While the word “apologetics” means to defend one’s beliefs, FAIR strives for “educative apologetics.” We’re not going to argue someone back into the Church, but we can help inoculate members against LDS-critical arguments through better education, and—for those whose testimonies are faltering—we can set the record straight on false anti-LDS claims or offer logical alternative views which fit within a framework of belief. I’ve attempted to do both in Shaken Faith Syndrome.
In a very real way SFS is collaborative effort by many of those in our audience. I received a ton of help, suggestions, and advice from lots of people in our FAIR family and for that I am grateful.
It’s been 5 years since Shaken Faith Syndrome was first released. We ran out of copies at the end of last year—couldn’t even fill our Christmas order for Deseret Book. It was decided, since another printing was needed, that we would introduce a 2nd edition which would fix typos and mistakes and update and add material that had changed since 2008. The result is the 2nd edition of Shaken Faith Syndrome.
I should note for those of you who have SFS1 that new copies are selling for as much as $255 on-line and even up to $100 for used copies.
For those of you who already have Shaken Faith Syndrome 1 I want to quickly note some of the changes made in the 2nd edition (with the obvious difference being the front & back covers). First, I reshuffled several of the chapters and material from some of the chapters to create better flow & continuity. It has a vastly improved index making it tons easier to find what you are looking for. And I added a fair amount of additional material. The page count for Shaken Faith Syndrome 1 was 301 pages vs. 358 for Shaken Faith Syndrome 2—and with a slightly smaller font to accommodate all the extra material without making the page count excessive. 15 of the 28 chapters (if we include the Foreword) has additional material—some chapters with more additional material than others.
Some of the additional material includes more info on archaeology and the Book of Mormon, Book of Mormon geography, a section addressing Vernal Holley’s theory of geographical influences on the Book of Mormon. More information on Book of Mormon anachronisms. More discussion on cognitive dissonance and former Mormon exit narratives. Brief reviews of the competing geographical models and the scriptures which seem to suggest that the United States fulfills some Nephite prophecies. Updated info on the DNA issue. New material on the BoA issue. I make use of Don Bradley’s new material on Kinderhook. I also added a new chapter on Race & the Church.
What the two books have in common are what they attempt to achieve and the fact that they are both divided into two major sections. Section 1 addresses the basic problems which create and foster doubt as well as the assumptions which can turn into stumbling blocks when faced with challenging issues. This first section (which constitutes approximately 1/3 of Shaken Faith Syndrome 2 tries to deal with the root of the problems that can cause shaken faith syndrome. If members can grasp the principals expressed in Section 1 they should be apply those principals to any LDS-critical argument they might encounter. Section 2—relying on the material in Section 1—engages most of the more common LDS-critical accusations such as DNA, the Book of Abraham, Plural Marriage, the First Vision, Joseph Smith and treasure digging, Masonry & the Temple, and lots more.
In the remainder of this presentation I hope to spend some time addressing some of the basic issues (as expressed in Section 1) that can cause members to stumble.
On November 11, 2011 former Church Historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen attended a meeting at Utah State University with the John A. Widtsoe Association for Mormon Studies. During his visit Elder Jensen offered a question and answer session with the attending audience. Many of the students asked about faith-shaking topics they had read online, or mentioned instances where their friends had left the church over faith-shaking discoveries. When asked if the Brethren were aware of the problem, Elder Jensen replied,
“The fifteen men [First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve] really do know, and they really care. And they realize that maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now; largely over these issues. … we are suffering a loss; both in terms of our new converts that come in that don’t get really established in the church, as well as very faithful members who because of things we’re talking about, as well as others, are losing their faith in the process. It is one of our biggest concerns right now.” 1
While many critics crowed that members are leaving the Church in droves, Jensen clarified his comments in an article published in the Washington Post, claiming that the critics have overstated the problem: ““To say we are experiencing some Titanic-like wave of apostasy is inaccurate.”
The problem of members leaving the faith is very real, however, and most of us know someone who has left over issues they have discovered on the Internet.
Hans Mattsson is a text book example. As an area 70 in Sweden he received questions from local members about challenging issues. Initially he brushed the issues aside as anti-Mormon propaganda. He claims he couldn’t find official answers in the Church so eventually, after he was released, he began searching the web for more information to provide answers. In his search he discovered that the information was true.
