"It's Not Blind Faith, It's Big Faith" (January 16, 2020)

First, since this is our first post of the year, Happy 2020 to everyone reading. I hope each and every one of you are having a great start to the new year.

One theme we highlighted a lot in 2019 was the church's war on doubts and those who leave, and we won't spend too much time on those here, but to recap a few of the posts we made on the subject:

  • The Renlunds youth devotional where those with doubts were portrayed as bratty kids and those who left and discussed church issues were called snake oil salesmen and spiritually broken.

  • Elder Corbridge's BYU talk where he told BYU students not to look at historical or doctrinal issues with the church, as those are merely secondary questions.

  • A "Face to Face" event for the youth with Elders Soares and Christensen where they talk about doubts being dangerous.

There were of course many other instances where leaders or publications went after doubts. Dallin Oaks famously said "research is not the answer" when a loved one loses their faith over church history, and Elder Carl Cook even wrote in the Liahona (for youth) about this subject.

One other recent talk we wrote about was BYU-Idaho President Henry Eyring's talk to BYUI students about asking "Am I True" when you have doubts about the church. This one was particularly controversial because it again blames the victim - it is your fault for having these doubts, and instead of researching church history you figure out where you've gone wrong.

The reason that talk ties into today's post is because Henry Eyring again gave a devotional to BYU-Idaho students on doubt. We're not going to annotate the entire talk as it was 23 minutes long (you can listen to the entire talk here), but to cover the areas where he speaks about doubt. Amazingly, this speech is bookended with sections on doubt - his attack on doubts and critics begins just four sentences into his talk, and then again in the final minutes to really drive the point home.

"In fact, doubt seems to be a prominent weapon in the war against the righteous, especially members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the moment Joseph Smith publicly disclosed his First Vision to a theretofore friendly minister, his declaration was dismissed and derided. Today, notwithstanding the church's size and increasingly global presence, it is similarly dismissed by many people."

First things first: It's not doubt that is used as a weapon against the church - it's evidence, science, and the church's own history. This is an argument by Eyring designed to immediately put fear into these college students that having doubts is equal to having a weapon to attack the church with, but what he doesn't tell you is the evidence that leads people to have these doubts.

As for the First Vision, we've covered his claims in both our annotated Gospel Topics Essay on the First Vision as well as a more extensive overview of the problems, apologetics, and history of Joseph Smith's varying accounts. As LDS historian Richard Bushman noted, the reason a minister would have dismissed Joseph Smith's claims wasn't because of the claim itself, but because these visions were so common in Joseph Smith's day. Furthermore, why is it that Joseph Smith claimed to tell a minister yet never told his family or anyone around him for over a decade about this event? Or which version did Joseph Smith tell this minister, because his accounts changed greatly from 1832 to 1838, going from just seeing one personage to seeing both God and Jesus.

"Even faithful church members may be tempted to doubt, as some of the early Saints did. Sometimes a particular concern becomes persistent. It might stem from a question of church history or of a seemingly outdated policy. Even more testimony shaking can be perceived hard treatment received from a church leader or a fellow member with personal rumination and perhaps discussion with other people. The matter may cause a church member or investigator to accept the concern as evidence that the church is not on the proper course, even that it is untrue. That outcome seemed to be common in the early years of the church, notwithstanding divine manifestations, which included the ministering of heavenly beings. As Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and David Whitmer experienced, more than a few such witnesses fell away from the church. Some even became enemies of Joseph and the Saints."

 

Again, Eyring puts the blame for learning about the church's history on the members. I'm not sure what more to say here that we haven't covered before, as this talk is really just a remix of previous talks demonizing doubts, but just to make a few quick points. First, Eyring equates doubts here with something like cheating on your spouse or stealing as he frames it as being "tempted to doubt," but the fact is that these doubts come from honest study of church history. You're not "tempted to doubt," you are simply studying church history and realizing the church is not what it claims to be.

Second, Eyring uses the example of some early members (and witnesses) who left the church or were excommunicated for questioning Joseph Smith to further poison the well about what having doubts will lead you to do. In other words, if you begin looking at this information, research is the gateway to becoming an enemy of the church itself. It's absurd, but again you can see the very subtle ways the church uses fear to keep members from looking in these talks and devotionals.

Third, of course the "matter may cause a church member or investigator to acctept the concern as evidence that the church is not on the proper course, even that it is untrue." Whether it's historical evidence such as Joseph Smith getting the Book of Abraham translation completely wrong, DNA proving that the Lamanites are not what the Book of Mormon or revelations from God claimed them to be, or God changing His mind on LGBT members in just 3.5 years, they are real issues that are documented with evidence, documentation, and scholarship.

