Leaving the Fold
James W. Ure, editor
All we know is still infinitely less than all that still remains unknown.
[p.129]Richard Brown practices internal medicine in Sandy, Utah. He’s an active outdoorsman and a volunteer doctor at Alta ski resort.
When you were born?
On June 10, 1943.
In Salt Lake City?
Where? On the East Bench?
Yes, my folks lived on 19th East, just right by the country club and Highland High School. My mom still lives there.
Were your parents active LDS?
No, they weren’t. It’s an interesting story. My father’s family were all from Draper. In fact, his great-great grandfather was Ebenezer Brown who was one of the Mormon Battalion and founded Draper. But his father wasn’t very active. And Dad said he was active until he was twelve. He said he went out fast offering collecting one Sunday and didn’t get any response from anybody and he said, “That’s it.” And he never went back to his church. So he was inactive all his life.
[p.130]My mom’s family was from Chicago, and her dad was very anti-religious, really. So neither my mother nor her sister had any religious training. It’s a very complicated story because her dad’s wife died, and he ended up marrying a Salt Lake woman. The woman he married was my father’s aunt, and there were three sisters, and the one sister was my father’s mother who died when he was young. The second one sort of raised my father, and then the third one was the spinster who ended up marrying my mother’s father. So my dad and my mother ended up being cousins by marriage, and that’s how they met each other. His family was a prominent Mormon family, but they were all inactive also.
Were you at all active when you were a youngster?
No. It’s interesting because we live half a block down from the ward house—the old Rosalyn Heights Ward house, which is now in the Parleys Stake. I’d never gone to church at all. My father never went, my mother had no religion. But socially, when you’re growing up in Salt Lake in those days, the church was your outlet. A lot of the kids my age would go to church, and so I started going to Primary, I guess, probably about age twelve—well, before then actually. I started going to Primary more as a social event than anything else, but I’d never gone to church until I was twelve.
Of course, the Boy Scouts were throughout the church. So when we graduated from Cub Scouts into Boy Scouts, the troop was affiliated with the church, and they used to meet on Mutual night. One of my friends was very active, came from a very active family. So he just started talking to me about the rest of church—that, “Gee, you ought to be going to Sunday school and priesthood meeting.” You know, so you can get your Duty to God Award and all those kinds of things. So I started going to church with him. I think that was the first time I’d ever gone to Sunday school, and I remember going to priesthood meeting the first time. You know, they said for all the deacons to stand up, and I stood up. The bishop looked and said, “Who’s that guy?” They’d never seen me before. I’d been baptized, by the way.
You’d been baptized?
Yes. I’m not sure why. I think it was actually my mother who kind of arranged for the baptism. I’m not really sure why we were baptized. [p.131]I think when you were eight, everybody else was, and Dad had been a member, although he wasn’t active. I know I was baptized.
You remember that?
Yes. I do remember getting baptized, but I don’t remember why. It was just sort of what you did with your friends. That was typical in Salt Lake. What’s interesting is our family … Dad hadn’t gone to church, Mom wasn’t even a member. My mom and her sister, brought up without any religion, had this deep desire for religion, which is really interesting. I think she’s the one who pushed and said, “Well, you ought to be baptized.” I’d never gone to church before until this twelve-year-old incident. So I started going to church. Once again it was a social thing, more than anything else. But I was conscientious enough that I listened to what they were saying and started believing it.
One thing about Mormonism is it has a very rational appeal. They do have an explanation of why we’re here, and what we’re doing, and where we were, and where we’re going. It’s not mystical like … You know, maybe even Catholicism can be a touch mystical at times. So the more I listened, the more I started believing this. Then my mom took a great interest for some reason. About the same time she started listening to what I had to say and started going to church and reading. She had the missionaries come in and was converted, and she was baptized. Just as an aside to explain a little bit about that, her sister who lived in Seattle had married a Catholic person who was inactive. But my aunt started looking at the Catholic religion, took the instruction, converted, and became an extremely devout Catholic. My mother became an extremely devout Mormon. She’s almost fanatical. She started dragging Dad to church, and he became active and went through the whole thing, and worked all the way up, and then they were married in the temple. I remember going down and being sealed to my parents, because my mom really went wholeheartedly. We’re still not quite sure about Dad. I think he did it for Mom. I don’t know how much he really believed.
Is he still alive?
No, he died twelve years ago.
Is your mother still alive?
