Posts Tagged ‘Disaffected Mormons’
I’ve been reading the arguments on MormonThink.com off and on for several years now. I have a lot of respect for the individuals behind the site, even though most of them choose to be anonymous. I am confident that I have been visited by several of the contributors there or at least by those who read their site and others like it such as Ex Mormon and Post Mormon.
I am by no means a scholar or intellectual. I think I’m pretty smart and that I’m pretty good with logic. After all, I have made a living for thirty years demystifying computers for others. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than I am and who have the academic credentials to prove it. I like to think that I’m just a regular, average, typical Latter-day Saint.
I like smart, thinking people and especially people who present logical conclusions well, either in writing or verbally. Critical thinking is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve. I confess that I am impressed when someone can speak or write with confidence, especially when it comes to doctrines and practices of the church. That’s why I continue to take college classes each year.
Choosing to believe
But I’d like to take exception with one of the common threads I find in the essays on sites like MormonThink.com. It has to do with choosing to believe. The concept of voluntary or involuntary belief has been discussed by philosophers for millennia. But it’s such a basic part of how I deal with the sort of intellectual issues on Mormon Think that I want to share it with you.
I disagree with those who contend that beliefs are not voluntary acts of will. There is no doubt in my mind that I am a voluntarist when it comes to my beliefs about the church and our history. This is especially true in light of, or in spite of all the fascinating historical facts that I have read over the years that are just not taught to or even known by the majority of the Latter-day Saints.
Invariably I have found that those who label themselves atheists also claim to be involuntarists. I am coming to the conclusion that those who embrace the title of Ex Mormon, Post Mormon or Former Mormon also see their position as involuntary. “It was inevitable,” they say, “based on what I have learned, I had no other choice but to now disbelieve what I had formally believed.”
Well, that’s where we differ. I have spent many years studying the same material that has been so troubling and bothersome to so many of my fellow seekers of knowledge. I can honestly say that my faith has been strengthened and my belief deepened that Joseph was who he claimed to be – a prophet of God – and that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be – Holy Scripture.
I have no doubt that there are many in the church, who, if they studied the same material we have written about on our blogs and websites, would be absolutely freaked out and would soon leave the church. They are either social Mormons only or are not strong in their desire to know more about the history of our church. I don’t think these kinds of people are your typical Mormons.
What’s missing from sites like MormonThink.com, and what you’ll find in abundance on the official church web sites, is the role of faith, and especially encouraging faith. There is way too much emphasis on the intellect and not enough focus on feelings. The section on Testimony and Spiritual Witness relegates the role of feelings of faith as something to be dissected and derided.
Announcing new website
That’s reason why I decided to start my own website, LatterdayCommentary.com. This blog is hosted on that domain, which I registered years ago. It’s not much to look at today. In fact, I almost consider it a prototype. I’ve put together some commentary and links to my essays on some of the same subjects that you will find on MormonThink.com. It will grow with time.
I know that I’m just one of thousands of LDS members who have a website where they share their beliefs and testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I like to think that I’m not much different from your average Mormon. I grew up as a member of the church but I come from a convert family. And my viewpoint is definitely that of a laid-back California boy.
I’ve been happy as a member of the LDS Church all my life. I loved my mission and I love going to the temple. I love General Conference and I love serving in a local Bishopric. I hope you’ll take a look at my website and then come back here and make some suggestions as to how I can make it better and more useful in promoting the doctrines of our LDS faith to the world.
When I started blogging about LDS doctrine and issues a few years back I did not expect to get a lot of comments right away. After all, nobody knew about my blog yet. I was just another blog among millions. So I happily wrote all kinds of essays about things that had been on my mind for several years. Then I started promoting my blog and the number of comments picked up.
I enjoy reading the comments. Most of them are from my fellow LDS bloggers. We read each other’s material and provide feedback. It’s like a peer review system among bloggers. For the most part the comments are complimentary and encouraging. In other words, the writers of the comments either agree with my points of view or express understanding of what I have written.
A believing approach
Of course not everybody agrees with me. I am a very conservative, traditional Latter-day Saint, a typical Southern Californian with an easy-going, laid-back approach to life. I feel like I have always been blessed because of my faith and my participation in church. I tend to model my approach to life according to what I see and hear from church leaders, both local and general.
My faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has served me well. It brings me happiness and satisfaction with the answers it provides to life’s challenges and the mysteries of eternity. For me, the counsel to constantly feed our testimonies has been sound. It works. Perhaps I have been blessed with the gift of not doubting, but I feel secure in my knowledge of the gospel.
