Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How I Confront Doubt: A reply to "Some Mormons Search Web, Find Doubt"

This past week, the New York Times published an article about Hans Mattson, a Mormon leader struggling to understand thorny segments of Mormon history. While this article spurred unusually vibrant discussion online, most of Mattson's questions are ones that many members, including myself, have naturally wondered at times. So, how do I deal with these religious uncertainties? I address my thoughts and include resources for members who are coping with doubt, as well as those not of our faith who are interested in this subject.

1. There are myriad resources available to understanding the "less appealing" parts of Mormon history.
With all due respect to Brother Mattson, I don't think that he is aware of all of the books and articles at his disposal. I would argue that we have the best scholarship in Mormon history than we ever have had before. Those who want to know more about our history should strongly consider the following (this list is not exhaustive):

Encyclopedia of Mormonism click here
A wonderfully comprehensive website on Mormon history and doctrine.
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Bushman
A renowned historian's cultural biography of Joseph Smith
The Mountain Meadows Massacre, by Juanita Brooks
A collection of eyewitness accounts surrounding the event
The Latter-day Saint Experience, by Terryl Givens
A thorough reference to Mormon doctrine, history, and culture
Elijah Abel, by W. Kesler Jackson
A book about one of the first black men that Joseph Smith ordained

In addition, BYU Studies has been publishing groundbreaking articles on Mormon studies, including blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, and Joseph Smith's translation process for decades (for more information on Joseph's use of the hat, click here).  I don't believe that it is the Church's ultimate responsibility to hold our hand and teach us our history. We need to be proactive and study it carefully, as well as prayerfully. 

2. Our church leaders, though divinely called, are nonetheless fallible people.
In Doctrine and Covenants 21:5, the Saints are told to accept Joseph Smith's words in "all patience and faith" (my emphasis). The use of "patience"is a clear reminder that Joseph's extraordinary calling did not preclude him from being imperfect. Moreover, God clearly says that he chooses the "weak things of the world" to do his work. Is it any wonder that we are asked to pray for our church leaders, then? Mormons who expect church leaders to be void of mistakes will be severely disappointed. 

3. Take comfort in your past spiritual experiences.
In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Nephi groans under his present challenges in 2 Nephi 4. Yet he immediately recalls his past encounters with God: "My God hath been my support, he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness"(vs. 18). Similarly, when we face tumultuous periods of doubt and uncertainty, we need to take comfort in our past spiritual experiences. We often enjoy speaking of righteousness bringing about happiness, but Jacob 7:26 (another Book of Mormon prophet) explicitly describes his righteous family as "a lonesome and solemn people...wherefore we did mourn out our days." Being a disciple of Jesus Christ will not necessarily shield us from doubt, heartbreak, and even anguish. Rather, the gospel is a means to expand our perspective, and gain the proper knowledge to return to our heavenly Father's presence. 

4. Ultimately, the potential for doubt is essential for truly making faith a choice. How in the world could we truly exercise faith if doubt was not a viable option? You can see my previous post for further elucidation on this.

5. Gaining an appreciation for this church does not stem from knowing all the answers.  It comes from living the principles of the gospel to the best of our ability. Even if we are not entirely sure whether we know everything is true, we can still follow Alma's counsel in the Book of Mormon and exercise even "a particle of faith," through trying to live certain principles anyway. I have had confirmations of things that I hope to be true only after I have attempted to make them a part of my life.

In closing: I'm not sure if I will ever receive answers to all of my questions. But I know that I have the most important answers. I have the capacity to understand the nature of God and his son, Jesus Christ. I have access to additional scripture that can give me paramount instruction for my life. I know that I can receive personal revelation, as long as I am worthy to receive it. And most importantly, I have the information needed for me to return back to God. There is no greater blessing I have than to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Author's Note: A gross oversight on my part: I neglected to include Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and The Juvenile Instructor as additional helpful resources. In addition, FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) provides important scholarship on examining Mormonism's history and cultural issues.

A response to recent criticism erupting from this post can be found here:

Photo by Don McCullough.


  1. This is a beautiful post and I really appreciated reading it. You have a strong faith and it really shows in your post :)

    1. This is an important Blog--I hope you and your readers will read the source materials and complimentary media available. I have provided links for the audio for the fireside meeting in Sweden, the transcript from the meeting, and an interview done by John Dehlin with the Mattsons (it is especially touching to hear Birgitta discuss her decision to choose her husband during his work to reconcile the realities of Mormonism with the stories he was told). I hope those who read your blog, will drill down to enhance their understanding of dealing with doubt and not dismiss it as something for only the weak and wicked.

      Here is the transcript from the Swedish fireside (there is only one part not included where a soft spoken and upset member cannot be clearly heard, I think she is discussing her lesbian sister and Mormonism)

      Here are the audio recordings from the Swedish fireside where General Authorities Jensen and Turley were sent by SLC to answer questions from approximately 25 Swedish church leaders. The first two minutes are in Swedish and then the remainder of the meeting in English as a courtesy to those who do not speak Swedish.

      Mormon Stories interview with Hans and Birgitta Mattson by John Dehlin, doctoral candidate at USU and expressed devout Mormon.