My mom is still alive, but she’s sort of in poor health now.
[p.132]Was she active as long as her health …
She was very active until she broke her hip, and then just stopped going to church. But she’s still very devout, very upset that I’m not.
Let’s get back to that in a moment. Do you have sisters and brothers?
A younger brother. He was three years younger than I. He’d been baptized also, and I guess he would’ve been about nine when I started going to Mutual. So he started going to church, too, and just kind of followed a natural pathway.
Is he still active?
Quasi-active, I guess. He ended up going to West Point, and did a military career. Now he’s a lawyer living in Texas. He married a girl who’s not Mormon. I don’t think his kids were ever baptized. He goes to church; I think he’s sort of a believer and sort of active.
Let’s get back to you now. You’re twelve, thirteen, fourteen, you’ve become active. You’re a conscientious Boy Scout and you’re enjoying scout activities, I presume. This continues for how long?
I went whole force, was very active in church, and went to seminary, and wanted to go on a mission, and finally went on a mission at nineteen. I joined a fraternity in college, and I was really straight. In fact, I was the designated driver for everyone. We’d go to the parties and they’d always try to get me to drink or try the beer or whatever. I had no interest whatsoever. I was extremely devout, I guess. So I went on a mission.
Where did you go?
I went to Argentina. I was with one of the first groups that went down to the Missionary Language Institute in Provo, which was an excellent language training program. I’d taken some training in high school—three years—but I don’t think I’d learned a thing. And this was an excellent training program in Spanish. I spent four months there because my visa took a long time to come through. I really went down to Argentina with a very good knowledge of Spanish. So I served the mission.
I was thinking a little bit about what I was going to say today. And these are some of the ideas as I reflected on my own feelings about things and why I’m where I am now, and I think a lot of it is the pro-[p.133]vincialism in Salt Lake. You grow up with the church, and that seems to be all there is. In those days particularly, you didn’t really have any other view of what was going on in the rest of the world. I think we all sort of thought that the rest of the world was just like Salt Lake—everybody thought the same, and everything was the same.
It was for me.
I think my first real awakening was going to Argentina. Talk about a completely different society, where religion had a completely different meaning to the people there. They’re nominally Catholic. The joke was they only went to church three times in their lives—when they were christened, and when they were married, and when they had their funeral. But they were devout Catholic. You know, religion to them meant going to church those three times. They probably really had very little understanding of the doctrine or what Catholicism was, but would never think of anything else. Catholicism was their religion, and it was very much a part of their whole life. In Argentina, not to be a member of the Catholic church was very unusual. It meant a lot to you in society. You were looked down upon or not accepted the same way if you weren’t Catholic. I think what this did for me is I started realizing there’s another way to look at the world. These people were living quite happily and doing fine without really much of religion. It gave me another way to look at the world and life.
As for my approach in the mission field, it was extremely logical, and I really enjoyed teaching the lessons. I knew the language quite well, and I just enjoy teaching people, because the appeal to me was still the very logical explanation of the spirit world and why we’re here and the Celestial Kingdom. As you talked to people, you’d sort of think, Well, they understood it. But to become a member, what does this mean to these people? It’s a complete change of their life. A real change in how they’re accepted in their society and what people think of them, and why they have tithing and the Word of Wisdom, and going to church, and all these things. I started realizing, Boy, this is a real sacrifice, a real change in these people’s lives. I saw a lot of people embrace the idea of Mormonism, but the ritual became a real problem. I started seeing that a little bit, wondering, Gosh, is this really worth it?
[p.134]You were on your mission at a time when you were probably expected to be as devout as you’d ever be in your life, and yet you were seeing something else. You were being opened up to another vision of the world.
I think so. You start realizing that there’s another way of looking at things. So I started thinking about that. I think it was really not till later though. I was a pretty successful missionary. We had a lot of baptisms. I don’t know how many of these people remained active. My feeling was, Well, you teach them the principle or show them what’s going on and then turn them loose. I don’t think I was a very good fellowshipper. I’m afraid I was more on the intellectual level of the doctrine. I always wonder how good a job I really did after they were in the church—keeping them there, helping them through all these doctrinal rituals. So I came home and sort of just jumped right back into school and the fraternity and all my friends. Of all my friends, none of them were active. I was always the odd one out. When I came back from my mission, I was twenty-two. I’d buy the beer for them all, because I could do it. But I never drank it. I’d buy them the beer and drive, and they could have fun. When I came back, I was fairly active, but I started noticing things. I was just real bored. You know, you’d go to church and be bored.
