The following first appeared on Public Square Magazine.
No scholar would be taken seriously by considering only evidence that lined up with a preferred position. But that’s precisely what so many do in claiming historical and scientific evidence is damning to revealed faith. We hear so many claiming they “go where the facts” of “independent, reliable history” lead them— with far less attention to what that actually means. What often ends up happening is that people are persuaded to label faith sources as “biased” and only look at what deep critics have to say—many of whom exhibit clear angst and axes to grind. It’s hard to see how this amounts to trustworthy research and investigation.
What intellectual choices will you make regarding the material information you allow yourself to focus upon and permit to influence your thinking? The truth is that we each make specific choices in evaluating information and determining “facts,” and we then form conclusions from what we choose to evaluate. By seriously considering the explanations of faithful scholars and not just critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we open ourselves to robust illustrations, rich scholarship, and potential oases of understanding that can help strengthen or restore belief, and even help recover and restore testimony of the truthfulness of the Church and the restored gospel of Christ.
Many who step away from faith—including from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—relate that they have done independent research and took it where the facts led them.
But far less attention typically goes to what people mean by “independent research”—what they are referring to or not referring to in that inquiry, and what they’re paying attention to (and not paying attention to). How they answer that question matters a lot.
I learned this for myself in a very personal way. A startling incident that could have led me into doubt or steered me down an off-ramp into a belief crisis—yet which ultimately strengthened my faith—happened when I was just eighteen, a few months after baptism into the Church. Through my interaction with Latter-day Saint missionaries (and through no merit of my own), I experienced especially strong manifestations of the Holy Ghost. God gave me a sure witness that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was called by Christ to restore His Church to the earth, and that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are from God. After receiving this knowledge unmistakably from heaven, I could no more deny it than I could dismiss the sun in cloudless daylight.
Nevertheless, one day at school an acquaintance, upset that I had joined the Church, plopped an anti-Latter-day Saint pamphlet down in my lap. I took it home and was blown away by its blunt accusations against the character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was filled with details I knew nothing about. I felt a kind of dark foreboding envelop me. So young in the faith, inexperienced, confused, and alone, I didn’t know what to make of it or what to do; I fretted and worried for a few days, anxiously seeking answers, finally walking some seven miles to my seminary teacher’s house.
Gary Wangsgard is one of the most intelligent, benevolent men I’ve ever met—possessed of colossal integrity. I knew he would never lie to me. I handed him the pamphlet and asked him what he thought. He silently reviewed it, then looked up with serene confidence and said: “I don’t know much about this. But Mike, let me tell you what I do know …” He then expressed a brief, moving witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling and the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Christ. His demeanor reassured me; his words reached my heart. I thought: “If a man as educated, life-experienced, and honest as he senses immediately that this pamphlet is not true, then I should not be alarmed by it either.”
My peace of mind was restored. However, somewhat indignant, I continued to research the details in that pamphlet, ultimately uncovering that its author had lied his way through it: his references unreliable, his assumptions faulty, his “facts” twisted, his accusations and conclusions false. I remember feeling a bit resentful that this writer would so take advantage of my innocent and believing heart, and my blossoming faith—deliberately disturbing the safe anchorage of my happy world.
One of the issues I had to face was how I would approach my own “independent research”—and the specific choices I would make in the process of evaluating information.
My experience raised other questions as well. For instance, at the outset, on its face, it seems incongruent, even impossible, that God would communicate directly with us—give us pure knowledge from heaven—only for us to subsequently discover anything in this world, His world, that could legitimately contradict the truths so communicated. Such inconsistency would also seem to run counter to His character as we understand it.
Of course, there are those who doubt, who may have reached a point where they wonder if their previous belief or spirituality was ever real at all—and some even question if God Himself is there or if religion, in general, is just a myth.
Even so, most people acknowledge that consistency is an important principle, observable in science and nature. In the realm of philosophical inquiry, for example, we know that consistency in logic and reason is fundamental, without which everything descends into chaos.
