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Thoughts on Addressing a Struggle with, or Loss of, Faith


smac97

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19 hours ago, smac97 said:

I've been thinking lately about some remarks that various leaders of the Church have made that can be construed as a sort of all-or-nothing approach to the Restored Gospel.  Some of these have previously been collected by Tacenda here (emphases added):

I think I understand the sentiment underlying these statements.  They are intended to dissuade us from taking a superficial or wishy-washy or indifferent approach to the Restored Gospel.

However, these days we have the Internet, and with it comes immediate and at-your-fingertips access to any and every opinion under the sun.  Also accessible are "Big Lists" (as Jeff Lindsay put it) that itemize controversies involving, and errors and mis-steps made by, past and present members of the Church (particularly its leaders).  Jeremy Runnells' "Letter to a CES Director" is perhaps the most well-known example of this.  Bill Reel is another example.

I wonder if we are seeing a glitch in the truth-seeking process envisioned by the leaders of the Church (as quoted above).  I think they contemplated that someone investigating/evaluating the merits of the claims of the LDS Church would give those claims a fair hearing.  This would, I think, include the basics we have all been taught: read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, "study {them} out" (per D&C 9:7-9), pray about them with "real intent" and with faith and effort (as contemplated in Moroni 10:3-5, 2 Nephi 31:13, James 1:6, and so on), nurture the beginnings of faith through obedience and service to others (per Alma 32, Mosiah 3 and 4, etc.).  The anticipated result would include impressions and promptings of the Spirit, followed by further study and effort and obedience.  This cyclical effort would then result build up, shall we say, "spiritual momentum" that at once makes the journey in life more manageable, and also keeps us moving forward despite difficulties and obstacles.

I think the above quotes from General Authorities were given to us in response to some of us becoming perhaps a bit inattentive, even halfhearted, in the fostering and maintaining of our faith and devotion.  Apparently some were even adopting what Elder Holland called a "bizarre middle ground" (I think he may have had in mind the "Inspired Fiction" or comparable have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too alternative explanations for the Book of Mormon and the Restoration).

However, what has been happening lately is, as noted above, a "glitch."  Members of the Church are encountering "Big List"-type compendia, and then take an all-or-nothing approach to the Gospel, but one that I do not think was contemplated by the Brethren.  That is, they are running into stuff described by Jeff Lindsay here:

Another challenge is that some folks, having encountered these "Big Lists," can end up adopting a variant of the "Nirvana Fallacy."  This fallacy is described here:

My sense is that some members of the Church are harboring idealized, unrealistic expectations about the Church, and its leaders and members, and its history.  This is the "perfect" part of Voltaire's maxim. 

Then these folks encounter "big lists" and other online resources that distill and summarize all sorts of controversies, errors, shortcomings, etc. by members and leaders of the Church.  Such compilations are full of cheap shots presented for shock value.  Presentism.  Facile criticism.  Misrepresentation by omission and distortion.  A determined effort to keep these topics decontextualized and sensationalized.  Sarcasm.  No effort to study or meaningfully understand.  And intermingled with them are some legitimate criticisms. 

These summaries of the Church are, understandably, difficult or impossible to reconcile with the Church's narrative about itself, which has long tended toward an idealized presentation (though the Church's publication of Saints, Vol. 1: The Standard of Truth is signaling some real change on this issue).

Some members, then, end up facing seemingly irreconcilable options

  • Option A: the Church is essentially good and decent and ordained of God (as claimed by the Church), or
  • Option B: the Church is essentially flawed and corrupt, and even evil (as claimed by authors of the above-referenced "big lists").

These members can, and often do, grapple with these issues in secret.  Maybe they don't want to "rock the boat" (in the ward, amongst family members, etc.).  Maybe they don't want to disappoint family members and friends.  Maybe they struggle in secret out of fear.  Maybe they feel overwhelmed and anxious at the prospect of their Latter-day Saint "worldview" being challenged or upended.  This can be a particularly potent factor in their decision-making process, as such secrecy tends to isolate the individual from other members, and also tends to lead the individual to hostile sources, who are at liberty to characterize the Church in the worst ways possible.  

Working out a response to these feelings, and to these "big list" challenges to our beliefs, can be daunting.  Consider this anecdote from Jeff Lindsay:

What Jeff calls "the fallacy of quantity versus quality" seems like a relative of the "Nirvana Fallacy."  Either the Church is "true" (pristinely correct and perfect in all respects, including every past and present decision, policy, actions, etc. made by the leaders and members of the Church) or else it is a fraud.  And if a fraud, it's monstrous.  If it's a fraud, it "ought to be harmed" (per J. Reuben Clark).  If it's a fraud, we are perpetuating it (per Pres. Hinckley).

This, for me, goes some way toward explaining the following progression:

  1. John Q. grows up a member of the Church, attends Church meetings (Sunday services, Seminary, etc.), observes the expected behaviors (pays tithing, attends the temple, serves in callings, goes on mission, marries in the temple), and generally lives in accordance with the teachings of the Church (observes the Law of Chastity, keeps the Word of Wisdom, etc.).
  2. John Q. for varying reasons, starts to have questions about his faith.  He goes online, and is inundated with "big lists" and other high-shock-value characterizations and criticisms of the Chuch.  John Q. is discombobulated by this information, and becomes more so by finding out that some of it is objectively true.  This is often done in secret.
  3. John Q. begins to harbor some real doubts and suspicions and resentments.  Against the Church, and its leaders, and perhaps against some or all of its membership.  These feelings are also often held in secret.  These feelings are augmented by feelings of betrayal, even anger ("Why didn't the Church / my parents / my friends tell me about this?").
  4. John Q. may nevertheless continue to try and find some way of reconciling this new perspective with his continued membership and activity in the Church.  He may listen at General Conference, and may continue some outward observances, and may continue to pray.  
  5. John Q. hits some sort of breaking point.  He may just make the decision on his own, or he may hear about some sort of straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back event.  However it happens, John Q. pivots from an I-believe-this-is-true to None-of-this-is-real-or-true worldview.
  6. John Q. may not feel content to simply walk away from a lifetime in the Church.  An explanation has to be given.  Fault must be allocated.  Hence he develops a Why-I-Left exit narrative.  He may even write it down.  He may even send it out to loved ones, or even publish it to the world (such as on Facebook).  This adversarial approach creates friction and difficulty with family members and friends who remain in the Church (and who may feel blindsided by such developments).

So what do we do in such circumstances?  Well, here are a few thoughts:

First, we need to acknowledge that we have invited scrutiny of the claims of the Church.  Consequently, we need to accommodate the possibility of members of the Church coming to a conclusion that those claims are not what they claim to be.  We need to allow that.  Reasonable minds can disagree about all sorts of things, including important things.  We should also consider that "either the Church is true, or it is a fraud"-type statements can be compelling, but also risky, and those who have presented them likely did not contemplate the "glitch" described above.

Second, we also need to understand and respect the strong feelings and emotions that can arise when people become disaffected from the Church (or are heading down that path).  We need to reach out and communicate.  We need to let them give voice to their thoughts and concerns.

Third, we need to adopt more realistic, and less idealized, approaches and perspectives to each other, including past and present leaders of the Church.  However, such a process necessarily requires patience and forgiveness, and context and understanding.  Mormon told us: "Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing."  (Mormon 8:35.)  Let us consider that when we consider the following counsel he gave us in the next chapter: "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been."  (Mormon 9:31.)

Fourth, we need to be having more discussions with loved ones.  With those within our stewardship.  We need to feel safe in expressing concerns and questions.  We need to dispel the secrecy and often precedes or accompanies faith crises, and foster candor and openness.  We need to do such things with tact and decorum and respect, pertaining to both the feelings of the individual and the sanctity of the subject matter.  We need to do all we can to help people give the Church and its message a fair hearing.

