Book Review: The Crucible of Doubt

August 30, 2014 | 50 comments
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Terryl and Fiona Givens, The Crucible of Doubt, Deseret Book, 145 pages.

So imagine that you get to know one of your co-workers and eventually find out that she was raised LDS, but left the church because she moved to a new ward with an epically terrible organist, which resulted in a major faith crisis for her, because how could a church possibly be true if it had an organist that bad?

It is no exaggeration to say that expectations and assumptions can matter more than facts. None of us would leave the church over a bad organist because we were not raised with the expectation that a decent organist was a requirement of the true church. But a lot of Mormons were raised under other assumptions which are now causing a world of hurt. One could ask for no better guides through the thicket of re-examination than Terryl and Fiona Givens. Their new book, The Crucible of Doubt, gently and eruditely explores these bedrock assumptions and suggests alternatives. To give you a feel for the book:

The question may remain, how does one lock onto the propositional assertions of a restored gospel that is also laden with claims about gold plates and the Book of Abraham and a male priesthood and a polygamous past and a thousand other details we may find difficult? Perhaps . . . one might focus on the message rather than the messenger. One might consider that the contingencies of history and culture and the human element will always constitute the garment in which God’s word and will are clothed. And one might refuse to allow our desire for the perfect to be the enemy of the present good. (page 140)

Notice two things: first, unlike most LDS devotional, apologetic, academic, or otherwise “serious” writing, the Givens’ prose is poetic and sometimes lovely. They model what they advocate: seeking not just for logical truth but goodness and beauty. Second, they are not shy about taboo Mormon topics. I will now yank a bunch of quotes completely out of context to give you a feel for some of the book’s edgy content—content that I am equally surprised and thrilled came through Deseret Book:

“ . . . [B. H.] Roberts never found an answer to that question, and it troubled him the rest of his life.” (p7)

“But perhaps providing conclusive answers to all our questions is not the point of true religion.” (p27)

“Biblical inconsistencies, common sense, the Book of Mormon’s own words, and Joseph Smith’s remarks on the subject make it difficult for Mormons to be strict scriptural literalists.” (p56)

“When [Joseph Smith was] not speaking with prophetic authority . . . he claimed no authority at all—which is why his pronouncements on subjects from Lehi’s New World landfall to the prospects of the Kirtland Bank were as liable to error as other men’s.” (p69)

“Airbrushing our leaders . . . is . . . a form of idolatry.” (p70)

“ . . . faith-wrenching practices (polygamy), missteps and errors (Adam-God), and teachings that the Church has abandoned but not fully explained (the priesthood ban). Practices, in other words, that challenge and try one’s faith.” (p74)

“Our history, as portrayed in manuals and curricular materials, has historically been edited to portray Mormons at their best and the world at its worst.” (p80)

I don’t wish to create the impression, however, that the bulk of the book consists of engagement with the specifics of troublesome issues like polygamy; it does not. Instead, the Givens’ project is to create a deep structure (perhaps we could call it “deep apologetics”) that supports a world where the above issues are problems for some people.

Let me explain: it is not infrequent to hear in Mormon circles something like this: “Either Joseph Smith was a prophet or he wasn’t. Either the Book of Mormon was from God or it wasn’t. Either this is the true church or it isn’t. You either accept it or you don’t.” Well, if your ultimate goal is less competition for parking when you are running late for sacrament meeting, this is a profitable tack to take. But if your goal is to find a way for people who struggle with these issues to remain in in the church, please don’t ever say anything like this ever again. Because if you present these binary oppositions as the operating assumptions of Mormonism, people who see any flaw in Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon or the church will be free on Sunday mornings. What the Givens do instead is to present underlying assumptions that can accommodate the tricky bits of our past and present; they “reexamine a number of paradigms that may make the quest for faith and the path of discipleship more painful and tortuous than it need be” (p10). So, for example, one chapter covers our approach to scripture and gently debunks expectations of perfection, replacing them with a link between a human author and a human product. Which may not sound all that revolutionary, except that it is so beautifully and faithfully and intelligently done that, even if you didn’t need any convincing on this point, you will enjoy the explication (“God may have written with His finger on Mt. Sinai, but it is Paul who writes a formal epistle to the saints in Corinth . . . all [writers] partake in varying degrees of heavenly inspiration; all bear the human traces of those who felt the Spirit . . . all are filtered through an individual’s mind and cultural environment” [p57].).

The one note that fell flat for me was their chapter on responding to situations where “God’s anointed leader propounds what is an error” (p74). If I am reading them correctly—and perhaps I am not, for one disadvantage of their poetic and evocative style is that it doesn’t exactly read like one of Elder Oaks’ legal-brief style talks—they argue that when God delegates authority to certain individuals, they then enjoy “God’s sanction for a decision made in error” (p76). In other words, a leader may err, but God still “honors the words and actions of His servants” (p76).

I don’t know about this. If (again the “if”) I am reading this right, they would need to conclude that, say, God did not intend for women of African descent to be denied access to temple blessings, but once church leaders had enacted that policy, God then supported it. (While this gets pretty inside baseball I think a case could be made that an individual church member might do better to act as if all decisions are approved by God, but that is a rather different claim than that all decisions are in actual fact, even if sort of retro-actively, approved by God.) And I’m not sure how this idea would mesh with the previous chapter, “The Perils of Hero Worship,” which is a deeply marvelous criticism of the saints for worshiping their leaders: it seems to me that if there is someone in our midst who can cause God to change his mind about stuff (by retroactively approving of it), we might actually want to consider worshiping him.

