We wrote this series for two audiences: (1) Latter-day Saints who are experiencing a crisis of faith, and (2) Latter-day Saints who are not. President Uchtdorf recently observed, “There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions.” First, we want to dispel a misconception: some members assume that those who experience a crisis of faith must have committed some sort of sin. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf explains, “Actually, it is not that simple.”
Through the years, many of our friends have experienced doubt about the Church and its teachings. In some instances, there were signs that they were living their life in ways that alienated them from the Spirit of God. In other instances, they chose to take offense at something a Church leader said or did. But in other instances, the seeds for their doubt were intellectual in nature.
For example, we have spoken with friends who questioned their faith when they discovered that the temple rituals have changed (in some respects) over the past 150 years. Others questioned their faith when they found quotes from early Church leaders that seemed to contradict current Church teachings. And yet others questioned their faith when they discovered that a particular teaching they thought was unchangeable doctrine turned out to be nothing of the sort.
This has also happened as prophets or apostles call into question popular (or even unpopular) political belief systems. Together, we have witnessed dozens of liberal or libertarian friends call into question the spiritual authority of prophets and apostles because of the Church’s teachings on sexuality, marriage, abortion, or other controversial political topics. In such cases, they ask, “How can prophets speak for God and yet get things so wrong?”
We have also witnessed conservative friends do the same. For example, a few of our friends questioned their faith when the Church supported non-discrimination policies in housing and employment in the state of Utah, because such policies would have been condemned (or so they think) by prior Church leaders. In such cases, they ask, “How can prophets speak for God, if they teach one thing one decade, and then another a few decades later?”
Others have experienced doubt because blessings they thought had been promised to them never materialized. The formula for prosperity and happiness, they thought, was simple: go to church, pray, read the scriptures, attend the temple, and so forth. After all, the Lord taught, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say” (D&C 82:10). In such cases, they ask, “Why then am I still single / divorced / suffering from mental illness / [or a host of other difficult experiences]?”
The list goes on. We have talked with friends who were genuinely troubled that we keep our temple rituals private. The “secrecy” surrounding the temple felt “cultish” to them. “If the temple teaches truth,” they asked, “Why do we not broadcast that truth to the world?” Yet others have questioned the purpose of the Atonement. They ask, “Why must God require His Son to suffer, just so that we can live with Him?” Yet others noticed that some of the moral codes we live by seem culturally situated, so they began to question their divine origins.
If you have asked any of the above questions, this series is for you. Addressing this endless litany of questions (and more) may be a tall order for a single blog series. But we do this by addressing what they all have in common. Many of our questions may not have answers because they start with the wrong premises—perhaps like looking for the corner of a round room. Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently explained, “on many important subjects involving religion, Latter-day Saints think differently than many others.” Elder Oaks continued:
When I say that Latter-day Saints “think differently,” I do not suggest that we have a different way of reasoning in the sense of how we think. I am referring to the fact that on many important subjects our assumptions—our starting points or major premises—are different from many of our friends and associates.
Not only do our beliefs hinge on different premises, but the premises of our questions matter as well. Many of the questions above are rooted in a single premise: They assume that truth is a set of abstract ideas or doctrines that never change.
This may seem like common sense, and if so, that is because most of us accept this view unquestioningly. But this may be one of the “philosophies of men” that can subtly change the way we think about the Gospel, and ultimately ensare us in doubt. This view has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy. The Greeks saw things that do not change as more fundamental than those that do, and this led them to focus on abstract ideas as “truth.”
In our view, truth is not a set of abstract ideas, but a living, breathing Person who loves us as His children. This view is inspired by Hebrew thought, which did not separate the search for truth from our journey to God. And once we adopt this view—even provisionally—all of our questions change. Not all of our questions will be answered, to be sure. But the way we frame the questions will change so that they no longer tilt us towards doubt. We explain how throughout the rest of this series.
If you are not experiencing a crisis of faith, this series is also for you. You may yet stumble upon questions of your own. This series may equip you to challenge their premises, and inoculate you against the doubt and confusion that often follows for others. In addition, this series may assist you in your conversations with friends and family who do have questions about their faith.
But perhaps more importantly, this series may help you to reframe the way you think about your relationship with God. Our hope is that all of our readers will center their faith more on the Savior Jesus Christ and the covenants they have made with God, and less on abstract lists of doctrine or beliefs. We echo the words of Nephi, who wrote, “For the fullness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved” (1 Nephi 6:4).
In Part 2, we will explore the central distinction of this series. This installment will lay out the premises upon which we often ask our questions (idea-truth), and upon which we could ask our questions (person-truth). Part 3 will explore the ancient roots of this distinction, and why Latter-day Saints should treat Greek philosophy with caution. The remainder of the series will explore how these premises change how we think about the Gospel, and how we frame our questions.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come Join with Us,” October 2013 General Conference.|
|2.||↑||Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come Join with Us,” October 2013 General Conference.|
|3.||↑||Dallin H. Oaks, “As He Thinketh in His Heart” (address given to Church Educational System religious educators, Salt Lake City, Utah, February 8, 2013).|
|4.||↑||Dallin H. Oaks, “As He Thinketh in His Heart” (address given to Church Educational System religious educators, Salt Lake City, Utah, February 8, 2013).|