Uprooted Out of the Darkness of Faith and into the Light of Doubt: A Light Review of “Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt” by Patrick Q. Mason of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute For Religious Studies, Formerly FARMS (The most recent attempt at Mormon Apologetic)
Kerry A. Shirts
February 17, 2016
This last decade we have seen some interesting books, mostly apologetic in nature, where it appears to me the tune has changed in Mormon apologetic writings. Terryl Givens has risen to become the “go to” apologist for ironing out issues of faith and doubt. Other apologetic attempts at persuading both non-Mormons and doubters of Mormonism have been Mike Ash, Thomas A. Wayment, Grant Hardy, Chad P. Conrad, and Scott R. Peterson. All these are interesting reading, though ultimately unpersuasive because they are still operating under church assumptions and give me the impression that they must write in a certain way (faith-promoting) in order to please the church, rather than enlighten us. I know, that appears to be quite negative, but that’s how I see it. I aim on showing you why I see it this way as well.
The newest attempt is honest to goodness no different. We have now to read the new book by Patrick Q. Mason, “Planted, Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt.” A new book by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship.
One thing one who tries to keep up with the apologetic writings (for amusement? Instruction? Doubt building? Who knows why we do it?) notices is they appear to be getting more and more nervous (and vocal) about the influence of democratic knowledge given to us all thanks to the internet. No more can the church control and check the information we Mormons receive for their education. We now have millions of more times the amounts of information at our fingertips on all subjects than we did just 10 years ago, and are no longer stuck with just the church’s angle. We can now realistically check all angles, understand all views, faiths, and doubts, people are having, not to mention their experiences both good and horrible, in Mormonism. It is an education par excellence that has been denied to us, more due to the quirks of history and technology than determination to keep us in the dark. Or is it?
Patrick Q. Mason wants to have a friendly discussion, a dialogue with friends and disgruntled family members (fellow Mormons) in his book. He says he wants to work through some of the actual issues causing doubts in Mormons, and thinks the church is the best place and Mormonism is the best way to calm those doubts. Let’s take a closer look. Now, I believe his intention is sincere, but his naivete is, well, let me say amusing. I wish no offense, but really man! O.K., I am not going to do a complete survey of every idea he brings out, but will pick what I think are some of the truly problematic aspects of his entire approach to doubters. I just sincerely think doubters and “faithers” continue to talk past each other. You’ll see what I mean as we move along. I’m a doubter. I don’t think “faithers” get it at all. Allow me to make several illustrations, not in meanness, but in the spirit in which Mason intends his book, in friendly dialogue. But if you want to dialogue, then dammit, at least begin to understand how to do so realistically. Read on to see what I mean. I will first mention the page number in parenthesis and then a quote of Mason’s, and then write a blurb after it.
(p. 1) – “We are having conversations about things we’ve not previously talked about in the open, which is one sign of a church membership that is more committed and less casual about the role of faith, and the church in their lives.”
Are you talking to us or the leaders? Look, forget about faith, we’re not interested in faith, we’re interested in evidence, in the reality which we find to be actual when evidence points us to it. To a doubter, faith is the problem and enemy. Reality is based on evidence and probability, not faith. Faith can’t change the probability of something being real or fake, only evidence can achieve that. You might wish to understand this far better in future books you may wish to write attempting to “help” us.
(p.2) – There are those either “Switched off,” or “squeezed out”
I am one of the “switched off” kinds. For numerous reasons, and those reasons keep adding up the more I look into things. And I mean in the honest search for truth, looking at all sides, whether Mormon, other religions, or atheists. I mean honestly all sides, because if it’s one thing Joseph Smith actually got right, it was his comment (if he wrote it that is, but whoever did, told it right) “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” I seriously thought I had this marked in the History of the Church, but can’t find where. I know Eugene England also noticed this statement in his writings. Mormons and Mormonism as a whole give lip service to learning about truth and searching for truth, but they don’t actually appear to me to be doing so in a realistic manner. Read those who truly are contrary to you, and you begin to see the weaknesses of your own assumptions. And your answers are always and forever only as strong as your weakest assumptions. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but it’s true.
(p. 2) – “The switched off group includes those who sees the new knowledge [on the church’s website] does not square with what they had previously learned over the years at church – sometimes by way of direct contradiction, but usually by revealing parts of the story that we usually don’t tell in our three-hour Sunday meetings. When a person realizes that at least part of what they are learning for the first time is factually true, not simply the malicious inventions of anti-Mormon propagandists, then they sometimes start to wonder what else they haven’t been told. They often go off in search of other “hidden knowledge”, sometimes forgetting the basic principles and experiences that they had originally built their testimony upon. They begin to see duplicity rather than sincerity in the church’s presentation of its doctrine and history.”