Fifth, we need to be more informed.  We need to do real research and real study of the Restored Gospel.  We need to sort out what we believe, and why we believe it.  We need to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."  (1 Peter 3:15.)  I also think we need to differentiate our approach to the object of our faith (Jesus Christ), and, well everything else.  I think Davis Bitton's essay is very helpful on this point: I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church.  We should also examine where we stand individually.  A useful framework for such introspection is set forth in a book published last year by Elder Bruce and Sister Marie Hafen, Faith is Not Blind, summarized here:

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

 

11 minutes ago, Tacenda said:

My ah-ha moment was when I learned Joseph had many wives. If it had stopped at that, I would probably have gotten over it. But when going on Fair and other sites, I found so many things I hadn't known beforehand. Like the masonry similarities in the temple, or the mountain meadows massacre or..too many to list. I guess it is the rabbit hole everyone speaks of, that is so difficult. Surely, the pistol wasn't the only reason your previous neighbor left the church.

I have several things to say, and I don't know that they will come out in the right order, but what comes to mind for me is Santa Claus. My experience with the Church is something like growing up with Santa Claus. Now, there was apparently once a good man named Nicholaus, who the locals sainted, and so he became known as Saint Nick. Giving presents was such a fun custom, that it caught on, and no one has given it up - even though it is straight from the books of the Roman Saturnalia festival. So we teach our children of this perfected magical person in an effort to convince them to be good. But, as they grow up, they suspect that all is not right in the perfect tales being told, and maybe like me, hide behind the couch one Christmas Eve, to find the tale tellers doing the job of Santa....

When I joined the Church, I had a somewhat idealized view of it - that all was perfect inside, and everything taught was perfect and good... straight from the mouth of God... although I struggled with the idea that black men would have to wait last to receive the priesthood. Still, I could rationalize that because God made the Gentiles wait to receive the priesthood - did He not? As I have matured in the Church though, I have "matured" to the view that those in the Church are not perfect. They have erred, and they have taught error. Does that mean the Church is not "true?" I believe the restored gospel is true, and I believe God has shown me that. That doesn't mean that Church leaders are perfect, sinless, infallible, etc. I had to accept that God does let men go astray.... that is a "dangerous" concept the Church doesn't want to admit, and frankly has made me quite unpopular... It goes against nice little coined phrases like when the prophet speaks the thinking is done, and God will not let the leaders of this Church lead you astray....  To me, although these things have been taught and said with good intent, like the tales of Santa Claus, they are no longer true for me. I have accepted that they are not. Does that mean that all is lost? I think that is the conundrum the Church is now facing. People are trying to grapple with these very questions, because they have been taught these things by Church leaders. What if they come to the conclusions as have I, that these things are not true? The Church has not left them with the alternative that the gospel is true, and is worth living. It is all wrapped up in the leaders....

I for one do not believe that sacrifice was done away.... That is just not in the Church DNA currently, because the Church has been teaching that it was done away in Christ. But then, I cannot reconcile verses like John 21:19. Yes, Yeshua did away with animal sacrifice, as the BoM points out, but the ends of the law have not yet been met. And I am sure that someone on this forum will take up this argument.... ;) 

I do not believe the garden of Eden was in America as has been taught for over a hundred years by this Church... as has been made evident by myself before on this forum. 

The list goes on. So what is a poor man to do? Throw up his arms in disgust, and conclude the Church is not true? I believe the restored gospel is true, and that leaders are fallible. The end. This does not mean that I do not support them. This does not mean that I have to leave the Church, and speak out against it. It just has meant that I have to be willing to live somewhat alone in my conclusions and content to pursue the truths of the restored gospel on my own. Still, I have enjoyed the journey, even if it has been made somewhat difficult because of my conclusions. Still to be true to my quest to understand the truth, this has been what I had to do. I do not say these things to try to persuade others to believe like me, or to attack the Church. I love the Church. I say these things for others who have reached similar conclusions to mine, and have felt either the need to closet themselves, or to give up on the Church, or even follow after some criticizer. I am encouraged in that I see the Church finally beginning to give up the Santa Claus narrative of its idealized history of a Joseph Smith with no polygamy [mentioned]... etc. But, like the child who hid behind the couch, that leaves one with the growing pain of realizing that the Church is not "perfect," like my parents weren't perfect - or always fully forthcoming. To be mature Christians, I believe that is where the Church needs to be, yet there are those who are still angry that the Church was not more forthcoming, or that have that nagging feeling inside that they have been misled, or that they can no longer "trust" the Church, etc. To them I say, it's time to grow up. The Church's role is to preserve the gospel and teach it. It is likened to our mother feeding us milk. Yet, there is a time that every child is weaned from the milk. That doesn't mean that we are justified in turning on our mother who cared for us and fed us the gospel milk. It was  nourishing, and felt good in the belly, and lots of people wanted it, and the Church grew. But life can be harsh. We cannot always live sheltered, and should not. We can love the gospel,  and the truths it teaches without believing every aspect of the Church is "true." We can love Christ for loving us, and teaching us. We can admire Him for leading us in the example of His love - enough to die for us. We can grow into the Church that God wants us to be.... Yes, I suspect that will involve some growing pains. Some have left the Church, and I am sure more will leave the Church. It's time to put on our big boy pants... to coin new gospel phrase.. OK maybe not  It's time to realize that God has nothing to work with but us flawed humans, and that the truth is the only thing really worth living for, because that is what brings us meaning and happiness... and that the full truth can be found in our Savior... the truth that He wants us to know... and the truth that will save us. 

I believe this is something that needs to be said. I believe it is time for it to be said. I believe that it is time for the Church to take the next step in its growth. It is a little painful, but sometimes that is necessary. I am not advocating departure from the Church. I am advocating bravery in the Church - the courage to be ridiculed - even if that is from the ones we love - nevertheless to stand by our convictions. May God be with you all. Amen.

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"The most important thing we can do in preparing individuals to receive the full blessings of the Atonement is to understand it and to believe in it ourselves. By understanding and believing in the Atonement personally, you and I can teach and testify of the Atonement with greater gratitude, greater love, and greater power." -- Neal A. Maxwell, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2001/10/testifying-of-the-great-and-glorious-atonement?lang=eng

I find this a reflection of the teaching of Joseph Smith: "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.”

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21 hours ago, smac97 said:

I wonder if we are seeing a glitch in the truth-seeking process envisioned by the leaders of the Church (as quoted above).  I think they contemplated that someone investigating/evaluating the merits of the claims of the LDS Church would give those claims a fair hearing.  This would, I think, include the basics we have all been taught: read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, "study {them} out" (per D&C 9:7-9), pray about them with "real intent" and with faith and effort (as contemplated in Moroni 10:3-5, 2 Nephi 31:13, James 1:6, and so on), nurture the beginnings of faith through obedience and service to others (per Alma 32, Mosiah 3 and 4, etc.).  The anticipated result would include impressions and promptings of the Spirit, followed by further study and effort and obedience.  This cyclical effort would then result build up, shall we say, "spiritual momentum" that at once makes the journey in life more manageable, and also keeps us moving forward despite difficulties and obstacles...

Thoughts?

I think you are missing the mark with this alleged "glitch". For example, didn't John Q give the church a fair hearing?

But regardless, it seems to miss the point. The validity of the quotes you provided should stand independent of whether or not somebody gives it "a fair hearing." Would it even be wrong to say, "Either the church is true or it is false. But that statement is only true if you give it a fair hearing."

There are definitely some cognitive biases in how people select and interpret the evidence they use to make and justify their decisions. This naturally leads to "big lists", with some items that might be valid and others might be totally invalid. Yes, people who have consciously decided that the Church isn't what it claims to be will have a "big list" of reasons they disbelieve, and it is likely that if you rank those reasons from strongest to weakest, the weakest reasons could be really, really weak. But the reverse is true for exactly the same reason: if you have a believer list the reasons he does believe, he's also going to make a list, which presumably would also be pretty big (remember the "17 points of the true church" list?). And if you ranked the reasons on this big list of belief, the weakest reasons for believing would also be pretty weak. This phenomenon should be evaluated in terms of cognitive science.

But in terms of getting at the truth, the fact that the various lists are big doesn't mean the position they support is weak. Likewise, the overall strength of the list shouldn't be judged by the weakest elements on it.
 

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First off, I say bravo to Smac for a really good faith effort to lay this out.  And I won't take the time or won't really be able to take the time to give the completely fair shake it deserves.  

No doubt if we all saw it with this attitude we'd all be better off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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22 hours ago, smac97 said:

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

Really excellent post!  Thank you!

