December 10, 2010


In humankind's search for the truth, there are several tests we put to possible explanations of phenomena. Often, we must use indirect methods of measuring those that are not easily quantifiable otherwise. For example, when a person desires to know how many trees grow in a year, he can physically count each tree. But if a person wants to know the difference in temperature between a boiling pot and a refrigerator, he will need something that can measure temperatures: a thermometer. An adequate measure requires a minimum of two characteristics: validity and reliability. If a measure is valid it assesses the phenomenon it was meant to (e.g., a scale is valid if it actually assesses weight). A measure is reliable if the result is consistent throughout trials (e.g., a bathroom scale is reliable if it measures same object at 20 lbs. today, tomorrow, and a week from now). Both of these characteristics are required simultaneously of an accurate measure. A valid, but unreliable, bathroom scale would assess weight, but today it may show that I am 130 lbs., while tomorrow it may show that I am 240 lbs. In contrast, a reliable, but invalid, measure would be similar to me stepping on a bathroom scale to read my temperature - it would give me essentially the same result whenever I stepped on it, but the information would not be that I sought.

With the two required characteristics of an adequate measure in mind, let us examine the LDS church's ultimate measure of truth: an emotional experience.

Firstly, is an emotional experience reliable? I submit that it is sometimes reliable. Similar stimuli often trigger similar emotions. When I watch a scary movie, I usually feel something I would describe as fear. Thus, a fear response might reliably happen every time I watch a scary movie. However, feelings are very often less than reliable. For example, the same piece of music may evoke a feeling of peace or excitement at the first few hearings, but another time may cause feelings of urgency or jealousy. After dozens of hearings, the same song may even become a nuisance. Even further, the same song may cause one to feel bliss and another to feel nausea. Regarding the LDS church, while reading the Book of Mormon may evoke peace and hope at one time, it may also cause boredom, confusion, or feelings of inadequacy at others. Certainly then, an emotional experience is not very reliable.

Secondly, is an emotional experience valid? Again, I submit that it is sometimes valid. For example, if I feel valued, it is likely a result of people around me who treat me like I am important and wanted. But if I feel lucky, it does not necessarily mean that I am likely to win the lottery. If I feel peace and hope after a Sunday School lesson, it may mean that the message was full of good, hopeful things. It usually does not mean that everyone felt the same way, however. But many feel nothing, confusion, or disgust after praying about Joseph Smith's purported vision, while others report peace, comfort, joy, etc. So again, emotions are sometimes valid.

If both reliability and validity are required of an accurate measure of the truth, it seems that an emotional response is far from adequate. Just as one would not use a barometer to time a baking cake, or trust a speedometer that never rises above 5 mph., one should not base a judgment of the organization of the universe and path to eternal salvation on something as unreliable and often invalid as an emotion.

November 2, 2010


I've had a fairly long history being taught, and have had many opportunities to teach as well. There is some disagreement regarding how teaching is most effective, and I often wonder about God's method according to the LDS church. Contrast the following two examples:
  • In a class on American history, we never knew what to expect on the tests. We took copious notes during lectures, read and re-read the textbooks, and prayed in preparation. I specifically remember leaving the testing center after the first test completely confused. I had no recollection of hearing some of the terms used on the test, some of the answer options given were ambiguous or equally as valid as another, etc. After receiving our grades for the written sections, several of the students were upset that they were docked points for not answering unasked questions. What confused me most about the grading system in this class was that the goal did not appear to be simply challenging us, but it seemed as if all was being done to keep us from succeeding.
I wonder what would have been so detrimental to our learning if we had been tested on what we had been taught.
  • About a year before that, I took an introductory statistics class. The professor's philosophy of teaching was quite different from that of the American History class's. He warned us that the assignments would be very strict, and that he did not allow even the slightest mistake. He explained that he would mark off points for bad handwriting, misplaced commas, extra decimal points, failure to use certain words, and so on. But he also told us that, although the standards were very strict, about 80% of his students ended up with A's. He said this was because he would make sure that we understood the material. As long as we came to class, paid attention, and asked questions about anything and everything we did not fully understand, he would use his vast experience and patience to be certain that the concepts he taught us were clear. The class was very challenging, but I came out with an A, and a very clear knowledge of basic statistical principles.
Let's examine the two different approaches; both classes required much, were challenging, and I learned a great deal from them. Both were taught by experts in their respective fields. However, the first required much but gave very little to facilitate success, whereas the second required much and made everything available to us that could help us reach its high demands.

The first class considered 90% of the class receiving A's as evidence that it was not challenging enough, while the second class viewed 90% A's as evidence that the students were learning the material.

According to LDS doctrine, God wants us all to pass this "test" of earthly life (source). It is His deepest desire that we all are worthy to return to Him (Moses 1:39). I understand that lowering the standards would be a poor method to achieve this goal. To simply decide that attendance alone would suffice for an A grade would demean the entire point of the class. Likewise, in the LDS world, to simply give everyone salvation regardless of behavior or character would make the Celestial Kingdom little different from earthly life.

If demands must remain high, wouldn't it fit the character of the Master Teacher to respond to our inquiries with patience and thorough explanation, building upon what we already know? Why, then, does He apparently make so little effort to help us understand the most complicated teachings of polygamy, denial of priesthood to persons of African descent, along with the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon in the face of DNA and archaeological evidence against it, etc.? The LDS god requires that we accept polygamy, and accept that the priesthood denial was not evidence against the Church's divinity. Why, then, does the LDS god not also deliver some degree of explanation for the same? If they are, in fact, eternal principles, are we not to understand them? If these confusing and troublesome teachings do not require explanations for us to accept them, why did that same god plague us with the power to think?

Some would say, "He gave us the Holy Spirit. That's all we need." For example, most members who wonder why polygamy was justified conclude through the Holy Ghost that some reasonable explanation exists (although we do not have it), and insist that they require nothing more.

This is similar to asking the professor about how World War I developed, and being met with, "The answer to that on the test will be C." You may say, "That's good, but that seems relevant to the rest of what followed. Will you help me understand how it fits?" The professor says, "Well, you don't need to understand it, you just need to remember that the answer is C."

Why would the master teacher encourage confusion when the explanation is available? Why put off our learning? Why delay our growth?

October 11, 2010

The Source of All Knowledge

I believe that the single most significant and influential teaching of the LDS church, and the reason that it is as large as it is today, is the idea that an emotion is a communication from God. Not only that the emotion is from God, but also that anything else is of no value. To break it down, the LDS church teaches that (a) an emotional reaction is a message from the creator of the universe, (b) no matter what the emotion is it leads to the conclusion that the Church is true, and (c) declaring that all other sources of information are irrelevant unless they are in sync with the Church being true.

