Faith Crisis in a Secular Age: We’re All Thomas Now

July 15, 2013 | 43 comments
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The principle behind Mathew 10:34 (“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”) is not that Jesus came to foster contention (see, e.g., 3 Nehi 11:29), but that the presence of the Savior forces people to make decisions. C. S. Lewis’s trilemma is an example of what I have in mind: we must accept that Jesus was mad, that he was evil, or that he was divine. That he was a nice guy who taught good principles but was not divine is not compatible with the textual description of his words and actions. The easy path is ruled out.

If we take seriously the millennial aspects of Mormonism–that there is a day of Christ’s returning and that it is drawing closer–then it would make sense to apply Matthew 10 to the world at large. That’s what occurred to me, in any case, when I read David Brooks’ “book report” on Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age”. Christ is drawing near. Decisions must be made. As Brooks summarizes:

Taylor’s investigation begins with this question: “Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?” That is, how did we move from the all encompassing sacred cosmos, to our current world in which faith is a choice, in which some people believe, others don’t and a lot are in the middle?

2013-07-15 Secular AgeThe topic of faith crises seems increasingly prominent among Mormons as numerous new blogs, groups, and seminars indicate. A common theme of these organizations is that faith crisis often arises when simplistic historical narratives confront ambiguous historical realities. I do not doubt that this is the case, but I wonder if this proximate cause can be seen as  a subset of the greater ascendancy of secular ways of thinking. In centuries past, religious or supernatural views were taken as axioms with which to construct our narratives of the world. Today, however, faith propositions are more likely to be seen as appropriate subjects of empirical and rational analysis. It is, as Brooks characterizes Taylor “a choice”.

Brooks goes on to describe some consequences of Taylor’s theories of life in a secular age in a way that powerfully resonates with those who spend their time thinking about faith crises:

When faith is a matter of personal choice, even believers experience much more doubt. As James K.A. Smith of Comment Magazine, who was generous enough to share his superb manuscript of a book on Taylor, put it, “We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. We’re all Thomas now.”

Putting the link between secularism and doubt in the context of Matthew 10 puts it in a very different light. Instead of a narrative of religion receding before the juggernaut of scientific progress leaving an increasingly diminished and fragmented God taking refuge in the gaps, there’s an alternative view in which preparation for the approach of a Savior corresponds with an increase in polarization enacted by the secularization of the cultural environment we inhabit. Like a sword, He divides.

If this is the case, then a scripture which may assume new relevance to those who confront doubts is 1 Peter 4:12:

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.

In context, of course, that scripture was originally about brutal repression and persecution of the early Christians. But, likening the scriptures unto ourselves, it makes sense that in the run up to the Second Coming the world would face a situation in which faith could not longer be taken for granted, but must become a choice that each individual cannot defer or delegate to anyone else.

I believe this trial may be easier to endure when we understand that it is not “some strange thing.” Of course the mere presence of an alternative narrative doesn’t prove that it is the right alternative, but it may provide a powerful new context in which to see struggles with doubt. Not as evidence of unrighteousness or failure but rather as an inevitable consequence of the rising stakes and adversity.

It’s also important to understand the inescapable duty of deciding for ourselves. It is clear that–while absolutely not the explanation of all expressions of doubt everywhere–there is a clear trend among some who suffer through doubt to wish that the cup could be passed. This is often what lurks behind laments that General Conferences talks are so unresponsive to real concerns or that the General Authorities fail to address the root problems, or so on. There’s at times an unspoken and understandable desire that someone else intercede on our behalf, wrestle with the angel in our stead, and deliver the answers that will make belief simple and easy again. That’s not a prayer that can be answered because the increasing difficulty of faith seems to be either a part of God’s plan or least an unavoidable attendant to it.

Understanding that faith crises are a part of the plan, or at least an anticipated challenge, can empower us to reach out with compassion instead of judgment to those who are struggling and also to bear our own struggles with greater patience and with less fear and confusion. Along the way, it can also help manage our expectations for what our leaders or the Church as an institution can be expected to provide in response to these struggles. Of course I hope that friends, family, the scriptures, and the Church can be relied upon to offer assistance, but in the end there will always be doubts and struggles we must face on our own.

43 Responses to Faith Crisis in a Secular Age: We’re All Thomas Now

  1. Mtnmarty on July 15, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Joseph Smith received his revelation through something of a faith crisis.

