Dennis Horne, I am in complete agreement with you, i also disagree with anyone who says that doubt has merit. I am happy to follow our Prophet who said:-
Do not yield to Satan’s enticements; rather, stand firm for truth. The unsatisfied yearnings of the soul will not be met by a never-ending quest for joy amidst the thrills of sensation and vice. Vice never leads to virtue. Hate never promotes love. Cowardice never gives courage. DOUBT NEVER INSPIRES FAITH. 1St Pres Message Ensign Jul 2013.
Ray, I do not see the contradiction at the end of the article. Perhaps you missed some of the points or saw those sentences out of context.
For one, Givens points out that the Lord told us to doubt not, but that he did not dismiss those with doubt. He shares the story of the man that asked for faith to heal his child. The man had doubts, but he was still acting in belief, shown by his journey to find the Lord. The Lord has asked many things of us, and would rather have us avoid much pain, but it does not mean that he does not expect us to pass through it and endure it. There was no contradiction there. Simply the statement that the Lord would rather us remove our doubts, but will help us through them as well.
As far as the part about not becoming fixated on doubts, I think you missed the entire point. Givens was pointing out the two extremes. The person that puts too much trust in believing everything they were raised to believe, and the other side, the people who fixate on doubt. The article is meant to address a middle ground. There are people that let their doubts become their focus. There are those that beat themselves up for their doubts. However, Faith is predicated on the idea that we lack knowledge. We must believe, acting, hoping, regardless of that lack of knowledge, relying on a certain measure of belief. This goes back to the man that lacked faith, but asked the Lord to help his unbelief. He had already shown a certain amount, but he was willing to admit, his faith was lacking. The Lord did not punish him, or chastise him. He healed the man's child.
I agree with the direction of the article but it lacks depth/substance and consistency. While the authors tentatively give Mormons permission to doubt he cautions against being paralyzed by fixating on doubt. He (somewhat naively) assumes that doubt will always give rise to a stronger faith, that doubt is a "function in the development of faith". He sees doubt as a temporary state, as an "occasional disruption to our testimonies.. a normal part of the process of living by faith". Givens does not address the question of how to deal with and resolve doubt or how to reconcile doubt with the strong Mormon emphasis on obedience. And he concludes his article with a contradictory reminder that God told us to “doubt not” and that God beckons us to "act decisively in the absence of knowledge. Be believing.”
Doubt involves questions of epistemology and logic. What is knowledge? How do we obtain knowledge? What are the differences between knowledge, faith and belief? What is valid evidence for an inferred truth? Givens should give these questions some thought.
Like others here, I think a previous commenter, Dennis Horne, may have misunderstood the issue framed by Bro & Sis Givens. Dennis forcefully defended the doctrinally sound (and intuitively obvious) principle that “doubt” is the enemy of “faith.” We seek to “doubt not” as we develop greater faith and aim to fulfill Heavenly Father’s will that we participate in His “great plan of happiness.” Greater faith leads us to greater joy now and lasting joy in the eternities. I expect we all agree that faith is preferred to doubt, and that doubt is undesirable as an ongoing condition of the mind & spirit left unchecked.
The question addressed by the Givens’ essay is not whether we should see doubt as good and desire to seek it. Of course we don’t – any more than we desire any other kind of gut-wrenching trials that present possible danger to our testimony. The question (as I read it) is how we are to follow the admonition to “doubt not.” Do we destroy doubt by ignoring it or by resolving it?
Echoing what others have said here, the issue at hand is whether it’s better to (1) pretend our doubts don’t exist (or pray that they just “go away”) as they fester in our subconscious OR (2) acknowledge our doubts and invite the Holy Ghost as a full participant as we courageously investigate, seek to understand, and resolve them. Resolved doubts allow us to receive greater enlightenment with a corresponding increase in faith. In contrast, when we allow fear (one of Satan’s favorite tools) to coax us into burying our doubts, we miss an opportunity for spiritual growth and put our testimony on unsafe footing as we “build our house upon the sand.”
This is an important question because we all have an imperfect understanding of the gospel’s application to our mortal experience and therefore will have occasional doubts (whether we want them or not). And our perspective concerning those doubts – when they occur – will either lead us toward God and greater understanding or away from God and into debilitating confusion. Essentially, doubt is instrumental to the process of “perfecting the saints.”
I suppose doubt can be seen a necessary evil. Just as Satan’s efforts to tempt us are necessary for our mortal test to have meaning, occasional doubts are necessary for our beliefs to have meaning. Though doubt itself may be dangerous, Bro & Sis Givens rightly claim that the process of dealing with doubts isn’t necessarily so, as long as we approach our doubts constructively: “honestly acknowledged, honestly engaged.”
