Doubt

I am a Mormon.  Mormonism is my spiritual home, and I don’t see that changing.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when the mainstream culture of Mormonism (especially as lived in Utah) drives me nuts.  I’m often troubled by a self-righteousness I see too often in Mormon culture.  Lessons attacking the ‘world’ or ‘worldly values’ tend to make me crazy, for example.  They tend to suggest ‘we’re right, they’re wrong,’ on issues that are by no means black and white.  Often such comments strike me as politically tinged–difficult, for a life-long liberal.  And they tend to attack works of art of genuine distinction and merit.  I have a testimony; I also have doubts.  I do my best to live according to my best sense of what’s right; I certainly don’t always succeed.

I taught at BYU for twenty years, and loved the kids I worked with.  But when I re-connect with many of those former students, I’m starting to realize something important.  A great many of them have left the Church, and many others are thinking about it.  There is a crisis of faith among young Mormons.  I talk to them and one subject keeps coming up, over and over.  Doubt.

We’re losing a lot of kids.  People I love, people I care about deeply, are separating themselves from the Church, and for reasons that don’t strike me as wholly unreasonable.  I wonder sometimes if the culture of Mormonism is well-suited to people of a certain personality type, and ill-suited to other sorts of people.  Some people want to know that there are black and white answers to moral questions.  They want to believe that people in authority have the answers, that all they have to do is listen and obey.  And others–and I count myself as one–see the world in shades of gray.  Some of us feel safer when we have space to question and to doubt.  Maybe it’s because I taught in the theatre department, and theatre kids don’t feel particularly comfortable in black and white environments.  We question, we wonder, we doubt. And we’re bothered when we see our good brothers and sisters who seem perfectly content, who don’t seem to doubt at all.  Are they faking it?  Are they completely sincere?  If so, what’s wrong with me?

Asking ourselves these sorts of questions is, of course, a normal thing, and a good thing, and perhaps some of you who read this blog who are not LDS are wondering what the big deal is.  But Mormon culture is not very welcoming to doubt.  There’s tremendous social pressure on all of us to never express doubt, to never reveal it, even perhaps to not feel doubt at all.  And yet, doubt also seems to be increasing.

Right now in Sunday school, we’re embarked on a year’s study of ‘Church history.’  But the history we study in Sunday school is sanitized, faith promoting, edifying, testimony-building.  I can see the reasons for that.  But we’re living today in a world where young people are adept at finding absolutely incredible amounts of information and knowledge.  It’s really extraordinary, what the internet has done.  I love it, I love the era in which we live.  I love navigating Wikipedia, just bouncing from strange subject to strange subject.  Learning, growing.

But on the internet, it’s very easy to access all sorts of factually accurate information about LDS history that calls into question the mainstream narrative we learn in Sunday School, perhaps because they don’t include context.  And when that happens, it can be destructive of innocence, destructive of testimony, and destructive of faith.  And bright, wonderful, LDS young people are leaving the Church because of it.  Or perhaps not leaving the Church, but questioning, doubting.  Not wondering ‘should I stay a Mormon?’ but ‘what kind of Mormon am I becoming?’  And always, this: ‘where do I fit in?’

In a recent General Conference, I remember hearing this: “There is no place in the gospel for doubt.”  I’m not quoting that exactly, nor am I citing who said it; I don’t want this to turn into some personal disagreement.  But, here’s how I see it.  Doubt seems to me much like pain; something unpleasant, but deeply necessary.  Three years ago, I got very sick, and nearly died, and I am in considerable, constant pain ever since.  I don’t like being sick.  I think getting sick really sucks.  But I also recognize that getting sick was in many ways a great personal blessing to me.  I’ve learned a lot from it, and grown closer to my family, and I’m grateful for it.  I would say that pain is certainly part of the gospel.  And by the same token, and in the same sense, doubt can be an essential part of mature Christian reflection.  Not for everyone, maybe, but for some people, for those who need it.

For example, how can I reconcile the idea that Joseph Smith or Brigham Young were prophets of God with their practice of something that seems to me as repugnant, with the practice of polygamy?  Why did it take so long for the Church to overcome its legacy of racism?  How can we reconcile varying versions of the First Vision narrative?  Good books have been published putting these issues into context, but questions linger in my mind.  And I benefit from working through them.

I doubt.  Doubting has enhanced my faith.  The experience, for me, of church attendance, of scripture reading and prayer, of trying to find an inner place of faith, is one often leavened by cognitive dissonance.  And that, in turn, leads me to think and query and generally, to grow.  And growth takes place without necessarily resolving difficult questions, or reaching answers, but just by struggling with issues.  Sometimes the struggle itself leads to some kind of resolution.

And this crisis of faith in the Church I describe is a real thing, and something which the Church does seem to be addressing, but with babysteps, incrementally.  One issue, for example, is the role of women in the Church, the degree to which women feel marginalized.  Such websites as Feminist Mormon Housewives and Segullah provide a forum for women to commune together, support each other. Sunstone is, as always, a rock and anchor for liberal Mormons.  So is John Dehlin’s Mormon Matters blog and podcast. All these developments are altogether good, but the Church has also responded, most recently by assigning women to give prayers at General Conference for the first time.  Another issue for young people today is the Church’s position on homosexuality.  Again, the Church has modified its position, especially on the official Church website, but only in small ways.

The biggest issue of them all, in my opinion, is the need for greater transparency when it comes to Church history.  Elder Marlin Jenson has spoken up in recent years on the need for transparency, and the publication, by the Church history department, of a new history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre is a welcome development, as well as a deeply sobering read.  But there’s much more that needs to be done.

Meanwhile, I intend to continue to do my poor best as well.  Let’s talk together, commune together about why we doubt.  Let’s not leave the kids who doubt with no place to go for answers.  Doubt together, and use the power of cognitive dissonance to work through issues of faith.  I am like the grieving father in Mark 9.  I believe.  Help, thou, mine unbelief.

 

93 thoughts on “Doubt

  1. I so agree with you. It’s tragic, the damage we do by attaching shame to doubt. When we can create an atmosphere where faith means “what you do in the face of not knowing” instead of “what you refuse to confront,” we will have a happier, more powerful people. So many people forget that “God will yet reveal many great and important things” means “just like everything else in God’s creation, even the Church never arrives but continues to grow in understanding” (read: “we may still be getting some things wrong, and may continue to do so forever”). It comforts me to know that the church isn’t an eternal organization.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with you. No where does it say that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be the end all be all of churches everywhere in the Millenium. All we truly know is that Christ will be King. Your sentiment that the church itself isn’t an eternal organization is something my husband once brought up to me when I was having my doubts and just like this blog post, it ended up strengthening my faith.

  2. I have pondered some of these same thoughts recently. It is not so much the doubt, rather the evolution from black and white to gray view of the world. In many ways, I think there is a human change that can occur in an individual, in which, the world, sin and even righteousness become far less defined. I have found this to be true in my life. When this occurred for me, it freed me up to look at events and issues with a much broader view…. frankly it has made it easier for me to be Christ-like in my views and actions. It has allowed me to look at the individual before a behavior or struggle. Believe it or not, it has allowed me to remove some of the religious stressors that have affected me in my life. Are the behaviors that fall outside the guidelines of the gospel still an offense to God, yes. The degree to which they are, between God and that individual, can vary greatly in ways I cannot even comprehend. I can accept that. I think I will chalk it up to a maturity in me. I can see the words of prophets differently now. They are not different than I have heard in the past but I can put them into my new way of thinking and they totally fit in. After having this epiphany, I started watching the words of the leaders of the church carefully and realized that we (LDS Church culture) may be going through a maturity process that will allow for a more Christ-like view. I don’t think this means that they are compromising their values but I think some of the shortfalls of the culture are being replaced with a view that is more mature, inclusive and less prone to black and white labeling of individuals. I cant help but feel that the black and white views that the culture (not necessarily the gospel) has is creating the room for doubt and confusion to exist. It took a long time to get here…I can’t help but feel that this change may take years but I am very interested to see where it goes because it is so much a part of me.

      • I think he said it perfectly. The leaders of this church will always be human. But the gospel will always be based on Christ. Man is fallible, Christ is perfect. There are no “shades of gray” when it comes to Christ and His teachings. It says in the scriptures, time and again, He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. As the world continues to become more and more wicked, choices will have to be made. President Monson has said that we may have to stand alone in our beliefs. As we make our choices, yes we will have to think things through carefully. Satan has made our choices very difficult to see. But when we make a right choice. doubt will never feel bad. And we will never stand alone.

