Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Abandonment of Mormon Faith Not Inevitable

At this time when some make it seem inevitable that young Mormons will eventually abandon their faith, as did this young couple, it's a good idea to either read or reread Davis Bitton's classic essay, "I Don't Have a Testimony of the History of the Church," in which he explains, among other things,

The critics would have you believe that they are disinterested pursuers of the truth. There they were, minding their own business, going about their conscientious study of church history and—shock and dismay!—they came across this (whatever this is) that blew them away. As hurtful as it is for them, they can no longer believe in the church and, out of love for you, they now want to help you see the light of day.

Let's get one thing clear. There is nothing in church history that leads inevitably to the conclusion that the church is false. There is nothing that requires the conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fraud. How can I say this with such confidence? For the simple reason that the Latter-day Saint historians who know the most about our church history have been and are faithful, committed members of the church. More precisely, there are faithful Latter-day Saint historians who know as much about this subject as any anti-Mormon or anyone who writes on the subject from an outside perspective. In fact, with few exceptions, they know much, much more. They have not been blown away. They have not gnashed their teeth and abandoned their faith. To repeat, they have found nothing that forces the extreme conclusion our enemies like to promote.

If those who know the most about Church, or Mormon, history have not abandoned their faith upon discovering all the (supposedly) shocking things found therein, then I think that should give us nonspecialists pause before we abandon ship at the slightest adverse wind.

(Or, if you need a shorter read, check out the last three paragraphs in this post by Daniel C. Peterson.)


Bmar said...

Excellent comments. So much to think about, especially from Brittons essay. I love the quote from Brigham Young at the end.

Nate said...

I've probably read Bitton's essay four or five times, maybe more, and I always find new insights each time.

Mark said...

Nate, thanks for posting this. I enjoyed your thoughts, I found the Salon piece interesting, and I really liked the Bitton essay. I was just at breakfast this morning with Jordan Faux, and we were discussing this very topic. Good work.

Mark said...

Thanks for posting, Nate. Good thoughts.

Nate said...

Mark, sounds like it was an epic breakfast! Wish I could have been there too. Thanks for reading.

Chuck and Stacie said...

Hi Nate. I am a friend of Deb's and found this via her facebook link. The Salon article really makes me sad. It doesn't matter to me what Joseph Smith did or did not do a couple hundred years ago. What matters is how I feel when I read the scriptures, how I feel when my prayers are answered, how I feel when the Holy Ghost testifies of something that is true. If you feel those things, then I don't understand how the past could be your reason to fall away.

Nate said...

Chuck, or Stacie, or both--I think you make a good point. Though, presumably the couple described in the Salon article no longer feel what you and I feel about the gospel, and so they no longer believe.

What's sad, is that the way the girl described it, she lost her faith because she didn't know any answers to her husband's new-found criticisms of Joseph Smith and the Church. And apparently she didn't know that answers do exist or where to find them.

That's where Bitton's article comes into play: he is speaking from the perspective of a professional historian who's read widely and deeply in the primary and secondary literature, and who has many colleagues and friends who have done the same, and they have found no compelling case against Joseph Smith or the Church.

Can history be troubling? Yes, especially when our expectations of the past or of people from the past are unrealistic.

I would submit that the couple in the article had unrealistic expectations of Joseph Smith as a Prophet (perhaps as a human being) and they couldn't get past the cognitive dissonance created when they read anti-mormon lit attacking Joseph's character.

And so, faced with a decision of what to do with the baby and the bathwater, they decide to throw both out, when all they needed was to drain the bathwater (i.e., their own faulty assumptions).

Much more could be said, of course, but I'll leave it here for now. Thanks for reading!

Daniel said...

I just think it's funny that no one tries to make Catholics leave their church because of the Inquisition, and yet, so many try to use questionable events from our church's history to discredit it today.

Since a church is operated by people, however divine that church may be, it makes sense to me that there would be imperfection - due to the people factor. So I'll stick with the things that I am sure are true and wait until later to find out about the rest. :) (This is really Miranda, by the way.)

Nate said...

You're spot on, Miranda.

Karen said...

Great post Nate! Thanks for sharing!