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?


Anonymous said...

There are real sincere problems with the church!

I sent my resignation letter yesterday. I have never been this happy in my whole, entire (mormon) life.

Thanks for helping me find clarity.

Eli said...

Response to anonymous: Congratulations for making the difficult but liberating step! I hope this is the beginning of new and enlightening journies. Thank you for reading - it means a great deal to me to be reminded that I'm not alone. Good luck!