  3. I enjoyed this post. When my husband spoke to our bishop and stake president about his doubts the bishop handled it with a good amount of grace, but our poor stake president was just flummoxed. There didn’t seem to be one thing in his years and years of leadership that equipped him to say anything other than an encouragement to keep praying and reading his scriptures, which were two things that were really, really not helping at that point. I was sad for my husband that he didn’t find more compassion for his doubt, but also sad for that poor stake president who was so uncomfortable and lost when faced with such a common experience.

  4. Excellent points Eric. Doubt, is not necessarily a stand-alone action or behavior. It can be the impetus for additional thought, study, and searching. It could be characterized as uncertainty, thought-in-progress, potentially transient. I agree that it is part of the growth process, and a necessary component of intellectual and spiritual growth.

    In some ways, (and this is not a completed thought) it seems as if doubt is like an idling engine. It may be spinning, but not getting you anywhere unless you engage the energy. The individual has to decide where to go.

    • what you said about the idling engine really resonates with me… when I engage my energy in something positive ( focusing on the faith I do have, loving others, etc) I am so much happier than when I obsess over my doubts.

  5. In my early 20s, I had a dream of my paternal grandfather. He died before I was born, but of course, I always wondered about him and so, I guess, I dreamed of him too. In one dream in particular I asked him, basically, “How can I live a better life?” He told me, “Don’t worry about religion.”

    I won’t claim that my deceased grandfather, whom I never met, really visited me in a dream—although I’m open to the idea, or else I probably wouldn’t be telling you this—but his advice was extremely comforting to me. He said, “Don’t worry about religion. It doesn’t matter.” The sense of the statement, in the circumstances of the dream, was that religion matters a lot less in the afterlife than humans think.

    It’s difficult to say when I left Mormonism. I began ditching at age 12 and chose to be grounded rather than to go by age 13 and 14. At age 15, then living with my father, I wasn’t pressured anymore. At 16 my bishop and friends tried to talk me into coming again, and I even agreed to give a talk at a youth night. I prepared a talk on service. Everyone felt I did well. The bishop complimented me on my eloquence. And, for some reason, this convinced me never to go again. Why? Well, I’d deliberately avoided scripture quotes in my talk. I purposely sought out secular perspectives, as a challenge—and to see if anyone would notice. The whole experience proved to me that it’s completely possible to think through what it means to be a good person without religious authority. What’s more good than service?

    But why did I ditch in the first place? The answer is undramatic and unimpressive. I didn’t have an intellectual reason. I think that I was just a contrarian little boy. The closest I got to an intellectual reason was an argument with a Sunday school teacher about whether I’d have to live in any of three afterlife kingdoms. My position was, that if I had free will, I could live anywhere I wanted in the universe. His position was that I was either with God or against him, and that if I didn’t want to live in Heaven, then I must want to live in Outer Darkness. I said if I was really free, and God really respected my freedom of choice, he wouldn’t force me to live with Him or force me into eternal misery. I was like a spiritual Switzerland.

    But that dream has probably shaped me more than anything else, along with another dream I had of Jesus. I once dreamt of walking through a ruined city. A man and woman pulled me into an abandoned building and told me to wait. They disappeared and came back with the dead body of Jesus Christ wrapped in a shroud. They laid the body on the floor and told me to lie down next to it. As I did, my whole body began to vibrate and I shot out of my body. I shot up and up and up into a blue sky and I felt incredibly happy. And I thought, “This is Christ.” I felt like the dream was telling me to move beyond forms.

    In a way, the LDS church does this, in its aversion to iconifying the crucified Jesus. For me, though, Mormons are still too literal. It isn’t that I understand Christianity to be nothing but metaphor, but more that I think belief is underrated—and that spiritual metaphors are at least as important as facts. I think this because I’ve seen as a dramatist that transcendence (out of selfish bestiality and into responsible compassion) can be accomplished by completely fabricated imagery. At least, emotionally. And, I suppose, because I believe (there, I said it) that if you can accomplish that transition it doesn’t matter how you did it, or what you believed while doing it. If the soul exists, and its future depends on anything, I suspect it depends on what it does, not what it thinks. Which is, of course, what I was taught to think as a boy. That works are what matter. And why this would ever stop being the case, I can’t imagine.

    A few years ago I was researching Gnostic Christianity and I came across a Nazarean proverb: “Good is the good to the good.” Which is to say, what’s good is good, why argue about whether the idea came from the prophet? The Mormon way of saying this is: “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

    • Your story of your dream caught my eye. The night before being baptized I saw Jesus in my dream who told me that it doesn’t matter what church I go to, and that He is everywhere. I remembered the dream only after being baptized. I learnt a lot from Mormon church and I am exactly in that place of doubt that the author of the blog is describing. I do not want to completely leave the church. After all if God is not about religion but religion helps remember the values might as well stay where I am. I just don’t know how to fit in now.

      • appreciate your comments and your honesty. you fit in by knowing that almost everyone sitting next to you in church also has doubts- that anyone who is paying attention has honest doubts at some time.
        I always end up at the same place. For me, I really do believe in the divinity of the Book of Mormon. It is timeless: it provides answers and comfort to every situation, it is easy to understand and yet has many layers, etc. If the Book of Mormon is God-given, then by association, I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Not a perfect person, not infallible, but a prophet who saw God. If I believe these two things, then I can let the other things rest until I work through answers. Some have come, some answers I am still waiting on, but it doesn’t make me crazy. Good luck to you.

      • Thank you Iaparkour, you have concisely described exactly where I am right now. I have no desire to completely leave the church, I believe that the mormon faith has and continues to do me good, although faced with certain facts I cannot (right now) bring myself to be fully immersed into all of the mormon requirements. I cannot shake the feeling that God is not about religions (as you put it) but rather about truth and character.

        Erina

    • Thanks so much for sharing these provocative thoughts. I love your dreams. And I love the spiritual intensity of your plays.

  6. I’m a convert and was an intense gospel studier from the time I joined the church (in high school). From my experience, so many “doubts” or misunderstandings people use to drive themselves out of the Church wouldn’t have been an issue at all if they spent the same amount of time or more studying actual gospel topics and the scriptures. I studied the gospel 3-8 hours a days for three and a half years before my mission. Many things that bothered missionaries or caused them great concern didn’t even phase me because I had already learned through study or revelation the solutions. So called “intellectuals” should spend their time studying the best thinking of prophets and the Lord instead of the best thinking of atheists and apostates.

    • I am so happy that you have answers to your questions and concerns. That level of confidence has always eluded me. I was born and raised in the church. My parents and Sunday school teachers taught me from the scriptures from before I can remember. I’ve studied the scriptures for as long as I’ve been able to read. I’ve had powerful spiritual experiences that I cannot deny.

      At the same time, I have not always found answers to my questions. There have been times in my life when I have put the most effort, the most sincere desire for inspiration, and received nothing. Then other times when I have not been praying, or thinking of God at all, when I have felt the spirit.

      I find that the counsel I have been given on feeling the spirit does not result in the promised experiences. I have felt the spirit. I know what it is, and I do not find in in diligent scripture study, or heartfelt prayer. I find it in occasional moments with my family, or unexpectedly though common tasks.

      I am glad that I have the knowledge I have from a childhood of study. I am grateful for the spiritual experiences God has given me. Ultimately, the path that feels right, that seems to lead to contentment, does not lead the way I see other church members going. There is no Iron Rod, but the gentle flickering light in my heart.

      Maybe I’m just one of those spoken of in 1 Nephi 8:23 who lost the path in the mist of darkness. If so, it does me little good to follow others who may also be lost. That is the nature of doubt. I’ll just keep searching for the Path, and feeling for the Iron Rod.

    • “Thinkers” like you always have the assumption that people who disagree just aren’t studying enough. I’ve more than put in my time studying and come to very different conclusions from you. If you spent your life learning, listening and playing only one song on a piano, of course you are surprised to learn that there is other music.

    • Your negative bias against atheists and appstates limits you. We’ve been conditioned to think the worst about these two classifications of people. If I studied ONLY Ford cars for “3-8 hours a day,” refusing to even acknowledge the existence (validity) of any other, of course I’d conclude that Ford was the one for me.