When the essays appeared on the church’s websites there were troubled Mormons who actually began warning us on the internet that anti-Mormons had invaded the church’s website and hijacked their writings with anti-Mormon articles. They were speaking of the church’s new, super-honest and open articles on polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, etc. Now what to make of this fascinating reaction? What could possibly cause such a thing? There were other Mormons who were so very angry they wrote the church (and called them on the phone they told us!) and told them to take those articles down as they were not the truth, that this was not what we had been taught, are not supported by the scriptures, nor what the Holy Ghost had testified to their souls the truth was. Another utterly amazing reaction! They then vehemently denied to a lot of us that the church had authorized those articles, that it was some renegade idiot working for the church, sneaking them onto the site without anyone’s knowing they were there, wishing to make the church look bad and hypocritical, and those articles needed to be destroyed.
Now then, without doubt, this should astound anyone. It is not so much the articles, although they contribute to the problem, but the implications that are so very damning, and no one is talking about them at all, but merely presenting spiritual apologetic pap-n-pablum fluff in place of sober, rational, sane, honest reasoning and analysis. Mason is no different, though he is attempting to be a little more open and appear at least, to be a little more objective about it all. But that isn’t near good enough for doubters. Let us spell out for you what we are seeing, if it interests you at all in having an actual discussion and dialogue. Quit trying to re-convert us, and have the dialogue. We’re not interested in conversion, we’re interested in truth, reality, what actually is. There are at least four, if not more, implications to the new “truthful” “open” “transparent” essays on the official church website.
- The essays were clearly seen as anti-Mormon and it horrified a lot of people. How could that reaction possibly occur? It’s simple. The information in those essays is the same information that anti-Mormons have been teaching for decades, if not the past century and three-quarters as what really happened. The church excommunicated anyone teaching this information and labeled them exactly in the manner Mason just did – “the malicious inventions of anti-Mormon propagandists.” Now, as it happens, it was the church who are the “malicious propagandists” and telling the not so accurate history (whitewashing it – to put as charitable a description on it as I possibly can) and the anti-Mormons who were telling the actual truth! So that when the essays came out and finally “came clean” and decided to finally “tell the truth” everyone thought the anti-Mormons had come home to roost! Truly deliciously ironic as all get out. The implications of this are beyond staggering when one puts a little brain muscle into it. Let’s try it and see. The church has so left out so much, has so changed what really happened, or what was really said, or what was really meant, it has so spiritualized things in the past to encourage and help testimonies, that there is simply no other way to describe it, they have lied to teach the truth. The true church has been lying to teach the truth? This makes reason stare! Seriously? Seriously, yes. The truth cannot be told straight, it has to be lied about in order to get people to accept it. And they have been excommunicating people by the hundreds through the years and decades and over a century for teaching the real truth, ruining their lives, their spirituality, causing untold of misery with families, their health, psychology, their standing in their communities and jobs, and all for the crime of simply telling the truth. This is reprehensible! Lets be blunt. That is unacceptable.
- This brings up the credibility issue and implication and fall out which is still not being discussed honestly, openly, or lovingly. We have been taught the Holy Ghost will testify to us in our hearts, our very depths of our souls that what the church has taught is eternal, unchanging truth. God knows. God KNOWS the truth, and will tell us it is true when we pray about it. The Holy Ghost will cause a burning in our bosoms (we were taught this for literally all our youth – damn near every Sunday night fireside, every single Sunday night – and up into adulthood). This is pure Mormon doctrine. God will reveal the truth of these things by the Holy Ghost, directly into our hearts, we do not have to rely on the learning of man for our knowledge of the truth. God will not lie to us about anything. You can trust God. This is Mormon doctrine we all were taught over and over and over and over and over…….and OVER again…….and OVER some more……..and non-stop continuously OVER again. Good God CONTINUOUSLY!!! Pray to KNOW the truth, God will surely not let you down. God is a God of truth, of righteousness, of love, and he loves you more than you can comprehend, and will surely guide you, impress upon you in your hearts his truths, and they will be sweet to the taste and delicious to your souls……..I mean we were taught this OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER again and again and again and again, and I am not exaggerating as millions can attest. Any who lived through the 1960’s and 1970’s and on into the 1980’s will know exactly what I am saying, those who were active in the church in those decades. This is the context for the implications. THIS IS THE CONTEXT. Let that sink in. So, if we were taught by the Holy Ghost, who knows all the mind of the Father and the Son, i.e., pretty much damn near everything there is to know, that what the church had taught us is true, and now it turns out they have lied, and what they taught us is not true, uh, well, then, this fairly begs the question, just who or what caused the burning in our bosoms, and what was answering our prayers in faith with the truth that was actually a lie?! Let me get this straight here… millions……now let’s just slow down……s-l-o-w…….. d-o-w-n……. and think about this……….let this sink in……millions have testified of these truths, and know the anti’s are apostate, had lost the spirit, were evil, lied, were without priesthood authority and hence not going to be celestialized, and all those millions also were told by the Holy Ghost the information they had was true, when it really wasn’t? Are you yet grasping the significance of this?
