Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Jason Harris
The Power of Specificity and Sensitivity
The specificity and sensitivity of tests or evidence is the bedrock of ruling in and/or ruling out diagnoses or truth claims in the medical field.
A highly specific positive test or evidence is required to rule in a diagnosis or a truth claim. Highly specific tests are almost always positive only in settings where the unique condition in question is present. A positive pregnancy test is an example of a highly specific test. False positives are rare with highly specific tests.
A highly sensitive test rules out a diagnosis or truth claim when negative. Highly sensitive tests are almost always negative only in settings where the condition in question is not present. A fever is an example of a highly sensitive test or piece of evidence for a severe infection. It will usually be absent (or negative) when a severe infection is absent. But a fever isn’t specific enough to rule in any specific infection. False negatives are rare with highly sensitive tests.
Some tests or pieces of evidence are both highly specific and highly sensitive. These can both rule in and rule out a diagnosis or truth claim. A properly performed DNA paternity test is an example of such a test.
There aren’t any highly specific tests or pieces of evidence ruling in or proving any literal LDS (Mormon) truth claims. If there were, these would admittedly destroy the need for faith.
On the other hand, there are many highly sensitive tests or bodies of evidence that effectively rule out many literal LDS truth claims. Disconfirming evidence is often more valid than confirming evidence when it comes to truth claims from any source.
If you are a believing Latter-day Saint, I suggest reading further only if you are willing to explore that some of your literal beliefs might be mistaken. For myself, doing so led to viewing the rest of humanity in a more expansive and loving manner. It also led to ostracization, pain and misunderstandings within my own family and between church associates and friends.
Specificity of the Top 10 Tests/Evidences Supporting Literal LDS Truth Claims
Highly specific tests or pieces of evidence are required to rule in truth claims. Following is a discussion of tests or pieces of evidence commonly cited as ruling in literal LDS truth claims, as well as a discussion of their specificity.
1. The Witness of the Spirit
Most Latter-day Saints would say the witness of the Holy Ghost is the most important evidence the Mormon church is true. At least, I know this was true for myself before I left the LDS church. I had these types of experiences (and still have them today) and still treasure them, though I interpret them differently now than I once did. For myself, I believe the elevation emotion, a ubiquitous and beautiful emotion across humanity that helps uplift us, inspire us and motivate us to do better and be better has played and continues to play a major part in these experiences.
The witness of the Holy Ghost does not appear to be a highly specific experience or piece of evidence. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims. People from other religions also have spiritual witnesses as answers to prayer that give them absolute certitude they know their doctrines and paths are true. Many of these experiences are described in remarkably similar ways and in some instances, exactly the same way as Latter-day Saints would describe their experiences. Particularly take note of 9:22 and after in the video below.
For most of my life I was on the giving end of the certitude that came from these types of spiritual confirmations. Never in a physically violent way, but in a manner that motivated me to serve for two years as a full-time Mormon missionary, etc. In 2012 in Afghanistan, I experienced being on the receiving end of this same type of religious certitude but from others who viewed some literal truth claims very differently. It was very difficult and emotionally traumatic as a physician seeing and treating the results of violence all around me.
I had to ask myself, was I really any different? Would I obey if I was instructed by my church leaders to commit violent acts in the name of God? Some Latter-day Saints historically did receive such instructions and did obey.
I don’t personally believe literal truth claims are confirmed via emotions, regardless of how uplifting these emotions may be or what sense of certainty these emotions may impart.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?Jeremiah 17:9, KJV
2. Fruits of Obedience
The fruits of obedience or the prosperity gospel are frequently cited as evidence of the truthfulness of literal LDS truth claims. Other times, emotional benefits such as peace are cited as being unique to the gospel. To be clear, I think these fruits are beautiful. And these also do not appear to be highly specific evidences of truth given these fruits are seen across many swaths of many societies. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims. Members of some high-demand religious organizations sometimes rectify this with the following type of logic:
|THE FRUITS of OBEDIENCE|
|BELIEVER||Blessings from God||Tests of Faith|
|NON-BELIEVER||Evil and Worldly Indulgences||Punishments from God|
My personal opinion is sometimes life just happens, difficult or not to all of us. Certain actions will often tend to lead to certain results, regardless of the religious beliefs of the individual performing those actions.