    • I was like you… A deep and spiritually focused Gospel studier. I even went through every verse of the Old & New Testaments line by line with Strong & Vine’s and 3 translations seeking every nuance of details that might have been lost in translation. I dare say up until I returned from my mission, I never met anyone my own age who knew the scriptures better than I did. I have had prophetic dreams show me the future and I have laid my hands upon the injured and watched as God has miraculously healed them before my eyes. I had a voice from heaven warn me and spare me from a likely life threatening car accident.

      I was also arrogant and could not understand the weakness in others, imagining I had none in myself. With all of my spiritual gifts and knowledge, I had no comprehension of the grace and forgiveness of Christ. I was not humbled, and God knew I needed experiences that would ultimately humble me. Doubt helped me to spiritually grow, where directly experiencing untold numbers of miracles only reinforced my sinful pride.

      Denying people their doubt is like taking away their opportunities for selfless service. It is only through our weaknesses that we learn to rely upon God to become truly strong. Just as it is only through direct, personal, selfless service that we can develop the charitable attributes of God.

      • I have come to embrace Fowler’s Stages as a workable model of spiritual growth. There is very little room for absolutism and judgmentalism in mature spirituality. God is so far beyond our understanding that we can never comprehend the absolute truth of this world or this universe. Our own biased paradigms will always influence any attempt to translate and comprehend the divine, even when received in direct revelation from the Source.

        But I do believe that all truth seekers receive exactly what they are ready to receive, to guide them to exactly the experiences they need, to learn the lessons God wants them to learn. As such, who am I to judge the path of another when God is leading each of us to only what we are ready for and need? Even the seemingly bad experiences and the mistakes are turned by God to good, to help us learn what we need to learn. All religions lead people to exactly and only those truths they are ready to receive.

        Some are not ready for anything beyond Fowler’s third stage, and they cannot conceive of finding truth in any other form. The masses in authoritarian organized religions find comfort in such a format. But some people progress to unify with the heart & mind of God, not out of authoritarian obedience, but out of God-driven actualization of our potential as sons and daughters of God. With that actualization also comes charity and non-judgmental understanding of others for who and where they are in their own spiritual progression.

  7. Every religion by nature is in danger of becoming a recursive to black and white thinking. It boxes the complexities of life into trite rules while avoiding issues of actual value. Mere obedience will never satisfy the law of heaven. an automaton is no more capable of salvation than a rock. Therefore doubt, and learning, and Growth are necessary parts of religion.

    When Mormonism is used as a tool to force us to Obey without helping us understand Why. Mormonism itself becomes the very confinement that keeps one spiritually stunted not in essence, but in execution. as such, many feel, myself included, that in modern Mormon culture, any doubt, any free thought is squelched by the hive mind which values conformity over reason. Every correlated lesson, every overly simple answer, every forced obedience, every violation of man’s agency leaves one with a single thought, “brothers and sisters these things ought not to be.”

    One is left to wonder if the correlation committee, and by association the 12, is so inherently naive, or so arrogantly assured that they need not believe that there are thinking, rational, creative beings being hobbled by their absurdities. They obfuscate the truth, dissuade deep contemplation, and hide from reason for fear that it may cause people to leave when it is these very actions which have driven my generation away in droves.

    Religion should be the philosophy of life. Too often it is taught with such triviality and obvious error as to dissuade the discerning mind from further contemplation. In the end, I guess the feeling i get is that the spirit and flesh are one, and the church has tried to convert the spirit without converting the man.

    Ohhh yes, lets not forget. the internet, much like the printing press which presaged the downfall of catholic hegemony, will portend much the same fate for a Mormonism which does not adapt.

    • Very, well said. Love it. Where is a “like” button when you need it? One cannot assume that doubt is only a “bad” thing that needs to be overcome with the magic of faith.

    • Nicely stated!

      Organized religion inherently evolves to satiate the masses in Fowler’s third stage. If you look at Judeo-Christian history, during every dispensation, truth must be restored again in it’s simple purity after generations of getting mingled with the interpretations of men. Then, as people seek authoritarian guidance into how to be obedient, God once again gives the people exactly what they ask for in ever increasing “fences around the law.” And what was initially given as loving guidance, morphs into enforced canon once & ever more. Christ spent much of His ministry trying to help mankind understand the difference between the true Gospel and “the Law” of complex fences that not only were keeping the people from coming close to breaking the law, but were also keeping the people from understanding and drawing closer to God.

      Mormonism now has over a century of fences that have morphed into canonical and cultural Law which tend to obstruct the simple truths first restored in their purity. Add to that problematic history in conflict with the core spiritual teachings, and a judgmental and unforgiving culture that cannot handle much diversity of thought and practice, and only those in Fowler’s stage 3 or below could POSSIBLY be comfortable.

      But I personally cannot let go of underlying truths that spiritually resonate with me. All I can do is follow the spirit and hope the fences will once again all get torn down with Christ’s second coming, just as He did during his life. Like the priest in the Jewish temple waiting for the birth of Christ, perhaps we need to continue to serve and wait for the return of Christ and the cleansing that will come there with.

  8. I thought the op was an interesting read, but I found the conclusion very different than my own experience. When I encountered the non-sanitized version of LDS church history after my mission, it took me onto a path that led right out of the Church, and then swiftly out of any belief in God at all. Contrary to the anonymous convert’s assertion that “doubt” comes from “not studying hard enough,” I found that the more I studied, and the harder I tried to hold on to Mormonism, the clearer it was that I was grasping for air.

    It was terrifying at the time, but I’m glad it happened now. I feel like I can actually live genuinely now that I’m not bound by arbitrary commandments and the writings of primitive people in the ancient middle east. I feel less childish in my worldview; I now understand that meaning is something that comes from within. I take responsibility for my meaning, for my values, and for my moral judgments, and I’m free to choose my own course through life without the aid (or approval) of an unseen master.

    • Then what is your sincere belief about the source of the book of Mormon?
      -Joseph Smith just made it up
      -The Soloman Spaulding theory
      -JS had a time machine and just wrote what he saw in ancient America

      • “He read the book,” Proctor hissed, offering a low-five. “This guy is gold!”
        Cadeau appeared moments later carrying a sleek aluminum briefcase. After donning a pair of white cotton gloves, he carefully lifted out a small protective box made of clear acrylic and placed it on the desk. The giant lowered a shade against the unexpected sunshine then switched on a desk lamp. The object he’d gone to such lengths to protect was a book. The orange leather cover was scuffed and fading. Cadeau carefully opened it and pulled back the flyleaf.

        The title was handwritten in French. ‘Le Livre Secret de Madoc. The Secret Book of Madoc.

        “America may be the land of the free today,” he explained, “but centuries ago it was an asset of kings and queens. Royalty runs on debt and riches from the new world had already shifted the balance of power in Europe. During the late fifteen-hundreds, Elizabethan Empire builders sought to assert their Title Royal, or legal entitlement, to the American continent and invalidate historic Spanish and Holy Roman claims by precedent of an early Welsh explorer named Prince Madoc.

        “The Madoc or Madog tradition was known throughout Europe and the New World, but a high-ranking adviser to Queen Elizabeth, a shadowy Welsh mystic and esoteric occultist named Dr. John Dee, was first to suggest exploiting the tale for its political value. The Secret Book of Madoc details the travels and trials of a fabled Welsh Prince and is said to have been translated from engraved golden and brass plates by Dee himself. It asserts a prior claim to America pre-dating the planting of Ferdinand’s flag by over three centuries. The exquisite object you see before you,” Cadeau continued, “is a work of historical fiction and a fraud attributed to a legendary kook.

        “The Secret Book of Madoc is the chronicle of Prince Madoc – an adventurer and colonizer who fled his ancestral lands to escape the inter-family genocide ignited by his brothers upon the death of their father, Owen Gwynedd, King of North Wales. Myth and misinformation have obscured the Madoc legend throughout the centuries, but this much is accepted by scholars and historians: in 1170 A.D., a prince named Madoc relinquished his claim on the Welsh crown and set out across darkened seas, sailing under the red cross of the Templar Knights and armed with a Templar chart and compass. Madoc made at least two successful Atlantic crossings during his lifetime. Prior to his departure Prince Madoc had served as the Grand Master of The Welsh Rosicrucian Order, the Cambriae.