This was a change, then, from before your mission?
I think so.
Why do you think that was?
Was it that I thought I knew it all and didn’t have to sit and listen to this, or had I gotten to the point where …? That’s when I started thinking maybe there’s a different way to look at this.
I’ll tell you one of my big stumbling blocks, and this may be getting into theology. The whole crux of the Mormon doctrine is that you’re presented the gospel, why we’re here, and you accept it, and then you do whatever you need to do to get into the Celestial Kingdom. That’s all well and good for the million people who live in Utah. But when you start thinking of how many people have lived on the earth—countless millions of people who never even heard … First of all, probably never heard of Jesus Christ. Or the whole story of the gospel. You start thinking, Gosh, if this is the whole reason we’re here and it’s so important to do all these things to get into the Celestial [p.135]Kingdom, why is only one one-millionth of a percent even hearing about it. It just doesn’t fit. If this is the real reason we’re supposed to be here, everybody should be hearing about it. Of course, the Mormon answer is, “Well, that’s what the work for the dead is; and we’ve got the Millennium to teach all these spirits.” I think that’s a bit of a cop out. If the whole reason we’re here is to learn how to live and make the right choices, why is such an infinitesimally small number of the populace involved? It doesn’t fit. And I started thinking about it; I think that was the beginning of the end. Then the experience of seeing a whole society in Argentina that had lived all their lives without hearing about this and were doing just fine, thanks. In fact, we were probably causing more problems. Their life became much worse, seriously, after being involved with the church. It became a real … they were very different people. And that’s fine. That’s the Mormon way, we are a different people. But you know? Maybe we’re way too different. We may be out in left field some place. I thought, Gee, this just doesn’t fit.
I guess the next big step was marriage. I married a girl who had come from a very inactive family, quite a prominent family. This woman had been brought up somewhat with the knowledge of Mormonism but had never gone to church. So she and I dated and fell in love. I sort of insisted that we be married in the temple. I was in that period of still believing, still wanting to go through all the motions, but wondering. She was very good, did what she needed to do, went to church, and we were married in the temple. And she still holds that against me, because her parents weren’t able to go to the ceremony. But I don’t think she was ever convinced. I think she was just doing it for me. She refused to wear garments, period. I quickly decided I don’t think I need to either.
When we moved to an apartment, I think we went to church about two or three times and then just stopped going to church. We didn’t know anybody, and she certainly wasn’t interested. Then I did my [medical] internship in Los Angeles—never went to church in Los Angeles. In fact, Sundays were about the only days we’d have off, so we’d go to the beach. After that I went in the air force, and we were stationed in England. I never went to church there, was contacted by the local Mormon people in the air force, but I wasn’t interested in going to church at all. Then my next downfall, I guess, was discovering great [p.136]German beer and fine French wines, and all of a sudden realized what I’d missed all these years.
Had you tasted beer or wine prior to that?
A little bit. My parents drank until my mom converted and my dad became active. I guess I was probably sixteen when that occurred. My dad loved to drink and probably kept drinking the whole time, although he used to hide it from Mom. So I’d tasted it, but I really never had any interest at all.
Then in England …
But then when you’re living in England and Germany … and I just started. It was really good, and I enjoyed that part. My wife did, too, so we got into that—the enjoyment of that part of life. Then came back to live here and sort of picked up with all my friends, and now I was really more like one of them. You know, we’d go fishing or golfing and drink. Sunday morning was no longer a day to go to church. It was that you played golf in the summer and you skied in the winter.
Did you notice any change in attitude toward you from your inactive or non-Mormon friends after you decided that French wine and German beer were a part of your life?
No, I think they were just glad to have another person to enjoy things with. It’s really never come up. We joke about the fact that I used to be the designated driver and that now I was having as much fun as anybody else. I think they all think, You finally saw the light. Nobody’s ever said that in so many words, but these people just think that religion is a bunch of bunk. I think they’re glad that I came around to the correct way of thinking.
How about your mother? Was she a witness to this change?
Oh, yes, she was. This has been really hard on her. Of course, she’s very upset about this whole thing, and I’ve never tried to hide it or anything else. I remember one time she said to me, “Now, tell me, Rick, you’re just on vacation from the church for a while, right?” I said, “Yes, that’s right, Mom.” So she still thinks I’m going to come back. And she’s always asking, “Do you still believe in this? What do you think?” She was always very disappointed in me, I think.