And those who strongly question the beliefs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often point to supposed incongruities they see in some of the doctrines, history, and practices of the Church. Some of the more persistent critics apply this consistency principle in reverse: promoting inconsistency and then using what they suppose to argue against the truthfulness of the faith. The more malevolent among them—and, strangely, there are many—use this reverse application as a tool to deceive and attempt to pull unwary members of the Church away from the moorings of their belief and testimony. We also observe them using it to persuade others against a return to the faith.
Trolling for discrepancies. Determined critics seem forever looking for inconsistencies; when they think they have found one, they highlight it. They simply say: “See, the Church cannot be true because of x inconsistency or y fact. You were mistaken; and oh, by the way, you never really had a genuine experience with heaven.”
Some detractors seem obsessed with hunting for incongruities. Seemingly, the more complex the topic of attack—and thus the easier to fog up—the better. Yet listening to them we are often reminded of Paul Gigot’s observation of Paul Weyrich—tending to focus on the hole in any donut, and when seeing a hole, calling it an abyss.
Still, sometimes the drumbeat of such criticism leaves members of the Church (or those investigating the faith) wondering if they have indeed encountered contradictions. Yet my experience has been that every supposed inconsistency, no matter how complex, upon deep examination, ultimately turns out to be a fantasy, a mirage—as well as bereft of good logic and sound reasoning.
Yet getting to such resolutions, once again, involves that same critical exercise of intellectual choice as to what material information we allow ourselves to focus upon and permit to influence us. So much of what arises from all the many questions that are posed depends on the specific answers you and I might choose.
Seven targeted areas of belief. Critics of our faith focus like a laser on foundational truths of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. They aim their arrows primarily at seven things: the character of the Prophet Joseph Smith (as was the case with the pamphlet), the Book of Mormon, the First Vision (the visit of God and Christ to the boy prophet Joseph), the restoration of the Priesthood, plural marriage, temples, and the historicity and translation of the Book of Abraham (not that any of these topics contain inherent issues that necessarily call for doubt). Race and the priesthood and LGBT+ matters are a recent focus, but the others still predominate as primary reasons given for people dissenting from the faith. And let us not kid ourselves: Often the underlying thrust is to ultimately cause us to lose faith in and deny Christ—severing ourselves from the ordinances and priesthood of His restored Church.
Though a longtime, enthusiastic student of modern Church history, over the past eighteen months I’ve engaged in deep, intensive study of these seven core issues.
In doing so I’ve observed conspicuous confusion over just what constitutes “independent, reliable research.” This disorder arguably stems from what appears to be a misunderstanding or a muddled application of the word “bias.”
No such thing as an unbiased source. There seems to be a common assumption that there are resources out there that are completely at arm’s length, that have no preconceived position, and no inherent desire to persuade. But is this a common-sense reality?
Upon examination, we soon discover it’s an illusion and a remarkably widespread myth. Many great historians, scientists, and academics for centuries have openly admitted as much—and as you investigate this point on your own you’ll find it is true. Ed Gantt and Richard Williams, with decades of experience in the philosophy of science, said as much in a recent essay with Jacob Hess, entitled, “The Fantasy Story Americans Love to Tell about Science.”
Rather than some “oracle that speaks in some monolithic voice,” good scholarship and research is better understood as an argument between people (hopefully) seeking truth, but reading the historical and scientific data differently, while also “defining terms differently, [and] emphasizing different indicators in determining what is true and trustworthy, etc.”
When Winston Churchill was in his early twenties, he fell in love with Thomas Macaulay’s classic: The History of England. The volumes had a life-changing effect upon him. Yet later a more educated, mature Churchill in his autobiography lamented a good part of Macaulay’s work: “There was no one at hand to tell me that this historian with his captivating style … was the prince of literary rogues, who always preferred the tale to the truth, and smirched or glorified great men and garbled documents according as they affected his drama.”
Every resource is created or interpreted by a person—a mortal, after all. And even those who would like us to think they merely report on basic data or facts carry along with them their own feelings and interpretations—of course, they do.