- So… with that said, and thought about, this also begs us to ask, is the Holy Ghost actually real? Is there such a thing? What evidence actually exists that it is? If it does exist, how can it possibly lie to us? Yet this is what has happened. It has lied to us (assuming the church was right in saying it will testify to us of what the church taught us). Is that even possible? Obviously, since millions have been testified to by the Holy Ghost, but the testimony has been of things the Holy Ghost (if it were what we have been taught) who actually knew the truth. Yet we were praying about lies thinking it was the truth, and the Holy Ghost testified to us those lies were truth?! Really? Would an eternal God being who actually knew what was real and true tell anyone that the lies they were asking about was true, when it knew it wasn’t? For what possible purpose?! The church causes far more doubts to rise in us than any anti-Mormon or atheist could ever conceive of with this new information it has finally begun to share in “honesty.”
- So you lied. No biggie. Wait…stop. FULL STOP. Uh back up a little bit…. You lied, continually, deliberately perpetually for decades, almost centuries, and now all the sudden you think you can just stop and begin telling the actual truth in openness? Do you really think you can sell us on that? A person used to lying all the time about lots of things does not just one day say, “oh hey, I’ve been a lyin, but now I will tell the truth from now on.” You really think we will swallow that swill because you hope it works that way? So uh, want to see the problem? O.K., from now on you are going to be open, honest, transparent, and realistic about the truth. Uh, how do we know you’re not lying? See the problem? Well you might respond, I am not lying because now I have decided to tell the truth. But uh, how do we know you are telling us the truth? Perhaps you’re lying. NO! I am NOW telling the TRUTH, by God Almighty I am! But uh, how do we KNOW that? Does that help clarify another problem here? We literally cannot know if you are telling the truth. Let…….that…….sink……in……….. forget trying to convert us for the moment, there is something here much more important. We have no way of discerning whether you are being truthful anymore or not. Do you not yet grasp that?! You cannot punt to faith and the Holy Ghost anymore. Do you not yet grasp that? You lied, the Holy Ghost has lied to us, what’s left? You have destroyed any hope, any reason, any possibility of actually being believable, or of having any evidence you are believable. I have no way to verify what you say is true. DO……….YOU……….NOW………..GRASP……….THE……..PROBLEM?
It’s not that we have no faith, it’s that you have no credibility. You have no evidence of having any credibility. You have literally destroyed any anchor you might have had for anyone to take you seriously or credible or truthful anymore. It’s not about us and our doubts, it’s about you and your credibility. We aren’t the ones with the problem, YOU …………ARE……………. We are not having a faith crisis, you are having a truth crisis. Do…………you…………get……………it……………yet……………?
(p. 2) “they begin to see duplicity instead of sincerity.” [speaking of those who feel the church has lied to them, and now the church essays on the church’s official website demonstrate this]
Yes, that is because the evidence clearly shows there is duplicity instead of sincerity. Funny how evidence works isn’t it…. When people speak up they get ecclesiastically threatened and excommunicated. That is not dialogue. We see “duplicity” rather than “sincerity” because actions speak louder than words. Just being plain with you in a dialogue. One reason, among many, we get “switched off” is the arrogant, self-righteousness and lack of freedom to disagree and have a congenial conversation with the church in a realistic, honorable manner, not the attitude “yes, you have every right to believe whatever you want, just shut-up about it and don’t say anything to anyone about it.” So, if you won’t listen, the internet certainly will. There are plenty of communities and “family” one can enjoy and share their lives with. You are simply not the only game in town. Authoritarianism is not a viable option anymore. We can vote with our feet. Dialogue enriches, authoritarianism backed by ecclesiastical baseball bats of church discipline thwarts. You would think “inspired” leaders would grasp that.
(p. 4) – “My insights here are built upon a foundation of responsible, faithful scholarship…”
This is an immediate red flag warning for we doubters. All we have ever been given to read in church materials is “faithful” materials. It’s been a deception. What is this vagueness going on here? “Faithful scholarship”? You’ve got to be kidding me. Look, you want to dialogue with doubters, then realize, here and now, we aren’t interested in your “faithful scholarship.” We’re interested in the principled real scholarship of valid evidences assessed, probabilities calculated for seeing what is more probably true or false, you know, rational reasoning, things like that. This statement of yours tells us you are simply going to regurgitate the church’s stance. This is going to end up being the kind of dialogue that you say yeah o.k., we heard what you said, but we have the truth, you have to end up having faith in it after you get over your doubt scare, so lets pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you and everything will turn out all right. You already assume the church’s stance is credible. The bad news is, it doesn’t work anymore, not now. You’re honestly not fooling us with your word games anymore. This is going to end up being a charade.
