Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to Lose Your Faith in Mormonism

      I plan to post an explanation of the law of chastity soon—not a frequent topic of anti-Mormon criticism, but certainly something under attack in our culture. Until then, I thought I'd post this random thought.

      There are a lot of bitter former Mormons out there. They like to frequent online message boards in order to vent their feelings. I've noticed a common thread in a lot of the things they say. It seems that many people who lose their faith in Mormonism (and this probably goes for other religions as well) do it something like this:

1. Form an unrealistic, idealized concept about what Mormonism means. Digress from the fundamental principles of the gospel (faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, the Atonement, the Restoration, etc.) to find out as much as you can about exciting speculations. Slowly replace the witness of the Spirit with anecdotal evidence as the basis of your testimony. Begin to think of the truthfulness of the Church and the truthfulness of faith-promoting rumors as one and the same.

2. At some point, come to the realization that the prophet cannot find out anything he wants whenever he wants by on-demand revelation, that most of what is done in the Church is the result of people doing the best they know how, that much of what is done in the Church is the result of people doing somewhat less than the best they know how, that the Book of Mormon contains some grammatical errors, that not every temple design is directly revealed to the architects, that Brigham Young said a few controversial things in his time, and that the BYU football team doesn't receive special divine assistance at bowl games.

3. Convince yourself that you've been the hapless subject of a giant fraud, but that you now see that it was all a big lie. Scoff at your own former gullibility. Fail to realize that you're not suddenly far wiser and shrewder than you used to be. On some subconscious level, feel a need for other Mormons to have the same epiphany in order to justify yourself. Simultaneously insulate yourself against the possibility of failing to convince them of the error of their ways by telling yourself how much smarter you are than them. Go online and vent your feelings by posting snide, improperly punctuated remarks on comment boards.

I don't mean to imply that this is true of everyone who loses their faith. But there sure are a lot of these.


Grey Knight said...

I think another big cause would be the inability to acknowledge fault in oneself. Any kind of fault. For instance:

Jerry has homosexual tendencies. He pretends that he doesn't, because he can't admit to having such problems. After years of struggling with it, he finally acknowledges the fact. But he still can't acknowledge that he has a fault of any kind, so he convinces himself that it's not a fault at all and that the Church is wrong.

Finally admitting that he has such tendencies after lying to himself for so long naturally brings a feeling of liberation. He mistakes this liberation of admitting the truth for something else, thinking that it means he can live that way and it's okay.

I've met a number of such cases.

Sally said...

I voluntarily left the Mormon church several years. I had been an active, temple-going member for over 30 years. I was not angry with the church or any of leaders, no one had offended me, I was not trying to rebel or 'punish' anyone, and I certainly had not committed any 'chastity' sins. My reason for resigning from the Mormon Church was not based on any feelings, but on facts.

I find it a bit arrogant that many Mormons belief that the only way one could leave this religion is due to their sin or hurt feelings. Rarely do they assume that theology & doctrine are the reason.

As I studied the Bible I came to understand what truth was. I found that the Bible was not the faulty, untrustworthy scripture that I had been taught it was. After years of prayerfully studying the Bible I could see the contradictions between it and that of the LDS church, and that I could no longer believe both to be true. I chose to believe the Bible.

Travis Brinton said...

Sally, I don't know if the purpose of your comment was to complain about what I wrote or Grey Knight's comment, but if it was, let me point out two things:
1) The post does not talk about people who leave the Church because of chastity sins or because they were offended. It talks about people like you, who left because they became convinced it was false. It proposes that many people become convinced the Church is false because they first form unrealistic ideas about what the Church is.
2) Whether the post accurately describes your situation or not, I don't know, but I'd like to point out that I wrote, "I don't mean to imply that this is true of everyone who loses their faith."
3) I don't think that Grey Knight meant to imply that either. He offered another particular situation, which he said he thinks is "another big cause"--not the only reason people leave the church.

Lastly, I'd like to question the idea that the Church teaches that the Bible is faulty and untrustworthy. We believe "the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly" (eighth Article of Faith), meaning that it is to be trusted as the word of God, although it does have some faults. That does not mean we can't trust it. Everyone has faults, but that doesn't mean that no one is trustworthy. But surely you agree that the Bible, as we have it now, is not 100% perfect. Otherwise, you would have to claim, for example, that women should never braid their hair and should "learn in silence with all subjection" to men (1 Tim. 2:11-12), limiting their education to whatever their husband teaches them (1 Cor. 14:35).

Sally said...

The Bible is the Word of God, meaning His word or message to us. He is perfect, so what he has provided to us is also perfect. No, I do not agree with you that it has faults but is still trustworthy.

If you were traveling to a city that you have never been before and I gave you a map to that city and told you it was mostly right, but it did have a few errors, would you feel confident in trusting it to get you where you had to go? Of course not. If the Bible has faults or errors to it, then we could not trust it, even if most of it was accurate.

2 Timothy says "All scripture (the Bible) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness". There are passages/verses that were written at a specific time, for specific individuals, and for specific purposes that are not necessarily applicable to everyone. Pauls teaching to the church in Corrin is a good example, but that does not mean that it is an error, or falsehood, or mistranslation. It may not be applicable, but it still is 'profitable' to all. (When you look at the origin Greek words, and the history of the culture you are able to better understand the passage).

