Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Shaken Faith Syndrome

The Shaken Faith Syndrome is Michael Ash's book dealing with the problems some members have when encountering anti-Mormon arugments that shake their faith. Here's an overview from the Web site:
In today's Internet world, an increasing number of Latter-day Saints are encountering anti-Mormon material. Since most members don't have all the answers at their fingertips, LDS-critical claims can be unsettling or create doubt. Some arguments have caused a few members--even active members with strong testimonies--to lose their faith. Backed by extensive research and decades of experience dealing with anti-Mormon allegations, Michael Ash explores how we can be both critical thinkers and devout believers.

Because misconceptions can make us vulnerable to a shaken faith, the first half of this book offers suggestions on how we can strengthen our intellectual foundations against challenging issues. Ash invites us to fortify our testimonies as we develop a more mature appreciation of the role of prophets and personal revelation, as well as a greater understanding of the inherent limitations of science, history, and even the scriptures. The second half of this book exposes common anti-LDS tactics and ngages some of the most frequent criticisms.
I haven't seen the book yet, but respect what I've read from Mike in the past, so I expect high quality. Any of you have it already?

Here's a sample chapter: "Confusing Tradition With Doctrine." He makes some great points. It's important to understand that many of the attacks of anti-Mormons on the Church, the Book of Mormon, etc., are really attacks on the non-canonical opinions and views of individuals, including prominent Church leaders, but whose views, however widely repeated, need not constitute official Church doctrine. How tragic that some members of the Church, even a Mormon bishop in one case, have left the Church over the DNA vs. the Book of Mormon issue, when the conflict of DNA evidence is not with anything in the text of the Book of Mormon itself, but with traditional and rather naive interpretations of and assumptions about the text, or even hostile misunderstandings about what those popular interpretations really were. Please don't confuse tradition and popular opinion with official doctrine.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading this book. We need to do more to help members be prepared for the arguments that are out there. When caught off guard, without the knowledge to understand the assumptions behind the attacks or the frequent flaws in the arguments, people really can be caught off guard. Ditto for Christianity in general. Don't send your Christian child to college without a firm grounding in defending the Christian faith and Christian values.

28 comments:

Aric said...

Small typo at the end of the first quoted paragraph. "ngages" I believe should be "engages".

Sounds like a good book. There have been times when I was hit with anti that I was not familiar with, and so I would tell the person something along the lines of, "Interesting. I'll have to go look that up myself." And when I did, I have never found concrete "anti" material at all.

When it comes to anti, I also have taken the stance that God is the great Creator, and Satan is the Great Destroyer. And since anti's purpose is to destroy (any anti for any organization), then it ultimately comes from Satan, and anyone pushing it is following his gospel more than God's.

When I was a missionary serving in the southern bible-belt, in one small town there was a Catholic Priest who repeatedly destroyed anti-Mormon literature that a local church was making available at the library. His philosophy was that we did not have time to pour over such hate-filled material, and that we would be better off working together. And work together we did. We assisted in service projects with that priest and several members of other faiths around the community, and despite our religious differences, all found joy in serving and working together to improve the community. Quite a difference than a group setting out to destroy another.

Steve Smoot said...

I have the read the book. It is very good. I posted a small review of it on his website. Mike knows his stuff and his book is phenomenal.

Really, this is a must read for those involved in apologetics. I think you will like it, Jeff.

JasonBunting said...

Perfect - this type of book is desperately needed. I joined the church some 12 years ago now (at age 22) and went to Texas on a mission shortly afterwards - was I surprised at finding out that there were some people that didn't like the church (understatement intended). "Anti" materials have always been something I made myself familiar with, and at times it shook my faith but I always came back around quickly because I could see the flaws in the attacks, be it misinformation or flaws in logic or rhetoric.

Knowing about common attacks will become more critical for those whose faith is still too immature to whether such; the internet has made living a sheltered life harder, and there are plenty of people that don't know their faith well enough (and the lines that separate doctrine from culture) to really stand up to some of the more sophisticated attacks.

Jared said...