Your statement “these scholars have demonstrated persuasively that a thorough and honest examination of Mormonism can enhance rather than detract from a life of deep faith and committed discipleship,” is another red flag warning to we doubters. Besides, if this was even a smidgin true, then why your book? Your book is putting the lie to the test isn’t it? ”Deep faith” is fundamentally irrelevant to doubters because the question is “deep faith” in what? Or in who? And why? How is “deep faith” more important than just the diamond truth based on knowledge and evidence? Your concern with faith is the problem. We want knowledge that is real, what is actual, not apologetic screeds on “deep faith.” Do you know why? Because once we enter back into the fold (if that ever happens) one is eventually intimidated, coerced to begin group think along church lines again, or in other words, well, that was a fun diversion, now then, shut-up, serve, have faith, pay your tithing. It’s talked about all over the internet. It, unfortunately appears that your desire for actual dialogue is a gimmick. It takes years of honest, open dialogue to gain trust. You don’t have that yet. We’ll see if it’s possible to achieve. Excommunicating everyone who doesn’t see eye to eye doesn’t help your wish. Disagree but be quiet about it is not dialogue, it is not honest, it damn sure is disrespectful, and you need to be teaching the leaders that, not us. It does, however, “squeeze out” a lot of people.
(p. 4) The Joseph Smith Project does nothing to prove you are completely open, honest, and transparent and will always be so from this day forward with things. You say you have nothing to hide, but the evidence so foundationally destroys your lie here it’s breath taking! The project is only the beginning, not the end. Now is the time to dialogue, but it’s questionable if that will openly, honestly happen without a lot of threats and coercion to conform to a church coached testimony.
In the same spirit, the church essays are but one small, almost insignificant blip on the radar screen to being open, honest, and truthful, and you’re already jumping up and down, throwing confetti, celebrating and bearing your testimony. We see it as a PR stunt so far. You have yet to do the real work. Stop bragging already and let’s get on with it.
(p.5) – “We are confident enough in the truthfulness of the gospel and the divine mission of the church that we can have hard conversations and need no shy away from difficult issues.”
Yes, we all know you can have these conversations, The question is will you? And will you without the power play of excommunication, and threats against people’s spiritual welfare and other such silly things like that. Will a flaming sword be held over our heads threaten to smite us if we don’t agree, or find things you won’t like, like it did with Joseph Smith forcing him to live polygamy with those young under-aged 14 year olds? I’ve been told the church is not a Democracy, so we are suspicious you want to have a democratic dialogue, but the leadership doesn’t and won’t do so. Are you being paid by them to fool us? The days of pap-n-pablum faith-promoting discourses are over. The time to face the music and reality are here. And I have a feeling you aren’t going to like it much.
(p. 6) – “turn to church resources…”
Huh? Here we go again! This is the problem, not the solution for we doubters. Those resources are not credible to us now. We know they are doctored up, and use language of spirituality to reflect the very best only, and all sorts of gimmicks like carefully selecting of sources only favorable to make the best most magnaminous impression. That’s nice, but is it real? We cannot ever be sure now.
(p. 7) – “Follow Peter’s advice…”
Why? We’re not interested in just having answers like Peter in the Bible says to give. We’ve already been given answers. We want, we need, evidence for reality. Just giving answers solves nothing. What is the probability they are accurate or truthful is far more important to us than just “getting answers.”
(p.7) – “Facts not in dispute…”
You’re daydreaming here.
(p. 7) – “basic, faithful answers…”
I’m not interested in basic “faithful” answers. I’m interested in the truth, the reality, not church spin. You keep talking past us with the faith gobble-de-gook. Stop it. Let’s have actual answers with valid evidence and sound reasoning.
(p.7) – “For most doubters there are no magic words or ready-made formulas that will immediately make them go away. Doubt is thus less a problem in need of a solution than a common part of the mortal experience.”
True. Doubt is not a problem, it’s a solution. Faith is the problem. “Doubt is divine in that it impels a search for the truth. It opens the door to knowledge. Faith puts a lock on the door. Indeed, while one is under its spell, faith anesthesizes the desire to seek knowledge and truth. And as knowledge increases, faith recedes.”