We see this truth illustrated daily in courts of law, where both sides present “evidence”—but not before engaging in spirited disagreement over what will or will not be considered “evidence.” Then, throughout, lawyers draw their own interpretations from their proposed “evidence” and then frame conclusions to the judge or jury. We are familiar with the scenario of a jury strongly leaning in one direction until certain facts were presented late in the case that completely reversed their paradigm. The defendant, assumed guilty, is suddenly discovered to be genuinely innocent, and now surprised observers and attorneys must resolve after-the-fact how what they thought was “evidence” actually was only an interpretation of data in their own minds.
That’s how all scholarship really works, including about the Church of Jesus Christ. For instance, compared with their positioning as a “free-thinking, but fair-minded inquiry,” Hess has highlighted the uniquely suspicious and accusing narrative that has been used by one especially popular podcaster to “frame-up” the raw experiences of people on his podcast.
It’s fair to say that even “the very act of deeming one bit of historical information more relevant than another is the imposition of a narrative (a bias) upon a past reality.”
Another great scholar (among many more we could quote) concurs: “Virtually no scholarship is neutral. Almost all scholarship is defending a particular point of view, and thus constitutes apologetics of one sort or another. The question then becomes, which point of view is being defended.”
All of which brings us to the mighty consequences of where we look (or don’t look) in our various “research quests.”
A tragic intellectual choice. Most scholars of any topic will naturally aim to examine all of the many sources of information on their chosen focus of study. That’s the way we understand good scholarship to be. It’s simply what we expect.
When we hear about a scholar that selectively chooses to study only this, or that information—perhaps sources and data that favor a preferred position, what conclusion would we inevitably come to?
“Why, there goes a scholar that’s not actually a scholar at all …” And we would be right— because what we were observing is something else masquerading as honest (and “independent”) research.
It seems reasonable enough, consequently, to expect that people doing honest investigations would be willing to consider arguments and evidence from the many sources available.
What, then, of those who begin to doubt the faith, but decide to only read sources that are hostile to or doubtful of the truth claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Some take this ultra-narrow approach to such an extreme that they will not even listen to sources from Brigham Young University or FAIR (Faithful Answers, Informed Response)—even though the Ph.D.’s at BYU (some of whom contribute writings to FAIR) are not only widely respected in their academic fields but obtained their higher education at major institutions across the US such as Yale, University of Michigan, and UCLA to cite only a few.
Some bitter detractors even proselyte information seekers to label and dismiss anyone active in the faith and defending it as mere “apologists” (a word once celebrated in a positive way by acolytes of C.S. Lewis but which today has been turned by critics into a pejorative term). They don’t hesitate either with Latter-day Saint scholars, painting them as church lackeys whose beliefs have overcome their reason and scholarship. One academically respected Ph.D. from a midwestern university, who was arguing against one of the foundational truth claims of the Church, referred to a fellow Ph.D. in his own field at BYU who held a different position on the issue, as that “[Latter-Day Saint] in Provo”—completely dismissing his scholarship on personal religious grounds, a form of religious and academic bigotry.
But, of course, some would argue this is what members of the Church themselves are encouraged to do—by laying aside the arguments and perspectives of those with questions and concerns about the Church and focusing on “faithful” sources. It’s true that such encouragement has and will continue to be given. But it’s not true that the arguments and perspectives of critics have not been heard or taken seriously. On a personal level, church leader after church leader has enjoined individual members to make space for those with questions, and to minister to them personally by listening to them and trying to understand concerns. And on a more macro level, Church scholars have spent decades deeply hearing, understanding, and grappling with the questions and challenges raised by critics. Rather than a mirror opposite of the critique I’m making here, I would argue Latter-day Saint members and scholars represent a counterpoint to the selective attention being discussed here, wherein only critical sources are taken seriously (and everything identified with the Church in any way is dismissed).
