Thursday, September 5, 2013

How I Confront Doubt: Part 2

Since responding to Hans Mattson's experience with encountering doubt, I have been interested to read the range of responses both here and elsewhere, ranging from effusive praise to vitriolic criticism. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to readers' concerns from my post:

1. Whether or not our church has the responsibility to teach members its history.

With the Internet's all-encompassing presence in our society, I am confident that our church will become more transparent about our past. And I think that more frank discussion and openness about these issues can be accomplished in two ways:

 1. Talking about these issues outside of church meetings, such as Institute (weekly church education classes) and special firesides (Sunday evening meetings).
 2. Members being willing to put forth additional study into Mormon scholarship.

I believe that official Sunday meetings, however, are an arena where we should continue to primarily focus on our doctrine, not on controversial historic events.

2. Why I only chose Mormon authors as resources.

Some were irritated that I only chose Mormon scholars as resources to draw from. I included those sources to demonstrate that other Mormons have seriously contemplated and researched the issues that Mattsson brought up. I definitely understand that part of scholarship is drawing from multiple perspectives to ascertain truth. However, Mormon studies has traditionally consisted of either active Mormons or scholars with an obvious ax to grind. There have not been many non-Mormons who can describe the faith in a dispassionate fashion (Jan Shipps is an obvious exception).

However, as this New York Times article describes, Mormon studies is becoming a more promising field, with more non-Mormon scholars making strong contributions. One of them is John G. Turner, who recently published Brigham Young, Pioneer Prophet with Harvard University Press. Interestingly, he stated in this article that our church leaders gave him "unfettered access" to historical documents, which gives me more confidence of our church's increased transparency. I genuinely look forward to how Mormon studies continues to emerge and shape itself in intellectual circles. 

3. The argument of a faith-based choice not being an intellectual act
In the future, I will elucidate further on this topic. In short: I believe it is unfair to criticize those who make faith-based choices, as religion is certainly not the only place where we cannot necessarily "prove" everything. Philosophy, for example, is inherently based on axioms. And science, though ostensibly the area of "hard evidence," is also a field where scientists have to exercise "faith" in their colleagues as well. A friend with a PhD in computer science from MIT, for example, affirmed that she has to assume that scientific observations are truthfully represented and that, often, claims from other scientists go unverified. We often choose to think and make choices based on confidence in someone or something, not necessarily on hard proof. Yet, as theologian Marilynne Robinson explains, "The world would be a very empty place if it were not in fact axiomatic." I definitely agree.

In closing: I believe that members struggling with doubt deserve respect and understanding. After all, as I have stated in a previous post, doubt is not inherently bad, but rather, an experience that can deepen our understanding of our faith. I pray and hope that with increased conversations and acquired knowledge, members can better walk the road of faith and doubt.

Image by mattpeel10.


  1. I totally believe doubt can propel us into deeper spiritual understanding as we seek to reaffirm our faith.

    LOVE POINT 1--biggest pet peeve in Sunday school when people want to argue events and not talk doctrine.

  2. I had a few thoughts as I read this post and then re-read some of the comments that were left on your last one.

    The first is a talk by Elder Eyring entitled "And Thus we See": Helping a Student in a Moment of Doubt. I actually first read it in his book To Draw Closer to God. It is a worth a read, in my opinion. :)

    Secondly, I think so many people get caught up in the 'terrible' things that members of the church did in history. Middle-Aged Mormon man also explores some of the horrific things that happened to members of the church. I couldn't even read some of the links to accounts he shares, because I couldn't stomach it.

    So many things that happened in that time period are impossible for us to comprehend, because we didn't live then. We are looking at history from the perspective of second and third wave feminism and many other 'enlightened' perspectives. It was different, then.

    Not only that, as fallible as men were in the history of the church, we are fallible now. We don't know everything. We don't know every circumstance surrounding every event. We cannot look with our limited, fallible perspective on past events and pass judgement as though we are all-seeing. We make errors in judgement. There is only one person who does know everything, and he's the only one we can rely on. He's the Savior.

    A few times in the 'intellect vs faith' debate, I thought of 'philosophy' and 'scripture,' if you know what I mean. I applaud you for your faith. I think, without faith, our lens on the world is a lot cloudier. As my faith develops, I notice it clarifies my reason.

    The most important part of this gospel is a personal testimony of relationship with Jesus Christ. Without that faith, everything else crumbles around us. Satan is as real as God, and he will find any chink in our armor he can to 'lead us carefully down.' Unfortunately, many are blinded by doubt. Questions are VITAL to the gospel (it wouldn't be here without them), but it is important to ask them of God, and not 'make flesh our arm.'

    (There is also an amazing MMM post on the foundation of the gospel:

    Keep up the great work! I love reading what you have to share.

  3. I feel like point 2 isn't right. The church and will continue to hide and cover up things in our past. There are many abhorrent acts done by presidents and leaders of the church. I tried talking to some of my Mormon friends about this, but they weren't willing to accept truth or fact. I get that a Mormon perspective is fair for outsiders to consider, but after reading our history from multiple points of view I feel I have a better understanding of our church and what our early leaders really intended. I have come to the understanding that some of these acts certainly weren't the Lord's work.