As an illustration, it seems reasonable to me that doubt is a symptom of having a crisis of faith, much like fever is a symptom of having a crisis of health. A fever will kill the body if it escalates beyond a certain temperature for too long. However, merely lowering the body temperature will not cure a deadly infection. In fact, chilling an infected body will lead to death more quickly (sickly pioneers at Winter Quarters for example).
No one desires to have a fever because it means our body is under siege. However, as long as the fever is held in check (within safe parameters) it actually helps the body to overcome the underlying infection and may aid medical treatment aimed at the cause of infection. Not only does the body become healthy again after the fever breaks, but it gains an improved resistance to a whole class of infections because of the antibodies it has received as a result of the crisis.
In a similar way, we can learn to recognize the symptoms of doubt and address them appropriately. While still respecting the danger it represents, we must seek to resolve the underlying intellectual or emotional conflicts causing our doubt. Aided by divine inspiration and guided by the Holy Ghost, we can successfully overcome doubt, restore our spiritual health, and receive immunity from similar future doubts – so that we might “doubt not” and progress along the path that leads back to our Heavenly Father.
I would not post a comment if I did not expect to be criticized by Givens disciples. He has a large following and many who agree with his perspective. I am so grateful that I don't. If I thought doubt had merit, or was good or helpful to me, I would struggle much harder during my trials and tribulations, and to communicate with God in prayer. I have no doubt that He lives and that His son died for me and my sins. Doubt has never helped me in my search to know God; the less I doubt and the more faith and knowledge I can get, the more likely I am to really communicate with God and obtain answers to my prayers and grace in time of need. Doubt never helped anyone obtain greater faith or a testimony. I think some people might do well to reread their scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets and apostles, for they do not say what some seem to think they do; try as I might I can find no verse in all four standard works that approves of doubt. These are the sources of LDS doctrine (not Terryl Givens) and because we sustain them in general conference we are bound by them in the conduct of our lives. We will not be judged by the sayings of those whom Givens quotes but by how well we conducted our lives according to the word of God. If that is rigid according to some, so be it, for narrow is the way and there are some rigid requirements and commandments that must be met and lived if we wish to return to live with God. Does the revelation say it will be the doubters or the valiant that will received exaltation?
President Eyring taught the following:
Persons with doubts often want to talk about what they think are the facts or the arguments that have caused their doubts, and about how much it hurts. They may well want to explore some scientific theory, some historical study, some political position, or some reported failures in the leaders of the Church or in its members, which they see as the source of their doubts.
Many good people have spent effort, and some have spent much of their lives, providing such exploration. Some have written scholarly books. Others have organized various meetings and other exchanges to allow those with questions and doubts to discuss them, with the hope that the doubts will be resolved. I admire their intent and their effort. But my observation is that the chance of success of such approaches, based on what scholars consider evidence and reason, is severely limited.
At the worst, exchanges between those who doubt will increase doubt. That will be true even if they are true seekers, simply because they will be introduced to new doubts. More than that, in any such group, if it is very large, there will be some impressive and sympathetic people who have made wrestling with doubts a major personal adventure. They will present it as sport, but exhilarating and noble. Staying with such a bold band of inquirers, fearlessly confronting hard questions, can seem more attractive than moving back to the apparently less colorful company of quiet believers.
But even at its best, the resolution of doubts by reason and appeal to evidence cannot take us far. It is helpful to meet a brilliant mind who defends gospel truth with fact and logic. There is comfort in finding that such a person has confronted the same questions with which you struggle and has retained his faith. But there is a hazard. Even the most brilliant and faithful person may defend with argument or fact that later proves false. The best scholarship has, at least, incompleteness in it. But even flawless argument has a weakness if you come to depend on it: what happens to the next doubt, or the next? What if no physical evidence or persuasive logic can be produced to dispel it? You will find then what I have found—that faithful scholar who reassured you with logic did not base his faith there. It was the other way around. His faith reassured him that someday, when God told him how it was all done, he would see all truth as perfectly logical, transparently reasonable. In the meantime he was enjoying discovering what he could with the logic he could muster. (To Draw Closer to God [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997], 141-42.) Amen to that.
I am so grateful that God, Christ, the Prophet Joseph Smith, certain latter-day apostles, and others including the authors Givens have more charity and compassion concerning the bogey-monster of DOUBT -- the word; the concept; and the psychological/emotional/spiritual reality -- than some others here who have expressed their rigid patronizing derision. ("Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way." Romans 14:13)
Who cares if Apostle Hugh B. Brown is quoting a non-member? Good grief. Ever heard any LDS leader quote Shakespeare, Lewis, Wordsworth, Emerson, Confucius, et al? We all have. Some quote "outside" sources more than they do the LDS canon. Let's assume they were inspired...and that they believe Joseph when he taught,
"One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may."