The problem is that it is one of the easiest things in the world to evoke an emotional response. A few notes on the piano will easily move one emotionally. A single look from another person can cause one to feel fear, lust, anger, peace, etc. A few lines of a poem can bring one to tears. A scene in a movie can evoke these same emotions.

The missionaries teach investigators that good feelings about some Church teachings witness that the teachings are true (source). But if one hears another doctrine of the Church that evokes a different emotional response, like disgust, that is apparently not a message from God, because it might lead one to conclude that the Church is not what it claims to be (more). Then, when someone such as I tries to investigate the real history and teachings of the Church, and finds strong physical, archaeological, or logical evidence that it is not what it claims to be, the Church insists that all those clues are irrelevant compared to the emotional conviction they have. Doctrine & Covenants, for example, states:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things (Section 6:22).
In other words, if something seems like it's not right - if it seems like you need more from the Church to keep following it - what you are supposed to do is recall the one time you did feel good about it. If you feel bad about it now, there's nothing wrong with the Church, you just need to start feeling good again.

In brief, if you ever have a positive feeling about any part of the Church, it must be true. Any bad feelings you have about it are distractions from Satan. I've spent a very long time trying to come up with an adequate analogy, but it's so nonsensical that nothing fits. So here's a try:

Emotions are easily swayed, much like a feather moving in the breeze. So imagine a feather tied to a string, hanging from a tree branch. A man sits under the tree and watches the feather one day. A bird up on the branch tells the man that it is a magic feather - it can predict the weather. If the feather moves to the north, there is a thunderstorm coming. If it moves south, there will be sunshine. If it moves east, there will be snow, and if it moves west, there will be rain. The man watches for a while and the feather dances mostly Northwest. He sees some storm clouds off in the distance and concludes that the feather is magic. The next day, the feather sways eastward, but it stays sunny and warm. The man says, "Well, I already know it's a magic feather." So when he learns later in the day that it snowed in Alaska that day, his conclusion is confirmed. "The feather's magic is so powerful, that it could see it was snowing hundreds of miles away!" The next day, the feather moves to the south, and the sun shines. It is indeed a magic feather! The next day it blows to the west, but the sun shines again. A week later, it finally does rain and the man is awestruck that it not only predicted the weather, but that it did it a week in advance!

An easily-influenced variable is given ultimate authority. But when the easily-influenced variable acts unpredictably it is meaningless, or still evidence of the purported source's authenticity. This logic contains no real connection between what happens and what is real.

September 24, 2010

Standing for Something

One of the more honorable attributes of Jesus Christ is His usually quiet defiance of social and political norms when they are ungodly. Obviously I do not refer to the "cleansing of the temple," which appears to have been rather violent (John 2:14-15), but in all other areas where something was out of place with social and religious practices, He shamelessly did what was right, often opposing what was popular. In fact, in driving out the moneychangers, He showed that He feared not what man thought; as long as it was ungodly, He would defy it.

Christ did not usually defend righteousness in such aggressive ways, but it appears that He openly opposed society's more subtle wrongs as well. For example:
  • John 4:7-9. The woman at the well was shocked that Christ, a Jew, would speak to her, a Samaritan. Christ did not shy away, did not avoid her because of her nationality, but instead engaged in very personal, loving conversation. His disciples were clearly disturbed that He would speak with her (John 4:27).
  • Luke 7:37-48. A woman of low esteem washes Christ's feet in her tears, and dries them with her hair. The Pharisee observer clearly is troubled by Christ's allowing the woman to touch Him, yet he patiently allows her penance to proceed, then teaches all that their practice of shaming and chastising sinners is wrong.
  • Luke 6:6-11. In opposition to the widely held social and religious norms, Christ heals a man on the Sabbath.
  • John 9:1-3. He shattered the belief that physical disabilities were the consequence of sin.
  • As a general rule, He held women in high regard - a radical practice in the region and time (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:34-35). After His greatest miracle of all, the resurrection, the first to learn of it were women (Luke 24:1-8), but even His disciples would not believe women (Luke 24:11). The first person on Earth honored with direct witness of the miracle was Mary Magdalene, a woman (John 20:11-18). This was a strike against the male-dominated culture of the age.
There are, of course, several other examples in the New Testament. My point is that Christ was never one to shy away from controversy. He stood His ground for what was right, even when it led to His death.

Why, then, would this same Christ, who defied even the most deeply rooted practices whenever they were out of line with God, the same Christ, who is supposedly the head of the LDS church - why would He command, without reason, that persons of African descent be denied priesthood blessings and temple attendance? Even though racism was popular at the time, and even when it was becoming taboo to continue the policy, the LDS church clung to the racist practice, that they stated was revealed to them by Christ (source). Later, of course, it was re-revealed to have been wrong (source). To command leaders to do the wrong thing for more than a century is uncharacteristic of the Christ of the New Testament. It seems reasonable to conclude that either Christ is inconsistent, or the leaders who claimed that He made the former revelation were lying.

Similarly, what Christ apparently revealed to be divine commandment - polygamy - was phased out for the purpose of becoming a more mainstream church, and to fit society's expectations (source beginning with "The question is this:"). Rather than standing His ground and defending His commandment through tribulation and opposition, rather than insisting that His divine revelation be adhered to, He apparently buckled under the pressure from popular politics and social practices.

I find it odd that Christ, while in the flesh, would personally defy generally held beliefs for the sake of doing what was right, while easily relenting from the heavens - letting society and politics push His commandments around. It is an odd deity who is unchanging (e.g., Mormon 9:10) and yet appears to have made drastic changes in character.

Either that, or the LDS church was not and is not led by Christ.

September 17, 2010

Trying Faith

We are promised in the New Testament that God will never try our faith beyond our ability to bear it.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
God apparently tests out our threshold at times, pushing our limits. Take Job and Abraham for example; they were both pushed far beyond what any reasonable person should be expected to endure, yet all the while praised God. They both are held as heroes of the Old Testament. They set examples for believers - demonstrating that we should not question, should not doubt, should take whatever the Lord can throw at us.