        “Elizabethan England enjoyed grassroots support for their Madoc claims due to the many documented reports of mysterious blue-eyed, pale-skinned native Americans said to be speaking in dialectic Welsh – a misnomer supported by Sir Walter Raleigh and other notables of his day. The existence of the Mandan tribe has never been a matter of dispute among historians, nor is there any shortage of information about John Dee. And although events intervened to prevent Dr. Dee’s scheme from being realized,” Cadeau said, “hand-written copies of his Secret Book of Madoc survive to this day – one famously transcribed by the pen of Sir Isaac Newton and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Arsenal Library, dated January 17, 1822. The certificate is signed by no less a light than Charles Nodier, noted librarian and legendary Napoleonic foe.”

        I couldn’t speak for Proctor, but I wasn’t tracking.

        “I believe you’ll find Newton’s personal copy predates the publication of The Book of Mormon by eight years, though Dee’s original was first written in the mid sixteenth century.”
        Cadeau took compassion on our bewilderment.
        “I only bring this to your attention because much of what is found in The Book of Mormon is also contained nearly word for word in Dee’s Secret Book of Madoc.”
        Proctor and I eyed each other.
        “If you’ll open to Nephi, 1,1,1, I can provide an example.”
        Proctor corrected our host. “It’s pronounced First Nee-Fi.”
        “Allow me to translate,” Cadeau said. We followed along in our books as he read along in his.
        I, Madoc, born of goodly parents, was taught somewhat in the learning of my father, nevertheless, having seen many afflictions, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days as a vagabond upon the face of the earth.
        The words in 1 Nephi were virtually identical.
        “That can’t be right,” Proctor countered. “The book’s a fraud. Right? You said so yourself.”
        “Yes,” Cadeau agreed. “A fraud that would seem to pre-date the publication of Joseph Smith’s famous book by a century and a half. I’ve been interested to see if you gentlemen might be able to clear the matter up for me.”
        “You’re right,” Elder Proctor conceded. “That’s a bender.”
        Cadeau glanced down toward me. “There’s more if you’ll hear it.”
        Proctor appeared as calm as a dawn in Eden, so I followed his lead.
        “Perhaps you’d be kind enough to read along in Mormon 6:6.”
        I opened to the proper page on the first try and held up my scriptures to prove it. Cadeau set his book on the desktop and rotated it toward us.
        “Here’s what it says:
        Behold, I, Madoc, began to wax old, and seeing the struggle of my people against the people of Coztlan, I made this record of the plates of Atl, and hid them up in the bowels of the hill beneath the temple of Uznal, save the plates of my people Cymry which I give unto my son, Mor Awnyry, that he and his descendants might forever know their source.”
        “Mor Awnyry?” I exclaimed. “Moronri? There’s just no way. That’s practically Moroni.”
        Cadeau closed the book. “Yes, intriguing isn’t it? Were we to read further, you’d find that the indegenious peoples called Madoc by the name: Mor Mywn – Great One in one dialect, and He who crossed the great water in another. Mormyn either way.”
        “Mormon.”
        The giant agreed. “Having now studied The Book of Mormon as well, I can tell you the two accounts overlay each other in several aspects and must derive from a common source.”
        A wall clock ticked in the silence like a time bomb.
        “Remarkable parallels at very least,” he said. “Bear in mind, this proves nothing. For all the world knows, the ink on my edition of The Secret Book of Madoc is still wet.”
        “Exactly,” I agreed.
        “But it isn’t wet.” Cadeau carefully returned the book to it’s case. “This volume came to us by the most direct means possible and has remained in our uninterrupted control since that time.”
        “Who’s to say your Secret Book of Madoc isn’t a phony concocted by enemies of the early church to discredit the Prophet?”
        Cadeau nodded. “Please don’t misunderstand my intention here. I’m making no effort to convince you. You’re correct. All writing is fiction and words are the weapons of art. I can’t verify this or any book’s authenticity, although I’m personally satisfied with its provenance as pertains to our ownership of it. That having been said, I just find these verbatim passages from a long-dead fraud included in Mr. Smith’s book bedeviling. That’s all.”
        I reacted to the challenge emotionally. “Bedeviling may apply more accurately to your book, sir. I have just as much faith in my prophet as you have in your provenance. You think it’s impossible for the Devil to write a book of his own?”
        Cadeau answered with tranquility. “I understand you are duty bound by your faith to discredit all inconvenient revelation, but your devil argument is weak and can just as easily be turned back on you.”
        “Cool book, though.” Proctor was turning the pages with gloved fingers.
        The gardener expressed polite concession and clapped his hands to herald a new moment. “Well, it seems I’ve completed my explanation of the spurious origins of my mysterious book. Perhaps you’d be kind enough to reciprocate.”

        http://www.2byevanlord.com

    • My experience as well. Glad to know there are others out there like me who, once the ball got rolling, didn’t stop questioning until real answers were found. The church is bigoted and a guilt fest.

  9. I have always found it interesting that Moroni says to “ask if these things are NOT true”. I take that as a the Lord understanding and using doubt to define faith. Thank you for your honesty these real thought processes, which confronting almost seem taboo. I too have trouble with the way most Utah Mormons perceive the world around them, especially our good neighbors outside of our faith. I served a mission in South Carolina and I realized what many feel in our area, as being one of the minority. The funny thing is that I still get occasionally get those “outsider” stares, being a long hair in Utah county.

  10. There’s so much I want to say but don’t know where to start. Maybe with my idea that doubt is not necessarily doubt in the truthfulness of the gospel, but merely a question that needs answering through thought, study and prayer. I’ve done this with several tough topics and found resolutions that are completely harmonious with the gospel (not necessarily with Utah culture) and help me have a stronger testimony of the gospel.

    Being a California Mormon, and having gone through the Proposition 8 election, my understanding of the gospel, along with many in my area, was tested greatly. How do we reconcile our belief in traditional marriage while maintaining a Christ-like love of those who are homosexual. Each of us came up with our own reconciliation but I know I have a stronger testimony of the gospel because I know that God loves each and every person for who they are (though not necessarily their actions) and simply wants the best for them, like any good father. Maybe we don’t understand just yet how that works with homosexuality and marriage, but we’re getting there. I have heard there is a gay bishop in San Francisco. If that is true, it’s a strong testimony that anyone can live the gospel despite their own characteristics that might pull them away from God’s will. I am so glad that the culture of the church is catching up with the true gospel and that our understanding is growing in this area.

    I’ve gone through long thought processes on this, abortion, polygamy and others and when I do, keeping the basics of the gospel and Christianity at the heart of my understanding, I find that the gospel is completely true, though the topics are not at all black and white. There are nuances, there are caveats, there are things difficult to grasp at first if you try to shove the gospel into the wrong shaped hole. Sometimes you have to re-shape the hole!

    I agree that study and prayer are important – as well as reason. And if the answer you get at first doesn’t make sense, ruminate on it and it will form in your mind and become as clear as day – but I do believe you must seek the Spirit so that God can open that understanding up to you. I actually explore some of these issues on my blog, as well. My short series on God’s Plan and Politics is here if anyone’s interested: http://jennysjaunts.blogspot.com/2012/10/applying-gods-plan-to-politics-part-1.html

  11. After my mission, I fell in love with a non-member woman. One thing led to another and we became intimate before we were married. Back then, it was normal procedure for a Melchizedek priesthood holder to speak to his bishop and the stake president, as a part of the repentance process. My bishop, who I had only known for a few months (I was at school) was very understanding and compassionate during my initial interview. The stake president, however, said something astonishing to me. After confessing my mistake, he told me, “You have failed the test of life!” At the time, I thought that this was normal, since what I had done in the eyes of the Church was very serious. When I related that later to my bishop in a subsequent meeting, he was stunned. Fortunately for me, my bishop was the one who worked with me throughout the process.

    Looking back, I know now that while well meaning in his attempt to convey the gravity of the sin and the difficult road ahead of me, this stake president was very wrong. The test of life is not determined by merely one erroneous act. Were that the case, there would be no need for repentance, since you could not make it back regardless of any effort. And I made it back.

    As for doubts, I’ve had many over the years, but they’ve never driven me from the Church. It is the human condition to question, to wonder if something is right or wrong–true or false. Only the sociopathic have no concept or caring for this, and fortunately I’m not in that category.

