Monday, August 18, 2008

The Disillusioned Latter-day Saint

This is an excellent piece of work by Richard Bushman which I ran across from the NOM board. According to the blogger LifeOnaPlate, this is an introduction by Bushman to the 2008 summer seminar "Joseph Smith and His Critics" given July 29, 2008. He does an excellent job of describing almost step by step exactly what goes on in the mind of the disillusioned Mormon.

Here is the link to the blogger's post

Here are the highlights:

Increasingly teachers and church leaders at all levels are approached by Latter-day Saints who have lost confidence in Joseph Smith and the basic miraculous events of church history. They doubt the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, many of Joseph’s revelations, and much besides. They fall into doubt after going on the Internet and finding shocking information about Joseph Smith based on documents and facts they had never heard before. A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives. They are set back by differences in the various accounts of the First Vision. They find that Egyptologists do not translate the Abraham manuscripts the way Joseph Smith did, making it appear that the Book of Abraham was a fabrication. When they come across this information in a critical book or read it on one of the innumerable critical Internet sites, they feel as if they had been introduced to a Joseph Smith and a Church history they had never known before. They undergo an experience like viewing the famous picture of a beautiful woman who in a blink of an eye turns into an old hag. Everything changes. What are they to believe?

Often church leaders, parents, and friends, do not understand the force of this alternate view. Not knowing how to respond, they react defensively. They are inclined to dismiss all the evidence as anti-Mormon or of the devil. Stop reading these things if they upset you so much, the inquirer is told. Or go back to the familiar formula: scriptures, prayer, church attendance.

The troubled person may have been doing all of these things sincerely, perhaps even desperately. He or she feels the world is falling apart. Everything these inquirers put their trust in starts to crumble. They want guidance more than ever in their lives, but they don’t seem to get it. The facts that have been presented to them challenge almost everything they believe. People affected in this way may indeed stop praying; they don’t trust the old methods because they feel betrayed by the old system. Frequently they are furious. On their missions they fervently taught people about Joseph Smith without knowing any of these negative facts. Were they taken advantage of? Was the Church trying to fool them for its own purposes?
These are deeply disturbing questions. They shake up everything. Should I stay in the Church? Should I tell my family? Should I just shut up and try to get along? Who can help me?

At this point, these questioners go off in various directions. Some give up on the Church entirely. They find another religion or, more likely these days, abandon religion altogether. Without their familiar Mormon God, they are not sure there is any God at all. They become atheist or agnostic. Some feel the restrictions they grew up with no longer apply. The strength has been drained out of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and chastity. They partly welcome the new freedom of their agnostic condition. Now they can do anything they please without fear of breaking the old Mormon rules. The results may not be happy for them or their families.

Others piece together a morality and a spiritual attitude that stops them from declining morally, but they are not in an easy place. When they go to church, , they are not comfortable. Sunday School classes and Sacrament meeting talks about Joseph Smith and the early church no longer ring true. How can these people believe these “fairy tales,” the inquirers ask. Those who have absorbed doses of negative material live in two minds: their old church mind which now seems naive and credulous, and their new enlightened mind with its forbidden knowledge learned on the internet and from critical books.

He goes on to talk about how to deal with disillusioned members. I admire his approach. He goes out of his way to talk about how the standard "read the scriptures and pray about it" will not work. His idea is that if people are presented the facts in a controlled setting it wouldn't look quite so bad. Although I agree with him in many ways, I think that for some people there is not much that can be done. It has nothing to do with lack of fellowshipping, I simply can no longer believe in the doctrine.

It is quite frustrating when you try to explain why you no longer believe and they come back with the idea that there must be something wrong with you. It can't be the doctrine, because that is perfect, so it must be that you lack faith or are spiritually lazy and can't cut it.

I think Bushman is doing a good job at trying to build bridges between true believing members of the church and "apostates". It has been my experience that when people understand why someone no longer believes in the church, they become more tolerant.

Disillusioned Mormon


Bishop Rick said...

