The Sixth Sense and Studying LDS History (March 27, 2019)

This might seem like a goofy blog post (and in a lot of ways it is), but I actually have thought of this a lot over the last year since diving down the rabbit hole of church history. One of my earliest thoughts to explain what studying LDS history has been like for me is to compare it to the ending of The Sixth Sense, with all of the many troubling issues coming together in perfect clarity the moment I let go of my preconceived conclusions, but the comparison actually works well through the entire movie.

If by some chance you have never seen The Sixth Sense, you should probably bookmark this page and come back after you've seen the movie. The movie is awesome so it's worth watching regardless, and this post will have a lot of spoilers (ha). Plus, this post just won't make much sense if you've never seen it.

So with that out of the way, the following is a very quick plot synopsis of The Sixth Sense but through the lens of researching the truth claims and doctrinal history of Mormonism. It is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the overall themes are both real and meaningful. Sometimes the best way to approach difficult issues is with a little bit of humor, so I hope maybe this is helpful to some of you who are searching for answers or to those just trying to understand what it's like for members who have taken the deep dive into church historical/doctrinal issues and are struggling.

The Sixth Sense (Mormon History Edition)

As the Sixth Sense begins, Dr. Malcolm Crowe is receiving an award for his years of work as an apologetic source helping those with doubts about the church. After he gets home, he is caught by surprise when one of the members he previously helped try to get past his doubts (Vincent) brings him all of the research he refused to discuss (CES Letter, Mormon Think, responses to the official LDS Essays, research showing being gay isn't a choice, etc). As Malcolm looks at the evidence and rebuttals to the apologetic answers, he falls back on the bed in shock at the realization over problems with the church’s history and doctrines while his wife Anna runs over to comfort him.

We then fast forward months later to when Malcolm meets Cole, who is experiencing some of the same doubts that Vincent was troubled with, and Malcolm is even more driven to help Cole overcome them with even more detailed rebuttals to troubling church historical/doctrinal issues.


Since the time that Malcolm had processed all of the information about church history from Vincent, his wife Anna had stopped talking to him, and some of the rooms in their house were now locked to Malcolm, further driving him to help Cole avoid falling into the same trap that Vincent did.

As Malcolm continues to work with Cole, they begin to build up a level of trust and friendship. While Malcolm was under the impression the doubts about church issues were just with Cole, he knows there is more to the situation. This leads to the most famous dialogue of the movie, translated exclusively for this Director’s Cut:

COLE: I'm ready to tell you my secret now.

MALCOLM: Okay.

COLE: I see people who have lost their testimony of the church, but they don't know they’ve lost it yet.
MALCOLM: People who have lost their testimonies? Like the apostates who write anti-Mormon materials?
COLE: They’re walking around and talking like active church members. They don’t see each other or know there are so many like them. When they’re confronted with evidence against the church’s truth claims, they only see what they want to see.
MALCOLM: How often do you see them?
COLE: All the time. They’re everywhere.

Malcolm believes he can help Cole stay strong, but as he reviews his sessions with Vincent, he begins to pick up on things he never noticed before. Malcolm listens as Vincent asks how the Book of Mormon can have both a tight and loose translation, or why the Book of Abraham doesn’t match the papyrus that Joseph Smith copied the symbols from as noted in the manuscripts.

As Malcolm turns the audio up louder, he hears Vincent explaining to someone else in the room how Hugh Nibley's lost scroll theory is refuted by both the evidence and the manuscript itself and that the problems with polygamy go well beyond the text of D&C 132 itself.

As Malcolm listens, he realizes that Vincent was also seeing people who had lost their testimonies but didn't know it yet, and that the voice on the recording is another member trying to find answers to church problems that had caused him so much cognitive dissonance. This leads Malcolm to believe that Cole is truly seeing people who have lost their testimony of the church.

Malcolm then tells Cole that if he can help these people with their unresolved cognitive dissonance, he might also be able to help himself. Because of their friendship, Cole trusts Malcolm’s plan and works up the courage to talk to a teenage girl named Kyra who recently read the CES Letter.


Kyra asks Cole to attend the meeting her parents had setup with ward leadership to talk about her troubles with church history, and at the meeting Kyra is told that what she had read was just anti-Mormon lies and that research is not the answer to these unanswerable problems.

Cole encourages Kyra to stand up for herself and discuss why the apologetic answers about DNA and the Lamanites or why Joseph Smith's changes to key revelations do not have faith promoting answers. She then asked why the church continues to teach stories such as the transfiguration of Brigham Young or Woodruff's vision of the Founding Fathers when they clearly never happened.

Because of Cole’s help, Kyra is able to find peace outside of the church, and Cole discovered that he can help these people without needing to be afraid. After these encounters, Cole begins to live a happier life without fear, and Malcolm is satisfied that he helped Cole in a way that he couldn’t help Vincent.