Online spiritual predators. And currently, there is a darker, more disturbing trend in the online, social media world. Ensconced there is what can only be accurately described as an anti-cult: a loose collection of bitter church and faith detractors who put concerted and remarkably intensive energies into reaching naive youth between the ages of 15 and 19, actively and unapologetically attempting to turn them against the faith and their own parents. As revealed in their many YouTube videos, Instagram postings, TikTok teasers, Reddit posts, and podcasts, their message is essentially this: Your parents brainwashed you. You have been sheltered inside a cult. Your freedom has been intentionally withheld from you. You don’t know what the “real world” is all about because they have shielded you from it. Anything that comes from the Church, BYU, or FAIR is not to be believed. They are all “biased.”
There is a whole new nomenclature that these detractors encourage our youth to use—which pits them against both the Church and their own families. Highly skilled with social media and the online culture, they present a hip appearance and speak in all the right words and language. They even take apart, line by line, “For the Strength of Youth”—the pamphlet that has inspired generations of young people to live upstanding, Christian lives. (Imagine someone doing this with the principles of “Young Life”—a longtime Christian youth program celebrated by many Protestant and Evangelical faiths). By any definition, these are online spiritual predators, and they have successfully lured many youths away. They coach youth on how to leave the faith, what to expect in the reaction of family and friends, how to cope with those reactions, etc. And then they teach them how to transition into a life totally devoid of faith, family, and God.
Further, they target our 13th Article of Faith like a bullseye. This teaches youth and adults to be “honest, true, chaste (not engage in sex before or outside of marriage) virtuous, and do good to all men.” They teach them this is an unrealistic standard and there is no violation of moral law in any deviation from virtue. In fact, they teach them that moral law and absolute truths do not exist.
Yet ironically, this faith-corrosive, truth-attacking campaign claims for its inspiration and justification a foundational and especially credible pursuit of truth—all of which explains why this edifice of “independent research” deserves so much more scrutiny.
To repeat, how trustworthy is an investigation that rules out a priori—right out of the chutes—any source that disagrees with your fundamental ideas, your premise? What does it mean when you even slice away a substantial part of the evidence base?
Once again, would any honest scholar do that? Would any researcher, only “following the evidence wherever it leads” honestly say, “I’m not going to take seriously sources that don’t comport to my view?”
The consequences of such a choice are profound—even life-altering, perhaps especially when it comes to matters of faith and eternity. In that case, you are writing off the very people who could resolve or reverse your faith issue.
Great souls brought forth to defend the faith. I believe God has raised up some of the strongest, most intelligent men and women in the history of the world to document and defend the true faith of Jesus Christ in these twenty-first-century times. In fact, in my view, they tower above the Church’s adversaries and are tremendous resources of credible information for genuine consideration.
Regarding polygamy, take Brian C. and Laura H. Hales: For thirty years Hales painstakingly documented the practice, then published his findings in the definitive, 4-volume, 1,702-page work: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. His goal: to touch every known document related to plural marriage, including the works of critics, and let the chips fall where they may.
And what, throughout, was his principal finding regarding the Prophet Joseph’s practice and teaching of polygamy? He states that, beyond normal mortal fallibility, Joseph’s “mistakes did not include immorality or hypocrisy in regards to the revealed words of the Lord” (Volume 4, pg. 101). He also corrects many outright false or distorted stories, twisted information, and dubious conclusions. And his 312-page Volume 3 details the theology of polygamy—for without this foundational understanding the review of the practice is almost always distorted.
I wasn’t but a third of the way through the pages of these volumes and their detailed footnotes before it became clear, regarding critic’s claims and conclusions about the Prophet Joseph Smith’s expressed character in practicing plural marriage, that there is no there there. See for yourself. Brian Hales also keeps an informative website on the topic.
Or look at the Book of Abraham, the coming forth and translation of which is another quite complicated subject—touching both Egyptian and Jewish history, practices, and languages; the scriptures, translation, and world and church history; and the study of ancient documents. Noting such complexity, Dr. Hugh Nibley, a renowned Egyptian scholar, described the field as “a happy hunting ground for crackpots.”