I purchased this book recently, but haven't read it yet. I'm looking forward to the read.

The point that I think needs to be made on this subject goes deeper than having intellectual answers to intellectuals questions, as important as that is. The bottom line answer to all the challenges of faith come in obtaining a testimony that can not be shaken. There are experiences with the Spirit available to us all that can put us in the position spiritually, that will swallow up all challenges that confront our faith.

Elder Ballard said it this way:

We must have personal, spiritual experiences to anchor us. These come through seeking them in the same intense, single-minded way that a hungry person seeks food…It is my witness and testimony that the Lord is not very far away. When Thou Art Converted, Chapter 4, by M. Russell Ballard

I've had these experiences, as others have, and can say that it is worth the effort to obtain a advanced spiritual degree available from the "institute" of the Holy Ghost.

The Lord knows how to give us this kind of testimony through scared experiences, but by law, He cannot do so until we desire and seek with sufficient spiritual energy and fulfill the requirements necessary. The Book of Mormon gives us example after example of how this is done.

Deptford Dan said...

I have met some very pleasant missionaries. Initially, I thought they represented a Christian denomination. When I read and researched more about it, I was surprised. I had no idea that my religious friends believed in many gods, and hope to become gods themselves one day; that no one was going to reach the Celestial presence of God if they rejected the Mormon religion. The list of differences between what most churches believe and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is quite extensive. I don't think it is being unkind to point that out.
When I shared this with my LDS missionary friends, they said they had not told me about such teachings because they considered them "deep". But surely the many
gods teaching and believing that countless "worthy" Mormon men can follow them to godhood, is very basic and should be shared up front. It could save a few shocks later.

Bookslinger said...

Jeff,
Your blog seems to have attracted some new critics recently. They sort of remind me of "seminar callers" on the Rush Limbaugh radio show.

Ryan said...

I think Jeff has said this before, too, but the biggest single lesson to learn IMHO is to not act rashly when an unfamiliar argument comes, or a new piece of negative information hits.

Listen, remember, and ponder, but suspend judgment for a reasonable time period. Time gives a chance to get over the shock, look past the veneer, and recognize any flaws that might be lurking; gives opportunity to get a clearer picture by searching out more evidence both for and against; and most importantly, gives the Spirit a chance to work when we're not worked up.

Notice that most anti-Mormon literature is designed to induce a reaction, a snap decision, instant and final judgment. The authors know that a little time and reflection severely damages their case.

When I was dating my future wife and just starting to seriously consider marriage, I was struck one night with absolute panic at the stupidity and scariness of such an endeavor. I nearly picked up the phone and dumped her on the spot, but decided to sleep on it rather than rush into anything. By morning (and every morning since) I was *very* glad indeed that I never made that phone call! When I told about the experience years later, she admitted that the same thing had happened to her.

In short, just think about who wants us to act and who wants us to be acted upon.

daveja vu said...

I take a similar stance to Aric when it comes to anti-Mormon arguments and literature. I treat such things like pornography: avoid at all costs. I can handle polite disagreement with my faith, but to try to "convert" me from my faith by tearing it down strikes me as evil itself. Truth be told, I find it just as wrong to tear down anyone's faith. I heed the prophetic advice of accepting good wherever it can be found and seeing what we can add to it. I'm also happy to hear that some ministers of other faiths refusing to stoop to the level of spreading anti-Mormonism, perhaps correctly realizing that tampering with someone else's faith is an evil in itself.

Anonymous said...

aric,

It's okay to call critics of the LDS church "Anti" as Christians consider Mormons as Anti-Christian.

Maybe the cause of shaken faith syndrome can be traced directly to comments and teachings of your very own GA's.

Dan and Wendy said...

My memory is a bit fuzzy on this, but I think that President Kimball's wife, Camille, said that when she came across things that she didn't understand about the gospel, she placed it (symbolically) on the bookshelf. Sometimes the issue would resolve itself, as she increased in knowledge and understanding.

I have found that to be good advice for me as well. Hopefully, some day I will get answers to all of the questions I have. In the meantime I'll continue to be patient.