But that’s my only major objection. Outside of that chapter, the book is truly a marvel. (If you read my review of their last book, The God Who Weeps, you’ll probably sense that it left me a little awestruck at their novel approach.) If anyone can talk down someone who is having a faith crisis—or provide the kind of theological foundation that might prevent one in the first place—it is Terryl and Fiona Givens. But this book is not just for doubters. Others who appreciate a thoughtful approach to Mormonism, molded in shared measure by prophets and poets, will benefit from this lovely book. There are no theological Twinkies here.

 

Review copy provided by publisher.

 

 

50 Responses to Book Review: The Crucible of Doubt

  1. Howard on August 30, 2014 at 10:08 am

    The problem with all apologetic approaches is that they assume the truth of the Church and therefore place the blame on questioning members because it’s impossible for the Church to be anything else but the one and only. This book does the same thing but in a nicer way.

  2. Matt W. on August 30, 2014 at 10:27 am

    A couple questions for you.

    1. If we push out the idea of never saying “never say the book of mormon is true or it isn’t”, does that mean it is irrelevent whether the Book of Mormon is true. If the church is a faith community, and the book of Mormon is the keystone of that faith paradigm, does someone who doesn’t share that faith in the book of Mormon really stand as an insider in that faith community?

    2. What is your solution for God’s allowance of error from his apostles and prophets. How do you allow for them to be wrong without undermining their authority? Also, say in the example of denying a women temple access, based on skin color, do you think this wrongness is sin or ignorance or what?

  3. Julie M. Smith on August 30, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Howard, one of the things that stood out about this book to me is terms of the “church versus doubter” conflict inherent in a faith crisis, how much the Givens required “the church” (meaning: its teachings, culture, assumptions, etc.) to give and how little they expected the doubter to give, at least relative to virtually all other apologetic works of which I am aware.

    Matt W.,

    1. No, I don’t think it is irrelevant. I just think that binary choices that can push people out are generally a bad idea. As long as we can inculcate an ethic where no one preaches/teaches contrary to church teachings in the context of executing their callings, there is plenty of room for people who doubt things to be fully involved in the life of the church.

    2. I don’t have good answers to these questions, and not for lack of trying. :) Let me know if you figure it out.

  4. EFF on August 30, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Though I have not read this book, I know that when Givens has given fireside talks on this subject he often fails to distinguish between two types of doubts: (1) doubts with respect to church doctrines, teachings, and disturbing episodes in church history, and (2) doubts regarding the integrity of an institution and its leaders who have been something less than forthright when it comes to acknowledging their missteps and those of their predecessors and have often attacked those who have had the temerity to publish articles on topics the church believes are off limits. Givens seems to dwell primarily on the first type to the exclusion of the second. But the second category, I believe, is the most important and the one that really needs to be confronted head on. Michael Ash, in an article in the 2006 edition of Sunstone, articulated the problem quite well:

    “From my more than two decades of dealing with “ex” (or struggling) Mormons, I’ve found that feelings of betrayal and being lied to are the most frequent emotions felt by those who leave the Church for “intellectual” reasons. When feelings of betrayal overpower belief, faith is often lost and the original challenging discovery is no longer the issue; the greater issue becomes the feelings of infidelity and deception—feelings that are not easily overcome, even if serious answers are forthcoming later on. A testimony lost at this stage can be hard to restore. What might have been sufficient answers earlier be- come insufficient once resentment—as a result of presumably being deceived—replaces faith. As LDS scholar Kevin Barney once remarked to me, “People can absorb hard facts when presented in a context of faith. But they can’t absorb the feeling of being lied to.”

    I, for one, have been able to come terms with most my doubts that fall into the first category. However, while my faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ does not waiver (though I do, at times, stray from the straight and narrow), may faith in the institution that purports to proclaim that gospel has taken a serious hit.

  5. J. Stapley on August 30, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    I think you are reading them correctly. I’ve heard Terryl argue for what could be called a Prophet Command Theory of ethics. I’d agree that the governing quorums hold legal and divine authority to govern the church. I’m less inclined to think that God ratifies all they do.

  6. Julie M. Smith on August 30, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    EFF, I think you articulate the problem well. The Givens don’t address it at length, although they do frankly say that in the past, the church suppressed history but is aiming for transparency now. Although if one is willing to assemble the pieces, they do provide them: expect mistakes, tolerate errors, etc. They also outline some positives about the institution that might help balance the sense of betrayal by the institution which you articulate.

  7. EFF on August 30, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Julie. The sense of betrayal of which you speak has not blinded me to the institution’s many virtues and noteworthy accomplishments. I’m a lawyer, by training, so I tend to compartmentalize—giving credit where credit is due, but not allowing the positives to excuse the flaws.

    Along with J. Stapley, I share your disquietude regarding the Givens’ apparent assertion that we should “honor the words and actions of [God's] servants” even when they err. Such a notion has an Orwellian quality to it that I cannot reconcile with the gospel principle of agency. The fact that God tolerates the mistakes of his earthly representatives—something He has been compelled to do since the days of Abraham—is not evidence of celestial ratification.

    Having said all this, I will read their book, and I’m also looking forward to the publication of Terryl’s new book, “Wrestling with the Angel,” on Mormon doctrine/theology/thought.

  8. Ben S on August 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    “Because if you present these binary oppositions as the operating assumptions of Mormonism, people who see any flaw in Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon or the church will be free on Sunday mornings.”