(p.7) – “the quest for faith…”
Still talking past us. We’re not interested in faith, we’re interested in what’s real, what’s actual, with justified and accurate evidence, not whitewashed history and doctrine.
(p. 8) – “Latter Day Saint faith never exists in the abstract,”
All faith is abstract, so this makes no sense.
(p. 8 ) – “First few chapters focus on maintaining faith…”
Not interested in faith, interested in knowledge. Evidenced, justified, warranted, principled, knowledge. And not the church spin stuff, the real thing.
(p. 8) – “Maintaining belief is essential…”
Why? Belief has nothing to do with reality. I shall get to this in a bit.
(p. 9) – “We can’t set up camp on two sides of an arbitrary divide with believers on one side and doubters on the other and then talk at (or usually past) one another.”
You already have. This needs to be told to your leaders, not we the people. They set up the divide from the beginning and with divine forcing and divine sanction of disfellowshipping/excommunication. Hell this has happened in religion since the dawn of time, do some homework in religious history. Ever read about a movement called Judaism? There’s another one that can be quite illustrative, it’s called “Early Christianity. I suspect there are some books you could look this up and read about. From the divides in Mormonism a helpful book is by Steven L. Shields, “Divergent Paths of the Restoration,” Herald House, 2001, wherein he notes divides of over 250 different, separate, and divided offshoots from Mormonism. Just trying to help is all. Look into a place called “Southern Utah,” some sort of group there having something to do with strange religious practices begun by Joseph Smith and thrown out by later prophets such as Wilford Woodruff. “Fundamentalist Mormon” might make a helpful Google search for ya. The name Warren Jeffs might be a good clue, and turn up something about it as well.
(p.9) – “It’s difficult for me to fully articulate the origin, nature, and depth of my belief…”
You were born in Mormonism. Had you been born in another country you would have been saying this about that culture’s religion. That was easier than falling off a log. It’s all a matter of where you were born, and what culture you were raised in. This is in the literature. Two examples, among many, I will share.
“Religious beliefs are conventions and not private or idiosyncratic creations: ‘religious beliefs are culturally constituted, they are traditional beliefs, i.e., they are beliefs that arise and develop in the history of a social group, and that are transmitted from one generation to the next through those social processes that are variously denoted by such terms as education and enculturation.’”
“…there is no such thing as belief just as there is no such thing as religion or language. There are only religions, languages, and beliefs. One cannot speak a language in general, nor have a religion In general, one can only speak a particular language or have a particular religion. Similarly one cannot believe in general but can only believe particular things in particular ways.”
(p. 10) – “I approach the issues of doubt and uncertainty from a position of belief, and, yes, certainty…”
It’s why you talk past us. I approach it from evidence and probability testing all claims against all others to see which is more probably correct and which is more probably wrong. Certainty is the death-knoll of learning truth. All you will do now is give yourself confirmation bias. “The presence of an idea or belief in one’s consciousness does not constitute knowledge; one can have false ideas and false beliefs. If man is to acquire knowledge, he must have a method of distinguishing truth from falsity, beliefs which correspond to reality from beliefs which do not.” “Overconfidence is fallacious. Admitting ignorance or uncertainty is not. Ignorance and uncertainty are normal. But asserting as known or certain what in fact isn’t entails some fallacy in your reasoning. One thing professional historians soon learn is how much we need to accept the fact that we will never know most of what we want to know…” And furthermore, “there is obviously more than one degree of certainty. Some things we are more sure of than others, and some things we are barely sure of at all. Hence especially in history, and even more so in ancient history, confidence must often be measured in relative degrees of certainty, and not in black-and-white terms of only “true” and “false.” Accordingly historians must be comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and ignorance, and must critically weigh and examine their own confidence in any conclusion..” In other words, the more you talk about having a dialogue with doubters, the more nervous and skeptical I am becoming, truly.
(p. 10) – “Frankly, I worry about sowing doubt rather than belief.”
I use doubt as the perfect metric to measure and test claims. Belief leads millions to false knowledge as the literally many tens of thousands of fighting Xian sects demonstrate with more than ample evidence. You surely don’t believe all their beliefs do you? Therefore, belief hasn’t led them to truth, let alone to “the truth.” Doubt prevents one from being duped. You tell those in other religions to doubt their religions, yet use faith for yours. That’s a double standard, the correct cure for which is John W. Loftus’s book “The Outsider Test of Faith,” Prometheus Books, 2013, which, in a nutshell says honestly analyze your own religion and claims with the same level of skepticism and care for evidence as you do when you analyze other religions to demonstrate they are wrong. I strongly advize you read it carefully. It puts all religion on the same playing field as equals and then testing to see if any are possibly strong enough to pass the skeptics tests for authenticity. You don’t get to privilege your own while holding all others to a higher standard of severe testing for truth and reality. You don’t get to punt to faith in hard spots, you have to go with the evidence and reason just like all the others do.
