Dealing with Doubt Part 1: Why faith is like love—bound, not blind


light in dark

By: Jason Woodward // This is the first post in a two-part Normons series on faith and doubt. For the second post, click here.

“It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” — Dostoevsky

Many of the questions we receive at Normons deal with the tension between faith and doubt: if we ever doubt and to what degree, why we doubt, if ever talk about our doubts, and how those doubts can be overcome. These are important questions, in no small part because of how personal they are to those that voice them. And as someone who has also seriously grappled with this very topic, rest assured: practicing Mormons are no exception.

It’s true: faith is hard. Faith is hard because life is hard.

Faith asks us to trust in things we don’t fully understand. It invites us to walk a path through darkness with the promise of eventual light. In many cases, this journey begins with bright resolve: torch in hand, we march boldly down our dimly lit road, positive that our next guidepost lies just around the bend.

But the journey is rarely so simple. Darkness is an unnatural setting for us. Testing winds may cause the confident flame that illuminated our path to flicker. Sometimes our flame goes out, and we must inch our way forward with our hands and feet, unsure of what lies ahead, when the next spark of light will come, or where it will ask us to go. Falling and scraping, we soon realize that this road of “faith” is fraught with more difficulty than we signed up for. Our once bright resolve dims without the nurturing light we believed we were promised. We may even question if we’re on the right road at all.

At times, a flash of light so clear and unmistakable makes our route obvious, and its kind afterglow propels us onward with renewed courage. Most of the time, though, the light is just bright enough to see a step or two ahead. After all, faith is “not to have a perfect knowledge of things” [1]. Its promises are “hoped for … not seen” [2]. At its core, faith is an exercise in trust. And in order for us to reach our destination, we must devote ourselves wholly to accepting faith’s terms.

Doubt

doubt

Doubt, on the other hand, is easy. Doubt is easy because life tends to complicate many of the things we once thought were certain.

Some doubts, like when we doubt ourselves, are there simply to cause trouble. We feel uncertain, and this uncertainty leads to insecurity — a mentality based less in reality and more in fear. Sometimes we feed and water and nurture these doubts to the point where they become real. We give them root in our minds, and eventually the roots reach so deep with their hooks and barbs that they keep us from moving forward and living our lives. These doubts act as a distraction from the simple truths right in front of us. They take over our thoughts, casting a dark shadow over the plain and precious things we know we can rely on, and drowning out the feelings of peace they once provided.

Yet many doubts are of a different nature altogether: they are honest and reasonable questions brought about by new information. These doubts are built on valid inferences drawn from raw, sometimes unsettling data. Perhaps we’d never really looked closely at something before, and our first careful analysis reveals deeply troubling truths that we’re scared to face. Perhaps these facts simply blindside us when we’re not looking. But the facts are there, and they are true whether or not we want to believe them, and they can make us feel uncomfortable. They lay demanding issues at our feet. And whether they result in dozens of individual questions or culminate in one giant question mark, they challenge the trust that we had so tightly clung to, standing defiantly at odds with some aspect of a foundation we thought was sure.

Such was my experience. Years ago, I underwent a prolonged and deeply agonizing “dark night of the soul”—a time in my life when the house of testimony I had labored so diligently to build began to suddenly and frighteningly collapse. Brick by brick, things I had “known” for years started to crumble, leaving only a musty powder of sadness and confusion. I felt like a powerless observer, a defeated witness to the mechanical disassembly of something I once held so dear but could never get back. I ruthlessly scrutinized the veracity of literally everything I had ever believed or been taught. Doubt had not only reared its head, it had consumed and paralyzed me.

In the words of Alma,  my soul was racked with eternal torment. And sadly, this strain between between my faith and my doubt was only intensified by the way we sometimes view the two. In the Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith taught, “Where doubt and uncertainty is, there faith is not … for doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time.” Taken at face value, these words seem to paint faith and doubt as utterly incompatible, as if we can only have one or the other but never both. We may feel that if we doubt, we are doing something wrong, or that something is wrong with us. We see our questions as a sign of weakness—as if they would magically disappear if we could simply muster stronger faith.

