the concept of a deity is very real and very powerful – it’s just that the Mormon church was not the right vehicle in which to learn about him or her. Other faiths go about it correctly, or at least in ways that make sense to you. Correct?
M – Kind of. Progressive deism isn’t quite like most faiths. In fact, I often hear atheists making progressive deist arguments.
C – How so?
M – Progressive deism is the belief that there is a God, but He/She/It might have kicked off the Universe like Spinonza. But, He/She/It may still come down and confuse humans for sport. It allows me to take every religious person at their word, but then point out that what they are saying doesn’t make God a good thing.
C – There is just one being, then? It’s not a version of Pantheism? Spinoza promoted Pantheism.
M – For example, if Brian Hales says that an angel told Joseph Smith he HAD to engage in polygamy, and sent an angel with a flaming sword to make it happen, I agree with him it happened, but point out that makes God a rapist, or at least that God likes to watch.
C – Well, that’s disturbing, but it’s actually no different than what the Mormon church, and many other churches, teach anyway.
M – Right, right, that’s it exactly. If someone says that Joseph Smith Jr. translated the Book of Mormon with a rock and didn’t need the plates, I can accept that and also point out that God is cruel to make Moroni haul the plates across North America.
C – Is he or she worthy of being worshipped?
M – This god/gods/physics doesn’t deserve worship, and I believe it to be humanity’s ultimate goal to be better than God.
C – It’s a capricious, arbitrary god, then.
M – Yes. Any God who would put the Dome of the Rock a football’s throw from the Wailing Wall clearly is messing with humans.
C – But it’s still clearly something a god-like figure did do. That’s the belief.
M – Maybe, or maybe a “13-year old with the SIMS pulling the ladder out of the swimming pool” god.
Once I was at a massive campout. During this campout I saw a person picked up vertically in the air and thrown forward into a car. I can’t explain it. I know that, by science, anything that moves in a right angle is considered a UFO, because we don’t have the engineering to make something move like that… and here it was done to a person. The person said, “Someone pushed me”, and his friends all said he tripped. But, my friends and I all confirmed the same thing. He was picked up and thrown. A typical skeptic would tell me, “Mass hallucination”, and I get that. It wasn’t his/her observation. But, for me, I see something… nasty in whatever did that to a human, something nasty and more powerful than us.
C – A deity able to create the universe and all that is in it…a deity that may or may not create chaos in human life for sport, as you say…it is not to be worshipped, but he or she does possess unimaginable power. That kind of power in any sort of creature demands respect and adulation – it doesn’t seem likely that a deity would simply use that kind of power without forcing eternal recognition and worship. Even if that deity is evil the need for acknowledgement, at the very least, would be fundamental. It’s too easy to ask why that god-like figure doesn’t use his or her powers for good, i.e. making sure children are not beaten to death and women do not have acid thrown in their faces, although those are valid questions. But, it just doesn’t seem as though a god would wield power like that, then step aside and simply allow humans to do as they will.
M – “Forcing eternal recognition and worship” is not good. The Mormon version of deity is one that gave us free will, only to expect us to give it up back to Him. That is the ultimate goal of Mormon faith, taking away the one thing worth fighting. That’s according to the Lore.
C – The Mormon “free will” doesn’t exist. Do as he says or else.
M – Right. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. “There is no consent in the church” – not in callings, not truly.
C – Agreed, but that’s not how it’s all packaged and sold.
M – Right. Any two people can make a marriage work, so get married within a year of getting home from your mission. Wear this underwear and only this underwear.
C – Pay all this money, go to all your meetings, make sure to act happy while you’re doing all that, and give your talks in Sacrament meeting about free will. Right.
M – Exactly.
M – Maybe there exists some benevolent higher power, but if that benevolent power allows lesser powers to toss humans for sport, I can say that higher power isn’t “good”.
C – So we might be functioning under a much more malevolent deity?
M – Yes. Progressive deism concedes there may be a higher power, but it is incumbent on the believer to justify why their higher power is morally superior. And the flood in the bible is a perfect example.
C – Where is the moral superiority in causing mayhem for no reason? If a deity is, indeed, malevolent, tossing people around, as in your example, why would he or she not use that power for even greater good or, conversely, greater evil? There are always bigger, better goals to achieve, whether one is “good” or “bad”.
M – Let’s take the Book of Mormon Jesus, for example:
He or She might. We’d just see the results. For example, whenever he/she/it gets bored it creates a new religion, tells them they have all the secrets, produces a few scientifically unverifiable miracles, and sets them down in the middle of others believing their own faiths. Wars ensue and bored god pops popcorn.
C – Interesting, but who defines that ideology god promotes?
M – God may not even care. He/She/It just ignites the fuse and watches what humans provide to fill in the inevitable cracks in the logic.
C – How does one find any meaning in life, then? How do we justify what we do and don’t do, and why things happen? If capricious happenings can upend our lives at any time, caused by a ridiculous or vengeful deity, what point is there in trying to live a purposeful life?
