# exmormon

## Technology Proposal for MT

MT has become, without a doubt, one of the most influential websites of its kind on the Internet. Both beloved and vilified because of their reach and their fame, the editors of MT should be proud of what they have been able to accomplish.

However, the Internet moves fast and staying still often means falling behind. If MT wants to continue to inspire thought and research they need to move away from a paradigm of disseminating information outwards to a new paradigm where the editors are not just content producers but are more traditional editors of content provided by a wide variety of sources. Response time to research, both in terms of advancing new findings as well as removing incorrect facts, will become more important in the future as sources of information continue to widen.

Recently, MT underwent a much-needed design and layout change. It is very much appreciated, but we can and need to move further than just a redesign. However, there are two groups who have different needs that must be satisfied in any future planning.

The editors need a solution where creating and editing content is as easy as possible. However, developers and designers need a solution that removes as much of the display layout and logic from the content as possible. CMS's such as Wordpress usually provide a great middle road by providing simple content editing that is later combined with the site layout after editing. However, CMS's as a technology are complex and are targets for security flaws, and when combined with multiple users of various permission levels can quickly become immensely complex for an average user.

--Update--

I don't even discuss wikis, which has been pointed out by a few people.  It's true, I don't, and it's true that a wiki would take care of much of the needs of the editors and people who want to contribute.  However, I feel that adopting a style used by sites like FAIRMormon have a few shortcomings.  Using FAIRMormon as an example, here are the problems that I feel need to be addressed with a wiki-based system.  None of them are, of course, inevitable or impossible to overcome.  They just seem to be problems that FAIR, a wiki which has been operating for a number of years now with a large volunteer force, still has.

FAIR has a single voice on every topic.  Those voices may contradict each other at different parts of the site, but within each article there is only one point of view.  The history and discussion pages where (presumably) discussion and debate occurs are blocked off.  Edits are thus private.  We don't know the editors, we don't know who contributed a particularly bad edit, and we don't know if there are other viewpoints that are not being expressed.  It produces an unfortunate image of an "official" page on a subject.  But history and sociology are messy subjects.  We as a public need to have access to these discussions.  We need to know what the biases are in the construction of these pages.  We need to know why or why not certain items of information were written in this or that way, or were entirely omitted.  This produces an air of anonymity, which can be a powerful tool *and* a powerful weapon.  Anonymity provides some of the weaker apologists with a cover: their apologetic theories are imbued with the strength associated with FAIRMormon as a whole because nobody knows whether Daniel Petersen or some lowly high schooler made the argument.  Anonymity also can be a potent weapon: often FAIR has made sport attempting to portray their critics (whether they are also critics of the LDS Church or not) as fearful if they hide behind anonymity.  In the inverse, with a site devoted to an accurate discussion of LDS history and sociology, anonymity can prevent editors who have difficulty in keeping bias out from being found out.

The answer to this, of course, in a future wiki system is to ensure that the history and discussion pages are open to public view.  Not too hard.  I just think that a system where the entire site can be openly accessed with improvements suggested, even down to the very nuts and bolts of the Javascript and CSS, is more in line with open source ideals.  I know a lot of people disagree with me and can be much more eloquent about how wrong I am.  I look forward to it when an eventual wiki-based site arises that attempts to be the honest FAIRMormon with fuller context to the issues.


## Static Site Generators

One halfway point between the needs of the content creators and the web developers is the new idea of static site generation. A static site generator does not store the content in a database, but rather stores content in text files (usually Markdown or ReStructuredText). Upon command, the content files can be “compiled” with a site layout to produce a collection of HTML files ready to be deployed to a simple web server. Most web developers are familiar with the development pattern of Model-View-Controller. In a very rough (read: wrong) summary, the idea of an MVC web app like Wordpress is that the Model is the content written by the users, which is interpreted by a Controller, to produce (usually in conjunction with a template) a View for the end user to see. A static site generator could be though of as a Model-View-Controller pattern where all possible views are pre-built and saved as files.

The benefits, from a web developer's viewpoint, of a Static Site Generator (SSG) are speed and security. When a page is requested from the server there is no interpreter to be run, no specialized compilations to perform. Instead the server just grabs the HTML file in question and serves it. Files can be browser and cache-able, as well as compressed, providing even more speed improvements. And from a security point of view when there are no actual moving parts there are no vectors for attack: no SQL injections to guard against, no Status 500 errors to exploit. Also, the hardware needs of the server are at their most minimal.

Of course that describes the current site, which is also flat files. But the current site does nothing to separate the concerns of the content creators and the developers. Using a SSG means that the content itself is still stored separately from the site layout. Extensive modifications can be performed upon the look, feel, and behavior of a page without altering the content and vice-versa.

## Markdown

Markdown, as a formatting language, is becoming more and more well-known. It is the formatting language used by many popular websites, such as GitHub and Reddit. Chances are that the editors and other content contributors are already quite familiar with it (it is the formatting language used by Reddit, for instance, and we know that many of the MT editors are active on Reddit). This proposal itself was written in Markdown (not that this is much of a big deal as it isn't really using much formatting). You can see the original file here, if you'd like.

--Update--

I've moved this blog from a Pelican backend to [Write.as](https://write.as/), which is also Markdown-based but with a much more efficient web interface.


## GitHub

One other benefit of moving the content pages to their own files is that it becomes far easier to make and track changes to them. The penultimate piece of this new technology system for MormonThink would consist of hosting the entire source code for the site publicly at GitHub. I understand that this extreme transparency might make a lot of people nervous, but in the end MormonThink is devoted to facts, truth, and accuracy and transparency is one of the best ways to force these ideals in technology.

Also, having the source at GitHub introduces an entirely new aspect to the development of MormonThink for the future: additional content. As a public repository of code, anyone would have the freedom to download their own copy of the website to do with as they wish. In reality, there is nothing about this process that is now impossible and indeed I've had to copy every accessible file from MormonThink as I've pursued this project.