3. Eyewitness Testimony
My Great-great-great Grandfather is Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon and the financier of the first publication of the Book of Mormon. This was a source of great pride growing up within our family, myself included.
Each summer during my high school years, my father and I played two narrative roles in a pageant/play that took place in Clarkston, Utah near Martin Harris’ gravesite. After I left to serve a Mormon mission, one of my brothers continued to carry on the same role I had filled.
About 3,000 people would attend the outdoor pageant each night while it was running. These were beautiful uplifting evenings filled with the sounds of crickets, the smell of freshly cut alfalfa, cool crisp mountain air, music and laughter! All performers participated on a volunteer basis. An expression of faith and service.
I treasured learning more about my Grandfather and his contribution to our Mormon heritage. But even more, I valued the time spent with my father. This was one of the few experiences I had with my father growing up where I was able to spend much one-on-one time with him. Even if it was mostly rehearsing lines as we drove for hours back and forth to Grandpa’s pageant. It was our way of helping carry on his witness and supporting what he sacrificed so much for.
As my faith journey continued years after participating in this experience, I came to realize eyewitness testimony (particularly seeing things with spiritual eyes as Grandpa had done) does not appear to be highly specific evidence for literal truth. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims. There are many equally fervent eyewitness testimonies supporting competing faith claims from other religious persuasions.
Coming to realize this caused me to ponder: “Were the sacred experiences of these other individuals less valuable and less valid than those of my own Grandpa? Was the experience of my ancestor, or even my own spiritual experiences more important than theirs? Was everyone else just deceived, led astray by the Devil? Was it narcissistic to not consider perhaps I was the one deceived instead? Was the deceived/not deceived paradigm I was viewing this with even an accurate paradigm to be using?”
Just a few examples from other faith traditions that caused me to ponder: The Miracle of Fátima is an experience very sacred to many Catholics, witnessed by numerous eyewitnesses. There are numerous other reports around the world of visions of the Virgin Mary. There were numerous eyewitnesses of the truth of James Strang’s Voree plates after Joseph Smith died. Vision Quests were/are common amongst Native Americans. Reports of visions and eyewitnesses of Hindu Gods by Hindu believers are commonly reported as well. All of these experiences are sacred to the recipients and often serve as confirmations for literal truth claims to believers of those persuasions.
That said, it is well-established eyewitness testimony in a court of law can often be unreliable even when the witness is being honest and sincere. What is to be done then?
I believe the human experience can be really complicated and difficult sometimes. Certainly, not all eyewitness testimonies should be discarded. At the same time, is it possible spiritual eyewitness experiences could be manifestations of something deeper and not literal at all? These are possibilities I considered for years before leaving the religion of my childhood.
4. Manner of Completion of the Book of Mormon
“There is absolutely no way Joseph Smith could have produced The Book of Mormon at all yet alone in the allotted time. Therefore, it is from God.” I can’t count how many times I said or thought this or similar phrases for 40 years as a devout Mormon.
I read the Book of Mormon daily, rarely missing a day from the time I was 15 years old right up until I finally submitted my resignation. The Book of Mormon played a major role in my life. I deeply understand and can empathize with any active Latter-day Saint who values the Book of Mormon as scripture and testifies that holding to many of its tenets has significantly improved their lives. In countless ways, reading and following it did the same for mine.
I now believe the manner of completion of the Book of Mormon does not appear to be a highly specific piece of evidence of it being from God in the manner claimed. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims. Writing a large volume of work in a short amount of time is not unprecedented in other settings. For example, individuals influenced under the phenomenon of “automatic writing” (likely related to temporal lobe hyperactivity) can produce extensive, profound, and internally consistent writings in very short periods of time as well. Pearl Curran (“Patience Worth”) is a classic example of this. This does not necessarily mean these are Divine revelations to the world from God.