    I view the faith issue through the inadequacy of seeing Pascal’s wager as a two-sided bet. in other’s betting on an afterlife tells us nothing about what deity is like or how to live now relative to the afterlife.

    The desire to find more common cause with believers in general than non-believers is more a symptom of hedging one’s wager across the faith options than it is girding one’s loins for the sword.

    There is a tension between acting as a natural man and the LDS view of the unity of truth. I believe that people who do not see divine providence in the increase in knowledge in the last 500 years are not facing what must be faced. faith must synthesize secular knowledge not avoid it.

    This a difficult task. It doesn’t need to be faced alone but collectively wishing to turn back the clock just doesn’t seem adequate. This is why I like your posts but encourage you to set your sights to a more comprehensive path. The faith and fate of billions depends on it.

  2. Howard on July 15, 2013 at 8:53 am

    The paths to God are many and personal as we each work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Without a faith crisis we are only borrowing from the beliefs of others or buying into the belief bundle offered by the church. A faith crisis is the gate to the kingdom, a necessary right of passage and the process that creates a real testimony.

  3. EFF on July 15, 2013 at 9:15 am

    “Along the way, it can also help manage our expectations for what our leaders or the Church as an institution can be expected to provide in response to these struggles.”

    Though my expectations for our leaders are quite modest, it is a source of frustration when they say and do things that exacerbate the doubts experienced by members and potential converts. Since its inception, the Church has: (i) oversold the prescience of its leaders (Professor Harrell’s new book on Mormon doctrines chronicles the numerous failed predictions they have made about the Second Coming), (ii) distorted its history, (iii) misinterpreted scripture for purposes of supporting the Mormon narrative, and (iv) perpetuated the fiction that the doctrines it teaches are constant and unchanging. Your own father has described the CES manuals as “deplorable, full of errors, of disinformation,” prompting many to feel they have been betrayed by an institution in which they had placed their faith and trust.

    You are right—doubts and questions are an inevitable part of life, though I question the assertion that we are experiencing more of these dilemmas than our ancestors. I have never bought into the myth of latter-day exceptionalism. But an honest appraisal of the Church inevitably leads to the conclusion that it has done several things, perhaps unwittingly, to foster skepticism and weaken the testimonies of some members.

    In my 50+ years as a member of the Church, I have discovered that our leaders are really good at teaching us how to lead moral lives and render service to others. But when they venture into other areas—science, history, economics, politics, etc.—their track record is mixed, at best. By adjusting my expectations to this reality, I haven’t eliminated all doubts and questions, but at least I have made my faith struggles more manageable.

  4. Nathaniel Givens on July 15, 2013 at 9:55 am

    EFF-

    The one thing I would add to your comment, with which I largely agree, is that one of the expectations we ought to have for our leaders is that they will be a “source of frustration”. I think that is implied in D&C 21:5, which tells us to give heed to the commandments of Joseph Smith (by extension: our leaders) with patience. One reason for the patience is that our leaders mess up.

    I think that sometimes we have not, as a culture, fully processed the import of our belief in a fallible lay ministry. In a sense, lowering the expectations isn’t enough, because no matter what the expectations are (in practice), we’re going to be disappointed. I think we need to be prepared for that so that we can bear it with patience and continue to sustain our fallible leaders nonetheless.

    (I realize this introduces the ambiguous problem of where we draw the line between supporting fallible leaders and actually opposing injustice in extreme cases, but that presence of unresolvedable ambiguity and absence of easily applied black-and-white rules is a feature rather than a bug.)

  5. Howard on July 15, 2013 at 10:08 am

    What is the value of following leaders in whom we have low expectations? Isn’t this just rationalizing the fact that Joseph’s revelation has been watered down to today’s inspiration? Joseph may have made a lot of mistakes but they were more than offset by the restoration of the gospel and priesthood. Today we get an earring piercing limit and younger missionaries.

  6. Nathaniel Givens on July 15, 2013 at 10:14 am

    What is the value of following leaders in whom we have low expectations?

    It’s not hard to suggest reasons for this (humility being the most obvious), but it’s not really the point.