Love

But such an interpretation ignores the real nature of doubt, and it cheapens the real strength required by faith. In his moving article, “Arriving Where I Started,” author Boyd Peterson comes to a startling realization that reshapes his entire view on faith and doubt — the same realization I came to during my time of deepest despair: that the true beating heart of faith is the same beating heart of love. He writes:

“I came to understand that if I employed the same qualifications I was using to think about my testimony of the Church to think about my relationship with my wife, our relationship would fizzle. In fact, I would have no relationships at all.”

“Like the Church, my wife has changed over the years. She is not the same woman I married, and, frankly, I would be bored and unfulfilled if she were. I certainly don’t feel that she deceived me because I didn’t know everything about her when I married her, and I have never felt betrayed when I discovered more about her. Some of the things I have discovered might have been apparent had I known to look, other things she may have purposefully kept from me, and still others she may not have even been aware of yet herself. Yet it has never bothered me that my understanding of her continues to evolve. So should I feel betrayed when I discover new things about the Church or start to understand how it has evolved?”

“I had to admit that I didn’t really know who she is any more than I know who I am. In fact, part of what I love about her is the very mystery of her self—the fact that, even after almost thirty years of marriage, I cannot completely predict what she will do or say. I am quite frequently awestruck by the many dimensions of [her] that I continue to discover.”

“There have been times when, like the Church, [my wife] has disappointed or even hurt me. But if I’m honest, I must admit that there have been even more times I have disappointed or hurt her. I know my commitment to the Church—to fulfill my callings and live righteously—has also been less than perfect. Nevertheless … I have developed into a better person not simply because of the joy both relationships have engendered but also because of the pain of self-revelation and repentance they have forced me to confront … My love for my wife not only remains but deepens over time. In fact, the very trials of our relationship over the past almost-thirty years have, I believe, deepened and purified that love.”

My doubts were piercing and they were significant. But despite this raging inner storm, I didn’t stop attending church. I didn’t leave or give up on the path I had set out on. I stayed. My doubts didn’t disappear, but I continued to give the gospel a chance because I really, truly loved it. Although I could no longer say the words “I know” as I had before, there were still things I believed in, and things I hoped for. I still loved the person the gospel made me, and how it transformed me, deep down in my bones. I loved that it made me feel full in a world where so much left me feeling empty. I loved so many things about it, even though there were a lot of things I was unsure of. Certainly, loving something doesn’t affect its truthfulness. But for me, this love was reason enough to keep pressing on, despite my lack of understanding. It was reason enough to take up my torch and seek to understand.

Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.” Real love is patient. It acknowledges doubts, risks, misunderstandings, flaws, and mistakes, and it does not run when they come. In the words of Adam Miller, “it invites them in, breaks bread with them, and washes their feet … You may fall in love with someone because of how well they complement your story, but you’ll prove yourself faithful to them only when you care more for the flawed, difficult, and unplotted life you end up sharing with them.”

A Journey Worth Taking

journey

As it is with love, so it is with faith. Doubts will find a way in, after 20 years of testimony or after 30 years of marriage. You will be disappointed. You will question. You will wonder. You will crawl in the dark and you will stumble, often through no fault of your own. You will be wrong, and in being wrong you will ask yourself what else you could be wrong about. Doubt is not a sign that you are weak; it is a sign that you are human. And to be sure, many of your doubts will carry real substance: they will act as a signal that something in your life or faith needs to be adjusted. It can be difficult to discern exactly what that adjustment should be or how to go about it. In such cases, you must remain flexible. That way doubt can mold your faith by perpetually grounding it in the pursuit of what is true.

But as in real committed love, real committed faith recognizes that there are very few truly irreconcilable differences. This type of faith teaches you which doubts to confront and which to set free. It focuses not on the changing sights along the path, but on the path itself, and where it leads. It reminds you why you set out on the path in the first place. Eventually, it will provide you with the light you need to keep going. And in those brilliant, fiery moments of light, faith becomes easy.