A couple thoughts I have about some of the black-and-white true or fraud comments.

Quote

 

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”
—President J. Reuben Clark

“I am suggesting that we make exactly that same kind of do-or-die, bold assertion about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. We have to. Reason and rightness require it. Accept Joseph Smith as a prophet and the book as the miraculously revealed and revered word of the Lord it is or else consign both man and book to Hades for the devastating deception of it all, but let’s not have any bizarre middle ground about the wonderful contours of a young boy’s imagination or his remarkable facility for turning a literary phrase. That is an unacceptable position to take—morally, literarily, historically, or theologically.”
—Jeffrey R. Holland, “True or False,” Liahona, June 1996

 

Smac, here is what you said about these quotes:

Quote

 

I wonder if we are seeing a glitch in the truth-seeking process envisioned by the leaders of the Church (as quoted above).  I think they contemplated that someone investigating/evaluating the merits of the claims of the LDS Church would give those claims a fair hearing.  This would, I think, include the basics we have all been taught: read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, "study {them} out" (per D&C 9:7-9), pray about them with "real intent" and with faith and effort (as contemplated in Moroni 10:3-5, 2 Nephi 31:13, James 1:6, and so on), nurture the beginnings of faith through obedience and service to others (per Alma 32, Mosiah 3 and 4, etc.).  The anticipated result would include impressions and promptings of the Spirit, followed by further study and effort and obedience.  This cyclical effort would then result build up, shall we say, "spiritual momentum" that at once makes the journey in life more manageable, and also keeps us moving forward despite difficulties and obstacles.

I think the above quotes from General Authorities were given to us in response to some of us becoming perhaps a bit inattentive, even halfhearted, in the fostering and maintaining of our faith and devotion.  Apparently some were even adopting what Elder Holland called a "bizarre middle ground" (I think he may have had in mind the "Inspired Fiction" or comparable have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too alternative explanations for the Book of Mormon and the Restoration).

However, what has been happening lately is, as noted above, a "glitch."  Members of the Church are encountering "Big List"-type compendia, and then take an all-or-nothing approach to the Gospel, but one that I do not think was contemplated by the Brethren.  That is, they are running into stuff described by Jeff Lindsay here:

 

Typically, I despise black and white thinking, but in this regard, when it comes to the truthfulness of the gospel, I agree with the truth or fraud sentiment.  I add a third option though - truth, fraud, or delusion. I personally don't think we are seeing a "glitch" in what was intended by the leaders.  These comments were indeed intended to elicit a fire, but fire can both support life if handled properly and carefully, but fire can also burn you and kill life, and I think our leaders realize that.  That is the nature of fire - it is not something to be trifled with.  I think our leaders are following the scriptural injunction below:    

Quote

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.  So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth (Rev 3:15-16).

I think the glitch we see is in the lack of clarity and emphasis in what truthfulness of the gospel means.  I think it is important that it is emphasized that it does not mean that our leaders are infallible, or that the temporal organization of the Church is anything other than an imperfect entity.  It is critical to understand that if the restored gospel is true, it does not follow that the church or its leaders are, or ever were, perfect.  Perhaps we have done more damage in not quickly offering or admitting fault, mistake, or apology.  The last thing we want to do as a church is to put on the persona of perfection.  I personally believe that one of the greatest protections against fault-finders is to readily and humbly admit fault and human imperfection where it exists.  It disarms them.  It need not destroy our faith when we understand that to "be true" does not mean to "be perfect".  A stronger emphasis that we are an imperfect temporal organization would go a long way, I think.  It is honest and refreshing.   When we confuse the two terms (true and perfect), these "Big-List" efforts become extremely effective, where "only 10%" need to be accurate for the church to be false. 

So, while I do see the truthfulness of the restored gospel in black and white terms, what it meas to be "true" is not so black and white.  

Finally, I think these quotes from our leaders should naturally engender compassion and non-judgment towards our critics who once were faithful members.  After all, they are only doing what our leaders expect of them - a.k.a not being lukewarm.  They are being true to their perspective with integrity in fighting what they perceive to be a great fraud that "ought to be harmed" as J. Reuben Clark suggested.  It is their perspective and perception that needs to be questioned, but their integrity (in most cases, I think) need not be questioned.  In fact, I view many strong critics in a very respectful light.  It is the lukewarm ones who can't really give a good, or any, reason at all for leaving that are perhaps of greater concern and which lack conviction and integrity.     It is a matter of perception and deception, but let's not judge the person or their integrity (except where they are intentionally and fraudulently deceiving) and offer compassion and view them as good people who believe they are doing the right thing.   They are angry, and if their perceptions are true, our leaders agree that they aught to be angry.  So once again, this is simply a matter of perception only.  It is an intellectual deception.  I think it is important to give an intellectual framework that allows for imperfection in the church, but beyond that, I don't think we need to have an intellectual answer to every single question on the list.  It simply is not necessary and can actually be damaging as it gives off the persona of perfection again.  Give a basic framework only.  That allows for the real work - the spiritual work - room to grow.   

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1 minute ago, Analytics said:

I think you are missing the mark with this alleged "glitch". For example, didn't John Q give the church a fair hearing?

No, I don't think he did.  He relied on treatment and characterizations of the Church's history and doctrines from opponents of the Church.  That treatment/characterization is not "a fair hearing."  Again: "Then these folks encounter "big lists" and other online resources that distill and summarize all sorts of controversies, errors, shortcomings, etc. by members and leaders of the Church.  Such compilations are full of cheap shots presented for shock value.  Presentism.  Facile criticism.  Misrepresentation by omission and distortion.  A determined effort to keep these topics decontextualized and sensationalized.  Sarcasm.  No effort to study or meaningfully understand.  And intermingled with them are some legitimate criticisms."

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

But regardless, it seems to miss the point. The validity of the quotes you provided should stand independent of whether or not somebody gives it "a fair hearing."

I think that's quite unrealistic.  As an attorney, I regularly participate in cases in which there isn't much in the way of factual dispute, but which involves huge amounts of interpretation, context, gloss, emphasis on this, de-emphasis on that, balancing of equities and competing interests, assumptions, presumptions, and on and on and on.

"A fair hearing" is a vital component of discerning truth.

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

Would it even be wrong to say, "Either the church is true or it is false. But that statement is only true if you give it a fair hearing."

Yes, that would be wrong.  This could work, though: "Either the Church is what it claims to be, or it is not.  Discerning the correct conclusion about that requires giving the Church a fair hearing."

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

There are definitely some cognitive biases in how people select and interpret the evidence they use to make and justify their decisions.

I quite agree.  It's weird, then, for you to have said that "a fair hearing" doesn't matter.

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

This naturally leads to "big lists", with some items that might be valid and others might be totally invalid.

And some of these items might be "valid," but misconstrued, or exaggerated.  Or their importance might be underestimated, or overestimated.  Emotion may carry the day.  Anger may supersede fact.  Ignorance and decontextualization and shock value can distort the meaning and significance of events.  And so on.

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

Yes, people who have consciously decided that the Church isn't what it claims to be will have a "big list" of reasons they disbelieve,

And that "big list" is often not compiled by themselves.  It is, instead, usually a compilation of cherry-picked, decontextualized, distorted, sensationalized, characterizing-the-Church-in-the-worst-possible-light complaints and grievances.

This is nothing like giving the Church a "fair hearing."

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

and it is likely that if you rank those reasons from strongest to weakest, the weakest reasons could be really, really weak.

Yes.

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

But the reverse is true for exactly the same reason: if you have a believer list the reasons he does believe, he's also going to make a list, which presumably would also be pretty big (remember the "17 points of the true church" list?).

Not really.  Most of such a list would be derivative and secondary to what Latter-day Saint missionaries talk about all the time: Spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon.

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

And if you ranked the reasons on this big list of belief, the weakest reasons for believing would also be pretty weak.

But still derivative and secondary.

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

This phenomenon should be evaluated in terms of cognitive science.

Unlikely to happen.

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

But in terms of getting at the truth, the fact that the various lists are big doesn't mean the position they support is weak.

Jeff Lindsay has done a very good job of examining this issue:

1 minute ago, Analytics said:

Likewise, the overall strength of the list shouldn't be judged by the weakest elements on it.