He didn’t know, for instance, that Joseph used a seer stone in hat to translate the Book of Mormon or that he engaged in plural marriage. At this point his world came crumbling down.
“I felt like I had an earthquake under my feet,” said brother Mattsson…. “Everything I’d been taught, everything I’d been proud to preach about and witness about just crumbled under my feet. It was such a terrible psychological and nearly physical disturbance.”
Some members who are unfamiliar with FAIR, LDS apologetics, or LDS scholarly studies may become confused and concerned by contra-LDS information and may not know where to turn for help. They may feel that it wrong to question or doubt. They may be apprehensive about expressing their questions, concerns, or doubts to other Church members (or even to their spouses or other family members) because they feared that they would be looked down upon by others. Unfortunately too many members think that for the righteous, life is rosy; and if your life isn’t rosy, it’s because you are sinful. As my friend Paul McNabb once noted:
“…doubt is a natural part of our mortal sojourn. It is not sin, nor does it always (or even mostly) stem from sin. Faith is not belief without doubt, but rather faith is obedience to imperfectly-understood-but-true principles in the presence of doubt. In general, I would counsel leaders to not assume that doubt stems from transgression and to not assume that doubt is in some way the “fault” of the individual experiencing it. I think leaders can best serve those going through a crisis of faith by being understanding, sympathetic, and compassionate.”
It’s important that we understand that questioning the things we do, believe, or accept is normal and part of the process that leads from youth to maturity, as well as from maturity to wisdom. There would be no growth without questioning. Questions lead to answers, resolutions, solidifying convictions, and even to discarding false assumptions. Many doctrines and teachings were revealed as the result of questions petitioned to God.
Questioning traditions, folklore, and scripture resulted in Joseph Smith’s First Vision, the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom, an increased understanding of the Spirit World as recorded in D&C 138, and the expansion of the priesthood to all worthy males as recorded in the D&C Official Declaration—2. Personal application of prophetic and scriptural directives come as we question the meaning and relevance of the Word of God in our own lives, and academic questions have led to greater understanding of early LDS history, biblical history, as well as the world in which ancient prophets lived.
Unavoidably, questions have also led to loss of testimony and a rejection of a belief in modern prophets, scriptures, or even in God. “Most persons have experienced some form of loss of faith….,” notes John Barbour, a non-LDS Professor of Religion at St. Olaf College. While this could include spiritual searching, it also includes those who lose their belief in God, “…an entire historical religious tradition,” or their faith in “…particular beliefs or doctrines, church practices, or institutions….” 2.
The affect questions and doubts have upon our personal spiritual convictions varies greatly depending on the individual. For some, doubt may appear suddenly, emerge periodically, or it might plague believers all of their lives. While about 95% of Americans believe in God, for example, nearly half—including those who consider themselves to be religiously devout—seriously question their faith from time to time. 3
For some, doubts and questions may simply be part of one’s seeking nature. In our evolving world of ever-increasing information some may not feel content with any answer and may always be searching for the next best academic evaluation. For many, however, questions can surface because of what seems to be reliable information that contradicts long-held beliefs. The doubt and questions that arise from such discoveries often create emotional, spiritual, and intellectual heartburn and pain. Troubling discoveries can cause sleeplessness, depression, tears, and even physical maladies. Typically this pain is generated when assumptions and expectations are turned on their heads.
It’s human nature to make assumptions. Assumptions are those things which we take for granted—things we don’t critically examine. We’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover, but that initial response is an unavoidable characteristic of human nature. We make evaluations and judgments on what we see or perceive even though those perceptions may not be accurate.
Our assumptions typically offer a base-line or starting point for many of the things we believe. We can’t know all the answers to everything so we make assumptions based on information we do have and fill in the blanks with inferences based on our assumptions. In other words, we infer, or come to conclusions about things around us, based on our assumptions.
We couldn’t function in any society without assumptions and inferences because we can’t possibly examine everything around us all of the time. This leads to the unavoidable fact that we will often make false assumptions and inferences—fed by our own personal world views or by misinformation, a lack of information, or the inability to comprehend or internalize additional information. All humans – Even prophets—can, have, and will make false assumptions.