(p. 11) – Mr. Matson’s story of finding information he never learned at church, tried to talk to the leaders but they knew nothing but told him to just go pray harder and study harder, and eventually became inactive because he went to the internet and there was an enormous amount of information which contradicted what he had learned after decades in the church.
This story is mine, in part, as well. It is the story of many thousands if not tens of thousands now. Possibly hundreds of thousands. One implication for the leaders is they don’t know, so why turn to them? Another implication is God doesn’t seem to see the need to teach the truth either, whether in person or through the Holy Ghost. God does nothing.
(p. 12) – The bishop didn’t have any magic words that made the member’s concerns go away.
Of course not. It’s not what makes the difference. Evidence makes the difference between reality and fantasy. We don’t need faith and magic words, quickie spiritual shallow answers, faith-promoting piffle and scriptures taken out of context, we need real evidence, a core reality, not theological make believe. You no longer get to merely proclaim truth, you have to demonstrate it.
(p. 12) – “People are born to believe.”
No, it’s a matter of being born into a believing culture and raised in it being taught to believe.
(p. 12) – “faith not based on tangible, empirical proof.”
This is why it fails. “There is only one way to arrive at true judgments about any subject at all with any degree of certainty, and that is by reason. That is the reason why reason is the only type of thought that deserves to be called thought; reason demands facts, weighs those facts for truth and correspondence with reality, and then processes those facts to obtain trustworthy knowledge.” The multiple problems of faith are well expounded by several authors, of which I will take one for now to illustrate the enormous problematical nature of this entire issue. This is where you begin paying attention if you want to actually dialogue with doubters in any sort of realistic way.
Faith is admitting that the evidence isn’t good enough, but you are going to irrationally believe anyway. I don’t know about you, but being irrational is not exactly high o my priority list. “To take something on faith, or to believe by faith, is to believe it despite contrary or inadequate evidence. It is to believe anyway when there’s not enough support from evidence and reason to clear the way.” And that is just silly. Why is it silly? Because faith cannot change facts or reality. It’s mere wishful thinking about something we really, really want to be real, but it isn’t. Seriously. Atheists use the analogy, properly so, of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a most ridiculous thing, on purpose to drive the point home, and it’s valid! If I say I have faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a God out in space, there is no way for you to even say I’m being stupid if faith is all that matters, and doesn’t need any evidence. With faith, one can claim anything and cannot refute anything any more than they can demonstrate anything. Faith is worthless in other words for getting at reality. It is powerless to discriminate what is true from what is false.
The F-word (to use McCormick’s funny analogy!) is when “People only invoke faith in cases where they have a strong desire for a particular outcome or claim to be true and the evidence in favor of it is lacking in some regard.” We are being asked to ignore the insufficiencies of evidence of a claim, insufficiencies of evidence and believe in it anyway! But is this even sane let alone rational or smart to do? If I give someone a liquid to drink, they take a sip, and then fall over dead, and I give you the same liquid to drink with the words, “ I have the antidote to this liquid, go ahead and take a drink,” would you? I damn sure wouldn’t! But why? What if I said “have faith in me, I can raise you up.” Would you then? Not me. Faith cannot change the fact that I am a charlatan. Mere words alone without evidence cannot overcome the real doubt one would have can it? Would all the faith in the world give me the power to raise you up like I promised? Of course not.
“When someone opts to believe despite the fact that the evidence undermines or even contradicts the conclusion, how could he maintain that others who haven’t done the same are somehow at fault?… a believer by faith simply has no grounds from which she can argue that others who don’t have faith, ought to have it. She can’t criticize the non-faithful for doing something contrary to reason or ignoring the evidence by not believing. By refusing to believe by faith, the nonbeliever may be only seeking to accept that which is supported by the evidence. The faithful believer cannot argue: “You’re not listening to reason. You need to accept the obvious implication of the evidence! All of the evidence indicates that you should believe on faith.” Faith carries no leverage against nonbelief.”
Is it possible then to use faith and evidence? It is not. Consider the implications. Faith is only ever invoked when there is a shortage of evidence. No one ever says I have faith that I have cancer! “If there is sufficient evidence to justify the conclusion, then faith isn’t needed. So to suggest that faith and evidence jointly justify is to acknowledge that the evidence by itself isn’t sufficient, and to say “I will ignore that gap and believe anyway… Suppose a prosecuting attorney tells the jury, “You have all seen the full evidential case against the defendant, and you have seen that it is inconclusive about his guilt. However, if we invoke faith to overcome those doubts, we can convict him nevertheless. I urge you to have faith that he is guilty.”  This would just be outright criminal and wrong. The judge would not let the jury do this in any manner. No one in their rational mind would agree to that kind of idiotic thinking and mentality. “Faith, then, gives us no recommendation to believe something that we don’t have justification for and it certainly does not give us grounds to reject conclusions that are better supported by the evidence… the attitude of I’m going to believe anyway, despite these objections is just dogmatic irrationality.”