    2. Hi, and thank you for these links. I certainly don't think that doubt is necessarily a bad thing--rather, if we choose faith, the propensity for doubt is always present. And I agree with Terryl Givens that our doubts and uncertainties can help us increase our faith. I think that many members of the church will experience periods of anxiety surrounding their testimony at times (I certainly have). This was meant to be my personal response as to how I try to deal with my personal uncertainties when they occur.

      That said, I read a good portion of the transcript from the fireside. I think it is pretty clear, however, from Brother Turley and Elder Jensen's remarks that there is a lot that we don't know. I certainly don't understand polygamy, nor many of the other testy historical events, and I have experienced times when I felt frustrated at my lack of understanding. So, I am very sympathetic to members of the church that are struggling intensely with these issues.

      I know, however, that if I left this church based on these issues, I would be eliminating an institution that I believe contains the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. I believe that Jesus Christ himself leads this church by a modern, living prophet. When Christ asks his disciples, "Will ye also go away?" I want to echo what his disciples said: "To whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Whatever historical problems we have, I don't think that anything is worth compromising our standing in Christ's church.

    3. Thank you for explaining that you have made a faith choice. I want to understand that in harmony with harnessing intellectualism. In your Blog you make it clear that you are very happy and fulfilled having chosen the LDS faith and assurances of restoration and influence of Spirit. Below you also discuss your True Church testimony that Mormonism is the only religion with the fullness of the gospel, restored by Joseph Smith.

      What confuses me is the choice of faith in the evidence of knowledge, intellect. For example, you choose faith that Joseph Smith restored the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ while having the knowledge that he practiced polygamy and polyandry, marrying the wives of righteous men and women as young as 14. When the Swedes learned this knowledge they questioned if this is part of the fullness of the gospel. Brother Turley eventually confirmed that polygamy is doctrinal, but not practiced. He would not discuss the divinity of marrying the wives of other men. So intellect/knowledge and faith are harnessed together in you on this matter how? This is what is difficult to understand and valuable to understand. What is the separation from having faith in something that you know is not so? It can appear to be stubborn or lazy, but without saying it is either, help me find the nice words to explain the faith choice.

      The desire to reconcile intellect with faith is admirable and knowledge and faith do have a history of adapting over time to developments, especially in a culture with a living prophet that speaks with God and Jesus Christ. The ultimate question becomes where does integrity fit into this reconciliation. Should African investigators of Mormonism be taught the Curse of Cain doctrine, pre-mortal fence sitting, and righteousness and whiteness scriptures? Should The First Vision missionary training include all intellectual (and faithful) versions and all tellings or the more familiar, preferred version? How can someone teach that which they do not know, how can they say they know if they don't know the whole story?

      I choose integrity. I hope faith and intellect can reside in harmony together on that foundation and not in a mystery where two conflicting values or stories are forced to sit, on a shelf, only to be joined by more conflicting values and stories over time. Sadly many Mormon mothers and fathers tell the faith stories to their children, without sharing the intellect stories as well. That is how a third-generation Mormon, Hans Mattsson found himself in his sixties having lost trust in the leaders of the Mormon church and frustrated that he had passed along just faith and unknowingly withheld intellect.

    4. This analogy only aplies if the interviewee, (or church) is claiming that they are the ONLY candidate who will be able to get the job done. Is this not essentially what the church is claiming? If its only a matter of choosing a place where you feel spiritually uplifted then fine, maybe they are doing a good job for you. But heck yes I would fire an employee whom I found out had lied to, and decieved me. If I am choosing whether or not to put my faith in, and follow the teachings of a church that claims it is the ONLY true church, then I want to know the doctrine. Hiding, and lying about it is NOT the same as putting your best face forward. The church actively taught that the Book of Abraham papyrus had all been lost. That is a lie. I taught this to children from the manual. This is a silly analogy to help you feel good about something you want desperately to be true. But it is not accurate.

    5. Hi Mandy, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your perspective. I realize that my analogy may have been a little oversimplified. What I was trying to say from the job interview analogy was that I don't think every controversial issue needs to be brought up from the onset. Rather, I think the church deserves to explain the central tenets of our gospel when introducing itself. But when past histories are brought up, I absolutely believe that the church needs to be as transparent as possible. I don't believe in "hiding" information. That's why I said that firesides and institute are some appropriate platforms for addressing these issues.

      Essentially, as a member of this church, I have a choice to make: Does this church have the "skills" or abilities to give me a rich and meaningful life? Or do these histories prevent the church from doing so? I've made the choice that despite the past historical events described, I still believe that being a member of this church is the best for me.

    6. Sarah, you write frustrating blogs and posts. Where is your intellectualism? You say you harness your faith and intellectualism, you keep sharing your testimony that the LDS Church is the One True Church and you are happy.

      You acknowledge knowing that Joseph Smith married teenagers and the wives of other men and then you testify that this same man saw God and Jesus Christ and restored the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

      You are an adherent of mysticism not intellectualism. If you are an intellectual please rebuke me, and challenge me. I've made my case. Stop with your feeling good. The Muslim fundamentalists that flew planes into skyscrapers in New York Ci felt good about their religion too. I doubt they have their martyr's reward. Why are your fundamental beliefs able to reconcile with any intellectual concern? If it is not, please stop selling yourself as a source of faith and intellectualism, the content here is 100% faith and zero percent intellect. You aren't doing the work to help those of us who know e facts about Mormonism understand how you harness your faith with an intellectual value system.