[p.137]What do you tell her when she asks you that?
She doesn’t ask me anymore. I used to just say, “Well, yes, I don’t know where I am, Mom.”
Is that the way you feel now?
I really don’t know where I am. I still go back to my basic tenet that made me get started—it doesn’t fit. If this doctrine and what you need to do to get into the Celestial Kingdom is so important—the whole reason we’re here—why does such a small number of people ever hear about it? And doing it when you’re dead—I mean, that’s a cop out. I don’t think that’s a good explanation. So where am I? Do I go clear to the end … that there is no God? And this is the only life we have, and there is no afterlife? Well, I don’t think I’m ready to accept that. I think we all have this hope that there’s life after death, but I don’t think it’s the Celestial Kingdom. I don’t know what it is. I can’t see us all sitting on clouds playing harps either. So I’m not sure what’s going to happen. It’s real easy to say, No, this is it. Once you die, you’re dead. But I think there’s something in me that just said, Oh, there’s got to be something after this life.
Could you conceive of a time when you might become active?
I don’t know. I’ve thought about that. It would be real easy, I guess, if you were in a circumstance that you started going to church and doing everything again. I’m sure I could go through the motions. I don’t think that would be a problem. I mean, I could sure give up drinking … I’d hate to because I think that’s an enjoyable part of life; I don’t see anything wrong with it. I’m certainly not an alcoholic nor do I abuse it. But I could give it up, and I could go to church again, but I don’t think my heart would be in it. I think I’d have the same doubts or questions.
On the other hand, could you see asking that your name be removed from the rolls?
I’ve never felt that I needed to do that. I guess if they came to me and said, “We’re going to take you off. Do you have any objections?” I’d say, “No, that’s fine.” I think my wife would in a minute, but I just never felt the need to do that. For some reason, I don’t want to go ask them. When we first moved to where we live now, the ward teachers [p.138]used to come, and we went through several ward teachers. Pretty soon they stopped coming. They’d given up on us. Then all of a sudden a couple weeks ago, some people came and said, “We’re your ward teachers.” I said, “Fine.”
Do you invite them in?
Oh, yes. We have good relationships with our neighbors, and I think they just all accept me as I’m not going to be coming to church.
Do you get any spiritual nurturing from anything else?
I don’t think so. I think I enjoy life, and I’m very active in sports. In fact, many of my friends think I have the lifestyle they’d all like to have. I go skiing three times a week and play golf pretty near every day in the summer and take a lot of vacations, and enjoy intellectual pursuits. One of the real attractions for medicine for me was the great intellectual pursuit. There are new things coming out all the time. I enjoy reading the medical journals and keeping up with the new techniques and diagnoses in medicine. To me, that intellectual pursuit has sort of taken the place of religion. I enjoy everything—not just medicine. I like to read, and history’s always been a fascination. My wife and I love to travel. When I was in the air force in England, we traveled all over Europe and England. Part of that was learning. I really enjoy that intellectual pursuit. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that I can’t read fiction anymore.
It’s difficult to return to fiction after you’ve been deeply involved in something wonderful in biography or non-fiction.
In fact, my wife is discouraged because she says I don’t read like I used to, because I used to read fiction all the time. It was mostly because I was going through all the famous literature. I just can’t read the new stuff at all. I mean, I’ve read about airplanes, and it’s boring. I’m back to the same thing with church—it’s boring. So she’s upset because I don’t read much. But what I do is read magazines and newspapers. It’s that kind of thing that I enjoy reading now. I joke and say, I’m a born-again hedonist. Now sports or activities and travel and food and wine, they are the good things in life. That’s what gives me enjoyment or intellectual stimulation. I guess that’s taken the place of this spiritualism. I don’t notice a lack. I don’t feel like there’s something [p.139]missing in my life. I’m afraid to say that maybe my original approach to religion was almost more of an intellectual approach. The gospel was quite appealing. I mean, it’s a very logical explanation to why we’re here. A mystical religion would never appeal to me.
Do you still think you have a basic belief in Joseph Smith’s story and the gold plates?
I don’t think so, but I don’t know. I think one of the very best books I’ve read about this was the Emma Smith book, Mormon Enigma. I also read Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History, which I thought was an excellent book. How do you logically explain what happened to Joseph Smith? Was it fraudulent? Were these some kind of weird dreams he was having? I don’t know. I don’t really think the Book of Mormon happened.