    Either we need leaders or we don’t. I think we do, both for the sake of organization and order and also for the sake of unity and communal identity. You can easily get a bunch of anarchists to come together in unity, provided they are all pretty self-sufficient and under no great stress. Practically speaking, if you want an inclusive, functional community you will need a leader in some sense of the word.

    If you accept that proposition (that we do need a leader) then it’s just a matter of recognizing that the Lord works with what He has. Namely: us. I don’t have any confidence that I could do better than the Apostles, or that I could pick other people who would do better than our current crop.

    So, regardless of the value of following these leaders (although I believe there is value in it), there’s the necessity of following them, or other leaders who would be just as flawed.

  7. EFF on July 15, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Well said, Nathaniel. Thanks for the thoughtful response. And your scriptural reference was insightful. I had never looked at D&C 21:5 in that light before.

  8. Howard on July 15, 2013 at 10:24 am

    If we have low expectations for our children, how would you expect them to turn out? High?

  9. Dave on July 15, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Nice discussion, Nathaniel. It is certainly true that faith in 2013 is something different from faith in 1913 or 1613. I agree that realizing this would help us “to reach out with compassion instead of judgment to those who are struggling and also to bear our own struggles with greater patience and with less fear and confusion.” That goes for all levels of the hierarchy, not just the rank and file.

    I think it is important to distinguish the general trend of secularity and demographic move away from formal church affiliation and attendance (which affects all denominations, some more than others) with particular developments that might affect Mormonism in particular (such as the easy availability of troubling history and doctrine via the Internet). That fact that LDS retention rates, despite falling, are nevertheless still beating the average suggests our challenge is not so much the specific Mormon problems as the general problem all denominations are facing. I’m yet to be convinced that senior leadership really understands either the general or the particular problem here — building more temples and setting up scripted websites is not the answer. Most rhetoric from the pulpit still seems to regularly blame the general membership for lack of faith, failure to do home teaching, insufficient temple attendance, etc., with little recognition that the world has changed.

  10. Andrew S. on July 15, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Nathaniel,

    Sorry if this comment is too critical or whatever, and if you want to delete it, then go ahead, because I’ll post it on my personal blog or somewhere else, but when I read things like your opening paragraph:

    The principle behind Mathew 10:34 (“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”) is not that Jesus came to foster contention (see, e.g., 3 Nehi 11:29), but that the presence of the Savior forces people to make decisions. C. S. Lewis’s trilemma is an example of what I have in mind: we must accept that Jesus was mad, that he was evil, or that he was divine. That he was a nice guy who taught good principles but was not divine is not compatible with the textual description of his words and actions. The easy path is ruled out.

    On the one hand, I think there is value in things like this.

    However, on the other hand, I try to fight against these sorts of things. In this other space, I call this a black and white perspective, whereas i would like to see more gray.

    Because when you have people who are going through faith transitions and faith crises, when this sort of analysis is applied (to paraphrase Gordon B. Hinckley in a more LDS-specific context: the church relies upon literal interpretation of particular founding narratives, and they are either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or truth), this leads people overwhelmingly out. It seems apparent that once there is “gray,” if people are taught to see black and white, then any gray will be deemed to be “black”.

    The entire rest of your message gets stopped dead in its tracks because of the starkness of the opening. If one has a two-way switch, “It is either what it claims to be or it is not,” then anything one finds the ambiguity of history, one is going to conclude “it is not,” and decide that whatever things actually are is not worth pursuing…and the worst thing is that with quotes like the ones you mention, there’s not really any way to disagree with them.

  11. Howard on July 15, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Interesting point Andrew S and a serious tactical error on the church’s part.

  12. Andrew S. on July 15, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Howard,

    at the same time, even though I think it would be great if everyone were nuanced, liberal, believers who can deal with ambiguity and paradox and contradiction, there’s something to be said for religion that is bold and uncompromising.

    If only they would live up to the claims.

  13. chanson on July 15, 2013 at 11:03 am

    we must accept that Jesus was mad, that he was evil, or that he was divine. That he was a nice guy who taught good principles but was not divine is not compatible with the textual description of his words and actions.

    Sort of, except that the credibility of the textual description is not 100%. Everything we know about Jesus was filtered through a few decades of the game of telephone before being written down — and in particular we have only tales written by his followers. Even if nobody intentionally lied, it’s just the way that memory works that — as the group increasingly moves towards the belief that their founder was a messiah, and maybe even a God — that colors the way they remember the things he did and said.