M – We strive against this thing and realize that the answers exist in us.
C – We can try to be good, so to speak, and live the way we see fit, but the arbitrariness of it all could drive a person mad.
M – Forget incantations, prayers, rites, and so forth. Just like Picard ignores “Q” and refuses to play the game and comes out morally superior, so should we.
C – So the deity can’t be good – it must be at least somewhat evil in order to justify that struggle and help us learn to overcome our flaws. The game, then, is for us to “win” – win over a god who doesn’t care about us or, worse, mucks up our lives on purpose. The ultimate battle of good vs. evil, but there is no “good” god, just “good” us, as defined by ever-shifting, subjective moral ambiguities. Makes things complicated.
M – Yes, and we have to get over ourselves and the petty problems with our neighbors to do it, but I believe in humanity. I think we can, and it’s not that there is a purpose. We aren’t guaranteed to succeed, but the journey produces better results than any single religion.
C – But, how do you define “succeed”? What would cause us to put a checkmark in the Success box?
Simply trying to be a better person overall, rather than following any religious ideology that often forces us to do what we’re told rather than what is right for us?
M – Yes – success is when we are more good than god. Like Hitchens says in his book, “Good Without God”, we can and should strive to be good without God.
C – This is all so interesting. I didn’t know much at all about your point of view. I’m working it through in my mind, trying to understand it all. I don’t like your deity much, I’m afraid.
C – Ah, but therein lies the rub – the definition of “good” is wildly different all over the world. Who defines that and how do we know if we’re succeeding?
M – The goal of the atheist and the progressive deist is the same. I just get to say, “I believe you”, to the believer and then ask “Why does that make god good?”.
C – I suppose you’re right, at least in some ways. My “good” may not be your “good”, and our “good” is certainly not the same as “good” in some other countries and religions.
M – Measuring it is hard. I’m a data guy and I love to measure everything. “What gets measured gets done.”
C – There is no way to quantify any of this, though. There can’t be and there shouldn’t be, I don’t think.
M – And I’ve seen people with their scales of “good” totally skewed, but I’ve seen them both in and out of religion.
C – On that we agree completely. In some cases it’s worse IN religion.
M – Exactly. I have another saying – Religion claims it’s goal is to make a bad man good, but I often see it take good men and put them in bad situations, to disastrous results.
C – Oh boy, you’re spot-on there.
M – Mormon bishops interrogating kids about masturbation, people who encourage against blood transfusions in the Jehovah’s witnesses, the people who gave Kool-Aid to their kids at Jones Town…
belief isn’t a good enough reason, but all felt at the time they were doing something “good”.
C – Religion’s goal is NEVER to make bad men good. It is to control the masses and collect obscene amounts of money for church leaders.
M – Exactly. It happens with such regularity it must amuse the great being that gives miracles.
C – That’s where I have trouble figuring out the way to define success within your beliefs.
M – Here’s another fun approach I use sometimes. Prove that God, in the bible, isn’t just the sock puppet of Satan.
C – There’s no way to do so, if they do exist. Oftentimes the goals are the same, and the ways they go about it are the same as well. They’re both thoroughly unpleasant characters I want nothing to do with.
M – Most Christians I’ve asked can’t even entertain the thought
C – The horror. The nerve you have, right?
M – Right.
C – And yet, it’s a valid question. In the temple, as you know, Satan is shown to have far more power than Jesus.
M – He gets to break the 4th wall, Deadpool-style, while Jesus is just a lackey. Satan actually shows emotion. He cares about the people in the temple THAT DAY, individually. He’s passionate. That was confusing to me from the first time I went. Also, that he answers Adam’s prayer. Why would a good, all-knowing God allow that?
C – Exactly. Mormons will say it was a temptation, but they’re taught to say so. Satan exhibits immense power in the temple stories – it’s deeply disturbing.
M – And it’s not unique to Mormonism.
C – And God has to send men down, three times, I think, to find out what’s going on on Earth. Seems like he’d know that.
C – No, it’s not.
M – I have Baptist and ex-Baptist friends who live/lived in constant fear of Satan, and others of the wrath of God.
C – Many religions in other countries also rely on a heavy fear of a devil figure in order to keep people in line. It’s repulsive.
M – I would much prefer that we turn from hokum stories and say, “Even if there is a god, how do we prevent flooding?”.
C – I’ve looked at historical renderings of Satan throughout history – no wonder he scared kids into being good.
M – To me, the tower of Babel shows what we can do if we work together and ignore God. We’ve far surpassed that tower now.
C – He seems too powerful to ignore, though. He still looms large, or he should, with his ability and motivation to ruin happy lives. Do you fear him?
M – No.
C – He can cause catastrophic damage, on a whim.
M – Like any bully, they find easier targets. And, if you’re at their whim, you just ride it out – they get bored.