I agree.  They should also be judged on their substantive merit.  And on their logic and plausibility.  And on their handling and assessment of evidence.  And on their accuracy and coherence.  And on their reasonableness and fairness.

I find them sorely lacking in these regards.

Thanks,

-Smac

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2 minutes ago, smac97 said:

No, I don't think he did.  He relied on treatment and characterizations of the Church's history and doctrines from opponents of the Church....

Are you kidding? On the one hand, John Q was raised in the church, attended 3-hours meetings his whole life, plus mutual, family home evening, etc. He went to seminary for 4 years, and went on a 2-year mission. This is going to be something on the order of 10,000 hours of studying and direct service to the faith.

On the other side, John Q has spent a couple dozen--perhaps even a few hundred hours studying critical material.

How could this possibly be construed as not giving the Church a fair hearing?

 

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7 minutes ago, Analytics said:

Are you kidding? On the one hand, John Q was raised in the church, attended 3-hours meetings his whole life, plus mutual, family home evening, etc. He went to seminary for 4 years, and went on a 2-year mission. This is going to be something on the order of 10,000 hours of studying and direct service to the faith.

On the other side, John Q has spent a couple dozen--perhaps even a few hundred hours studying critical material.

How could this possibly be construed as not giving the Church a fair hearing?

We don't really study these critics or their remarks in the 3-hours of church, mutual, family home evenings, seminary, or mission, etc.   So, to get a fair hearing in relation to these specific criticisms, requires something more than a study of the basics of the gospel your whole life.

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10 minutes ago, pogi said:

Typically, I despise black and white thinking, but in this regard, when it comes to the truthfulness of the gospel, I agree with the truth or fraud sentiment. 

In the end, so do I.  But I emphasize the "in the end" part. 

An inquiry about the Church is a process, and it necessarily involves some real time, and effort, and patience.  And even humility, and faith, and receptivity.  My concern is that the "glitch" described in the OP is leading some (many?) in the Church to dispense with this most or all of this process, and instead rely on "Big List"-type compilations as a shortcut.  And we all know that shortcut was crafted to lead to just one conclusion.

The Church's claims are not getting a fair hearing.  Those claims ultimately require a conclusion about whether the Church is "true" or a "fraud."  But the conclusion isn't being reached by a full and fair adjudication of the Church's claims.

10 minutes ago, pogi said:

I add a third option though - truth, fraud, or delusion.

Only in theory.  In practical reality, this third option doesn't work.  Mass delusion?  Of millions of people?  Spread throughout centuries and locations and cultures and languages and backgrounds?  

C.S. Lewis and Daniel Peterson have both talked about this (C.S. Lewis's famous "trilemma" of "Lunatic, Liar, or Lord" and Peterson's similar trilemma about the origins of the Book of Mormon - see here).

Of the three options, delusion is the least coherent.

10 minutes ago, pogi said:

So, while I do see the truthfulness of the restored gospel in black and white terms, what it meas to be "true" is not so black and white.  

A very fair point.  I think the Church being "true" pertains to the foundational elements of its claims:

God lives.  Jesus Christ is His Son.  We are His children.  He created the Plan of Salvation, which centers on the Atonement of Christ, and which is communicated to us through revelation (both prophetic and individually), and which in our day includes the creation of a Church housing God's authority, structure, and saving ordinances.

10 minutes ago, pogi said:

Finally, I think these quotes from our leaders should naturally engender compassion and non-judgment towards our critics who once were faithful members. 

I quite agree.

10 minutes ago, pogi said:

After all, they are only doing what our leaders expect of them - a.k.a not being lukewarm.

I wouldn't go that far.  

10 minutes ago, pogi said:

They are being true to their perspective with integrity in fighting what they perceive to be a great fraud that "ought to be harmed" as J. Reuben Clark suggested.  

Some are, yes.  Others are lashing out in anger.  With a desire to harm.  And such efforts are often based on distortions, mischaracterizations, and even untruths.

Romans 10 comes to mind:

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1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

I can and do appreciate zeal, but the "not according to knowledge" part can create some real problems.

10 minutes ago, pogi said:

It is their perspective and perception that needs to be questioned, but their integrity (in most cases, I think) need not be questioned. 

Sure.  There are, of course, instances in which a lack of integrity or decency becomes manifest, and we only deceive ourselves and others by ignoring that.

10 minutes ago, pogi said:

So once again, this is simply a matter of perception only.  It is an intellectual deception.  I think it is important to give an intellectual framework that allows for imperfection in the church, but beyond that, I don't think we need to have an intellectual answer to every single question on the list.  It simply is not necessary.  Give a basic framework only.  That allows for the real work - the spiritual work - room to grow.   

I quite agree.  The point in the OP (one of the points, anyway) is that the "glitch" - reliance on pre-packaged "Big Lists" compiled by critics and opponents of the Church - is cirumventing the "intellectual framework" posited by the Church.  It is that the Church's position and claims are not being given a fair hearing.

Thanks,

-Smac

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45 minutes ago, smac97 said:

"A fair hearing" is a vital component of discerning truth.

To the limited extent I've been involved in negotiating contracts, the concept of treating both sides equally regularly comes up. For example, if your client wants me to have unlimited liability if I break the terms of the agreement, my attorney will insist that your client has unlimited liability if he breaks the terms of the contract.

From that perspective, do both sides deserve a fair hearing? If the Church should get a fair hearing before somebody leaves the faith, should critics get a fair hearing before somebody joins?

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Yes, that would be wrong.  This could work, though: "Either the Church is what it claims to be, or it is not.  Discerning the correct conclusion about that requires giving the Church a fair hearing."

That would be wrong, too. A step in the right direction would be: ""Either the Church is what it claims to be, or it is not.  Discerning the correct conclusion about that requires giving the Church and the critics a fair hearing."

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Not really.  Most of such a list would be derivative and secondary to what Latter-day Saint missionaries talk about all the time: Spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon.

That gets to issues of cognitive bias, as well as logic, plausibility, handling and assesment of evidence, accuracy, and coherence. Just because the missionaries always talk about a spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon doesn't mean that is a good way of figuring out the truth.

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[This phenomenon should be evaluated in terms of cognitive science.]  Unlikely to happen.

I take it you aren't subscribed to the "Cognitive Dissidents" podcast? "Today we introduce a NEW PODCAST , the “Cognitive Dissidents” Podcast.   Hosted by Bill Reel this podcast will tend to focus more on the psychology of religious belief and the mechanisms in place that encourage us to hold that belief.  We also want to spend time placing these mechanisms in the context of cognitive and faith development.  Once we see how these mechanisms work, we can begin to open our eyes more to truth and to the reality."

https://cognitivedissidents.org/2017/07/cognitive-dissidents-001-introduction/

There are 12 episodes so far.

Edited by Analytics
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42 minutes ago, Analytics said:
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No, I don't think he did.  He relied on treatment and characterizations of the Church's history and doctrines from opponents of the Church....

Are you kidding?

Nope.

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On the one hand, John Q was raised in the church, attended 3-hours meetings his whole life, plus mutual, family home evening, etc. He went to seminary for 4 years, and went on a 2-year mission. This is going to be something on the order of 10,000 hours of studying and direct service to the faith.

And yet he didn't know that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy.  He didn't know about multiple versions of the First Vision.  He didn't know about Mountain Meadows or the events which precipitated it.  He didn't know much, if anything, about the origins and progression of the preisthood ban.  He was upset that the Church has money and invests it. 

He didn't spend much, if any, time studying the Gospel, or the history of the Church.  Instead, he turned to, and relied on, "'big lists' and other online resources that distill and summarize all sorts of controversies, errors, shortcomings, etc. by members and leaders of the Church.  Such compilations are full of cheap shots presented for shock value.  Presentism.  Facile criticism.  Misrepresentation by omission and distortion.  A determined effort to keep these topics decontextualized and sensationalized.  Sarcasm.  No effort to study or meaningfully understand.  And intermingled with them are some legitimate criticisms."

The items in the "Big List" come to overshadow and supersede the basic truth claims of the Church.

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On the other side, John Q has spent a couple dozen--perhaps even a few hundred hours studying critical material.

