Once more, on “purely intellectual” loss of faith

 

Does this sign bar entry by believers?

 

It occurs to me that one way of illustrating something of what I had in mind with my post,  two days ago, regarding reasons for loss of faith, is this:

 

I’ve encountered a number of people who have abandoned their faith in God or become alienated from the Church because, they say, of certain facts or issues.  But what’s striking about the facts or issues that they cite is that I, too, am aware of them.  In fact, in most cases, I’ve been aware of them for a very long time.  (I’m inconceivably old).  And yet, unlike these other people, I remain a committed, believing, active Latter-day Saint.  And so do others who are aware of the same issues and facts.

 

We assign a different weight to these facts or issues than they do, or find counterarguments persuasive that they don’t.

 

Plainly, the sheer “facts” before us are pretty much the same, and yet we react differently to them.

 

I see that as evidence that there is more going on in such cases  – within those who fall away, or within those of us who don’t, or, most likely, within both groups — than a straightforwardly objective rational calculus.

 

The more aggressive among them have often informed me that my problem is that my judgment has been warped by my material self-interest (e.g., I’m employed at BYU), and/or by intellectual dishonesty, and/or by cowardice, and/or by wanting to be as big a fish as I can in the small Mormon pool, and/or by irrational emotionalism, and/or by something else altogether.  But, whatever the merit of those accusations — it’s limited to nonexistent, in my opinion — they all seem to me to assume the validity of precisely what I’ve suggested:  They all allege some not purely intellectual factor.

 

Here’s another illustration:

 

A rarer kind of predominantly intellectual apostasy or loss of faith emerges from the realization, as certain critics have described it (sometimes rather angrily), that there’s simply no substantial content to Mormonism.  It is, they say, vapid, empty, shallow, unworthy of reflection.  The conference talks delivered by the Brethren are weak pablum (“Pay, Pray, and Obey,” as some have derisively summarized the invariable message) and the scriptures (particularly the uniquely Mormon ones, but perhaps also the Bible) have nothing of any value to say.

 

But, here again, I see things very differently.  The depth and intellectual excitement of Mormonism still captivate me.  (The radical content of Mormonism and particularly of its “Plan of Salvation” was the first thing that actually captured me, back in my teenage years; I’ve sometimes struggled with the day to day mundane reality, but the cosmic sweep of the faith stirs me still.)  And I know that I’m not alone in this regard.  People for whose intellectual depth and sophistication I have the very highest regard have found, and continue to find, inexhaustible satisfaction in Mormonism and in Mormon scripture.

 

What accounts for the differences in reaction?  Not, I think, the stupidity and superficiality of typical believers when contrasted with unbelievers.  I see no evidence for that.  And the scriptures and conference talks and doctrines that are known to the one group are precisely those known to the other.  No, yet again I think it clear that extra-intellectual, extra-rational, factors have to be granted an explanatory role.

 

QED.

 

 

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  • Russell Collins

    This was really great Dan. My cousin and I were discussing a mutual friend of ours who fell away because of MormonThink and I wish that there was some way to help him. But this article gives me some insight(I think) into his behavior.

  • Bitherwack

    One other (of many) possible reason I can see for one becoming disaffected is authority abuse.
    From the abused person’s perspective, the church as a power structure, the priesthood as a power pipeline all become menacing.
    The culture of never questioning ones leaders, never questioning authorities becomes a license for abuse. When I was a child, we were instructed to go to the Lord for confirmation. Now we are told that that is heretical because the leaders would never lead us astray.
    I now wonder if it isn’t a brilliant plan… to invent the most impossible to verify, and yet the most appealing thing… an afterlife… heaven… in order to motivate people to do your bidding. “You won’t go to heaven if you don’t do as I say…” etc.
    When the words one speaks, the way one uses one’s money and one’s time, the way one dresses, the food one eats and the way one has sex are all proscribed, you have total control over someone. That is fearsome. To think that I have willingly, eagerly given up all autonomy on these fronts to this authoritarian superstructure… I’m chilled, disheartened, disappointed in myself.

    • paizlea

      Now we are told that that is heretical because the leaders would never lead us astray.

      Is this true? Is it an official teaching that church members accept the decisions of church leaders, even if their consciences tell them otherwise? I’m not LDS, so I can’t easily verify.

      • JL

        Agency is a prime component of our Heavenly Father’s Plan. As members, we each receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and we should exercise our agency to know for ourselves the truth on any doctrine. Nothing is “proscribed” by force. Anything you do in the Church is by choice.

        • Bitherwack

          “Anything you do in the Church is by choice” unless you are one of the people who were disciplined for the thought crime of opposing prop 8.

          • Sashabill

            A letter regarding the Prop 8 campaign was read word for word in Sacrament meetings during the earlier part of the campaign. A similar letter was read, again word for word, a few months later. No threats of any kind were ever made against anyone opposing Prop 8, and no such threats were made by anyone in any position during any LDS meeting or activity I have attended.

            I personally was active in the Prop 8 campaign, I helped pay for it, and am proud to say so. It’s interesting that those who complain about LDS involvement in the Prop 8 campaign have no such problem with Episcopal, Unitarian, and other religious involvement in the No on 8 campaign. As a Mormon and former Unitarian, I find that rather laughable, not to mention blatantly hypocritical.

          • Bitherwack

            I know someone who was called into a disciplinary council for wearing a No on 8 pin… no such action occurred to those advocating Prop 8 on a weekly basis.
            I agree with you … politics has no place in a religious setting. Neither advocation nor opposition have a place in a religious setting. (For some, it has called into question the validity of religion’s tax exempt status.)

          • RogersDW

            Where does the Proclamation on the Family fit in your pro-homosexual marriage stance?