C – A god doesn’t need to find easier targets. A creator of the universe can pick any target they want.
Bored. We deal with life-or-death situations and he or she might be…bored. That’s a crazy concept for me.
M – Or create new ones… and this is the interesting bit. If such a being exists and cares about what is going on here, it implies that creation resources are limited.
C – How does it imply that? I don’t see the causal connection.
M – It’s easier for this being to create a new religion with the already-created than to create again. Look at how many religions there are. Clearly it must take less effort or produce better results to muck about with the already-created, and that implies this being isn’t infinite. It isn’t omnipotent. It might not even be the creator at all. Just another thing higher in power than us that amuses itself.
C – Universe-building ability, but not omnipotent?
M – I’m really quite open. There’s no canon to progressive deism – just accepting that people claim there is a divine being, and pointing out he’s a dick.
C – You’ve seen the memes that say we’re probably a lesser god’s kid’s science project, on a shelf in a jar somewhere, and it only earned a C+.
M – Exactly. In a nutshell.
M – Maybe I should say he/she/it is flawed.
C – I think he or she is a dick. I kind of want to kick them in the shin. Pretty hard.
M – LOL.
C – Rude bugger.
M – It also allows for one other aspect of conversation. When religious people say I should do X (say, not drink coffee or not get a blood transfusion), I can ask, “Why not?”. When they go into what the bible says, or any other appeal to authority is immediately played, I can say, “And how many heavenly points will it cost me?”, because the implication is that there is some kind of scale or evaluation going on
and no one, not even the most devout person with the most accountant-like attitude, actually knows how the score is kept. And yet, every one of them is sure their own rules matter more, even between members of the same religion. If you push, you’ll find the scores are all different.
C – It’s a judgment of right or wrong as conveniently defined by Bronze-Age goatherders who didn’t know where the sun went at night. There is no way to quantify all that either, those heavenly brownie points, as I call them. I tried so hard to earn them, but the point system seemed to differ from person to person even in my own church, much less throughout other communities and nations. It made me crazy – I thought I was going to lose my mind trying to figure out what was “right” and “good”, and what I shouldn’t be doing. None of it made sense and everyone had a different take on it. That is definitely one of religion’s weakest selling points.
M – Yes. So, let’s say you and I came up with a point system, without including god or gods. We just wanted to make a “Good” scale without the goatherders. What is the chance that people who follow our scale would be better off than those following one individual religion’s scale?
M – That’s my kind of idea for “Good”. For example, the people who re-wrote the Ten Commandments to include forbidding rape and slavery.
C – That’s also subjective, though. Our scale would be tailored to what we have been culturally conditioned to accept as right and good. Other cultural, ethnic, and religious takes on it would be massively different. So, we can’t possibly decide whether a person would be better off or not because there’s no objective way to define and measure it.
M – Kind of. I’m an economist by education – there is a solid concept of models. It’s less about “good” and “bad” and more about what “works”.
C – To a point.
M – To a point.
C – But what works in white, middle-class America, for example, would be horrifying to, say, natives in New Guinea. So, the lousy deity maybe making sport of us all is laughing his or her ass off right now because we can’t even figure out how to quantify situations like this, much less attempt to impose a workable system on people.
M – That’s fair.
C – Culture does that better than deities. Usually.
M – The model would need to be flexible enough to not be limited by geography or gender, and the great thing about science is that we don’t have to get it right on the first try. We can a/b test it.
C – True.
M – We can hypothesize and be wrong. And, I firmly believe that, just as medicine from science outstrips religious medicine.
C – But are we not, then, attempting to, in effect, play god while, at the same time, we don’t even LIKE god? Do we have that right?
M – So could morals and ethics.
C – I agree – not completely, but at least somewhat.
M – It is more ethical to play god than to be subject to one that is visibly corrupt.
C – Humans are often just as corrupt as the gods they claim to worship. Same problem, different atmosphere.
M – Yes. It’s a flaw, and maybe we’ll never get there.
C – A big one. I don’t believe we will. But then we tip over into politics and it gets messy, eh? 🙂
M – But I think we’ll get closer listening to individuals who happen to make money than by our obedience to goatherder legends.
C – On that we agree completely.
C – I feel I’ve kept you too long, but this has been fascinating. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the deity you propose. He’s quite the unpleasant fellow.
M – If I’m struck by 1,000 kittens falling on my head you know he’s real and he’s a dick.
C – LOL!
C – I so appreciate the time you’ve given to me.
M – You’re very welcome.
C – And thanks for the unusually respectful and thoughtful conversation. I’d almost forgotten how much I miss it.
M – It’s often in very short supply these days.
Cathy L. Mason is an Author and Editor at Doubtsy.com
One of her latest books The Conservative Atheist: My Journey Out of Mormonism and into a new life without any gods, and her next book is coming out this Sunday
Mithryn is the Author of two new books for doubters including: