A PDF version of this Document: http://goo.gl/JvlTY
And Answers to Other “Tough Gospel Questions” in Reply to a
Faithful Mormon Scholar’s Defence of Mormonism
June 20, 2004
Nothing falsifies history more than logic. François Guizot
I empathize with Dr. Wright’s indication that the feeling in his men’s group at a Mormon Church was somewhat depressed while considering David Hedley’s May 30, 2004 Herald article (“Leaving the Fold”) that described some aspects of Mormon history and belief, and included an excerpt from a written interview I provided to Mr. Hedley. An expanded version of the information I gathered for that interview can be found at the web address noted above under the title “Answers to the Most Common Questions I Am Asked About Leaving Mormonism”.
I recall being affected as was Dr. Wright and his men’s group by the few things critical of the Mormon faith that made it onto my radar screen while I was a faithful Mormon. And, I understand the palpable relief that many Mormons will feel after reading Dr. Wright’s response. He is, after all, a respected scholar whose opinion should bear weight. Many if not most of the faithful will conclude that, “If it is good enough for someone like Dr. Wright, it is good enough for me”, and dismiss all contrary opinion as the inane ramblings of those who are deceived as a result of their ignorance, sin, pride, lack of humility, etc. That is the effect, intended or not, of most Mormon and other religious apologetic writing – it gives the believers the excuse they need to ignore disconfirming evidence, and so to continue in their beliefs, however erroneous. This facilitates continued ignorance, and avoids the pain that learning often requires.
Dr. Wright is a respected academic whom I have not met. I suspect that he is similar to my father and many of his Mormon university professor friends among whom I was raised in Orem, Utah (near Brigham Young University) and then Victoria, British Columbia where Dad taught history for over 30 years at the University of Victoria. These people are generally typical Mormons in terms of their good intentions, neighbourliness, etc.
Practising Mormons are fine people, by and large. I bear them no grudge. I regret that their feelings may be hurt by my speaking publicly about my former beliefs as a practising Mormon, and the manner in which those beliefs were in my view shaped by the suppression of information within the Mormon community. However, I believe that it is so important that the code of silence among the few who are aware of these things within the Mormon community be broken that the imposition of discomfort on people whom I respect, and in many cases love, is required. And I believe that the pain that many will feel as they address these issues will be helpful to them and others in the longer term.
I wish I had access to the type of information I provided to Mr. Hedley as I was maturing within the Mormon community, and so feel that the right thing for me to do at this point in my life is to be prepared to bear some discomfort in order to live by the standard set down by Christ and many other religious leaders and wise people in what is known in the Christian community as the Golden Rule – do to others what you would like them to do (or to have done) to you. The same rule, under different names, is part of most other religious and faith traditions that have been of consequence throughout human history, many of which preceded the Christian tradition.
As the philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer wrote, true learning almost always involves “undeception”, and is painful. The pain suffered in this regard is the price paid for the opportunity to grow that learning affords both to those who suffer, and more importantly, to the younger generations who take their cues largely from their older, and presumably wiser, family and community members who are entrusted with the duty to look after the interests of those who follow them. Mormon leaders, in my view, have breached this trust by attending first to the interests of the Mormon institution and as a result often harming trusting individuals. People like Dr. Wright, wittingly or not, aid this ill-conceived project.
One of the things that fascinates me about the Mormon and other similarly authoritarian, information suppressing cultures is how scholars such as Dr. Wright (or me as I was for many years as a practising tax attorney who was also a faithful Mormon), whose minds are proven to function well in contexts away from religion, have such a clearly demonstrable inability to deal in what outsiders to their faith would likely consider a rational manner with matters concerning their religious beliefs.
Another way to frame this issue is to wonder how different groups of intelligent, honest, well-intentioned people could consider the same body of data and come to radically different conclusions, and why those within a faith tradition have a predictable tendency to put much less weight on evidence that convincingly disconfirms their faith than do almost all outsiders, whether interested in religious matters or not. It is the nature of this insider – outsider dichotomy that has held my interest for some time. In this essay, I will attempt to shed some light on this and other topics related to Dr. Wright’s article.
I note that when I say, “Mormons do” this or that, or “Mormons believe” this or that I am speaking about my perception of trends, and in particular those trends that are encouraged by the Mormon leadership. And I don’t mean to imply that all Mormons believe the same thing or act the same way. Mormonism is not one religious belief system that affects everyone at all times in the same way. Mormonism in Joseph Smith or Brigham Young’s day was radically different than it is now in terms of belief, community behaviour. And Mormonism today in a small town in Africa or South America is radically different in some ways from what it is in Utah, and in NYC it is different again. And, even within a single Mormon community you will find many different types. Some are ultra faithful and others might disbelieve much of Mormon orthodoxy while continuing to actively participate nonetheless. But, there is in my view much less variation of belief and behaviour within Mormonism than most other mainstream faiths.
I thank a variety of my Internet based colleagues (in particular those on the rather rough and tumble www.exmormon.org discussion board) who helped me to tighten my reasoning by providing ideas, as well as reading and critiquing early drafts of parts of this essay.