Over time, I have rebuilt my house of testimony. Many of the old bricks have been discarded, and with good reason. New ones have been fashioned in their place. And many of the house’s details are markedly different than before. But in all honestly, the foundation of my faith has never felt more authentic or secure — thanks, strangely, to what I learned from having to rebuild it.

So no matter where you are along your path — wondering whether to continue on or whether to even get on in the first place — understand that every worthwhile journey leads directly through doubt’s shadow, and do not shy away when the difficult moments come. When necessary, let your doubts file down the edges of your faith that need refinement, then resume your course with an improved perspective. And let love and truth be your guides.

At times your journey will feel effortless, and at others it will feel impossible. But above all, if the seed is good, your journey will be worth it.

17 Comments

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  1. 4
    Aaron

    You have filled this entry with a lot of metaphor and very little substance. What were your doubts (specifically)? How did you resolve them? I think that’s what people want to know when they ask about doubts. What doubts did you experience when you first learned that the Egyptian papyrus from which Joseph Smith purportedly translated the Book of Abraham has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham? How did you resolve such doubts?

    • 5
      Peter

      One thing is that doubt often contains a spiritual component as well as an intellectual, and while mental doubts come and go, the effects of spiritual trauma can last beyond the resolution of a question. The poster is telling how he resolved the spiritual half of the problem. In some ways this post is sort of like Elder Holland’s talk “Lord I believe” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng) in that, rather than giving an answer to a specific doubt not necessarily shared by the audience, it affirms and testifies that we can be satisfied. How do we gain the spiritual witness? Search, ponder, and pray (Moroni 10:3-5), the same way we know about the Book of Mormon.

      But as to your specific question (this is just my answer, which may or may not satisfy others), Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible doesn’t rely on the source material either. If Heavenly Father can inspire Joseph Smith to do that, then He can do that with the Book of Abraham. There have been many theories advanced, but the great antiquity of the documents would probably make it difficult to prove any one explanation ‘right’.

      • 6
        Aaron

        Peter, I’m not sure what you mean by a “spiritual” doubt. I mean, I can understand the inherent dubiousness of the methodology by which Mormons purportedly gain knowledge, i.e. praying to god and then interpreting the emotional sensations that are experienced concurrently or subsequently, but I’m not sure if that is what you are referring to. Perhaps you can clarify.

        What I see this blog author advocating is a “love your doubts away” approach. Love is a great thing when directed at proper objects, but I think it has very little to do with “doubt.” If the church is not what it purports to be (and I submit that it is not), this doesn’t necessarily mean that people who participate in it cannot become self-actualized to some extent. However, that also does not mean that there are not other, better, and perhaps more efficient ways for achieving the same or better results. If you want to love the church for the good effects it has had in your life, that’s great. But most “doubts” tend to go to the heart of the church’s truth claims, not its relative effectiveness at producing subjectively positive life results as opposed to some other organization’s ideals and patterns of conduct.

        As for your suggested resolution to the doubts arising from Smith’s purported translation of the Book of Abraham, it doesn’t work because Smith clearly thought he was producing a direct translation of source glyphs that we can see on the surviving scrolls today, based on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Smith though that each symbol had a particular meaning, often sentences or paragraphs long. Now, of course, we know that each symbol is roughly a single word or name. We can also see that this was Smith’s approach in his completely erroneous translation of the facsimiles included with the scrolls. For me, the “doubts” that resulted from an in-depth review of the Book of Abraham issues were insurmountable. They are the smoking gun as far as Smith’s purported ability to translate ancient records, which tells us a lot about the validity of the Book of Mormon. I don’t see anything in this particular blog entry that would assist in resolving these doubts. Rather, I think the author’s approach to such issues would be to focus more on positive emotions associated with the church, and not worry so much about these details. To me, that amounts to nothing more than willfully ignoring the issues and distracting oneself with something else. It’s motivated reasoning; not critical thinking.