Other possibilities include other natural or even supernatural explanations. For example, was the outline organized in Joseph’s head for years beforehand? Did it actually take much longer to write than assumed? Was Joseph better educated than is often taught? Did any of Joseph’s associates help write the work? The presence of other possibilities may be an indicator of decreased specificity.
5. Internal Consistency of the Book of Mormon
The internal consistency of the Book of Mormon’s storyline is sometimes pointed to as proof it is an actual historical record. Again though, I believe this is not a highly specific piece of evidence for literal history. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims. Many works of fiction are also highly internally consistent. Would high internal consistency be seen in a literal historical record? Yes. But this doesn’t mean all documents with high internal consistency are literal historical records.
As an aside, there are many portions of the Book of Mormon not internally consistent with what would be seen in an actual historical record (see below). Most Latter-day Saints are unaware of these portions because these matters are not usually discussed in Sunday school classes or other avenues of officially approved LDS religious education.
6. Prophecies Fulfilled
The fulfillment of prophecies is often pointed to as supporting the truth claims of the Mormon church. For me, the issue is, fulfilled prophecies are almost always non-specific. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims. This is why so many people believe in horoscopes and fortune-tellers. Prophecies can be made in non-specific ways that only require believers’ confirmation bias and ability to see patterns (our brains are wired this way) to then serve as the evidence of the proof of the prophecy. Numerous religious movements in history have prophets, prophetesses, and prophecies. I believe they often thrive because the adherents insist the prophecies have been fulfilled (or will be).
Sometimes some prophecies are more specific. But the truth is, people from many swaths of society besides the LDS persuasion have also made very specific predictions or prophecies at times that have subsequently happened.
During my faith journey, I’ve come to learn Joseph Smith arguably had many failed prophecies when these were of a more specific nature (see below). These usually aren’t shared or talked about in LDS Sunday school classes though.
7. Reports of Miracles and Answers to Prayers
I have experienced numerous answers to prayer and even miracles throughout my life. I think life itself is a beautiful and amazing miracle!! I have also come to believe miracles and answers to prayer are not highly specific evidence of the literal truth claims of any religion. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims.
Adherents from nearly every religious tradition in the world report experiencing miracles and receiving answers to prayers supporting their beliefs.
Are my answers to prayer and the miracles I have experienced really more relevant, more important, and more valid than theirs? Could it be that miracles and answers to prayers have other explanations altogether than the literal ones we sometimes assign them?
8. Ancient Literary Devices and Styles
Hebraisms, chiasmus, and other ancient literary devices in the Book of Mormon are frequently cited as evidence of its ancient origin. However, I believe these devices are also not highly specific evidence. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims.
For example, “The Late War” is a fictional literary work written in the early 1800’s that the Smith family had access to. It was written in a biblical style and has extensive chiasmus as well as Hebraisms. It also has numerous rare phrases in common with the Book of Mormon.
Stylometic studies are sometimes cited as proof Joseph Smith didn’t write the Book of Mormon. These are studies that examine word rates, patterns, and usages from a work of literature. Proponents say these studies prove there wasn’t just one author of the Book of Mormon.
Even if these stylometric studies are valid (there isn’t consensus amongst scholars) and do in fact provide strong evidence to multiple different writing styles (and thus authors?) for the Book of Mormon, this still doesn’t prove it is what it claims to be. In other words, used in this manner, stylometry is non-specific evidence and can’t be used to “rule in” literal Book of Mormon truth claims. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims. Many critics of the Book of Mormon have argued for over one hundred years the Book of Mormon was produced by a combination of authors and not in the manner claimed by Joseph Smith.
Archeology is sometimes pointed to by faithful Latter-day Saints as supporting Mormon truth claims. For example, an ancient site in Saudi Arabia with the three letters NHM is sometimes pointed to as specific evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and its account of Nahom.
I personally believe there is not a single archeological or scientific find in the Old World or the Ancient Americas that is highly specific in supporting a single unique Mormon truth claim, including the discovery of NHM. If such were the case, the need for faith would vanish and academicians across the world would support the Book of Mormon as an actual ancient historical document. They don’t. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims.