GitHub, and its underlying technology of git, are centered around this idea of widely distributed code because of how those widely separated copies of the code can be used to make the project better. Users can do more than just make a copy of the code: they can alter it (creating what is called a “fork” of the code). In the case of the future MormonThink site they can add new pages or even entire sections, they can clean up and alter existing pages, they can upload images, and much more. This is because they have full control over their own copy of the code. Again, there is nothing preventing this behavior even now so while this might sound quite scary it really isn't. Anyone can post their own altered version of MormonThink even now, but these unofficial versions have no hope of attaining anywhere near the audience they need to endanger the fame and authority of the current site. Opening up the code would not change this: MormonThink.com is still the official page.

But users can request that their changes be “merged” back into the official code (the technical term for this request is a “pull request”). And here is where the editors of MormonThink get to continue to be editors. GitHub has extensive tools set up around users and permissions involved with these merges. This process of third-party, independent coders and content creators contributing their own effort back to the main project is how open source projects like Linux are built. Allowing these requests is fully the responsibility of the owners of the original GitHub repository.

## Example

In our example we still have an official MT editor, but now much of the content development and maintenance can be moved from their own responsibility to a wide army of volunteers who want to help. Of course, every editor can go through the same process and approve their own merges if they also want to add content, but they are now editors in a very real sense.

(Also, as a quick aside, the created content does not only need to be in English! Translations of MT content are sorely lacking, and opening up the code and the contribution process this way would do wonders for the ability of foreign language speakers and writers to quickly amass a large amount of translated copy.)

## Prose

There's one final benefit in this example layout: it can be done without opening any code tool such as Dreamweaver or Sublime Text. For Markdown files contained in a GitHub repository there is a tool, called Prose, that can edit them on-line and save the changes to the personal or official code repositories. Prose is a great tool because it can instantly translate the Markdown being written into a rough formatted version so that an author can quickly make sure that they're writing and formatting their content the way they want.

## Healthcare.gov (Not the Bad Bits!)

This technology plan for MormonThink isn't just an unproven idea. While the actual application parts of the website have been bogged down in bugs and errors, the landing pages and informational pages for the US government site healthcare.gov are produced using a Static Site Generator, a private instance of GitHub, and Prose. These aspects of the website have been lauded for their simple design and devotion to user-friendliness. It does kinda stick that the rest of the site is so buggy because it certainly reflects badly on the parts of the site served with the SSG.

## Conclusion

The future of MormonThink requires some drastic changes (we didn't even get into the fact that quite a bit of their current content is heavily dependent upon tables of data and while these don't need to be deleted they shouldn't be the main content for average users to read). I want to propose that these changes should include moving the website to an open source model that would allow to wide involvement from users across the world. In my opinion, the best way to adopt an open-source model would be the use of a Static Site Generator, such as Jekyll or Pelican, combined with Markdown content source files. This very blog is actually produced via the same process. The difficulty in setting it up would involve the initial transition. Once set up, maintenance and continuing content creation would be very easy and manageable with a shallow learning curve no more difficult than the current process of local file editing via Dreamweaver and upload via FTP.

I welcome any and all comments and questions. For anyone who is interested you can find my current explorations of this project at the following two repositories:

• nocoolnametom/MT-Transfer – This is a scraper I'm spun up in some free time that rips the existing site and converts it (mostly) into Markdown files that can be used with a SSG.

• nocoolnametom/MormonThink – This is my attempt at creating a SSG-served version of the site using the files from the scraper. I'm not very far along on this project, obviously.

### An Update After Posting

In conversation with others and in asking for feedback (here, on Reddit, and through email and chat) it seems that there is a general consensus that this process may be too technical for an average user. I still disagree but then again I am a professional programmer and my perspective on “user-friendliness” is very skewed so I shouldn't be very surprised if it turns out I am wrong. The general response is that 1) MT probably needs at least a good re-organization of their materials and sections but a full change of approach might be going too far, 2) if (and it's still a big “if”) the editors favor a system where outside edits can be accepted it seems a wiki approach is preferred, 3) there have been a few responses from more technical people who really like the idea even if they may or may not see it as feasible.

So I will admit that the energy behind a more wiki-based solution for disseminating full information on LDS history is impressive. I support it as it still helps approach the ideals of the newer generation of Internet users who don't always want to simply read information but want to participate with sites in a more back-and-forth method. I still have my worries about such a project, but I imagine that those worries may be misplaced.

One further avenue of this discussion has also been brought up by a friend: the Internet presence of the New Mormon History and the resulting communities of people impacted by it seems to be unavoidably fragmenting. The rise of other sites and approaches, including but not limited to The 95 Theses, The Letter to a CES Director, MormonCanon, ExploringMormonism, and a few already-existing wikis shows that there are many people who want to participate and have already made movements of their own in this regard. While I don't think MormonThink is in any more danger of being lost in the noise than McDonald's is currently in danger of being lost in the noise of other restaurant chains who knows what the future may bring? However it goes, I doubt that MormonThink will ever truly go away or be forgotten, any more than Dialogue and Sunstone have gone away. Instead those trailblazers established an untapped field of study and of community and later gave rise to many different on-line communities in the Bloggernacle, such as By Common Consent and Times and Seasons, and they're still alive and actively contributing to the discussions.

So I'm going to leave this technical proposal up on my blog for others to peruse. I still think that this approach will work much better in approximating the process of editing a scholastic journal than a wiki ever would, but if that is the way things move forward I will not fight against it. I don't think a wiki is a bad idea: I think it's a good idea (I think it's better than the pace of change able to be kept by the current site written by a small group of private editors in their free time), I just think this approach would work better with the current editors of MormonThink and their need to retain a sense of strong ownership over the text and content. I also think that releasing the content itself under an open source copy-left would do wonders to help the information get out to an even wider audience (foreign languages in particular do not have much access to this information which is a major failing of most existing sites).

