How does the church instruct the members to deal with their doubts? First, we do have an admission that we have legitimate reason to doubt.
But First Doubt Your Doubts
Even if there are legitimate things that may cause us to doubt, doubt these legitimate reasons before giving into any actual doubting. It’s natural to have questions, but it’s Mormon to ignore them and put them on the shelf. It doesn’t help your doubts, but it sure helps the church, for a while at least.
Don’t Discuss Truth Claims
Sister Soares instructs members through a personal story to basically not discuss the truth claims of the church. Evidently, discussing seer stones, visions, and prophetic authority leads to issues and arguments with non-believers. Her solution, rather than discussing the concerns, was to refuse to discuss them anymore. She would “walk away.” She claims it was “easy to know when their questions were sincere,” which must be code for anything that was challenging was insincere and interpreted as criticism and mockery.
How do I deal with controversial opinions about the Church? What do I do when I don’t feel fulfilled by living the gospel of Jesus Christ, which consequently raises questions that can create doubts? How do I stand for truth without causing contention in my relationships, and how do I not be influenced by anger and accusations against the Church?
Sister Soares said when she was growing up, most of her family members belonged to a different religion. When she visited these family members, sometimes they’d ask her and her sister questions about their beliefs not with an intent to learn or understand, but to mock and criticize.
In response, Sister Soares said she and her sister would smile, try to give short and simple answers, or sometimes walk away.
“Most of the time, we just tried to be the best examples we could when we were around them,” Sister Soares said. “We never got into arguments about who was right or wrong. … It was easy for us to know when their questions were sincere, and we responded with love and goodness.”
She added that it’s rare to change someone’s mind when there’s contention, rudeness or feelings of superiority. “The Spirit of the Lord does not manifest itself in those situations.”
Sister Soares also shared the story of a friend named John who experienced doubts about the Church. But in a psychology class, he learned about black and white thinking, which is an all-or-nothing mentality that many people struggle with.
John’s teacher taught him the power of the word “and,” Sister Soares said. He learned he could believe in something, and not understand every aspect of that thing. He could have questions, and still have faith.
“I know sometimes we are confronted by people of our own religion, people who are discouraged or who have a lot of unanswered questions or doubts in their hearts,” Sister Soares said. “It’s normal to have questions. I have them too. But I have no doubts, because I choose to believe and live by faith. And one day, I know I will have the answers.”‘Take Your Sincere Concerns to the Savior,’ Elder Soares Tells Young Adults
She mentions one specific thing she did not do, she didn’t discuss who was right or wrong… or in other words “We *never* [tried to address truth claims].”
This reflects Russell Nelson’s position that even doubters should “stop increasing” their doubts by “rehearsing them with other doubters.” Even faithful members should avoid discussing any doubts since the effect is likely going to be a general increase of doubt. It’s almost as if these church leaders know that the church’s truth claims cannot withstand any scrutiny. They don’t want members to look at this stuff, because they see over and over again, that when members look at it, they walk away.
Sister Soares also invokes “sincerity” as a valid filter for what to respond to. If a question is hard or difficult, it can easily be dismissed as insincere.
Sometimes, when we communicate, we intentionally show insincerity by use of sarcasm, jest, mockery, etc. Sometimes we demonstrate insincerity when we lie or break a promise. Sometimes we simply express our motives overtly. Beyond these detectable expressions of sincerity, it is literally impossible for one person to “discern” the motives or intent of another– yes, not even with the help of “the Holy Spirit.”
Dissenters are told, by believers, who simply don’t want to believe that sincere concerns exist, what their motives are, and discount legitimate concerns because of it. We are quickly deemed “insincere” when we haven’t adopted an attitude of non-critical and meek credulity. First, to be sincere, we need to choose to believe, put all our questions on the shelf, and forget our doubts.
We assume believers are sincere in their beliefs and claims. But that seems to be a one-way street. Believers generally don’t seem to start with an assumption that doubters are sincere. The first thing they come up with is that they obviously have an “axe to grind”, or have an “agenda,” but they’re never considered to be sincere.
This follows the famous promise from Moroni, where he claims the key is asking with a sincere heart, real intent, and faith. “If ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:4–5)
This is a fallacy in that we look for confirmation bias. We want to believe and try to believe and so ask if something is true. At this point, we will interpret almost anything to be an answer to this prayer and a sign that confirms what we want to be true.
Black and White Thinking
Surprisingly, Sister Soares encourages members not to have black-and-white thinking, but embrace “and” thinking. A faithful member “could believe in something, and not understand every aspect of that thing. He could have questions, and still have faith.” So we shouldn’t expect to understand something to believe it. Challenging black-and-white thinking is interesting because binary thinking is a hallmark of past leaders. As recently as President Gordon B Hinckley, we were taught that it was either all true or all false and according to Joseph Fielding Smith, “there is no middle ground“.
Questions Can Be a Positive Thing
Elder Soares chimed in to clarify with a statement that seemed uncharacteristically open-minded for an apostle at first.
Elder Soares added that having questions can be a positive thing — after all, the gospel restoration began with a young man’s question.‘Take Your Sincere Concerns to the Savior,’ Elder Soares Tells Young Adults
He says “having questions can be a positive thing” and makes the connection that the whole restoration started through a “young man’s question”. Presumably, he’s talking about Joseph Smith asking God which church to join. Even though this is a good sentiment and a rare positive statement from a leader about having questions, is this what happened? Looking at the first recorded account of the first vision, Joseph has already decided that no churches were true before he prayed. He’s either mistaken, or simply continuing to spin the whitewashed church narrative.
Elder Soares then reminds us to “seek information from correct sources.” Though, one might ponder, how do we know the correct sources? Leaders assure us that the only way to know is if the source is faithful. This sets members in a vacuum or echo chamber, where they will only hear faith-promoting narratives that “tow the line” of the church authority which can only lead to the “accepted” conclusions. That the church is all it claims because the church itself says it and you can only believe what the church teaches, so it’s all true.
He also urged young adults to seek information from correct sources.
“Oftentimes, people spend a lot of time accessing information from dubious sources and forget to bring light to their mind and heart through the Spirit of the Lord. In so doing, they may create a spiritual and emotional imbalance in themselves,” he said. “Keep a strong connection with God and bring light to your mind and heart. Don’t forget to continue to fast and pray for guidance, read the scriptures for revelation, attend church and worship in the temple. … God is the source of all light and truth.”‘Take Your Sincere Concerns to the Savior,’ Elder Soares Tells Young Adults
We all have reasons to doubt. But be sure to doubt your doubts. Don’t discuss what’s right and wrong. If others disagree regarding the church’s truth claims, you can dismiss their questions as insincere. Don’t rehearse any doubts with others, because that will inevitably increase doubt. Questions can be positive and are ok though, but only certain questions, and only if they have certain answers by looking at approved sources for information. Be very careful though when looking for answers to these “so-called” questions, because it’s very easy to stumble upon “dubious sources and forget to bring light to[your] mind and heart through the Spirit,” which may “create a spiritual and emotional imbalance.” Avoid this cognitive dissonance and discomfort by asking no questions. Just tell yourself you have no doubts, that’s easier. Though, if you have to, ignore all previous prophets, and allow some nuance into your testimony if it’s needed. Remember, the church, via God, is the source of truth and light, and if you leave, you’ll lose your light and become confused.
- Demonizing Doubt: Nelson’s Talk on Lazy Learners and Lax Disciples
- Doubt your Doubts?
- Mormon Authorities Threaten Doubters With “Don’t You Dare Bail” Messages
- Mormon Apostle: Shame on Doubters For Playing “Church History Whack-a-Mole”