LDS Discussions Blog
Doubts Are Not Dangerous - They're Necessary (September 17, 2019)
This past Sunday (Septeber 15, 2019), the LDS church held a "Face to Face" event that featured Elder Ulisses Soares and Elder Craig C. Christensen speaking to the youth of the church. Like previous face to face events, the elders took questions that were both submitted from the internet along with some from the audience, and all of the questions appeared very carefully screened with no troubling issues revealed in the process.
For the most part this was a fairly standard youth event, with both elders bearing their testimonies along with speaking in different languages to have a more worldwide appeal. The questions were as follows:
What does it mean for God to have a plan for me? How can I know if I'm following that plan?
Many of us have friends that have read things and see things on Internet and social media about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I've started to have doubts and questions about this consequence. Some of them have separated themselves from our beliefs and the true gospel. The question is, how can we help our friends and also ourselves with truth and faith during these moments of doubt and questions?
A young adult from Australia who came home early, said "every day I feel so much hatred and embarrassment and guilt at myself for being home and feel as if I have let God down. How can I come to terms with accepting the fact that I did serve with honor?"
A young adult from Utah asked, "Is there any hope for young adults who struggle with pornography? I am asking for those who want to quit the habit and strive to live righteously, but always seem to relapse eventually."
Did you have an experience that you learned where you learned something from President Wilson and how he is and how what have you learned as serving as an apostle?
What do you do to keep hope and faith when the blessings you want most seem to never come?
As I said already, most of the responses were fairly normal and expected, with the exception of the second question about doubts. During this exchange, Elder Christensen said the following:
"The doubt about things you know already, when I'm giving counsel to a friend who has questions and doubts, I'm trying to make sure to turn him back to his foundation. It was a missionary whose return - I'm planning to return him back to his mission regarding the purpose of teaching others. And obviously I asked this person to read the Book of Mormon and ask to God in order to obtain the feelings about the truth. Doubts are dangerous. The questions is the way that we receive revelation. It's the same thing about us: Every time we're in the process of learning, when we read the scriptures, I have a lot of questions. But I don't have doubts because I know the things that I know." [emphasis added]
I was going to do a longer write-up about this talk, but we've already written about this subject so many times over the last year that I'm not sure what more to say. As we've been outlining on this site, if there's one theme in the church's talks over the last year, it is to discourage doubts and to demonize critics. Over just the last year we have seen the following:
The Renlund's worldwide youth devotional criticizing those with doubts and attacking critics of the church
Elder Corbridge telling students at BYU to ignore the 'secondary questions' and just rely on the primary ones
Elder Oaks telling young married couples going that "research is not the answer" to doubts about church history
Henry Eyring told students at BYU-Idaho when having doubts about the church to first ask "Am I True?"
A "Faith Crisis" fireside by John Halverson about "Keeping faith in an ever doubting world"
An article by Elder B. Cook to the youth demonizing outside sources at doubts called "What Is True and What Isn't?"
We could go on, but those are just a few of the more notable talks in recent months that have instructed church members (especially the younger members) to just not look outside of correlated information. This is especially troubling with a worldwide youth devotional by the Renlunds that used cartoons to show how petty and ungrateful those with doubts are.
That was followed by Elder Corbridge using an 'appeal to authority' when telling BYU students they don't need to actually research the church because he had already read everything critical that is out there. It's a very disingenuous tactic to use on college students who are attending in order to learn more about the world around them, but it has become the standard operating procedure for a church that can no longer control the information that church members can access.
Which brings us to this comment by Elder Christensen that "doubts are dangerous" which was told to the youth this weekend. The entire premise of that argument is flawed, and really cuts against the very reason Joseph Smith claimed to seek an answer from God in the first place due to having doubts. In reality, the only danger that doubts present are to the people or entity that are providing the information being questioned.
The dirty little secret about doubts is that they aren't dangerous or bad at all: They are necessary for us to know what is true, right, and worth following. Think of all of the progress we have made over the centuries in science, technology, and humanity - those all came because people had doubts that led us to explore new options that kept us moving closer and closer to truth and progress.
And the only way you can truly answer those doubts is to tackle the doubts head on by researching the issue with an open mind. We wrote about this as well in a blog post called It's Ok To Let Go, noting that the only way to find these answers is to (briefly) let go of "knowing what you know" just long enough to verify that it can hold up to the evidence when you leave the predetermined conclusion we've all been taught at the door.
And the church is well aware of this, but they also know that doubts lead to research, and research leads to truth. For example:
If you doubt the Book of Abraham is true because the Egyptian papyri that Joseph Smith translated from has nothing to do with Abraham, you would logically conclude that Joseph Smith made it up.