Hans said...

To Anonymous:

You may have a point that sometimes GA's have said things that people do not understand, but how many times have these statements been taken out of context by "anti's"?

For example, the Tanners quoted a comment by Heber C. Kimball in the The God Makers that appeared to contradict the First Vision account. They did this by placing an original comment, followed by an elipse (...) then continued on with the quote by Heber. The problem was that the second part of the quote was 287 words later in the book. Moreover, the second part of the quote, 287 words later, was from a statement by Heber that talked about Divine Delegation that happened in 1827, not 1820 and the First Vision. Hardly the way one wants to win a covert.

I admit that I can't explain all things that GA's have said, but keeping in mind their own opinions and the context of their time, the Spirit still bears witness of the truthfulness of the Gospel. When anti's use such tactics, could you not see one who was less savy that the questioner who could be shaken but such quote (287 words apart)?

mormonwidowsandorphanssociety said...

There are lots of reasons for us the have our faith challenged. Today I downloaded the Funeral of President Gord Hinckley. Listening to his testimony through his friends, family and colleagues all made me realize that we strive for faith that will not be shaken. As for those who preach "anti-" (and it is really preaching) I wonder how much of that is envy.

Anonymous said...

The surest sign that a Mormon apologist is losing a position is when they start saying, “that was never official doctrine”. No wonder so many faithful are losing faith. The only defense their very best apologists offer them is to tell them that they have been taught since birth was not official doctrine.

The argument itself demonstrates that the divinely inspired leadership has been entirely unable to keep incorrect doctrine, speculation, legends, etc. from running rampant in the Mormon Church. The argument essential implies that if I were to join the Mormon Church I would be institutionally misled on doctrine as much as any other church and that Internet bloggers are more effective at setting the doctrine straight than the divinely inspired leadership.

Anonymous said...

Aric,

Careful! To claim that an iconoclast’s purpose is only to destroy and hence is of Satan, is casting a net large enough to included Jesus.

Aric said...

"Aric,

Careful! To claim that an iconoclast’s purpose is only to destroy and hence is of Satan, is casting a net large enough to included Jesus."

Says you. ;)

Goldarn said...

"Anonymous" above has it right. There are precious few things that are considered "doctrine," when you get right down to it. Things I was taught as doctrinal fact, straight from the mouths (and inspired writings) of prophets are now found to be only "folklore." Not even "correct at the time," but "folklore."

I'm having trouble discerning what is actual true doctrine, as opposed to things I just learned in BYU religion classes. The testimony of the Holy Ghost seems unreliable in my case, as good, peaceful, strong feelings have been felt about several things that I'm told are no longer true.

When the President of the Church doesn't even try to proclaim which doctrines are correct and which aren't (not that he has time, of course), I'm left to the winds of reason and chance. Then, I'm told in "Shaken Faith Syndrome" that my problem is that I've put too much faith in prophets.

How can I follow the prophet without question, if I can't even tell when he's speaking as a man or speaking as a prophet? I'm searching for an answer, but I'm having no luck so far.

Steve said...

I'm surprised that no one has responded to Goldarn. I'm not LDS, but know quite a few active and inactive LDS, and Goldarn has perfectly summed up the mindset of the inactive group (at least the ones that I know). If the active group seriously wants to bring people back into the fold they're going to first have to address the concerns of Goldarn.

Bookslinger said...

Steve,

The "what is doctrine?" question has been discussed quite a bit on the major LDS group blogs, such as TimesAndSeasons.org, MillennialStar.org, and ByCommonConsent.com.

Oops, and the "what is doctrine?" has also been addressed on www.LDS.org. I remember reading something about it in the newsroom section, which was in response to the news media trying to define what is LDS doctrine.

However, LDS questioners of "what actually is our doctrine" should probably be going to their local church leaders for real doctrinal answers, and not to blogs or the Internet in general.

My opinion of those who get distracted/confused/tripped up over the "what is doctrine?" is that they're sometimes looking "beyond the mark" as they say, and trying to find absolutist statements on issues that either are not aboslute or have not been fully revealed by the Lord.