    Interestingly, in a stake priesthood session back in the early 90’s, a visiting Regional Rep asked for a show of hands of any men sitting in the audience had ever had a period of time of inactivity due to doubt. By my rough count, more than 80 percent raised their hands, including two members of the stake presidency and the speaker himself. He went on to explain his situation and gave one of the most inspired speeches I’ve ever heard on overcoming doubt. I have thought back on that speech many times over the years.

    I am grateful I have the capacity to doubt. It has allowed me to explore the reasons for why I believe the way I do. It has tempered my understanding and allowed that greatest of all gifts, compassion, to be a strong part of me. God gave me a mind to think, reason, and test. I am thankful that He had that amount of trust in me, to just wind me up and let me loose.

  12. I don’t want to be drawn into a ‘thing’ on some guy’s blog about the problems I have with Mormonism, but I’ll answer your question. I don’t accept the book of Mormon as a historical account of ancient America, and I certainly don’t think it is divine. I find it much more plausible that the book is a work of fiction written by Joseph (written alone, plagiarized from other sources, or written in cooperation with others) than the official church story.

    You’ve got me hoping for option 3, though. Joseph Smith figured out time travel. Now THAT would be something!

    • You honestly believe that the Book of Mormon is fiction and have studied fair amounts of pro and anti literature in reaching this conclusion? So you are saying that all of the textual and archeological evidence is purely coincidence? -As well as the bible.
      I was an atheist before I joined the Church. Only convert in my direct family. I could never understand what makes people who have the truth want to walk away from it. That’s an inherent risk of agency though…

    • Totally agree! Horses???? Metallurgy???? Nothing has ever been found to substantiate the BOM…Add this to JS and his phillandering, and that when asked about these obvious mis-truths we are told to “accept it on faith, and that if we feel the spirit it must be true”. A bunch of hogwash.

      I was a bishop, sent three boys on missions and God turned my heart two years ago. No I did not commit some egregious sin. My wife and I are still together and happy. I urge any of you who are doubting (and those of you who are not) to sincerely, objectively look for the truth.

      God gave us a brain and the BIBLE…The TRUE word of God.

      ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ 2 Nephi 25:23???? HUH????
      What can we do to be saved???? What was it the Savior did on the cross? He took upon the sins of the world…And no, it was not in the Garden…Another Mormon misnomer.

      Yes, I am angry that I allowed myself to be deceived for so long. Research (not in some LDS manual) for yourselves the truths about who JS is…and who the Savior is. Will you put your trust in some phillandering fraud, or the Savior of the world?

  13. I go through cycles, which is healthy I think. I always come back to the same conclusion and that is for very real reasons there are aspects of the church I do not want to give up. Those pieces keep me sane in crazy times and give me hope when things are hopeless. There are a million questions my kids ask me when they doubt, that I can’t answer. The bottom line is if they are always striving to be good people and to seek truth what else could a parent wish for their child? I’d rather they be inactive and be this person than active and have no depth or substance to their belief. Doubting means there is depth in their thinking. I think it is healthy.

  14. I felt like much of what you wrote is exactly what my mind thinks but could not have put into such perfect words. And then it got much more optimistic than I currently am :) But this was lovely. Well said, nuanced, complicated, real, and so loving and kind and encouraging for me. Reading the comments, I admit that I hear (and say) the same things about the topic over and over, but it is still always so nice to hear about others who feel or have felt how I do and have. One certain anonymous comment above, however, I think captures where we are realistically with how we “intellectuals” or “doubters” or whatever, are seen by most people in the church. Assuming the person read your original post, I am upset, but not surprised, by how much they did not hear what you said. So there I am- I am so glad to hear such optimistic and nuanced views as you have, and I’m so glad to have open arms like that in the church somewhere. But then I read things like that and I’m right back to square one.

  15. Eric, I read your entry with great interest and found it very relevant to me, a non-Mormon, as well. As other faiths have also developed cultures of “Doubt as a betrayal of the Faith,” this sounds very familiar. My faith is not as defined as yours, but all around I see self-professed people of faith presenting themselves to the world with the attitude of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” and being “with us” includes the absolute necessity of agreeing with huge, all-invasive social and political positions that must be followed to the letter, and if not, well…the doubt of an individual about any such positions leads to the doubt in the faith of those who might doubt and question any of them…any at all.

    It’s not unique to Mormonism, and, unfortunately, it’s pervasive and deeply historic. Doubt takes courage. Stay courageous, my old friend.

    • The socio-political aspects get woven into the fences around the law and become cultural dogma mistakenly equated with doctrine by most. Same thing happened with the Pharisees and Sadducees and is largely why they did not recognize their Messiah when He taught to them. My doubts and outright disagreement with the cultural dogma of Mormonism have effectively socially driven me out of the Church even though I would have preferred to stay and wait for Christ to eventually tear down such man-made dogmatic fences. It happened with Gentiles receiving the Gospel, it happened with Blacks and the priesthood, and I believe it will ultimately happen with the truly equal role of women, and the “natural” existence of homosexuality… (Is gay marriage really a sin for those whom God made that way and are therefore not engaging in “unnatural behavior” for them?) It is up to God to evolve our doctrinal understanding in His time, and He only reveals truths to the world as we are ready to receive them. I am honestly trying to be patient with God on this one, but being patient with the outright unChristian intolerance of many of my brethren and sisters is proving to be a very hard test of my character.

  16. I appreciate your thoughtful and honest post. Having spent a great deal of time studying leave takers of various religions, my observation has been that it is the ones with the most black and white thinking that are the most likely to leave. People who have the expectation that the prophets are infallible, unless they completely hide their heads in the sand, are bound sooner or later to be disappointed. These are the people who I have seen become the angriest, most bitter apostates.

    I too see myself as a doubter, although an optimistic one. Before making my covenants, I left no stone unturned. I wanted to know what the critics has to say. Even though some people told me the critical websites were a waste of time, I took an unorthodox approach and thoroughly investigated all I could find that was critical of the Church. I found many flaws and inaccuracies in the critical websites that had been well refuted by others, although there were also some truths that revealed fallible leaders. I prayed and pondered about it, thought things through very carefully and came to my own resolutions and testimony that the Church is true but the human beings in it are imperfect.. The negative things about those human beings, even the leaders, don’t bother me because I don’t have the expectation that they would never make mistakes. To me, sustaining our leaders does not mean that they are perfect or that we have to blindly obey or agree with every word out of their mouths. I love this church and and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Its people have flaws like any other human beings and I plan to stay.

    The good news is that nowhere is it written that we must believe that our prophets are infallible and never make mistakes. We are ordered to be obedient, but nowhere are we told to be blindly obedient. We are told to pray, ponder and ask questions and where there are questions, there must be doubt. I believe there is room for doubt in thoughtful obedience and what we decide to obey is always our choice. I hope that there will continue to be room in the Church for people like you. I can’t speak for the Church, of course, but I have faith that there is.

  17. I really appreciate this post as well. It means a lot to me to know that I’m not alone.

    Interestingly, I believe that the very fundamental essence of Mormonism is questioning. It was a series of unanswered questions that led Joseph into the woods to pray in the first place. I believe we should all follow Joseph into our own woods, with our own set of questions, and ask in faith, believing we can and will receive.

    My 15 year old son recently became aware of some of the less-well-known aspects of the gospel – specifically, the institutionalized racism. He asked me how in the world such a thing could ever take place. My answer to him? I don’t know. He was dissatisfied (so am I!) with that response, and I told him that I just didn’t know. That there were things that didn’t make any sense, and that I still struggle with.

    He said something interesting. He pointed out that we live in a day when answers are immediate. You google something and you get thousands of answers in milliseconds. Now, the veracity of such answers is dubious, but it’s the instant gratification that he relishes. And it’s therefore difficult to have to endure periods of just plain old not knowing.

    I said that there is a difference between google and God. Google (the search engine) does not want a relationship with you. They’re great folks, to be sure, but the search engine is just a series of algorithms that produce results based on certain input. They’re really more interested in our pocket book than anything else, and not really interested in us as people at all.

    This is very different from what God wants. God wants us to develop a relationship with Him. To seek Him. To expand our souls. To refine ourselves. To develop patience and faith and love. And that can be frustrating for a 15 year old. And/or for a 38 year old. But it doesn’t mean He loves us any less. Just that He works in His own way.