Non-LDS psychologist Dr. Daniel Kahneman has argued that we think in two distinct (yet metaphorical) systems. System 1 is our intuitive thought process and the process to which we typically turn first. “…the intuitive System 1 is more influential than your experience tells you, and it is the secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make.” System 1 “continually constructs a coherent interpretation of what is going on in our world at any instant.” 4
System 2’s process is much more laborious and requires focus and concentration. “System 2 is mobilized when a question arises for which System 1 does not offer an answer….” 5 “The defining feature of System 2,” writes Kahneman, “…is that its operations are effortful, and one of its main characteristics is laziness, a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly necessary.”
As a consequence, the thoughts and actions that System 2 believes it has chosen are often guided by the figure at the center of the story, System 1. However, there are vital tasks that only System 2 can perform because they require effort and acts of self-control in which the intuitions and impulses of System 1 are overcome. 6
System 1 is not a bad system. It is what guides us through our everyday lives. Our intuitions are typically formed from experience with similar situations and System 1 can quickly and accurately help us maneuver through obstacles and routines that are not too difficult. System 2 kicks in when System 1 is overwhelmed and needs extra muscle. And while System 1 is linked with our emotions, studies indicate that we need our emotions in our decision-making endeavors. Studies show that that “people who do not display the appropriate emotions before they decide, sometimes because of brain damage, also have an impaired ability to make good decisions.” 7
Latter-day Saints, like all people, create their own stumbling blocks by automatically and uncritically accepting the unexamined assumptions that frequently flow from System 1. All of us embrace concepts, beliefs, or positions that we unquestioningly accept primarily because we have never thought of questioning the belief, position, or concept—System 1 is the easier path. Unfortunately, we occasionally confuse beliefs on peripheral teachings—such as rumors, traditions, or personal opinions—with LDS doctrines.
Critics may unconsciously or consciously take advantage of the natural inclination that most people—most of the time—will rely on the quick and easy answers supplied by System 1. A critic, for example, might create a list of problems with the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, or the character of Joseph Smith. At first glance, such a list can appear impressive and detrimental to LDS truth claims. Critics give the impression that the issues are simple (perhaps black and white) and therefore the conclusion they propose (that the Church is false) is obvious to any unbiased observer (which, of course, is a faulty assumption because there are no unbiased observers).
The problem is that, more often than not, the issues are not simple—they are frequently complex, especially when we have to compare or understand the issues in context of time, circumstance, or even culture. A lot more ink is required to respond to an accusation then to make an accusation. Generally, we tend to avoid turning to System 2 to analyze the complexities of the issues and the rebuttals. System 2, as Kahneman notes, is lazy. We may intuitively (and incorrectly) accept the conclusion of System 1 (the easy list of anti-Mormon arguments) and reject the more difficult System 2 (the rebuttals) simply because the accusations are preferred because of their ease of acceptance. Once the conclusion is accepted (that the anti-Mormon’s simple list is the correct one) the arguments supporting the conclusion are accepted as well. As Kahneman notes, “…when people believe a conclusion is true, they are also very likely to believe arguments that appear to support it, even when these arguments are unsound.” 8
Assumptions often feed expectations. Most of our assumptions in life lead to low expectations and we aren’t really bothered if we discover that some of our assumptions are false. We may assume, for instance, that the Great Wall of China is the only-made made object visible from the moon. If we find out, however, that the Great Wall becomes invisible to the naked eye long before reaching the moon, our world would not likely crash down around us.
We may assume—because of popular myth—that we only use 10% of our brains. If we find that such a myth is false, is shouldn’t cause us to become depressed or lose sleep. We don’t give much weight to most of those things for which we make assumptions, so most of our false assumptions are fairly innocuous.
As Henry Winkler once said, however (yes, the Fonz of all people), “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
The feelings that accompany deconversion can vary depending on one’s relationship with the Church, its members, the church culture, or one’s personal relationship with God. If the relationship is somewhat distant already, the pain might not be that great. A full break with the Church could be seen as necessary in order to move forward to better things. With little pain, there might not be any depression or anger.
False assumptions within important relationships, however, can be destructive because we have greater expectations. Such relationships would include those with your spouse, parents, children, government, employer, Church, or God. All of us have certain expectations when we are involved in a relationship. The more invested we are in the relationship the greater the expectations and therefore the greater pain when our assumptions collide with a new image that contradicts those assumptions.