    I’m not sure the problem is in the binaries, as much as the fact that the binaries have been implicitly linked to all kinds of assumptions, e.g. “IF Joseph Smith is a prophet, THEN it must follow that….” fill in the blank with your own assumptions about history, scripture, etc. “If Joseph Smith was a prophet, THEN no mistakes were or could ever be made, and everything should be warm and fuzzy and harmonistic and comfortable.”

    I don’t think the answer to a binary has any necessary relation to most of those things we’d fill in the blanks.

  9. Ben S on August 30, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Also, I think this is must be absolutely groundbreaking for Deseret Book to be publishing something that even MENTIONS things like Adam-God in a way that isn’t entirely dismissive or shallow. Props to them.

  10. Carrie on August 30, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    I love the Givens prose and generosity in reaching a long arm out to those of us who find ourselves in a dark place we never imagined. I thank them for their willingness to not pretend we don’t exist or that we should just try harder. The struggle comes though when the idea of the One True Church comes from a man we can now give latitude towards. Prophets, over the pulpit, have said the church can stand up to scrutiny. So what can we do when the puzzle breaks over the scrutiny? I feel as if the past six years of my life has just shown me how robbed I was. Every thing that was was ever me was bound up in the legitimacy of the church. Now that is all broken on the table. Yes, some pieces I can grab, restore, rearrange and make something with – but others like say the engine are totally useless at present. I don’t even know how to imagine life after this. That’s all gone. I guess this means I am more in the Michael Ash category. The only way to function in this is to fake it or walk away. You can’t not believe, but still belong. Thanks Julie for your review. I love to listen to their voices and read their writing style. I gobbled up the God That Weeps. I had hoped it would usher in a heart to a church that needs heart right now. I think after reading your review I will pass on the next two books. I just can’t hurt anymore. Thanks.

  11. Kevin Barney on August 30, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Well done, Julie (you’ve been on fire lately!). I haven’t read the book, but I agree in that I admire their general approach but I wouldn’t buy that particular divine ratification theory.

  12. Ken Kyle on August 30, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    We have a friend who found out about immoral conduct of his bishop and reported it to the stake president. When the stake president told him to support his bishop he left the Church in a huff. Shortly after the bishop was excommunicated for immoral conduct. A new bishop was installed and everything is fine except our friend is still out of the Church.

  13. Dave on August 30, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Fine review, Julie. Might we distinguish between objective apologetics (trying to answer all the questions) and subjective apologetics (which asks why we think the way we do about these issues and suggests different ways to think about things). And Team Givens includes both doubters and the faithful in the “we” part of how we think about things — the rethinking is needed all across the spectrum. Great that Deseret published this; it will reach a much large audience.

  14. Terryl and Fiona Givens on August 30, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    It is generally bad form for an author to respond to a review or intervene in a third party discussion of his/her book. However, in the present case regarding Julie Smith’s review, when we see a line of interpretation that begins with some uncertainty and then culminates with another poster comparing our position about the principle of delegation with the sustaining of a bishop’s immoral conduct, we think it’s time to add some clarity.
    The problem we are trying to confront is this: given the fact A, that all office holders in the church will inevitably make decisions, issue callings, and perform actions inconsistent with God’s will (unless you are a proponent of absolute infallibility), and B, the fact that God foresaw this and asked us to sustain his leaders “in all patience and faith” just the same and C, that fact that He apparently sustains them in spite of their imperfect execution of his will (as in “I am with thee even unto the end”)—we say given these three facts, it seems a reasonable inference that we will find ourselves at times being called upon to sustain decisions made imperfectly. The question is, will we be condemned or blessed for sustaining decisions and actions of our leaders that were not in keeping with God’s intent or plan? And does God “ratify” error? Or, as we put it in the book, “how far” does this principle extend? We think a good test case for this principle is the priesthood ban. Most readers of the Gospel Topics treatment of this ban interpret the ban as a prophetic misstep. Let’s assume for discussion’s sake it was. Did God “ratify” that ban? (We do not use that word). What we do say, is that God “anticipates … the foreseeable range of His leaders’ errors.” And that those leaders who strain to fulfil God’s will in “sincerity” of heart will find themselves sustained by God in their authority. Their decisions are to that extent “honored” by the Lord, in that he does not as a general rule revoke their keys when they err. (“Honor” here is in Webster’s sense of “fulfill an obligation to,” not “esteem”). Or as we phrase it, prophets who err “within bounds the Lord has set” (in the language we quote) continue to possess the keys of their office. We also say “authority cannot make facts to be facts” (so no, we do not believe in a “Prophet Command Theory of Ethics”).

    And what of those of us who sustained a prophet in his error (assuming that it was)? Again, we have tried to answer this question with caution: “Those who rejected [the ban] outright may have done so believing the racial basis for exclusion too egregious an instance of human error to have any Divine sanction to it. Others accepted the teaching with varying degrees of consternation and perplexity but persevered “with all patience and faith,” trusting that greater clarity would one day come. And, of course, far too many were untroubled, sharing in the same cultural prejudices and presuppositions that may have influenced the perpetuation of the practice. No simple formula resolves the tensions that do—and should—exist between faith in the principle of inspired leadership and personal responsibility to follow counsel without stifling conscience.” Blind or unthinking obedience to a leader, as Young emphatically reiterated, is never righteous obedience.

    Readers may still disagree with the position we have clarified above. We just wanted to be sure that any disagreements are based on what we are intending to say. And we accept responsibility for not expressing our points with greater clarity the first time. If as generous and gifted a reader as Julie was uncertain of our meaning, we could obviously have done better.

