In this episode of Best of FAIR, Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D., observes: “In my experience, neither critics nor apologists for the Church do much to convince me whether or not to believe. Debates, analysis, and scientific evidence may alternately undermine or support my beliefs, but belief itself is a choice I wrestle God for, somewhere in a dark swampland of my inner landscape, where not only God’s credibility but my own are at stake.
“I have noticed that many of the people I have known who have left the Church did not do so because they believed too little, but because they believed too much. In their excessive idealism, they have held Church leaders or God to expectations which were inevitably disappointed, and they have felt betrayed. They have not believed God when He told them that ours is a lonely, dreary world where we will surely die, and they have chosen instead to believe another version of reality, one which claims that they can be protected from being molested, disappointed, or made afraid. They have been angry at God or other Church leaders for not keeping promises which God has not, in fact, made. I note with interest that of all the names for the Savior in holy writ, He is never called the Preventer. Agency is the plan, and this means that all of us, including Church leaders, learn by our mistakes and are subject to misinformation, blindness, hubris, and error. The old joke is too often true: In the Catholic church everyone says the pope is infallible but nobody believes it; and in the Mormon church everybody says the prophet is fallible but nobody believes it.
“When Christ asks the question of His remaining disciples, ‘will ye also go away?’ it seems to be in recognition that they may be feeling betrayed or disillusioned by His words and requirements, as others were. Their response is not brimming with irrational enthusiasm. They seem to say, somewhat wistfully, as if recognizing that perhaps leaving would be an easier choice, ‘to whom, Lord, shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ We do not leave because we are blind to the challenges or brainwashed into commitment, but because we will have more cognitive dissonance, more to explain to ourselves, if we leave. We have found here things that we hold dear, that support and enrich our lives. We, like the reluctant disciples of old, have found here words of eternal life, which is to say that we have found knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. These relationships, these pearls of great price, are worth the sacrifices and the disappointments and the askance looks of our friends who wonder what we could be thinking.”
Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D., was a psychologist in Ann Arbor, Michigan for 20 years before moving to Montreal, Quebec for a three-year mission. She has served as president of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists, has authored numerous professional articles in both psychology and business, and has done consulting and training for such corporations as Marriott, Johnson & Johnson, University of Michigan, General Electric, and United Way. Dr. Ulrich is founder of Sixteen Stones Center for Growth in Alpine, Utah, providing seminar-retreats for LDS members seeking personal and spiritual growth and development. She and her husband have three children.