It would not matter, for example, if we discovered that we were incorrect about Joseph Smith’s clothing styles, hair color, or pitch of voice. It would likely matter, however, if we discovered information implying that Joseph was a fraud or delusional or that the Book of Mormon was merely fiction.
Shattered assumptions about Joseph’s clothing style have no real bearing our relationship with him as the prophet and founder of the Restored Church. Shattered assumptions and expectations about Joseph’s ability to receive revelation would likely impact our relationship to him.
If we learned that a mega-Church preacher had an affair it would likely not affect our belief in God. We probably have no relationship with the Denver preacher and so our expectations are low. If our first exposure to the fact that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage came from a critic, however, it would more likely damage our assumptions and testimony because our relationship with the prophet and our expectations of him would be significantly greater.
When we have unrealistic expectations of unexamined assumptions we open the door for potential disaster if those assumptions crumble.
If we assume that the Book of Mormon describes the first colonization of the Americas, we might infer that archaeological evidence will prove this truth and that no scientific data will contradict this truth.
If we assume that Joseph Smith became a divine human (perhaps second to Christ only) we might infer that he could not have weaknesses, errant opinions, or change his mind about something related to the Gospel.
If we assume that God restored His Latter-day Church with all its doctrines and fullness on April 6, 1830 our testimony might become challenged if we discover that new information was revealed many years after 1830, and that neither the Joseph Smith nor Brigham Young first wards were anything like the Orem 39th ward of today.
If we assume that God will always answer or prayers according to our timeframe and sincere desires and long we pay our tithing, hold family home evenings, and go to church, our faith may be shaken if we continue to wait for answers or if our greatest fears and pains materialize rather that the fruition of our desires.
We should tread lightly if we assume that our understanding of the Gospel will not change, that the history of the Restoration is always neat and tidy, that all prophets always behaved as we hope prophets would behave, that all those who recorded scripture remembered everything accurately, or that scripture accurately reflects scientific and historical truths.
In any relationship, one of the things that seems to cause the most pain and anger is the feeling of betrayal. If a member finds information that conflicts with their assumptions about Church history, for example, they may feel that the Church has lied. The pain and anger of feeling betrayed make take the leading role in the desire to leave the faith while the original troubling issue or issues may become secondary. A testimony lost at this stage can be hard to restore. What might have been sufficient answers earlier become insufficient once resentment—as a result of presumably being deceived—replaces faith. At this point logic and rationale take a back seat to emotion. At this stage, answers to the original challenging issues are often met by a litany of other issues.
I heard a story about a traveler who visited a Greek monastery that was perched high on a steep mountain. The only way to reach the monastery was in a rope basket. The traveler got into the basket, and just as he was about to be taken up the steep cliff wall, he noticed that the rope lifting the basket was frayed. He asked the monk. “How often is the rope replaced?” The monk said, “every time it breaks”.
We see here the importance of inoculation. When potentially troubling information is presented in faith-promoting ways, the information—accompanied by the weight of a faithful context—often helps members understand difficult issues within a framework of their beliefs. When hostile sources present the same information, they frequently claim or imply that the Church hides this information from members. The critics supposedly are merely exposing a “cover-up.” This may add weight to the contra-LDS source and give the impression that they (the critics) are really the objective truth-seekers who are merely uncovering the facts. It’s often not the information that makes people leave, but the perception that the information was “hidden.” The feelings of deception and betrayal ultimately drive many people out more frequently than the discovery itself. 9
Is there any truth to the charge that the Church has withheld challenging details of the past? The answer is both yes and no.
Information can be withheld intentionally or unintentionally. First we will discuss the intentional reasons. In the context of early creations of LDS history, we find a tradition among most nineteenth-century biographies (the primary form of historical creations) that emphasized the positive aspects of heroic figures in the hopes of inspiring readers while often exaggerating or even fabricating anecdotes— such as George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree. Frequently, in cases of early American biographies involving religious or philosophical movements, the movement took center stage and the “history” was a tool for evangelizing the movement. Any information that might harm the movement was withheld from the biography/history.