      If you cannot, I think now is the time to abandon the harnessing of your Mormon faith and intellectualism. If you don't even try, you are conceding it is not possible. We are here for the conversation, step up and say something intellectual about Mormonism. I feel good, is not intellectual. It is emotional, I am glad you feel good. Please don't fund the oppression of the LGBT community in the United States in order to feel good.

    7. Thank you for replying Sara.
      Your are tackling a very sensitive subject, but one I think is important. You are correct, that as members of the church we have a choice to make. Members are being confronted with this new information more and more. I owe it to the church for helping me form my own moral code. But our church is not a typical Christian denomination. We make some pretty serious claims. A lot hinges on the history. You're saying the church is providing you with a more rich and fulfilling life, so you choose to believe. Im born and raised, rm, seminary and Institute, Temple marriage. I think I can understand your position. I think it might be 'best' for me if I stayed too. Then I wouldn't have to have my life turned upside down. The church is not something you can easily walk away from. Especially when you are as entrenched as I am. But I can not in good conscience keep playing along with what I know now. You say you dont think these controversial issues need to be brought up from the onset. Well they should have been brought up at some point in my 35 years of faithful service. Finding out that the Book of Abraham papyrus had been rediscovered in 1965....that it was national news, and then to realize that non of it has anything to do with Abraham. That every translation, including the facsimiles are bogus, is a big deal. How can you rationalize that the church didn't lie and cover this up? To continually shut down people talking and thinking about this by a simple, "Gods ways are not our ways", so we just have to have faith. That is a psychological technique to stop your thinking. I'm not leaving the church because of my doubts. I dont have anymore doubts. The church is not what it claims to be, despite whatever perks it can offer.

  2. Thank you so much! I appreciate it. :)

  3. Well said, Sarah. I couldn't agree more.

    1. Thank you. May I ask which Alpine Myres this is? :)

  4. This whole epidemic is very sad. I continue to see more and more people leave the church because of doubts. Thank you Sarah, for addressing these concerns and for sharing these resources. As members of the church, we know that even if we did have all the answers, it wouldn't mean squat if we didn't have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel. The scriptures are riddled with people who saw angles, witnessed miracles, etc and still never converted.

    It's important to remember that many of those that are falling away from the church are very discouraged and upset because of the doubts and unanswered questions that have crept into their testimonies. I have spoken with a few of them and they have literally been through hell trying to come to terms with feelings of betrayal, loneliness, discouragement and fear that all they've ever known is crumbling around them.

    It's really easy for us to say things like "just pray about it" or "don't worry about it, just read the Book of Mormon. If that's true, then it's all true!" Which often times is the answer we give to people who are struggling (I know I have!) My thoughts lately are that this may be just as much a challenge for us as members of the church as it is for those who are falling away. Our response should be consistent, sincere and genuine love for those who are falling, and not preachy, self-righteous, "it's-easy-just-pray-about-it" condescending love.

    For me, this has been a huge challenge. The Gospel has always made sense to me. It's always felt right. I have a hard time understanding how someone else can't feel that same way. It has been a huge test of my ability to empathize with others and love them for the right reasons, even when it's hard and inconvenient. Anyways, great post. Hope to hear more from you soon :)

    1. Thanks so much Aaron, for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate your thoughts, especially toward showing a genuine love for those that are struggling. I am sure that you are an important spiritual anchor for those around you. And not to worry; I've got more blog posts in mind. :)

    2. Aaron, perhaps the people that reject Mormonism as a faith of Truth, don't have doubts or shelves like those that stay in their faith of Mormonism. Perhaps the people that leave are the ones that truly know. Those that leave or decline association or stay only to keep their spouse/family, perhaps they know that Mormonism is based on false teaching and doctrines that cannot be resolved with integrity. The only answer that seems to be given to remain faith and reconcile knowledge is to keep believing and praying until you know, if you don't know it is true, you need to believe and pray more, until you know. That is what is known as circular thinking.

      Once an intellectual acknowledges the deceptions, they don't have to resolve claims that long deceased Beings visited Joseph Smith as living Beings, they also don't have to apologize for his multiple different and conflicting stories (a known sign of deception). Intellectuals see the tools of deception and do not testify to those deceptions to others and especially to their easily influenced children and grandchildren. They protect their children from deception. Faith is faith, not intellectualism. Faith in conflict with knowledge is cognitive dissonance. I am hoping, sincerely, to see them harnessed here, but intellectualism has to make an appearance.

      Getting off the carousel of circular thinking is a choice of integrity and mortality. Intellectuals know we are mortal and going to die. Intellectuals know we have no knowledge beyond this life other than that the dead do not spontaneously come back to life, by miracle or waiting long enough. Intellectuals don't waste life in false endeavors. Of course the choice can be made to continue to pretend to believe in order to preserve social relationships, many cannot extend this practice beyond themselves though.