  14. Nathaniel Givens on July 15, 2013 at 11:33 am

    EFF-

    Well said, Nathaniel. Thanks for the thoughtful response. And your scriptural reference was insightful. I had never looked at D&C 21:5 in that light before.

    In full disclosure, I stole that one from my mum.

  15. Nathaniel Givens on July 15, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Howard-

    If we have low expectations for our children, how would you expect them to turn out? High?

    When I am honor-bound to obey my children and sustain them as my leaders that analogy will start to have relevance.

    I realize that’s blunt, but I think it’s important to explicitly discuss the sense of of superiority that seems to lurk beneath the surface of your criticism.

  16. Steve Smith on July 15, 2013 at 11:44 am

    As always, a thought provoking post, Nathaniel. A few comments:

    1) Chanson (#13) beat me to it. What we know of Jesus is largely second-hand. His followers and family may have a construed a much more fantastic, romantic image of Jesus than what actually fits reality. Jesus can be accepted as a mortal, and even flawed but enlightened, philosopher by explaining the miraculous, divine stuff as misrepresentations and lore. So there still is an “easy path.”

    2) Faith is more of a choice in societies where the socioeconomic environment, laws, and available technology are such that an individual is enabled to seek potential recourse against whatever social penalties a given family or community seeks to impose on him/her in the event that s/he decides to express a set of ideas or live a particular lifestyle that are outside the accepted social norm of the community. In other words faith is not much of a choice for someone in many communities in northern Nigeria who, upon expressing a lack of faith and compliance with the expected religious/social norms or the conversion to Christianity from Islam, may face austere penalties from his/her surrounding community (banishment, ostracism, disownment, death threats, etc.) from which that individual’s lack of educational, political, economic, legal, and social resources would not permit them to make an easy social transition.

    2a) In many LDS communities, and for many LDS individuals, the degree that faith is a choice is far less than other individuals in, say, urban Chicago, where an individual may not rely on his/her individual community as much for sustenance and social/psychological support and has many more available options for recourse against whatever penalties their community may decide to impose on them. Hence I believe that many “faith crises” in the LDS world are more of a reflection of an individual feeling the lack of freedom to believe as s/he chooses (for fear of incurring a large social penalty on themselves if their disbelief in the accepted doctrinal norms becomes apparent or even broadcast) than a legitimate cognitive dissonance. In other words many people are more informed from the top-down that they are experiencing a faith crisis than from within.

  17. Nathaniel Givens on July 15, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Chanson, Dave and Andrew-

    (This reply touches on at least one thing from each of your comments.)

    I appreciate the qualification of my statement of the trilemma, but I had already included that qualification in the original statement. I fear it might have been too subtle, however, because Andrew S. already missed it. Here’s my original statement with some added emphasis:

    C. S. Lewis’s trilemma is an example of what I have in mind: we must accept that Jesus was mad, that he was evil, or that he was divine. That he was a nice guy who taught good principles but was not divine is not compatible with the textual descriptionof his words and actions.

    So, to your point, Chanson, of course there’s room to doubt the text itself. I included that phrase intentionally to acknowledge that fact. (I don’t think the transmission errors are as problematic as you do, because from the fragments we do have the modern translations are spot-on, but there are questions of the original text itself and also the canonization process. I take your point, however.)

    And that’s my response to you as well, Andrew S. Of course I understand that it’s a sensitive topic and people don’t react well (understandably) to take-it-or-leave-it literalism, but that is emphatically not what my statement incorporates. I probably could have picked a better example, but I actually think it was useful to take Lewis’s trilemma and explicitly point out that there is actually a fourth option: which is to doubt the text. I’m sorry that the point was too quietly made for you to pick up on it on a first reading, but it’s there.

    Which brings me to Dave’s related point that:

    it is important to distinguish the general trend of secularity and demographic move away from formal church affiliation and attendance (which affects all denominations, some more than others) with particular developments that might affect Mormonism in particular (such as the easy availability of troubling history and doctrine via the Internet).

    I agree, and I would also argue that it’s also very important to distinguish between general trends within Mormonism and the individual faith crises of individual members.

    However, I do think that there are definitely some similarities as well as differences, and it was the area of overlap that I was focusing on in this blog post.

