Sunday, March 17, 2013


When I was in high school preparing to go on a Mormon mission and trying desperately to have some kind of spiritual experience affirming that the Mormon Church was true, I had a seed of doubt planted by a well-intentioned source. This young man was a couple of years older than me (he still is, in fact) and had just returned from a mission of his own, making him an ideal person for me to talk to concerning such a "burning in the bosom." Or so I thought.

During a discussion or class or something, this person brought up some of the conditions one must allegedly meet in order to recieve a genuine answer from god concerning the validity and historicity of the Book of Mormon, among other things. As he described how one must first have a desire to believe, I found myself for the first time questioning how this process was any different than just simply believing what you want to believe, because you just want to believe it. At the time, I had no knowledge of confirmation bias, or self-affirmation, but what really got me was when he further explained that the Holy Ghost will never lead you astray from what the Church teaches. In other words, only spiritual experiences which agree with the Church are really from god. Well, if this isn't a circular argument, then I don't know what is. He may as well have said, "I know god talks to me, because he tells me so."

Deep down I knew there was a huge problem with the reasoning behind all of this "spiritual experience" business, but I couldn't bring myself to admit it--not even in private. There was too much pressure for me to go on a mission, go to BYU, get married and make lots of babies as quickly as possible. Which brings me to my next point: the Mormon Church's policy to "get 'em while they're young".

One of the toughest things I can imagine in a marriage is when two people of the same religious devotion get married, and some time down the road, one of the two loses their faith. I don't know of very many couples who have survived this. For this reason, many people bury their doubts about a given religion, as it were, "for the kids". Now, the cynical side of me wants to think that this predicament is exploited by religious leaders, with claims that god wants young adults to marry and have children as soon as they can, in order to seal the door on a marriage and trap people in a particular religion for the rest of their lives. The more compassionate side of me wants to think people wouldn't be so callous and flippant with the lives of other people. The more practical side of me thinks it is more complicated than either of those options.

It always seems sinister to me whenever I hear the Mormon Church talk about eternal families. The idea that families can live together in heaven for all of eternity sounds great to many people. This is especially true of young couples starting their families. But without any thing more than a pre-desired sensation, with no verifiable evidence to confirm its origin, and a vague promise that, if obedient to Mormonism, families can be eternal, how can a rationally minded person not at least be skeptical of the claim? Sure it sounds nice, but so what? Is it true? How do you know one way or the other?

This sort of manipulation of the heart-strings brings the argument "What if you're wrong?" to a whole new low. This is why videos like the one below irk me so much:

One last point: Suppose for a moment that one were to empirically demonstrate that god really does talk to people through physical sensations in their chest, and that such a sensation really does confirm that the Book of Mormon is true; would this mean that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "official" Mormon church) is true? No. Ever since the death of Joseph Smith there have been more schisms in Mormonism than Catholicism has had in 2000 years. Just look at the chart below.

With so many sects claiming the Book of Mormon is true, and that they are the true successors of Joseph Smith, how do you know you have accepted the right brand of Mormonism? Even if a burning in the bosom is genuinely from god, how does it prove anything? How do you even know it's genuine?


A family which survived a crisis of faith:

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