What I find odd, however, is that the apparently same God has been inconsistent in His demands on the faith of His children. For example, when Joseph the Carpenter discovers that his betrothed, Mary, is pregnant, he is faced with a huge trial of faith. His future wife asks him to believe that not only is she a pregnant virgin, but that the child she carries is the literal son of God. As Joseph sorts all of this out in his mind, it appears that God decides He would rather not test the threshold of Joseph's faith, but instead reveals to him in a dream that Mary's explanation is correct (Matthew 1:18-24). Rather than push Joseph to the limit of his faith, God grants him a sure sign so that he may overcome his perfectly reasonable doubts.

Joseph, the man ordained to be the earthly guardian of the Son of God, was not left to anguishing soul searching, constantly wondering for the rest of his life if Mary had been unfaithful. Instead, he was reassured in a very loving and personal way.

I find this divine behavior odd in another LDS context, however. Just as Mary gave her fiance a fantastic story to explain why she was pregnant, Joseph Smith, Jr. gave his wife, Emma, a fantastic story about why he married several women without her consent. Both Joseph the Carpenter and Emma Hale were in extremely difficult positions. They were both faced with evidence of a fornicating partner, but also told that the purpose of the infidelity was by divine providence. Understandably, they both reacted in the same way initially - disbelief, disenchantment, likely anger, jealousy, etc.

Yet God's response to each differed greatly: He gave Joseph the Carpenter a comforting vision to help his faith, but He threatened Emma - through her seemingly adulterous husband - with destruction (D&C 132:54, 64), stated that if she continued to question her husband's actions he would be rewarded with even more wives (D&C 132:55), and is told that her forgiveness from sin depends upon her forgiving her husband of his sexual infidelity (D&C 132:56, 65).

In brief, when Joseph the Carpenter and Emma were presented with very similar trials of their faith, God provided Joseph with a clear sign that his betrothed acted according to His commandments, while it appears that He never once gave Emma a sign. On the contrary - He commanded her husband to chastise and threaten her!

It appears that God is either a respecter of persons, pushing the faith threshold to its limits for some of His servants while reassuring others, or one of the above acts of infidelity was not in accordance with divine commandment.

August 27, 2010

Dumbing It Down

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was perhaps the most brilliant scientist of the 20th Century. He had a gift for understanding concepts of physics and math that no one on the planet had ever before conceived. He held a doctorate in physics, and was probably the supreme authority in the field at the zenith of his career.

He has been credited with a quote that is usually stated as, "If you can't explain something to a six year old, you really don't understand it yourself." In terms more applicable to his field, one might say, "If you can't explain your theory to a layman, you don't understand it yourself."

Einstein's theories are quite complicated. The actual general relativity equation looks like this:
Naturally, most of us who do not hold doctorate degrees in physics do not understand this equation at all. But rather than leaving most of the world lost and confused, Einstein explained his theories to us in very simple terms that anyone with a basic knowledge of physics could understand, using his thought experiments (example). By simplifying his theory and using language and examples that were clear, he allowed people not only to grasp his ideas, but to also understand how solid the ideas were. It is very difficult to find fault with his theories; even the layman can agree that his thought experiments are reasonable, logical, and appear correct.

The contrast with the LDS method of teaching is striking to me. LDS doctrine contains several principles apparently so complex, that even a lifelong dedicated servant of the Master Teacher is unable to comprehend. For example, Gordon B. Hinckley admitted that he did not understand why God commanded that members with black skin be denied the blessings of the priesthood (source); the Church has not made clear why there is a discrepancy between DNA findings and the Book of Mormon, but have instead changed the official stance on the origins of Native Americans (2nd paragraph); leaders prefer to simply not talk about Joseph Smith's specific form of polygamy rather than attempt to explain it. The Doctrine and Covenants 19:22 even goes so far as to state that there are things we cannot know or we would "perish." We are assured that there are reasonable explanations for all of these (example), but that the answers are far too complicated for us to understand. Even the most spiritually advanced men on the planet do not have a grasp on the answers to some of these questions, or at least not enough that they will attempt to explain it.

Indulge me for a moment and compare Einstein with the LDS god. Imagine that Einstein wrote in his famous papers, "Something plus something else equals another thing when you calculate it with something else. I know what the somethings are, but the reader would not comprehend it, so just trust me on this." Suppose Einstein had not even attempted to explain the theory to his colleagues with whom he worked for years. Other scientists would say, "Well, the rest of the theory makes okay sense, but the problem is that it all depends on this original equation that you're not giving us! Can you be a little more specific? We're pretty bright and we've done everything we can to understand your theory." Einstein, if he were like the LDS god, would reply, "You are just not capable of understanding," or "If you knew, it would destroy you. In the meantime, just base all of your lives on the assumption that my theory is correct."

After a few years of this game, it would become pretty clear to a reasonable person that he didn't even understand what he was talking about, his theory wouldn't pan out, and he probably just made the whole thing up.

I do not hold a Ph.D. in physics, but I have a pretty good understanding of the theory of relativity. I don't hold a degree in biology, but I have a good grasp on evolutionary theory. Both seem like very solid theories to me. However, I was raised in the LDS church my whole life, served a 2 year mission, graduated from seminary, and served in several callings (including 2 Elders' Quorum Presidencies), and as hard as I have tried to understand polygamy, denial of priesthood to people of African descent, and the severe problems with the Book of Mormon, I am at a total loss.

If God cannot explain some of the most fundamental doctrines to even the highest ranking followers, then there's a good chance that He does not understand them either. That leaves me to believe that the entire LDS church is built upon a foundation of sand. And when the best way to make sense of God's doctrines is that they were made up by men, then there is apparently an enormous problem with God's one true church.

Call me faithless, but I will stick with things that make the slightest sense before accepting things no one understands.

August 8, 2010

The Blame Game

I am constantly amazed at members' reactions to my concerns. More often than not, I am met with accusations of varying degrees. For example,
  • When I first presented the outline of my concerns (the largest of which is Joseph Smith's sexual infidelity) to a bishop, he asked me if I was having an affair.
  • When I spoke with the Stake President about the same things, expressing my concern that Joseph Smith's actions appear to be motivated by sex more than spirituality, he wondered aloud if I had a pornography addiction.
  • When I expressed my feeling that the Church has treated minority groups more like intolerant elitists would than like a people led by God Himself, an anonymous commenter openly suggested I am a closet homosexual.
  • In almost every case where I express my suspicion that the Church is led by men, not Christ, I am accused of lacking spirituality.
In brief, whenever I suggest there is something out of place within the Church, I am accused of having the same thing out of place in my own life.