    Terryl and Fiona Givens

  15. Julie M. Smith on August 30, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Carrie, I’m sorry. I really am. I don’t know how old you are, but my sense is that there is sort of a lost generation in the church of people raised with sanitized history who later encounter more history and can’t process it and have to cope with feelings of betrayal. I don’t think this will happen to the current YM/YW–who are learning about, for example, multiple versions of the First Vision in seminary this year.

  16. Julie M. Smith on August 30, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Terryl and Fiona, thanks for weighing in. And, far from being bad form, I am pleased that you have engaged the conversation and appreciate the further explanation.

  17. Carrie on August 30, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Julie – I am a happy 50 year old. I don’t know if I fit your generation guess, but I just might.

    I think I also may fit a different category, the church history stuff doesn’t bother me. I have a brother who is a history teacher, and a grandmother who raised me to love history in all it’s messiness. I think my struggle is the church I thought we were heading towards got lost. The scrutiny I was referring to is the reference that the ugly messiness is somehow not real. To me the messiness is a power tool, that shouldn’t be swept away under a rug. I guess I took the idea from the review and then the comments that – this book was going to be another apologist piece that inferred if “we” didn’t see it the same way the problem was ours. I see from reading Terryl and Fiona’s post and re-reading just yours – I made an unsound judgement based on a broken heart.

    In my fantasy world I would probably attend the church of the Givens’ if one existed just to resuscitate my soul. With that I take back my harsh claim that I won’t read the books, I may be just the person they are trying to find.

    Thank you for extending a hand of kindness. I am so tired and I tend to flood over. This is the second time this week I have done this.

    Terryl and Fiona – I apologize for my snap judgement of your work. Thank you, as I said in my first post, for reaching out to us. It means so much not to be dismissed completely.

    To everyone on the board and the other board that I lost my patience on, I will take a nice long break. It’s clear this season isn’t going to pass fast or easy.

  18. Julie M. Smith on August 30, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Carrie, I wish I could give you a hug.

    I do think you should read the book–I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

  19. EFF on August 30, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Carrie, I for one believe you owe no one an apology. You were candid, honest and open about a subject that cuts to the core of your soul—and ours. For that, I thank you and sincerely wish you continued happiness on the path you have chosen.

  20. Anon for this on August 30, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks for this review and thanks to Terryl and Fiona for their clarification. I missed the chance to attend one of their faith/doubt seminars when it came through Salt Lake, and I was so disappointed. Consequently, I’ve really been looking forward to this book, though I felt a little hesitant about reading it after I read this review because of the chapter mentioned about supporting church leaders when they err. But the clarification was very helpful. I think I will pick this up and see if it can help me since it seems like nothing else can. I’m two or so years into my faith transition and feeling very drained. Thank you to anyone who tries to make it easier rather than harder. It’s so hard already, not knowing what I believe anymore or who I can trust.

  21. Nate on August 31, 2014 at 2:52 am

    Does God ratify, sustain, grudgingly allow, or condemn mistakes to be made by church leaders?

    My view is strongly in the ratify camp: “whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same.”

    I think we have a too anthropomorphic view of God, “a God who weeps.” We see Him in our own image, we imagine Him with the same outrage, the same dogmatism, the same ethics, the same rationality and common sense as humans have.

    But I think God is far more than this. He is a playful, unexpected God, one who deliberately misleads. He likes to manifest himself in the form of “stumbling blocks” “rocks of offence,” he likes to call “the weak things, the unlearned and despised.” He is not an efficient God, but a 40 years in the wilderness God.

    I see God as a great, celestial fiddle player, who is constantly sight-reading the music of eternity as it comes before His eyes and making beautiful music out of it, no matter how dark, or how difficult. I see him as a healer, not a preventer. He lets s**t happen, and then makes it marvelous. He wants us to develop divine Stockholm Syndrome, to say as Job, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”

    I think we are way too uptight about divinely authorized prophets making mistakes. Making mistakes is the essence of life on earth, whether we are a prophet or an individual. Letting go, trusting, being humble, submissive, laughing, voiding, forgiving, that is God’s plan for uptight liberal outrage. And for the conservatives, his plan is to present himself as black and white as possible. It’s a wonderful game worthy of a God.

  22. Hedgehog on August 31, 2014 at 8:13 am

    I’ve commented elsewhere (likely one of Nate’s posts on W&t) to the effect that I am firmly in the not ratified camp. It was an idea I first heard as a student from an institute instructor, and I disagreed then. To the extent that the book itself is not clear as to the actual meaning of the authors that’s a big problem for me; meaning I would not feel happy about recommending it.
    I’m still chewing over the explanation given in the comments, but am not wholly comfortable with that either.
    Which is to say, thank you for bringing that out in the review.

  23. p on August 31, 2014 at 11:59 am

    “I think we are way too uptight about divinely authorized prophets making mistakes. Making mistakes is the essence of life on earth, whether we are a prophet or an individual.”

    Typical entitled Mormon white male talk. How’s the view from way up there, Nate?

    Let’s do a quick review of these inconsequential “mistakes” and have a good laugh with your jolly god: 1) Priesthood was withheld from Black members for no good reason, and this contributed heavily to a pervasive racism still alive and well in the church today; 2) the Church’s treatment of homosexuals over many decades has been based on erroneous understanding and has been directly and indirectly causal to thousands of LDS divorces and thousands of LDS suicides. It continues to this day; 3) females in the Church have been ghettoized, and attempts to address this degrading state of affairs are met with ridicule, silence or excommunication; 4) the Hierarchy is composed of ultra-right-wing Republicans who seek common cause on social issues, of all things, with Catholics still up to their necks in an international child rape tragedy, and with snake handlers from Dixie; 5) The Book of Mormon is not literal history (as even the Givens seem to suggest in their MormonStories podcast) contrary to almost two centuries of prophetic declarations, and the Lamanites are nowhere to be found; 6) the Book of Abraham is not a literal translation of, apparently, anything.

