It's been a while since I've explored my reasons for not believing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and why I don't think I could ever rejoin. The last post I did that explored my story was this one here: http://thereligiousoutsider.blogspot.com/2011/05/mormonism-and-me-leaving-organized.html, and a lot of still stands though I didn't really go into the details behind the why and what I meant by behind certain things like the racism and sexism and the historicity issues.
With those post I don't mean to offend, but I'm not going to lie. This was my first time going and exploring Temple Square since I was a little kid and it was here that really captured a lot of the pros and cons of the Mormon Faith for me. Obviously the cons outweigh or else I'd be a member, so I'll tell about my experiences of revisiting the Mormon Mecca here.
My friend lives right next to Temple Square and after visiting the Greek Festival I decided coming here would be a good way to both see how the Church tells it's own story and through that illustrate my reasons for why I don't believe in it. Much like the articles posted around Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, Temple Square is the Thesis Statement of the Mormon Church that explores how it sees itself.
The first place we reached was the home of Brigham Young, this is a guy who had some similar problems to Joseph Smith as he took a bunch of wives (some of whom already had husbands in Joseph Smith's case or were young (14 or younger) like Aisha and Muhammad) and believed it was his right because he was a Prophet to do so. He was pretty racist towards African and Native Americans too.
After Brigham Young's home we reached the area where the Church Office is and the Joseph Smith memorial building. The area was beautiful, but the the memorial building was closed on Sunday.
One very positive thing about this area is how green it is. There are lots of flowers and trees and it really is a beautiful area, there is another side to this too, which I'll get into further down. The area itself reminded me of a greener Vatican actually, in more than a few ways. Came here with my cousin when I first moved here and I do love how pristine and beautiful the location is.
The next place we visited was the North Temple Visitor Center. It was here it had the brief history of the 40 years it took to build the Temple and showed a small miniature house of it too. One of the reasons I couldn't be a Mormon is actually the existence of the Temple, much like how non-Muslims aren't allowed in Mecca, non-Mormons aren't allowed in the Temple and for me it is difficult a God would be that exclusive. More often than not exclusivity leads to isolation of perspective which makes it difficult to see where others may be coming from because if you have the exclusive truth than everyone else must be wrong...and when it comes to religion that claim is more often than not something based on faith which can't be proven with evidence by it's very nature.
After we found a video of some of the current President/Prophet's talks and one of the ones we listened was great until it got into theology. It basically covered everyday things that are important, like honesty and integrity. It was once the Bible and Book of Mormon were quoted that it felt like a non-sequitur argument. Also the Family Proclamation on the wall was a pretty big "Only Certain Families are Welcome" thing as it excludes Gay families and the sheer diversity of families from re-marriages and divorces, poly, and single parents raising children or existing as a couple. This is sad as there is so much beauty that can exist in these relationships and that it matters less the type of family it is and more the character of a family. A couple being a straight couple does not make them good, they could be abusive or have any other types of problems. Just because people can have kids, does not make them good parents. I hope someday this proclamation can be expanded to include all families and have more focus on character rather than family make-up as this proclamation is part of what fed the homophobia against LGBTQ folks in the U.S. and lead to the funding against Gay Marriage in California and elsewhere in the U.S.A.
The other issue I have is tied to not seeing any evidence on any person being able to have otherworldly powers or predict the future. Because of this I don't believe in the existence of prophets in any religion, though certainly open to the possibility.
Afterwords we visited The Assembly Hall which is a place for non-members to come and worship, I am glad this place exists as it is one of the more areas of simple beauty on Temple Square and it isn't big or large like most of the other buildings on the premise...and it is an area that welcomes all, which is good, even if it doesn't have the same significance of the Temple. The inside is simple with an organ, wooden seats with the most ornate thing being granite pillars inside the Hall.