"We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true Mormons."
But, if you must, here's a direct quote from Elder Brown that specifically states that doubt has value in our lifelong faith journey and quest for truth ("MAN AND WHAT HE MAY BECOME") ---
"There's not enough candid investigator - attitude among us. We should study with an open mind and to approach new problems with no preconceived notions. *Doubt* has its place if it can awaken an interest for us to seek and find truth in our own person. Too many people in the world are willing to accept as true everything that is printed in a book or termination from a pulpit. Their faith seek never be the authoritative surface. I appeal to everyone I meet that they should search their faith deeply and find the solid truth, so they can withstand the undecided's and the winds of doubt and storms, resist opposition and persecution, ... with an intelligent faith and understanding of the gospel. Revelation can come ... to the thinking mind and the investigative spirit, through applications, and research, prayer and inspiration. It is possible to memorize a lot without learning anything. In our fast-paced age, there seems to be little time for meditation. No one should accept the statement and base his testimony on it, no matter who makes the statement, until he or she is under careful consideration, found it to be true and valuable, then, logical inference is confirmed by the revelation of one's own spirit, because real conversion must come from within."
"I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should of course respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent -- if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression. This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it."
And, no surprise, Joseph Smith himself was very accommodating and charitable and non-judgmental. We should all be as kind.
"I don't blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself." ~ J.S. Jr.
One thing's for sure: The Givens are correct in saying that the topic of doubt is ambiguous and can be variously intended and interpreted and confusing and contentious (even unto eroding "doubtful disputations" among our fellowship).
Sad and unnecessary.
Peter 1:7. It seems Peter thinks that a trial of your faith might be more precious than gold. And Peter might know a few things about doubt. Probably why he chose to start his remarks about it.
Givens isn't saying that doubt itself is some great thing. However, neither is going through a lot of hard things we go through here in life. I would rather have passed on ever getting picked on, or having worked and studied all night in college while my wife and child slept in the next room, only to pass out on the couch full of worries and self doubt. I would have rather passed on my doubts in my faith.
However, not all of us find it so easy to just believe in whatever we are told. Some of us seek with all intent, but find it difficult to understand the spirit, to discern, or to feel anything at all, no matter how many nights we have begged, studied, and searched. I would rather everything just be easy.
However, I was sent here to experience these things. Faith is never described anywhere as sure knowledge. How people come to that understanding is confusing to me. Paul and Alma both explain it as a hope. A hope in something not seen. That could not sound farther from knowledge. And how contradicting is it to believe faith is perfect knowledge? Wouldn't that undermine the theology of why we are here? That sounds like Satan's plan, where everyone just knows what is right and is forced to do it. No, we are here, without perfect knowledge, seeking it through belief in something we do not know perfectly.
There IS merit in doubt. Most who are honest with themselves and their religious experience will say that having gone through a period of deep introspection made their faith more that a paper-thin testimony that is a regurgitating of what their parents/leaders/friends told them. Doubt is the price of faith. His, "Letter to a Doubter" is a beautiful piece, more mormons should read that. This is a further explanation from that piece. Nowhere does he say that doubt is bad; he says that getting stuck in doubt is bad.
Keeping our heads in the sand or repeatedly being told to "go home and pray about it" doesn't bring us closer to the Savior or closer to a divine understanding.
Dennis Horne's comment is really interesting to me, because it is true that it is much much easier to vilify doubt as the one thing that stands in the way of faith. But his oversimplification forgets one of our most important truths of the plan of salvation -that everything about our mortal experience points to the fact that we are meant to doubt. Our past and future are intentionally veiled, and all evidences of Christ's miracles and resurrection, the veracity of the Bible or BoM, the first vision, etc are also intentionally not given to us - to establish the primacy of faith. Faith through doubt. In this way, faith is not the absence of doubt, but choosing God and belief in the midst of doubt. Exercising faith does not mean that the believer does not doubt, it means that she consistently chooses to act in a way that would not make sense if God did not exist. I believe that this tension btw faith and doubt is circumscribed by the principle that Lehi taught us about opposition in all things - and is why agency plays such an important role in that same chapter in 2 Nephi. Or as stated in the article, "We may risk, and we may choose. That is why we might see doubt, within such a framework, as an essential point of transition between honest assessment of the evidence, and moving forward with purpose." While doubt can immobilize and cripple our faith, when we choose to "move forward" even though we doubt, doubt serves as the very gift, the very trial that proves our faith.