          • Bitherwack

            The proclamation on the family has no bearing on my stance on gay marriage.
            I believe we have the right to proscribe whatever we want to on our members…
            Nevertheless, I believe we have forgotten the lesson of our forefathers… that our supposed (perceived) intolerance at Kirtland and Nauvoo was what brought about the extermination proclamation.
            We have no business as a church meddling in civic affairs. Morals are not ethics. Commandments are not laws. Our standards are not, and should not be expected to be the standards of others. Members in Qatar can only meet on the muslim sabbath, and ostensibly, it is only a party, not a religious meeting. Can you see what it is like when the shoe is on the other foot?

          • kiwi57

            I believe that to be a nice “round” number.

      • brotheroflogan

        Mormons are taught to think for themselves and that they can trust their leaders. Because it is not a government, the church cannot force members to do anything. Indeed, most members do not pay a full tithing, attend church regularly or go on missions. Nobody gets thrown in jail. Joseph Smith said that he tried to teach the members correct principles and then let them govern themselves.

      • Doug Ealy

        Not everything a leader says should be considered doctrine. Several years ago a President of our Church taught: “STANDARD WORKS [scripture] JUDGE TEACHINGS OF ALL MEN. It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them.” Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3:203–204.

        • Bitherwack

          Thank you Doug. I rather like that quote.

      • Bitherwack

        In spite of what other commentators have said…

        the common phrase which describes this phenomenon is:

        “When the prophet speaks, the thinking is done.”

        I never heard this phrase growing up… and would have to admit I first heard it about 30 years ago. It may not be official doctrine in many people’s eyes, but culturally, it has a virulent currency that has not been curtailed. No authority has openly spoken out against it, and, as I mentioned in a previous comment, there are actually efforts made to support the assertion. Notice the effects in the following link:

        http://www.lds-mormon.com/poelman.shtml

        • Stephen Smoot

          “No authority has openly spoken out against it”

          Not true. See here: http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_church_leadership/The_thinking_has_been_done

          • Jon

            The phrase was openly disavowed in a private letter sent to Dr. Raymond A. Cope of the First Unitarian Society that came to light in the 1980s.

          • Stephen Smoot

            A fair point. It hasn’t been “publicly” spoken out against. Maybe since it was published once in 1945, and is only resurrected by critics on the Internet, the Church hasn’t felt it needful to publicly disavow it.

            Nevertheless, President Smith did explicitly disavow it. If someone is smart enough to find the quote online, then they should be smart enough to find President Smith’s response, and that should end it.

            In fact, here’s what you get when you google the phrase:

            https://www.google.com/search?q=%22When+the+prophet+speaks%2C+the+thinking+is+done%22&oq=%22When+the+prophet+speaks%2C+the+thinking+is+done%22&aqs=chrome..69i57j0.233j0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#q=When+the+prophet+speaks%2C+the+thinking+is+done&safe=off

            Notice what the first site is.

          • Bitherwack

            Stephen, thank you for the link. I have actually seen this article before, and remember feeling like they should have been able to come up with something more substantial. (I’m sorry if I seem to be picking at the nits…)

            I appreciate knowing, now, decades after the fact that President Kimball was displeased with (then) Elder Benson’s “14 Fundamentals.” (I personally found them an aberration) Nevertheless, it didn’t do me any good then, and until an open correction is made by ranking authorities, it will continue to be heard forming the basis of sacrament meeting talks. (As I had… not more than a year ago in my own ward.)

            Given the 14 fundamentals, (the words of a living prophet supersede those of a dead one) one would think that quotes by Brigham Young or Joseph Smith would be ineffective persuasion.

            The 1945 letter of my ancestor, George Albert Smith (which we are to presume was consciously aimed at rebutting the Improvement Era article of the same year) was a private letter sent to a Dr. Cope. This does not constitute a whole hearted effort to set the record straight with the rank and file members of the church. All we know now is that privately, Pres. Smith did not personally hold those beliefs.

            I was heartened to read the quotation by Elder Oaks… that was until I understood the true nature of his construction. He separated the need for personal confirmation (direct from God) from a testimony to the truthfulness of our leader’s guidance. Personal confirmation, according to Oaks can only deal with the existence of God, our relationship with him, and the truth of the restored gospel. The other ‘channel’ Oaks refers to is the ‘obedience channel’. This is the leaders (and their interpretations of the gospel as pertains to our salvation) He states that these two channels are mutually reinforcing. My question is, when one receives personal revelation that is in contradiction to the leadership, the construct according to Oaks would require the ‘knowledge channel’ of personal confirmation to cede to the ‘obedience channel.’

            Many may be disheartened to see the volume of refuting quotations (12 more of which appear at the link at the end of the article) excepting a few 20th century remarks were all made in the 19th century. I would hardly call that a refutation. To some, the dearth of recent articles refuting blind obedience may appear to be proof of a cultural shift towards the impressions of the kind of blind obedience the FAIR article was trying to dispel.

          • Stephen Smoot

            I agree the Church should do more to curtail any cultural tendency towards “blind obedience.” But to say the Church teaches “blind obedience” as doctrine is not true. (Not that I’m saying you’re necessarily claiming such.)

            “Belief in prophets and apostles at the head of the Church does not mean that members blindly follow their leaders. While the prophet of God receives revelation and inspiration to guide the Church as a whole, revelation flows at every level, including to the leaders of congregations and to individual families and members. In fact, individual members are expected to seek that kind of divine guidance to help them in their own lives, in their responsibilities in the Church and even in temporal pursuits, including their occupations. Members are also expected to prayerfully seek their own “testimony” or conviction of the principles their leaders teach them.”

            http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/prophets

            I don’t see anything objectionable with this. Prophets receive revelation, and we’re encouraged to prayerfully and thoughtfully receive a testimony, or “conviction of the principles” being taught, on our own. We also have the freedom to seek personal revelation for our personal circumstances, etc.