Nice article, but the church will never be tolerant of non-believers until they remove the "do you believe" questions from the Temple Recommend interview and let ALL worthy people in regardless of what the believe.

I'm sorry, but not believing is NOT a sin.

LifeOnaPlate said...

That depends on your definition of "sin" as well as what you understand the implications of "belief" to be.

If sin can be explained as something that is alienating, something that separates, ranging from laziness, inadvertent mistakes, and counter-productive actions to deliberate maliciousness or destructive evil, we have a lot more to work with regarding a concept of "sin." If sin has no associations and is merely sin because God (or a person) calls it sin, it is nothing but an arbitrary label.

With a more complex view of sin we could argue that there is a form of unbelief that can be chalked up to "sin," but doubt and disbelief in and of themselves do not automatically equate to "sin." The desires of the heart, behind the condition, also play a part, in addition to other factors inherent in the life Mormons understand as a mortal probation.

In short, unbelief is not a sin, but it can be a sin.

Bishop Rick said...

Like I said. Unbelief is not a sin.
Any conditions making unbelief a sin would require some level of belief.

LifeOnaPlate said...

That unbelief can be a sin, was my point.

Bishop Rick said...

But doesn't some level of belief make unbelief non-existent?

LifeOnaPlate said...

Not really. From a psychological standpoint various people have analyzed how it is that people can believe (or disbelieve) contradictory things at the same time.

As one example, take the woman who suspects her husband is cheating on her. This causes immense emotional pain and rather than confronting it she decides to ignore all evidence. She throws away movie ticket stubs or ignores the scent of a different perfume. Her husband must have logical reasons for those things. Thus her inner turmoil can be described as disbelief and belief.

LifeOnaPlate said...

In other words, we may be able to view unbelief as a condition rather than an event.

Bishop Rick said...

OK, I understand your point, but I still can't separate that type of condition from some level of belief.

In your example, the woman has some doubts or suspicions which she refuses to confront. So she is suppressing her beliefs.

Not sure if I would equate that with unbelief in this case.

For example:

I used to believe in Santa Claus. Now I do not. (nothing suppressed)

I used to believe the BofM was written by ancient American prophets. Now I do not. (nothing suppressed)

Seems to me that if I were going to suppress any suspicions it would be in the other direction, so I could keep that Santa Claus or Mormon feeling going, not the other way around.

LifeOnaPlate said...

You've shifted the goal posts from the nature of belief to what you believe. Comparing belief in the Book of Mormon to belief in Ol' St. Nick isn't how I prefer to spend my time.



Bishop Rick said...

Whatever. Just an example.

vballrh said...

I enjoyed the article and the link to the site. Bushman did do a good job of describing what happens for the most part, but it still doesn't provide a solution. I just thought it was great he at least admited people handle questioners in the wrong way. Now why can't the church officially take a stand on this, making it okay to question the church without fear of being treated as a leper or someone with "dangerous" ideas?

Brother Zelph said...


I agree that Bushman doesn't really give many solutions, but to me, that is o.k. If you goal is to get all of the disillusioned members back, then I believe there is no solution. However, I think the best thing that can be done is for members to understand and accept that some people simply see things differently. Some people will continue to believe regardless of evidence or church history. Some people will leave the church and others will remain closet doubters.

That is the solution. The solution is not how to deal with the disillusioned member, or to try to convince him to stay, but how to deal with one's self and convince yourself that it is o.k. if other people come to different conclusions.

NM said...

I agree with you BZ. Personally, I have really benefited from keeping a blog. I started out with a LiveJournal account at a time when I was so wrapped up in philosophy, particularly atheistic existentialism to the point that I had serious doubts about Biblical Christianity. I think online blogs are a good way of collating one's thoughts with the added bonus of having others commenting/scrutinising one's thoughts. It certainly helped me to dispell myths/religious acts that simply are not part of Christianity and cling to its central message of God's Son crucified, etc.

Bishop Rick said...