Early Mormon historians, like many historians of their era, were not trained in history but were instead influenced by the English Puritans whose histories were written as faithful explanations of their events. These Puritans (as well as early LDS historians) believed that, like the Hebrews before them, they were God’s chosen people whose coming to America was part of God’s unfolding plan. “Their history and biography,” note three prominent historians, “told the saga of God’s dealings as seen in their personal lives. In short, Puritan biography and autobiography were simultaneously scripture as well as history.” “Accuracy and realism were …largely things of the future.” 10
Apostle George Q. Cannon, whose faith-promoting stories were intended for the youth of the Church, wrote some of the more popular historical accounts of early Mormonism. Such works, like many other non-LDS works of the nineteenth century, were defensive in tone, biased, one-dimensional, and devoted to evangelizing a particular perspective. Today such writings are often referred to as hagiographies. It was not until the middle of the twentieth century that the modern biography—critical, multi-dimensional, and objective (at least in principle)— “began to take its present form.” 11 The early faith-promoting histories, however, became the source of historical knowledge for many Church members and launched similar popular works for decades to come. While it can be said that early LDS histories intentionally withheld challenging and non-flattering information, in the context of the times this was not unique to Mormonism and is to be expected.
As for the unintentional censoring of information, we turn to the Church curriculum. Some ex-members complain that they never heard certain aspects of Church history from the Sunday School classes they attended. The purpose of Church curriculum, however, including Sunday School, Priesthood, and Relief Society, is to support the mission of the Church: to bring people to Christ. Very little actual history is discussed in Church classes. Even every fourth year when the Doctrine and Covenants is taught (which includes some Church history) the primary goal of the class is to help members draw closer to God, seek the Spirit, and understand gospel principles.
As a universal Church, the correlation of materials and teachings is aimed to harmonize lessons and instruction and to accommodate the tender new member with basic Gospel principals—those teachings that affect our relationships with God and fellow brothers and sisters.
Thousands of virtually untrained volunteers, with varying degrees of gospel and historical knowledge, education (or lack thereof) endeavor to bring the Spirit into the classroom so that class members can be spiritually edified. While some Gospel Doctrine teachers may be knowledgeable enough to share detailed historical information, the manuals generally give basic historical outlines that specifically relate to lessons focusing on one or more gospel principles and how to apply those principals in the lives of members. In short, Church is a place for worship, spiritual edification, and enlightenment, not for in-depth historical discussion.
Because of changing times, however, and the problem that such an approach is affecting modern educated members, it is possible that we may yet see changes in the presentation of discussions on these difficult issues.
Hans Mattson says he was shocked to discover that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. It is certainly true that this topic is not frequently discussed in Church publications or Sunday classes because it does not generally relate to modern directives or gospel principles. But is it fair to say that Joseph’s involvement with plural marriage is covered up or hidden by the Church?
A search of Church magazines (via the LDS.org website) demonstrates that the topic has been mentioned in numerous articles in the Ensign. 12 When we look at the manual used in Institute classes and Church history classes at BYU, we read that plural marriage was revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831, and was later taught to other priesthood leaders who were expected to live the principle. 13
Finally, when we turn to the official course guides for those who teach the adult Sunday School classes, we find the same thing. Both the 1979 and 1996 course guides discuss the history of LDS polygamy beginning with its inception as a doctrine revealed to Joseph Smith and end with its public announcement in 1852. 14 In the most current (2006) Sunday School course guide (printed in 1999), we read that Joseph and other early Church leaders practiced plural marriage. 15 Does this sound like the Church is hiding its history?