            I can only speak from my own experience, but I’ve never felt doctrinally pressured to blindly obey the leaders of the Church. I have some views that may seem fairly “heretical” to many “mainstream” members of the Church, and have, at times, expressed them in Church and elsewhere. I’ve at times directly bucked “correlated” teachings, as well as the teachings of past General Authorities that I disagree with. I’ve raised a few eyebrows now and then in Sunday School or Elders Quorum, but I’ve never been called into any disciplinary council or felt my membership threatened.

            Who knows? Maybe I’ve just been lucky to be in more liberal wards during my life.

            “which we are to presume was consciously aimed at rebutting the Improvement Era article of the same year”

            There is nothing to presume. From the letter it’s fairly clear that President Smith had the article, and the phrase contained therein, in his mind when he said “the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church.”

            “All we know now is that privately, Pres. Smith did not personally hold those beliefs.”

            And that “the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church.”

            The text of the letter can be read here: http://www.fairlds.org/authors/misc/when-the-prophet-speaks-is-the-thinking-done

            I’m more than sure that this wouldn’t be an issue if critics didn’t keep raising it as a club to beat the Church with. Yes, it was an unfortunate thing that the Church published the statement in its magazine (no matter how well intentioned doing such was), and, yes, it’s too bad that more wasn’t done to correct it. But the fact that the Church has now released statements denying any doctrine of “blind obedience” (see above) and has not, according to my knowledge, reprinted or perpetuated this statement is evidence to me that it’s not a doctrine of the Church.

          • Bitherwack

            Thank you Stephen. I think that was a very well written response. If I would add anything, it would be that my desire is to put to rest, once and for all the currency of the phrase (which is so appealing to an orthodox crowd seemingly incapable of independent thought)
            To that end, I wish the efforts at persuasion written by the FAIR writers contained more clearly equivocal denouncements. (A 19th century statement cannot by definition serve as rebuttal to a mid 20th century article.)

        • RogersDW

          Apostates simply LOVE the Gospel of Sensationalism.

          • Bitherwack

            I think Rogers, you would be well served by not jumping to Red Queenlike ‘off with the apostate’s head’ antics. It serves no one… leastwise you. Stick around… join the debate… you just might learn something. You may be pleased to find there are people who have deep and abiding testimonies who suffer through political rantings masquerading as a sacrament talk, or comment during lesson time… on a nearly weekly basis who come here to try and regain their bearings, and steel themselves against the next sabbath onslaught. You personally may not have heard the ’14 Fundamentals’ quoted over the pulpit. I have suffered through it 3 times. You may not have heard, ‘when the prophet speaks…’ before… for others of us, it is practically the air we breathe while at church. That kind of environment is not healthy. I do not feel at liberty to more than hint at my questioning of such a culture. I am heartened to read on the internet of people who continue to value personal revelation, spiritual confirmation, etc. To label me an apostate, Rogers, is an unchristian rejection… if you really understood the affect your words have, I don’t think you would use the word apostate so lightly.

          • RogersDW

            Again, I apologize if my label of “apostate” for you was/is incorrect. I confess I am in much pain and sorry due to the effects of apostasy upon loved ones. I hate to seen anyone starting down that path. Forgive me if I misjudged you.

            As for the assorted masquerades and offenses you are dealing with at church each Sunday, there are some very effective solutions to deal with them. Here’s a few:

            – Church is a hospital not a palace where perfect people dwell.

            – “Saints are sinners who keep trying.” Obviously some aren’t trying. Don’t give up on them.

            – Don’t lose perspective. There will always be doctrines or tenets we don’t understand. Its wise for everyone to have a shelf to file away mysterious or difficult things. Answers and greater understanding will come eventually.

            – I really like Davis Bitton’s talk, “I Do Not Have a Testimony of Church History.” Expand that and apply to anything which may be causing us much grief. If our testimonies revolve around the Savior, we’ll be alright. If they start revolving around issues that bug us — like Prop. 8, the 14 Fundamentals talk, etc., then it is time to do some soul-searching.

          • Bitherwack

            Thank you RogersDW.
            Bitton’s talk is on my ‘desktop’ for when I find the time.

        • Stephen Smoot

          I just also noticed you called it (“When the prophet speaks, the thinking is done”) a “common phrase.”

          Raise of hands. How many Mormons here have heard this phrase used “commonly” in Church? In Sunday School? In Sacrament Meeting? In Young Men/Young Women activities? In Relief Society? And how many times per meeting? Three times? Five? Ten?

          The only place where it’s “common” is on internet sites run by critics of the Church.

          The closest thing I could find to this on LDS.org was a First Presidency message given in 1979.

          http://www.lds.org/ensign/1979/08/the-debate-is-over?lang=eng

          • DanielPeterson

            Not I. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in a sacrament or priesthood meeting or in any Church class.

      • kiwi57

        No.

    • Mark Staker

      Dan,

      As always I appreciate your insightful and well expressed thoughts. I have found that some of what I consider my most profound spiritual insights have come when I’ve wrestled with puzzles that others have given as reasons for their leaving the Church. Sometimes as I’ve wrestled for months or years and have approached deity in fasting and prayer and searched through the data carefully, I have found that greater understanding was eventually the result. It is interesting that many of the youth of Joseph’s generation had the same questions as he did and frequently went to the grove to pray. They either returned with no answer or a simple impression. Jesse Moss, a contemporary of Joseph’s, said he sought for answers for a couple of weeks and then gave up. Joseph clearly pondered “again and again” and attended meetings as often as occasion would allow for more than a year before finding an answer. I agree that two people can encounter the same question with dramatically different results. This is also seen in Bitherwack’s claim that some people are disaffected by “authority abuse.” I’ve been offended by people in authority over me in one context or another. Who hasn’t? That is simply another manifestation of the same point Dan makes–two very different responses to the same issue.

