God is to be Found “Below” not “Above”

Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Jason Harris

In early March, 2019 my mother posted a Facebook announcement about the LDS Church being generous in donating $10 million to build a homeless shelter in Salt Lake City. I commented on her post, and in many ways wish I hadn’t:

This is great news Mom! I have debated saying anything, but will anyway. I love you and none of this is intended as an attack on you.

I would love to see the amount distributed to care for the poor, the downtrodden and the homeless begin to approach the estimated 250 million spent on the very luscious conference center or the 1.5 billion spent on the gorgeous and opulent City Creek Mall. Making money near or on temple grounds was very important in the days of Jesus too.

Local LDS members are amongst the most sacrificial, generous and giving people on earth, readily contributing 10+% of their income not to mention time and talents directly to the LDS church.

Tithing revenue is estimated at 5-7 billion a year. Less than one percent of this (around 40 million per year) goes to humanitarian projects irrespective of religious affiliation.

The fact is, as a percentage of revenue, numerous other institutions not considered by the LDS church to be Christ’s church seem to be doing a far better job taking care of the poor and downtrodden amongst them irrespective of religious affiliation. Following Christ’s commandments. 20-30+% of revenue streams dedicated solely to this cause are not uncommon amongst many other Christian organizations.

This is not a matter of local members not giving enough or needing to do more either. No, this is an Institutional issue imo. How many poor would be helped if members were to spend every Saturday in soup kitchens for those that don’t have a meal, or assisting in job training programs…? Instead, local janitors are fired and members devote their Saturdays to cleaning ward buildings, serving a multi-billion dollar corporation.

It is nice to see the institutional church beginning to take greater strides to sacrifice financially and lift the downtrodden around them. Too often though this seems to be for photo ops. It wasn’t that long ago “Mormon Helping Hands” shirts were mandated at community service projects by the same leaders that now decry the label “Mormon” as a “victory for Satan.”

In my opinion, the apocryphal words of Mormon about the latter day church are extremely fitting.

Mormon 8:

35 Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.

36 And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.

37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.

38 O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies–because of the praise of the world?

39 Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?

Note in verse 38, this is directed directly to “the church of God.”

And who do Latter-day Saints believe that to be?

Metaphorically speaking, I believe all is not “well” in Zion IMO.

Anyway… of course, tensions flared, as will often be the case anytime anyone feels their personal beliefs are being attacked.

My mother was mostly silent, but others in the small rural Mormon community we are from rallied to her defense/the defense of the LDS institution.

After this very public conversation, a friend reached out to me privately to try to offer some support/understanding. I’m sharing portions of this conversation because I think it concisely encapsulates a great deal about my journey. All identifying data has been removed. This is published with that friend’s permission:

Text Conversation with a Friend, March 9, 2019

Friend: … the problem is not who believes and who does not believe or why. The problem is only inside our own selves and our ability to love without boundary or condition. Our journey is to wholeness and there are often people in our lives we perceive to be lost when in fact they are here to teach us how to love more and better. They get to help us understand true charity at some point possibly by choosing something we would not choose for them. Control and fear based emotions never come from The Lord, ever!..

Me: Thank you for reaching out. that really means so much to me and you are so kind. I really do believe it all is so much bigger than we can possibly comprehend and do believe compassion and love is the ultimate purpose of all of this. But I still have so much to learn.

I feel bad about shitting all over my dear mother’s wall but in a way I just couldn’t hold back either. I really hope I got it all out of my system because criticizing other’s core beliefs and institutions certainly isn’t a great way to build bridges. I hope I didn’t inflict too much damage.

I don’t think true compassion is possible without pain, suffering and sometimes radically differing viewpoints and perspectives… Pretty amazing to see so many souls around us blossoming and growing! Sometimes in the most unexpected ways! I truly do believe there is a higher purpose and wisdom in all of this.