"Studying?"  Not really.  As I have noted previously (referencing "Letter to a CES Director"): "That's rather the advantage (and intent) of presenting huge lists of short questions which demand long answers.  Responding to such a list becomes unwieldy and impractical.  The questioner (in this case, Mr. Runnells) then gets to crow and pat himself on the back and unilaterally declare his position to be 'correct' because his exhausting list of questions (accusations, really) was not answered to his self-serving satisfaction."

And here

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Many challenging issues about the Church can be framed (and usually are by folks like Jeremy Runnells and Bill Reel) as a series of fairly short questions that typically demand long answers.  But understanding the context of the issues, and addressing assumptions underlying each "question," and differentiating facts from fiction/rhetorical embellishment, and so on are all necessary predicates to providing substantive and informed and competent answers.  Naturally, this can take a lot of time, far longer than it took a person like Jeremy Runnells to do some Googling and then copy and paste his "questions" into a "Big List."  And not just time, but prayer and effort to meaningfully study and research relevant scriptures, scholarship, etc.

And yet this has been done for Jeremy Runnells.  And the result was that Mr. Runnells largely blew off and generally failed to meaningfully address the very answers to the "questions" he had posed. 

In our world of soundbites, Wikipedia, on-demand media content, etc., some of us want a quick 'n easy answer.  That is not always possible, or even advisable.  But then, perhaps treating these "Big List" grievances as being presented in good faith is not advisable, either.  

Did John Q really invest a lot of time in investigating the substantive accuracy / reasonableness / fairness of these "Big Lists?"  Honestly, I don't think so.

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How could this possibly be construed as not giving the Church a fair hearing?

Quite readily, actually.  Online "research" and "study" is, in my view, vastly overrated.  As I noted in the OP: 

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Fifth, we need to be more informed.  We need to do real research and real study of the Restored Gospel.  We need to sort out what we believe, and why we believe it.  We need to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."  (1 Peter 3:15.)  I also think we need to differentiate our approach to the object of our faith (Jesus Christ), and, well everything else.  I think Davis Bitton's essay is very helpful on this point: I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church.  We should also examine where we stand individually.  A useful framework for such introspection is set forth in a book published last year by Elder Bruce and Sister Marie Hafen, Faith is Not Blind...

Here's a longer explanation (more specifically, a comparative analogy) about my position:

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As an attorney, I regularly represent banks and loan servicers in litigation.  One of the more challenging parts of this job is when I litigate against a pro se party (someone who is representing himself, rather than being represented by an attorney).  By "challenging" I don't mean substantively so.  Pro se litigants have little or no training in the law as pertaining to consumer finance laws, so going up against them on the substantive points of law is usually quite easy.  Instead, by "challenging" I refer to their inexperience and lack of training, which in turn deeply and adversely affects how they approach legal disputes. 

First, these folks simply don't know or understand the significance of, say, the Economic Loss Doctrine, or the proper application of the Statute of Limitations, or the Statute of Frauds.  These are all foundational and deeply relevant legal concepts in lender/borrower disputes, but pro se litigants don't address them or apply them to the case at hand.  This pretty much eliminates the possibility of litigating more nuanced and complex aspects of the dispute, because the pro se litigant has failed to engage and address the more foundational ones.

Second, pro se litigants, having failed to master or establish the foundational elements of their argument, often compound their error by presenting a series of conclusory assertions and accusations about how the bank has broken Law X or engaged in Misconduct Y.  And by "conclusory" I mean "consisting of or relating to a conclusion or assertion for which no supporting evidence is offered."  These, in the minds of such pro se litigants, are the Really Important Issues.  But they pretty much never get to them, because the Court - and I - recognize that the first point above (failure to substantively address foundational issues) pretty much precludes us from addresing more complex and nuanced issues which generally require some foundational support.  So my client wins.  Pretty much every time.  Not because I am the greatest lawyer in the world, but because pro se litigants simply fail to adequately prepare themselves and their arguments for substantive and rigorous critique.  Because their arguments fail to address foundational issues.

Third, such pro se litigants sometimes come away from the legal proceedings upset, making acrimonious accusations and complaining that the judge "just didn't get it."

I see a somewhat similar process play out with people like you who come to this board with "questions" (accusations, really) about the LDS Church and it's doctrines, and 1) who fail to engage or simply ignore substantive and informed scholarship and "answers" (responses to accusations, really) which are already readily available, 2) who instead present a series of conclusory assertions and criticisms that are predicated on that ignorance (that is, on the absence of any treatment of the aforementioned scholarship and "answers"), and 3) who then get upset at the Mormons on this board for not going along with or substantively addressing these conclusory assertions.

We've already covered Step 1 and Step 2.  You are asking questions which inherently demonstrate that you either have not read the relevant scholarship on the topic (in this case, DNA and the Book of Mormon), or else you have read it but are pretending that it doesn't exist.  And you are instead presenting conclusory statements and accusations by dressing them up as questions.

This is not a healthy approach to discussion.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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6 minutes ago, Analytics said:

To the limited extent I've been involved in negotiating contracts, the concept of treating both sides equally regularly comes up. For example, if your client wants me to have unlimited liability if I break the terms of the agreement, my attorney will insist that he has unlimited liability if he breaks the terms of the contract.

Okay.

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From that perspective, do both sides deserve a fair hearing?

Certainly.  Contracts must be entered into voluntarily, after all.

That does not mean, however, that both sides come to the table with equal amounts of bargaining power.  

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If the Church should get a fair hearing before somebody leaves the faith, should critics get a fair hearing before somebody joins?

I don't understand your argument here.

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That would be wrong, too. A step in the right direction would be: ""Either the Church is what it claims to be, or it is not.  Discerning the correct conclusion about that requires giving the Church and the critics a fair hearing."

I'm not sure about that.  If I am applying for a job, is it my obligation to say "Oh, and here's a list of people who hate my guts.  I'm sure they will give you a fair and honest assessment of my competency and character."  Have you ever done that?  And if not, were you being dishonest?

As an attorney, I am quite acclimated to presenting disputed factual and legal issues to a judge.  I am fine with that.  I want justice to be done.  However, in the immortal words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."

Broadly speaking, "big lists" trade on sensationalism.  Cheap shots.  Decontextualization.  Mischaracterization.  Distortion.  Fomenting anger.  Trading on prejudices.  These are not conducive to the pursuit of truth.  

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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39 minutes ago, smac97 said:

In the end, so do I.  But I emphasize the "in the end" part. 

An inquiry about the Church is a process, and it necessarily involves some real time, and effort, and patience.  And even humility, and faith, and receptivity.  My concern is that the "glitch" described in the OP is leading some (many?) in the Church to dispense with this most or all of this process, and instead rely on "Big List"-type compilations as a shortcut.  And we all know that shortcut was crafted to lead to just one conclusion.

Good point.

39 minutes ago, smac97 said:

The Church's claims are not getting a fair hearing.  Those claims ultimately require a conclusion about whether the Church is "true" or a "fraud."  But the conclusion isn't being reached by a full and fair adjudication of the Church's claims.

Only in theory.  In practical reality, this third option doesn't work.  Mass delusion?  Of millions of people?  Spread throughout centuries and locations and cultures and languages and backgrounds?  

C.S. Lewis and Daniel Peterson have both talked about this (C.S. Lewis's famous "trilemma" of "Lunatic, Liar, or Lord" and Peterson's similar trilemma about the origins of the Book of Mormon - see here).

Of the three options, delusion is the least coherent.

There have been books written on several examples of this throughout history.  Crowd psychology is an interesting thing.  Here are a few examples:

https://listverse.com/2016/08/18/10-bizarre-instances-of-mass-delusion/

I agree that it is the least likely though.  

I don't want to derail on this topic, I only post this to suggest that I still include it as an option - not that I believe it obviously. 

 

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11 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Nope.

And yet he didn't know that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy.  He didn't know about multiple versions of the First Vision.  He didn't know about Mountain Meadows or the events which precipitated it.  He didn't know much, if anything, about the origins and progression of the preisthood ban.  He was upset that the Church has money and invests it. 

Right. He studied what the Church told him to study.