      Bitherwack’s claim that “now we are told” not to seek spiritual confirmation is a puzzling perspective. We are “told” by whom? Did you pray and get spiritual confirmation of that instruction? My take on current teaching is that there is a greater emphasis on relying on spiritual guidance than ever before.

      • Bitherwack

        Mark,

        I refer you to the following link; a comparison of the talk that was delivered, and the one that has become the official record. The changes aren’t only remarkable, they make the opposite point. I’ll be interested to see which talk you receive confirmation for.

        http://www.lds-mormon.com/poelman.shtml

        I also refer you to the disciplinary council that is scheduled to be held on Denver Snuffer’s behalf. He is a man whose authorship has been about almost nothing but a personal relationship with deity and the necessity for spiritual confirmation.

        You will notice that both of these actions are a form of making certain that the church inserts itself in between the individual and God.

        During the 2008 elections, we were instructed to vote our conscience… but when it was realized that as a result, too many members were going to oppose prop 8, the church found it necessary to spell out on no uncertain terms that worthy church members were to support institutionalized homophobia.

        Mark, your puzzlement over my perspective is the result of cognitive dissonance. The inability to see changes in the church for what they are while persisting under the original perspective will cause perplexity if not outright trauma. I can understand your desire to avoid it… I have spent a large chunk of my life on such a sisyphean task. It became easier to acknowledge the truth of the church’s distasteful changes than it was to continue insisting on the viability of the church’s teachings on our spiritual autonomy. (Few, if any have remained since correlation.)

        • RogersDW

          Bitherwack,

          Regarding Poelman’s 1984 you seem to have a pretty good background and context of changes made via nothing other than the famous source, lds-mormon.com.

          You fit into the category of those who drive around the library, never enter, yet seem to know the content of the books within the library.

          Did you ever interview Poelman? Did you ever sit down and interview those who effected those changes to discover why they were made? Did you attempt to reserve judgment until all the facts were in?

          Armchair muckraking is a favored tool of apostates because a few lazy strokes on the keyboard yields sensational results quickly. The ensuing euphoria is mistakenly interpreted as the results of honest, painstaking, diligent research.

          Please, spare us the embarrassment of your laziness.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            So instead of presenting any data, you make an ad hominem attack (Dr. Peterson, I’ve finally figured it out). How does your post further any useful discussion?

          • Bitherwack

            RogersDW,
            Elder Poelman was, in life (through his wife Anne) a friend of the family. (And I believe a personal friend…) He has stayed many times at our house. It was clear to see the visible strain of the calling on his face. One could tell that there were things that he would prefer we not bring up. He would not say anything regarding the talk when we asked. I can understand his reaction under the circumstances… not wanting to speak ill. I have no question regarding his faith or his testimony. I believe his talk of ’84 to be his way of reconciling his testimony with the ‘sausage making’ he saw in the Church Office Building. I personally believe the strain of the calling was what ultimately led to his early death.
            I am sorry that you think I am an armchair muckraker or an apostate. Neither one of those things are true. I am a local priesthood leader in good standing… but I don’t see how my words would be able to help you rise above your prejudices regarding me.

          • DanielPeterson

            “His early death,”Bitherwack?

            Elder Poelman was 83.5 years old when he died. That’s not particularly early.

          • Bitherwack

            I’m sorry Daniel Peterson… you are correct.
            With all the general authorities in their 90′s… it just seemed early to me…
            (All of my family has lasted until their late 90′s… there is even one at 101!)

          • Guest

            Bitherwack…a “priesthood leader in good standing.” If indeed you are, then why do you speak like a wolf in sheep’s clothing? You use the same jargon as apostates. You don’t seem proud to be a member of the Church. You seem quite critical for one who is supposed to be a “priesthood leader in good standing.”

            You sound just like a relative who left the Church 20 years ago. He walked around with a little storm cloud around his head, always negative about religion and spiritual things. Long story short — he lost hope, and took his own life recently.

            You sound like the cowardly John Dehlin, who has a pretty good following of disaffected souls wandering away from the iron rod into the fog and mists. He hooked another relative of mine. Now there’s all kinds of contention and discord over that.

            I apologize for my heavy-handedness if it is misplaced in your case. However, if you have any pride or loyalty in being a member of the Church I would certainly want to show it and share it lest people like me are deceived.

          • Cylon

            How could anyone be less than proud of the church when its members treat people like this? [sarcasm]

          • Bitherwack

            Guest,
            Not all wards and stakes are the same. Mine just happens to harbor a culture of ultra orthodoxy, with a helping of ‘cult of personality’ in ‘the leadership will never lead you astray’ sensibility. Hateful words are used against fellow human beings, and political ends are nakedly sought for on what should be neutral ground. I did my best to gently bring the discussion around to the gospel of Christ, the teachings of the prophets, and our knowledge of God’s love for his children. I was labeled an apostate.

            Do you really want to number yourself with these people?
            Why must orthodoxy always be paired with the judgmental? “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

            I’m sorry to hear that your relative took his life.
            I hope that the kind of hounding and resentment and shunning that takes place in my ward didn’t in part contribute to his/her death. (I am concerned that you were not sufficiently able to contain your judgmental attitude when dealing with someone who questions… ) I, myself sometimes question why I should remain in a community that continues to be so toxic… in spite of, or maybe because of, my testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, the atonement, and God’s love. Sadly, i don’t see a community founded on God’s love for his children in my ward anymore…

            What is the reason for a church’s existence? Shouldn’t people who question be embraced by the love of fellowship? … they need it even more.