Such people also seem to have difficulties with continuing or ongoing revelation. McConkie gave a good example when he spoke of the changes in thinking dictated by the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. He said we now have new information, "further light and knowledge" and the beliefs of the past that contradict the new light and knowledge have to be abandoned.

The idea that the Lord reveals things piecemeal, bit by bit, is supported in the scriptures by the principle of "line upon line, precept upon precept."

Steve said...

Further light and knowledge is one thing; contradiction is quite another. But as you know I'm not LDS, so I'll let the Goldarn's of the world speak for themselves.

Goldarn said...

For the record: I am active LDS. I go to church every week, temple occasionally, all that jazz. I'm not some kind of NOM, or anything like that. I believe in Christ, and I believe this is His church.

Also for the record: I have gone to my local church leaders for answers to questions. They usually point me to articles and talks on lds.org, which I dutifully read.

As for "looking beyond the mark" as they say, I could easily be guilty of that. Things change, even a prophet thinks that something will be eternal (or at least, until the millennium), things can still change. Plural marriage and the priesthood ban are sufficient evidence of that.

However, in the modern church, certain things are being taught different ways because there is simply no one authoritative source speaking. For example, when people still talk about how the blacks were "less valiant," is that true? Where they less valiant before, and they aren't now? The Deseret News article referred to that as folklore. It was formerly called doctrine by several prophets. Was it false before? Was it true before, and false now? Should I be correcting those who say it?

The end question is, if something isn't fully revealed by the Lord, how do I know? How can I tell the difference between something that his not yet fully revealed, and something that is? Is there ANYTHING that is fully revealed?

I have no problem with church structure changing and whatnot. I mean, we have prophets now, they had patriarchs in Abraham's day, and a high priest in the BoM. Things change in this world, and the structure changes with it. But eternal principles shouldn't change. They are the bedrock of truth. How can I tell the difference between and Eternal Principle and something we just do for now, but we look forward to a better way? If I guess wrong, then I'm an apostate, preaching against an Eternal Principle. If I guess right, I'm a visionary.

Does this really not bug anyone else to not really know what they should believe?

Fly_on_the_wall said...

Goldarn..I agree with your comments 100%. When I was young I played board games with my older brothers. Whenever I was gaining the upper hand during the game they would change the rules. I got so frustrated that I stopped playing.

I have similar feelings about the Church. It is just too frustrating to know what to believe.

Anonymous said...

Goldarn,
I am with you completely and agree with you 100%. As I have been trying to read Shaken Faith Syndrome, once I got to the point where it blamed my problems with belief on my own "fundamentalist thinking" it ticked me off. I mean... where did I get my fundamentalist thinking? From the teachings at church!!! That is how I was taught... I was taught to obey the prophet NO MATTER WHAT!! And obey I did.. my whole life! And now i am reading that the cognitive dissonance I am feeling is due to my own problems with obeying the prophet too much and being too fundamentalist. Blaming the victim strategy doesn't make me even want to finish the rest of the book. I have only ever tried to do what is right, live the way I have been taught, read and study and follow the Prophet's counsel, etc. I think this problem is much deeper than most active mormons realize and people like me have nowhere to go for help or answers. This book missed the mark.

Anne Bradshaw said...

I have just read the book, "Shaken Faith Syndrome" and think it is totally amazing and so good. So very faith confirming and testimony building. It contains things I've never even considered before (or heard about even). Michael Ash deals with everything head on.

The principles he so brilliantly teaches (uses some excellent examples and comparisons that make it an easy and compelling read) can be applied in many situations.

I would say to the previous anonymous commenter, that he/she definitely should read the whole book before judging. The more I understood, the more sense it all made.

This book is one I hope my whole family will study. I also think it would make a superb gift for anyone considering going on a mission.

KimLairson said...

I'm just glad the emphasis of the church these last few years has been the teachings of the prophets

Anonymous said...

