Many religions are losing adherents to atheism, or people a simply choosing to abandon organized religion. Mormonism is no different. Deseret Book has recently published The Crucible of Doubt by Terryl and Fiona Givens in order to address those Mormons who doubt truth claims made by the church. I liked some of the points that the Givens discussed.
Boring Church (page 42)
We know that the main purpose of Sabbath observance is to partake of the Lord’s Supper. But we sometimes grow frustrated with all the peripherals with all the peripherals. Lessons and talks are to some Mormons what cafeteria food is to teenagers–not just in the way they can be bland and boring, but in the way that they sometimes bring us together in mutual griping rather than mutual edification. But what if we saw lessons and talks as connections to the sacrament rather than as unrelated secondary activities? What if we saw them as opportunities to bear with one another our infirmities and ineptitudes? What if we saw the mediocre talk, the overbearing counselor, the lesson read straight from the manual, as a lay member’s equivalent of the widow’s mite? A humble offering, perhaps, but one to me measured in terms of the capacity of the giver rather than in the value received? And if the effort itself is negligible–well, then the gift is the opportunity given us to exercise patience and mercy. If that sounds too idealistic, if we insist on imposing a higher standard on our co-worshippers, if we insist on measuring our worship service in terms of what we “get out of” the meeting, then perhaps we have erred in our understanding of worship.
Use/Abuse of Scripture (page 49-57)
The root of the word canon suggest a standard of measurement. A canon represents a rule of guide that is authoritative, especially in matters of spiritual life. Church laws ans statutes are part of “canon law,” and by “the canon” we understand a set of holy books.
A cannon is a different thing altogether.
The etymology of cannon refers to a large barrel of tube through which objects are propelled to deadly effect. It can be used offensively or defensively, but it is a weapon, meant to bludgeon unto submission. Some people use the scriptural canon with the first meaning in mind. And some with the second.
Henry VIII saw “cannon” when he read “canon”; he used the scriptures more as a weapon than as a spiritual guide….For reasons of political expediency, it was thought a good idea for Henry, next in line to the throne, to marry his brother’s widow. So the Tudors petitioned the Pope for a dispensation, or an exemption from the rule. The had a useful scripture to suit their purposes: The Deuteronomic law had stipulated that “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die,…her husband’s brother shall…take her to him to wife.” The dispensation was granted, and Henry married Catherine.
Some years later, Henry had tired of his wife….So Henry petitioned the Pope for an annulment. Once again, he found a perfect scripture to suit his purpose. Leviticus 18 had commanded that “thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of they brother’s wife,” which most commentators took to mean, you shall not wed your brother’s widow.
For the next several years, bishops, lawyers, theologians, and king’s counselors furiously contended over the contradictory verses…What is clear amidst the havoc that followed is that the kind was not…using the Bible as a spiritual guide….Cannon, not canon was the operative term….
Some are dismayed that a supposedly loving God is sometimes portrayed in scripture as wrathful, vindictive, and unfair. They might quote verses to their purposed, invoking the Lord’s own words regarding persecutors of the Saints…What kind of God, one might protest, punishes children for unrighteous ancestors? Searching for a God who is merciful and just, others point to verso 20 of the “cursing,” which notes that “they themselves shall be despised by those that flattered them, ” indicating that God is describing the natural consequences of life of perfidy, not acting as an agent of retribution….
These examples suggest that many scriptural contradictions are only apparent, evaporating upon closer or more contextualized reading. But other examples, like those employed by King Henry, are more resistant to reconciliation.
Abrasive Language (page 85-87)
Many readers of Joseph Smith’s First Vision account feel the sting of a wide-net rebuke, with its reference to the Christian creeds as “an abomination” in God’s sight. Harsh to modern ears, however, Smith’s language fits right into his cultural milieu. Religious discourse of prior ages was a vigorous and, by modern standards, shockingly abrasive and nasty hurly-burly of insults and slurs….And so it is no surprise that we should find Martin Luther calling Jews “venomous serpents” and full of “devil’s feces…which they wallow in like swine.” John Knox, father of the Scottish Reformation, called the Catholic Church “a blasphemous beast,” and Calvin wrote that Anabaptists were rightly condemned for their “ravings and slanders.”