            I am proud of my membership, but I am not proud of the pettiness of my ward, or of the inability of the church authorities to rectify it. I do, however, resent your jumping to the conclusion that because I speak negatively about cultural aspects of my ward, that you would automatically take me for an apostate. It is that culture of judgmentalism that you exhibit which makes people question…

            Is conformity so highly valued that we would rather be wrong than different?

            I am often concerned about the ‘I am a Mormon’ campaign. It shows Mormons who are members of rock bands, bikers, and skateboarders… I wonder what kind of a welcome investigators who see this message will receive. I hope the kind of diversity this campaign is likely to engender will flourish on more fertile and welcoming soil. I know, Guest, you are up for it if you are willing.

  • Doug Ealy

    In the personal, monthly email that I receive from Scott Gordon of FAIR ;), he outlined the following reasons he’s found that people have leave the Church:

    “…no Hebrew DNA among Native Americans…No Hebrew influence in Native American languages, no evidence of steel swords in 600 BC, translation errors into bad English, Joseph Smith copying names from his environment, Church artwork showing the plates next to Joseph Smith during translation, Church artwork NOT showing a hat in the translation process, not knowing that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage, not understanding why he married some of the people he did, no Barley in America, and no wheels, horses or chariots in America.”

    I find the fact that people will lay aside their faith because of Church artwork the most interesting.

    In my completely narrow, uneducated opinion, I think these are largely symptoms of a bigger problem. I believe that many ultimately leave the Church due to a lack of feeling the spirit on a regular basis. They stop saying their prayers (they stop talking to God). They stop reading their scriptures (they stop listening to God). Then little things become big things and big things become little things and they walk away.

    • Cylon

      Nobody lays aside their faith just because of church artwork. That’s just one tiny piece of evidence that shows the church is less than truthful. Any of those things by themselves are insignificant. It’s when you put everything together and see the big picture, that’s when people have problems.

      As for people leaving because they stop doing the things the church tells them to, I’m sure that does happen a lot. Then again, if someone stops doing what the church tells them to do and finds that their quality of life is as good as or better than it was before, can you really blame them? If they find out that the church isn’t actually all that relevant to their lives, doesn’t it make sense they would leave?

      But by and large, I think that group of people is separate from those who leave because they find out about historical issues they weren’t aware of. If someone doesn’t really care about the church, why would they bother digging into church history to the extent necessary to even find out about this stuff? No, the ones who study about church history in depth are the ones who do care. They care as much as apologists do in many cases. They just come to different conclusions.

      Regarding leaving because of the lack of feeling the spirit, do you have any sort of evidence to actually base that on? In my personal experience (and no, anecdotes are not data, but this is at least something that counts against your claim), I started feeling the spirit way more often once I started researching non-correlated church history. One of the most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve ever had was when I prayed to know if I should leave the church, and got a yes as an answer. And that was at a point when I was doing everything I could to try to stay in the church even though I didn’t really believe.

      People have all sorts of different reasons to leave or to stay. Some reasons are better than others, but generalizing about those reasons in order to discredit a whole group of people is a fool’s errand.

      • Doug Ealy

        “That’s just one tiny piece of evidence that shows the church is less than truthful.”

        The reasons I shared came from the personal experiences given by Scott Gordon of FAIR. They were not the result of any scholarly study nor did they come from the Church. I never saw them as evidence just interesting information to add to the discussion. As they didn’t come from the Church they are not an indication of the Church’s integrity.

        “Then again, if someone stops doing what the church tells them to do and finds that their quality of life is as good or better then it was before, can you really blame them?”

        It depends on what they are seeking. Joseph Smith taught: “The
        sacrifice required of Abraham in the offering up of Isaac, shows that if a man would attain to the keys of the kingdom of an endless life; he must sacrifice all things.” (Teachings p. 322) I don’t really see any room for quality of life. Every choice we make has trade offs.

        “No, the ones who study about church history in depth are the ones who do care. They care as much as apologists do in many cases. They just come to different conclusions.”

        Not sure I agree with you there. Many choose to delve into the
        scriptures or other aspects of the Gospel. I don’t think that it means they don’t care.

        “Regarding leaving because of the lack of feeling the spirit, do you have any sort of evidence to actually base that on?”

        No, just personal experience, we all need refreshment at times to keep up our strength to continue on. The Spirit nourishes us and
        helps to strengthen our resolve and humility. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “The unmeek have a greater sense of deprivation because they have had higher expectations of life, whereas the meek are content with the things the Lord has allotted to them. (Alma 29:3) Those who are not lowly but who have had high expectations often look for reasons for failure outside themselves. The are not wise and harmless but are often narrow and vengeful.” Meek and Lowly p. 101

        “In my personal experience (and no, anecdote is not data, but this is at least something that counts against your claim), I started feeling the spirit way more often once I started researching non-correlated church history. One of the most powerful spiritual
        experiences I’ve ever had was when I prayed to know if I should leave the church, and got a yes as an answer.”

        Thank you for sharing your experience. Joseph Smith taught that
        there are three independent principles [According to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary a principle is a “being that produces anything; operative cause”]: 1) the Spirit of God; 2) the spirit of man; or 3) the spirit of the devil (see Teachings pp. 189-190). This means that any one of those “principles” can answer prayers; heal the sick etc. I won’t pass judgment on your experience. My only comment is that answers can come from
        multiple sources.

        “People have all sorts of different reasons to leave or to stay. Some reasons are better than others, but generalizing about those reasons in order to discredit a whole group of people
        is a fool’s errand.”