What amazes me is the inconsistency of the blame; I present evidence that Joseph Smith, Jr. was unfaithful to his wife, lied to her and the entire Church about it, that he threatened teenagers with familial damnation if they did not marry him, that he took women from their living husbands, and that he did all of this without reason. Church members quickly disregard my concerns, or forgive Smith for his flaws. If I dare to suggest he be held accountable for his dishonesty, lust, deception, and worldliness, I am very quickly accused of being dishonest, lustful, deceptive, and worldly!

In other words, many members assume - without cause - that I am guilty of doing exactly what Joseph Smith did! They disregard Smith's documented infidelity and suspect without reason that I am guilty of far lesser crimes. It's as if I report to the fire department that I just saw a man set a building on fire, and that there may be people trapped inside, but the fireman on the other end says, "Even if that is true, we'll sort it out in good time. But the real issue here is that I'm concerned you may play with matches."

When guilty men are praised as heroes and innocent men are distrusted and accused, it is a very disturbing and troubled world in which we live. It is unfortunate that it appears truth and accountability have no place in such a world.

July 21, 2010

The Worthiness of Souls

Imagine being a fly on the wall in a bishop's office in 1977. A warm and friendly bishop sits across from a middle-aged, stereotypical member. The bishop interviews him for a temple recommend renewal (the questions have been abbreviated for space's sake, and modernized for familiarity's sake).

Bishop: "Brother Johnson, do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?"

J: "Yes sir."

Bishop [after more questions]: "Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator; and do you recognize him as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?"

J: "Absolutely!"

Bishop: "Do you sustain the other General Authorities and the local authorities of the Church?"

J: "I do."

[answers more questions satisfactorily]

Bishop: "Are you a full-tithe payer? Do you keep the Word of Wisdom? Do you consider yourself worthy in every way to enter the temple and participate in temple ordinances?"

[Brother Johnson answers each question in the affirmative.]

Bishop: "Marvelous. Well everything seems in order." [the bishop begins to sign the recommend and makes some small talk] "So what did you think of Sister Young's talk today?"

J: "On genealogy? I thought it was perfect timing. I had just completed a big chunk of my genealogical record."

Bishop: "Really? That's wonderful. I hope you're finding some interesting things [hands recommend over]."

J: "Yes. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to find that I actually have a great great great great grandfather who was a freed slave! Imagine that!"

Bishop [suddenly serious]: "Wait a moment. You mean he was African?"

J: "Well yeah. He was born on a plantation in Georgia, but was given his freedom after rescuing his master's wife from a wolf! Amazing story really. After that he moved out West where he met my great great great great grandmother, a Swedish immigrant."

Bishop: "I see. Well I'm afraid this changes everything."

J: "I'm sorry?"

Bishop: "Brother Johnson, I'm afraid I'll have to ask for your recommend" [Bishop tears it up and discards it].

J: "I don't understand."

Bishop: "Well, it turns out that you're not temple worthy. In fact, you've never been temple worthy. That African blood flowing through your veins disqualifies you from entering the temple, and I'm afraid that this nullifies your sealing to your wife and children."

J: "But I answered all of the questions honestly! I've done nothing out of accordance with Church teachings!"

Bishop: "I know, and I appreciate your efforts and honesty, but if I'd have known about the grandfather, I never would have let you enter the temple in the first place. In fact, you should probably try to forget everything you learned there. I apologize for the misunderstanding. Oh, but before you go, the Lord would like to extend another calling to you..."

Fictional? Yes. Unrealistic? Not at all;
  • Presidents and other authorities of the LDS church before 1978 stated that even one drop of African blood would make a person cursed concerning the priesthood (source).
  • Jane Manning James, the first documented African American pioneer, repeatedly petitioned the First Presidency to be allowed to enter the temple and have her children sealed to her, but her requests were denied each time even though she was worthy by every other standard. The only reason she was not allowed in the temple was the color of her skin (Embry, 1994).
D&C 18:10-11 states, "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him." It seems, however, that every LDS prophet from Brigham Young up until Spencer W. Kimball (10 presidents of the Church) interpreted that scripture differently. They apparently were told by God that it meant "...He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him, except for blacks. They cannot repent sufficiently to come as close as a white man unto him." How is it that some still claim this racism was due to "limited understanding" (e.g., McConkie, 1989, p. 165)?
  • Wilford Woodruff said, "I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty” (Official Declaration - 1).
  • Harold B. Lee (1968) said, “God will never permit him [the president of the Church] to lead us astray. As has been said, God would remove us [the leaders] out of our place if we should attempt to do it. You have no concern.”
According to these quotes, there is no validity to the argument that 10 prophets spoke with limited understanding when declaring that Africans were an inferior race. Either they spoke the truth, or they were not called by God. The answer seems clear to me. Why do so many members still offer these men the protection of their faith after such an obvious and grievous violation of Christ's teachings?


Embry, J. L. (1994). Black saints in a white church: Contemporary African American Mormons. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

McConkie, M. L. (Ed., 1989). Doctrines of the restoration: Sermons & writings of Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.

Lee, H. B. (1968, July 8). The place of the living prophet, seer, and revelator. Address delivered to seminary and institute faculty, Brigham Young University, p. 13.

July 8, 2010

Pleading Ignorance

A common response to my position on the Church from believers is essentially that God approves of erring on the side of ignorance as long as one believes it is in His service. That is, believers sometimes admit that there are no explanations for many of my concerns, and that my concerns certainly appear valid, but that even if we critics are right about these things, they will somehow gain a greater reward if they follow the Church anyway. I've been told by several members that they just don't worry about these things right now. They wonder about them, but put them on the cognitive back-burners to be addressed at some undetermined point in the future: probably death. Believers seem to insist that even if these disturbing criticisms are true, as long as they are doing what they are told to in the present, that will be enough. It is as if they say, "Although there is no reasonable answer for this, I believe God wants me to follow it anyway. He rewards faith, not investigation."

I often wonder what God might say to them upon their deaths if my criticisms are correct. I wonder if he would meet them at the pearly gates and say,

"You did pretty well down there, but you died a member of the LDS church?"

The believer would defend his or her actions, "Well, yeah! That's what I was taught you wanted!"

God might say, "No, that's what they told you I want. I tried to send you the real message."

The believer wonders, "What message?"

God responds, "I directed you to discover Joseph Smith's dozens of wives, on your mission I led you to speak to that Jehovah's Witness who mentioned Brigham Young's racism, and when you were researching for that talk I kept trying to get you to read all that evidence that Joseph Smith's translations were a bunch of nonsense! You kept ignoring all of my attempts to lead you to the truth!"

Believer: "Well, yeah, but all that contradicted what you have revealed."