Friend: I believe the same… it’s so vast and so much greater than we can know here… You don’t want to inflict damage, but sometimes speaking truth is the only way one will feel vulnerable enough to self reflect and open to real growth instead of attachment…

Their journey in becoming more allowing might be life long. But seeking vulnerable open truth is the only way. Attachment is not a loving frequency and it’s interesting how so many think they know it all… it’s not even possible. It’s human nature to attach to things but it’s also more importantly a spiritual bypass…

This is [a] quote I love… “Faith minus vulnerability and mystery equals extremism. If you’ve got all the answers, then don’t call what you do “faith.” Brené Brown

Me: Lots of wisdom there… Love Brené Brown and I love the perspective you are sharing and believe in. Me too. So many of the world’s religions have so much beauty and goodness to offer!…

Friend: When did your gospel perspective start to shift so much? Can you say for sure? It’s pretty belief shattering to study the brain and it’s functionings… Anyway, I just wondered if it was your studies that shifted your perspective, or just life in general accompanied with some soul searching… I just know that your field of expertise makes organized religion an almost inevitable conflict and eventually leads to different expansion…

… You can answer whatever you’d like.

Me: No problem…

For me it was a combination/culmination of many factors that came to a head about 3.5 years ago that had been brewing for a very long time. Suffice it to say, I ended up leaving the church because I cared too much, not too little.

I am not even sure where to start or how much of my journey you want to know about.

A large part of my awakening happened though when I started doing more meditation and mindfulness practices about four years ago. There was a lot of healing my soul needed, and these practices helped tremendously with that… but they also put me more in touch with what I really thought and felt and what mattered in the lives of family members around me.

For the first 17 years of our marriage, in many ways I thought I was literally the poster boy of what a Mormon man should be. No addictions, providing for my family, daily prayer and scripture study with self, spouse and family, FHE, doing callings, generous church donations, blah blah blah. I was checking off all the boxes of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Shandra was too.

Yet our marriage was struggling. And my relationships with our children were struggling. While sitting in counseling trying to figure this all out together, it became clear that I had not encouraged Shandra in any of her dreams if they didn’t align with “The Proclamation” (in my mind) or church teachings. She also didn’t push. We were both trying to live the “righteous” roles we had been given. And this from the very beginning of our courtship. And it was causing some real mental health problems. Additionally, with our younger kids I had the stereotypical “anger is evil, bad emotions are bad” mentality and it really had impaired my ability to compassionately and curiously connect with all of myself and thus with all of them and all of Shandra. This attitude towards “negative emotions” seems to be quite prevalent in LDS culture and is often supported by several scriptures and lesson manuals.

… for 17 years I literally felt the “Spirit” nearly every day as I connected with God above on my knees and in the scriptures. I “knew” I was guiding my family in “righteousness.” A “righteous priesthood leader” of my home.

But I was in fact harming them despite my intentions being very good! Harming them! The day I came to realize this was the day I lost my belief in anyone being able to guide others lives as directed by God above. If I had been delusional for 17 years, I came to believe the prophets and apostles could be too. I could not believe God would be leading me to take actions that ended up being harmful to my family. There was never any physical or verbal abuse, but the emotional connections and empathy needed were severely lacking from me.

I came to believe listening to and hearing God was to happen by truly listening to and empathizing with others, especially the “least of these.”

God is to be found “below” not “above” imo.

God had been trying to speak to me for 17 years through Shandra and our children, but I didn’t listen because some of these messages contradicted what “God” was telling me in priesthood meetings, in “The Proclamation,” from leaders, in the scriptures, etc. I KNEW!

What a self-righteous, self-absorbed ass I was.

Anyway… lots of other things have evolved since then. I believe scriptures are mankind’s attempts to describe their experiences with Divinity, and as such I view these as approximations to truth. Which have been improving and evolving over time. I think they are beautiful but I don’t believe in most of the scriptures in a literal fashion anymore, though I do believe Jesus really lived and hope he was resurrected, though honestly, if it all ends at death, I am OK with that as well. I just wanna lead a good life. I trust whatever God or the universe has in store for me will be even better in the future even if it is not what I think. I try not to be too attached to any specific narrative or outcome other than love and compassionate curiosity.

No longer believing the LDS scriptures to be what they claim came to me after discovering a good deal of what I believed is textual, historical, linguistic evidence, etc. that I did not think could be consistent with a non-lying God and the scriptures being revealed in the manner claimed and literally true as claimed.

I have found though that Jesus likely really did live as did Paul and others in the New Testament.

Jason Harris lived as an orthodox Mormon for forty years. He writes about his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made, potentially helpful and harmful. He believes there is Divinity in all of them and everywhere.