If my friend is right and the fragmentation continues I may someday resurrect this idea and throw my own hat into the ring. Until then, perhaps the ideas here will spark some interest in how to move forward with presenting the New Mormon History more effectively.

## Joss Whedon is Amazing

As with many great posts on the Bloggernacle, even out here in Outer Blogness, let me start with an allusion to a work by the great hero of geek culture, Mr. Joss Whedon, in particular his series Angel. The main character of the show is Angel, a good vampire with a soul introduced in Whedon's first hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (there are some major spoilers for both series ahead, you have been warned). He and his friends attempt to combat the forces of evil in Los Angeles mostly through the form of a small company of private investigators for hire; by the point in the fifth and last season, Angel and his crew of fellow do-gooders have been joined by the sarcastic Spike, a vampire from Buffy that also regained his soul and, with it, the capacity for choosing good (they are also in possession of a large law firm, too).

Spike and Angel, Vampires with Soul(s)

In the “Buffyverse” vampires are demons who inhabit the bodies of humans. When a vampire is created, the demon destroys the soul of the human and the resulting creature is a monster of pure evil. Vampires don't just kill: they revel in it. They enjoy evil. And vampires are stronger, faster, and all-around better than most humans, so they're dang good at rape, murder, and destruction. Angel was, for decades after his being sired, one of the deadliest vampires of Europe until a gypsy curse “ensouled” him as punishment for his murders. With a soul, Angel now had the capacity for goodness and the years of death and torture he had caused haunted him for yet further decades. Spike was a vampire created by one of Angel's sires, and the two had actually been compatriots in chaos for a while in the late 19th Century. In the course of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Spike obtained a soul for himself, and while not nearly as haunted as Angel was, Spike also feels a deep responsibility for his actions in the past.

It's the Odd Couple!

In the season 5 episode “Damage”, some of the events of the now-cancelled Buffy have dangerous ramifications in Angel (and it's definitely one of the most twisted episodes of what is already a darker series than Buffy). A girl named Dana has been a resident of a psychiatric ward for years after she was abused by a serial killer that killed her family in front of her when she was a little girl before she was finally found by authorities. Because of actions that took place at the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dana has become imbued with the powers of a Slayer. In other words, think superpowers: Slayers are a special type of humans mystically empowered to be able to fight vampires. She's supernaturally strong, supernaturally aware of her surroundings, and her untrained fighting ability is already past what most trained humans can accomplish. Dana breaks out of the hospital she's in, very violently, and begins a deadly swath of death and bloody violence as she wanders Los Angeles looking for the man who killed her family.

Omigodshesoscreepy!!!!

Angel and Spike are made aware of her and begin an attempt to find her. Due to the fact that her being imbued with the power of Slayers also means that she has something of a connection to the Slayers of the past, Dana has memories of Spike, who has killed two Slayers in his pre-souled days, mixed in among her memories of being held captive by the serial killer. Confused and thinking that Spike was her family's murderer, Dana captures him and tortures him horribly (I'm not kidding; she even cuts off his hands at one point).

Poor Spike is unable to play Paper, Rock, Scissors.

Angel eventually shows up and rescues them. The episode ends with both Angel and a physically-recovering Spike (hands magically re-attached), who have a very “odd couple” friendship, sitting in Angel's office reflecting on how even though Spike wasn't actually the man who broke Dana's mind and robbed her of her childhood, the old Spike and the old Angel were the sort of monsters who could have and would have done such a thing.

SPIKE There's hope for the little ponce yet. Though the tingling in my forearms tells me she's too far gone to help. She's... one of us now. She's a monster.

ANGEL She's an innocent victim.

SPIKE So were we... once upon a time.

ANGEL Once upon a time. [They sadly look into the night, as we fade to credits.]

Victims, once upon a time.

It's an odd and troubling reminder that while these two heroes used to be villains, even before the villainy they both used to be rather normal human men. And in fact, all of the evil vampires seen in the Buffyverse were once regular human beings before they became evil demons lusting for carnage and blood. Behind every evil vampire is a victim.

## What the heck does this have to do with Post-Mormons?

Let's step into the TBM mindset a bit.

I am an Exmormon (though personally I think I might be better described by the term Former Mormon or Post-Mormon). In the Doctrine and Covenants, the following description is given of male priesthood holders in the Church who abuse their authority, but it's often applied toward people like me:

... When we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. (D&C 121:37-38)

Some members of the Church ask themselves why people like me exist? I still care about the Church, but I do not believe in it. I poke and pull at the history because it is fascinating and with every new fact I learn, I cement ever further in my mind that this enterprise simply does not measure up to what it claims to be. Why? The reason, according to some, is that I have lost the Spirit of the Lord, and I have been left to myself and have begun to kick against the pricks and persecute the saints and to fight against God.

Also, because many of us found ourselves no longer believing in the truth claims of the LDS Church because of our research, some of us may have heard the words of Jacob in the Book of Mormon:

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28)

So again, the implication here is that my learning has caused me to set aside the counsel of God.

## Take a Trip in My Shoes in Your World

That may be all well and good (I don't think it actually is), but have any of the believers ever thought to step into my shoes from their own worldview and see what the view looks like in here?

Have I actually lost the Spirit of the Lord? Maybe I have. I do not know for certain, but it could be. I still feel those feelings that I used to believe was the Spirit speaking revelation to my soul, but those feelings come randomly and not always at what most believing Mormons would view as the most opportune times. At times I can actually cause the same feelings to occur purposefully if I'm already calm. So I'm not sure if I've lost the Spirit or not, but let's assume for the sake of argument that I have. I have been left by God to kick against the pricks and I am now persecuting the saints and fighting against God. You know what, I'll accept that, for now for the sake of the argument.

