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He began to look cynically at all LDS accounts while rejecting religious experience as an avenue to truth. Yet faith built on historical evidence alone, he felt, was untenable.
Using the Joseph-as-fraud model, Bradley examined Smith’s statements with the question: "How could this benefit him?" Not surprisingly, he found lots of supporting evidence.
The historian determined he no longer could be, in good conscience, a Mormon. He also abandoned all belief in God and Christ.
On Pioneer Day 2005, Bradley delivered a letter to his LDS bishop, resigning his membership with such strong language that he believed it would be impossible for him to return.
He was wrong.
Epiphanies large and small » In 2009, Bradley was accepted into Utah State University’s graduate program in history, with Mormon scholar Philip Barlow as his mentor.
Barlow spotted Bradley’s gifts immediately.
"Intellectually, Don is uncommonly brilliant," Barlow said this week. "In a roomful of Ph.D.s, he’d be among the smartest and most well-read. His writing and the thinking behind it are superlative."
Barlow also sensed Bradley was not a believing Latter-day Saint, though they never talked about it. It was irrelevant to his academic research.
Even before his graduate studies, however, Bradley had yet another awakening.
It happened while reading Biocosm, atheist author James Gardner’s discussion of the origins of the universe without God.
"I’d thought the chance of a universe fitted for life was something like one in a billion," Bradley said in his speech. "The reality was more like one in 10 to the 200th power."
Gardner’s answer to that improbability?
"The constants of the universe were shaped by our distant descendants, who engineered the collapsing universe to restart," Bradley said, then asked incredulously, "He thinks this is more likely than God?"
The moment was as shattering to his unbelief as Roberts’ questions had been to his LDS faith.
In that instant, he again became a believer — at least in God.
From there, he moved into a general theism, then to the Baha’i faith.
"I wasn’t sure about its founding claims," he said, "but I loved its teachings about the oneness of humankind. That was the kind of vision I believed God would want us to live out."
A few months later, another event would upend his world even further: His 25-year-old brother, Charles, died unexpectedly.
Bradley’s views on the afterlife "were sketchy and uncertain," he said, but he couldn’t imagine never reconnecting with the brother he adored.Next Page >
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