Our next stop was the Church History Museum. First I'll go into the good, it showed the struggle of a lot of the immigrants who came across the plains and oceans to get to Utah for religious freedom. What it doesn't say though is how there were people already there. The natives are only mentioned as Lamanites the 13th Tribe of Israel (historically inaccurate, Native American's don't have any Jewish genes) and how Jesus came and preached to them. This is shown later on the floor on the top level where Joseph Smith is shown preaching to the natives. It has an imperialistic feel to it as the warrior natives look frightened as Smith and another preach, this was disturbing on a lot of levels because it showed the racism and justification of both Manifest Destiny (Zion is ours on this Land) and Imperialism (educating the sinful natives and saving them from the wrongs committed by their ancestors). The issue of polygamy (saying it's right and God wants it and after saying it's wrong and God doesn't want it), racism (Black's exclusion from the Priesthood for a long time) or the Mountain Meadows Massacre (Mormon Settlers targeting other Settlers and attempting to frame the Native Americans in the process) are never addressed either, it's a very idealized picture that does a disservice to the First People's of Utah and the complex history of the Church (the darker sides are never dealt with). The Vatican was very similar in regards to not showing the darker side of the Catholic Church's history which I wish more religions did...confessing the problems of your past up front does solve some issues as it shows integrity and with that a possible willingness to learn from the lessons from those mistakes.
I think one interpretation we may see and might currently exist among some believers of the Book of Mormon is it all being mythology and symbolic. Similar to the Old Testament and more fantastical events of the New Testament. If this catches on it could be a step in the right direction in relation to the Native Americans here and the actual history of this place.
The next place we went to were the Church grounds, which are beautiful and right near is a covered patio with chairs, a great area for reading. Right next to it would be part of what I see as the problem both in the Vatican and other Churches too. The homeless are kept out.
If you look across from Temple Square you see City Creek, where the church invested a lot of it's money. Just outside the gates is a homeless man. I heard from my friend the Church does provide a service where homeless can work for lodging and food, but I haven't seen it (though I know individual members who do care for the poor and other groups in need). Everywhere in the city I've seen the poor being cared for by religious organization are the Catholics (the area near Cathedral of the Madeline, Catholic Community Service in Old Greek Town and The Virgin of Guadalupe Church in the poor area of Salt Lake City). I haven't seen any of that, looking out the door I saw tons of money that was poured into City Creek. The Orthodox Church had businesses endorsing an event, but the Church didn't own any of the businesses. The Mormon Church owns City Creek, which is good publicity, but all one has to do is see how the poor are being kept out for image and how much money was poured into a mall, also in regards to the Trinity Orthodox Church visit, I saw no charities or food banks in regards to the poor in Utah, it was more more focused on self and not self in relation to the outside, which for me is a problem if religion is supposed to make one better.
I'm sure the Church provides services, but I haven't seen them in the areas that need it the most and Temple Square feels less welcome to all when a homeless man has to beg outside the gates...it kind of promotes the exclusivity problem.
If you've been reading the blog you know where I stand on equality of leadership in any organization (a person's sex should not bar them from leadership positions in any hierarchy) and the matter of Gay Rights. These are the biggest reasons beyond my agnosticism of the Supernatural and the historicity of the Book of Mormon and Bible for why I could not become a Mormon. I do have hope that these things will be dealt with as time passes, as in the case of Gay Rights especially there are consequences, there are many homeless gay youth on the streets because of how they have been rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation. There are people and families excluded for who they are. How does that make any sense in reference to a loving higher power? This is hardly just a problem in Mormonism, my biggest issues are pretty universal in most conservative religious communities, but this was my visit to the Temple Square area and visit the locations and my chance to explore it in regards to Mormonism first hand.
Native American Genetic Ancestry: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2014/02/12/earliest-american-genome-proves-siberian-origins-for-native-peoples/
Joseph Smith: http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/
Brigham Young: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57241071-78/church-lds-says-mormon.html.csp
Mormon Church and Marriage Equality: http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB122186063716658279