In Smith’s own day, one Mr. Edwards of Christ Church attacked Baptists as “notorious seducers” and “Willful abettors of abominable errors.” The Methodists, wrote someone else in early nineteenth century, were “anti-Christians” characterized by “insanity,” “frantic ideas,” and “anti-Christian” delusions….
While Smith’s language was typical of the era, the “abominations” he alluded to were not, contrary to general assumption, in reference to the Catholic creeds. Indeed, Smith felt it was the Protestant creeds that were the root of Christianity’s most lamentable errors….
The colorful language of condemnation in Smith’s account has contributed to a particularly pernicious myth that has had tragic influence on Mormon thinking. This is the notion that Mormonism has a monopoly on the truth, that other churches and traditions have nothing of value to contribute, and that the centuries between the death of the apostles and the events of 1820 were utterly blighted and devoid of truth….the idea of Mormonism’s monopoly and God’s inaction during the pre-Restoration centuries would strike Joseph Smith and the likes of John Taylor as absurd as well.
Recognizing Answers to prayer (p 126)
It is also possible that God’s answers are sometimes too indirect, too oblique, for us to recognize because we are looking for something more palpable. During a relative’s interview upon completing his mission, his president asked if the elder had anything remaining on his mind. “Yes,” he said. “You promised us as new missionaries we could have, upon completing, the spiritual witness that our sacrifice was accepted of the Lords. I have prayed and fasted and worked earnestly for such a confirmation, and I have felt nothing. The heavens have been utterly silent.”
The president heard these words with something close to weariness. “How do you feel about your mission?” he asked.
“I feel great,” the missionary answered. “I have loved the people and the work. I go home knowing I did my best, and feel happy about my two years of service.”
“And you don’t think those feelings are an answer to your prayer? Your problem is you wanted something more dramatic to consume upon your lusts,” the president said.
What do you make of some of the insights of Brother and Sister Givens?
I think concepts like these add timbre to the gospel and soothe some of the dissonance that arises in ongoing Sunday-to-Sunday practice but given the vacuum of these concepts in Q15 talks we must conclude that this is mostly Givens brand of apologetic spin aimed at the soup de jour rather than profound wisdom to live by offered by God. These ideas probably sell a few books as well.
I listened to John Dehlin interview the Givens. I really like most of their insights. However, in order to stay LDS…. they have to make a concerted effort to spin everything that they struggle with into something palatable to keep them in their seat and engaged. I take my hat off to them. It is this form of mental gymnastics that can be the opposite of rest and peace that Christ pleads with us to find when worshiping Him. When I began wrestling with all of these church history and truth issues…. the second I asked myself… what if this isn’t the only true church? … that is when all I’d these doubts and questions became so easily answerable. No more gymnastics… so like many others in my position, the Given’s book is only helpful in finding ways to stay culturally mormon and endure church when there is no true belief in the “one true church” mantra. That’s obviously my take.
There are probably as many perspectives as there are members of the church when it comes to the subject of “doubt”.
I am in the camp where doubt about the claims of the restoration just isn’t possible.
I’m not sure of all the whys and wherefores when it comes to how manifestations of the Spirit are given or withheld, but I’ve received sufficient manifestations where the only concern I have is will I endure to the end faithful to what I know to be true.
I’ve invested a number of hours reading “The Crucible of Doubt” and enjoyed what I read. No doubt it is needed in our day.
However, living prophets and Book of Mormon are the means the Lord has given His followers to gain the companionship of the Holy Ghost from which an authentic testimony is to be acquired.
So I view “The Crucible of Doubt” as a short term remedy to the more serious problem of chronic Spiritual anemia.
In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel
(Doctrine and Covenants | Section 101:8)
I find a fear in the church for being comfortable with “doubt” – more of a doubt your doubts before doubting your beliefs…which is ironic to suggest doubting when there is a phobia of doubt for strong faithful members.
I think many need small nudges, or safe but new views on things. The Givens provide safe thoughts on accepting what seems inevitable…there are real issues that can cause doubts for many.