And did this occur because I was “learned”? Probably. I'll freely admit that I lost my testimony because it could not stand up to the information I learned as I studied Church history from sources that were either believing members or neutral sources that had nothing to do with Mormonism. My testimony was not demolished by anti-Mormons. It was demolished by discovering Joseph's duplicity about his polygamy from both the public and his own wife in Mormon Enigma. It was demolished by learning about polyandry from Rough Stone Rolling. It was demolished by learning from Guns, Germs, and Steel about how beneficial western animals and agricultural technology were to Eurasian peoples to such an extent that if those animals and technologies ever existed in the Americas they would provide such a boon to their societies that we'd never expect to see them all disappear centuries before the arrival of Columbus. Sure, barley was domesticated in the American Southwest long after the timeline of the Book of Mormon, but the Nephites entire economic system was founded around barley, and there's no barley to be found in the time period of the Book of Mormon peoples, let alone in any of the proposed places where the Book of Mormon is supposed to have occurred. Stuff like that.

So did I lose my testimony because of my own foolishness in “setting aside the counsels of God”? I guess so, sure, again for the sake of argument I'll accept that for now. I let my belief in the importance of rationality and historical study blind me to the explanation that somehow everything still fit together in spite of the apparent evidence against it.

## Deception

So here I stand, then. I am an Exmormon, unknowingly abandoned by God's Spirit and left to the influence of the devil. Interestingly, there is one more aspect of Mormon scriptures that often comes up about Exmormons. The Anti-Christ Korihor “explains” in the Book of Mormon:

But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth. (Alma 30:53)

Now, setting aside the always hilarious questions of how a person might believe it if a divine being told them there was no such thing as a divinity, Korihor accepts that he was “deceived”. Another opponent of the Book of Mormon prophets, Sherem, also told the people he was “deceived”:

And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment. (Jacob 7:18)

What are we to make of this then? Apparently, it's not just that I've lost the Spirit. It's not just that I was too devoted to learning. I've also been deceived by the devil. Satan has tricked me.

Here's the thing, though: if we accept that I've been deceived by the devil into the loss of my testimony, I don't remember when that actually occurred. I do not remember there ever being a time where I thought to myself, “Self, I think I'm being tricked here, and I will consciously go along with this deception against my mind and my viewpoint.”

Satan has apparently been so subtle in how he gained control of me that I never even knew it occurred. I still don't. I don't feel any different as a person. I mean, I feel smarter, happier, and as though I'm a better human being. But I don't feel somehow more evil, or more devoted to sins. I actually feel less. Well played, Satan! How very devious! In my many compounding sins as an Exmormon I actually feel more morally upright than I felt as a believing member! How blind I am! And I'm completely unaware of it.

## How is an Exmormon like a Buffyverse Vampire?

This brings me back to the part at the beginning of the post, with Angel and Spike. As a TBM, we can easily view the loss of a testimony and the transition of a person from a believing member of the Church to a self-identified post- Mormon along the same lines as Whedon's vampires. It can, and does, happen to anyone.

There is no calling that will prevent someone from losing their faith within it. There is no location you can live that will better shore up the defenses of your testimony. Men and women, both old and young, can find themselves leaving their faith. Bishops, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, Temple Sealers, Stake Relief Society presidents, ward librarians, 2nd Quorum of the Seventy, Quorum of the Twelve, Provo, Los Angeles, Santiago, it doesn't matter. Converts and multi-generational members born in the covenant can leave. As with Whedon's vampires, it can happen to anyone. And once it does, it changes people in a way that they'll never be able to return to that faith again. Even if they do recover enough of their beliefs to attend again, their beliefs are now tempered by a flexibility that most average members would find heretical. Belief in a 19th Century Book of Mormon. Belief that Brigham Young was never really a prophet. Belief that Priesthood might merely be a tool God uses to help some of his simpler followers feel superior. Belief in their own personal revelation from God instead of institutional “revelation” from the Church figureheads. Basically, though, they can't go back, at least not all the way. We're changed, forever.

And if this happened because of the Devil deceiving us, then are we not victims in this narrative? Whedon often uses his vampires to illustrate issues with violence and victimhood. In the old story of the hypothetical woman walking down the alley at night alone who gets attacked, Whedon firmly comes down against saying that the woman has any responsibility for that attack. The responsibility lies at the feet of fate and circumstance and the attacker. What woman could stand up against a vampire, for example? What blame could she possibly hold? And in the Buffyverse, there's no such thing as simply being in the “wrong place”. Vampires can attack anyone at anytime. Even the LDS Church has come to officially realize that in the case of actual violent crimes like this, a victim bears no sin or responsibility. Culturally? Well, there's still a long way to go there, but at least in their materials they're better now than they used to be.

## Victims

And theologically speaking from Mormon scripture and practice, in the case of other “victims” of fate and circumstance, God also comes down on the side of not punishing. We are told that little children cannot sin, so they are saved through the atonement of Christ if they, through fate and circumstance, die. Are they baptized? No, they are not. It doesn't matter. What about those who, through fate and circumstance, never hear the gospel? God apparently has made allowances, as well, for those “who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12).

So what about those of us who are also the victims of fate and circumstance? I never made a conscious decision to leave my faith. I never made a conscious choice to rebel. I do not remember ever having the option of going one way or the other, and even if I did, I never knew the ramifications of what that choice would be. Perhaps the Spirit nudged me away from picking up Mormon Enigma, Rough Stone Rolling, or Guns, Germs, and Steel, but if it did I was not aware of the eternal ramifications that lay behind that very gentle nudging. The still, small voice was, in this case, a little bit too still and too small because it didn't do a very good job of keeping me safe. I read, I pondered, my perspective shifted, and before I was even aware of it my beliefs had already changed.