By contrast, there is highly specific archeological evidence ruling in some of the literal claims of the Bible. For example, because of highly specific extra-biblical and archeological evidence, academicians across the world universally accept that an ancient Jewish Diaspora, as recorded in the Bible, actually happened, even though they may disagree about some details.
The Need for Faith
The tests and evidence above are some of the strongest I can think of in support of the literal truth claims of the Mormon church. Despite this, I don’t believe any of these are highly specific. This may be in line with Mormon theology though. Otherwise, the need for faith would be eliminated. Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims.
Highly sensitive tests or evidences on the other hand often have false positives and are usually much better at ruling out truth claims when they are negative. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
With this in mind, following is what I view as the top 10 tests/pieces of evidence challenging literal LDS truth claims.
Sensitivity of the Top 10 Tests/Evidences Challenging Literal LDS Truth Claims
1. The Book of Abraham Text
The Book of Abraham claims to be translated by the prophet, seer, and revelator Joseph Smith from an ancient papyrus written upon by Abraham. Many of the original fragments Joseph translated from are still with us today. In addition, Joseph provided facsimiles of vignettes from the papyri he translated as well. Here is what the Book of Abraham says about the manner of translation:
THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM
TRANSLATED FROM THE PAPYRUS, BY JOSEPH SMITH
A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.The Book of Abraham as published by the Mormon Church as of April 17, 2021.
If it can be shown the book of Abraham is an accurate translation, I believe this would be a highly sensitive positive test or piece of evidence for the Book of Abraham. A provable accurate translation wouldn’t necessarily rule in the work being from God or even from Abraham in the literal manner claimed. For example, one could argue the document was written anciently by someone other than Abraham and that Joseph Smith translated it under a non-Divine influence. On the other hand, a highly inaccurate translation would rule out the work being from God in the literal manner described above.
The issue at hand is:
None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham… Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.As cited in the official LDS essay on the Book of Abraham from the official LDS website as of April 17, 2021 and also as archived HERE.
I believe the text of the Book of Abraham fails the highly sensitive test of correct translation. Its translation doesn’t match the source documents. Even the Mormon church admits this. I believe this serves to rule out the possibility this is from God in the literal manner claimed by Joseph Smith within the Book of Abraham itself. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
2. The Book of Abraham Facsimiles
There are many theories by orthodox Latter-day Saints for why the text of the Book of Abraham doesn’t match the papyri to include the theory that the papyrus containing the Book of Abraham is still missing. At the end of the day though, these excuses may not matter much because the facsimiles of the vignettes with their attendant translations, as published in the Book of Abraham, are also mistranslated.
There are some minor disagreements amongst Egyptologists about some of the details of the translation of these vignettes. But there is universal agreement amongst both LDS and non-LDS Egyptologists that despite these disagreements, nearly all of Joseph’s translations are not even close.
Again, we see a negative result to the highly sensitive test of correct translation. I believe this failure rules out the possibility these literal Mormon truth claims are as stated. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
An excellent interview with famed Egyptologist Dr. Robert Ritner (who trained LDS Egyptologist Dr. John Gee) outlines many of the translation issues surrounding these Egyptian papyri in stunning clarity without the obfuscations sometimes employed by LDS apologists.
The best argument I have seen from LDS apologists trying to explain all of the above away is that the papyri (with the facsimiles/vignettes) served as a catalyst for Joseph to translate the Book of Abraham from some other source not in front of him that even he wasn’t aware of. However, to me, this argument depends on redefining what the word translate means and also is not consistent with what the Book of Abraham itself claims. I also believe this argument is not compatible with a God who doesn’t deceive, mislead or lie.
Mormon apologists often argue these Egyptian funerary documents actually represent an Egyptian endowment, corrupted from an original purer temple endowment. There are LDS apologists who argue the LDS temple endowment is the strongest evidence for the authenticity of the Mormon faith. I also believe this is non-specific evidence but did not discuss it above and won’t discuss it in more depth here out of respect for the sacred nature of this to believing Latter-day Saints.