        The point behind my comments is that a significant part of
        us is emotional. I don’t believe that anyone is purely logical. From the science that I have read, it only takes our minds 10 to 20 milliseconds to form a perception while it takes 500 milliseconds for our thought processes to start. Every action starts with a feeling. We can control our feelings but I think much of the time our feelings color our thoughts more than we want to admit. The spirit speaks to the heart and the mind. I think the order is important. Our feelings are changed then our mind follows suit. While we must feel things in both places to have a true manifestation, it always starts with the heart.

        • Cylon

          “The reasons I shared came from the personal experiences given by Scott Gordon of FAIR. They were not the result of any scholarly study nor did they come from the Church. I never saw them as evidence just interesting information to add to the discussion. As they didn’t come from the Church they are not an indication of the Church’s integrity.”

          All that is beside the point. I only brought it up to show that your original question was based on a false assumption, ie, that people leave the church because of artwork. Nobody does.

          “It depends on what they are seeking. Joseph Smith taught: “The sacrifice required of Abraham in the offering up of Isaac, shows that if a man would attain to the keys of the kingdom of an endless life; he must sacrifice all things.” (Teachings p. 322) I don’t really see any room for quality of life. Every choice we make has trade offs.”

          [Yoda voice] That.. is why you fail. [/Yoda voice] Sure, sacrificing all things and ignoring quality of life might very well be worth it if you know your reward is eternal life, but the veracity of that claim is far from certain. My point is that in the absence of what someone considers good evidence, it’s perfectly rational to avoid the sacrifices in favor of quality of life.

          “Not sure I agree with you there. Many choose to delve into the scriptures or other aspects of the Gospel. I don’t think that it means they don’t care.”

          I never said people who study the scriptures don’t care, and I don’t even know how you could get that from my post. Of course they care. My only point was that those who study church history care, too.

          “No, just personal experience, we all need refreshment at times to keep up our strength to continue on. The Spirit nourishes us and helps to strengthen our resolve and humility. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “The unmeek have a greater sense of deprivation because they have had higher expectations of life, whereas the meek are content with the things the Lord has allotted to them. (Alma 29:3) Those who are not lowly but who have had high expectations often look for reasons for failure outside themselves. The are not wise and harmless but are often narrow and vengeful.” Meek and Lowly p. 101″

          I’m afraid your personal experience of needing spiritual refreshment does not count as evidence that those who leave the church do it because they stopped feeling the spirit. If you stop feeling the spirit and then leave the church because of it, then that would be at least a little bit of evidence in favor of your claim. As for the Maxwell quote, that’s one explanation. Then again, he’s only an authority if you already accept the premise that the church has true prophets and apostles.

          “Thank you for sharing your experience. Joseph Smith taught thatthere are three independent principles [According to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary a principle is a “being that produces anything; operative cause”]: 1) the Spirit of God; 2) the spirit of man; or 3) the spirit of the devil (see Teachings pp. 189-190). This means that any one of those “principles” can answer prayers; heal the sick etc. I won’t pass judgment on your experience. My only comment is that answers can come from multiple sources.”

          That’s exactly what I realized, too. And since even the prophet Joseph Smith was fooled about the source of his revelations on occasion, I came to the conclusion that there was no independent way to verify which of these sources any particular spiritual experience came from. There are of course other teachings from the scriptures and prophets about how one can tell the difference, but the church teaches us to prove the truth of the scriptures and prophets by consulting the spirit. It’s a closed loop. Completely circular.

          “The point behind my comments is that a significant part of us is emotional. I don’t believe that anyone is purely logical. From the science that I have read, it only takes our minds 10 to 20 milliseconds to form a perception while it takes 500 milliseconds for our thought processes to start. Every action starts with a feeling. We can control our feelings but I think much of the time our feelings color our thoughts more than we want to admit. The spirit speaks to the heart and the mind. I think the order is important. Our feelings are changed then our mind follows suit. While we must feel things in both places to have a true manifestation, it always starts with the heart.”

          I agree with you completely on the first part of that. Our emotions do color everything to a greater degree than most of us imagine. But what makes you think that the feeling you call the spirit is exempt from that? Everything we experience is processed through our brains. And even if we accept the premise that the spirit is a supernatural force that originates outside of us, how do you establish that it is a reliable indicator of truth?

          • Doug Ealy

            “All that is beside the point. I only brought it up to show that your original question was based on a false assumption, ie, that people leave the church because of artwork.”

            Not sure where the false assumption was. I will refer you back to my previous response (emphasis added): “The reasons I shared came from the personal experiences given by Scott Gordon of FAIR. They were not the result of any scholarly study nor did they come from the Church. ***I never saw them as evidence just interesting information to add to the discussion.*** As they didn’t come from the Church they are not an indication of the Church’s integrity.”

            “I never said people who study the scriptures don’t care, and I don’t even know how you could get that from my post. Of course they care. My only point was that those who study church history care, too.”

            Ok. Point taken.

            “…the veracity of that claim is far from certain…My point is that in the absence of what someone considers good
            evidence… As for the Maxwell quote, that’s one explanation. Then again, he’s only an authority if you already accept the premise that the church has true prophets and apostles….”

            You are on a Mormon blog discussing a Mormon subject with a Mormon. It is acceptable for me to use Mormon sources to illustrate my point. If you don’t see them as evidence, then perhaps you should participate in another forum.

            “…the church teaches us to prove the truth of the scriptures and prophets by consulting the spirit. It’s a closed loop. Completely circular.”

            They are circular in that each builds on one another. For example, faith increases by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). The more you hear the more your faith increases so on and so forth.

            “And even if we accept the premise that the spirit is a supernatural force that originates outside of us, how do you establish that it is a reliable indicator of truth?”