    I noted that there’s a difference between doubt and faith. Doubt asks a question assuming there is no answer, or that the answer will not/can not ever be known. Faith assumes there is an answer, and that if one is patient, diligent, and worthy, eventually the answer will be made known. Doubt is rooted in fear, distrust, and apathy; faith is rooted in hope, patience, belief, and love. Doubt looks to the ground in dismay; faith looks to God in confidence. Questioning is healthy. It is the only way to get answers. And I can think of no more frequently repeated injunction in the scriptures than to “ask, seek, and knock.”

    Also, the various shades of gray (as opposed to black and white) thought reminded me of a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago, linked here:

    http://billcobabe.blogspot.com/2010/12/cones-and-rods.html

    My suggestion is that not even shades of gray is sufficient to quantify the variety of goodness and worthiness in the world, but the whole rainbow of colors, shades, and hues are necessary to form life’s true, rich,beautiful tapestry.

    Thanks again for the post.

  18. Speaking as an atheist who lives in Utah, this post resonates with me. I eat lunch every day with work colleagues and friends, all of whom are in the LDS. Right at the first paragraph of this entry you hit the nail on the head – they are very black and white about most subjects and it’s always clear to me that once they have their mind set one particular way, there’s simply no point in trying to present a counterpoint because, in their mind, I will always be wrong. They never express doubt on any subject and it comes across to the rest of the world as arrogance.
    They seem incapable of seeing things from someone else’s point of view, unless that point of view is the church’s, at which point there’s always an about-face.

    One particular topic which always gets a lot of talking but no real response is this: as an atheist, I’m actually quite willing to entertain the idea that I might be wrong on matters of the afterlife, to the point where when I die, if I end up in front of St Peter (or wherever), I’d think “wow- guess I was wrong”. But ask a Mormon if they are capable of entertaining the idea that THEY are the ones that are wrong, that there might be nothing once you die, and it will highlight the lack of cognitive dissonance that plagues the church. In 12 years of living here, I’ve yet to encounter a single LDS member who will admit that they’ve thought about the idea that there really is nothing when they die, that they’ve considered that the entire church is founded on nothing more than the tales and fantasy of convicted fraud and long-time con artist Joseph Smith.

    Ask a Mormon to explain why they think their particular brand of religion is “the right one” and you won’t really get a satisfactory answer. Typically, you’ll get the official party line, as told by a prophet or by scripture, either way reinforcing the belief that was posted in the first paragraph of this blog post : they want to believe that people in authority have the answers. And that is, to me as an atheist, the biggest problem I see in the LDS. Prophecy trumps scripture. So no matter what is written down in historical church texts, anyone in authority can say pretty much whatever they like, call it prophecy, and suddenly millions of people all over the world believe it.

    Always of interest to me is the topic of gays. Most LDS faithful will simply tow the party line on this but ask them what would happen if one day the church altered it’s point of view (like it did with racism) and said that being gay was no longer a problem. The typical response is “I’d probably choose not to believe that”. Follow that question with this: “when has the church said something, and you’ve prayed, and not received confirmation?” and the answer is always “never.” So if the church does one day alter it’s view on this topic, I have no doubt that all the people I go to lunch with will, overnight, think being gay is no longer a problem. I’ve seen this sudden about-face before and overnight, the black-and-white nature of never showing doubt will mean that suddenly their previous perspective on a topic will now be completely wrong.

    If you’re going to change your mind, that’s fine, but don’t let the church do it for you.

    Personally I sort of enjoy going through life finding things out for myself and learning as I go. I can’t imagine how dull it must be when presented with a problem, to simply look in a book that you believe has all the answers in it. If you did that at school, you’d be accused of cheating.

    • I totally love what you’re saying! In Elder’s Quorum one day the teacher said the reason Muslim people don’t believe in Christ is because they don’t have the faith to read the Book of Mormon. My response was that maybe They are the right ones and maybe We don’t have the faith to read the Koran. Then I asked everyone in the room who has read the Koran to raise their hands. No one could.

      When Warren Jeffs was in the news I asked the quorum what his followers must be thinking and feeling. What if They are the right ones and We’re the Apostates?

      The only difference between a Prophet and a Madman is the number of followers they have.

    • I think about the afterlife all the time. Whether it exists or does not. I have my doubts. Doubts about a lot of things. But of late, I am coming around to the conclusion that for me, my faith and believing is a choice. I do not know it all to be the truth, but I choose to believe it, and to live by it. Faith is paramount to me. I have hope, this leads me to choose to have faith, and this leads me to act on that faith by choosing to live within the conscripts laid out by Church leadership. And yes, I choose it. And it is not easy, and I might be wrong, but if I am, what is the harm in it? It helps me to be a better person,

      As to black and white, some things are that way, others are not. Just how it is in the world we live in.

      • I totally agree. I think believing is a choice, just like deciding to no longer believe. That choice has made it easier for me to understand things that are difficult or not black and white. I am glad I’ve made the choice to have faith in the gospel and even if it turned out to be wrong, I wouldn’t regret it.

    • I’d be careful generalizing about what Mormons will say when asked _______. I have thought about everything you’ve mentioned in great detail. I’ve had conversations for hours and hours on the subject of homosexuality with professors, parents, leaders, peers, and professionals. I’ve pored over hundreds of thousands of pages of scientific research into each of the subjects you mentioned and more, including the history of Mormonism, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, etc. I’ve done the research I need to logically justify the reason behind the hope that the gospel gives me and have no mental reservations about how my mental studies interact with my spiritual experience. That the handful of Mormons you know may not typically ask those question does not equate to no Mormons asking those questions. What you are unfortunately confusing is the cultural identity that has been assumed in Utah and the actual doctrine or practice of the LDS church.

      • Thank you for this reply to the main comment. You took the words right out of my mouth. Generalizations are difficult for me to handle.

        For some reason the quote that is rumored to be from Albert Einstein comes to mind. Something along the lines of, “Everyone is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

        Don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to do your research. No human is perfect, but I have faith that the doctrine is.

  19. I cannot recommend more highly, in light of this post, the book “The God Who Weeps” by Terryl and Fiona Givens. Especially the introduction which specifically addresses topics of faith and doubt and why they are both necessary. I have never read anything which more beautifully and succinctly addresses this topic.

  20. I see the evidence where I live of those who’ve been hurt by the black and white of some people’s narrow interpretation of Mormonism. There is so much more that many don’t even consider. The scripture in Mark 9:22-23 resonates with me. I often feel like crying out in my prayers “help thou my unbelief”. And help always has come. For me, my bedrock is my faith in Christ…and my evolving understanding of the Atonement. David Bednar has spoken often lately of the enabling power that comes through the Savior, and I wish more would focus on that and not worry about the minutia. I know it’s not fairly common, but being raised by a questioning convert father, helped me to welcome doubt and seek answers…and be comfortable with things not always fitting in a neat little package. I look at all that I’ve gained by living my life as I do, and know this is the right path for me.

  21. I don’t think there is any problem with asking God questions. I don’tt hink we do it enough. Brigham Young himself said that the greatest threat to the church was that people wouln’t seek their own testimony out and would instead, follow in lock step with their leaders without the benefit of finding spiritual truth.

    I frequently feel the heretic at church for stating historical facts or context. There seems to be a level of discomfort in accepting that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Nephi, Moses and all of their followers were also in a fallen state of being. That they made mistakes. That they too were human. I think as a culture, we think it is a prerequisite of faith to deify God’s earthly messengers. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The only perfect being who ever walked the face of the Earth was Jesus Christ. Everyone else is running in the pack a few hundred miles behind. Some are further towards the front of that pack and some are further towards the back, but people inside the church struggle with the same issues as people outside of it. Other groups struggle with the exact same thing. The onus lies with each of us to love, to create understanding and to build bridges, because in the end, the only label that matters in that we are all children of God who deserve to be loved.

  22. I agree with you, but I think (being one who has severely doubted to the point of leaving, asked many questions of myself and the Lord, and found peace through my doubting and questioning) that the point needs to be made that it is the culture/the people that may make you feel wrong for questioning and doubting, not the church or the doctrine. I believe and was very much raised believing that, if anything, we are instructed that to have a true knowledge/testimony or to gain such a thing one has to doubt, but then ask questions as well. Far too often I think people doubt and do nothing about it. Doubt is good, even an essential ingredient, when you follow it with asking of the Lord and trying to figure it out from there.