11 minutes ago, smac97 said:

He didn't spend much, if any, time studying the Gospel, or the history of the Church.  Instead, he turned to, and relied on, "'big lists' and other online resources that distill and summarize all sorts of controversies, errors, shortcomings, etc. by members and leaders of the Church.  Such compilations are full of cheap shots presented for shock value.  Presentism.  Facile criticism.  Misrepresentation by omission and distortion.  A determined effort to keep these topics decontextualized and sensationalized.  Sarcasm.  No effort to study or meaningfully understand.  And intermingled with them are some legitimate criticisms."

Again, he studied what the Church told him to study. John Q is your hypothetical, so if you insist that the critical material he went to was as bad as you represent, that is your prerogative. But if his "spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon" wasn't strong enough to see some red flags with the critical material and perhaps see if there was more to it, that only proves my point. Can you imagine this as a court case? The plaintiff spends 10,000 hours explaining its case, and the defense spends 10 hours making cheap shots that rely on presentism, facile criticism, misrepresentation, sensationalism, and sarcasm. The defense wins, and the plaintiff complains that he wasn't given a fair hearing?!

11 minutes ago, smac97 said:

The items in the "Big List" come to overshadow and supersede the basic truth claims of the Church.

"Studying?"  Not really.  As I have noted previously (referencing "Letter to a CES Director"): "That's rather the advantage (and intent) of presenting huge lists of short questions which demand long answers...."

I'm sure you don't want to argue the details of this here, but I'll state for the record that the reason they demand long answers is because in general, no good answers exist.

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2 hours ago, pogi said:

We don't really study these critics or their remarks in the 3-hours of church, mutual, family home evenings, seminary, or mission, etc.   So, to get a fair hearing in relation to these specific criticisms, requires something more than a study of the basics of the gospel your whole life.

Nor is past extensive (in terms of hours and venues) church study a guarantee that John Q has been exposed to a wide range and depth of church teachings.  That is often highly dependent on being exposed to teachers who are knowledgeable in this way as well as capable of teaching effectively, especially the skill of critical thought where one learns to examine assumptions and the values that they as well as others use to weight the evidence they examine.  And that in the past hasn't been a common experience imo in the church or out of it.  10,000 hours studying the same 100 things over and over isn't going to yield depth...especially if a person isn't able to retain what they are exposed to only once or a few times.  

Added:  For example, any student taking the Church History Institute class while the Ensign to the Nation text was being used would have had the opportunity to be exposed to a 6 page discussion of the Mountain Meadows Masssacre.  Not a huge amount of detail, but if studied and retained they would be aware of the event and the responsibility of church members in the massacre (though it still relied on older info that placed significant blame on the local Paiutes).  And yet I know of individuals who took the class, but later in life were surprised when hearing the MMM discussed.  This may have been due to a one time exposure to a relatively emotionless rendition that was pushed out by other events taught over and over again.  Or may have been a result of not reading the text because there were texts to be read that their future career depended on.  Absolute hours of study does not mean they have taken advantage of all that was offered during those hours.

How many people have even taken a logic class to learn the basics in their years of schooling?

While I had nice and sincere Church teachers through all my years of attendance including BYU religion courses, there was really only one university professor that taught me to look indepth into the scriptures.  The rest were pretty much repetition of superficial approaches to and knowledge of doctrine.  From what I have heard, this is not unusual.  I personally know members who went through the entire system from birth and still can't recall basic bible characters nor are they able to explain their significance.  This is imo due in part to having a church staffed by volunteers and overall I don't have a problem with it as I think the focus of learning to be good people who care and serve others was very well taught in my experience, especially by example and in the long run I believe that matters more.  

The problem arises imo when the assumption is persistent or widespread that superficial teaching is actually in depth teaching.  I am hoping the shift to a more personal and family oriented style of teaching will help convey the message that the Church is providing a basic doctrinal structure, that individuals desiring more need to not expect to be given the information without seeking it first.  The Church's efforts to provide access to resources for those who desire to study will hopefully also create more who become skilled in those areas and pass on the desire for that skill to others, especially their children.  If people recognize it is more personal choice that directs what they have learned and retained from learning by the time they get to adulthood, they will be no more offended that they are unaware of certain nuances of doctrine or historical events than a patient is offended when their doctor provides them with medical information they were unaware of because they recognize they chose to invest their time in becoming proficient in other things, such as engineering or art.

I greatly benefitted from learning to study myself from my mother who spent hours daily searching out truths, sometimes in strange places and learning how to question from my father, even if he wasn't very comfortable when we turned that skill to examine some of the less than wise short cuts he was tempted to use at times in parenting.  Otoh, I have wasted many hours because my parents were not able because they did not know themselves how to direct my studies into the most fruitful paths.  That skill I am picking up more from watching the efforts and struggles of people online.  

I should have multiple doctorates if one simply counts hours of study.  That I don't have any is a combination of what was taught me (direction from my parents was in many ways to avoid the depths that required real effort and resources to explore so I could be more effective in providing for myself and others) and my choices on what to invest my time in (I am interested in numerous things, but also hate being interrupted in the midst of studying...which means shorter topics were preferred once motherhood became one of my roles).

I think given our greater culture, not only in the US but many other places, making clear that the greatest responsibility for teaching the Gospel rests with parents so that more will recognize and accept depth can only really come from a daily lifelong search for truth and not a couple of hours weekly is the most effective approach Church leaders can take to help build faith rooted in knowledge as well as live and service.  There may be significant growing pains as happens with all major change, but I don't see other options that would have as deep or long lasting effects.  

This needs to be coupled imo with an attitude we don't need to get it perfect, the stumbling around is as much a valuable lesson as the scholar as teacher version.  I know many parents are fearful of the responsibility of being teachers as they are well aware of their lack, especially in teaching skills.  If the Church can help spread the attitude it is learning together that works best, I think this may help parents take the plunge rather than give up because of feeling helpless and overwhelmed by the task.

The Church has for a long time encouraged its members to become faithful scholars themselves rather than relying on others, they are imo now more often treating members as such.  I see it in the same line as parents needing to trust teens and young adults to start making decisions for themselves.  While there will be more mistakes and injuries for a time, in the long run that is the only way that youth will mature into emotional and intellectual adults...not just biological ones.

Edited by Calm
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12 hours ago, smac97 said:

publicly available for a long time

Publicly available does not mean easy to find, especially as a teenager in the 70's in Southern California. Also, I trusted the narrative that I was being taught in church meetings. I saw no reason to do extra research.

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Smac, thanks for sharing your thoughts. There's a lot to think about.

I would prefer that people make their decisions regarding faith and participation in a church with a great deal of study, prayer, and thought. This doesn't always happen, of course. And I don't think one can assume that a person has or has not given due diligence to their religious decisions based simply on the person's decision. (eg- he is LDS so therefore he must have been super faithful and diligent in studying the gospel, or he is Methodist so obviously he was lazy and unfaithful in his studies)

Right now I'm really struggling with parents and siblings who treat me and my family like heathens because we have made a decision to be actively engaged in a different congregation. They have no respect for our efforts because it's not really about the journey, it's about the final destination, which must be the Church. So they do and say rude things, they have special FHE's in which my family is targeted as lazy and letting down the rest of the family and God. We've tried to be very patient. We don't make a fuss because we're trying to preserve relationships but it's getting harder all the time. Because we've made a decision they don't agree with, they assume the absolute worst about us. They would much prefer we were simply inactive as opposed to finding a home in another Christian church. We haven't formally joined another church and I doubt I ever would, but that's not really the point.

When I served for 20+ years in every ward leadership calling imaginable, and many stake leadership callings, I was always viewed as intelligent, diligent, and spiritual. I haven't really changed as a person. I'm still those things (and very humble too ;)  ) but my decision to go elsewhere is viewed as a betrayal to my family and as a lazy way of life. I would hope that family would be happy that I am still engaging in Christianity and serving others, even if it is in another church, but that isn't the case. When family talks about their callings, and activities and experiences at church we listen and engage the conversation. When we share our experiences its' crickets and then a fast change of subject.

I don't believe my family is really unique in this. They don't have the tools to talk about differences, let alone respect differences. I have a couple of siblings who are totally closeted in their unbelief of the church out of fear that they'll be treated like I am. IMO this is a very unhealthy family dynamic, and also an unhealthy church dynamic. I've seen some good books (Mason, Ostler & others) that try to address this issues. I hope some day those types of works give enough church members the tools to have discussions that a family like mine can appreciate differences rather than think them a sin or sign of weakness. For my parents Sad Heaven exists and they passively aggressively lay the guilt on thick, even while being completely incapable of having a direct conversation.