This seems to even be part of the first scripture quote way up above: “ere he is aware”. All of this happened even before I was aware of it. I still am not aware of it. I am being brutally honest here: I am not aware of how this change in myself occurred. I cannot pinpoint the time and place where I chose for any of this to happen. There was no light switch for me to flip from belief to non- belief. It was flipped for me before I even knew what was going on.

And I'm still ignorant of it. I know it's common for believing members to assume that I still know “deep down”. I don't. At least not consciously, and if there is not deep part of my heart that is still converted and my mind is unaware of it, well then what's the point of that? What good does that little part do me if it's so powerless that I am completely unaware of its existence? I can't flip that switch back to belief because I don't even know where it was when it got flipped to non-belief in the first place.

I don't believe in the LDS Church anymore. I do not believe in the existence of Satan; there is real evil enough in our human world among us human beings that we don't need him to explain the bad stuff in the world. I believe in human agency, at least in the sense that if humans don't actually have free will then our brains are working in such a way that we believe we do. So I don't believe in a tempter when I believe that humans can choose to be good or evil. I don't even believe in the divinity of Jesus, though I think the case for the historical existence of an itinerant Jewish prophet named “Yeshua” in First Century Palestine who was executed (probably for sedition) is strong enough even without unbiased sources mentioning him.

But this post is about hypotheticals, specifically the hypothetical that I am wrong. And I will always allow that I might be wrong. There is always going to be a chance greater than 0% that the LDS Church's truth claims are actually valid and that I am wrong for rejecting them.

In this world we are exploring together where I am wrong and the LDS Church is right, we've already established that I have been deceived into my current actions even before I was aware of it. I am a victim. And we've established that God tends to make allowances for other victims.

## Empathy

In Alma 7:11-12, Alma tells the people of Gideon about the coming Christ.

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Most Mormons point to this verse to state how one of the purposes of Jesus's Atonement, his suffering, death, and resurrection, was so that he would intimately understand us and our lives. Apparently, Jesus knows what it's like to suffer every pain, hurt, heartache, and sin. This means that he knows what it's like to be me: someone who was blindsided by information before I was aware of it. I had as much of a conscious choice in losing my testimony as someone does of walking in front of a truck while texting. Were “bad” decisions made that led to this situation? Sure, but the effects are unexpectedly vaster in scope than I ever realized. But apparently, just as Jesus knows what it's like to be suddenly and unexpectedly smashed out of this life while innocently, and perhaps stupidly, texting, so too should he know what it's like to live my life. To love faith even before I was aware of it. To be so perfectly deceived by Satan that I don't even feel deceived. And I think it's very difficult for someone to understand the troubles and difficulties of someone else and not empathize with them a little.

## Humility

So as I close this hypothetical and step back into my normal worldview where I don't believe in a devil and often not even a God, let me just say this: I think that Mormon theology has implications that victims are covered. So I'm not really too worried about being wrong. Unless I'm really wrong about all of this and am looking forward to an eternity of misery. But it's not like my life will be any worse or better if I send time being worried about that, so I'm just going to move on in my life and assume that God's love for me is because he understands me and he knows how honest I am when I will tell him that I lost faith in his Church, and even him, because he just made it so damn hard to believe in the face of so much contrary evidence with only a little happy fuzzy feeling occasionally to reassure me that it was all okay (a feeling that continues even today, sometimes at the oddest times which perhaps indicates that my antenna for receiving such spiritual messages might be a little broken).

And for those believing members who've gotten all the way to the end here, let me just say this. I understand you. I understand your perspective and I understand why I worry you, bother you, and sometimes confuse you. I understand why some of you think I've been continuously lying throughout this piece, and why others think I'm subconsciously lying to myself. Because I've been there. And yes, I've become a big scary vampire (well, maybe not that scary to you) and it was, to me at least, unexpected. And for some of you reading, it will be just as unexpected for you, too.

I'm not expecting you to stop fighting just as I don't expect to stop my own actions within this sphere for a while as long as so many of my family and friends are still part of LDS social circles and as long as LDS terminology and world views continue to permeate our conversations. But in the midst of the war of words between the critic and the apologist, I'm asking for you to have some compassion for us, some understanding.

Because no matter how evil I may seem to you, how scary, how dangerous to you or those you love I may appear, I was a victim, too, once upon a time.

## My Experience

When I was growing up in the Church, long before my crisis of faith and eventually admitting I was an Exmormon, I discovered the famous Liahona-Iron Rod belief labels. I loved the idea; I could instantly see in my mind where the various adults and friends I had lined up between these two positions. I was a Liahona Mormon, no question, and I could easily see most of my Seminary teacher and other leaders as Iron Rodders. When I got older (probably in college) I realized the limitations of this particular schema; it's actually too limiting to place an individual into one of two groups. Everyone overlaps each position in various aspects of their life. But I continued to use the term because of its usefulness in providing a shorthand in discussions. “Liahona” may not fully describe a person, but it describes enough to give a rough picture. The same can be said for “Iron Rod”.

Since then I've found another separation used, with the same limitations, in regards to how Mormons approach the difficulties of their religion against modern science and scholarship: the Chapel (or traditional) Mormons and the Internet (or non-traditional) Mormons. Unfortunately, these terms are often applied by those who don't feel they belong in either group and have some serious negative connotations. Unlike “Liahona” and “Iron Rod”, the Chapel- Traditional distinction is usually applied in a divisive fashion meant to provide a negative view of another person. For this reason I try hard to refrain from using it, but it also continues to provide a cool short-hand in describing aspects of Mormon belief and approach.