God: "You mean what the LDS church says I revealed. Did it ever occur to you that all those things weren't a trial of faith for you, but a message from me?"

Believer: "No. But even so, I figured if I remained obedient, that was the most important thing."

God: "But you were obedient to a church. That is not the same as being obedient to me. I gave you conscience, intelligence, and curiosity. I never wanted you to drown those things out for the sake of obedience to a false message."

Believer: "But I ignored those things out of love for you!"

God: "I know that. But you also loved your church. If you really loved me more than your church, you would have done everything in your power to find out the truth, even if it meant that your church was wrong. Instead, you showed me that you loved your church more than the truth. You loved comfort more than honesty."

Believer: "Well, why didn't you give me something more obvious?"

God: "What more did you want? I gave you every opportunity to learn for yourself, and when that didn't work I sent people who had learned to tell you face to face. You called them 'deceived sinners'. You even knew about Joseph Smith's polygamy and you did nothing!"

Believer: "That's not true. I talked to my bishop about it."

God: "...And he gave you some vague answer that helped to quiet your conscience about it long enough for you to ignore it again. The fact remains that Smith had more than 30 wives with no justification, and you still thought he might be my prophet?!?"

Believer: "The bishop told me I would learn the reasons for it later."

God: "And instead, you're learning that you were wrong - misled by the cunning and craftiness of men for your whole life. Going so far as to ignore what I placed right in front of you. You spent all that time waiting to learn what I was trying to tell you right then."

Of course, I don't know what that conversation may look like, if it ever happens. But I feel that, if nothing else, I can honestly say that I have done all I can to know whether or not the LDS church is His church. In closing, I will end this post with a quote from the LDS god:

"It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance." D&C 131:6

June 13, 2010


Most believers who are aware of common criticisms of the LDS church admit that, at first glance, some of them seem concerning. Most agree that the idea of polygamy initially rubs them the wrong way, and that the official denial of priesthood to persons of African descent seems like it may have been a mistake. But these same believers tend to discount the serious ramifications of these problematic doctrines, giving past leaders of the Church the benefit of a doubt. Believers generally tend to say something to the effect of, "Although it looks really bad, there's probably a justifiable reason for it somewhere."

The Bible counsels believers not only to avoid evil, but to "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22.). It seems troublesome, however, that the same God who inspired this counsel, also appears to often flirt with the appearance of evil by commanding His chosen instruments to do things which go against moral conscience.

The most obvious example may be Joseph Smith, Jr.'s form of polygamy. He lied to his wife about courting women behind her back, and then consummated marriages with them. He pressured girls as young as 14 to marry him. He took women from their first husbands to become his own wives. He used followers to pose as husbands to some of his several wives (e.g., Compton, 2001; another source). He publicly and privately lied about his practice several times (source), and he supposedly did these things under the direction of God.

It is a difficult argument to make that these things did and do not, at a minimum, appear evil, especially because it took years for Smith to own up to them - he never admitted his deeds to anyone but his elite - and the current LDS church condemns the practice of polygamy (source).

How are we to interpret these events? The Bible counsels us to avoid the appearance of evil, and yet past Church leaders have done so much that appears evil without ever offering reasonable explanations. Are we to err on the side of the wise biblical counsel and truly hold leaders accountable, or are we to allow them the appearance of evil under the protection of our faith?

Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

May 11, 2010


Early on in my LDS experience I noticed an intricate, albeit subtle, pattern in the Church's methods of conversion and retention. It may be one of the simplest methods in principle, yet also one of the most invasive. The method to which I refer is often called "doublespeak." It is language characterized by deliberate attempts to mislead or distort reality (more). The reader may be surprised to learn that doublespeak is used daily, in almost every setting imaginable (Chomsky has addressed it as well). However, for the purposes of this blog, this post will focus on the LDS church's use of doublespeak in its attempts to convert, retain, and control. The following are a few main examples:
  • "Knowledge" in place of "Belief"/"Hope"/even "Want." Consider the statement, "I know the Church is true." As I have addressed before, no one really knows if the Church's doctrines are accurate. Every single time a general authority, bishop, nursery leader, or seminary teacher says, "I know it's true," he or she is using doublespeak. The accurate statement would be "I believe it's true," "I hope it's true," or even "I want it to be true." In reality, when LDS use "knowledge," they refer to anything short of knowledge. The Church practice propagates the distortion of reality with the misuse of the word.
  • "Volunteer" in place of "Submit." The most obvious example of this form of doublespeak is in the Church's claim that full-time missionary work is voluntary. In reality, male members are all but forced to go (see some interviews here; a talk by Hinckley). While no one holds a gun to a young man's head, and many are excited at the chance to go, to call it "voluntary" ignores the negative consequences one may suffer by not going. One fears he will never be desirable to young LDS women, will suffer humiliation, will be socially ostracized, members will question what horrible things he must have done to not have "volunteered." Although the word may apply to some young men and women, it is neither fair nor accurate to apply it to all missionaries.
  • "Truth" in place of "Church's teachings." Similar to "knowledge," when leaders speak of "the truth," they usually refer simply to the doctrine taught by the LDS church (example). Of course, if they were to refer to it accurately, it would not have the powerful but deceptive emotional impact on those who hear. Contrast the statement, "If you follow these truths, you will know they are of God," with "If you follow the Church's teachings, you will come to believe they are of God." The latter statement corresponds with reality more than the former, but if one's goal is to create an anchor based on emotion, the first statement is the better choice.
  • "Donations" in place of "Membership fees." Again, while no one holds a gun to members' heads, Church doctrine and policy contain several threats against its members should they fail to pay the required funds. For example, members who pay tithing are guaranteed not to be burned at the last day (D&C 64:23). Of course, the other side of this is that not "donating" carries the threat of being burned alive. Additionally, if one cannot or will not pay the full 10% of his or her income, that person cannot have full membership (i.e., hold a temple recommend). Thus, tithing is absolutely required to be a full member of the LDS church. To require a donation is contradictory at its essence, and thus another use of doublespeak to mislead and distort reality. Members believe they are willingly writing their checks, when they are actually just paying their dues so that they may attend sealings, be involved in ward temple day, etc (examples and discussion).
  • "Faith" in place of "Gullibility"/"Ignorance"/"Vulnerability"/"Rejecting Conscience." Although not misused every time, the word "faith" is often wrongfully applied. Whenever I have spoken to members about my concerns with Church history and doctrine, they inevitably say that they take it on "faith" that these disturbing things have explanations that they are incapable of knowing now. In other words, they are leaving themselves endlessly vulnerable to the deceptions of men (Eph. 4:14) by not paying attention to the warning signs. When one has natural moral objections to the actions of Joseph Smith, but rejects his or her conscience to overcome the cognitive or spiritual dissonance, one becomes the definition of gullible, ignorant, and vulnerable (more discussion). The Church suggests that if one objects to something horrible that Smith did, the task is to become more vulnerable and reject the objections (i.e., have more faith), rather than for the leaders to give an explanation. While faith should refer to the hope and belief in something we cannot know, I argue that it should not discount what we can and do know. Yet that is precisely how the Church uses it.
  • "Service" in place of "Required labor." Again, "service" is required in the Church. To not accept a "calling" is to reject the will of God (source). No one holds a gun to members' heads, but would one dare to question the being who grants him or her breath (Isaiah 42:5)? Thus, to call it "service" is another distortion of reality.
  • "The Holy Ghost" in place of "A good feeling." The majority of missionary work is accomplished by attributing good feelings to a supernatural being called "the Holy Ghost" (source). If one feels good about joining the LDS church, that feeling is called a manifestation of this supernatural being. If one has similar feelings about selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon, then it is from another supernatural being called "Satan" (source). If one has a similar feeling about chocolate ice cream, then it is just a good feeling. In other words, the Church calls a good feeling by several other terms according to how it serves the purposes of its alleged divinity. The feeling is what it is, but the Church uses doublespeak to present it as whatever else it likes.
  • "Satan" in place of "Bad luck"/"Second thoughts"/"Reason." When I began to logically sort out my concerns, I was told by members that "Satan" had a hold on me. Satan was apparently working very hard to help me in the process of finding reasonable answers to my questions. Members often speak of how hard "Satan" works just before someone gets baptized. In reality, the potential convert is having natural concerns (i.e., "second thoughts") about making a life commitment to an organization about which he or she knows relatively little. But missionaries call those reasonable concerns the work of Satan.
These are just a few small examples of terminology the LDS church uses to distort reality. When one begins to uncover this elaborate code, the illusion can begin to fade. These things and more can be seen for what they are. The seeker of real, unadulterated truth will see reality without the lenses and filters of deceptive language. The shaky frame of dogma will collapse, to reveal the potential for real growth.