        • 7
          Brad

          Aaron,

          I’m hesitant to even engage because (in light of your numerous comments on all our articles) you seem quite certain that you hold the intellectual high ground, and seeing as I so thoroughly dispute that, we have a stalemate on our hands.

          First of all, you should probably not assume so much about the author’s position on questions such as the translation of Abraham. The fact is, he’s much more sophisticated than you give him credit for in your short-sighted assumptions, and your failure to see nuance in the translation question associated with Abraham belies your arguments anyway.

          Second, if I might quickly respond to your final paragraph, it is emphatically NOT as easy a question as you write it off to be. Why does Smith’s perception of the work he was engaged in actually matter at all to the validity of Abraham as scripture? If Joseph thought he was looking at Abraham’s handwriting, but God was actually just letting him use the glyphs as a prompting for receiving revelation, wouldn’t the revelation still be valid? People who use the book of Abraham as a justification for giving up on Mormonism never actually engage the book as scripture, which surprisingly, holds up quite well as scripture in light of its OT context. They focus instead on origins. But as I said, origins are only part of the question.

          I submit, as Richard Bushman does, that this merely presents a theological question: Why would God allow a prophet to misperceive the work he was engaged in? There are plenty of interesting answers to this question. But the Book of Abraham isn’t the smoking gun you think it is.

          I’m sorry you left. I can tell by how much time you’ve spent on our site that it is still difficult for you. Best of luck in your journey. I hope that whatever you find, whether it is that Mormonism is the path to happiness or not, will make life enjoyable for you. I mean that.

          • 8
            Aaron

            Brad, it really shouldn’t matter whether I or you hold the “intellectual high ground.” The facts are what they are. May the most reasonable inferences be drawn therefrom. To declare a “stalemate” now, on such a flimsy basis, would be entirely premature.

            In my experience, the “nuanced” approach to religious doubts is the one most fraught with mental gymnastics, with Occam’s Razor cast off and left along the wayside. The Book of Abraham issues tell a very simple and credible narrative: Joseph Smith pretended to translate records which, at the time, neither he nor anyone else in the world could read, so there was no way to directly falsify whatever he made up. It impressed his followers and bolstered his credibility in their eyes.

            Smith’s perception of what he was actually doing is extremely relevant to the validity of his final work product. If God’s prophet can’t even decipher the mechanism by which he purportedly receives revelations, then just how reliable are such revelations? I mean, of all the talk of prophets being mere men and fallible, can’t they at least be reasonably expected to be ‘experts’ when it comes to revelation? (And if they have no such expertise, then of what use are they?) Why indeed would God allow a prophet to misperceive the revelatory work he was engaged in? Why would God allow Smith to wrongly believe that he was literally translating ancient records, when in fact he was just receiving direct revelation? No catalyst was needed for the Book of Moses, right? The inspired translation of the bible? If God wanted to give Smith a revelation about Abraham, there was absolutely no need to give Smith a bunch of Egyptian funerary text for that purpose. Why would God engage in pointless acts that ultimately would cast so much doubt on the credibility of his prophet? These rhetorical questions deserve very simple answers: God wouldn’t do any of that. It doesn’t make sense. Therefore, God didn’t do it. I’m sure you can come up with plenty of “interesting” answers to those questions, but none so clear and compelling as the one I just gave you. (And the “God works in mysterious ways” refrain is about the tiredest old cop-out in the books.)

            It is immaterial whether the Book of Abraham “holds up quite well” relative to the Old Testament. Given that the OT was one of the primary sources Smith had at his disposal, I’m not sure why we would expect anything else. He would have just been shooting himself in the foot had he produced an Abrahamic narrative greatly contrary to or at odds with that found in the OT.

            The deconstruction of Mormonism really doesn’t take too long. For me, it was a matter of months. For others it may only take days or weeks. It will all depend on the person and their life experiences, among many other things. Generally speaking, however, once one allows for the possibility that the church is really just another man-made organization, and that Joseph Smith basically made it up as he went along, everything makes a *lot* more sense. I very much enjoy my current mental-gymnastics-free existence. It can get tiring defending the indefensible.