So, if you think faith is the manner to go about having a dialogue with us about our doubts, you must realize that you want us to take you seriously? Then you need to subject your belief to the same general standards of justification that are vital everywhere else. You don’t get to privilege faith and protect it from being tested empirically. You aren’t in church, nor in your own faith arena, the game you are having to play here because of the circumstances we have noted about lacking credibility means you play this game on our playgrounds, by our rules, not yours. If you can’t or won’t do that, then go home, we have no need of dialogue with you. “To believe by faith amounts to believing what suits you with no responsibility to what is true or evidentially justified. And how can believing some sought after idea without any accountability to the evidence be moral? How can it be moral to adopt moral principles that are not subjected to rational scrutiny through the evidence? Your religious views matter to the rest of us, but if they arise from faith, then they are groundless.”
(p. 13) – “Divergent views were easily dismissed as anti-Mormon…”
And yet, so many of those so called lies were actually the truth. In the age of the internet, you now have to demonstrate and prove your claims with bonafide correct evidences and probability.
(p. 14) – On discovering church not telling the truth of polygamy, blacks and priesthood, Book of Abraham, Adam God, DNA and the Book of Mormon, History, etc., “Some of the claims [of critics] they [Mormons] have learned are indeed based on facts, not just scurrilous lies made up by anti-Mormons…”
We are wondering how many “scurrilous lies” Mormonism has taught. Apparently an avalanche because the more we look, the more we find. The labels all fit on the other foot now. And the evidence proves it. Otherwise, why did you write your book? You do realize the church has proven and demonstrated that faith is powerless to discern the truth from the false right? You do grasp that and the implications right?
(p. 15) – “Why Was I not told any of this? They feel that the church has lied to them.”
No, we have the justified evidence the church has lied. You’re soft peddling.
(p. 16) – “For some people their crisis of faith leads them to doubt the grounds of their testimony… they call everything into question they knew….Can I trust past spiritual experiences?…How do I know God lives?… How do I know Jesus was resurrected and died for my sins?… how do I know what is sin and what is righteousness?…. how do I know anything at all?”
Precisely. Because you and God have been lies, everything we have been taught is false. We get the joy of starting over afresh and using real methods that help discern truth from the false. But the mere acknowledgment that this is our experience is not near enough. Now we have seen the evidences you claim for the after life, angels, Jesus, God, must be tested, weighed, and checked for probability. Your lies about all that open up the way to full blown atheism for us now. Are they, like the anti-Mormons, also correct? This calls for serious and honest investigation, which should have occurred in the first place actually. But I don’t trust you to be my guide. You have distorted and twisted the anti-Mormons so you also will do so with atheists and secular studies. You literally have precious little credibility left to hang any hat onto.
Once again, for pure emphasis sake so it is crystal clear to you, you can no longer scurry away into the safety of your little house of faith and warm yourself by the fire of belief, if you are going to dialogue with we doubters. You’re on our turf and you play the game our way. Rational, valid, real evidences using good principled logic and careful reason with finding the probabilities of whether your evidence is true or false after testing all other claims. You no longer are privileged of picking and choosing which evidence you think is important and discarding whatever you want when it suits your purposes. The cheating game you’ve been playing is over. We are looking for what is real. Only evidence and probability matter at all. If you have it, present it, and know it will be rigorously tested, not merely believed because someone important in your history said it was so. All cards are on the table now.
(p. 23) – “There are answers to be found…”
Fundamentally irrelevant to us. We no longer trust only mere answers for answers’ sake, as if that solves the problem. We need rational, empirical evidence, valid logical reasoning, and evidenced probability, just like we have for everything else in our lives. Religion no longer gets a free ride or the benefit of the doubt, it earns it’s honor, or it dies. We need real reasons to accept your answers.
(p. 23) – “But there are in fact good answers, intellectually rigorous and honest answers, faithful answers.”
Automatic RED FLAG WARNING!!!! “Faithful answers” meaning aligning with the church’s view and interpretation only as valid. These have been lies, deceptions, and cons, and are no longer trusted, listened to, or allowed. We need real answers, based on real probabilities, with sound and principled logic, based on actual justified, warranted evidence that all can check and are aware of, not some specially chosen spiritual witness. Nothing short of that will do any longer. You have not begun the work needed to do yet. All this special pleading and faith gets you nowhere. “Faith is always at war with the truth, because if we try to make ourselves arrive at a predetermined conclusion [‘faithful answers’] we run the risk of not dealing honestly with the evidence.”