April 25, 2010

If, Then

There is usually a logical flow from evidence to conclusion in most things. For example, if it is snowing outside, then I can reasonably conclude that it is also cold; if my car runs, it is reasonable to conclude that there is also gas in the tank.

Truth tends to work in this direction. We observe evidence, and are led to the appropriate conclusion of that evidence. To get to the next step, the next piece of evidence must be found.

In the LDS world, however, I have noticed a pattern of misapplying certain evidences to reach unwarranted conclusions. For example, these follow a logical flow:
  • If the Book of Mormon gives one a lot of strength in life, then it is reasonable to conclude it is a book that can lift one up.
  • If the Book of Mormon teaches one to have more faith, then it is a wonderful book on faith.
  • If it helps a mother to love her children, then it is an excellent guide on parenting.
However, even if all of the above things are true, it is not reasonable to use any of them to conclude that the Book of Mormon is an historical document, translated from plates of gold. Evidence that would support that theory might be found in archaeology, linguistic studies, DNA research on the claims of the book, and so on. Unfortunately, virtually all such research has failed to support the book as anything more than a product of a religious-minded young man living in a region full of spiritual debate during the 19th Century.

To read the Book of Mormon and like the themes, and even to feel good about the content, does not mean that it was divinely inspired. On the same note, jumping to conclusions about Joseph Smith based on unrelated evidence can be misguided.
  • If Joseph Smith inspired millions, then he was a charismatic leader.
  • If he converted thousands with his words, then he was a powerful orator.
  • If he stood up against threats against his life and suffered through prison, then he was a very brave (or at least motivated) man.
  • But it is problematic to use any of the above evidences to go beyond their corresponding conclusions and decide that they point to Joseph Smith as a prophet of God. Every chance that might have supported the latter claim has proven damaging to it; his purported translations, his private life, inaccurate prophecies, his unChristlike actions, etc.
We would not jump to erroneous conclusions in other areas. One does not propose to a woman simply because she says she likes kids. One does not purchase a house simply because it has a large garage. One does not purchase a car simply because it has a balloon tied to the mirror. One does not invest in stock simply because it has a catchy name. In each of these cases, one should do more investigation until the evidence leads to the appropriate action. Just as one would not fall to his or her knees and worship a television magician after a card trick, one should not conclude that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is an historical record after feeling good about them. There are vital pieces missing in between.

April 4, 2010

Brief Update

I apologize to regular readers for the delay in posting. Other obligations have swept in and are occupying much of my attention of late. It may be a few more weeks until I am able to dedicate more time to this blog. Thank you for reading!

March 16, 2010


For the past 7 months I've been working at the state's prison for inmates who suffer from a severe mental illness. All of the worst male mental health cases in the state's criminal population are sent to this facility. Their diagnoses cover a wide range of disorders including developmental disabilities, somatoform disorders, trauma-related disorders, paraphilias, mood disorders, and so on. Approximately half of the inmates on my caseload suffer from psychotic disorders (i.e., involving delusions and/or hallucinations) of some sort, including schizophrenia.

For example, I spoke with one individual recently who told me some about his family history and his experiences in life. For a while the conversation appeared fairly typical. But after a few statements, it became clear that the inmate experiences the world in very different ways than I. He began to tell me about his special abilities to heal people simply by being in the room with them, no matter how severe (e.g., blindness, terminal cancer, etc.). I learned about his abilities to read people's minds, and how he had raised his sister from the dead before. He reported receiving messages from the television set or radio on a regular basis, explaining his earthly mission to him. At one point he stated that he not only has a special relationship with God, but that he actually is a god with divine powers.

The interesting and sad part of the conversation was that this man was absolutely convinced that all of these things were true. He even told me that he had doubted his abilities at several points in his life only to have them "clearly" proven again. He was passionate and gracious about his "powers," and in another setting he might have piqued my interest. But of course, my prior knowledge about the man colored my judgment about what he was saying. To name a few things that discredited his abilities, (a) he was in prison, (b) he had poor hygiene, (c) I had seen his very low IQ scores, (d) I knew he was on several psychotropic medications, and (e) I have been nearsighted since the 4th grade and my eyesight did not noticeably improve when I entered his presence.

