Trying to find a way with Scriptural understanding to reconcile the honest search for Truth and the spiritual destructiveness of unbelief, I found that doubt is not a positive attribute. As described by prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ, doubt is the enemy of faith. Unbelief is slightly worse because of a more concrete condition of the mind and heart, but they are both related to each other. Doubt doesn’t lead to faith. It destroys it by leading to questioning everything; even miracles that we participate in by the Grace of God.
The one instance when doubt brought greater understanding was Acts 10:17 after Peter received his vision of the unclean animals. Religiously speaking, it was a weak doubt because he had complete confidence the vision was real. He simply wondered, “what this vision which he had seen should mean,” and pondered for an answer. His faith in the vision was rewarded with a missionary opportunity to baptise a gentile. He then realized in Acts 10:28 that, “it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” The use of the word “doubt” in this instance might be the wrong choice of words, when “wondered” might be more appropriate.
Despite modern definitions and meanings, to doubt is not the same as questioning. It is natural and even required by Scripture that we should question. No one can discover truth without inquiring with mind and spirit where it can be found. How we are to question is important to properly growing in faith. There is a form of action involved that goes beyond the intellectual curiosity. It reads in 1 Thes. 5:21 that believers should, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” As always, Jesus Christ explained how this is to be done while teaching at the Temple. His teachings became a source of astonishment to the people attending because he had no formal intellectual training. They asked him how he could know so much without the proper school education and he responded in John 7:16-17 that, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me,” and “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” He is teaching that the way to discern spiritual things is to follow what God has already taught. This idea is emphasized in verse 19 when he asks, “Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?” Those who do not follow the basic teachings of God cannot comprehend deeper truths and will be stuck with their questions. Continue reading →
I want to address those members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are among the groups of dissenters, critics, and agitators in the Church who suddenly find themselves in an uneasy association with people who increasingly are openly hostile to the Church, its leaders, and its teachings.
I know that some of you are uncomfortable with the direction in which your associates have gone. Uneasy with the comments and conversations on the websites you frequent. Some of you quietly feel misgivings and twinges of conscience about the blatant public denigration of the Church and the Apostles by the people with whom you identify and with whom you have built friendships. You were seeking answers to your questions and resolution for your doubts, but now all you see is increased doubt, questioning, and strife.
Some of you are asking yourselves “How did this happen? I’m a good member of the Church. Why do other members call me or the group with which I participate apostate? How did I get here?”
Let me reassure you that there is a place for you in the Church. We want you here. And yes, we want you with all your doubts, questions, and complaints.
The misgivings you feel about where you suddenly find yourself are valid. Don’t reject them. Listen to them.
It doesn’t matter how you got to where you are as much as it matters that there is a way back.
In the spirit of describing personal religious turning points, I am presenting this observational essay. At the same time it touches on a few posts with themes about intellectuals and faith.
The Discovery Years
While reading about the LDS history articles in the Ensign, I was reminded of my own studies. When I was young, interest in the subject started because my own personal faith had grown. My house was filled with history books both secular and religious. As a reader, I would try and find anything I could on whatever subject interested me the most.
My first full biography on Joseph Smith was by John Henry Evans, a rather unsophisticated treatment. What intrigued me about the book was less how definitive it was and more how complicated and exciting Joseph Smith seemed. Noticing more to the man and the Prophet than the author presented didn’t bother me — it fascinated me. Perhaps it had to do with my understanding of history as storytelling rather than a collection of facts that had to be accounted for to make things true.
My second encounter with Mormon history was brief, and I had already gotten a beginner’s start by reading a few chapters in Joseph Smith’s 6 Volume history. At this point my focus of LDS Church history set with Joseph Smith as the center of study. Having read one biography of Joseph Smith, I decided to find another one; and like so many other people picked up Fawn Brodie’s treatment. I read a few chapters at the start and a couple in the middle before reading the rest. Unlike so many people who apparently read her book and become disenchanted, I was unimpressed. As a teenager I could tell where history stopped and her own unfounded biases filled in the gaps. Where Evan’s book was sketchy, this one had been overproduced. Other than a few original for the time newspaper reports, “No Man Knows My History” mostly used the Joseph Smith HIstory volumes and Journal of Discourses. Much of what she writes was discussed in B.H. Roberts History of the LDS Church with a difference of opinion. Reading Hugh Nibley’s criticism about the book was not a discovery, but a realization I wasn’t the only one seeing the problems.
Before graduating High School and leaving my home for college, I read all the historical Ensign articles I could. They contained the most detail on specific topics I had access to at the time. The articles were impressive for someone who didn’t have other treatments to rely on for more information. I lament that such writings in the magazine stopped during the 90s, although one or two good articles came out later. Still, it got me reading more than the outdated books written by a small group of believers. Continue reading →
Back in my Mormon Matters days (a John Dehlin website), it seems like we’d get a post every couple of weeks about how the scriptures are full of bad stories of God commanding the death of someone. We’d get complaints about Nephi and Laban, of course, but the story that seemed to get the most attention was that of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac.
I remember one post, in particular that suggested the story should be changed to have Abraham refuse to sacrifice Isaac and the angel of God then praises Abraham for refusing to do something immoral even if God commands it.
I can see why this story is so troubling to theological liberals and non-believers. This story simply leaves no room to ethically explain it away. Continue reading →
How many of you remember this post where I talked about “the problem of history“? In that post I gave a fake example of how in history, especially religious history, we often build informationless narrative fallacies that, due to the way human beings think, seem like rational arguments but in fact are not.
Now compare that to this post from John Nilsson back from my Mormon Matters days. I found it an interesting example of how difficult it is for us to remove our biases when dealing with religious history. (Or probably with any sort of history we care about.)
When I turned this rudimentary training [in history] on the sources describing the stories above [about angelic ordination of the priesthood], I found the records to be vague and contradictory, more so than in the case of Joseph’s different accounts of the First Vision. This is partly because Joseph had a co-participant, Oliver Cowdery, who left his own account of these experiences, and that many other early Church members wrote as if they did not hear of these ordinations until 1834 or 1835. Cowdery’s account is especially interesting, as he mentions only one occasion of priesthood bestowal, only one priesthood, only one angel visiting, and declines to name the angel as either John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John. (Note that the Church has added an “s” to “holy angel(s) in the link to the Oliver Cowdery account above to soften the ambiguity, under the guise of correcting “spelling, grammar, and punctuation”.