            Many things in life (especially spiritual things) are only understood through experience.

            It is clear to me that you seek to be convinced that I am right or convince me that I am wrong. I have a different purpose. I have found certain things to be true from my own learning and experience and I seek to share them with like-minded readers of this blog. I am sorry that we don’t see things eye-to-eye. Regardless, I don’t see a difference of opinion as a reason for me to be coerced into trying to meet your standard of evidence — something that is unknown to me. If my personal experience doesn’t meet your standard for evidence, then you are free to reject it.

  • JL

    I agree about the weight or value some people seem to give to a variety of issues, but honestly, it appears to me that most folks who leave were never “in” to begin with, and they are not willing to put in the work that is part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Any excuse will do.

    • Bitherwack

      I would suggest an alternative JL.
      Perhaps they were all too deeply ‘into’ the church, (and the ‘sausage making’ it involves,) and just couldn’t deal with the dissonance that the experience creates when trying to maintain a testimony of our inspired leadership.
      I dont think it fair to discount the sacrifice in time and money (emotions, intellect… etc.) people have put into the church because you believe they weren’t somehow wholly converted. (Which seems like a simplistic fallacy to me; If you were genuinely converted, you wouldn’t leave the church. You have left the church, so you must not have been converted.)

  • Michael Hoggan

    I view rational argument as the process of building a road from one point to another. However, we all start in different places and we don’t all have the same goal in mind for a “final destination” for ourselves or for the Church in general. Rational arguments can be used to create many different roads to many different destinations. It is ultimately our choice, which road to build.

    As Brother Peterson has pointed out in previous articles, it is often a matter of trust and context. Some people first learn about a “fact” that bothers them before they have much of a context for that “fact”. Horribly, some people who were born into the Church suffer abuse from one or both their LDS parents, or some other member of the Church. This makes it much more difficult to trust the Church in general, or even Heavenly Father. If you don’t trust Heavenly Father, knowing this is His church doesn’t do much good.

    I think the best solution in the first case is to help provide context for “facts” that people encounter. We need to be well educated about the scriptures and history. We also need to avoid “presentism”: a fixation on current social mores and ideas that often serves as a stumbling block to understanding the actions and worldview of historical peoples.

    We also need to avoid propagating “answers” that are incorrect. We have learned much over the past 183 years of the Church and we need to be willing to use that information. We need to acknowledge that “artist’s conceptions” are just that and aren’t necessarily inspired or well informed. We also shouldn’t set up false hope for “proof” of the existence of God, Jesus or the truths of the Restoration. This isn’t about “compelling” faith; it’s about providing an environment where faith can be nurtured and staring down the bullies who seek to abuse us for our faith.

    In the other case, we need to reach out to people who have been abused and seek to provide a “balm” for their wounds. They may not want to be involved in the Church, but it will still help them to heal. We can also make sure that in our own relationships that we reflect Heavenly Father’s love for his children (I say this as someone who isn’t particularly good at it).

    Ultimately, we need to seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost to resolve our problems and strengthen our faith. The Holy Ghost can provide a spiritual context for many of these “facts”. Doug Ealy is correct that we need to be feeling the Holy Ghost on a frequent basis. This need for the Holy Ghost makes distrust of Heavenly Father all the more difficult to overcome.

  • DanielPeterson

    Adam Ford: “What Dan’s post here is really about is dismissing and disrespecting those who leave by attributing their leaving to a hidden desire to go get drunk and have sex.”

    It’s very nice of Mr. Adam Ford to drop by and inform me and others of what my post is really about. I simply can’t write clearly enough to get my point across, obviously, and I’m grateful that a trained attorney such as Mr. Ford is would be willing to take time out of his busy schedule to help me.

    It’s bad enough that I jes’ can’t figger out how to plainly say that most if not all of those who lose faith simply want to sin. But — can you believe it? — my command of English is so tenuous that, in the prior post to which I’ve provided a link above, I actually wrote THIS:

    “Several times over the past few years, I’ve been told that my position is that there are no good reasons for ever leaving the Church, that people who claim that they have historical or intellectual or theological problems that they cannot resolve are lying, and that I believe that all apostasy comes from sin. But, in fact, this is not and never has been my position. Never.”

    I simply cannot thank Mr. Adam Ford enough for volunteering to help me express my views.

    Adam Ford: “Dan is more coy and skilled as a rhetorician than to come out and say ‘all’,”

    I actually did say “all” in the passage cited just above in which I appeared to be denying the very view that Mr. Adam Ford knows to be mine. Fortunately, though, Mr. Adam Ford is too skilled a rhetorician to be confused by what an ordinary reader would take to be my denial.

    Adam Ford: “but his words are clear enough. ‘I know the dirt and I stay, so if you leave and say it is the dirt you are lying–it is really because you just want to go sin.’”

    Those aren’t really my words, of course. They’re Mr. Adam Ford’s. He’s just too modest to claim the credit for them. And not only didn’t I write “all,” but I was too unsure of my writing ability to say “most” or even “some.”

    Thank you, Mr. Adam Ford! Thank you for putting words in my so inarticulate mouth!

    It’s not only the clarity of his writing that amazes, though. It’s also his insight into the human mind — or, at least, into my BARELY human mind. He knows me when I’m sleeping. He knows when I’m awake, He knows when I’ve been bad or worse and he knows that I’m a fake. What makes me feel happy? Mr. Adam Ford knows:

    Adam Ford: “broadly attributing leaving the Church to a desire to sin is greatly comforting to Daniel Peterson and his ilk because it doesn’t threaten their world view.”

    It’s as if he’s peering right into my very soul. And into the souls of my “ilk.” (Well, he would be if cretins such as I HAD souls.)