            By the way, my passive act of leaving your blog open on one of my internet tabs for hours or days at a time is not a valid indicator of how “difficult” leaving Mormonism “still” is for me. Surely you hold enough “intellectual high ground” to see how that is an improper and unjustified conclusion.

            Leaving the church can be hard. It involves a lot of cognitive dissonance. That dissonance will be especially powerful when you’ve engaged in an endeavor like this blog, which represents a very open and public declaration of a particular stance or position. Cognitive dissonance theory would predict that it would be that much harder for you to ultimately take a contrary view in light of new facts/evidence. But since you’re obtaining a legal education, I hope you’ll be cognizant of the psychological factors at play here, and follow wherever the evidence leads you. I myself wasn’t in a position to break free until well after the completion of my own legal studies.

          • 9
            Aaron

            Long comments are a mere product of my profession and the fact that I’ve given these issues a lot of thought in the past. I’ve made my own blog entries on many of these topics so it’s relatively simple to restate those ideas here. I’m not too concerned with your receptivity to my words; my audience is more the people on the fence and who don’t entertain any unwarranted presumptions in favor of the church’s position. I’ll make similar posts on my facebook page, and I’ve lost count of how many of my friends have reached out to me privately, thanking me for sharing my thoughts and sharing their own struggles with the church. Other friends simply delete me. Doesn’t matter. I commend you and the other authors on this blog for allowing comments such as mine to be published. Not all pro-church fora are similarly fair-minded.

            I’d be interested to see the recent research you claim supports your apparent proposition that the Book of Abraham contains material that is corroborated by historical sources unavailable to Smith. I’d be even more interested if this research has been done by non-LDS scholars whose paycheck does not, directly or indirectly, depend on the continued viability of the LDS church.

    • 10
      Jason

      Thanks for the comment, Aaron. First off, you’re right — analogy was my goal here. Approaching a relationship with the gospel has a lot in common with approaching a relationship with another person, and the purpose of my post was to underscore the parallels in a way that might resonate with others the way it resonated with me. Both demand a high level of trust and commitment, many times in the face of unclear circumstances and unforeseeable outcomes; both have the potential for symbiosis but require constant, often strenuous effort to cultivate; both require realistic expectations of the other and must be built upon a foundation of truth, especially if those truths are difficult or unexpected; both will encounter doubts, some baseless and some not; both can yield wonderful fruits in one’s life; and for me, both have been worth working to maintain.

      Like any analogy, there are also some big differences, but those weren’t the focus here. And obviously, my net positive experiences navigating faith/doubt dictate my reply when responding to the questions people submit: it hasn’t always been easy, but I’m glad I stuck with it, and if I were you, I’d stick with it as well. I understand that won’t be the case with everyone.

      So your question of “What were your doubts (specifically)?” isn’t really relevant to the scope of this post. I wasn’t looking to compile a laundry list of historical/linguistic/anthropological/ cosmological/cultural/psychological/philosophical concerns and discuss them point-by-point. There are plenty of other venues that consider such issues at length and in much greater detail than anyone here is qualified to do. The post wasn’t meant to be about specific doubts; it’s about framing a consistent and workable approach to doubt in general.

      But I will touch on a couple of the points you raise:

      What I see this blog author advocating is a ‘love your doubts away’ approach.

      You either didn’t read or missed the entire message of the post. That’s exactly what I don’t advocate. I write specifically that we shouldn’t run from or ignore doubts, but that we should seek to understand them and their implications and make adjustments when necessary — ‘invite them in, break bread with them, and wash their feet.’ I haven’t resolved all my doubts, that’s the entire point. And many that I have “resolved” have had drastic effects on the way I view various aspects of the gospel. The point is that doubts and faith are not incompatible; they are traveling companions. In fact, they are one of the buttresses that keep faith faith (and not knowledge).

      God wouldn’t do any of that. It doesn’t make sense. Therefore, God didn’t do it.