In recent years, for various reasons, I have decided that I no longer believe the truth claims of the LDS Church. I was mentally a NOM for a while, but the mental difficulties of trying to support half of the truth claims of the Church without supporting the other half was a tiring exercise that ultimately was not sustainable for me. So I finally bit the bullet and accepted myself as an Exmormon. Around this time I found my browsing habits pulling naturally away from the traditional “Bloggernacle” towards the famous sites of the “Outer Blogness” (I love those names). Reading about others who had left the Church, some only mentally and others fully, filled me with a sense of camaraderie that I had been missing since I decided I no longer really “belonged” with my fellow Latter-day Saints. Most of these blogs approached the Church with a sense of caution and respect. Acid and flames were certainly given towards the very real failings and weaknesses of the Church. There exist many doctrines and practices within the LDS Church that are emotionally and mentally harmful to individuals, especially those who are effectively second-class citizens of “Zion”: women, children, homosexuals, intellectuals, feminists, etc. But, on the other hand, most of these individuals were also able to give a textual “high-five” to what they saw as successes for the Church. Even in the midst of the difficulty of leaving—-losing friends, family, respect—-there was still an attempt to be objective about the subject.

I thought that this objective approach was the norm. I figured that most people who came to their beliefs through rationality and critical thinking would continue to apply that critical thinking towards their now lack of belief. I thought that people who had realized that most of their faith as a LDS was based on emotion would realize the dangers of continuing to depend on emotion. Just as many who left the Church held serious and honest beliefs before they left, so too was it often assumed that those who remained probably held similar honest beliefs that had simply not been closely examined. (And even now, I find the idea that all people within the Church don't rationally examine their beliefs to be far too simplistic; many do and still do not leave. I refuse to categorize them as simpletons or just plain evil. It can't always be that simple. Maybe for some, but I agree with Kathryn Schulz: that's probably just a mental coping mechanism to explain why others don't believe the way I do when they have similar data. It's important to reserve judgment toward myself that I still might be wrong about everything. I feel that certainty of any kind is dangerous, even a certainty that the truth claims of the LDS Church are false. I reserve the unlikely possibility that, given further evidence, I might have to one day change my opinion one way or another.)

One of the major helps in coming to terms with leaving the Church was the YouTube series “I am an Exmormon.” More than simply a response to the LDS Church's media campaign (“I am a Mormon”) these videos were heartfelt expressions of people who finally were able to find peace, happiness, and mental stability by leaving the Church. Those interviewed rarely showed hatred toward their former faith, but rather expressed that in acknowledging the failings of the LDS Church they had found the ability to fully discover who they were. The Church had provided a lot for them and they had grown as much as they could within it, but in leaving they were unhindered from developing even further. They are a beautiful series because they present a view of Exmormons that contradicts entirely that cultural view fostered within the Church of those who leave: instead of angry, they are hopeful; instead of bitter, they are calmer; instead of obsessed, they are loving. Those videos speak a wonderful truth: you can leave the Church and not leave who you are behind. You can retain the good within yourself because that good is not a product of the Church. It may have been fostered by the Church, but in truth the good within you is your own to take with you wherever you wish to go in life.

That's what I had hoped for in the Exmormon community. And, truth be told, I saw it in a number of individuals. Are you hurting because you've been abandoned, rejected, or misunderstood by your family and friends? Many will open their arms towards you in love; many of them have gone through the same thing. Are you still in the closet, dealing with frustration and anger? Again, so many people are out there who understand you and can help you through it. For a long time I thought that the infamous rejective phrase was unfair: of course people can't leave it alone! They have friends and family who are still within the Church. You can't simply cut those ties; it's impossible. And for so many TBMs the Church is part of everyday life. It comes up at work, home, and (of course) Church. It's difficult for them to know to avoid the subject around friends and family who no longer believe. So, duh! Of course some people can't leave it alone. But I've found that there are some for whom this way of looking at “not leaving it alone” isn't the entire story.

It's one thing to discuss facts; facts are discrete points. They can be debated, certainly, but on the whole they are usually not the object of discussion or debate themselves. Joseph Smith married multiple women, some of them already married to other men. The Book of Mormon contains chiastic structures. DNA evidence for the ancestry of the indigenous peoples of the Americas indicates they originated in Siberia and Central Asia through successive migrations beginning possibly as early as 25,000 years ago. There is a location in Saudi Arabia called NHM that has been in existence since at least 600 CE. The length of the scroll of Hôr was most probably only 150 cm long. These are simply facts; they exist apart from any theories. They do not have to say anything in and of themselves. There may be some disturbing implications that extend from them, but they are not, in and of themselves, arguments.

And yet I occasionally see people maligned and belittled who attempt to bring up facts that could be used in arguments that support Mormonism's truth claims, and I also see facts that could be used in arguments against truth claims used as arguments that somehow are supposed to mean something. That would be fine, but there is often a sense of decency and respect that appears absent to me. I could easily be wrong, but it often appears that some Exmormons feel justified in not being civil because we often receive anything but civility from many TBMs. However, the rules of a debate are not decided within the conversation itself. That's Fox News crap: let the loudest win and keep the rules changing faster than your opponent can keep up. That's not about discussion and understanding: it's about winning.

And I have to admit that I just don't get it, if that's really the case (and it may not be; that's just how it looks to me). I don't understand it. I know it can be different. I know many Exmormons who deal differently. However, even knowing that doesn't mean that the people I don't understand are wrong. It just means that I don't understand them. So, after a lot of thought, and in an attempt to be fair and promote understanding, I propose a new classification, this time of ourselves—-the Exmormons. And the best way I can think of to do so is to use two films that are both awesome and exciting. So I propose the distinction between the Matrix Exmos and the Inception Exmos. Obviously any allegory or comparison will break down if you extend it too far, so let me explain it as far as I think it can go.

## Matrix Exmormon

Tools of Choice: Under the Banner of Heaven, An Insider's Guide to Mormon Origins, The Book of Mammon, or anything that, while it strives to be accurate, is also hard-hitting and direct about the issues.

