In this address from the 2008 FAIR Conference, Michael R. Ash discusses “shaken faith syndrome.” He explains that “a shaken faith typically arises from two scenarios—1) Someone loses their faith because of a disaster in their life (such as a death, divorce, or other tragedy.) 2) Someone’s faith is shaken because they are exposed to information that seems to question the truth claims of the Church.” His address focuses on the second category.
Confronting information that seems to question the truth claims of the Church can create cognitive dissonance. “When we encounter cognitive dissonance with weighty issues—such as religious beliefs—we can experience a very uncomfortable and emotional state of mind. This discomfort has been called a “negative drive state” because it causes psychological tension almost like hunger or thirst and requires immediate attention and resolution. Reducing this distress may require a change in belief or behavior. There are at least four ways in which this is generally accomplished, and we are not often consciously aware of doing so. We will either: (1) reject the new information—the competing cognition—as false; (2) reject the new information as unimportant; (3) reject old beliefs in favor of the new information; or (4) add information (additional cognitions) to validate the original belief.”
Ash goes on to explain, “When critical information destroys conclusions based on straw men or false assumptions, some members will lose their entire testimonies. The most common misconceptions that seem to factor into personal apostasy include: (A) Unrealistic Expectations of Prophets (B) Confusing Tradition With Doctrine (C) Imposing Our View on Others (D) Unrealistic Expectations of Science and Scholarship”
He concludes with some thoughts on inoculation against shaken faith syndrome: “While adding cognitions may salvage damaged testimonies, a change in paradigms before encountering challenging issues often serves as an inoculation against shaken faith syndrome. Inoculation, however, can also cause damage on its own.”
Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FAIR Bookstore.