In response to such, and also to answer credible scholars and ordinary observers who have legitimate questions, not only do we have Dr. Nibley but also two current PhDs in Egyptology in our midst: Dr. John Gee and Dr. Kerry Muhlestein, both fluent in the general field and masters of its narrow, Book of Abraham branch. Both are supreme scholars and active members of the Church. In An Introduction to the Book of Abraham, Dr. Gee refers in part to non-Latter-day Saint critics: “Scholars often follow a potentially incorrect assumption to its logically flawed conclusion.” I found in my reading that all of the more recent criticisms of the Book of Abraham—including those from Robert Ritner—follow this fatally flawed pattern.
Dr. Muhlestein’s most recent work, Let’s Talk About The Book of Abraham decimates the untenable arguments against its divine authenticity coming from such relatively recent critics as Ritner—who postulated that the Prophet falsely translated the book from the scant remaining fragments of papyri that we have in our possession today. In another setting Muhlestein summarized: “We can be sure from the historical evidence that Joseph Smith is not translating from the text adjacent to Facsimile 1. And thus, the question about why the text there does not match the Book of Abraham is an irrelevant question. It shouldn’t match the Book of Abraham. We know that’s not what he’s translating from, he’s translating from the large roll.” One witness stated that this large roll of papyri rolled out covered the length of two rooms in a house. The prophet Joseph stated that he translated the record from this scroll. And credible evidence—in fact, all the evidence—points to it having been destroyed in the great Chicago fire of 1871 that incinerated the Woods Museum where it was held.
In addition, Dr. Muhlestein in his book points out misconceptions underlying criticism of the translation. Though some assume that modern Egyptologists are a replacement for understanding how the Egyptians themselves would have interpreted papyri drawings (such as Facsimiles 1,2, and 3, adjacent to the text in the Book of Abraham), Dr. Muhlestein points to an academic study where it was demonstrated that “in the few instances where we have found Egyptian labels (actual ancient explanations) about various figures in other hyocephalids (disc-shaped, artistic objects uncovered in remote excavation sites) they frequently do not match (current) Egyptologists interpretations.”
So, we again see illustrated the ‘fallacy that scholarship is infallible’ (as well as more credence for the saying that you can’t put three Egyptologists in a room and have them agree on anything).
Regarding Dr. Gee and Dr. Muhlestein’s findings, I don’t know how anyone can read these people and still have problems with the Book of Abraham.
Concerning the archaeological, cultural history, and anthropology of the Book of Mormon, who in the world is more qualified than Dr. John L. Sorenson? An anthropologist and educator, he spent 40 years studying the ancient American history of the Book of Mormon. His magnum opus, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (the title referring to the prophet Mormon, who compiled the record) recognized clear correspondences between the Book of Mormon and ancient America in sixteen broad historical, societal, and scientific areas. He, Brant Gardner, and others have silenced forever the absurd, ignorant claim that there is scant evidence that the Book of Mormon is an ancient American document. Try a truckload.
Not to mention Dr. Royal L. Skousen, esteemed professor of linguistics and English at Brigham Young University. His 30-year project studying the critical text of the Book of Mormon—both the extant original manuscript and the original printer’s copy—demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that the Book of Mormon was dictated orally and not copied from any other manuscript. And since many eyewitnesses testified that the prophet had no papers, books, or notes present with him throughout the translation, we are presented with yet another confirmation of the book’s divine authenticity.
Or can we forget the late Dr. Richard Lloyd Anderson, one of the great historical researchers? His seminal work: Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses remains the principal authority on the statements and testimonies of the witnesses throughout their lives—showing that none of them ever contradicted their accounts or denied their witness. And his prodigiously documented Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage puts to rout any challenges against the character of Joseph Smith’s ancestors (another happy hunting ground). Through extensive proofs, his progenitors are revealed to be almost without exception men and women of great character, industry, faith, and patriotism.
Other works of note include four more recent books exploring the First Vision, the restoration of the priesthood, and other heavenly visitations, including John W. Welch’s landmark “Opening the Heavens.” These demonstrate conclusively, with original documents, that the various accounts of Joseph’s vision in the grove do not contradict but rather enhance each other.
