There are reasons to believe, and there are reasons to doubt. Can we simply choose to believe? Can’t we just stay in the pews even though our conscience and judgment tell us not to? What about tradition? What about the kids? Leaders tell us that we have a choice, and even a duty, to choose belief. It’s a choice we must make despite our doubts and despite the evidence. God requires faith they say, if we could prove it all to you, that would rob you of faith.
Choose to believe in Jesus Christ. If you have doubts about God the Father and His Beloved Son or the validity of the Restoration or the veracity of Joseph Smith’s divine calling as a prophet, choose to believe and stay faithful. Take your questions to the Lord and to other faithful sources. Study with the desire to believe rather than with the hope that you can find a flaw in the fabric of a prophet’s life or a discrepancy in the scriptures. Stop increasing your doubts by rehearsing them with other doubters. Allow the Lord to lead you on your journey of spiritual discovery.Russell M Nelson Christ Is Risen; Faith in Him Will Move Mountains
President Nelson himself claims that members should disregard our doubts and just choose to believe. If we have doubts, just choose to believe anyway. If we must research our questions, only look at faithful sources and study “with the desire to believe” – start with a conclusion (the church is true) and look for anything we can find that will help us retain that conclusion, while ignoring anything that doesn’t support the conclusion. The only acceptable conclusion is that we can and should still believe the church. Even if there are issues, if church history is messy, or we feel uncomfortable with any of it, choose to believe it anyway.
We are allowed to have questions, and we are even allowed doubts; though most leaders will deny that they doubt. We must keep our doubts to ourselves. We are certainly not allowed to discuss these doubts with others, and especially not publicly. Just as we are allowed to believe whatever we want, as long as we don’t discuss it publicly and can still answer the temple recommend questions properly. These doubts shouldn’t be allowed to overwhelm our beliefs though. It’s a fantasy that church leaders think we can just choose to believe even when we know better.
This hits home personally because it’s a line I used on myself. I eventually deconstructed the premise, but it took some time, and along the way, I used the line on others too. When discussing doubt with my partner, I was constantly pointing out, as the church leaders teach too, belief is a choice. Evidence is there to support staying (or likely to support leaving). Faith was a choice, we could choose to follow the church because it was good and positive and traditional and well, basically, it was easier to stay than to leave. You can basically support any position with some evidence and then feel confident that the decision is correct. You can even debate with others and use your sources and evidence as your proof. This doesn’t make you right, having evidence doesn’t in and of itself mean you are right. It just means you have some reasons to believe what you do. Sometimes, the same pieces of evidence can mean different things and support different conclusions. You can choose to believe that God is real because the planets testify of some intelligent creation, or you can look into the skies and feel that existence is larger and beyond any kind of man-made religion expresses. In both cases, using the stars and planets supports your belief. Sometimes though, the desire to continue a belief remains, even after all evidence shows the belief is not tenable.
Take Santa Claus for example, there is plenty of evidence in popular culture that he is real. There are book and movies and songs all talking about him. You can even sit on his lap! But looking deeper as we get older, we spot the issues and the logical limits of such stories. We deconstruct the story and find that it’s really just that, a story. It was meaningful but in the end not true. We can even continue living with the “Spirit of Santa” beyond our actual belief in him. Do we continue to believe he is real despite the evidence to the contrary?
Staying is for the lazy perhaps. Staying in the pew despite doubt might make you a lazy learner, since you don’t have to do anything or think anything for yourself. You can just follow the prophet, don’t go astray, follow the prophet, he knows the way… just like the classic brain-washing primary dirge teaches us from childhood.
Choosing to believe when we know better is not faith, it is arrogance combined with willful ignorance. The church should know, thanks to Alma, that “if a man knoweth a thing, he hath no cause to believe.” Once we look at the facts and deconstruct the mistaken beliefs that were based on a false narrative, we can’t continue to believe something. It’s not belief at that point, and we couldn’t choose it if we wanted to.
Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.Alma 32:18
With 20/20 hindsight, now I can say “I was wrong”. Belief is a choice at a certain point, but saying this feels to be more of an evasion or cop-out. Choosing to believe is in actuality the “lazy-learner” approach. There is research we can do to learn about the foundations of the church, the doctrine of the church, and the leaders of the church. The information is there, we need to be brave enough to look with an open mind. Looking only with a desire to believe will rock your mind with considerable cognitive dissonance.