      Hans Mattsson, was asked sincere question by faithful Mormons that had intellectual questions. The answers were not provided for him, so he sought the answers himself since they are of serious concern to integrity and Truth. His was the real journey of a Mormon working to reconcile the faith stories of his youth with the Truth he has since learned as a loving father, husband, grandfather, friend, and Mormon church leader. He did not find honesty on, FAIR, The Ensign, and his training meetings--that is the integrity of an intellectual working through a crisis of faith. Letting going of the doubts and knowing that he has been deceived. No more mysteries.

  5. I have also noticed that some friends have fallen away from the church and sometimes the things they share disturb me. The past isn't always pretty but really we should be making decisions based on the blessings we currently receive by being members of the church. The U.S. states government isn't perfect and has horrendous mistakes in the past but I don't move to another country. And this is God's country! Right? We live in a throw away society. My food has pesticides, throw it out. We don't like something they say at church, stop going. My husband isn't perfect, divorce him. We feel entitled that everything should be just the way we like it. Well, those people that leave the church will one day see that they have deprived themselves of many good things because they let the bad things or things they didn't understand distract them.

    1. Thanks Rebecca, for your thoughtful comments. I especially appreciate the analogy of focusing on the blessings we receive, rather than the best. Thanks for your amazing example! Hope you are well! :)

  6. My experiences with doubt have driven me to ponder, search, ponder some more, pray and listen to the Holy Ghost. Many positive experiences as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints far out-weigh the negative experiences. However, there have been a few very wicked men, in leadership positions in the Church who have caused severe damage to my life, as well as to the lives of my siblings. Because of the damage caused by crimes ( felonies ) which were committed by these Bishops and others in high places, my siblings have lost their testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have abandoned the Church of Jesus Christ. I believe you have to separate the two, distinctly, in order to hold fast to the true principles of the gospel, while being lead, directed and sometimes lead astray, by unrighteous behavior of those who may hold leadership positions. What this means to me, is building my testimony on true principles rather than upon the actions of people. People make serious mistakes and even deliberately can choose to harm others. It is the unrighteous behavior that we separate from the true and righteous principles of the Gospel ( the Good News ). I have been threatened from time to time by LDS attorneys who are part of the Strengthening Members Committee. They have demanded that I never talk about what happened to me an my siblings. These demands are now being reviewed by law enforcement and the findings are --- that felony witness tampering has occurred through the channels of the Priesthood sending messages to me from the Church legal department. Some people wonder why I am still a faithful member of the LDS Church. The gospel was the antidote to the poison of abuse and suffering I experienced at the hands a few wicked men who just happened to be members of the LDS Church. They used the buildings, their callings and their positions of authority to harm children. They perpetrated these crimes for many, many years. The victims of their actions have suffered tremendously. The victims of these crimes have responded in various ways. The majority of them still have faith in the Gospel, but cannot tolerate the "church" - the organization, and the cover-ups and directions to them to never talk about it, never expose it, and have been manipulated and spiritually abused. When children are silenced again and again, and when those children reach adulthood, and start to talk, to seek counseling and help, and are met with threats that their membership, or good standing in the church, or that their temple recommends will be taken away because they are speaking out about what happened to them, they are being abused all over again. The cry of the people will bring about much needed awareness and change in the behaviors of Church Officials and attorneys. The cry of the people should be heard. The lost lambs should be found, fed, lifted, healed and strengthened in the fold, rather than being silenced, punished, and cast off.

    1. Thank you very much for your comments, Gina. I am thrilled to hear that your experiences did not deter you from the church. I hope that you continue to find the peace that the gospel brings.

    2. I certainly have run into abusive behaviors within the Church though emotional rather than sexual in nature and in my case usually arising from their own unhealed issues and denials, sometimes though in sheer thoughtlessness. It does not surprise me that perpetrators with something deeper to hide would resort to threats, even legal ones. The vile cowards do this within or without the Church. I was threatened as a child, so severely I forgot it entirely for 45 years. So it does not surprise me that perps, wherever they are found, would resort to threats and bullying. It is heartbreaking to see the cascade effect it naturally has on members when it occurs within Christ's Church (or any church for that matter). They are not fooling God, that is for certain.

      There is zero tolerance for any abusive behavior in this Church, it's official doctrine, and my heart reaches out to Gina who experienced it here. While surviving all forms of abuse growing up I have only suffered due to members' thoughtless comments and actions within the church, so I suppose I am "lucky". Still it has taken me many years to recover from a particularly nasty incident with a Branch President who, due to his vehement denial of his own past issues, roundly dismissed and discounted mine. To return to even supporting the call the man has today certainly has stretched me and no doubt I've grown from it all even if he has not. I have realized he is nowhere near as healed on his life journey as I am though I hope he does heal from his own issues naturally. We all need to. At times I have felt surrounded by unhealed members but have come to realize they must progress at their own rates and I have to take actions to protect myself by not expecting perfection from imperfect people. Others actions notwithstanding, this is still the true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth today and for me there is simply nowhere else to go. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone suffering from the unthinking as well as very deliberate actions of others that so wound us.