While I did not leave convinced that the inmate had divine powers, here is part of what I took from our conversation: It seems that strength of conviction does not necessarily correlate with reality. This man knew, by his definition of the word, that he was capable of supernatural things. But nobody outside of him had ever seen evidence of that.

I do not wish to suggest that true believers are delusional or otherwise psychotic, but I do suggest that if all of the evidence supporting one's convictions is internal (i.e., is found inside the mind or spirit), and the majority of external evidence, where available, suggests different conclusions, then it would be wise to question the internal evidence. That is, if everything inside of you and other believers confirms that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet, but pretty much everything outside of you supports the suspicion that he was a fraud (e.g., significant problems with the Book of Mormon, unfulfilled prophecies, evidence of fabricating his translations, etc.), then it may be time to reconsider how accurate the internal evidence is.

In other areas of life, most individuals shift the focus when original convictions are continually contradicted, so why not in religion as well? If a man told me he had been divorced twice through no fault of his own, I might wonder what were his wives' problems. If he told me he had been divorced six times, I would probably shift the focus to him and ask myself what it is about him that keeps ending in divorce? Similarly, it strikes me as odd that the mountain of significant problems with the LDS church is disregarded. If there were two or three minor concerns about it, I could understand overlooking them. But after countless issues have been raised over hundreds of years about the legitimacy of the Church, and essentially nothing significant and tangible supporting it as God's one true and living church has emerged, is the locus of the dissonance with the skeptics who have been overcome by "the adversary", or are there real sincere problems with the Church?

March 10, 2010


Today marks the one year anniversary of the day I informed the ward bishop that I did not believe Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet, or that the LDS church held the truth about God and life. I admit that I felt and feel rather bad for the bishop. Our ward was being combined with another and the new bishop had asked me to come in to be extended a calling. We had never met before, but I felt that the time of transition would be less difficult for just about everybody if I informed the Church then of my decision rather than lying to him and accepting the calling only to ultimately inform him later. His reaction was about what I expected: shock, disappointment, subtle accusations, trying to induce guilt, etc. What surprised me about it was that I responded; I spoke up, and with very reasonable things to say. For most of my life before that point, I had been scared to speak up: often ashamed that I did not fit the expectations. I had felt that there was somehow something wrong with me because I did not believe with ease. But finally, at that moment, I had found my voice. I was no longer spewing out the expected answers, echoing the scripted responses, repeating with obedience the things that had always been rewarded. This time, I was saying what I truly, in my heart of hearts, felt about these things. I was finally being honest - with myself and with all who would hear me.

This is a change for which I have longed over the years. For far too long, I was torn between the fear of being wrongfully judged by those who would not or could not listen, and my own increasingly potent conscience. What a horrible battle it was! But now, finally, I can wake up knowing that if nothing else, and even if I have to stand alone at times, I am standing tall. The battle for me has ended the only way it could; I know that I am speaking and living authentically.

I find it a tragedy that the LDS church does not allow for difference of opinion in such matters. The members are taught that if an individual knows little of the Church and does not accept it, he or she "is not ready." And if a person knows of the Church and yet still cannot accept it, he or she must be deceived, must not love God, must be unwilling to show a little faith, or must be selfish and worldly. As near as I can tell, according to LDS doctrine, it is not possible for a person to be of sound mind, of reasonable spirituality, and of an honest nature and yet also disagree with the Church's claim to absolute divinity. It is impossible for one to simultaneously "know" he or she is right and also allow for someone else to dissent without attempting to cut down his or her capacity for seeking and finding unfiltered truth. The few active, believing members who do not look at me with condescending eyes are those who realize that they have chosen to believe what they do, but that they could also ultimately be wrong. Isn't that the more accepting stance? Isn't inclusion closer to Christlike charity than exclusion? Is it possible that I am not possessed by demons, that I have not been deceived, but that there might actually be some substance to my concerns?

Walking off the beaten path for the last year has not been easy, but I've gained new perspective on my surroundings, and seen things from angles that many LDS will never see. My biggest regret is that I did not step away sooner to find the path that I fit best, or to pave my own.

March 2, 2010

Ministry of Truth

Previously, I have used the writings of George Orwell to compare how the LDS church resembles The Party in his novel 1984. The Party is the ruling political body in the novel, which goes to great lengths to ensure that it will remain in power. For example, the main character is employed in The Party's "Ministry of Truth," which is actually a sophisticated system of literally rewriting the world's history. If the leader, "Big Brother," makes a prediction which turns out to be incorrect, the Ministry of Truth's duty is to go back to the records of the prediction and change it to match what actually happened. Thus, there is no contradiction on paper. The leader is maintained as accurate and infallible. And all the while, the governed consume the lies, either unknowing or uncaring that the reality upon which they feed has no substance.

How sad that the LDS church also falls prey to the temptation to change its own history. It is unfortunate that an organization that claims to have and promote truth in its purest form (I found the title of this talk laughable) continues to tell half-truths and allow its members to believe falsities about its history (examples here, here, and here). Naturally, the Church fears that people would be turned away from it if they knew the whole truth early on. That would be devastating to its membership (see related quotes here). But what about honesty, trust, and transparency?

Imagine you meet a beautiful woman. She seems flawless, like everything you ever wanted. When you're together, it just feels right. But for some reason, she won't talk about her past. She changes the subject whenever you ask where she grew up, or mention her family. She says she wants to just focus on the present. So you get married, and eventually you realize that she was concealing a criminal record, three divorces, and a small fortune worth of debt. Do you think you would have committed to her had you known the full story? Wouldn't you feel manipulated? Taken advantage of? Used? If she truly were an honest and trustworthy person who loved you, don't you think she would want to be upfront with you?

If the LDS church really loves its members and investigators, and strives to be a beacon of honesty and integrity, why does it continue to keep its history concealed, or allow the world to believe things that are not accurate? Doesn't it seem deceitful? Doesn't it seem self-serving?

February 17, 2010


In Walt Disney's classic film Dumbo, a baby elephant named Jumbo, Jr. is born (well, actually a stork literally dropped him off) with unusually large ears, even for an elephant. These ears begin as a burden and a source of shame to Jumbo, Jr. But their true nature was hidden - the ears allowed him the gift of flight. Unfortunately, the poor elephant had been taught by nearly everyone else in his life that he was nothing, and so he doubted his potential. In order to build some confidence, Jumbo, Jr. was given an ordinary feather, unremarkable and useless for the feat he was about to attempt. However, he was told that it was a magic feather that would ensure his success, and so he made the effort and accomplished something he thought was otherwise impossible.