And what about Joseph Smith’s true character? Here’s some reasoning: Has there ever been a man, over a consecutive 17-year period (age 21 to age 38 when he died), whose entire life, whose daily goings and comings, was more personally witnessed and documented? The Prophet Joseph was strongly social. And in the rustic nature of the times, his large family, and his demanding leadership position he was rarely alone. Has anyone in any age ever been so persistently scrutinized?
And what do the people who lived with him, worked with him, and served alongside him, have to say about his honesty and overall character? Dr. Mark L. McConkie compiled the personal recollections of hundreds of those closest to Joseph throughout his life, contained in his 529-page book entitled: Remembering Joseph: Personal Recollections of Those Who Knew the Prophet Joseph Smith—the premier work on the topic.
If you have a doubtful or critical inclination toward the Prophet Joseph Smith, I invite you to read Dr. McConkie’s work first, with an open mind, to understand the man as he truly was. Following his death, the Savior Himself inscribed a postscript to Joseph’s ministry and character: “he … was faithful, and I took him unto myself.”
These are some of the people who could well help resolve the soul-shaking crises besetting so many people around us … if they were actually heard out. But, once again, some of the people in most need of hearing their reasoning and conclusions have been persuaded to adopt the poisonous notion that the only people worth taking seriously are those with de facto critical stances—thus, inserting an intellectual cavern between themselves and the very set of individuals that could do them the most good.
Reconsideration of “independent research”—a plea. To the many who may have adopted negative assumptions about the truthfulness of the Church due to their own independent research, I would issue a new invitation: Go even deeper in your attempt to find the truth for yourself. Look at the other piece of the pie. Take seriously faithful, trustworthy sources, rather than disregarding them completely. Let these other facts lead you. Don’t simply take the critics’ word for it—who are only too anxious to negatively shape your opinion. Look. See. You may well be brought into oases of new understanding.
How can so many engage in such vacuous reasoning on such momentous subjects?
In the wake of my own lengthy investigations, I’ve been honestly amazed at the lack of substance and common sense in the arguments of those who challenge the divine authenticity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For example, attacking how the Book of Mormon was translated, yet offering no credible explanation of their own for its origin. The deeper I go in my exploration the more incredulous I get; I am led to exclaim: How can so many engage in such vacuous reasoning on such momentous subjects?
Even though revelation is by far the most powerful source of spiritual understanding, God also encourages us to use other epistemologies (ways of knowing) in both the spiritual and academic realms—including sound reasoning, our senses, pragmatic experience, and reliance on true authorities. As I have sought to engage all of these different modes of understanding, they have led me—inexorably, inescapably, inevitably—to dismiss the reasoning of critics as specious, hollow, and unpersuasive.
Indeed, those who do this kind of exhaustive review of (all) the available evidence are ultimately faced with a striking reality: Deep in all seven areas where detractors focus—and despite 190 years of shopworn attacks—we still uncover no real inconsistencies. What legs are left for critics to stand upon? It is clear that if in the battle for our minds they cannot own even one of these seven areas, their oppositional house of cards crumbles to the dust.
To those who feel they “only believe.” Now, what about another group among us sometimes affected by doubt: those who believe, or desire to believe, but have not yet had such strong revelatory experiences with the Holy Ghost like the ones that happened to me? (Many of our youth are in this circumstance. Well aware of their inexperience and vulnerability, unrelenting critics deliberately target them—typically ages 16 to 30.) But young or old, the reality is that so many have not yet experienced those golden sacred revelations that often can boost a person over a belief crisis.
Even so, they are still fundamentally in a very good place—“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland celebrated and encouraged all who so believe, even if that belief is only slight: “Hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited … fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.”
We each possess this inborn, inner flame—the light of Christ. All we need to do is perceive it, kindle it, and ignite it. Then one day such belief will become a sure knowledge.
The AK-47. Despite all this reason for hope, we must confront the realization that our youth and young adults today face far more than a mere seven to ten attacks contained within a small pamphlet. They encounter up to 100-page-plus online documents or voluminous caches of tantalizing social media content challenging their core faith in these target areas. In some instances, these may contain as many as 50 to 100 or more rapid-fire, untruthful attacks. Mine was a handgun; theirs is an AK-47 (even if it ultimately contains only rubber bullets).