That Sunday, Cole and his mother arrive at church to notice more open spots in the parking lot than in years past. Cole tells his mom that the reason is because there are so many people losing their testimony after studying church historical and doctrinal problems with an open mind, but his mom refuses to believe him.

Cole then tells his mom Lynn how one of their ancestors was a first wife to a Mormon in early Utah, and that after her husband married many other women through polygamy, she was stuck forever in a loveless marriage practically raising their kids by herself. He described how this ancestor barely ever saw her husband again, and that his second wife was the one taken out of town during their journeys as was common with polygamy. He then explained to his mom that this is still the eternal law of the afterlife and under church doctrine, every Mormon woman will spend their eternity with husbands who are instructed to take polygamous wives in order to produce spirit children to populate new planets.

Lynn becomes angry with Cole for bringing up such a horrible thought, and yells at him for insulting the memories of those before them and twisting church doctrine. Cole then discusses how their ancestors didn’t do anything wrong because they didn’t have all of the information about the church and Joseph Smith that we do today, and that his ancestors were just doing the best they could. In fact, these ancestors who entered polygamy didn't even know how Joseph produced the revelation, or why it was so specific to the problems Joseph was encountering at the moment he dictated it.

As Cole tells his mom more stories about the pain caused by polygamy and the many ways that Joseph Smith abused the practice, Lynn begins to tear up. She realizes that the apologetic arguments about polygamy she was taught were not true, and that it’s OK to both have love for their ancestors while being able to accept the truth about the church with the benefit of better information. They hug in the car, and Cole finally finds peace with the information he has learned about the church and knowing that his mom will never think of him as a freak for accepting the evidence he discovered through his research.

The final scene of the movie finds Malcolm returning home to talk to Anna. Taking Cole’s advice, Malcolm talks to Anna while she is asleep on the couch. As Malcolm tells Anna about why his work with Cole was so important, he could sense that she was hearing his words. Anna whispers in her sleep to ask Malcolm why he lost his testimony, and as she rolls over Malcolm’s temple recommend falls out of her hand.

As the recommend floats to the ground, Malcolm finally realizes that his testimony didn’t survive that night with Vincent. He now must come to terms with being one of the lost testimonies himself, and everything flashes in front of him, making perfect sense for the first time: Why the Book of Abraham translation is wrong and apologetics can’t answer for it, why DNA shows the Native Americans weren’t Lamanites from Israel as Joseph claimed God told him in revelation, how the Book of Mormon uses Deutero-Isaiah passages written after Lehi left for Israel, why the Book of Mormon translation never used gold plates but a stone in a hat, how Joseph Smith used revelation to manipulate people to do the tasks he wanted them to do, why no prophets since Joseph Smith have claimed meaningful revelation, how Joseph Smith had been telling stories from the Book of Mormon with perfect detail before even claiming the plates, and so many more issues that had long troubled him.

While issue after issue flash through Malcolm's thoughts, he backs away from Anna in a panic. He quickly remembers Cole's words about how people who are presented with troubling church history only see what they want to see, and he thinks of all the ways he tried to make the church's problems go away as an apologist. For this first time in his life he can see that no matter how many times apologists expand the fields of possibility, the problems simply can not work with the evidence we now have. In the end there is only one answer that brings everything together, and that is the simplest and most evidence based conclusion: Joseph Smith made it up.

 

Upon realizing that he no longer can hold belief in the church’s truth claims, Malcolm comes to peace with the fact that he is no longer a part of the church he grew up in. He walks back over to Anna and lets her know that even though he's no longer a believer, he's still the same person he always was. Anna smiles back to Malcolm and the movie fades to black, because let's face it - even M Night doesn't know how that conversation is going to end.

END CREDITS ROLL.

As I said at the beginning, this is meant to be a quick, tongue-in-cheek look at how much of the plot of the Sixth Sense mirrors the journey through studying church history and realizing that no matter how much you fight it, eventually the cognitive dissonance gets people to take the deep dive and realize that it just doesn't add up.

Of course after doing this super quick write up I've realized how many other movies could have a similar comparison, which might be a fun thing to do every once in a while. I'm not going to say that M Night Shyamalan has experience with a faith transition, but The Sixth Sense is not the only movie of his that has some eerily similar themes to taking a deep dive into going beyond correlated church history, and the pressures that accompany it.

If you enjoyed this (or hated it), please let us know and maybe we'll do more in the future (and spend time to get it more polished) by emailing us at ldsdiscussion@gmail.com or hit us up at Twitter or Facebook as well for future posts and updates.

And if you've never been to this website before, please check out our annotated LDS Gospel Topics essays, priesthood pages, and other writing to see why the apologetic responses to church issues just do not hold up to scrutiny. If there are any other topics you'd like to see covered in the future, let us know on those too. We have a pretty big backlog at the moment, but we're always wanting to cover what would be the most helpful to everyone who is going through the deep dive into church history.

Thanks for reading and go watch The Sixth Sense again... it might never look the same again. :)