Addressing struggles and loss of faith is WAY better today than it was even 10 years ago, but there is still a ton of improvement to be made. It's going to take time for the skills and even the need to have these kinds of discussions to trickle down to the family level. Hopefully church leadership can model positive ways to address struggles and loss of faith. It's a mixed bag at best. For every good comment or talk there seems to be 4 others doubling down on the old way. In any case I'm happy where I am, and I'm happy my family is happy where they are. I just wish they could recognize my decision doesn't automatically make me a heathen/apostate/anti-Christ (all of which I've been told I am).

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20 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I don't understand your argument here.

Some sincere, informed people think there are good reasons to believe the church. Other sincere, informed people think there are good reasons not to believe it. If somebody wants to make an informed decision about which side is right, shouldn't both sides get a fair hearing?

20 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I'm not sure about that.  If I am applying for a job, is it my obligation to say "Oh, and here's a list of people who hate my guts.  I'm sure they will give you a fair and honest assessment of my competency and character."  Have you ever done that?  And if not, were you being dishonest?

Applying your original argument to this analogy, imagine an employee faithfully working at a company for 20 years. He then goes on the Internet and reads about how it isn't a good place to work. He then quits. At that point, the employer laments the loss of the employee and complains that he wasn't given a fair hearing to explain why it really is a great company to work for.

Responding to your analogy, if your employer wants to make a good decision, he should give all sides a fair hearing about whether you would be a good hire. That means he is free to look at your credit rating, hearing what your creditor friends and creditor enemies have to say. And he is free to call up all past employers, including the ones that liked you and the ones that didn't. If he wants to make a good decision, he should do his homework and look at all sides. Presumably it would be dishonest to omit from your application the past employers who fired you.

 

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3 hours ago, smac97 said:

In a similar sense, we can consider Jesus Christ in a "very black and white" way, too.  He was either the Son of God, or else he was a fraud.  He either performed miracles by the power of God, or He did not.  He either suffered and atoned for our sins, or he did not.  He is either "the way, the truth, and the life," or he is not (John 14:6).  Either He was correct in stating that "no man cometh unto the Father, but by me," or he was not.

Thanks for this Smac.

With apologies to Don Henley, Jesus Christ’s truth claim is the real heart of the matter.

My experience with Saints is that those who accept Jesus’ truth claim without having a “wrestle” with Deity, too often end up having the same lack of relationship with Deity than those who reject Jesus’ truth claim.

Do we say Jesus is the Christ because that’s what we were taught, that’s what we think we’re supposed to say or because we would like it to be true?

Or do we say Jesus is the Christ because our wrestling with Deity has led to our being healed by the Great Physician, comforted by the Comforter, tutored by Divine Parents.

If the former, I would suggest that the truth claim that deserves our full focus is the one made by Jesus, lest we miss the mark and suffer because our ears are slow to hear, our hearts are cold and our eyes cannot see afar off.

If the latter, I would suggest that our prior experiences will motivate us to focus on activities with Deity that will lead to further healing, comfort and tutorials. 

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12 minutes ago, Analytics said:

Right. He studied what the Church told him to study.

Oh, brother.  The Church has long encouraged its members to study the Gospel on their own, and to not rely on just what they receive during the three-hour block (and, I suppose, seminary/institute).

12 minutes ago, Analytics said:

Again, he studied what the Church told him to study.

I've been a lawyer for 15 years.  I graduated from law school in 2004.  Doing my job well necessarily requires me to continually study and update and expand my familiarity with and understanding of the law.  I cannot stand still.  I cannot rely on the lessons I received 15+ years ago.  It would be wrong for any attorney to stop his/her study of the law at graduation.

How much more important, then, is it for me to study the Restored Gospel on my own?  On my own time and my own dime?

Lots.

12 minutes ago, Analytics said:

John Q is your hypothetical, so if you insist that the critical material he went to was as bad as you represent, that is your prerogative.

I've written quite a bit on this board about topics like Jeremy Runnells and Bill Reel and their "Big List" proclivities.  I've even discussed them with you, IIRC.

12 minutes ago, Analytics said:

But if his "spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon" wasn't strong enough to see some red flags with the critical material and perhaps see if there was more to it, that only proves my point.

I don't understand what you are saying here.

To be candid, I think few Latter-day Saints have a testimony based on, say, chiasmus, the NHM altars, Skousan's Critical Text project, and so on.  You were juxtaposing critical "Big Lists" with a corollary "Big List" purportedly compiled by Latter-day Saints.  My sense, though, is that Latter-day Saints base their acceptance of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ on spiritual experiences (very often centering on the Book of Mormon).  Pretty much everything else is derivative and secondary.

I wrote about this previously here:

Quote

Some years later I graduated from high school and joined the Army.  During my training I had a series of written communications with my dad in which I asked him about all sorts of things about the Church, the Gospel, and so on.  I asked him what had happened to the Sword of Laban.  I asked him about polygamy.  I asked him about how women felt about polygamy (those who actually experienced it).  I asked him about blacks and the priesthood.  I asked him about Joseph Smith's polygamy.  I asked about the Liahona.  Anything that piqued my interest.

My dad, who had a large library of church history books (and also, IIRC, a set of "Infobase" CD-ROMS with additional materials), and who was our ward's Gospel Doctrine teacher at the time, wrote me long, detailed responses to my inquiries, with references and everything.  It was an amazing experience.  I was exhilarated at finding out that there were deep and complex and nuanced details about the simple Gospel stories I had been taught as a child (mostly by my mom, who created a series of illustrated church history lessons she kept in a looseleaf binder, which she used to teach lessons to us every Sunday).  And that the beautiful and profound truths of the Gospel can be accepted as true despite the many flaws and errors of the Saints (even terrible things like the MMM).  He closed most of his letters with an exhortation that I continue to study and be curious about the Gospel, but that I retain in focus what he called the "planks" of a testimony, which were, IIRC, that God lives, that Jesus Christ is His Son, that the Priesthood is His Power, and The Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God.  Everything else, he said, is "parsley on the side of the plate" (or some such similar metaphor).

I will always be grateful to my parents.  To my mother, who through sheer force of will taught her children many lessons about Church history and the scriptures.  And to my father, who helped me in a time of cognitive dissonance, who taught me that faith and knowledge are complimentary to each other, that studying scholarship pertaining to the Church and to the Gospel can and should augment faith in the Gospel, even though such efforts have required me to move beyond the simplified and idyllic version I was taught as a child.  But that is, I think, as it should be.  As Paul put it: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

My parents "inoculated" me by teaching me to study through reading and prayer, and to seek to understand difficult truths in measured and circumspect and faithful ways.

I don't have a "Big List."  Not really.  Like my dad, I believe " that God lives, that Jesus Christ is His Son, that the Priesthood is His Power, and the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God" and that everything else is "parsley on the side of the plate."

12 minutes ago, Analytics said:

Can you imagine this as a court case? The plaintiff spends 10,000 hours explaining its case, and the defense spends 10 hours making cheap shots that rely on presentism, facile criticism, misrepresentation, sensationalism, and sarcasm. The defense wins, and the plaintiff complains that he wasn't given a fair hearing?!

In this metaphor, John Q is the judge, not the Plaintiff (since it's the judge that makes the decision).  The "plaintiff" would be the Church, and the "defendant" would be the critics.

If the judge makes his decision based on A) summarily disregarding the 10,000 hours of material proffered by the plaintiff, and B) uncritically accepting the entirety of the 10 hours of cheap shots, then I think the answer was "No, the plaintiff (the Church) was not given a fair hearing."

12 minutes ago, Analytics said:

I'm sure you don't want to argue the details of this here, but I'll state for the record that the reason they demand long answers is because in general, no good answers exist.

And I'll state for the record that my experience has been quite different.  I've previously addressed this here:

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I'm not particularly interested in such an exercise {parsing out responses to all of the "CES Letter"}.  It's been done before, though.  Bill Reel isn't the only person to try the "Big List" approach.  Jeremy Runnells perhaps set the gold standard for it.  And there have been a lot of responses to it.  