    Adam Ford: “Dan’s continuing to emphasize sin as the real motivation in leaving is probably evidence of his insecurity over the many dirty issues.”

    Mr. Adam Ford’s capability to divine the significance of the penumbra of the things that I didn’t even write between the lines of my two posts here is . . . well, it’s nothing short of miraculous. Even though I didn’t even SAY them, even though I expressly DENIED them, Mr. Ford knows that I actually DID say them and, in fact, EMPHASIZED them.

    Bravo, Mr. Adam Ford!

    Adam Ford: “it is easy and convenient to brush the table clean with one giant sweep by saying ‘You just want to go sin because you are weak/sinful/evil, that is what this is really about.’”

    How magnanimous and kind Mr. Adam Ford is! It’s “easy and convenient” for a wonderful writer like HIM to say such a thing, but, to my shame, even a careful reading of my two posts on this subject won’t actually find those words at ALL. Once again, plainly lacking any pride of authorship, Mr. Ford has supplied those words FOR me, and at no charge whatever.

    The opinion that Mr. Ford has kindly provided for me, he says, “does not seem charitable to me. It doesn’t feel good to me when I read it.”

    Fortunately, Mr. Adam Ford is very, very, VERY charitable. Generous to a fault. Willing to supply my lack.

  • DanielPeterson

    XXXXXXXX

  • noel

    Dan, I read Kerry Shirts review of Riskas book Deconstructing Mormonism on Amazon.. Now Kerry has been a long time apologist who suddenly seems to be agnostic. Does he want an excuse to sin? It seems he has found a new passion in photography as displayed on his facebook page. But then he probably does it on Sunday – haha that is it. If there is something such as LDS claim a testimony/spiritual witness what happened to Kerry?

    • DanielPeterson

      If you want the opinion of somebody who believes that all apostasy arises from desire to sin, noel, you’ll need to talk to somebody other than me, because, as I’ve repeatedly, plainly, indisputably, expressly, explicitly, unmistakably, and clearly said, many times, that’s not my view.

      • Bitherwack

        Thank you Daniel Peterson.
        On the other hand… I can think of many who sin and stay.
        From what I’ve seen, anyway, there are as many reasons to leave as there are people who go. I suspect wanting to sin would be very low on the list.
        The idea that people leave because they want to sin is the most convenient reason judgmental people can think of for someone to want to leave… it makes it easier to rationalize the hardening of their hearts when they shun the disaffected.

  • Ray Agostini

    It might come as a shock to some that Jesus felt there was never any excuse for rejecting (or leaving) Christianity. He explained this in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, but I’ll fast forward to the explanation:

    “18 Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet
    he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when
    tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he
    stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

    Basically, the categories are:

    1) Those almost immediately deceived by the “wicked one” (Satan).

    2) Those who receive it with joy, but don’t “take (spiritual) root” (with echoes of Alma 32), and when persecution or tribulation arise – they’re gone.

    3) Those whose testimonies are “choked” by “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches”, and eventually become “unfruitful”.

    4) Those who receive the word on “good ground”, hear it, understand it, and “bear fruit” in varying degrees, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty”.

    I think category 3 would come under “wanting to sin”. The salient point made by Jesus is – there are no excuses for rejecting Him. *Ever.*

    I’d say that “the intellectuals” probably come under category 2. Having no firm root in the Gospel (even if they *think* they do), they are easily blown away by the winds of speculation and controversy.

    Admittedly, for Mormons one must believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon contains “the words of Christ”. Those who joined the Church therefore accepted this, in varying degrees I suppose, so Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and Tares could also apply here. It’s not infrequent that those who reject Mormonism and the Book of Mormon, eventually end up denying and rejecting Christ as well.

    • Bitherwack

      Ray,
      Might I suggest one further category… (I notice you conflate Jesus, the gospel, and the church as one… many people benefit from separating them. They can maintain a testimony and remain active in spite of questions regarding one of the objects of reverence because they do not consider them all one and the same.)
      It may be very possible to maintain ones deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ, and a testimony of the truth of the gospel, and not necessarily embrace the corporate church as God’s representative on earth.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Would another “factor pulling in”, be the fear of being cast into the “outer darkness”, in the afterlife? This would seem like a large motivator for someone superstitious.

    My very devout (superstitious) and sweet grandmother had me baptized while on a summer visit to my grandparents in Graz, Austria in the 60′s because she feared my soul would exist in limbo for all eternity if this procedure was not done. Little did she know that the last place I wanted to be was in a Catholic church, as we had a true “lover of children”, running the Catholic church in our small high plains community. I never looked back.

    • DanielPeterson

      That could be a factor for some. Not for me.

  • Paul

    I have watched some members leave the Church for various reasons. Most of the time it is because of some transgression, but not always. I remember one man becoming very angry at his parents and removing his name from the Church records to try to hurt them, because he knew that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was important to them and that by so doing he would inflict a wound on them. Not so, he more successfully succeeded at wounding himself.

  • RG

    No, yet again I think it clear that extra-intellectual, extra-rational, factors have to be granted an explanatory role.

    I’m here with you on this, although I’d modify it slightly to say that information is interpreted in and through culture, and so one’s situatedness in culture partially determines one’s interpretation.

    I would like to hear you elaborate on how these extra-rational (I’d call them extra-factual) factors might lead to what you would consider wrong interpretations. Are these extra-factual factors desires (i.e., our desire to maintain a relationship, have sex, etc.), flawed thinking, or something else? To what degree are these extra-factual factors under our control, and to what degree are they moral?

    What’s at stake in this question is whether or not there are non-moral or non-flawed-thinking ways of arriving at what would be considered a wrong interpretation; or is it only the case that people giving in to their desires lead to wrong interpretations.


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