And last point before we move on: Many of the early members who left the church did so because of the actions of Joseph Smith. When Joseph created the Kirtland Safety Society anti-bank and it cost members all of their money and homes, many left because Joseph Smith the prophet got it wrong. Other members left when Joseph Smith claimed through revelation they would be protected by God in Missouri and weren't, or when Joseph Smith began taking polygamous wives starting with Fanny Alger. It's understandable why the church whitewashes their history with fiction like the milk strippings story in order to create these caricatures of those who leave, but it doesn't change the actual reasons that cause people leave the church.

"The adversary planted doubts and ill feelings in the hearts of many who had once believed firmly in and sacrificed greatly. For the restored gospel and the leaders of the church, this form of temptation remains a spiritual weapon against Latter-day Saints in our time.

In fact, many of us have been beset by questions for which we have no clear intellectual answer, likewise, we're sometimes tempted to pass judgment on the church's doctrines, policies, and even its leaders.

The best response to such concerns and doubts is not what some people call blind faith. A better response is big faith. Please let me explain that phrase. The gospel of Jesus Christ, authored by him and our heavenly father is perfect, but it is not perfectly intuitive to those of us in mortality."

At some point we're just beating a dead horse here, but look at how Eyring walks these college students through the beginning of this talk. He starts with point out that doubts are a weapon against the church, then talks about how those who have doubts have ended up as enemies of the church, and then admits that these problems have "no clear intellectual answer."

Eyring knows this is not true, but his goal is to keep these college students from even entertaining that the church isn't true. There are very clear intellectual answers to many of these questions such as Joseph Smith getting the Book of Abraham wrong, DNA and the Lamanites, or even how Joseph Smith used passages from Isaiah written after Lehi left with the plates.

There are clear intellectual answers - the problem is that those answers tell us the church isn't true. We can now look at how Joseph Smith's First Vision evolved to match his changing theology or how Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon with the same stone that he used to search for buried treasure. So the temptation to pass judgment on the church's doctrines, policies, and even its leaders is because members are discovering that the church is telling them a history that simply isn't true.

On the flip side, if the church had answers that confirmed their truth claims, they would be in front of this same group of BYU-I students telling them to research these claims because the evidence will show it to be true. In other words, if the church was true they would not have to work so hard to keep its members from researching their history from non-correlated sources. So when Eyring says these problems have "no clear intellectual answer," he really means that these problems have no faith promoting answer.

We're going to hold off on the blind faith vs big faith idea here, because as you'll see in the end, it's the same thing using different words.

"Some gospel laws in church policies, for example, may seem unduly strict and out of step with the times. Yet many shortcomings can be ascribed to the members of the church who are all human. But it is dangerous to doubt the truthfulness of the church based on human behavior. Nor is there intellectual satisfaction or spiritual safety in challenging doctrines or policies that seem outdated."

This is the line apologists constantly use when talking about difficult issues to the point where it's an insult to our intelligence (speaking as a prophet vs. speaking as a man). We are literally told in the Bible "By their fruits ye shall know them." If we can not measure the church leaders that claim to speak to God by their actions and words, what can we measure truthfulness by?

Just look at the November 2015 policy on the LGBT community. Russell Nelson called that revelation from God, but just 3.5 years later would claim a new revelation that reversed what was clearly an overreaction to a court ruling on same sex marriage. While of course the leaders of this church are humans who make mistakes, when they claim those mistakes are coming from God, we have to then take a closer look and figure out how they got it wrong.

The same could be said for the priesthood ban on black members, which was called doctrine by the First Presidency of the church. Today the church says they disavow these ideas, and that they have no idea where they came from. The problem though, is when you research this issue you see these ideas come directly from LDS scriptures along with statements declaring it to be doctrine from God. So while the church wants you to blame the racism of Brigham Young's time, their own scriptures say otherwise.

As we have outlined a bit above, Joseph Smith makes this a very valid way to measure the truthfulness of the church. Most members do not realize that polygamy is still the doctrine of the church, nor do they have any idea of how Joseph Smith produced D&C 132. Most members do not know that Joseph Smith married the wives of other faithful church members, nor do they know that he promised teenage girls and their families exaltation if they would marry him. And all of this was done under the premise of being a prophet of God, which we can now measure in the context of his other actions and works to evaluate the truth claims.

The only way we can measure the truthfulness of the church is by their fruits. Some of those fruits are the LDS scriptures themselves, and we've detailed the massive problems with the Book of Abraham, Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith's revelations here, but we can also look at how Joseph Smith and leaders since then have abused their authority while also being duped whether it was the Kinderhook Plates or the Mark Hoffman forgeries.

 

When the missionaries taught me the discussions over twenty years ago, they asked me to pray if the prophets of this church spoke to God and I got a spiritual confirmation that they did. Now that I've since learned they have gotten it wrong, what does that say about using emotions to discern truth when the leaders of the church can't even do it?