If you doubt that God would command Joseph Smith to marry and have sex with other women or an angel with a drawn sword would kill him, you might look into how polygamy was implemented and encounter problems.
If you wonder why the Book of Mormon includes Deutero-Isaiah that was written after Lehi left, those doubts might lead you to research the Book or Mormon and see other problems such as how the Book of Mormon was translated.
If you have questions about why the Book of Mormon assumes that Native Americans are dark skinned because of a curse, those questions might lead you to look at DNA research showing that Native Americans came from Asia and not Israel.
We can go on and on here - the church wants to draw a line in the sand that questions are good, but doubts are bad. But even that comes with a very heavy caveat - the answers to those questions can only come from church approved sources followed by praying that those church approved sources are true. In other words, having a question such as "Why does the Book of Abraham papyri have nothing to do with Abraham" is good as long as the church is the only one providing the answers.
But the truth is that those doubts are coming from real, honest concern, and while the church wants to pin those doubts directly back on you for not 'letting the light in' as Soares says in his follow-up, the doubts are there because the church is teaching us a history that simply did not happen. A very good case in point is the priesthood restoration, which we can now see evolved over a 5 year period into a story that was clearly fabricated to establish authority in the church.
Last point is the multiple appeals of Elder Christensen about how he 'knows what he knows.' This is another way that the church seeks to end the discussion, by telling us that if we knew the church to be true growing up, then how could these doubts possibly change our testimony? Again, this puts both the blame and burden on you, because instead of tackling the issues, they are looking to you to ignore the evidence and continue to have faith despite of what we can all find in a few Google searches.
Anyone who tells you that they are not open to discussing new information because they "know what they know" is not worth putting any trust in whatsoever. That might seem blunt, but it is an undeniable fact: If you are not willing to look at information that might contradict your beliefs and have that honest discussion, then your confidence in those beliefs is not based in truth but in tradition, blind faith, and fear of what might happen when coming to terms with the new evidence.
If a car salesman tells you not to take the car to a mechanic to have it evaluated because it looks good from the outside, you'd run away and go somewhere else. If a financial advisor told you to invest your retirement with him and online reviews said he's made up his results over the years, you would never give him a dime. So why are we supposed to blindly believe a church that has massive historical problems as outlined above, but tell us that "doubts are dangerous" when we encounter and speak about that information?
Doubts are necessary if we want to progress not just as people, but as a society. Every medical breakthrough comes because someone doubts the current way is the best one, and tests out new methods to see if they can do better. This is no different with the exception that those doubts will negatively impact the church's memership numbers, tithing revenues, and control over its members.
So what it really comes down to is that doubts are not dangerous to you - they are dangerous to the church. And the church knows that more and more youth are coming across information that proves their truth claims are simply untrue, and are sending eveyone out there that they can to tell the youth to be afraid of not just the information, but trusting yourself to think critically about the conclusion that comes after researching these issues.
Before I end this post, I want to add this one really nice comment from the female host of the event. She was also replying to this question, but her answer should resonate with those on both sides of Mormonism:
"I have thought about this a lot because I'm the only member in my family. And I believe that something that I have learned is that we need to love people enough so that we can wait until they're ready. So then they can receive the answers. Sometimes because you love somebody, we want to give them all the answers. But we need to remember that we received our testimonies by ourselves. And they also deserve to receive their own testimony. So sometimes when we try to answer all their questions, they might separate themselves. So it's important to remember to love them. And we don't want the spirit to go away. So patience and love and have confidence that Heavenly Father has their time for those persons too."
All too often when people leave the church, the instinct is for believing family to pressue them to give up those doubts and come back to church. On the other hand, when people leave, they make the horrible mistake of just flooding their loved ones with all of the problematic things they've learned about the church, which instantly creates the "backfire effect" and shuts them down to even considering the new information.
So I think that is a beautiful way to say that when we encounter these doubts and those doubts turn us to learn that the church is not true, it is good for both those who leave the church and those who stay to have patience and give everyone time to discover the truth for themselves. Trying to use evidence to overwhelm the emotional feelings of the church will never work, and using emotions to overcome the facts to those who leave will also never work. It is a weird thing that our brains do, but facts do not care about your feelings and feelings absolutely do not care about your facts.
I hope that anyone who has read this post will continue to research this topic and I absolutely think you should read apologetic arguments as well. Research is the only way to know the truth, and there's no way to find that truth unless you're willing to tackle both sides of the issue with an open mind. Doubts are good - fearing those doubts is not.
We've mentioned on many other posts how difficult it is to take in this new information, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey.