Extricating myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a rather gradual process, as I've held onto as many bits and pieces as I could in an attempt to minimize the existential crisis and convince myself that my twenty-one years of membership weren't a waste. So, for example, I stayed subscribed to the r/latterdaysaints subreddit until I got banned for encouraging nuanced thinking and intellectual honesty. The other day I took another step forward by getting rid of several LDS books that I'm never going to read again and in a majority of cases never read the first time. I'd already tossed my old "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet and my old "To Young Men Only" pamphlet (based on Boyd K. Packer's anti-masturbation General Conference talk that was quietly removed from the church's website a few years ago) in the recycle bin weeks earlier, but destroying actual books rubs me the wrong way unless the books themselves rub me the wrong way. I think the only books I've ever intentionally destroyed was Wizard's First Rule, that I burned after the delusional neighbor who loaned it to me stabbed me in the back and set in motion the worst day of my life, and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, which I encountered at my old book warehouse job and surreptitiously tore the cover off of because I didn't want to sell it for reasons that should be obvious to decent human beings.
But just because these books no longer mean much to me doesn't mean someone else shouldn't benefit from them, so I chose to gave them away. Most of them, anyway. A few were gifts from family members or belonged to now-deceased family members so I'll keep them around for that fact at least. But the majority I took to the local YSA ward yesterday a couple hours before stake conference started. I set them up on a table outside the north chapel because it was empty and I've paid enough tithing to entitle myself to use it. The table outside the south chapel was covered with little papers and things, including a stack of little orange advertisements for stake conference that had obviously missed its chance to be of any use to anyone. At least I was able to give one of them a second chance.
Here, then, are brief descriptions of these books because I lack the motivation to find anything better to write about today. I'm sorry.
They Lie in Wait to Deceive Volume 1 - I picked this up a few years ago at the Logan Institute even though I had already read all four volumes in this series online. In this volume, Robert and Rosemary Brown strike back at professional critics Jerald and Sanda Tanner and some guy named Dee Jay Nelson who, in the seventies and early eighties, pretended to be a leading Egyptologist and went around giving lectures against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. The Browns painstakingly documented all his lies about his credentials and experience, and were so successful that his career ended and today he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. I consider that a worthwhile effort even though real Egyptologists have also said plenty against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.
The TRUTH About "The God Makers" - As I write this I've just remembered that I got this book from my now-deceased grandmother, but it wasn't a gift per se, she just had it laying around and didn't need it anymore, so I guess that's all right. This one is also available online. "The God Makers" is the title of a book and movie by evangelical countercultist Ed Decker, and both are regarded as laughable sensationalist garbage even by most other critics of the LDS Church. Their most lasting legacy is an excerpt posted on YouTube under the inaccurate title "Banned Mormon Cartoon." (Years ago I asked "Banned by whom, exactly?" I'm still waiting on a response.)
The Church of the Old Testament - I think I got this from the book warehouse on one of the days when they let us take free books home. I never read it. Presumably it attempts to root modern LDS practices in the very different practices of the Old Testament. Latter-day Saints and Christians in general read a lot of things between the lines of the Old Testament that Jews don't, and I suppose until we can ask the authors about it in person we won't know who's right. I'm more skeptical nowadays, but the author did have a BA in anthropology, a graduate certificate in Middle East Studies, an MA in linguistics, and an MA in Middle East studies (Hebrew) with minor in anthropology and archaeology, so he wasn't just some hack writing faith-promoting drivel for Deseret Book.
Mark E. Petersen - Virtually the only thing anyone remembers apostle Petersen (not Peterson) for is his insanely racist pro-segregation speech to BYU faculty in 1954. I picked up this biography by his daughter from the book warehouse in hopes of discovering that he had some redeeming qualities. I never got around to reading it, and since I'm no longer required to convince myself that he was a representative of Jesus Christ, I see no reason to do so in the future. I did, however, read Church Historian Leonard Arrington's diary a couple years ago, and I learned that Petersen was one of the leaders who fought Arrington at every turn when he tried to publish balanced and transparent history. So now I remember him for two things. That's an improvement. (Incidentally, after his death in 1984, Arrington remarked that his BYU speech "was one of the most bigoted and narrow-minded talks ever given by a 'disciple of Christ.')