      Your insider’s view of the way God thinks and operates is impressive, to say the least. Did He tell you that personally, or…?

      • 11
        Aaron

        Jason, thank you for your courteous reply. I guess the general sentiment I’m getting from your post is more or less “doubt your doubts.” At the end, you encourage readers to “commit to faith” in the face of doubts. This strikes me as nothing more than simply ignoring doubts. Putting them on the shelf. Distracting yourself with the positive emotions you have towards the church.

        Now don’t get me wrong–there is something to a strict utilitarian approach to the church as far as how it works for you, personally, in your life. I respect those who participate in church on their own terms, fully cognizant of the facts and issues that undermine its foundational truth claims. There are certainly worse social organizations in which one can participate during this brief existence we call life. Where I think it becomes a clearly net negative is in situations where one is taking it too seriously or becoming overly zealous in pushing it on others. This kind of approach was more or less described at the end of the South Park’s “All About the Mormons” episode. Is this closer to what you’re getting at? Acknowledge the implications of the issues, yet choose to participate for other reasons?

        As for my conclusion that the God depicted by Mormons would not engage in pointless acts that serve only to undermine the credibility of his servants, I propose the following points/premises:

        – God is an exalted man. I am a man. As a man, I would never engage in pointless acts that only undermine my servants’ credibility and prevent people from joining my church. If I wouldn’t do this as a regular man, I don’t see why an exalted man would do it, either.

        – 1 Cor. 14:33: God is not the author of confusion.

        – D&C 132:8: God’s house is one of order, not confusion

        – Confusion and contention are similar, and contention comes from the devil. (3 Ne. 11:29)

        These are among the reasons I find it impossible to believe that the God described by Mormons would either intentionally or negligently allow Smith to fundamentally misperceive the mode and manner of his “revelation” that resulted in the Book of Abraham. Again, the simplest (and best) explanation for the issues surrounding the Book of Abraham is that Smith made it all up. That provides immediate resolution and thus has strong explanatory power. To conclude otherwise indicates a strong, unwarranted bias in favor of the church.

        • 12
          Jason

          the general sentiment I’m getting from your post is more or less “doubt your doubts.” … This strikes me as nothing more than simply ignoring doubts … Distracting yourself with the positive emotions you have towards the church.

          Doubt your doubts, yes — not disregard your doubts. They deserve the same scrutiny and dissection as faith does. Too often, new data results in knee-jerk reactions. We learn a new piece of information about something and act as if we suddenly now know everything about it, or at least enough to pronounce judgment on the issue with a confident degree of finality. But life is full of surprises, and an ever newer piece of data could prove our initial knee-jerk reaction to have been needlessly rash.

          I find a more thoughtful course is the patient rumination of new information, along with related variables and their implications. Just as one shouldn’t hastily accept something as substantial as an entire theology, one shouldn’t hastily abandon it either. Some things we can infer with a high degree of certainty; others we shouldn’t so quickly close the book on (you and I will doubtless disagree on how this applies to specific issues). Cognitive dissonance causes us to seek immediate conclusions, but I have found that time adds perspective, nuance, and often, understanding.

          It reminds me of this proverb told by Liu An in his philosophical work Huainanzi. When the villagers are all quick to pronounce final value judgments on the events in the story, the man is patient. My approach to issues of faith/doubt is foundationally similar in this regard. I do of course read, ponder, question, dissect, adjust, challenge and discard when necessary. And yes, utility often usurps comprehension in my list of spiritual priorities. But that doesn’t mean I don’t seek to comprehend. In my experience, seeking this comprehension faithfully is a worthwhile and fulfilling endeavor, and walking that path has beautified and enriched my life in more ways than I can number. That is why I recommend others attempt the same. It doesn’t seem to have worked for you, but I definitely wish you the best along the path you’ve chosen.