  7. Thank you for your words, Sarah! In regards to your 2nd point, I've been enlightened by D&C 1:24 when God states that "...these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding." I love how the Lord communicates and reveals to His prophets and children in different ways, according to their understanding and mental context. I encountered a period of deep reflection and examination as I discovered more about the History and some of the more controversial elements of the Church; however, I found a preponderance of resources from independent sources and the Church (some among the resources you mentioned) that broadened my understanding and knowledge. What you wrote about Nephi's psalm was so true - by seeking more light and remembering our past spiritual confirmations, we can find understanding and peace. Thanks for writing, Sarah!

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts, especially your reference to D&C. I am also grateful that God reveals knowledge to us according to our understanding. Thank you! ;)

  8. When I began to have serious doubts about the church, I mostly followed the kinds of steps you are suggesting here. Even though my doubts were very significant, I continued to try to have faith and fulfill all my responsibilities as a member of the church, including accepting several callings, do my home teaching, read scriptures, pray, research, pursue and obtain a temple marriage, etc. After about four and a half years, I finally realized that my doubts would never leave and I was simply being dishonest to myself, my wife, and everyone else. The truth was simply that I did not believe the church was true, and that was not going to change.

    I realize the above advice is given with the best intentions, but following that kind of advice was ultimately a bad decision in my case. I should have left the church much sooner. My wife was hurt when I admitted to her (when I finally admitted it to myself) that I did not believe in the church or in God. Although it was a relief to me to finally be honest with everyone about it, she felt deceived by me, and it will cause some serious struggles for the rest of our lives.

    I think that any good advice given to Mormons struggling with doubt should include the possibility that they may conclude that the church is not true, that it would be okay for them to conclude that, and that they should not feel overly pressured to stay in the church, as I did.

    I want to make a few more comments on each of your items:

    1 - I am aware of these resources, but after a great deal of research, I ultimately found their answers to be unsatisfying, and I am sure many others have too.

    2 - True, but some concerns do not fall under this umbrella.

    3 - Hard evidence trumps spiritual experience.

    4 - Sometimes beliefs are not a choice, and you are powerless to control them. Also, if you are an honest seeker of truth, then you should not seek to create a certain belief, but you should simply seek the truth and let your beliefs form themselves.

    5 - As I discovered through personal experience, sometimes living the gospel simply isn't enough, and will not resolve your doubts or concerns.

    I again appreciate that your advice is given with the best intentions, but I think you should also consider the if the person you are advising feels pressured into staying in the church, in spite of an honest belief that it is false, then he/she will not find happiness that way and will be have been harmed by your advice and generally by the pressure they feel to stay in the church. Just some thoughts from my own life experience.

    1. Thank you Bennion for saying what you did.

      I would like to add that if a person who decides to no longer believe that other members and especially his family not ostracize him, but accept that person for who they are and love them as you always have.

      When a person goes through these changes, it's nice to have family and friends to rely on and not have them push you away.

      Just because someone leaves the church doesn't mean they are bad. We are still the same person. We love, we cry, we care about our family, just like before. I would have to say, in my own experience, that my feelings for my family grew more after I left. I accepted and saw them as humans who are trying to make a happy life for themselves. I help them when I can and will always love them and never turn them away.

    2. Hi Bennion, thanks for your comments. While I am sorry to hear of your experience, I respect your decision and wish you the best.

      Hi Brad, thank you also for your comments. I completely agree with you that people who have left the Mormon faith always deserve love from family and friends, not ostracism. If we Mormons profess to be followers of Christ, we need to show that love and respect to all. I greatly respect the genuine love you are showing to your family. I also wish you the best as well.

  9. Interesting post. As a doubting nominal Mormon I'd thought I'd share how I (and likely many former believers) view the belief issues you address.

    1- True. There are a number of sources that present a fuller and more accurate view of LDS history but for years the Church has unofficially and officially discouraged members from reading such sources. Un-approved and especially critical sources are certainly discouraged in any lesson teaching in Church meetings and many members have carried this over into their personal study. In addition LDS leaders in official settings have taught that members should be cautious at best and suspicious at worst of outside/non-approved sources.

    Likewise LDS leaders have created enough doubt around extra-Correlated symposia and publications like Sunstone and Dialouge that the small percentage members aware of these sources are suspicious enough of them to avoid them all together.

    Add to that the Church's actions in the case of the September Six, Mormon Enigma (the book), Boyd K. Packer's "The Mantle is Greater…" and Leonard Arrington, etc and it becomes clear to the membership that the Brethren don't promote and often discourage outside sources. LDS don't feel like they're 'safe' using sources outside of, Church publications and Deseret Book. Only with the advent of the Internet and the free flow of information has the Church begun to allow again for books like Rough Stone Rolling etc.

    By the way, did you know that Juanita Brooks was marginalized by other members and nearly excommunicated for her writing the book Mountain Meadow Massacre that you recommended. Like Fawn Brodie she was vilified by many for years only to eventually be accepted now as a pioneer long after her death.

    2- The issue isn't whether LDS leaders current and past are fallible or infallible but instead are they reliable sources of truth from God. Human frailty in an of itself is not a deal breaker— false prophecy is though. To clarify, I don't have issues with Joseph Smith because of his polygamy could be seen as immoral but I question his prophetic claims because I think his polygamy shows that he could not tell the difference between his own ideas and revelation from a divine source. Getting it wrong on multiple and important issues and invoking "thus saith the Lord" when it should not be to me is the real issue.