But back to the point that Dennis was making, while it is true that the scriptures exhort us repeatedly to "doubt not, but be believing," we must remember that in Alma, Ether and Hebrews, we are also taught that until we gain a perfect knowledge, we are operating by faith. So anything short of this perfect knowledge is some mixture of faith and unbelief or doubt. There is no question that cultivating doubt, or the spirit of doubt will bring us further from perfect faith. But cultivating ignorance, and the spirit of ignorance achieves the same end. In this sense, ignorance, not doubt, becomes the main obstacle to faith. As stated in the article, "if doubts never arise in our minds, it is likely we are either sleeping or deceiving ourselves." The paradox of the gospel becomes the fact that the more we study and learn (about the ethical inconsistencies in the scriptures, about church history etc), the less we know, and the more we are forced to believe. As our doubt increases, we are forced to lean more heavily on faith, and our decision to choose faith.
I once read a bio where someone described herself as a doubter by nature, but a believer by choice. That to me is the simplest way to iterate the socratic paradox, that at least "I know that I know nothing," with the important caveat that, nevertheless, I choose to believe. In this way, doubt is indeed, a "fruitful catalyst" of faith.
Josh, I believe that the idea that doubt has merit is a pernicious falsehood and I hope it gains no traction. Because people experience doubt doesn't make it helpful to them; on the contrary, doubt weakens faith. As I said in my post, there are no scriptures that speak of doubt being good or having merit or as blessing a person. Do a word search for doubt on LDS.org scriptures and read what is listed. "Nothing doubting" "doubt not" and so forth verse after verse after verse. The Lord seems to see no merit at all in doubt and taught us all to strive to leave it behind. I love what is noted in Daniel 5:12 and 16 about his spiritual gift to dispel and overcome doubts in others--that is what gospel teachers should be doing, not commending it or celebrating it. Read President Hinckley's talks and books and show me one word of encouragement for doubt; one word expressing a view that doubt has merit. The Brethren acknowledge it exists and that many people struggle with it, but their united counsel is to seek the Lord in faith to overcome it and obtain a witness; a sure and unshakable testimony. No on under the influence of the Holy Spirit can doubt; it is impossible. Seek the Spirit, not doubt. Seek answers to questions you may have, don't cultivate a questioning (in the negative sense) or doubting spirit. As Pres. Clark said, I want no condemnation from the Lord for encouraging doubt. The quotation Givens uses from Pres. Brown is from a nonmember and is in contradiction to the scores, perhaps hundreds, of testimonies given by Church leaders in general conference who testify they have never doubted that God lives and loves us; many speak of having had a testimony all their lives. Do they know all things? Of course not. Do they think doubt has merit? Of course not. I am very well acquainted with their teachings and just can't find them being in favor of doubt. In contrast, they carry and bear a special witness specifically meant to dispel doubt and strengthen faith and testimony. God bless them!
This is far too beautiful and clear to be Terryl's own. Thank you Fiona!
He hasn't changed his tone -- this is his tone. Doubt has merit and it is something to be examined and worked with; it is the price of having the ability to exercise faith. His message hasn't changed at all.
I am pleased to note that Bro. Givens has changed his tune from a previous post of a couple years ago on The Interpreter website with "Letter to a Doubter" and no longer sees so much good in doubt. This shows a willingness to improve his thinking; something we can all do. "Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not." I have never seen the scriptures speak of doubt in a positive manner; it is always something we should be striving to overcome and leave behind. The wise and inspired words of President J. Rueben Clark Jr. come to mind: ""The youth of the Church are hungry for things of the Spirit; they are eager to learn the gospel, and they want it straight, undiluted. They want to know about the fundamentals I have just set out—about our beliefs; they want to gain testimonies of their truth. They are not now doubters but inquirers, seekers after truth. Doubt must not be planted in their hearts. Great is the burden and the condemnation of any teacher who sows doubt in a trusting soul."
(Charted Course). Great is the joy of the teacher who sows faith in any soul, eschewing doubt and bearing witness of gospel truth.
Having doubts, and seeking to resolve those doubts through study and with the aid of the Holy Ghost, has given me some of the most profound spiritual experiences I have ever had. My experience has been that there is always an answer. Sometimes that answer may take a lot of knocking at heaven's door before it arrives; sometimes it is something quite unexpected and sometimes it comes as pure knowledge. The Lord gives us knowledge and understanding line upon line as we seek it, and often there is a price to be paid for it. Doubt and confusion are not reasons to abandon one's testimony or the Church but are opportunities for growth and greater knowledge and understanding.
What a thoughtful, perceptive and wise treatment of an enormously important subject!
Thank you, Brother Givens, for another thoughtful article on developing divine attributes as we progress through our mortal journey, in spite of the human frailties and influence of the world that would hinder our progress.
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