A reader, sjm, stopped by the blog and left the following question under the So You Want to Convert to Mormonism? post:
I’m curious. After you did your “research” and exposed yourself to truth and saw the LDS’s lies or halfturths in the DOC and BOM etc., did you follow thru and research what God’s truth really was about the specific topics you felt lied to about? Or did you just give up and call all of God’s word a mere man made fabrication?
I already answered him briefly, but I think this deserves a post of its own with a little more detail because this is a really good question from the faithful Mormon perspective. I’ve been asked this a LOT, so I’ll do my best to answer sincerely and honestly rather than in my usually snarky tone.
1. Directly to the point of your question, the LDS church had 40 years to present “God’s truth” to me. I attended and taught in Primary, Priesthood, Sunday School, Seminary and Sacrament Meetings for ALL of that time without an inactive period. I find it curious to learn what some people consider “equal time”.
Let me repeat, in 40 years of having me as a captive audience not one Mormon lesson manual presented “God’s” side of Joseph Smith’s polygamous relationships with married women or 14 year old girls. Not one lesson manual discussed the Adam God theory, Law of Adoption, Blood Atonement, the Kinderhook plates, or Joseph Smith’s dubious “translation” method of putting his face in his hat… etc… I could go on… but the point is that I could study “anti-Mormon” literature for another 40 years and not even come close to the amount of opportunity that the Mormon church has had to present its side to me.
2. When you read my blog, the impression you could easily get is that I read some difficult material and threw in the towel overnight and said, “Well, then it’s not true!” That is certainly not how it happened. From the very first time something that made me go, “hmmm” to the day I confidently disbelieved was about a decade long period. The first eight years of that decade was probably just a series of things making me go, “hmmm” and me not doing anything about it. Once I started to actually check some things out I stuck almost exclusively to “faithful” sources until I ran into several experiences described in #3 and #4 below. And even then it took another 2 years of reading, checking and double-checking sources and quotes that I was certain had been taken out of context… until I concluded that the “faithful” explanations contained far more fabrications and half truths than the critics’.
3. Early on, my introduction to the difficult issues in Mormonism actually came from within what could be considered “faithful” sources. For example, I’d stumble upon a FARMS or FAIR article detailing the rebuttal argument to a critic’s “so called” facts. This most frequently was my introduction to the topic. I would read the apologists’ article and find it to be illogical and full of lies…and then I’d do more research to find out what actually sparked the rebuttal in the first place. This was how I was introduced to the Book of Mormon DNA issue for example. I remember specifically reading one of these articles that stated that it has never been a church teaching that the modern day native Americans were descended from the Book of Mormon Lamanites. Having grown up in the church I knew that to be a bold faced lie. It erased any credibility in that author’s argument thereafter. This was before I even knew about any DNA problems.
What it did from square one is tell me that church apologists were willing to lie and fabricate to maintain the essentials of their faith. Of course, they were writing to an audience that they thought was already in some stage of a faith crisis, so ANY shred of hope would provide that person with enough to cling onto. But for me it CREATED the faith crisis. I didn’t know anything about DNA or how it related to the Book of Mormon but I knew very well what the prophets had taught and what the vast majority of Mormons believed regarding the Lamanites.
4. Another problem I had with LDS sources or “faithful” explanations was their inconsistency. One “faithful” explanation for a particular issue sounded reasonable in a vacuum, but when you applied that same logic to another part of the gospel it fell apart.
Take your question for example. You imply that a person questioning Mormonism should research several varied sources before jumping to conclusions. But LDS missionaries regularly tell investigators to NOT seek out alternate sources when researching Mormonism. We often used the analogy “If you want to buy a Ford, you wouldn’t go to a Chevy dealer.” Not seeking out alternative explanations is regularly taught in LDS lessons. But suddenly if I discover something about DNA as it applies to LDS claims I shouldn’t take the word of a geneticist. I should circle back around and double-check what BYU religion professors have to say about it…
5. The truth should be laid out BEFORE extracting a lifelong commitment from someone. Do you get that? In my case that means before I was 8 years old. In the case of a convert that is before he/she is baptized. By not doing that, the LDS church has been untrustworthy and dishonest.
The onus for telling the truth is on the organization that claims to be the one and only true church on the face of the earth. The onus isn’t on the individual born and raised in the faith to go out digging and hunting to find out what really happened.
6. “Can I believe this?” and “Is this believable?” are two very different questions.
The answer to, “Can I believe this?” is almost always “Yes!” This is the question I believe most Mormons ask themselves. Humans can give themselves permission to believe just about anything.
“Is it believable” on the other hand requires taking a step back and approaching the topic from an independent perspective without assuming truth or falsehood. In scientific language that means developing a “null hypothesis.”
As I understand it, if you are honestly searching for truth on a particular topic you need to figure out the conditions and facts which would lead you to conclude falsehood. And this needs to be done ahead of time…before the fact-gathering and investigation.
To put it more simply, an honest investigator of Mormonism would need to decide, “It’s not true if _______”. Then whatever that statement was would have to be something universal that could be repeated by anyone and everyone with the same result. Most Mormons I know couldn’t ever perform this hypothetical mind exercise and clearly Mormon scholars don’t. They start with the conclusion and then twist and turn things to match their testimonies. I believe this is far from an honest search for truth.
At some point I made the decision that I would follow the truth no matter where it lead me…in or out of the church (definitely still hoping that it was IN).
Your question to me implies that I should have settled for, “Can I believe it?” by giving the Mormon church a second chance to give me a reason to believe by adjusting their claims, reformulating teachings and presenting a different angle to things I’d been learning for 40 years. I frankly don’t see why Mormonism deserves that reconsideration any more than Islam, Scientology, or the Moonies.