  18. Howard on July 15, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Nathaniel,
    Interesting. You sidestep the issue of low leadership expectations. I compare Joseph and the restoration to today’s prophets and you dismiss it as a sense of superiority. Clearly you disagree, but I was hoping for more substance to your position.

  19. Steve Smith on July 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    A follow-up/clarification on 2a) (comment 16): the idea that someone who doesn’t believe or no longer believes much of the official LDS doctrinal and historical narratives has experienced a “faith crisis” is more favorable to the LDS institution and the believers than the individual who no longer believes/believes differently than they used to. It is an idea that paints the doubting person as a ‘doubter,’ an ‘unbeliever,’ and weak. However, have they in reality experienced a “faith crisis?” Perhaps what they experienced could better be explained as a faith transition, an evolution in beliefs, a change in perspectives, or a paradigm shift, which has led them to desire to be in different social environments. Of course, I don’t doubt that many do experience a legitimate cognitive dissonance or crisis within, but many former Mormons don’t appear to be in a state of psychological crisis, but are quite firm in their beliefs.

    Also while many apologists and believers may like to characterize the doubters as espousing “simplistic historical narratives” in the face of “ambiguous historical realities,” it should be borne in mind that on the flip side many view the believers and apologists as crafty web weavers, obfuscationists, post-modernists (since they like to assert that we can’t know or be sure of anything as an easy answer to historical conundrums), easily prone to confirmation bias, and people who turn a blind eye to the obvious when convenient.

  20. Andrew S. on July 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    re 17,

    Nathaniel,

    Fair point, but I don’t think that I missed that point (although the “fourth option” you raise is extremely understated and it is indeed not clear at all that you’re raising that up). I think instead that what I’m saying is that the very idea of “doubting the text” is problematic. “Doubting the text” in a Mormon context doesn’t just involve doubting the text — it also involves doubting leadership, doubting institutional narratives about the text and about leadership (contradicting and multifaceted though they may be).

    What’s more…is that within a trilemma context or a Hinckley dichotomy, there are of course several way to “doubt the text.” One is to throw it out. The other (which is apparently obvious from this conversation) is every so subtle, understated, under-observed, under-reported, and unsupported from the text itself: that is the fourth option in the “tri”lemma…the third option in the false dichotomy.

    But the issue is that a lot of your post and your responses start from a position where at some point, people *don’t* doubt these things in a specific way. For example, you write:

    If we take seriously the millennial aspects of Mormonism–that there is a day of Christ’s returning and that it is drawing closer–then it would make sense to apply Matthew 10 to the world at large.

    So the questions would be: why should anyone “take seriously the millennial aspects of Mormonism”…or even “apply Matthew 10 to the world at large”?

    You say, speaking of leaders,

    Either we need leaders or we don’t. I think we do, both for the sake of organization and order and also for the sake of unity and communal identity.

    But I mean — even conceding that we need leaders (but I would suspect that this premise is often sorely battered along with the rest of faith in many crises) — this doesn’t really make the case for any particular leader, or for that fact, any particular organization, any particular unity, any particular communal identity.

    Responding to Dave’s point, which you also mentioned…I think that the trends about people becoming less religious are such that this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are abandoning spirituality in general (although the numbers of atheists/agnostics are also increasing the level of “nones” aren’t all necessarily in that category), BUT one thing I think it does show is that what people *are* skeptical is the need for “leaders” and the need for “institutions.” So, if THAT is the element that people are disaffecting from more than anything else, then it should be of particular concern to groups that emphasize particularly the value of the institution, the leader, the community that one is bound to, etc., etc.,

  21. Vin on July 15, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    “Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?”

    I find this premise ignorant of the vast shift in the way we treat knowledge and belief. The Enlightenment and the introduction of the modern age brought about sweeping changes that affect approaches toward religion, to the extent that it is quite literally impossible to believe in God in 2000 the way one could’ve believed in God in 1500.

  22. larryco_ on July 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Simply put: this is excellent.

  23. Howard on July 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Nathaniel,
    Here’s another way to look at it.

    In regard to OD2 President Kimball wrote:“Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I think few people receive revelations while lounging on a couch. . . . I believe most revelations would come when a man is on his tip toes, reaching as high as he can for something which he knows he needs, and then there bursts upon him the answer to his problems”

    Is revelation desired by our prophets? Are they on their tip toes reaching as high as they can for it? If so are ear piercing limits and missionary age reduction the best we can expect from Prophet Seer and Revelator callings? If a Prophet Seer and Revelator isn’t doing any or all of those things is he magnifying his calling as we are expected to?