This seems to be a common characteristic of people as well; we tend to doubt, or even fear, our potential. Marianne Williamson (1992) captures this in the following popular statement:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
In other words, just like Jumbo, Jr. was capable of great things, but needed some kind of artificial encouragement, it may be that some of us need a gentle psychological push towards greatness as well. Click here for another example from Corsini and Wedding (2007, see p. 4).

In both examples, the subjects' abilities were unchanged. Jumbo, Jr. was always capable of flying, just as the inmate was always intelligent. The difference happened when they believed in their abilities.

I find that, in many ways, the LDS church (and many religions for that matter) similarly is the proverbial feather in the process of helping individuals reach their potential. If that were where it ended, I do not believe I would have much about which to criticize the Church. However, at the same time it gives people that extra boost towards appreciating their potential, I find that the Church too often creates dependency, essentially insisting that although we can achieve great things through the Church, it is only through the Church that these things are possible. For example, the LDS church would have the world believe that without it, the following are (at least nearly) impossible:
In reality, each of these can be found outside of the Church's influence. I feel that rather than telling us all that we have inherent divine potential, but without the Church we are nothing, perhaps we have great potential no matter what the Church tells us. With all of the feathers they try to pass off as magic (e. g., priesthood, inspired leaders, the Holy Ghost, etc.) maybe the real power lies within us.

Williamson, M. (1992). A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles. New York: Harper Collins

February 9, 2010

Undisclosed Motives

Over the course of revealing my concerns about the LDS church to its members over the past several months, I've received some very diverse responses in attempts to appease my inquisitive nature. Some of these were fairly decent attempts to make sense of the confusing doctrine and practices, while others were nonsensical.

For example, one of the most counter intuitive explanations for Joseph Smith's taking of multiple wives came first from a Stake President, and then from an Elders Quorum President. They both said, "Well, we don't have many writings from Joseph Smith on the matter, so we don't know why he did it."

In other words, having less information about it somehow strengthens the position. Really? If I were in the position they claim Smith was in - extremely reluctant to engage in polygamy - I would write down everything I could, explaining exactly what was going on, defending and justifying my actions. Instead, Smith hid his "divine" practice as much as he could, even lying about it publicly several times (source).

The fact that he did not journal about it extensively seems to hint toward shame, secrecy, and dishonesty, but certainly not transparency, obedience, and honesty. By all appearances, Smith hoped that no one would ever find out.

A believer may conclude that Smith must have been commanded not to write down the reasons (see Mormon 5:9; D&C 76:115). But then the argument goes back to the question of just how much a prophet should be allowed to hide from his followers.

I, for one, find it very dangerous to assume that the less information we are given, the less concerned we should be.

January 27, 2010

Coerced Faith

Probably the most fundamental problem I have with organized religions in general is their basic premise. Many of the religions with which I am familiar carry the underlying message of "If you do not accept and follow what I say, without any shred of evidence, then you will be punished." Sometimes the preachers carry out the punishment here in life (take a look at radical Islam), and sometimes the punishment lingers until the afterlife (see pp. 52-53 of Preach My Gospel). Of course, the LDS church veils this threat as an "invitation to obtain salvation" but the result is the same. You must believe without any compelling reason other than because you were told so (e.g., D&C 46:9).

By the way, anybody else who tells you to accept what they preach without a shred of evidence or you will be punished is a liar, has been deceived, or is working for the devil (Matt. 24:4-5, 11). But not the LDS church. No, they're the one and only sincere threat.

Why is it that some people find favor in the sources of threats? Why is it that some people remain attracted to the very source of punishment? A similar phenomenon occurs with victims of domestic abuse. Compare some of these reasons the abused stays with the abuser with why believers may stay with the threatening source of eternal damnation. Week after week believers are told they are not yet good enough; that their wants and desires are sinful; that they must remain loyal no matter the odds; that they will only suffer if they attempt to leave; that they are bad if they question the doctrine or those in authority. For the same reasons that a bright woman may stay with an abusive spouse, believers are similarly molded to "want" to stay with the threatening Church.

In contrast, the message I get from science, reason, logic, and common sense is "Here's all the evidence I can possibly find. Here's what I conclude, but sort it out for yourself too, correct me if I'm wrong. If you don't believe it, no problem; you'll be just fine."

Which message sounds more honest?

January 14, 2010

Effort Justification

Social psychologists have studied a theory called “cognitive dissonance” for decades. One of the more interesting facets of this theory is a phenomenon they have come to call “effort justification.” In brief, the theory states that people tend to like things more as the cost to them increases (see study). For example, the theory essentially states that if you were to fill up a theater with 100 people who came to see a sneak peek of some movie, and were to randomly charge some $50 and allow some in for free, that the people who paid the most would enjoy it significantly more than the people who got in for free. Or if you charged them all the same amount, the people who drove the farthest to get to the theater would like the movie more than those who came from a few minutes away.

The explanation is that we keep the effort and cost in our minds and build up what we experience in order for our efforts to be worth the cost. We say subconsciously, “Well of course I love what I’m doing. I wouldn’t have paid all that money and made all that effort if I wasn’t going to love the consequences!”

While the theory applies to dozens of areas of everyday life, I have noticed it also applies to the LDS church as well. If one considers all the effort being a member of the Church requires, one can see why, according to effort justification, the believers are so terrified to think they might be wrong about the Church.

  • Think of the countless hours given to the Church, in callings, preparation for callings, talks, attendance of several meetings per week, beginning seminary at 5:45am (as I did for 3.5 years), cleaning the building, sometimes driving for hours to attend the temples, etc.
  • Consider the thousands of dollars in tithing money the Church requires to be “donated” from average members.
  • Remember the two years of 60+ hours weekly spent being rejected in the name of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, Jr. while being denied phone calls to family, relationships with the opposite sex, television, casual dress, a decent haircut, etc., and also paying for the experience out of own and family’s own pockets.

After all of this, it is only natural that members of the Church would insist that they do not want to know if it is a lie. One of the greatest ways to create a testimony of the Church is to instill the deepest fear of learning that it is a fraud. After all of the cost to be a believer, members insist to themselves (and others) that they do it all because they know they are right. In reality, these are all just another reason to want so badly to believe. The alternative is that all of that time, money, and heartache were for much less than eternal salvation. And they say to themselves, "I wouldn't pay it if I wasn't absolutely sure."

And so, it appears that the crippling fear of having wasted time, money, and effort is often the foundation for loving a bad movie, or having an unquestioning testimony in the LDS faith.