  24. Carrie on August 31, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    My question is Nate – what’s the point of having a new church then. If God ratifies everything then lets just drop religion. If there are no supreme rights and wrongs and everything is “from a certain point of view” – then there is no need for the leaders, just individual efforts and God will sort it all at the end.

  25. Anon for this on August 31, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    I hope you’re wrong, Nate, because I can live with having lost faith in church leaders. But if God does indeed ratify their mistakes and errors that cause pain and suffering to thousands of people, then there is no longer a reason for me to have faith in God. That is not the just and loving God I believe in. It’s one thing for him to allow the mistakes and patiently wait to correct them. That’s the learning process. It’s another thing entirely for him to ratify acts of racial injustice or misogyny in the name of supporting his leaders. It’s like the divine right idea that kings used to have – that whatever they did was right because they were ordained of God (supposedly). I hope that isn’t anymore true for the brethren than it was for those kings. Because if it is true, I can’t trust that God is merciful, loving, or just anymore. And my trust in him is the last lifeline I’m clinging to right now. So I devoutly hope he doesn’t approve of incorrect choices that can detrimentally effect so many of his other children.

  26. ji on August 31, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    God allows everyone to make mistakes. He allows fathers and mothers to make mistakes against their children. He allows children to make mistakes against their parents and their siblings. An yet, in all of this, family is important. We honor our father and mother, imperfect as they may be — and in doing so, we become more perfect ourselves. We honor the Lord’s servants in the church, imperfect as they may be — and in doing so, we become more perfect ourselves.

    “I think we have a too anthropomorphic view of God, “a God who weeps.” We see Him in our own image, we imagine Him with the same outrage, the same dogmatism, the same ethics, the same rationality and common sense as humans have.”

    So true. To that list, I would add modern sensibilities.

  27. Nate on August 31, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    “Ratify mistakes and errors.” It’s more complicated than I stated. On a purely personal level, I believe God judges us based on the light and knowledge we are given. If Brigham Young instituted the priesthood ban honestly, given the best light and knowledge he had, then he is under no condemnation, even if it was a mistake.

    But mistakes have natural consequences, even if God doesn’t judge us personally for making them. Every parent screws up their children, even though they were doing their best. God doesn’t judge the parent for being a control freak, because that was the best they could do given the light and knowledge He gave them. But the child must still bear the brunt of the mistake, which has natural consequences the parents did not intend. That is the child’s inheritance of a fallen world, not their parents fault. Their parents screw them up, and they are commanded to honor their parents.

    It is the same with the church. God gives us all different levels of light and knowledge, and we do our best. If a prophet has done his best, if his heart is turned towards the limited light and knowledge he was given, God ratifies what he has done. He is righteous. But Brigham Young’s definition of “righteous” might conflict with someone else’s light and knowledge, someone else’s definition of “righteous.” God lives in both worlds simultaneously.

    Brigham Young’s righteous segregation of Cain was inspired by the Book of Abraham, obedience to scripture. But his righteousness had unintended natural consequences that became very stark post-civil rights era. It was based on a misunderstanding of scripture, or an uninspired scripture, but it was honest. His honesty is the only thing that is important in my mind, and because he is honest, I honor his authority, and I believe God ratifies his decisions.

    The natural consequences of mistakes are the very essence of mortality: they produce suffering and trial. God built an intense amount of suffering into the essence of his creation. Misogyny and racism pale in comparison with the torturous instinct God built into the cat who plays with the mouse, or the Tasmanian Devil which procreates through rape. The innocent natural world screams in a continual torment of pain through God’s ordained survival of the fittest. Our God creates suffering, and then He comes down and experiences that suffering as Christ.

  28. Nate on August 31, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Well said ji. As in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods:”

    …Honor their mistakes, fight for their mistakes, one another’s terrible mistakes…no one is alone…while we’re seeing our side, maybe we forgot, they are not alone.

  29. Anonymous on August 31, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    “He wants us to develop divine Stockholm Syndrome”

    Nate, I really, really hope you’re wrong. This comment made me upset to my stomach. I don’t believe that “our God creates suffering”. We create suffering, He alleviates it. I don’t believe that He “deliberately misleads.” We misunderstand, He corrects our course. God is good. God is great. I may be accused of creating God in my own image, but I will never, ever underestimate His goodness and love for us.

  30. Owen on August 31, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Nate makes a good point about the violence of the natural world. Humans are odd in not usually dying as something’s dinner.

  31. J. Stapley on August 31, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    I appreciate the Givens’ reply, and I hope that my comment was not viewed as being pejorative. I number of years ago, I responded to a paper given by Gary Bergera at MHA where he outlined several church leaders’ statements that seamed to approach a prophetic analogue to Divine Command Theory. I had some critiques of his paper, but it is clear that there is a strand of what one might call a “Prophet Command Theory” of ethics within Mormonism.

    I’m not sure how much such an ethical model really relates to facts. Moreover, as mentioned, I believe that church leaders hold divine authority to govern the church. Julie and I once had an exchange where we riffed on the idea that the church is like a car or a bus. Only the church president or his representatives have the “keys” (if you will) to drive the vehicle. How he drives, where he drive, or scrapes along the way are largely irrelevant to whether we should be in the vehicle. However, when we start to debate whether or not specific actions by the driver are good or right, requires an ethical analysis. I’m not satisfied (and perhaps neither are the Givens) that the divine authority to drive translates into a divine ethical imprimatur of how and where one drives.