    3- That's difficult for those of us who haven't had an experience that they can say did not originate from within themselves and that do not find feelings a sufficient or reliable gauge of real world truth.

    4- Perhaps. Certainly Terryl Givens seems to push this idea. I think however that this approach is a little simplistic and doesn't take into account the idea that people are born with certain predispositions and in in certain environments that make belief far more or less likely. It's far more likely in the US someone born LDS will stay LDS and someone born Catholic or FLDS will remain with the faith their born into. To me this notion speaks far more for the idea of God using predestination than there being any real choice for most people ever born.

    5- I agree that an appreciation of many good things in the LDS Church do not require knowing the answers. Love, fellowship, service…none of these requires an understanding of all the First Visions accounts. Evaluating the LDS Church claim of being the 'only true and living Church of God' and the foundational claims made by Mormonism however does require one to at least attempt to answer the questions. Like every other big decision in life— who to marry, career, etc— we take in all the evidence and then make our best guess at the right decision often with not enough information. A number of LDS leaders themselves have stated that Mormonism stands or falls on it's history and claims. I think they are right if we're talking about the literal, fundamental Mormonism that most members espouse.

    1. Hi and thank you for your thoughtful post. I am aware of the September Six event and have read all of the First Vision accounts. But I was not aware of Juanita Brooks' vilification by other members. Thanks for that. I appreciate hearing your thoughts. In response:

      1. I am hopeful that with the information available on the Internet, the Church will be more transparent with these issues.

      2. I think that believing whether or not our leaders are reliable sources of truth is definitely a matter of faith. From my experience, I have found that genuine prayer for confirmation that these leaders are correct has helped me decide to follow them. I am strongly against blindly following our church leaders.
      I certainly won't deny that polygamy is a difficult issue for many, including myself. For me, examining Bushman's take on polygamy in "Rough Stone Rolling" as well as the recent livestream conference from the Interpreter Foundation on polygamy were helpful for me. Overall, however, I fervently believe that the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants are true scripture and have given me guiding principles to live my life. And so, I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet.

      3. Certainly, it can be hard to tell whether the feelings are from yourself or from God. I believe, however, that I have received strong confirmations through simply trying to incorporate the principles of the gospel in my life.

      4. Yes, I agree with Terryl Givens' take on doubt. While it may be easier to accept the Church's teachings based on family and background, I think there comes a point in every members' life when they have to decide for themselves whether or not they choose to believe. I left my Mormon home eight years ago, and have lived almost 1000 miles away ever since. At this point in my life, no one is forcing me to attend church. I am still an active Mormon because I have purposefully chosen to make it a part of my life.

      5. Yes, I think that all members have to figure out and get a personal confirmation that this church is true. Thoughtful scripture study, prayer, studying the Book of Mormon and our church leaders' words are paramount. And yes, we try to make the best choice possible with all the evidence we have. Faith is a choice. And I believe that when we choose to exercise some faith with our choices, we'll eventually get that confirmation that our beliefs are true.

    2. Please expand on the testimony of your Church being True.

      This must be an internal jargon familiar to Mormons, but is very confusing to others. Especially those who know doctrines that are conflicting and histories that are hidden or whitewashed.

      For example--I know this Church is True, the Church that is open to questions and diversity of worship or the Church that excommunicates female intellectuals for exploring church doctrines and publishing their research. Are they both True and in harmony or is just one of them True and the other in conflict with the teachings of Jesus Christ?

    3. Of course. I apologize for inserting Mormon jargon. We teach that Christ can only have one church. And while we strive to be as respectful as possible to other faiths, we do believe that this church is a restored version of Christ's original church, led by a modern prophet and twelve apostles.

      I assume that you are referring to the September Six event. I can't answer for what past church leaders have done, though I can't deny that it is a difficult past event for many to reconcile. However, with Dialogue, FAIR, and a surge of interest in Mormon studies, I do see a surge of Mormon intelligentsia trying to understand our culture and past. And with the internet, I am confident that the church will become increasingly open with these historical events. Rather than relying on the past, I am looking to the present and future.

  10. "We strive to be respectful as possible to other faiths..." Really...As a return missionary who worked hard in Japan to teach the gospel, I always thought we called other religions "whores" and "Apostates." Certainly not respectful in any sense of the word. What we really taught is nothing more than fiction that was built on the back of a history rife with sexist, racially derogatory, and spiritually dishonest words. "White and Delightsome?" remember that? I admire you Sarah, I really do. You have a faith in a dogma that is at its very best, is completely and utterly intellectually dishonest. Your faith seems to be undeterred by a complete lack of any scientific, archeological, or a single shred of hard science. Your unwavering support of a religion that refers to the females in the church as "Our greatest possessions" is commendable. You are a much better person, with a testimony I admire, than I ever had. Since I walked away from the lds church two days after being released, I have discovered a number of things that I find compelling. I find it interesting that the harshest critics of your faith are former members like me, that are ashamed of being lied to, manipulated, and cajoled into perpetrating an epic tale of fiction. I think it is ironic, that you call your religion the church of Jesus Christ, yet all of those pictures of Jesus we saw in primary and priesthood (I assume relief society had the same pictures, since you were not allowed to attend our meetings) depict a man that who if he was presented as is, would be unworthy to go on a mission, because he consumed alcohol, was unmarried at 30, never paid a tithe, and shamefully, had long hair!!!