There is no evidence that the Bible has been translated inaccurately. There are in existence today more than 5,000 Greek (original language) manuscripts, and almost 19,000 in other languages, of the New Testament or parts of it. No other ancient work has been as throughly and abundantly preserved. (The next closest is the Iliad with 600 manuscripts.) These manuscripts have been carefully compared and studied. They have found some differences, but none of them change any doctrine.

Does the LDS church think that King James mistranslated? Or the Geneva Bible which I think was the first English translation? I have not heard what specifically the LDS church gives to support the claim that the Bible has parts that are mistranslated.

Travis Brinton said...

Sally, I'm just going to respond to a few points without delving into all the issues raised by the idea of Biblical inerrancy.

First, in response to your example of a map with a few errors, I would say that I would trust it. In fact, I don't know that I've ever used a completely perfect street map. I often discover small errors on the maps I use--misnumbered exits, new developments that the map doesn't account for, etc. In this imperfect world, almost everything we trust on a daily basis is less than 100% reliable.

You quote 2 Tim. 3:16 and interpret "all scripture" to mean the Bible, but of course there was no such thing as the Bible as we know it when Paul wrote those words. To the early Christians, "the scriptures" meant the Septuagint. And I agree that all scripture--including the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, etc.--is valuable for the purposes listed here.

That does not mean that the Bible is inerrant or error-free. Consider, for example, that the two accounts of Judas's death disagree (Acts 1:18; Matt. 27:5), or that the verse in 1 John 5:7 was apparently inserted into the text sometime during the 14th century. There is an entire field of scholarly research, known as textual criticism, dedicated to analyzing Bible verses and how faithful they are to the original texts.

I challenge your claim that "no other ancient work has been as throughly [sic] and abundantly preserved." A multiplicity of copies doesn't make for a more reliable preservation of a text. In fact, it makes it much more confusing when you have hundreds of copies of the same text, they all have differences, and the originals are long lost. Any ancient work for which we have the original is better preserved than the Bible. It's just that the Bible is one of the best-preserved ancient texts for its length and age. At least, we think it is. We can't be sure, because we don't have the originals to compare it to. If you want to read more about this topic, look here:

Do we think that King James mistranslated? King James didn't translate the King James Version. He merely allowed it to be made. We think it is a good translation, and it is the one that we use as our Biblical canon (at least in English). But we acknowledge that it's not perfect. In fact, there's no such thing as a perfect translation. And that's not a problem. It's okay that the Bible has a few little inaccuracies here and there. If you read it with the Spirit, you'll be able to discern the truth. The Spirit will "guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).

A few final notes: It's "Corinth," not "Corrin," and the first English Bible was the 1535 Miles Coverdale Bible, not the Geneva Bible, which was published in 1560.

Sally said...

Sorry Travis, I disagree with you.
Having many manuscripts to study and compare from different time periods have shown how carefully they were copied. Newer manuscripts that have been found, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, have confirmed that the copying was done with great care and precision. But it is not only manuscripts that give me trust in the Bible, archeology and fulfillment of prophecy help me to know that this book is accurate and true. The Bible itself also claims it's own divinity and trustworthiness.

"Every word of God is pure..." Proverbs 30:5

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away." Mark 13:31

"For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword..." Hebrews 4:12

"...the grass withers and it's flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever." 1Peter 1:24

The Bible alone is my authority and source of truth. It is the 'light for my path', it comforts me, it guides me, it reassures me of God's love, grace and salvation. It is also my 'sword' that I use to fight against the 'arrows' of the enemy. 1 Thessaloians 5:21 tells us to "prove (test) all things". God's Word is the standard, all things (books, sermons, teachings etc.) are 'tested' by holding them up to what the Bible says. I couldn't do that if it was only partial correct.

Travis Brinton said...

Your quoted scriptures show that every word of God is pure and powerful (but not that what we currently have is always the unadulterated word of God) and that it endures forever (meaning that God's decrees are irreversible). None of that means that the Bible is infallible.
You didn't answer the cases that I presented of Bible verses that contradict each other. As soon as you're done with those, I have more.
God meant for you to base your faith that Jesus is the Christ on the witness of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; 1 Cor. 12:3), not on archaeology (1 Cor. 3:19). The Wikipedia article on the Dead Sea scrolls quotes "The Oxford Companion to Archaeology" as saying, "While some of the Qumran biblical manuscripts are nearly identical to the Masoretic, or traditional, Hebrew text of the Old Testament, some manuscripts of the books of Exodus and Samuel found in Cave Four exhibit dramatic differences in both language and content. In their astonishing range of textual variants, the Qumran biblical discoveries have prompted scholars to reconsider the once-accepted theories of the development of the modern biblical text from only three manuscript families: of the Masoretic text, of the Hebrew original of the Septuagint, and of the Samaritan Pentateuch. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Old Testament scripture was extremely fluid until its canonization around 100 A.D."
Authority from God comes from ordination (Mark 3:14; John 15:!6; Acts 13:3, 14:23; Heb. 5:1,4), not from a book. The Bible is a source of doctrine, but not authority. You can't become an ordained minister of God by reading the Bible any more than you can become a police officer by reading the traffic code.
The point of this post was to warn against placing faith on shaky foundations--like archaeology or ideas of Biblical infallibility. The sure foundation is the witness of the Spirit; anything else can be undermined.