Michael Ash shakes my faith with his support for Meso America Book of Mormon Lands. This disregards Joseph Fielding Smith's direct statements against two Cumorahs. I have read lies at some apologetic websites in regards to Central America, statements that it has been understood for seventy years to be the correct location. I am certain that Michael is a good person and sincere, but his association with an organization begun by a man who lost his faith but chose to remain in the church casts doubt on his position to help others whose faith is in need.

khaki said...

Feeling are so fickle! Feelings have no place when it comes to something as important as ones eternal destiny. I am thrilled that I can place my faith and trust in Jesus Christ who said He would never leave me or forsake me. Anyone who would tell me to put something on a shelf because they could not give an answer(because they really didn't know) scares me greatly. The Bible is clear--the Apostle Paul clearly lays it out in the Book of Romans.

Oh well! I am not anti-mormon in the least--the things that evangelical Christians share with Mormons is not anti--in every sense of the word it is Pro.

Why do those of you who are mormons think that because we challenge you on your doctrine we are anti-mormon? I somehow think mormons have a real persecution complex and think we are all out to get you--if what you believe is true then certainly it is open to the most careful scrutiny. That your high church officials prohibit you from reading anything that is not "faith promoting" really causes me to question the legitimacy of mormon doctrine--But I am not a mormon hater--I just don't believe the doctrine will stand up both historical and archeological data--not to mention the whole DNA proof.

Adam G. said...

Ash goes too far for my taste and is too dismissive of past practices, and a little too willing to upbraid the Saints.

But some are feeling insulted where no insult is meant. "Naive" doesn't mean stupid or gullible. It can just means the kinds of belief that haven't been refined and modified through dispute, opposition, and rigorous examination of reason and evidence and spiritual guidance. Naive beliefs are a necessary precursor to wisdom.

There is such a thing as naive rejection of Mormonism too. It usually comes when someone's commitment to naive Mormonism is so strong that when its challenged they would rather reject Mormonism rather than modify the original belief. That's why you get the odd phenomenon of anti-Mormons who are committed to a more fundamentalist reading of the Book of Mormon or of modern prophets than most Mormons are.

We need to avoid the assumption that because God speaks to the prophets, everything the prophets speaks are from God. We also n eed to avoid the assumption that because God speaks to the prophets, God proactively and preemptively has addressed possible problems that arise before they have arisen. But rejecting that naive assumption doesn't mean embracing the equally naive assumption that the prophets aren't inspired or that we won't be blessed from following them even when their understanding is incomplete or mistaken.

The mistake of most religionists is to assume that there was some final revelation that happened sometime in the past. The mistake some Mormons make is to assume that the final revelation is happening now. The proper view is that we are living a type or a pattern or a drama, where prophets speak and we heed or not, and events and challenges drive us to seek new guidance, and new guidance comes, and we heed it, or not. Finality is for the grave.

Adam G. said...

For Goldarn specifically:

Doctrinal shifts or re-emphasis can give you heartburn, though its some comfort to me that most of the apparently most dramatic have been prefigured. During the time of the ban, for example, a number of prophets stated that it would end at some time (mostly, they speculated, in the millennium). The interpretative understanding of the Book of Mormon that it was 'for our day' suggests that (1) polygamy was not as eternal as thought during the time of polygamy, because the Book of Mormon specifically addresses it as a temporary phenomenon, (2) the priesthood ban was only temporary, since in the Book of Mormon we see an embrace of racial categories as reflections of righteousness that quickly collapse in the rest of the narrative, and (3) the Christ-centered and grace-centered traditional Christianity of the Book of Mormon suggests a backing away from some of the more esoteric teachings such as the first half of the Snow couplet and so on (indeed, the Book of Mormon was the *cause* of this re-emphasis, since it came about as a result of us reading the Book of Mormon more, and more attentively).

It can be uncomfortable when we do not have clear guidance about changes in emphasis or preaching that clearly tell us the prior emphasis or teaching was in error or not. But consider that the absence of clear guidance may indicate that having a firm opinion on whether the prior teaching was in error or not isn't really important. Or it may allow more room for personal revelation and personal growth. The existence of prior teaching that is no longer taught but not repudiated gives those who care room for personal study and exploration.