...

One of my less pleasant responsibilities as an attorney is responding to lawsuits filed by pro se litigants (plaintiffs who represent themselves, rather than hire an attorney).  This becomes less pleasant because

  • A) the area of law I am involved in - consumer finance litigation - is fairly complex, such that even seasoned attorneys can often make serious mistakes, let alone those not trained or experiences in the law, and
  • B) pro se plaintiffs are often so out of their depth that they don't even know what they don't know, such that they end up
  • C) resorting to a scattershot, throw-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-at-'em approach in their legal pleadings, which in turn
  • D) I have to spend disproportionate and unreasonable hours responding to. 

These disproportionate hours are not time well-spent.  They are time spent sorting out the big fat mess that the plaintiff has created and trying to systematically address the legal arguments being presented (such as they are).  So that means a lot of context has to be provided.  Background has to be explained.  Foundation has to be laid.  And then comes the substantive rebuttal.  All of this takes quite a bit of time and effort, far more than the plaintiff's legal theory really deserves.  However, judges want to let people have their "day in court," which means that the defendant's attorney has to sigh, reconcile himself to the task ahead, and then dig in.

I think that seasoned scholars like Daniel Peterson and Jim Bennett and Kevin Christensen and Michael Ash and so on look upon Runnells' letter in the same way.  The letter is intellectually lazy.  It's a shortcut.  It's slapdash.  It demonstrates no real time spent in study, no real effort to understand.  It's just a pastiche of unrelated gripes cobbled together from the Internet and organized into broad topics.  

...

And here:

Quote

I have a friend whose brother recently left the Church.  The brother sat down with my friend and offered his exit narrative.  My friend was a bit disconcerted, so she asked to talk with me.  She walked through the points her brother raised.  I summarized my understanding of these issues.  I encouraged my friend to continue to research and study these issues.

And so it goes.  

Jeff Lindsay has some interesting thoughts on this phenomenon:

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One of the challenges in defending one's faith is coping with critics who use the "Big List" technique in their attack. This involves throwing out numerous arguments to create the impression of an overwhelming barrage that decimates the faith in question (see the related post, "If Only 10% of These Charges Are True..."). The Big List is loaded with barbed questions that weren't written in search of a real answer. If there is a good defense to the arguments raised at first, never mind, there are many more to be launched in different directions. 

As with many topics in fields like history, science, and religion, the issues raised in Big List attacks are often complex and may require exploring abundant details to answer questions properly. Even for those who are prepared to answer questions on a wide variety of topics, the time it takes to lay a foundation and properly answer a question can be taken by the instantly impatient critics as an admission of weakness and confirmation that they are right, and then it's time to move on to the next attack and the next. If reasonable answers are promptly provided for some attacks, or if the alleged weakness on further examination actually proves to be evidence in favor of the faithful position, the response can be ignored as new attacks from the Big List are hurled out.

This doesn't just happen in anti-Mormon attacks. Attacks on many other faiths use the same approach. Interesting, attacks on some aspects of modern science by religious fundamentalists or young earth Creationists also may rely on the Big List approach, much to the exasperation of scientists who know there are good answers to the attacks, but often may not be able to adequately deal with the barrage of questions from critics not really interested in the answers. Some scientists call the tactic the "Gish Gallop" after Duane Gish, a Creationist noted for hurling numerous brief arguments to overwhelm opponents in debates on evolution.

Mr. Runnells's letter is a Gish Gallop.  On steroids.

 

Thanks,

-Smac

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1 hour ago, pogi said:

Really excellent post!  Thank you!

A couple thoughts I have about some of the black-and-white true or fraud comments.

Smac, here is what you said about these quotes:

Typically, I despise black and white thinking, but in this regard, when it comes to the truthfulness of the gospel, I agree with the truth or fraud sentiment.  I add a third option though - truth, fraud, or delusion. I personally don't think we are seeing a "glitch" in what was intended by the leaders.  These comments were indeed intended to elicit a fire, but fire can both support life if handled properly and carefully, but fire can also burn you and kill life, and I think our leaders realize that.  That is the nature of fire - it is not something to be trifled with.  I think our leaders are following the scriptural injunction below:    

I think the glitch we see is in the lack of clarity and emphasis in what truthfulness of the gospel means.  I think it is important that it is emphasized that it does not mean that our leaders are infallible, or that the temporal organization of the Church is anything other than an imperfect entity.  It is critical to understand that if the restored gospel is true, it does not follow that the church or its leaders are, or ever were, perfect.  Perhaps we have done more damage in not quickly offering or admitting fault, mistake, or apology.  The last thing we want to do as a church is to put on the persona of perfection.  I personally believe that one of the greatest protections against fault-finders is to readily and humbly admit fault and human imperfection where it exists.  It disarms them.  It need not destroy our faith when we understand that to "be true" does not mean to "be perfect".  A stronger emphasis that we are an imperfect temporal organization would go a long way, I think.  It is honest and refreshing.   When we confuse the two terms (true and perfect), these "Big-List" efforts become extremely effective, where "only 10%" need to be accurate for the church to be false. 

So, while I do see the truthfulness of the restored gospel in black and white terms, what it meas to be "true" is not so black and white.  

Finally, I think these quotes from our leaders should naturally engender compassion and non-judgment towards our critics who once were faithful members.  After all, they are only doing what our leaders expect of them - a.k.a not being lukewarm.  They are being true to their perspective with integrity in fighting what they perceive to be a great fraud that "ought to be harmed" as J. Reuben Clark suggested.  It is their perspective and perception that needs to be questioned, but their integrity (in most cases, I think) need not be questioned.  In fact, I view many strong critics in a very respectful light.  It is the lukewarm ones who can't really give a good, or any, reason at all for leaving that are perhaps of greater concern and which lack conviction and integrity.     It is a matter of perception and deception, but let's not judge the person or their integrity (except where they are intentionally and fraudulently deceiving) and offer compassion and view them as good people who believe they are doing the right thing.   They are angry, and if their perceptions are true, our leaders agree that they aught to be angry.  So once again, this is simply a matter of perception only.  It is an intellectual deception.  I think it is important to give an intellectual framework that allows for imperfection in the church, but beyond that, I don't think we need to have an intellectual answer to every single question on the list.  It simply is not necessary and can actually be damaging as it gives off the persona of perfection again.  Give a basic framework only.  That allows for the real work - the spiritual work - room to grow.   

Contrary to tradition I suppose, I don’t take the “hot” and “cold” of Revelations 3:16 to be “for” or “against” the Gospel, but to approach the Lord (and by extension, presenting His message to his children) in a manner suitable for the occasion. For example, milk is cold, meat is hot. Comfort (and the Comforter) is sometimes warm and sometimes cool – it depends on the malady being alleviated (Matthew 10:42, Ecclesiastes 4:11, Job 37:17).

The lukewarm are those who have need of nothing, and do not recognize their fallen state, no matter how active and self-congratulatory they may be, whether in the Church (Revelation 3:17, the lord is speaking to the saints) or out of it. Self-righteousness is neither hot nor cold, and so is not palatable to the Lord.

Those who leave the Church may or may not be lukewarm in the sense of Revelation 6;16-17. They may leave for other reasons. “It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng

For this reason I do not see hot and cold as analogous to the negative connotations given to black or white or all or nothing.

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29 minutes ago, Thinking said:
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publicly available for a long time

Publicly available does not mean easy to find, especially as a teenager in the 70's in Southern California.

A lot has changed in the last 45 years.

29 minutes ago, Thinking said:

Also, I trusted the narrative that I was being taught in church meetings. I saw no reason to do extra research.

What about the exhortation to study the Gospel on your own?

Thanks,

-Smac

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30 minutes ago, Analytics said:

He studied what the Church told him to study.

How do you explain lack of knowledge reported by some longtime members of the existence of JS's polygamy (not suggesting the Church encouraged digging into the details, including the disturbing ones) when it is mentioned in section 132, verse 3 for example.  Is that not something the Church told people to study?

If a subject is in a church manual or text it publishes such as scriptures, I assume you would agree that means the Church as an institution wants its members to study it.  Am I wrong?

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