In the Matrix, humanity is enslaved in a particularly devious form of mind control by the machines who are exploiting them for their own purposes. However, while humanity as a whole doesn't even realize that they are being exploited and kept from the truth of their world, a small group of people who have been “unplugged” exist in a war against the machines in the hope of one day bringing down the Matrix and freeing humanity to live a life that is truly free from control. There's also a bunch of silly stuff like mechwarrior exoskeletons and an overabundance of trenchcoats, but on the whole that's the idea: a war between men and machines over the freedom of human minds. So, for the Matrix Exmormon the parallels are clear: the LDS Church exists because of the faithful support of its members; and the faith of the members is a faith both in a false worldview as well as in a dangerous set of principles. Mormonism denies full equality to women and has a history, not yet fully eradicated nor repudiated, of racism. The LDS Church consistently refuses to apologize for the crimes caused by its own inflamed rhetoric of the past (such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre) and refuses to acknowledge fault in the actions of its members today in actions that are cruel and bigoted towards many of the minorities of our society such as homosexuals and immigrants.

It spends billions on private ventures such as the City Creek Center and most of the top officials received “stipends” that mirror the salaries pulled in by heads of major corporations; meanwhile the amount spent on humanitarian aid worldwide over their entire history is a pathetic fraction of the amount the Church has spent in the past decade alone. Yet the Church continues to present itself as a champion to the poor and afflicted throughout the world. Their vast financial holding give them tremendous economic power in the Western US and the united actions of their members gives them tremendous political and cultural power, as seen in the involvement of LDS members in California's Proposition 8 decision; it is unlikely that LDS members would have mobilized with anything near the strength of cash and activism seen if church authorities in Salt Lake City had not actively encouraged it. The LDS Church, as an organization, donated very little to Prop 8 efforts, but instead asked for, and got without much question, the support of the members.

In the Matrix, the freedom fighters from Zion are engaged in constant battle with the machines. Every soul unplugged from the prison of the Matrix is a benefit, but the end goal is not to free everyone individually but instead to take down the seemingly monolithic organization of the machines and destroy the Matrix itself. For Matrix Exmormons, the end goal is not just to help individuals out of the Church, but to demolish the seemingly vast power that the Church currently controls by destroying the system of false beliefs they use to keep the members in line. And, just as in a war, the stakes are high. Facts and the arguments that employ them are not tools but weapons. Is someone starting to doubt the Church? Explain to them about Kinderhook, about Mountain Meadows, or the full extent of the Temple ban for blacks. Did the person listen? Yes? Then congrats, another human saved from slavery. No? Well, that just goes to show the level of control the Morg holds over its people. What about the hidden history, the financial dealings, the intellectual purges? The Church claims to be the only true church, but it's not. The leaders probably know this; they actively hide and distort. They employ their apologists to defend the claims with tenuous findings and reasoning and then use their influence to keep members from noticing. That's why it's okay if I'm a little sloppy in how I present my arguments, if I get my facts a little bit wrong: they do it too! This is war, man. Just as in the film, there is no middle ground. Those who attempt to work with the machines are nothing better than traitors. The end goal is what matters! This about freedom and slavery; there is no middle ground. The Church is unethical and corrupt, through and through. The reason that members of the Church are told not to trust Exmormons is because the leaders know the weaknesses we can present. They know the danger we pose to them. It's all about the power, the control, or the tithing. When the Church tells the young men to get married early, the ultimate goal is tithing. The religion and the beliefs are the tools to keep the members in line. I don't care if I offend people in the Church by what I say; it just proves that they're not ready to acknowledge the truth yet. I don't have to take a moral high ground against an organization that is evil and/or unethical.

I'm probably getting into the realm of parody, so I should probably stop here. Suffice it to say, while I'm trying to represent the views I see expressed online, I'm probably not doing a very good job because I am not a Matrix Exmormon. I'm an Inception Exmormon.

## Inception Exmormon

Tools of Choice: Guns, Germs, and Steel, 1491, Who Wrote the Bible?, or anything else that doesn't explicitly discuss the Church but instead lays a foundation for personal introspection about the Church's claims and further discussion.

The film Inception does not adapt itself as well to the struggle of how an Exmormon deals with the LDS Church and its members. In Inception a small group of specialists who usually steal secrets from other people through their dreams are instead employed to try and plant an idea within another person. However, this “inception” of an idea has never successfully been accomplished before since individuals can usually recognize when the thought is not their own and reject it. Through the film, the team prepares for the inception by preparing intricately assembled dream-world through which they will take the target in an attempt to plant the idea subtly enough that the target will view the idea as their own. Of course, it doesn't go quite that smoothly, there are a lot of action shots, bizarre examples of dreamworld physics, and the threat of being lost in limbo. None of that really applies here, but the basic idea of the inception of an idea does.

To an Inception Exmormon, there is no vast organized conspiracy keeping those who believe in the Church in line. The Church is a product of itself. Perhaps there are some leaders and authorities who realize that the Church is not true, but on the whole the decisions and actions made by the Church are made by members who believe the truth claims. The nefariousness is not conscious, but is rather and accident of the Church's corporate structure and the corporate structure is itself an accident of attempts to organize the Church over the past century of growth. The LDS Church has problems. Its beliefs caused pain, damage, and limitations to its members and other people. Whatever the origins of the Church, whether or not Joseph Smith saw himself as a prophet or knew himself as a regular human, these questions are irrelevant to the Church today. It is true that most of the truth claims themselves currently depend on the authenticity of Joseph Smith as a prophet, but the behavior and actions of the Church today are expressed through people who have all been born in the 20th and 21st Centuries. While there are plenty of people who would be willing to pull the trigger if asked, there is nobody left alive today who was at Mountain Meadows and nobody today can bear the direct blame for the actions perpetrated there. The problem is that a Mountain Meadows, while unlikely, is certainly possible if it were requested by a high authority within the Church. And that is a problem that can be dealt with without the destruction of the LDS Church as an organization. There are other branches of the Latter Day Saint movement who have overcome many of the problematic issues caused by the Salt Lake church and it is not impossible that a future Salt Lake Church might look more like the Community of Christ looks today. For an Inception Exmormon, it's all about the well-placed idea. Fix the church through many well-placed ideas. Support those active members who have overcome the mental problems that plague most other members. Emphasize grace, emphasize environmentalism, emphasis egalitarianism, renounce war and proclaim peace. Close the malls and open the homeless shelters. While not likely, change is possible.