    I believe that if Christ came back to earth tomorrow, in all his glory, he would be speechless about the so called reformation of his gospel. He would probably shake his head in shame to see his name used to further the insatiable maw of the lds corporation. He would probably weep at the complete lack of empathy the lds church exhibits towards gays, women, and people who ask questions. But most of all, I think he would turn his back on a religion that is run by an angry white guy who claims to be a prophet, seerer, and revelator.

  11. I am a non-mormon. I find Hans Mattson's position to be intellectually honest, in fact I think he needs to be much more rigorous in his questioning to be truly, intellectually honest. True, universal concepts will bear up to scrutiny. I think the following classic essay says it well.

    By John Erskine ca. 1915:
    (and I encourage anyone to read the entire essay, simply do a search, it is available online)

    "We believe that even in religion, in the most intimate room of the spirit, intelligence long ago proved itself the master-virtue. Its inward office from the beginning was to decrease fear and increase opportunity; its outward effect was to rob the altar of its sacrifice and the priest of his mysteries. Little wonder that from the beginning the disinterestedness of the accredited custodians of all temples has been tested by the kind of welcome they gave to intelligence. How many hecatombs were offered on more shores than that of Aulis, by seamen waiting for a favorable wind, before intelligence found out a boat that could tack! The altar was deserted, the religion revised--fear of the uncontrollable changing into delight in the knowledge that is power. We contemplate with satisfaction the law by which in our long history one religion has driven out another, as one hypothesis supplants another in astronomy or mathematics. The faith that needs the fewest altars, the hypothesis that leaves least unexplained, survives; and the intelligence that changes most fears into opportunity is most divine.

    We believe this beneficent operation of intelligence was swerving not one degree from its ancient course when under the name of the scientific spirit it once more laid its influence upon religion. If the shock here seemed too violent, if the purpose of intelligence here seemed to be not revision but contradiction, it was only because religion was invited to digest an unusually large amount of intelligence all at once. Moreover, it is not certain that devout people were more shocked by Darwinism than the pious mariners were by the first boat that could tack. Perhaps the sacrifices were not abandoned all at once.

    But the lover of intelligence must be patient with those who cannot readily share his passion. Some pangs the mind will inflict upon the heart. It is a mistake to think that men are united by elemental affections. Our affections divide us. We strike roots in immediate time and space, and fall in love with our locality, the customs and the language in which we were brought up. Intelligence unites us with mankind, by leading us in sympathy to other times, other places, other customs; but first the prejudiced roots of affection must be pulled up. These are the old pangs of intelligence, which still comes to set a man at variance against his father, saying, "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me."

    Yet, if intelligence begins in a pang, it proceeds to a vision. Through measureless time its office has been to make of life an opportunity, to make goodness articulate, to make virtue a fact. In history at least, if not yet in the individual, Plato's faith has come true, that sin is but ignorance, and knowledge and virtue are one. But all that intelligence has accomplished dwindles in comparison with the vision it suggests and warrants. Beholding this long liberation of the human spirit, we foresee, in every new light of the mind, one unifying mind, wherein the human race shall know its destiny and proceed to it with satisfaction, as an idea moves to its proper conclusion; we conceive of intelligence at last as the infinite order, wherein man, when he enters it, shall find himself"

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  12. (Ran out of room, so have to continue my comment in a reply)

    I particularly like this part of the essay,
    "Our affections divide us. We strike roots in immediate time and space, and fall in love with our locality, the customs and the language in which we were brought up. Intelligence unites us with mankind"

    As an outsider, it appears to me that mormons are guilty of this, and thus refuse to unite with their fellow human beings in the pursuit of intelligence, which as this essay argues, is the kernel of true spirituality.

    Mormonism has too many "altars" as also alluded to in this essay. Golden plates, specific promises about what heaven is like exactly, worthiness connected to things that make no sense like doing ceremonies in man made buildings arbitrarily called "temples", secret handshakes to get into heaven, venerating a 19th century man whose life does not stand up to even cursory scrutiny....none of these altars can an intelligent, unbiased human worship at.

    Intelligent religion concerns itself solely with universal concepts, such as love, forgiveness, compassion, honesty, integrity, etc. intelligent religions are sympathetic to each other and also to non-religious approaches to life based on ethics.

    I have respect for Hans Mattson's first stabs at true intellectual honesty. The original post here on this site does not strike me as intellect. It strikes me as a defense of regressive, superstitious thought. It strikes me as the placing of items on a mental shelf, hidden away and safe from honest evaluation.

    1. I do apologize for the typos...writing a longer comment on an iPad can be difficult!

  13. Sarah, I stumbled across your post while researching some topics and I feel compelled to comment. I think it is commendable that you are a strong member of your faith community and you certainly have loyalty to this church. However, I also think you have made several logical mistakes both in your own views and in the advise you offer for those LDS members who "doubt."