    That said, there is much to be gained from a position of empathy, and support. Arrington once published a bit of the [forthcoming] GQC diary, that I think is useful here:

    I saw Joseph Smith the Prophet do things which I did not approve of; and yet…I thanked God that He would put upon a man who had these imperfections the power and authority which He placed upon him…for I knew I myself had weaknesses and I thought there was a chance for me. These same weaknesses…I knew were in Heber C. Kimball, but my knowing this did not impair them in my estimation. I thanked God I saw these imperfections.

  32. Alison Moore Smith on September 1, 2014 at 12:49 am

    I cannot tell you how envious I am that you got a copy to review. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Can’t wait to get it.

  33. Stephen R. Marsh on September 1, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Well, linking to my comments on this on facebook did not work well at all.

    https://www.facebook.com/stephen.r.marsh/posts/10154591514350523

    Hope that works better (and someone is kind enough to delete the post with the failed link).

  34. Tom D. on September 1, 2014 at 9:15 am

    When the Givens suggest that we focus more on the message rather than the messenger I wonder if they would extend this advice to Jesus? Based on my developing understanding of the spirit world, both pre- and post-mortal, it appears that the primary message for each of us to incorporate into our lives is the message of love. It is doubtful that the entity we call Jesus has any desire to be given more importance as the messenger over this message that he came to teach us. Specifically, it is doubtful that Jesus has established a church having his name and requires membership in that church in order to be “exalted” into God’s kingdom as opposed to a person living a life of love regardless of any particular religious affiliation. My understanding is that when everyone dies they have the opportunity to go to the light and experience God’s love regardless of their belief, or lack thereof, while in their mortal bodies. Some may deny this opportunity, but it is there for them whenever they choose to accept it. When we go through a life review, the primary emphasis seems to be on how we have shown love to our fellow human beings, not our outward accomplishments, however laudable they may have been.

    To the extent that the Givens emphasize the love that we should show to each other over the necessity of membership in the church, I support them in their efforts.

  35. Steve Smith on September 1, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks for the review, Julie. It was superb. It has convinced me to buy the book.

    I do have a couple of issues to bring up, and I haven’t read any of the comments, so I don’t know if these have been brought up.

    1) We are forced to confront binary questions in relation to LDS church doctrine and history quite often. For instance, either there were people who existed in somewhere in the American continents between 2500 BCE and 400 CE who originated some, if not all, of the words and ideas of the Book of the Mormon, which were then conveyed through Joseph Smith, or there were not. Some may choose to circumvent such a question, but when confronted, there is no in-between answer or possible centrist position, it is either yes or no. And it is not just members pushing binary questions, it is church leadership itself.

    2) What appears to be missing in the Givenses narrative is an answer to highly pertinent question, that if addressed would give all the more value to their book. The question is ‘who cares?’ Meaning, why should anyone care at all about trying to hold out hope for the truthfulness of the traditional LDS church narrative at all? Why should anyone worry if they have doubts about it? The Givenses portray doubt as this sort of negative force that should be avoided and overcome with belief and faith. I do agree that doubt, when meant as a lack of confidence in one’s abilities to emotionally confront challenges, is a negative force that needs to be overcome. I would also agree that when doubt is meant as a lack of conviction about the existence of any sort of true morality or proper order of living, doubt needs to be eschewed and in its place seeds of hope towards the existence of such need to be planted. However, when doubt is meant as a simple lack of credulity in a set of a propositions about the reality of nature and the cosmos and the history of how things came to be, I then see doubt as a simple fact of life. For by accepting as true a proposition, you inherently doubt the truthfulness of all other propositions that deny the truthfulness of proposition you accepted or propositions that are logically inconsistent with it. If I accept as true the proposition that God’s love is unconditional, then by implication I doubt the proposition that God’s love is conditional. If I accept as true the proposition that Jesus is the son of God, then I inherently doubt the proposition laid out in the Qur’an that it is blasphemy to believe that Jesus is the son of God. Suppose that ancient Greek religion were to make a comeback in the US and people began believing so firmly in the literal existence of Zeus and the veracity of what people had long referred to as Greek mythology, that they began investing large sums of money in the construction of temples and statues in praise of Zeus and began crafting legislation that reflected the moral principles of ancient Greek religion. Suppose they pressured you as a Mormon to accept such a belief and adapt your worldview of nature and morality around the new religious trend. Might you express doubt in the existence of Zeus and the reality of the claims of ancient Greek religion? Would doubt of such propositions be an inherently negative feeling? Would you agree with those who cast you as being in the crucible of doubt?

  36. Julie M. Smith on September 1, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Steve Smith:

    1. There are binary questions–you are correct. But they do not (should not) require you to assume a conclusion: “if you think the BoM is ahistorical, then you should leave the church.” The problem is more in the mandated conclusion than in the binary itself.

    2. “The Givenses portray doubt as this sort of negative force that should be avoided and overcome with belief and faith.” I didn’t get that from the book. I’ll be curious what you think after you read the chapter on living with uncertainty.

  37. Jadan on September 1, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Julie:

    I appreciate your review of the Givens’ book and their attempts to offer a bridge to faith crisis and faith. However, I believe that the Givens and other apologists continually suffer from burden of proof fallacy problems. When one makes a truth claim, the burden of proof is always on the claimant. Christian apologists in general and Mormon apologists specifically want to shift this to the doubter forcing the doubter to prove that God doesn’t exist, that Christ isn’t as they claim, or that Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet. I believe they do this because they cannot sustain their burden to prove their case. This leads to use of fear of death and eternal consequences to scare people in line. The Givens still base their book on the assumption of truth thereby continuing to blame the victim, however in a nice way.