  24. Warorpeace on July 15, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Howard,
    I believe that the Third Nephi chapter 18 account is a metaphor for what really happens in the Church. The disciples partake of the sacrament until they are filled BEFORE the rest of the church gets any. This seems rather hierarchal, does it not?

    There are times when members of the church may have insights or concerns that the leaders or “disciples” do not or can not deal with in real time. They must “wait on the brethren” in a sense, wait until they receive the revelation or develop the answers that the church needs. It does take a mature soul to recognize the human weaknesses in church leaders, the awkward structure of the hierarchy, the politics, etc. and remain patient and faithful. But that is another one of those crises or challenges built into the experience of being a Latter-day Saint.

    I’m not sure that any one of us can sit in judgement on a prophet. We can hope they are doing and becoming what the Lord wants. And I’m not so sure that ear piercing and missionary ages were not direct revelations for this time. Little things are sometimes very important.

  25. Warorpeace on July 15, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Nathaniel,
    Thanks for the post.

  26. Howard on July 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Warorpeace,
    Humm, well how does the story of Zelophehad’s daughters approaching Moses to ask God a question about their estate work in your #24 explaination?

  27. Jonathon Sawyer on July 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    I appreciated reading this article. While I understand and agree with Nathaniel Givens’ point that we each have the “inescapable duty of deciding for ourselves,” and his assertion that it is not necessarily that leaders fail to address the root problems of faith challenges, I do think that sometimes the comments of leaders on these types of matters can exacerbate a doubter’s suffering. I am reminded of Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk, “Lord, I Believe” from the April 2013 General Conference. In it, Holland says:

    “Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.”

    Elder Holland is a bright, articulate, passionate, and sincere man. However, despite his good intentions, I think comments like this, for some, can have the opposite effect of what he intends; namely, increasing the guilt experienced by the closet doubter. In a faith tradition such as Mormonism in which religious certainty is esteemed and promoted – testimony meetings, for example – I would argue that it does actually take greater courage to reveal a genuine declaration of doubt than the Church’s highly favored declaration of faith. Elder Holland concludes this section of his talk by issuing what is, in my opinion, a restrictive caveat to healing. Perhaps for some, the road to healing really does begin with the humility and courage it takes to reveal a genuine declaration of doubt amidst a firm culture of faith.

  28. Steve Smith on July 15, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Vin #21, ditto.
    Jonathon Sawyer, thanks for bringing up the Holland quote. I agree that in a culture of faith, a declaration of doubt towards the traditional beliefs doctrine and history would require more moral courage than a declaration of faith. But Elder Holland may be right in some circumstances. For instance, a declaration of faith in the LDS church doctrine from an Arab Muslim female in Saudi Arabia to her family and community would certainly require more moral courage than an open expression of doubt.

  29. Jonathon Sawyer on July 15, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Hi Steve Smith,

    Good point. It all depends on one’s starting place, doesn’t it? Examining a faith crises from different perspectives takes thinking with flexibility and nuance, and LDS Church leaders could do a much better job at that – for the benefit of the Church at large.

  30. Steve Smith on July 15, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Another point that I meant to bring up. Elder Holland is well aware of his target audience, and here I believe he is addressing particularly young impressionable fence-sitters, not so much people who are already firm doubters. He probably expects the latter group to react rather dismissively to what he has to say. But he hopes that his statement might persuade a few of the former group to change direction. In any case, though, I agree that he would be better off using a more nuanced way of expression.

  31. Ned Quimby on July 15, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    I hate most blog posts, but I like this one.

  32. EFF on July 15, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    About 40 years ago, when members of many institutions and organizations (not necessarily religious ones) were experiencing “faith crises,” an economic philosopher by the name of Albert O. Hirschman observed that all dissatisfied adherents are basically confronted with two options: “voice” and “exit.” By “voice” he meant speaking up and working within the organization to bring about change. (I don’t think I need to explain what he meant by exit.) He concluded that the strongest organizations were ones that foster exit as well as voice, that welcome input from their critics but who also realize that at some point it’s best to let certain dissenters go.