3. Book of Abraham Textual and Philosophical Anachronisms
Historical documents will be consistent with the time period they were written in. Such consistency in chronology is highly sensitive evidence these originated in the time period claimed. For instance, works written in the 1700’s won’t be discussing the particulars about people using iphones, etc. but will reference in a realistic way other manners of life from the 1700’s. Well-written pieces of fiction will also be consistent with the time period they are placed in so chronological consistency isn’t highly specific evidence of historical authenticity even though it is highly sensitive.
When something is written in a piece of literature that clearly doesn’t belong to the time period it claims to be written from, this is an anachronism and is a negative test to the highly sensitive test or evidence of chronology. As previously mentioned, negative results to highly sensitive tests effectively rule out truth claims.
There are numerous textual anachronisms in the Book of Abraham. These won’t be delved into here, but one can learn more about these easily online to include with the link provided. Additionally, portions of the Book of Abraham seem to philosophically draw strongly from sources of literature written well after the time of Abraham and available to Joseph Smith to include Thomas Dick’s “A Philosphy of a Future State.”
These anachronisms (and many others not touched upon here) serve as powerful negative results to the highly sensitive test of chronology. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
Mormon Apologists often try to argue around this by re-defining what the word translate means, arguing that Joseph’s translations were incredibly loose with a tremendous deal of influence from Joseph’s 1800’s world superimposed.
4. The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible
I believe the JST version of the Bible is not an actual translation. Many passages of the JST version are copied from Adam Clark’s biblical commentary as recently discovered and shown at BYU. Clarke’s commentary was a common work for ministers during the 1800’s and a work Joseph Smith owned.
More anachronisms, more negative tests to the highly sensitive test of chronology. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
5. The Kinderhook Plates
The Kinderhook plates were six fraudulently made plates by three men at Kinderhook, Illinois in 1843 purporting to be ancient engravings (engraven on both sides). These were brought to Joseph Smith. He reviewed these and said the following:
I have translated a portion of [the plates] and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol 5, p. 372
The Mormon Church often taught these were legitimate plates of an ancient civilization until it was definitively shown in 1980 under close scientific examination these plates were an 1800’s hoax. The Mormon Church has since backed away from this and often excuses this away by saying in this instance, Joseph Smith translated as a man.
The Kinderhook plates were proven fraudulent because the manner of workmanship of these plates was not used anciently. Again, a negative test to the highly sensitive test of chronology… thus ruling out the possibility these plates were of ancient origin, and by extension, any translation of them as well. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
6. Deutero-Isaiah Anachronisms
Large portions (chapters) of Isaiah written by Neph in the Book of Mormon in fact have large volumes of highly specific evidence of having been written about one hundred years after the time of Nephi. There is near-universal consensus amongst biblical scholars the Book of Isaiah was written in sections over a long period of time.
Nephi writing multiple chapters of Isaiah long before they were originally written would again be anachronistic and fails the highly sensitive test of chronology… thus ruling out the possibility the record is what it claims to be. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
Unfortunately, LDS apologetic arguments against Deutero-Isaiah are far too often incomplete and/or intellectually dishonest. Please see “The Truthfulness of Deutero-Isaiah: A Response to Kent Jackson (part 1)” as well as “The Truthfulness of Deutero-Isaiah: A Response to Kent Jackson (part 2).” for more details about this.
7. Malachi Anachronisms
Nephi also quotes the ancient prophet Malachi verbatim over one hundred years before Malachi was born. This again fails highly sensitive tests for chronology, again effectively ruling out the possibility that Nephi is an actual historical figure. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
Apologists sometimes explain this away by arguing they were both quoting an even older source. There is no good evidence to support this.
8. New Testament Anachronisms
Literally hundreds of unique phrases from the New Testament are found throughout the Book of Mormon, written by Book of Mormon authors hundreds of years before they were originally written in the New Testament. Some Mormon apologists try to explain all of this away by stating there was an older common source the authors of both of these sets of writings were quoting from. There is no good evidence supporting these claims.
Again, the highly sensitive test of chronology (as well as geographic limitations) appears to have been failed, effectively ruling out the possibility the work is what it claims to be. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
9. King James Translational Errors in the Book of Mormon
Many well-described King James translational errors of the Bible are written verbatim in the Book of Mormon. A few of these errors are touched upon and discussed further by several Bible and LDS scholars HERE.