This will suffice for now. I made it through chapter 1. It’s already long, so I will carry on with analysis of chapter 2 in the next paper.
- His two most popular books being “The God Who Weeps,” Ensign Peak, 2012; “The Crucible of Doubt,” Deseret Book, 2014. I see Givens as one of the most clever rhetoricians in modern Mormonism to fill in the shoes of Hugh Nibley. He utterly fails to check on his own Mormon assumptions, and hence produces one-sided, unconvincing texts. Everyone else is supposed to doubt their faith, but not him! His Mormonism is true, and that is the operating assumption he presumes to use while convincing everyone else it’s O.K. to give up their own views, just don’t let those views be about Mormonism as it is a priori true already.
- Mike Ash, “Of Faith & Reason,” CFI, 2008. A good friend of mine who has remained an apologist. He is far too reliant on the old FARMS materials with all their assumptions he apparently uncritically accepts. The book gives all the appearance of already having the answers, now it’s just a matter of whizzing through some evidences that supports the answers. A worse method cannot be imagined.
- Thomas A. Wayment, “From Persecutor to Apostle, A Biography of Paul,” Deseret Book, 2006. Truly, the most ridiculous book on the Apostle Paul I have ever read. Insipidly muddled Mormonizing of Paul. Worthless as actual history. Much more informative, realistic, and actually valuable would be, say, Alan F. Segal, “Paul the Covert, Yale University Press, 1990; H. J. Schoeps, “Paul, The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History,” The Westminster Press, English Translation, 1961; James D. G. Dunn, “The New Perspective on Paul,” Revised edition, William B. Eerdmans, 2005; James D. G. Dunn, “The Theology of Paul the Apostle, William B. Eerdmans, 1998; Albert Schweitzer, “Paul and His Interpreters, A Critical History,” First Schocken Paperback, 1964; Adolf Deissman, “Paul, A Study in Social and Religious History, First Harper Torchbook, 1957; Robin Griffith-Jones, “The Gospel According to Paul, The Creative Genius Who Brought Jesus To the World,” HarperSanFrancisco, 2004. There is literally nothing of any kind of valuable scholarship utilized whatever in Wayment’s book. All the more troubling because he said he wanted to write the best book on Paul ever published! Can one do so by ignoring the best of Paul Scholarship all together, and merely using LDS authors, most General Authorities, who, by contrast to Pauline scholarship, know next to nothing about Paul?
- Grant Hardy, “Understanding the Book of Mormon, a Reader’s Guide,” Oxford University Press, 2010. One of the books that actually helped me realize the Book of Mormon is nothing but someone else’s opinion, not based on reality at all. Not his intention, but what I got out of it.
- Chad P. Conrad, “Doubt Your Doubts, Seeking Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions,” CFI, 2015. Seems to me to be trying to take advantage of Utchdorf’s conference talk that razzle dazzled the revelation-starved Mormons with his kitsch. Not very impressive reasoning at all.
- Scott R. Peterson, “Do the Mormons Have a Leg to Stand On? A Critical Look at LDS Doctrines in Light of the Bible & the Teachings of the Early Christian Church,” Millenial Press, 2014. A good attempt, but labors under the mistaken assumptions piled on far too often. Needed a good logician and scholar of Early Christianity to iron these out.
- Patrick Q. Mason, “Planted, Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt,” Deseret Book, 2015.
- Vincent Bugliosi, “Divinity of Doubt: God and Atheism on Trial,” Revised, Updated, Vanguard Press, 2012: 270.
- David Eller, “Atheism Advanced,” American Atheist Press, 2007: 407.
- David Eller, “Atheism Advanced,” p. 408.
- George H. Smith, “Atheism: The Case Against God,” Prometheus Books, 1989: 102.
- Richard Carrier, “Proving History, Bayes Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus,” Prometheus Books, 2012: 23.
- Richard Carrier, “Proving History,” p. 23.
- David Eller, “Natural Atheism,” American Atheist Press, 2004: 80-81.
- Matthew A. McCormick, “Atheism and the Case Against Christ,” Prometheus Books, 2012: 215.
- McCormick, “Atheism,” p. 217.
- McCormick, “Atheism,” p. 219.
- McCormick, “Atheism,” pp. 219-220.
- McCormick, “Atheism,” p. 220.
- McCormick, “Atheism,” p. 225.
- David Ramsey Steele, “Atheism Explained, From Folly to Philosophy,” Open Court, 4th printing, 2012: 119.