    The culture and the people who treat doubt and questioning as a bad thing are naive and, obviously, have not listened to the teachings of the organization they profess to be a part of. Be secure in you doubt and questioning and remember that not everyone learns or takes the same path to faith and a testimony. Nor do I believe the Lord expects us all to do it the same way or that he’ll punish us because we didn’t do it as good, as fast, etc. as another. I believe that we all just have to try our hardest, which WILL be different than others and the Lord will make up the rest. And we all need to allow people to do THEIR best and do it THEIR way and not judge them for it. But if one does try to bully you into thinking your doubting, questioning and searching is wrong, leave them be and have confidence you are doing what is best for you and God knows it. No one can tell you how you have to do it. It’s between you and the Man upstairs… and if people aren’t willing to just love you and support you in your journey, you don’t need them.

  23. Also, I think because most of us who are posting and reading this are already immersed in or are surrounded by the Mormon culture we tend to act like ‘Mormons’ are the only people or subculture of these factions of ‘black and white,’ narrow-minded people. It just isn’t true. I promise, having lived in areas with other predominant subcultures, I have seen that. Whether it’s Muslims, Jews, whites, blacks, engineers, or artistic people they all have a group of vocal, know-it-all, we’re-better-than-the-others people.

    To be honest, and I know it is true at BYU and in the Church in general, this group is the minority. They are just so outspoken and sometimes rude that we tend to only focus on that. Case and point: when I first started attending college and lived in the Provo area I said to a friend, “man, I hate those BYU kids. They are all so arrogant and closed-minded,” etc, etc. He promptly reminded me that he went to BYU, which I knew, and that most of our friends went there too. He then asked me if I thought they were that way, to which I, obviously, answered no.

    The truth is that the ‘normal,’ non-judgmental people are everywhere in the church. Problem is that we do not recognize it as much because they do not speak out as much.

    I’ve started to be more vocal about my thoughts in the last couple of years, going away from the “traditional” answers, in church. I don’t think any of my thoughts are disrespectful, irreverent, etc and most are based on what I believe I have learned from the brethren and what I know I have learned from the Spirit. I think, if you started speaking up, that you might be surprised that the majority of people in church feel the exact same way.

  24. Great post! I am a BYU grad and fall in the group of kids that doubt that are leaving or have left the Church. I just want to point out one technical thing that doesn’t change a single point you made…..it’s mere semantics. John Dehlin hosts a blog called “Mormon Stories” and “Mormon Matters” under the umbrella of The Open Stories Foundation. His main blogging and podcasting are posted at Mormon Stories. They are a godsend to those of us that are struggling with historical evidence of LDS origins and current doctrine and policy that do not support scientific data. I highly recommend it to any and all people reading this awesome post about doubt.

  25. don’t let what you don’t know (or doubt) ruin what you do know. primary is focused on the basics: Jesus, God, prayer, Bible, Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, the First Vision, etc. if you have an abiding testimony of those things doubt or questions that you may have regarding a certain doctrine or action by a certain prophet or an event in church history will take it’s proper place in the backdrop of the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel.

    i’m not suggesting that searching, asking, pondering, or questioning is bad. they are not. they are faith-promoting and should be done with more frequency than they currently are. however we are promised that if we build our “foundation” upon Jesus Christ we “shall not fall”…even when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, his hail and his mighty storms (doubt, temptation, trials, etc) they shall have NO power over us.

    satan is the one trying to turn your doubt to fear and have you question your faith. hang on to that seed…even if it is just a “desire to believe” hang onto it with all your might. cultivate it, build that foundation, strengthen it, then you will be able to “endure to the end” and any doubt or question you have will be removed when He says “well done thou good and FAITHFUL servant.” He doesn’t say “perfect” or “never-once-had-a-doubt”…he says FULL OF FAITH.

    keep believing brother and don’t let the doubt of what you don’t know or understand ruin what you do know.

  26. We lived outside of Utah, in various places along the east coast, for 10 years. I am so grateful for that time because I feel like doubt is a little more accepted there. So many of the members are converts to the Church and therefore, obviously experienced some doubt in their journey. I so appreciate having been around people whose faith has been a journey and they’re OK saying it has been and is a journey – not a perfect place we’re all expected to have already landed. I do wish more of the focus was that the point is to develop a strong relationship with our Savior and with Heavenly Father, opening our hearts to Him more and more each day; not seeing how popular we can be or how long our highlighted hair can stay perfectly coiffed at girl’s camp. Thank you for your great post. (btw, Marlin Jensen was the one who sealed us and I have always admired him greatly.)

  27. Eric, I just found your blog, and I agree on so many levels. I’m so sorry to hear about your illness…. Also, I will never forget your story about going to see “Snakes on a Plane”!

  28. Where there is faith, there must be doubt. They cannot exist independently of each other. When all doubt is removed, we move from faith to knowledge.
    Faith and Doubt are obverse and reverse of the same coin.

    When one understand this, one realizes that to doubt provides an opportunity for faith to be strengthened. Answers may come, or they may not, but ultimately, we must rely on faith, to guide us through the questions that arise. All men have their moments where despair assails them. It is at moments like this, we recall the stories of the men who had great occasion to doubt, like Daniel in the lions den, Joseph in prison, and David before Goliath. We remember they faced their fears, conquered their doubt, maintained their faith, and carried the day.

    We also, shall face our fears, conquer our doubt, maintain our faith and carry the day.

  29. I had an English professor at BYU who often said, “faith cannot exist without doubt.” That blew my mind the first time I heard it and then lightened my heart the more I considered it. It’s probably the most important thing I learned in regards to my own spirituallity than anything else I heard in the five years I was there.

  30. Hi Eric
    Thanks for verbalizing all of this so very well. As an adult convert to the Kingdom who is also a staunch libertarian, you and I couldn’t be more different in our politics and history. I’ve also won the genetic lottery and have almost nothing to complain about healthwise.

    I can’t say enough how important this issue is. Pushing doubt away, pretending that it’s not in us, pretending that our questions are unimportant– this does us and the Kingdom of God and those around us a horrible disservice. We need to take the doubt into our hands, examine it closely, get to know it, present it to our Father, ask questions and study and pray, and let that doubt remain if it doesn’t go away. Then we have to keep working with it. Pretending it doesn’t exist robs us of the strength and knowledge that it is there to bring to us.

    Saying doubt has no place in the Gospel is like saying there is no place in the Gospel for weakness. Doubt and weakness are the PRECISE reason we are living this mortal life and it is our journey THROUGH and WITH doubt and reason that determines our spiritual success.

  31. As a recent convert to the church, I appreciate this. I spent over a year with the missionaries and friends before joining the church and it was because I needed to figure out my own thoughts on these issues.

    I think, hope, and pray the church will address these issues so that we can help our youth and communities grow together and increase their faith, get through doubtful times, and feel accepted.

  32. How wonderful that my daughter (Kaila Fox Lifferth) discovered you through this blog! She is now in the same placewhere you and I spent our childhoods. She’s getting her MA at IU.
    I loved every sentence in this essay except one: “Why did it take so long for the Church to overcome its legacy of racism?”
    Ask it again in twenty years and it might be answerable. We are still in the ganglia of consequences from false teachings about race. Let’s pray that we may look back on this time as the beginning of true equality. I believe we can do it. Nonetheless, help thou mine unbelief.
    .

    • You are right, of course, about how we have yet to overcome our legacy of racism. That was poorly expressed on my part.

  33. I was born into a non religious family andjoined the LDS faith after marriage. I have been a liberal all my 82 years, and at many times felt like leaving the church because I was so different, but I like the fellowship in the church and believe the ideals and way of life of the Morrmons is unsurpassed. I know all their weaknesses and they know mine, but we know that loving one another and serving the best we can is the way to salvation. Trying to know the answers to all the questions about religion will never happen in my lifetime so I JUST TRY TO GET ALONG WITH EVEYONE

  34. New reader here. I just love this post and can’t help but wonder if we spoke of doubt more openly how many would stay in the church? We need everyone in the gospel–not just the “mainstream believers”. God bless.

  35. During my first science class taught at an LDS College, the professor said, “You will have questions during this class, some will have answers, and some won’t.” He suggested that we put all those questions into a list entitled, “Questions I will ask the Savior when I see him next.” and then keep studying, praying and being open to the spirit to learn the answers to those questions, and to not be discouraged when some of the answers are VERY SLOW in coming. That has helped a lot in my search for truth. When I have had doubts, and it has happened, I have added the “question” to the list and keep moving forward, having faith in Jesus Christ.