    When I first came upon Hirschman’s ideas, I wondered about the extent to which they could be applied to the Church and to those members who have serious questions and doubts. Does the Church encourage those with faith crises to speak up and openly express their concerns? How difficult is the exit option for a member, especially one with a long Mormon pedigree?

    There is actually a third component to Hirschman’s equation: loyalty. Loyalty is key because it holds exit at bay. But loyalty is a problem for the Church for two reasons. First, it means little to a recent convert who suddenly discovers that Joseph had 30+ wives and translated the Book of Mormon by burying his face in a hat and consulting a seer stone. Second, our culture has generally become more fickle. People change jobs with much greater frequency, the value of organized religion is being questioned like never before, and “friends” on Facebook can be dispatched with a single keystroke.

    I haven’t thought all of this through very carefully, but I figured I would throw it out there for everyone’s consideration. In all events, I highly recommend Hirschman’s short work “Exit, Voice and Loyalty.” In addition, Jeremy Adelman has just published a full-length biography of Hirschman called “Worldly Philosopher,” which is excellent.

  33. Warorpeace on July 15, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    Howard,

    It has been a while since i read that account, but if i remember correctly, the daughters waited on the brethren. They took their case and accepted the outcome, even when the judgement was altered somewhat at a later date. But in the long run they received inheritances. Correct?

    The problem that many of us have is that we petition the brethren and expect the answer that we think is correct or timely. And no, I don’t believe that the brethren are infallible. But I do believe that injustices or problems are corrected in a fashion and at a time that God sees fit, and which has little to do with the efforts of the Church’s PR dept!

    Our challenge is patience and dealing with our own efforts at living Christian lives so we also may gain our inheritances. Criticizing church leaders from a distance, without knowing the full ramifications and issues involved is “spiritual backseat driving,” which seems to be in vogue among many Latter-day Saints these days. I guess it is a “sexier” past time than keeping one’s own covenants and loving our fellow human beings.

  34. Andrew S. on July 16, 2013 at 12:05 am

    32

    EFF,

    Have you seen this BCC post by Kristine Haglund about exit, voice, and loyalty?

    I think that she points out pretty well that for the LDS church, exit is not a viable option for criticism.

  35. EFF on July 16, 2013 at 5:18 am

    Andrew, I had not seen Kristine’s post on this topic. I will check it out. Thanks.

  36. Howard on July 16, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Warorpeace,
    Here is the story from Numbers 27 Then came the daughters of Zelophehad…And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying…Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father. And Moses brought their cause before the Lord. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, The daughters of Zelophehad speak right…

    They had easy direct access to Moses and simply approached him at the door of the tabernacle and asked him directly to perform revelatory services for them, he did and reported back that God agreed with them. How can we request and receive similar services? That is place a request with Monson to ask God for us and have him do it and report back to us? Moses was far more accessible than Monson is. We simply do not have the same access to our prophets. A President Hinckley interview gives a clue:

    David Ransom: At present women are not allowed to be priests in your Church…Is it possible that the rules could change in the future..?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: He could change them yes…But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it.

    The history surrounding Official Declarations the only canonized revelation we have after the D&C was published also offer clues. OD1 followed significant agitation by the US government and OD2 followed the civil rights movement.

    So Hinckley’s comments suggest action may be based on agitation and non action in the absence of agitation. Given Monson and the brethren are inaccessible to common members and the OD history, activism (agitation) appears to be the logical solution.

    The problem that many of us have is that we petition the brethren and expect the answer that we think is correct… While this is human nature it goes too far for this discussion because it conflates asking which according to Numbers 27 we have the privilege or right to do with a predetermined answer which is up to God not us. I think most activists would be happy to see the brethren take their case to God and report back the answer in a reasonably timely manner.

  37. Howard on July 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Btw provoking the brethren to good works is not a new idea in Mormonism. Joseph in illustrating the object of the Relief society is reported in the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book to have said the organization was formed that: the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants…

  38. chris on July 16, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Howard,
    You frustration at the lack of a dynamic revelatory environment of the restoration is an area where I sympathize with you.
    Ironically, I think the predication offered up long ago by church leadership themselves — that if we are not careful we will regulate revelation right out of the church, is largely coming to pass.