Last, in response to Eyring's comment that "nor is there intellectual satisfaction or spiritual safety in challenging doctrines or policies that seem outdated," this is only true when you know the outcome is going to go against the church. If Eyring believed the truth claims or doctrines of the church were backed up by history, evidence, or scholarship, he would never frame it this way.

Now we'll move to the end of Eyring's talk, because he brings it all back around to doubts:

"Notwithstanding the turmoil in opposition inherent to our mortal realm, I also feel the need to steer clear of situations in which the adversary would put me on the defensive. There is no end to debating accusations of weakness in the church's doctrines, history or members. Regardless of the allegation, the matter is settled for me by the relief and peace that comes as I daily renew my faith in the saviors atonement through the restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith and above all, the relief and peace that comes from repentance. I find courage and strength, and applying the legal principle of stare decisis that is a Latin term, which means the thing already decided because of my faith in the savior in Joseph Smith and the restored Gospel and in daily repentance. I don't need to go back to re-examine my beliefs or defend them in a kind of biased courtroom every time some new allegation against the church is made, the choice to believe can be made once and for all. In reality, human shortcomings and spiritual doubts aren't the greatest threat to the church and its members. Pride is, I know that from painful personal experience."

At the beginning of the talk, Henry Eyring tells these college students that they are not asking for blind faith, but that's exactly what he's telling them. He is literally saying that he avoids any material or discussion that looks at the church because he already decided he's going to believe no matter what the evidence is.

This is literally the concept of blind faith - that you shut off any openness to outside information because you refuse to entertain the idea that your parents got it wrong, that your grandparents got it wrong, or that you were deceived by this church. And the worst part is that critical thinking and research is how we make progress as people. To constantly send this message to college students is just wrong, to instill fear in them for wanting to learn about the church they are asked to dedicate their lives to is wrong, and to use your authority as a leader to scare kids away from making an informed decision is offensive.

To now turn the phrase "blind faith" into "big faith," the church once again wants us to be believe that their words have no meaning. They argue that polygamy (or spiritual wifery) isn't the same as what Joseph practiced, plural marriage. Translation doesn't actually mean translation, because that would show that Joseph Smith was wrong as a prophet with what we now know about the Book of Abraham. Doctrine and policy are inerchanged depending on the circumstance and even Dallin Oaks concedes "I don't know that it's possible to distinguish between policy and doctrine in a church that belivees in continuing revelation." Yet when the church has to backpedal on issues like the ban on blacks or the LGBT Nov 15 policy, they claim it's merely policy created by men.

This is why we've talked before about how the church and apologists fear nothing more than taking Joseph Smith and his works at face value. The second you take Joseph and his claims at face value, you can see the Book of Abraham is an unquestionable fraud by comparing it to the source material, the Book of Mormon is littered with problems from anachronisms to DNA debunking the idea of Lamanites, or even Joseph's evolving stories on the First Vision and priesthood restoration.

After spending the talk focusing on doubts, Eyring then takes it one step further by saying the doubts themselves aren't the biggest problem, but pride. In other words, if you have doubts about the church, it's because you are too proud to just accept everything you're told as being perfect truth. In my case, finding out that the Book of Mormon wasn't translated as the missionaries told me, that polygamy was not to help the widows as I was told in Elders Quorum, or that the Book of Abraham is absolutely 100% wrong is clearly my fault for being just too proud. I never thought of it that way before, but I guess if I was just more humble I would understand that Joseph Smith translating the Egyptian god Min with an erect penis into God sitting on His throne is actually correct.

If I seem a bit too snarky here, please understand it's because I have family and people I love in a church where they are taught I am the deceiver for leaving and nothing but a snake oil salesman because I was willing to research their claims. And for Henry Eyring to tell this to college students who are trying to learn in order to figure out what they are going to do with their lives is a gross abuse of authority.

I mentioned this earlier, but if Joseph Smith had gotten any one big thing right whether it was translating Egyptian without the Rosetta Stone, where the Native Americans came from, or that Reformed Egyptian existed, the church would be screaming at every General Conference how they got it right and to research it to know for yourself. Instead we are constantly told to ignore the evidence all around us beginning with the church's own documentation and ending with advances in linguistics, archaeology, genetics, and Biblical scholarship.

The only question you need to ask yourself is this: If the leaders of the LDS church really believe it is true, why are they so terrified of their members studying it for themselves outside of correlated materials?

We've linked to a lot of our pages in this post, but please check them out if you're having doubts or struggles with the church. I hope it helps, and you can email us anytime at ldsdiscussion@gmail.com and we can point you in the direction of more resources, podcasts, support groups, or anything else we can do to help.

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