It is been said that America is a nation of non-readers. We are, by and large, literate, but we are often uniformed and tend to spend less time reading than watching TV or surfing the Internet. A 2011 survey, for instance, found that the average U.S. adult spends about 7–12 times more time watching TV than reading books. 16 Studies indicate that in the past two decades about 25% fewer American adults spent time reading books. 17 According to another study,
- One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives
- 58% of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school
- 42% of college graduates never read another book
- 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year
- 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years
- 57% of new books are not read to completion 18
Most Americans are also severely uninformed in regards to significant historical issues, current events, or scientific facts. According to Carl Sagan, 63% of Americans are unaware that the last dinosaur died before the first humans lived, and nearly half of American adults do not know that the Earth goes around the sun and that it takes a year to do so. 19
According to one author who wrote about the decline in American religious knowledge, 60% of Americans cannot name five of the Ten Commandments and 50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married. 20 Another study claims that one third of Americans polled believe that evangelist Billy Graham delivered the Sermon on the Mount. 21
While General Authorities are typically well versed in the scriptures, they may or may not be very well versed in Church history. As historian D. Michael Quinn explains,
Church leaders have as much experience with the church’s past history as anyone who graduated from seminary, so they are not trying to conceal any concerns or a great secret or mystery, because they are not aware of them. If they haven’t acquired a knowledge of church history before they become a General Authority, they don’t have time to acquire it. 22
Hans Mattsson seems to confirmed this situation in an interview when he was asked if the Brethren new about the difficult Church issues. His experience suggests that some of the Brethren—at least in 2005—were as unaware of the issues as he was. Prophets and Apostles, he explained, “are like you and me. They’re doing the[ir] best. They accepted the calling. They haven’t asked, “can I be an Apostle, please, I’m a very good guy.” Hans says they didn’t teach him about the difficult issues and he was so busy in his calling that he really didn’t have to study Church history more deeply on his own. 23
With such non-reader ignorance, is it really any wonder that a number of Mormons are unfamiliar with Joseph’s involvement with plural marriage? To repeat a comment generally attributed to Mark Twain: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” 24
As we examine other challenging issues in LDS publications we find that many, if not all, of the issues have been noted, examined, or discussed by believing LDS historians in a variety of LDS-targeted publications, conferences, and programs.
The charge that the Church has hidden the truth has not landed on deaf ears. The church “has made no effort to hide or obscure its history,” Marlin Jensen said, but some aspects — such as polygamy — “haven’t been emphasized often because they were not necessarily germane to what is taught at present.”
Can the LDS church do better to explain its history, even to its own members? Sure, Jensen said.
“Can we weave some of this into our seminaries, institutes and adult curriculum? I think we can, and efforts are under way to do that.” …The church has assigned a staffer to create “a strategy to get church history onto the Web,” he said. “We are also working on an initiative to answer some of these more pressing questions.” 25
We need better inoculation and I think the Church is making, and will continue to make, moves to see this happen. The Joseph Smith papers project is a great start. This project has digitized a huge amount of early Mormon documents including early copies of the Book of Mormon, early revelations and letters, and even copies of the surviving portions of the Joseph Smith papyri. And it’s all available on-line, free for anyone who wants to study them. It’s obvious that the Church is attempting to remove the stumbling blocks that have caused some members to falter when first discovering this information on hostile websites.
Having assumptions is natural. Inferring expectations from those assumptions is natural. Investing ourselves in our relationships is natural. It’s easy to see why some members lose their testimonies of the Latter-day Restoration and even their belief in God when important assumptions collapse. That doesn’t make a person illogical, sinful, or unspiritual. It simply makes them human.
If we recognize that some of our assumptions are not built on doctrine but are built on the sandier foundations of un-critically examined tradition, folklore, and myth, we should be flexible enough to modify or discard our assumptions with the addition of better secular or revelatory information. When we take a rigid, inflexible (or in a word “fundamentalist”) positions to our assumptions, we set ourselves up for possible disaster.
I should note that fundamentalist, inflexible, black and white thinking, isn’t limited to religious minds. Many knowledgeable critics of the new vocal atheists have called them out for fundamentalist thinking as well.
From my experience the vast majority of members who leave because of “intellectual” difficulties with the church are those who take a black and white, rigid approach to the following assumptions: (1) How they assume scriptures and prophets should behave, compared to how they actually behave; (2) What they assume early LDS history should look like, compared to how it actually looks; or (3) What they assume science should be able to tell us about ancient Book of Mormon peoples, verses what science can actually ascertain.
They key to resolving the problem is better education. We must learn to be flexible in our thinking about Gospel issues. As a parent we learn to pick our fights with our kids. Sometimes we can win the battle but lose the war. While we can stand firm on those issues which we know have been revealed, we need to be flexible enough to modify our understanding or position when new light—from spiritual or secular sources—illuminates issues which are peripheral to core doctrines. The basic tenets of the Gospel are simple—they are not complex. We are told that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our fellow man (Matthew 22:26-40). Joseph Smith likewise said:
“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”
Unfortunately, too many people—both members and non-members—seem to think that topics such as the breadth and depth of Noah’s flood, or the DNA make-up of ancient New World inhabitants, or the connection between the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Book of Abraham, are equal (or near equal) to doctrine. They are not.