The same is true of the individual who might leave the Church. An Inception Exmormon understands that leaving the Church, as it currently exists, is probably the best decision for most Mormons (though not all Mormons; some might be better benefited by remaining); at least until the doctrines and practices change enough to soften the ills that the Church can cause. As with dealing with change in the Church, causing change with another person is accomplished through the well-placed idea. Presenting someone who is struggling with their faith with strong examples of the Church's falsity rarely accomplishes anything (though I need to acknowledge that it might on rare occasion). Just as in the film, people tend to reject an idea that isn't theirs. Helping someone out of the Church requires working with them on their level, whatever that level happens to be. There is no magic bullet; you cannot just present the Book of Abraham and watch the scales fall from their eyes. There are plenty of people who remain within the Church who know all of the dirt. They can handle the dissonance. The only real change can come individually from within by acknowledging the possibility that the Church might not be true. If you present data that is not entirely accurate then those bits of inaccurate data can be enough to cling to to reject the real facts that were presented. Attacking the individual's tribe by mistreating friends or trusted figures like GAs and missionaries will only tighten the bond the individual has towards his or her tribe. Instead the idea of the Church's falsehood must be presented carefully, honestly, and above all without an appeal to emotion. Telling someone how the Utah Boys Ranch is a terrible place (it is) and is actively populated through the efforts of stake and area leaders (it is) and then talking about how evil the LDS Church is for supporting such a horrible place is not going to accomplish anything. You cannot deal in such absolutes; telling someone that the Church is unethical for such-and-such just sets up a debate for why you're wrong.

Admitting that your opinion of the Church is negative because of such-and-such is a way of verbally telling them that they can hold a differing opinion and allows you to state the facts that back up your opinion or argument in a way that the facts themselves can be accepted as being true (because they are) and allows the individual to evaluate them for themselves (and, possibly, “incept” the idea to them of the Church's inability to explain the facts as they stand). It is not a war, and the default position to take with everyone is a cautious position of assuming honest intentions. You can assume that Church leaders are encouraging young men to get married because they are concerned for their eternal welfare, and you can also assume that they're simply concerned about the Church's bottom line of tithing income. Either way the results would appear the same, but one requires the devious actions of people focused on money and the other allows for people to be making honest decisions in line with the belief structure. Tithing money is the Lord's money and having more of it just means that the Church can accomplish the will of God that much better. It's easier to delineate battle lines between good and evil, or between rational and illogical, but humanity is more complicate than that. We are hard-wired through millions of years of organic and social evolution to belief in irrational things. The ultimate opponent for an Inception Exmormon is not the LDS Church but rather the genetic and social constructs that are no longer necessary in our modern culture. The war waged is not between artificial constructs like good and evil or corruption and ethics, but is rather a war within the minds of individual people to help train them in avenues of critical thinking to come to their own conclusions.

## Limitations

I can guess what a few of you might be saying: the Inception Exmormon sounds a lot like a TBM to me. They “lie for the Lord”, they only tell what they want to in order to further their goals. Inception Exmormons are willing to allow some falsehoods to continue in an uncertain attempt to help just one person. There are thousands who need help, who are stagnating and stuck; we can't go one at a time. And I don't feel the need to treat the Church with the same respect I'd give, say, the Episcopalians (or perhaps all religions are undeserving of objectivity). At least the Episcopalians are advancing social change; the Mormons do nothing to advance humanity.

Well, this is less of an invitation for everyone to be Inception Exmos and simply more of an observation of where I stand (and have seen others stand) verses where the majority seems to be. It strikes me as the response to seeing a spider in the home: you can kill it on sight with a single mighty kick, or you can put it under a cup and paper and carry it outside. Either way the goal is the same; and so it is with the Matrix Exmos and the Inception Exmos. I'm not sure how effective it is to argue that one approach is “better” than another for everyone. Certainly one approach is better for a particular individual. But the important thing in the long run is to acknowledge that the other side exists and to tolerate them. I cannot see myself, with who I am right now, being a Matrix Exmo. I dislike looking at the debate that way (which is probably why that side of the analogy needs a lot of work from someone who feels that way and can be fair to the viewpoint in ways I cannot be), but I do understand that some people think it's better to just rip the band-aid off all at once. Open the blinds! Roll down the windows! I may not agree with the methods (I don't see it as two side battling against each other, but just humans acting like humans), but I hope I can understand the underlying purpose: to help people. As long as I can keep that in mind I can tolerate Matrix Exmos. I may not like them much, but I cannot claim that they are wrong in their intentions. But trust me, I understand the pain, the guilt, the grief that LDS beliefs can cause.

Obviously this distinguishing needs some help on the Matrix side. I'd appreciate what I got right and what I got wrong (probably most of it); please understand that I meant well about a point of view I find difficult to comprehend. I need your assistance to clean it up properly. And I'd also be curious as to how many who would see themselves as Matrix Exmos (if I got the analogy wrong or overly stereotyped, you know what I meant by the viewpoint, right? Just pretend I said things the correct way and go with that) who saw themselves as Iron-Rodders or Liahonas when they were TBMs. And the same for Inception Exmos, where were you before it all came tumbling down or all finally became clear (to put it in a positive light)? I have my suspicions (Matrix = Iron Rod, Inception = Liahona), but I could be so very, very wrong of course. It could be that there's no equal divide between two points of view but rather than one view is a precursor that some hold before they move to the other view (but which comes first and which comes second and can they keep switching back and forth?). I'm very interested in things like that. Are you?