Yet if I were hit today with an AK-47—some 66-charge-Gish-gallop of rubber bullets—I would recognize immediately that the assaults will largely fall in one or more of those seven previously mentioned categories. Rene Krywult, in his informative presentation “Fear Leads to the Dark Side—Navigating the Shallows of (Mis)Information” cautions against viewing the multiplicity of these target-area attacks as a picture—when the entirety of that mosaic is designed to mislead. Instead, he advises, look at every single detail first, then draw a picture of it.
In other words, break it down.
Also consider Hugh Jones’ approach, who on a YouTube thread simply said: “All I’ve ever had to do when I question stuff is just wait and before I know it either an answer comes or the falsehood gets exposed … [that’s the] story of my experience with anti [rubbish].”
Working it out with heaven. So, in the final analysis, we are led back to a central question: If in our spiritual lives we encounter what appears to be inconsistency, what is the answer?
In my first experience with a belief challenge, I unwittingly followed a healthy pattern for dealing with complex religious issues that during the whole of my life has proven valid and effective time and again, and one that—minus the panic—I would whole-heartedly recommend to anyone facing doubts or challenges to their belief, no matter how extensive. (And for those who may have paused their activity in the faith, this process will help navigate the way back.)
I made the decision to try to work the matter out with God. Yet I knew I needed an earthly person, too, to help me assimilate what I didn’t understand. I went to someone I trusted, someone in the faith and honest who I knew would be candid with me and caring as well. After I reached a degree of spiritual satisfaction, I engaged in more academic research using solid, credible sources and confirmed the spiritual answers I had previously received.
Regarding this encouragement to seek deeper, I recommend starting with a credible, faithful book or treatise covering just one of those areas—say Brother Welch’s great work on modern-day divine manifestations. Simultaneously I would go deep in my scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon and the Book of John in the New Testament. I would try to stay close to my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is also critical to attend church and listen to General Conferences, because “faith cometh by hearing … the word of God.” I would remember that I possess the inborn gift of the light of Christ as well as the Holy Ghost—and that I can tap into those powers. And yes, I would pray frequently, even if, like King Lamoni, I had doubts that God is there.
I would strive to live the commandments of God and not begin doing things that are contrary to virtue or the Thirteenth Article of Faith, as this will naturally cause the Spirit to become more distant. If I slipped, no matter how far, I would repent, and build my confidence that the Holy Ghost will return—because it will; by law it must.
To those who no longer believe. Now a final plea is surely in order here, a plea to those who think their house of belief has crumbled, and that they have totally lost their faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—or faith in general.
First, cultivate a hopeful and wise intellectual climate. Begin with good and fair reasoning that considers believing perspectives. To paraphrase Dr. Hyrum Lewis, a Ph.D. in history and philosophy: If people can be turned to disbelief through reason, they can be turned from it the same way. And encouraging such good reasoning, Elder Holland referenced English cleric Austin Farrar: “Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”
Second, take heart at what may still be possible for you. Many have been in this position and have returned to faith, finding their testimonies again—including such amazing people as Dusty Smith, Leo Winegar, and Don Bradley. And note that the leading atheistic philosopher over the second half of the 20th century—Anthony Flew—in 2004 was led, through analytical reasoning, to renounce atheism and became a deist. As illustrated in ancient America, anyone who has stepped away from faith can be “converted again unto the Lord.”
In Leo Winegar’s case, he reached out by email to Dr. Stephen C. Harper, who had taught one of his religion classes in college. Dr. Harper reassured him that he could assist in reconstructing his faith “if you are willing to reconsider some of your assumptions.” He did.
Take courage from so many such stories; many who return make abundant contributions. There will be new friends—intelligent hearts and loving hands to welcome and assist you.
In all our searching we ultimately confirm the consistency of God. I was struck by a testimony I heard in church the other day. Kierra Wraught, a faith-filled 12-year-old from Saratoga Springs, Utah, perhaps summed it up best: “Today there’s a lot of people you can’t trust. I’m grateful for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. If They tell you something, They won’t back out of it.”