We live in a time of an unparalleled flow of secular information about physics, astronomy, geology, and biology. We should welcome this surge in information not only for the benefits it can offer in our understanding of life and health, but also for what light it may shine on our assumptions about the lives of God’s children in ancient times as well as how He might engage the inhabitants of this planet. In order to appreciate these advances in knowledge, we need to become flexible to understanding past assumptions in the light of increased knowledge.
Ultimately, however, secular knowledge alone will fail us when we seek the greatest questions of life. I’ve always been fascinated with some of the big trials in the media. Different people can see the same evidence and come to diametrically opposed positions. This was evident most recently in the Zimmerman trial. Neither the prosecution nor the defense was able to “prove” their positions, they could merely argue that the evidence was “consistent” with their position.
The reality of God, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, cannot be argued in a court of evidence. There will always be evidence that seems to be consistent with both sides of the argument. In the end, the only thing we can do is create a place where the spiritual approach can be tested. If we can inoculate our minds against rigid assumptions, if we can learn that there are logical answers to anti-LDS accusations, we can apply the tools of Alma 32 in the Book of Mormon and give room in our heart for the possibility for a spiritual witness and see if grows and bears sweet fruit.
1 http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2012/01/jensen-comments.html (accessed 5 August 2012).
2 John D. Barbour, Versions of Deconversion: Autobiography and the Loss of Faith (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1994), 5.
3 George Bishop, “The Americans’ Belief in God,” Public Opinion Quarterly 63 (1999): 421–434, cited in Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, “Does God Matter?: A Social Science Critique” Harvard Divinity Bulletin, n.1 and 2; available online at http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php?id=18649 (accessed 2 December 2012).
4 Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 13.
5 Ibid., 24.
6 Ibid., 31.
7 Ibid., 25.
8 Ibid., 45.
9 Allen Wyatt, personal communication 13 January 2006.
10 Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker, and James B. Allen, Mormon History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 117.
11 Ibid., 117, 119–120.
12 For a few examples see David Bitton, “Great-Grandfather’s Family,” Ensign (February 1977), 51; Garcia M. Jones, “My Great-Great-Grandmother: Emma Hale Smith,” Ensign (August 1992), 34; William G. Hartley, “The Knight Family: Ever Faithful to the Prophet,” Ensign (January 1989), 48; Jerry C. Roundy, “The Greatness of Joseph Smith and His Remarkable Visions,” New Era (December 1973), 9; and D. Michael Quinn, “The Newel K. Whitney Family,” Ensign (December 1978), 44.
13 Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341–343 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989), 424.
14 My Kingdom Shall Roll Forth: Readings in Church History (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979), 53; Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 1996), 97, 100–101.
15 Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1999), 182.
16 “Time spent in leisure and sports activities for the civilian population by selected characteristics, 2011 annual averages,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t11.htm (accessed 9 December 2012).
17 “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America,” National Endowment for the Arts, Research Division Report #46 (June 2004), xi; available online at http://arts.endow.gov/pub/readingatrisk.pdf.
18 Jerrold Jenkins survey (www.JenkinsGroup.com) posted at http://parapublishing.com/sites/para/resources/statistics.cfm (accessed February 2008).
19 Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), 324.
20 Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Americans Get an ‘F’ in Religion,” USA Today (14 March 2007); available online at http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-03-07-teaching-religion-cover_N.htm (accessed 17 September 2012).
22 “What Americans Should But Don’t Know About Religion,” Pew Research Center Publications (6 February 2008) at http://pewresearch.org/pubs/723/what-americans-should-but-dont–know-about-religion (accessed 17 September 2012).
22 D. Michael Quinn, quoted in Gregory L. Smith, “Polygamy, Prophets and Prevarication,” 49; available online at /wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Polygamy_Prophets_and_Prevarication.pdf (accessed 14 December 2012).
23 http://mormonstories.org/podcast/MormonStories-432-HansMattssonPt3.mp3, 13:10- 15:30 (accessed 28 July 2013).
24 While this quote is almost universally attributed to Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), I have been unable to find the original source for this quote. See James Glen Stovall at http://jprof.com/writing/quotations.html (accessed 14 December 2012).