Once we have reliable information which deteriorates our belief, can we really choose what to believe? Somehow, it’s inside you already. Your own innate principles and values. If they align with the church as far as you understand you can believe in that church, but if they don’t, or if you learn more information and come to understand that the church isn’t what it says it is, then you need some realignment. That is if your values are such that you must. You may have values set that prioritize tradition and following others higher than integrity and confidence and bravery. Leaving the church is not easy. It is not for the lazy. Skipping church perhaps is for the lazy, but researching and digging in to understand if it aligns with your own values and if you can know and understand the full history of the church and still find belief in it. That is not an easy task, and the brethren know this. That is why they are so careful to keep us from digging too much. They don’t want us to discuss our doubts with others – we may realize that the doubts are valid, more valid than the blind faith.
Are we this gullible? They only want us to study faithful sources, which include correlated church material and the scriptures. No more. Sure they don’t want us going to anti-mormon literature, sure that makes sense, but they don’t even want us studying the gospel topic essays or other church-published material. They praise the Joseph Smith Papers, etc, but don’t use them. It seems they don’t want average members looking into this “deep” stuff.
Stare Down Compelling Reasons To Doubt and Choose To Believe
Doubts are a sign that you do not fully believe something. Doubts are not something we choose to have, they come up naturally when we see signs that something is amiss. When we have cognitive dissonance perhaps or when we have things on our Mormon shelf. Should we choose to believe in spite of our doubts? Leaders even encourage us to claim our testimony is strong enough that we can “stare down compelling reasons to doubt and choose to believe” anyway. This is nonsense! Complete and utter stupidity. Where else in life would we see multiple compelling reasons to doubt something, and then choose to ignore those valid reasons and continue on? This is not doubting our doubts, these are instructions to disregard and ignore doubts and pridefully soldier on. This is in order to save face and stick to your convictions because you are “strong” enough. These are instructions the leaders want us to follow to keep the church strong and healthy, not the members. It is putting the needs of the church (or corporation of the church) far above the needs of the members of that church.
Following this advice honestly shows a lack of strength. A lack of ability to adjust our worldview when we are presented with new and compelling evidence. We shouldn’t be so scared to reconsider things we have believed, even with conviction when we have new evidence or new reasons to examine issues on our shelf. Doubting our doubts is fine to do before we doubt our faith, but once we’ve done that and we still have doubts, we should examine them. They may very well give us cause to doubt our faith. Refusing to doubt our faith puts us into an eternal state of cognitive dissonance because simply doubting the doubts doesn’t make them go away.
Dark Night of the Soul
Simply choosing to believe makes light of the dire dark night of the soul many find themselves in during a faith crisis. Belief is what many yearn for in these moments, but belief simply can’t be faked. It’s like trying to hold water in your cupped hands, it kinda works, for a minute, but never for long. The water always leaks. The truth claims of the Mormon church are not true, the dominant narrative is not sustainable. We cannot believe it when we face the reality of history and personal experience. Even if we desire it to be true, even if we desperately want to choose to believe, it just doesn’t work. Belief crashes with our shelf of concerns and questions. The church leadership knows this, thanks to the Personal Faith Crisis Reports. They desperately want to stop members from listening to their doubts and following their values and critical thinking right out of the church.
A church that has confidence in its truth claims would not need to work this hard to keep members from openly evaluating the claims. Of course, you can prove your point if you only allow your followers to know your reasons. What about the counterarguments? What about the full picture? Previous church leaders said at one time that if the church has the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation and that if they do not have the truth, it should be harmed. This is a brave stance that church leaders cannot afford today. It discards the preconceived conclusions of “The church is true” and lets the evidence take us where it may. This is a scary approach to those who are not certain where it will lead, but ironically the truth will set you free. This freedom is sometimes difficult to adjust to as an ex-mormon, but does lead to a greater depth and joy in life that is unattainable to those who are afraid to search the depths of their own soul to find the truth.
There will always be room for faith, and even as someone who is no longer active in the church I have faith in many things, but faith is not about believing in ideas even after evidence proves them incorrect. If there is evidence that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient text, continuing to believe that it is under the premise of faith is simply changing the definition of faith altogether.https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/doubts
Did you attempt choosing to believe despite your doubts and better judgment? How did it go and how long did you hold on? What parts of the church did you have doubts about? What answers did you find and how have you been able to reconcile or resolve those doubts? Do you still believe in the church? In God? Share your faith deconstruction story at wasmormon.org and find hundreds of other stories too!
- Personal Mormon Faith Crisis Report – Introduction and Overview
- Demonizing Doubt: Nelson’s Talk on Lazy Learners and Lax Disciples
- Doubt your Doubts?
- The Mormon “Shelf” and Why it’s a Problem
- Putting Questions on the Shelf is Unhealthy and Doesn’t Work
- Elder McKay’s Sure and Certain Foundation for Unhistory and Brainwashing