    First of all, you accuse Mr. Mattson of failing to access all the pertinent information and then you offer only LDS sources for information. I believe Mr. Mattson's doubts began when he accessed information such as contained in these sources and possibly others. In any event, does it make sense to you to only seek information from the one claiming the information when you have questions and doubts as to what they are claiming? Is it not more logical to seek information from other sources as well even if they are contrary or objective? This would be a bit like a perspective employer asking for and checking references, such as a former employer or a neighbor. The employer would do this because she knows that candidates will put their best foot forward while these other people may be a bit more honest in their evaluations. When contemplating a decision so monumental to one's life as joining or continuing in an organization that claims to be the one, true church led by prophets and apostles that actually get directions from God for their members, wouldn't one want as much information as possible? Why only Mormon sources? Are there any other scholars who might be a little more objective in their research and conclusions that you can offer?

    In a previous response to a comment, you describe your personal faith and mention a struggle with polygamy. However, you quickly dismiss this concern you have and say you would never discount your faith. This seems hardly a struggle if it is dismissed so quickly and then you say you would never let anything jeopardize your standing in your church. This sounds to me as if you are struggling with a point of doctrine in your church, not doubting the truth thereof. You seem unaware that that these people described as "doubters" actually doubt the truth claims of the LDS church. They believe as they find out about certain events and details (that were systematically hidden from them) that the 'truth' of the church comes into question. By truth I mean the claims of the Mormon church being the one true church, founded by God himself when he appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 along with Jesus Christ. I mean the truth of whether or not Joseph Smith did actually experience that, dig up golden plates, translate scripture and receive revelation from God as to how the church should be. "Doubters" find information that tells them this did not happen. As a consequence, they find it difficult to trust any scripture that came from that now tainted source. In addition, the official leaders of the LDS church will not clear up this troubling information with official statements or explanations. Is it not logical that many reasonable, honest, god-fearing people would be too troubled to continue their membership or activity. Your hope that the church would be more open is just that, your hope. It certainly is not the way the LDS church is handling the issue in reality.

    You said that you try to be respectful of people whose beliefs are different for your own, even though you believe that you are a member of the one, true church. Have you ever contemplated the idea that perhaps they feel exactly like you do! That is to say that they may feel that their beliefs are the one, true way to live. Would you want them to express their sorrow at your perceived lostness or wrongness? How would it feel to you if someone said, "Oh, I am so sorry that your have pledged your loyalty to the fraudulent LDS church." Probably not respectful.

    1. Hi Lori,

      Thank you for your comments. I'll try to respond the best I can:

      1. I offered Mormon scholarship because I was trying to prove a point that others in our faith have asked and tackled similar questions. Mattsson is definitely not alone when trying to confront these questions. To me, Mattsson seemed to think that he was the only one who had thought of these paradoxes within our faith, which I found frustrating. To answer your question about other scholars: I think that Harold Bloom and Jan Shipps offer interesting perspectives on Mormonism.

      2. I am sympathetic to people encountering doubts in our faith; as I stated, I have wondered about these questions too. I don't think that there will ever be 100% proof that the gold plates existed, or that Joseph Smith translated it. I realize that there may be evidence that may even discount the whole thing. But I also believe that there is enough evidence for me to rely on Joseph Smith as a prophet and that he translated a set of plates.

      3. That comment was meant to answer a question about Mormon jargon about why we often say "the church is true." I believe that it is very possible to be respectful of other faiths while believing that my church is Christ's restored church. That's part of being a tolerant and respectful person. I don't try to prove that people of other faiths are wrong, nor do I ever try to tell others that my church is better than theirs. One of my posts talks about tolerance, as well as my conversation with an Orthodox Jew, and I plan to write a blog post sometime soon about what we can learn about the Pope's take on modesty. I believe that we can choose to believe what we wish while still showing genuine respect for others that feel differently.

  14. In the list given above, under #1, we find that “There are myriad resources available to understanding the ‘less appealing’ parts of Mormon history." This sort of rebuttal is inadequate. There are Church members who have no idea about the scholarship listed or how very partial and selective it is. The “rebuttal” is question begging because many people have no problems with church history until they start to have doubts and questions. That’s when they go looking for further information and start finding disturbing parts of the puzzle. Essentially, they begin to engage their critical faculties upon church teachings, a painful process, and all the LDS church has given them has been hagiography and warnings about non-church publications. To say that there are “many resources” or that one doesn’t “believe that it is the Church’s responsibility to hold our hand and teach us our history. We need to be proactive and study it carefully, as well as prayerfully.”–to say this avoids the issue: Church members don’t have a burning need to learn more about the Church until their doubts and curiosity are awakened, at which point the hour is late, and the only knowledge they are armed with is what the Church has given them (or what their families have supplemented, i.e., some small percentage of members grow up in homes with Dialogue and Sunstone and a library of books in Mormon history. In such literate, educated homes, the issues of church history and the challenges of faith have been, often enough, confronted). When troubled members test a knowledge fed on Sunday school devotional teachings, that knowledge comes up woefully short and inadequate to the demands of a thinking human being looking for thoughtful, truthful, accounts about the Church’s doctrines and past.

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