    We are more interested in crafting programs and rules to follow it seems than coming to know God through study, meditation, service and sacrifice.

    Not that the rules do not matter, as straight is the gate and narrow is the way. However, it does seem as if in our own children of Israel ways we’ve even managed to make an idol out of General Conference — bowing down before the high definition screen for a few hours before we switch the channel back to our favorite show.

    But the point of the revelation is not to look to our leaders in every instance for revelation. So maybe this in part addresses the longing I opened this comment with.

    This crisis, as written, like all crisis, is one of our own making. And while I don’t think many individuals have lost some of the pearls of the restoration, many in the church have. It seems with each individual generation we have to learn and discover these things for ourselves (it was always so). To a large extent our culture is content to stay at the milk level (and presume they are only partaking of “meat” when they discuss ridiculous or presumptuous “doctrines” that have little bearing on what we should do and become here and now).

    We must learn charity before we can have the doctrines of the priesthood distill upon our souls. As a people we’re content to skim the surface of charity before we dig deeper and come to the receive doctrine by revelation.

    Of course, I’m not discount everything our leaders teach as there are often great pearls in their teaching. But by and large, it’s consistent teaching aimed at helping us build a foundation that we can improve line-upon line on. For the most part it feels like we’re still digging out the footings and then promptly kicking dirt back in the holes.

  39. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 16, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    The Book of Mormon is very much a compilation that was assembled by people for whom being believers was a countercultural thing. Nephi and Lehi left Jerusalem because they were in a minority of the followers of true prophets like Jeremiah. Mormon and Moroni lived in an era of general apostacy, in which the members of the Church, who would “not deny the Christ”, are few and far between. All of them “saw our day” and knew how to speak to us because they had faced the same problems. The destruction at the death of Christ, followed by his visit in glory, presages the events that will happen in the Second Coming of Christ. Reading the Book of Mormon, as well as the other Restoration scriptures, fortifies us with narratives of righteous minorities who faced destruction followed by rescue, including Enoch and Noah, Abraham and Moses.

  40. Jim Cobabe on July 16, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    I tend to agree with Elder Holland’s inspired counsel. I always feel as though his remarks are directed personally at me.

    The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.

    Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not!

    None are denying that everyone entertains doubts. Honest expression of our limited faith is far more unique and important to us as individuals and as a community of faithful believers.

  41. Naismith on July 18, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Okay, let’s try a parable about weight loss. Some people are just naturally thin and can eat whatever they want. Others maintain a normal weight by living a very active lifestyle, going to the gym six days a week, taking the stairs whenever possible, and controlling portion size.

    If the naturally thin person says, “I don’t understand what the big deal is–just eat what you want, it will be fine,” That is obnoxious. If they humbly feel that their body shape is a gift they were granted, and they appreciate that not everyone is so blessed, that seems healthy. (Although they may run into problems with osteoporosis later, as their bones haven’t been strengthened by as much weight bearing.)

    If the gym rat says, “It’s people’s fault if they’re fat. If you just follow my diet and work out like I do, you will lose weight,” that is also obnoxious. If they humbly say, “This is what I did, but it doesn’t work for everyone, we’re all different and good luck with finding something that works for you,” that is another matter.

    But the sad reality is that overweight people around them may look at them the same, never giving them a chance to even say what they feel. They point to the person and say, “She has it so easy. She can eat whatever she wants. She has no idea of my struggles.” They don’t see her dragging off to the gym at 5:30 a.m. or going the long way round to avoid going past the doughnuts set out on the receptionists desk at work.

    And unfortunately, we do this to each other at church, too. People going through crises often dismiss others around them without even giving them a chance. They see the finished product and may not appreciate that others may also have gone through their own valleys, and would be willing to listen to the doubters concerns. They may even ridicule them for having never questioned, when they may not have the whole story.

    I also thought Elder Andersen’s Oct ’08 conference talk on “You Know Enough” is very relevant here.

  42. Nathaniel Givens on July 18, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I like your analogy a lot, Naismith.

  43. Cameron N on July 18, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    I disagree somewhat with the title of this post.
    Thomas lived in a world where he saw reality.
    We live in a world where much of what we see is contrived, vain, or synthetic.
    Thus, Thomas’ disbelief was one of trust in vision.
    Our disbelief is one of distrust in everything.