Again, we see a failure of the highly sensitive test of chronology. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
10. Failed Prophesies of Joseph Smith
There are legitimate concerns Joseph Smith made many failed prophecies, especially when these were more specific in nature. These are usually not discussed in LDS Sunday school classes.
I believe one could argue making a specific prophecy accurately could be considered highly sensitive evidence a prophet is a true prophet. I don’t believe such could honestly be considered as highly specific evidence because people from many walks of life make specific predictions that are fulfilled all the time for a large variety of reasons. Additionally, predictions being recalled and recorded after the event transpires raises questions of credibility. Was the event actually predicted in that manner to begin with? Human memory mechanisms are known to often be faulty.
Thus, the failure of a specific prophesy I believe is the failure of a highly sensitive test. As such, I believe it serves to rule out the person making the prediction as a legitimate prophet. Apparently, the author(s) of Deuteronomy thought so too.
…How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?
When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.Deuteronomy 18:21-22 KJV
Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims.
What Hasn’t Been Mentioned:
What hasn’t been mentioned above are issues such as lack of archeological evidence of the iron technology mentioned in the Book of Mormon, misplaced fauna and plants in the Book of Mormon, DNA evidence showing Native Americans descended from East Asians (not Middle Easterns), lack of any written records in Ancient America mirroring the Anthon transcript (copied by Joseph Smith from the golden plates), incompatibility of scriptural timelines with what we know from scientific studies, likely plagiarisms by Joseph Smith from “View of the Hebrews,” Emanuel Swedenborg, etc., issues surrounding Joseph’s character (underage marriages, marrying other men’s wives, treasure digging, etc.), evolving and changing First Vision stories, the Mormon church’s ethically abhorrent stances on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and many other issues as well.
In many cases, though incredibly damning, I don’t consider these issues to be as highly specific or sensitive as the instances cited above in supporting or challenging literal LDS truth claims. The evidences cited above mostly involve hard tangible evidence and also don’t involve “proving a negative.”
Top Mormon leadership has known about many of these issues for a very long time. It has only been in recent years they have been more open about discussing some of these issues. But even then, the discussion is often still fairly restricted and arguably lacking in transparency and intellectual honesty.
These matters can be explored further in some of the sources I touch upon HERE.
In Summary, specificity and sensitivity matters when it comes to establishing literal truth claims.
Highly specific tests or evidences are needed to rule in truth claims. Negative results to highly sensitive tests or evidences effectively rule out truth claims. Disconfirming evidence (a negative result to a highly sensitive test or piece of evidence) is often more valid than confirming evidence when it comes to truth claims from any source.
There isn’t a single highly specific test or piece of evidence confirming the literal truth claims of the Mormon church. Such would admittedly destroy the need for faith. Meanwhile, there are profoundly negative results to numerous highly sensitive tests and pieces of evidence regarding literal LDS truth claims. These effectively rule out literal LDS truth claims.
To believe in something despite no highly specific evidence ruling it in I personally believe can be compatible with faith. To believe in something when there are massive volumes of solid evidence effectively ruling it out I believe is more compatible with ignorance or self-deception. I don’t believe such is consistent with the light of God.
When an honest man discovers he is mistaken, he will either cease to be mistaken or cease to be honest.Anonymous
One of the most heart-wrenching experiences for many members that leave the Mormon church, myself included, is the ostracization, judgment, and condemnation directed towards those who leave or no longer believe as well as the pain we witness our loved ones go through in regards to our exit.
As Mormons, we are taught all of our lives to be honest. We are taught to choose the right, let the consequence follow. We are taught to stand up for the downtrodden. To mourn with those who mourn. We are taught to try to be like Jesus in thought and deed. And then when we encounter facts such as what I have shared above, many of us are left feeling we have no option but to leave if we are to maintain the values we have internalized our entire lives.
We also encounter facts not shared above in regards to LGBTQ issues, women’s rights, racial disparities, etc. that also leave us realizing how lacking in empathy and understanding we may have been in the past, and that the world isn’t as simple as we once thought it was.