On Becoming A Disciple-Scholar - I wanted to be a disciple-scholar. I wanted to be a paragon of faith and intellect working in harmony. Strange, then, that I never made the time to read this relatively short book. I must have been too busy arguing with strangers on the internet.
Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work - I bought this my freshman year of college at the peak of my enthusiasm to convert the world, even though it's available online. David Stewart was and is a believing member, yet the issues he raised in this book and elsewhere threatened my testimony quite a bit. As I grew up, claims about the church's spectacular growth were ubiquitously touted as proof that it was true. He pointed out with solid data that its growth rate had steadily fallen since the late 1980s and that a solid majority of members on the rolls no longer associated with the church in any capacity. (This has now become so obvious that it's common knowledge among people who aren't completely out of touch with reality.) What's worse, he pointed out how Jehovah's Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, and evangelical missionary and/or church planting programs (aka the ones that don't claim to be led by living prophets) have consistently and dramatically outperformed the LDS missionary program (aka the one that does claim to be led by living prophets) in terms of numerical growth and retention. Now look, I don't expect an "inspired" missionary program to have no room for improvement or nothing it can learn from other groups, but I do expect it to not necessitate some random guy outside the church leadership structure writing a book about why it sucks. So that was a faith crisis shelf item for a long time.
Saint Behind Enemy Lines - This is the story of Olga Kovářová Campora, a convert to the church from communist Czechoslovakia. I was going to read it earlier this year and then I didn't. I'm sure it's very inspiring and I don't begrudge her finding peace and/or joy wherever, but even as a believer I couldn't help thinking about how atypical her experience is for Eastern Europe. Today, thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the church has fewer than 3,000 members in the Czech Republic and Slovakia combined. A few years ago it had more Slovak members in Sheffield, England than in Slovakia. Maybe it still does, but the Slovak branch in that city was closed after not very long (with none of the fanfare that accompanied its opening, of course), so I don't know.
Sunshine for the Courageous Latter-day Saint Soul - Stories to make one feel warm and fuzzy, I'm sure. I suspect that many of them are drivel, but only having read one and found it tolerable, I shouldn't assume.
Brother to Brother - I stole this one from the book warehouse. It had been rejected, so we couldn't sell it and I was supposed to toss it in the recycle bin, but as one who had been obsessed for years with everything I could get my hands on about the church's (usually but not always abysmal) history with Black people, I had to read it. I snuck it home with me and read it. Co-author Rendell Mabey was one half of one half of the two senior missionary couples sent to Ghana and Nigeria in late 1978 following the revelation that made Black people eligible for priesthood ordination and temple ordinances. This is his story, and it's a faith-promoting story that has the benefit of being true. Between 1946 and 1978, tens of thousands of West Africans had obtained literature from the church and desired to be baptized. They knew about the priesthood and temple ban, of course (though additional stuff like Mark E. Petersen's BYU speech are another story), but tended (and still tend) not to care the way African-Americans tended (and still tend) to care. Many of them were still waiting when the missionaries finally arrived and baptized them.
Counseling With Our Councils - I got this from the institute when I was part of the Leadership Committee of the Latter-day Saint Student Association. I "won" it somehow, out of all the people there, but I don't remember how or why. With that being the case I feel kind of bad that I never read it because it looks really boring, but now it can be put to some use.
Then there's the little stack that I would have just recycled if they'd been all I had, because they're not real books, just manuals - three copies of Gospel Principles (I think the small one is an older edition, but I didn't care enough to look) and two volumes from Teachings of Presidents of the Church (Gordon B. Hinckley and Joseph Fielding Smith, the latter carefully curated to omit any of his teachings on race or science). I really ought to get rid of more books since I'm most likely going to move to another state next year, but I'm not sure I can bear to do that unless I apostatize from science fiction.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.