          • 13
            Aaron

            All right, well doubting one’s doubts seems like an unnecessarily redundant exercise. Either the issue causing doubt has merit or it doesn’t. As a lawyer, I would say that the preponderance of the evidence weighs heavily against the church being what it purports to be. That is, when all relevant evidence is considered, the verdict seems clear. Any single issue might seem inconsequential or resolvable, alone, but when you turn the lights on and look at everything all at once, the truth is plain to see.

            I tend to agree with your deliberate, patient approach to coming to a conclusion. However, if you ever served a mission then you know that the LDS church itself doesn’t agree. Instead, missionaries will try to get investigators to commit themselves to the religion after reading select chapters of the Book of Mormon and praying about them. If that isn’t a hasty acceptance of an entire theology, then I don’t know what is. So if we really wanted to be fair, something that holds itself out as being hastily acceptable should also be hastily rejectable, correct?

            Time certainly does add things to the equation. Perspective, sure. Understanding, absolutely. Nuance, unfortunately. (Again “nuance” is just a code word for “mental gymnastics,” in my book.) Mostly it depends on how one spends that time. If your investigative effort is coupled with substantial time investment spent doing things consistent with the church’s teachings, then you risk becoming victim to the cognitive biases that so easily beset all of us, namely the “sunk cost bias.” The more you invest in the church, in terms of time, money, energy, and public participation, the harder it becomes to leave. No one likes admitting they’ve been duped. It’s embarrassing and shameful. Therefore, you are much less likely to make something approaching an impartial decision. The church knows this. That’s why they lowered the missionary age. The general conference statistics revealed a 41% increase in total missionaries from 2012-2013, yet only a 4% increase in convert baptisms. Why does this not bother the church? Because its long-term viability is far less dependent on convert baptism than it is on minimizing the attrition rates of its already faithful core. And nobody wants to admit that the two years they spent knocking doors or begging members for referrals was an utter waste of their young lives. Enter: sunk cost bias.

            Anyway, I may be getting a bit off topic. I enjoyed this discussion. You have your way of dealing with doubts which I guess works for you. It obviously would have never worked for me. This is your blog so I promise to let you have the last word if you’d like to reply further.

          • 14
            Jason

            Doubting one’s doubts is an inelegant phrasing of doing exactly what you suggest — analyzing the merit of an issue/concern, along with the questions that it raises and the potential meanings of their various implications. And it’s interesting that you say while individual issues are resolvable, taking everything as a whole makes the gospel look weakest. For me it’s been much the opposite — the totality of the gospel has always been so much stronger, more defensible and more beautiful than the sum of its parts.

            Yes, many missionaries rush people to make decisions they aren’t fully prepared to make; and yes, sunk costs are a practical example of cognitive bias when it comes to seeking and following truth.

            You seem to have “settled” the question of the gospel in your mind. You’ve collected all the necessary information, and now the issue lies behind you, neatly deconstructed and set aside. And you seem very satisfied with that conclusion.

            Such an approach isn’t satisfying to me. While many issues have been adequately resolved, many others are still far from “settled” in my mind — but I find tremendous value in faithfully seeking to understand them. Washing my hands of the entire thing would deprive me of the deep periods of contemplation I’ve forced myself to undergo, and the soul-searching moments of introspection that have ultimately molded me into a better person. As I said in the post, faith is not always an easy path. But I have found the seed to be good. And for me, the journey continues to be worth it.

  2. 16
    C

    I look for reasons to stay. I want to hold on to the benefits I get from belief, from faith. This post may prove to be helpful, as well as resources like, howtostay.org, and others.

    Boyd Peterson’s analogy is emotionally appealing, no doubt. After all, I love my wife very very much, I love her unconditionally (at least I cannot picture a condition as to where my love for her would cease).

    This idea that Brother Peterson proposes seems to me like unconditional faith. You have faith despite the flaws, misdoings, betrayals, etc.

    Now, if the relationship is worth saving, then yes, by all means, save it. In some instances however the relationship can be harmful for those in it, or others who may be affected by it.