Those who do not believe
When a reader disagrees with me, I like to initiate a dialog to determine if they perhaps did not understand my points. Sometimes that proves to be the case. Our differences are then resolved and we go merrily on our way. And then there are those who flat out tell me that I am wrong. They claim that my faith is false and that I am not really happy because I have been deceived.
Some of those who tell me I’m wrong are disaffected Mormons while others are evangelists for their Christian faith. Being a returned missionary I felt confident in my ability to deal with them. Usually after a few exchanges of comments we could come to at least acknowledge each other’s point of view. But how do you respond to someone who adamantly wants to prove you wrong?
And those who attack
I have in my library several books dedicated to dealing with those who fight against the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I have listed them at the end of this essay. Just this week I finished reading a new one that has proven to be tremendously helpful to me. I know it has been out a while so I am not the first to mention it but I learned some things that I would like to share.
In case you didn’t know it, there are people out there who make it their practice to troll the blogs of faithful LDS members and leave disparaging comments. I suspect that they are becoming just a little bit dismayed by all the good we are doing. One of them wrote on his blog, “What’s up with Mormons and blogging? It’s as if their leaders told them to put out a good public image.”
Shaken Faith Syndrome
The book is called Shaken Faith Syndrome and it is published by FAIR. The author, Mike Ash, has been involved in LDS apologetics for many years. It is divided into two parts. The first 108 pages contain a series of essays addressing the whole idea of dealing with criticism and doubt. I especially liked chapter seven: Betrayal and Church “Cover-Up”. I have seen that firsthand here.
On an early essay here at Latter-day Commentary I wrote that I had visited a few LDS discussion boards and was amazed at the number of people writing that they didn’t know about some piece of history. They expressed shock when they discovered it and then outrage when they decided that the church had somehow failed them because they didn’t know about this historical fact.
No church cover-up
The example provided was that Joseph Smith entered into polygamous relationships in his life. It still amazes me the number of people who don’t know or believe this. As I wrote in my earlier essay, I learned this in seminary and thought everybody else growing up in the church did too. It’s not just converts who go through this. Lifelong members have had the same experience.
So is the church to blame because we don’t know about Joseph’s plural wives? I have never felt that there was a cover-up of any kind. If there was, then it was unintentional. Sure, some of the early histories were written to only provide a faith-promoting view. What’s wrong with that? The shock and sense of betrayal are not what I would consider a faithful or believing response.
Unrealistic prophetic expectations
In other words, if we are serious about our gospel scholarship, it is inevitable that we are going to discover some not-so-pleasant things about our history. This fits perfectly with the idea that the Lord reveals things to us line upon line, precept upon precept. For some, learning difficult things about our history becomes a major test in their life. I sympathize and yet see this as immature.
I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. I simply mean that it is a normal process of growing up in the gospel to learn new truths and to change our beliefs accordingly. Prophets are not perfect. It is unrealistic to expect them to know everything, especially in those areas which they have not studied. Can a prophet express his opinion and it not be the way things actually are? Of course!
Amateur LDS apologetics
The rest of the book provides great responses to specific anti-Mormon claims. I wish I had this book when I was dealing with my own antagonistic visitor who wanted to contest my essay on the Book of Abraham. There is a real talent to apologetics and I applaud those who can do it well. I suspect that most new LDS bloggers like me could use a course to develop the skill.
Mike’s book is well written, thought-provoking and for me, a little bit eye-opening. No, reason alone cannot answer all life’s questions, but it would be better if LDS bloggers, and all members for that matter, were more prepared with reasonable answers to difficult questions from our readers who do not have the advantage of a secure witness borne of the spirit of gospel truths.
Summary and conclusion
My antagonistic visitor derided me and claimed that I always retreated into an unreasonable bubble of a testimony when I could not answer his challenges to his satisfaction. Not having experienced personal revelation himself, he could not relate to the idea that we can and should obtain knowledge of spiritual things through the ministrations of the Holy Ghost in prayer.
I normally don’t finish my essays with a testimony but in dealing with apostate attacks, there really is no other way. I know from personal revelatory experience that God can and does send his spirit to teach us things that we can learn in no other way. We can stand as witnesses to those things that are true even though we were not eyewitnesses at the time. The effect is the same.
For more information:
1. Shaken Faith Syndrome, Michael R. Ash, 2008, Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research
2. Take Heed That Ye Be Not Deceived, Richard I. Winwood, 1992, self-published but now available electronically on the FAIR website
3. Guess Who Wants to Have You for Lunch? Alan Denison & D.L. Barksdale, 1999, FAIR
4. One-Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions, Stephen W. Gibson, 1995, Horizon Book Publishers, available online at LightPlanet
5. They Lie in Wait to Deceive, volumes 1-4, Robert L. & Rosemary Brown, 1981-86, Brownsworth Publishing Company, available at FAIR