We are often left feeling the only way we can be honest, choose the right and be like Jesus IS to leave the Mormon church. Perhaps this is part of what following Jesus means though. He also disagreed strongly with the religious leaders of his day and was crucified, accused of being an apostate. Many of us who leave feel we have eaten fruit from the metaphorical tree of knowledge of good and evil and are left with no other choice but to leave the garden we were raised (and often thrived) in.
The ostracization and mischaracterization of so many who subsequently leave Mormonism is absolutely wrong and evil in my mind. So often there are very little efforts to actually understand why those of us who have left, have left. In fact, such compassionate outreaches to understand are often discouraged from the pulpits by the highest leaders of the Mormon church. Tokens of “lazy learning” (the irony) or “rehearsing doubts.” Other high-demand religious leaders make similar statements to keep their members in line as well. This isn’t unique to Mormonism.
This doesn’t just cause pain to those who have left but also causes tremendous pain to many believing family members and friends. They are encouraged to trust the lies and stereotypes they are being told from top leaders about their loved ones who have left. They are also too often left to believe they have lost their loved ones forever and will not be together in the eternities.
Families are broken apart, lives are shattered. And all for what? The maintenance of deceptions and lies (even if just by omission) that make us personally feel good and at peace in our hearts? The tucking away of uncomfortable facts and data that fearful leaders do not want to see the light of day?
Every con is successful precisely because the deceiver lulls the victim into a position of feeling at peace and comfortable. Despite what leaders of the Mormon church often teach, I believe these emotions are NOT good signs of truth, either to rule it in or rule it out. I learned this on more than one occasion the hard way as a physician in training many years ago (thankfully nobody was hurt in the process). To find literal truth, I believe one must respect where the data leads, even if that means changing one’s paradigms.
Assuming the Mormon church is not actually what it claims to be, how does the Mormon church move forward then? It is clear, at least to me, the Mormon church remains a force for good in many ways. The Mormon church is arguably better at building strong communities than just about any other body on the planet, even if there are shadows to this strength as well. I believe there can be and is nuance in certain areas. I don’t believe anyone can put God in or out of a box. Especially myself. Love, compassion, service… these are all nuanced areas. And I also believe it is possible to frame Mormon scripture through less literal lenses.
But the current concrete, black and white dogmatic literal ways LDS scriptures are predominantly viewed by the Mormon church I don’t believe are sustainable to objective and honest evaluations. Do Latter-day Saints truly value truth?!? Is this truly a core Mormon value?!?
I also believe discriminatory practices that cause harm to many groups the LDS church currently discriminates against as a result of such literal paradigms are also not sustainable and will ultimately change.
I believe major Mormon paradigms are going to have to change if the Mormon church is going to thrive (not just survive) beyond the 21st century.
I have absolutely no fear of the possibility that I may have to stand before the bar of God someday to give an account for my actions and my reasons for leaving the Mormon Church. Doing so has been the hardest most brutal experience of my life. And also the most growth-inducing. If I am to be judged someday before a literal bar of God, I can honestly say I have tried to be honest with myself and with my fellowmen in all matters both before and after I left the Mormon church. I have also tried to have compassion for myself and others in the best ways I’ve known how. I have zero concerns that a loving God will punish me if I am wrong or have been wrong in my thinking. Rather, I think I will be embraced for my heart and my integrity.
I hope the destruction, devastation, and pain that has been experienced by myself as well as others within branches of my own family can heal moving forward. Such is only a small microcosm of what so many others also experience at the hands of dogmatic literalism and a refusal to honestly evaluate facts.
The destructive labels hurled at those who leave Mormonism, the same labels and stereotypes many of my Mormon family and friends never speak out against, are incredibly harmful. Both to those who leave as well as those who stay. This type of narcissistic, dishonest, organizational behavior is toxic.
Frankly, I believe refusing to listen to or truly understand any perspective other than the officially approved perspective of an external authority figure is the antithesis of empathy. And I believe the antithesis of what the love of God is all about.
May God help us all.
Jason Harris lived as an orthodox Mormon for forty years. He writes about his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made, potentially helpful and harmful. He believes there is Divinity in all of them and everywhere.