You think it was a wonderful, creative mind that …
Yes. And whether he plagiarized from other people, as has been speculated, or whether he made it all up? Boy, it’s hard to believe anybody could make that up. So that’s a little bit of a stumbling block. That’s a pretty darn good story to make up. But it just doesn’t ring true to me. It really doesn’t. I mean, the natural explanation of population in North America—of course, if you even want to get into evolution and everything else, it makes so much more sense to me than the creative explanation. Even if you go back to the Mormon explanation of two creations in Genesis. You know, the spiritual and then the physical. That’s just once again a cop-out explanation of trying to mesh creativity and evolution. I don’t buy that. I think the natural explanation is so much more believable to me. But where do these things come in? Where does Joseph Smith come in, and how does he fabricate the Book of Mormon? That’s tough. I don’t know. I think there’s something more than meets the eye. I can’t believe that Joseph Smith set out to defraud people. How he justified this, we’ll never know.
How do you think active Mormons view you and others like you? I mean, you’re supposed to have seen the light and now you’ve turned your backs on it. Aren’t there some heavy penalties for that?
I think so. I think my mom looks at me sort of as a lost soul. She thinks I’m going to come back. My wife and I were talking about it this [p.140]morning. It seems like when we grew up Mormonism was a much gentler religion than it is now. People were just a little more liberal. I grew up in a neighborhood that—I hate to say this, but they were pretty wealthy. They were all good businessmen. I’m afraid six days a week they were sort of quasi-crooked. They knew they had their faults, so they came to church realizing they were sinners and trying to do the best they could. I’m afraid today that the people I know who live around us—they all think they’re perfect. They don’t make mistakes any more. They just go to religion to gloat with each other about how perfect they are. They’re very intolerant of any other idea. Whereas, when I grew up it was a much gentler religion. People were extremely tolerant. They looked at each other as sinners, and everybody would try to do the best they could. We’d have a good time and people would swear and get mad at each other and accept mistakes. I think people are extremely fanatical about it today. I think they look at us with a real disdain and think that we’ve really fallen off—especially when we’ve had the knowledge and then given it up. I think they really think we’re the worst of sinners. I think my neighbors think that.
Do you ever have any pangs of guilt?
No, I don’t think so. I think I did at some time. I keep thinking, Gosh, have I thrown this all away? My chance at the celestial kingdom or whatever. Then I have one consoling thought that seems real strange. It’s that, “Boy, if the people in the Celestial Kingdom are some of the same people I see in my neighborhood, I don’t really want to be with them.” I think my friends whom I play golf and ski with—I’d much rather spend eternity with them than these fanatical, hypocritical people who live around me and profess to be good Mormons.
If I were president of the Mormon church, would you have anything to say to me?
I’d ask you about this situation: How come so few people ever get exposed to the doctrine if it’s so darned important? And you can’t tell me that just doing the work for the dead in the Millennium’s going to make up for these millions and millions of people who lived in China and Asia and Africa that have never heard of Jesus Christ or the Mormon religion or, you know, the doctrine. And the reason we’re here. It seems to me that it just doesn’t fit. I’d like to hear his explanation.
[p.141]Would you ask him to change anything?
My dad always said if he was to become president of the church, the first thing he’d do is he’d kill the Word of Wisdom. So that would be a start.
I have only one other question: What have you done about religious training for your two children?
Very interesting. One of the jokes we had one time … We were sitting around the table and my boy who was about seven or eight at the time said, “Now what’s that church they’ve assigned us to?” We’re always joking about that. Neither one has been baptized, which is much to my mom’s chagrin. We’ve just let them be. My daughter, who’s a very interesting person—she’s twenty and now in college—is very much an atheist, very much so, and very anti- … she thinks the Mormons are really silly and stupid. So she’s a real interesting person. Extremely opinionated. We always joke that Katie has no gray in her life. Everything’s black and white, and it’s nice to live in a world like that where there’s no gray—but it’s certainly hard to live with her. All her friends have been Mormon, but she very much doesn’t want anything to do with the Mormon church. My son—most all his friends go to church and they’re all going to be going on missions. But he just has no interest. He’s never gone to church; he doesn’t want to. He thinks life’s real good the way it is, and why burden yourself with having to go to church.