    What if I said that God appeared to me and that He said that Joseph Smith invented Mormonism? Wouldn’t I be put to task by everyone? What if I then say that God anticipated unbelief in my claims and told me to tell everyone that they will be damned to Hell if they don’t believe me – that faith is required in my claim first – and that an answer will come later, after you follow me out of Mormonism?

  38. N. W. Clerk on September 1, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    “When one makes a truth claim, the burden of proof is always on the claimant.”

    Prove it!

  39. Julie M. Smith on September 1, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    ” . . . want to shift this to the doubter forcing the doubter to prove that God doesn’t exist, that Christ isn’t as they claim, or that Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet . . .”

    I’m guessing you haven’t read this book. This is not what they do.

    Instead, they address people who have some reasons to believe in God/Christ/JS-as-prophet but also some doubts about those things. They provide a framework for them to remain active in the faith *with* their doubts.

    If that kind of thing doesn’t appeal to you, this isn’t the book for you. And that’s fine. But comments that make completely baseless assumptions about the book based on other entries in the genre of apologetics aren’t really helpful.

  40. Steve Smith on September 1, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Julie (36),

    1. Yes, one doesn’t have to act in any prescribed way simply by virtue of beliefs. Someone doesn’t have to leave the church or join the church because they accept the Book of Mormon as an ancient or nineteenth century text. But I make the point because I often hear from the intellectual Mormon community the proposition that we should stop viewing everything as black or white. I resonate with that attitude to a degree, but we do have to recognize that there are some questions and issues where a centrist or nuanced position is simply not logically plausible. I’ve had this discussion with quite a few LDS intellectuals about this, including on the T&S blog, and they surprisingly do not take too kindly to me pointing this out. But it is what it is.

    2. Perhaps I’m speaking too soon about the Givens’ position regarding doubt. I’ll be sure to thoroughly read their chapter on living in uncertainty. However, based on my observations of their words and actions over the past couple of years, I get the strong sense that they are on a campaign to help people with faith crises by persuading them to remain active in the LDS church. To reiterate my point, I’m wondering why people must remain in a state of suspended judgment over some issues related to LDS church doctrine in history? I suppose that is a plausible way of dealing with a faith crisis. And it is good advice for those who want to maintain a connection to the LDS church. But I’m curious about what the Givenses would have to say about the idea that adaptation to a different set of beliefs in which continued activity in the LDS church and reconciliation of its central claims isn’t presupposed or obligatory might be a suitable remedy to a faith crisis. In other words, why devote so much mental and emotional energy to remaining attached to a belief system that is giving you lots of doubts anyway? I haven’t heard them address that question yet and I don’t know if they do in the book.

  41. Julie M. Smith on September 1, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Steve Smith, I think they do address it. If I recall correctly, their point is that anyone who has had what we usually call “faith-promoting experiences” and then leaves the church will then need to deal with those and devote mental and emotional energy to reconciling their previous faith-promoting experiences with their new outlook.

  42. Lew Scannon on September 2, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    I get nervous when I hear (far too often) that we should follow our leaders even when they are wrong and, further, that we will be blessed for that sort of obedience. Personally, I find it difficult to believe that the perpetrators of the Mountain Meadows Massacre will receive divine blessings for their willingness to murder innocent men, women, and children. Rather, I think they will be held responsible for their lack of courage in standing up for what they knew was right. We need to realize that the world is not binary. We don’t just deal with “right” and “wrong.” There are varying degrees of error and of evil. It is one thing to sustain my bishopric when they call someone who is rather inadequate to fulfill a particular calling. It is another thing altogether to follow a Church leader who instructs me to do something I find morally reprehensible. We all have to choose our battles in life, including those involving our obedience to Church authority. Where we draw the line is the only relevant question we need to answer. And for each of us the answer may be different.

  43. Jared vdH on September 2, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    Jadan (37),

    While I appreciate that for some the threat of death, hell, and outer darkness are motivating factors in choosing to join the Church, or any religion, it is not my motivation and I can honestly never remember a time when fear was the motivating factor behind any decision I have made related to my Church activity. I also don’t personally remember ever using this kind of reasoning when I taught as a missionary, though I’m sure that some do. I suppose I may be an outlier in your scenario.

    If you made the claims you posited in your comment I would have no issue with you. You are welcome to believe whatever you wish to believe and share it with whoever you wish to share it. I’d prefer you didn’t do so on Church property or called up people using lists of members obtained from Church rolls, since this could be seen as a tacit endorsement of your views, but otherwise, you’re free to do as you like.

  44. Carey Foushee on September 2, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Jadan (37),

    “When one makes a truth claim, the burden of proof is always on the claimant.”

    IMHO this is really the crux of the misunderstanding of what actually constitutes a testimony. A testimony is not suppose to be grounded in signs which are then subjected to truth claims. Nobody is making those kind of claims here, so you’re conclusion that we must provide proof doesn’t really apply. Now I realize that you might simply reject any knowledge that isn’t gained except through that method and if thats the case I can totally sympathize. Its not easy to subject oneself to this other way of approaching truth.