  36. I am a former member of the LDS church but still occasionally read posts and articles, especially ones that attempt to look at things from a “non-traditional” angle. My wife and kids still attend but I haven’t been since 2008-2009. I struggled with these issues of doubt, struggled with feeling like an outsider, feelings of being judged, and many of the other reasons people cite for ending membership in the LDS church. I live in Utah so I occasionally talk about my experience with family and friends as they try to understand why a good person, such as myself, would leave behind a church they believe to be true. There are only a very few people that get to see the whole picture while others only get bits and pieces of my story.
    I was raised Mormon, baptized, priesthood, mission, married in the temple, callings, etc. My religious identity was formed by my father, at all times it felt like things I did in the church were in an attempt to make him proud. I often wondered why I was doing things, or why the church held certain beliefs. I would question and usually be giving the same responses that basically boiled down to, just have faith that everything is true and you don’t need to know everything. This was difficult for me as I had always been more of an outsider with different feelings and beliefs, my best friends were usually non-mormon, I believed in things that were in direct opposition to doctrine, my whole identity was in playing the part of a mormon but I had no actually convictions of my own.
    A few years back my father passed away, for the first time in my life I didn’t have that spiritual/religious guide that showed me what I was supposed to be doing. This is when I started to think for myself, to truly decide what I believed and what I felt without a desire to live life for the approval of my father. After going through the motions for a couple of years Prop 8 was the hot topic and even though I supported LGBT rights I was ok with the church’s stance, until I realized that the LDS church was in fact telling members how to vote, maybe not in those words but it is what it is. I remember getting in arguments with people as I heard the misinformed “fact” that if Gay Marriage was legal that the church would be forced to allow same sex marriage in the temples, it was a ridiculous belief that far too many LDS church members believed. It was the tipping point for me, I was done pretending to be a church member, I was ready to live my life the way I wanted to live it. That is a very difficult thing to do, to break away from the church you were born into, that your family practices, that your friends still attend, but I felt that I would be happier if I could just stop pretending and move forward. I sat my wife down and told her that I would no longer be attending church but had no intention of interfering with her decision if she wanted to continue attending. My kids could go to church but they would always be given honest choices when it came to making life decisions such as baptism, going on missions, and temple marriage, they would not be pressured into these decisions by us as parents.
    As I look at the way my life has changed in the years since I have left the church I can honestly say it is better, I feel more like myself than I ever did before. I live my life by many of the same principles that LDS church members live by but I do it by choice. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, no drugs, I am faithful to my wife, I strive to be a good husband and father, I am doing my best to bring my kids up to be the best humans they can be. More people need to be like the guy that wrote this blog post, than outsiders such as myself might not have felt pushed into the reality that is currently preached by the church, one of exclusion, shame, and a dislike of individuality and personal thought and reflection. Not to sound too harsh in my last statement but if I didn’t feel that way my comment would say “current” member of the LDS church.
    Just my two cents, not trying to attack your beliefs, I just wanted the author to know that I respect what he is saying, and hopefully some of the readers that are current members will keep this idea of respecting doubt in their head as they move forward in their lives.

  37. I don’t think it’s the doubt per se. First, a person has to come to a point that he/she acknowledges the doubt. That’s very hard to do in Mormonism. Once that happens, the floodgates open because you are no longer trying to find the path that leads to “the right answer,” but the path that leads to an authentic expression of belief. Often times, the freedom that springs from doubt provides a clear vision — a vision that sees Mormonism as one way of many that humans have created in hopes of communing with something bigger than themselves.

    I was incredibly devout and faithful for a long time, but once I let myself doubt, I let myself search for a path that was authentic and true to me. I appreciate what Mormonism gave me, but it didn’t teach me to doubt, to search, or to have the courage to step outside my family’s tradition. I had to find that on my own.

  38. This was a very thought provoking topic that brought up a lot of my own personal feelings. A few thoughts are knocking about in my head…

    First of all, I think church correlation became a very important thing when the church got big, but it also dumbed down the message. When a writer friend of mine first submitted to The Ensign, she was told to write to an 8th grade level. While that may be understandable given the magazine’s broad audience and the church’s international presence, it doesn’t really allow one to plumb the depths.

    Secondly, I am sort of a fringe player. I was born and raised in the church but with a liberal and artistic bent. I have noticed — all my life — that there is a sort of thinking within the church that different is wrong. Actually different can just be… different. Neither right nor wrong.

    And lastly, I really appreciate your message of doubt as reality. While I love the gospel message and its incredible beauty, and hope that it’s true, I’m just going on faith here. I haven’t been visited by angels. I’m not positive about all of this. And while some would condemn me for my doubts as having a lack of faith, I’m actually grateful for these doubts, as you are, because I feel they have delivered me to a more compassionate place. I can better understand those of other faiths, of those in my own faith who remain steadfast or fall away, of those who choose not to believe at all. If we’re really children of God, and if we truly are Christian, I think there’s way more room for love and understanding — and doubt — than many of us are willing to allow.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful post.

  39. I think we all have doubts, in the sense that we don’t understand everything.. And as mortal human beings we will never understand everything.. What I interpret the church leaders as saying when they say “do not doubt” is that we should not doubt our conviction to remain true and faithful to Jesus Christ and His gospel! We are not expected to know everything nor even to have perfect faith in every gospel principle (though it is something to strive for). I believe God wants us to have no doubts when it comes to who we are striving to follow!!

  40. What about another perspective. . . there is a right and there is wrong. There is truth and there is error. There is, in fact, no in-between to either of these. Yes, the black and white perspective. BUT WAIT. . .before you have made up your mind about what I might say. . . I also sustain that we are all human and imperfect, with limited understanding and knowledge. We come from different upbringings, cultures, traditions. We as individuals bring to the world a unique set of experiences in life. As we gravitate to our understanding and acceptance of right and truth from wherever we are, there should be no question that we will experience many challenges in the process such as doubt, fear and failure each time we learn and grow. This is normal and appropriate. HOWEVER, The goal is not to find a place for doubt to be a part of our existence, but instead to understand it’s role, not run from it or accept it, but to face it and overcome it. The notion that we find a permanent place in our hearts for doubt to fester and live will only serve as a dangerous roadblock to progression. Doubt itself is not a problem, accepting or avoiding it does not help, it is the overcoming it that will lead to success despite it.

  41. Room for doubt is part of the plan – it’s called the Veil. Deciding whether or not to follow Christ in spite of the veil (not “knowing” the consequences) is the test of mortality. It shows where our hearts really are.

  42. I’m pretty sure that if you got up in Sacrament Meeting to give a talk like this, the bishop would interrupt you and ask you to leave. (And I went to church in Boston… not Utah.) Because you said something very controversial: doubt is okay. Doubt leads to apostasy. That’s how the leadership sees it and that’s why they sugarcoat and straight-up lie from time to time.

    I am more sure now than I ever have been that the church is *not* true. Joseph Smith was a con man. The Book of Mormon is ridiculous. The doctrine doesn’t make sense. The principles of how we should think and behave largely don’t compute given a psychological and sociological framework.

    I always thought I had to believe 100% or that I was sinning. That’s a very hard line to walk. Now I understand that there is no such thing as 100% certainty… only surety which approaches final conclusion. But all judgments should always be open to reinterpretation, reanalysis, and criticism. To jump the gap of doubt with “faith” is the coward’s way out. It is more difficult to address that doubt and dismiss it with intellectual integrity.

    If the church is true, why do we need to fear doubt? Why stay away from “non-faith-promoting” materials? The truth does not need to hide. The truth will stand up to scrutiny. If there is a “truth” that does not, then dare I say it is no truth at all and nothing to be considered noble.

    I’m 29. I left the LDS church a few years after my mission, when I was 24. First time I felt free in a long time. Glad to hear there are many others my age on the same path to enlightenment.

  43. Mormons are taught to believe in absolute, black & white truth. What is rarely expressed from within Mormon doctrine, however, is that nothing in the revealed or restored Gospel is actually the complete absolute, black & white truth. God actually reveals truth to us in shades of grey based upon what we are ready to receive. The absolute truth never changes, but the doctrines morph as we receive further light and knowledge, and we are forced to realize that much of what we have deemed doctrine was like “centrifugal force” taught in elementary school… or the concept of gravity taught in high school. It was taught at the level we could comprehend and handle.

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