Sounds like you reject the OT but still hold the NT to be a true historical accounting of the life and purpose of Jesus.

NM said...

What makes you say that I reject the OT, Bishop?

Bishop Rick said...

You mention that you dispell myths and religious acts that have nothing to do with Christianity. Sounds like the OT to me.

NM said...

Haha! Yes, I guess you're right there! Paul's letter to the church at Galatia comes to mind =)

NM said...


Wake up! Update your blog!


Michelle said...

Yo!, get rid of those fucking fascists. There isn't anything really different that separates those fucking scum bags from Hitler's Germany.

That religion makes it's money off of social control,much like the Nazis, and its parishioners are the primary money source. If there is a true culture war, your church elders will sacrifice their flock first, and they will follow.

If you leave the church you will be OK. In fact we hold an ex-mormon support group complete with book burnings, and helping those enter into real life.

The mormon faith will kill you. Don't be a victim.

BHodges said...

Comparing the LDS Church to Hitler's Nazi regime is rather inexcusable hyperbole. Enough to disillusion some disillusioned Latter-day Saints, perhaps?

Ben Tolman said...

I was born in to the church but, found holes in the story at a very young age. You are taught that faith and belief are the highest virtues. This is nothing but a psychological trick. What is faith but believing in something without having the facts. Isn't human reason what it should be all about, not blind faith and obedience. The facts that are out there from every angle, science and history prove it is not true. To ignore all of that and feel you can't ask questions or you are bad or a sinner is a shame. Asking questions and using reason are what makes us human. And being able to change your mind about something based on new information is something everyone should feel free to do. Its now the 21st century. It is quite clear that the earth is not only 8,000 years old. The native americans were not the lost tribes of Israel. Check there DNA. The story the mormons tell now has chanced over time. I am not anti-mormon but I am pro-free thinking human.

James Brian Marshall said...

Church Court Rulings Explaining why Latter Day Saints may be Disillusioned

February 23, 1880, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, by its attorneys, appeared before the Court of Common Pleas, Lake County, Ohio, (see journal entry, February term, 1880) as plaintiff, asking for possession of the Kirtland Temple, an edifice erected during the early days of the church, and prior to the death of Joseph Smith the Martyr.

The church in Utah, then presided over by John Taylor, was named with others as defendants.
Judge L. S. Sherman rendered the following decision:

"That the said Plaintiff, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a Religious Society, founded and organized upon the same doctrines and tenets, and having the same church organization, as the original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830, by Joseph Smith, and was organized pursuant to the constitution, laws and usages of said original Church, and has branches located in Illinois, Ohio, and other States.

That the church in Utah, the Defendant of which John Taylor is president, has materially and largely departed from the faith, doctrines, laws, ordinances and usages of said original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and has incorporated into its system of faith the doctrines of celestial marriage and a plurality of wives, and the doctrine of Adam-god worship, contrary to the laws and constitution of said original Church.

And the Court do further find that the Plaintiff, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the True and Lawful continuation of, and successor to the said original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830, and is entitled in law to all its rights and property."

In a case tried before Judge John F. Philips, in the Circuit Court of the United States, for the Western District of Missouri, Western Division, at Kansas City, Missouri.

In his decision, rendered March 16, 1894, Judge Philips said:

The Book of Mormon itself inveighed against the sin of polygamy.... Conformably to the Book of Mormon, the Book of Doctrine and Covenants expressly declared "that we believe that one man should have but one wife, and one woman but one husband." And this declaration of the church on this subject reappeared in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, editions of 1846 and 1856. Its first appearance as a dogma of the church (the dogma of polygamy) was in the Utah Church in 1852.

Claim is made by the Utah Church that this doctrine is predicated of a revelation made to Joseph Smith in July, 1843. No such revelation was ever made public during the life of Joseph Smith, and under the law of the church it could not become an article of faith and belief until submitted to and adopted by the church. This was never done ....

(History of RLDS Church Vol 5 pp. 238-239)

Just thought you all might like some mind candy to chew on!

James Marshall