    A real testimony is grounded in the weakness of ones personal experiences with the divine. Remember the seed is planted within us which prevents it from being a compelling piece of evidence for someone else who wants external proof before they will believe. This also leads to the unfortunate inevitability that in order to gain a testimony one must work it out individually. This can be tough stuff for some of us (including me) thus the need for a community that shows a lot of compassion and concern with those performing this kind of work.

  45. Adam G. on September 3, 2014 at 7:09 am

    *they argue that when God delegates authority to certain individuals, they then enjoy “God’s sanction for a decision made in error”*

    At the basic, anto-Donatist level, everybody would agree with this. If the bishop ordains someone when they shouldn’t have (perhaps this someone has serious unresolved sin, but a busy, weary bishop who doesn’t want to cause problems shakes off the whispers that he should probe further), presumably everyone would agree that the ordainee’s sacramental acts are still valid. But there is no way of reading that other than God sanctioning/accepting the erroneous decision.

    Fundamentally, we have all been delegated authority from God to act and he holds himself hostage to all of our decisions.

  46. hakobyan melsida-Armenia, Gyumri branch, historic on September 10, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    i am very happy that i read the BOOk of MorMon,i read it many times and i am very happy that my two sons and my dauther was been all time missioners and preached in Ukrain, where now is war, they preached and called everybody to read this book, which is very miracle book;it changed their lifes and we are all happy that we are Mormons,we call to everybody, who wants to introduce with us ,let them to read The BOOK of MORMON,VIVA JOSETH SMITH AND HIS FAMILY! ALELUYA to the Lord and HIs SON JESUS CHRIST!VIVA OUR PROPHET TOMAS MONSON!THE TEMBLE IS THE LORD”S home o11!n the home!Our testy is strog and nobody can distroy it!we tell about its by the name of Jesus Christ,AMEN.

  47. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 30, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Hugh Nibley was not reticent to point to the flaws in the thinking of Mormons and Mormon leaders. At the same time, he was ferocious in defending the gospel and the Church as its institutional guardian.
    His grandfather Charles Nibley was a wealthy man (much of it from cutting down forests in Oregon), a Presiding Bishop and then a counselor in the First Presidency, but Hugh was very aware of his grandfather’s personal flaws, and his grandfather’s awareness of those flaws.

    I served 20 years in the Air Force. Nobody suggests that military commanders are infallible, but everyone knows that there are very strong reasons to obey commands because a flawed plan that is well executed will almost always accomplish the mission better than a brilliant plan that is not executed. Besides, the military expects every captain, lieutentant and sergeant to apply his or her own intelligence to their assignments in the larger strategy.

    I think the basic principle works in the Church as well. Our leaders do not have to be perfect, but following their leadership makes us more effective in reaching the goals we jointly value than going off on our own.

    I look forward to reading this book. I don’t know about the rest of us, but I think the Givens family has definitely been reserved to come to earth and bless us in the last days.

  48. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 30, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Jadan, the burden of proof is on US, individually, to prove to God that we are willing to humble ourselves and follow him, and thus are prepared to be blessed with the knowledge that the Holy Ghost offers to bring to us. The burden of proof is not on God, or on the prophets, or your bishop, to prove any part of the gospel to your satisfaction. You are not testing the Book of Mormon, it is testing you.

    That testing is the process that Nephi saw in his vision of the tree of life, that Benjamin describes in Mosiah 3, that Alma describes in Alma Chapter 32, and which Moroni challenges us to follow in Moroni Chapter 10.

  49. Marcus on October 22, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    It is my sincere hope that if there is a God it is not the capricious trickster that Nate describes. I would not, could not believe in such a mischievous entity. Thanks, but no thanks.

    For me the question that remains, and why I still contemplate reading the book (having known Fiona at BYU) – - for all my 58 years in the church I was taught that God talked to his prophets and would lead the church directly through them — communicate directly to them — that they would NEVER lead us astray. With all the above cited issues regarding now abandoned doctrines, including polyandry (which no church authority has yet addressed significantly), I am left to wonder exactly what kind of relationship this God has with these men called prophets. It is not a matter of a Bishop selecting this park or that park for a ward social. Or callings given to one person or another – or any other type of error of a local leader. I am talking about doctrines of salvation as taught by the general authorities, and more specifically by those claiming the title of Prophet. If there are “eternal truths” and qualities to be taught to God’s children, and if they are of such significant impact in eternal happiness and placement in confined kingdoms in the hereafter , how is it even possible that a God would not correct those erring prophets immediately out of respect for the rest of his children? Why wouldn’t he just talk to Joseph and tell him he screwed up on that bit or this bit, and set him straight? Why not tell Brigham that black persons are his children, too – and thereby demonstrate that he actually does lead us through these men? The mormon-recorded history calls into question the claim that these prophets actually are in touch with a God and not just relying upon their own sensibilities. The secular explanation of these human errors made through human traditions is a far far more convincing explanation for these things than any of these incredible speculations about God being forced to sanction even the most asinine declarations of purported prophets. Sorry. I remain unconvinced, and still in distress as described so well by Carrie. The apologetics are inadequate to this basic question, being spoken from points of assumption on “knowing the will of a God” that no one seems to hear from very often or very well. I think I will still read the book though, as I am still honestly trying to find a way through this. Faith, however, as another poster wrote, is a more difficult thing to restore when it is lost through sense of betrayal than simply wishing something could be true. Well, we shall see if these questions are ever answered in a plausible, or better yet, concrete honest fashion by those in authority for the whole church — even if the answer is “We don’t know.” But that answer presents its own significant questions, doesn’t it.

  50. Julie M. Smith on October 22, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Marcus, you picked exactly the wrong day to complain about the church not addressing polyandry.

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