    While I am a firm believer in unconditional love, I also think there need to have clear boundaries set, otherwise one party may become a door mat. I feel this is even more true in cases of unconditional faith. What is the breaking point? I, personally, think I hit mine about a year ago (long boring story). I have also personally observed that there are certain people, like some of my family members, who absolutely do not have a breaking point when it comes to their faith (LDS and otherwise)–their faith is truly unconditional. Now, one could argue that this is a ‘good’, or a ‘bad’ thing. Obviously a non-believer would label it as ‘bad’, and a believer would more than likely label it ‘good’ (Oh how firm a foundation).

    I don’t know whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, really all it boils down to is desire, which varies from person to person, as well as varying based on time period and culture.

    His premise also seems to assume truthfulness of the thing that one has faith in–which makes sense, why have faith in something you don’t feel is true?

    Under the LDS definition, “Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true”. From that definition, is it even possible to have faith in something which is not ‘true’, such as Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism? If it is possible, would this same analogy not apply to a Muslim person who is having a trial of faith? His relationship to Islam could be compared to his relationship with his wife. He shouldn’t give up on it, rather, he should ignore the flaws and focus on the good things.

    I, personally, do not want to have faith in something that may be untrue. This is where I am at. I do not positively believe that the LDS Church is untrue, however, I am not convinced of the truthfulness of it either. In fact, if I look at it, emotion aside, it looks very much to lean towards the side of falsehood.

    I do, however, see the value of faith in faith, or belief in belief. I do fully believe (based on what I’ve seen), that belief in X (insert religion or other belief for X) can bring many profound and beneficial changes. If belief in the LDS Church, or belief in Jesus, or Islam, or Santa, makes you a better person, that shows that believing in those things makes you a better person. It does not validate the truthfulness of the belief. Believing in Santa made my children happy, and helped me keep them in line all year long, it was ‘better’ for me, and for them, to believe; but this in no way makes Santa Clause true or real.

    All that being said, this post was very well written and uplifting. I would consider myself a NOM at this point in time. Living in Utah, there are many benefits of being LDS, and I do not want to let a little thing like me not believing get in my way of those benefits.

    These are just my concerns, sorry if I came off as combative or unfriendly, that is not my intention.

  3. 17
    Jacinda

    Love this post. Great comparision. I get it. Thanks for your thoughtful and respectful responses to Aaron. I appreciate that opinions can be voiced and not in an ugly way. I find it interesting when there is a lack of faith we try to convince others not to believe but I think that is part of the process. We all want to stand firm to what we believe at the time. In an attempt to answer the original question. I have not doubted the Book of Abraham but perhaps a look at my personal doubt could help give a clue to answering Aaron’s doubt. Many years ago I hit a pot hole in the road of faith. I was doing some family history work online and I found a record telling me my ancestor arrested Joseph Smith for “glass looking” or speculating about property and treasures in New York. At that moment it was like a brick hit my face. I was shocked. Maybe my grandmother was right I did belong to a false church and I was going to hell. Now I understand why she hated Mormons and why she sent me those aweful pamplets at Christmas. But then I began looking at the information presented on the internet more closely. I looked at the source. I looked at their relationships to Joseph Smith and my family. It turns out the Sheriff who I am related to had a brother who hated Joseph Smith because he was an aspiring preacher with another church in the area. People will say a lot of things to win friends and influence people. But the most important lesson came when I prayed about it seeking peace. God answered my prayers by telling me that history is written by those who write it and it is seen through their eyes and it is not alway the whole truth. God sees the whole picture and all the motives and all the emotions. I love history and up until this time in my life I accepted it as fact. I did not question the historians motive or viewpoint. Now when I hear a story from history I wonder about the author and how his perspective might be changing our current reality. I feel the same way about science now. When I was in school I was taught Pluto was planet and I believed them. Now they tell me it is just a moon. History, Science, Faith, and Doubt are every changing. For me, my testimony is founded in Jesus Christ and I let everything revolve around him. I hope Aaron can put the pieces back together and see the things God sees because when I get a small glimpe of the puzzle it is marvelous! And that is how I see it for now:)

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