I think religions, while slowly turning the ship, will find the Givens’ approach to be acceptable, given the need for the population to accept reality as opposed to sticking heads in the sand.
But religions will continue on to try to inspire people to have faith and believe because most need something like that in a world full of difficulties and tribulation…and many just want to hope for things.
The mental gymnastics get easier when there is less resistance to it.
“It is this form of mental gymnastics that can be the opposite of rest and peace that Christ pleads with us to find when worshiping Him.”
Amen to that.
Re: “Abrasive Language:” I always thought it was the Lord who declare the churches were an abomination. Am I to understand that it was actually Joseph who said that, and it was mostly hyperbole–the language of the times?
“A humble offering, perhaps, but one to me measured in terms of the capacity of the giver rather than in the value received?”
I appreciate the attempt to turn lemons into lemonade, but the church will continue to have low activity rates as long as the meetings are of poor quality. For most, I suspect, church just isn’t edifying. Blaming the victim isn’t a useful strategy.
I’m happy with ‘humble offerings’, given that some of them are mine.I’m a pretty busy person, and whatever else I do has to take second place to the three very sick people in my family for whom I care, and my work that houses us. I often know a little of the lives of those who serve me on a Sunday. None of them have any kind of theological background, and are often not graduates of seminary let alone institute, most of them are not tertiary educated. Sundays are often boring to me, and I particularly dislike General Conference. But I know nothing of general authorities private lives, so I tend to cut them a little less slack, also I don’t know what else they do other than serve the church.
But at church on Sunday, I read what people do. That inspires me.
Thanks for the brief MH. I’d like to read more Givens. I’ve been slowly working my way through People of Paradox, which is also about doubt, inasmuch as these paradoxes are what create the doubts. I should read this book, but it seems like Givens is trying to resolve the paradoxes in The Crucible of Doubt, when really, there is no satisfactory resolution. For example, Parker rightfully pointed out that the abrasive language doesn’t come from Joseph Smith. It comes from The Lord. You can’t soften the abrasive language without diminishing the belief in the revelation. Instead, you have to embrace a God who is both abrasive and soothing.
Yes, it is a bit “mental gymnastics.” But there is a reason why philosophers and thinkers have been engaging in mental gymnastics for thousands of years. Life demands it. Life is full of contradiction and paradox, and there are no easy answers. Leaving the church will not resolve anything. You can ignore contradictions, but they still exist. Some people aren’t bothered by them. But many are, and for them, mental gymnastics are inevitable.
It is fall in Utah, where I live.
I appreciate the variety I see in the leaves as they fall. For instance, some fall fast, while others linger longer, even on into and throughout winter. Even for the same tree, I’d guess that there is a statistical curve representing times of falling.
One reason I like the falling-leaf phenomenon is because it is quite noticeable and indicative of all of nature, of God’s creation. I haven’t read the Givens’s *Crucible*, if I ever get to it. (At my age, who knows?) But from reviews and comments that I’ve read here and other places, my impression is that the work simply tries to present their own personal variety of coping with a fall and winter for the deciduous, that is, for those who would fall off or shed faith at a specific season.
I suppose I should bring up here, too, the evergreens that I see in my neighborhood. They have green leaves or needles (sticky things they can be) throughout the year, shedding old foliage only after new forms.
In any event, spring comes and there will be new growth. This, it seems, is a book with a couple of needles’ (or, perhaps, leaves’) — I’m not going into variety in a specific needle or leaf — ideas about dealing with the seasons of faith.
Hi Heber13. It’s me Rsbenson. Rich is shorter to write and it’s what I’ve always gone by but the StayLDS computer wouldn’t let me use it.
I applaud, very much, what has been said about who used the abusive language. It was God – not Joseph Smith. That makes a gigantic difference – unless you don’t believe he really saw and talked to God. Well, I believe it – very much. That belief, in me, shovels a lot of waste out of the way. I’m also a doctrine person. One of the doctrines taught in the Standard Works of the Church teaches that the keys of the Priesthood were restored to earth to Joseph Smith and that these are passed down from leader to leader. I also believe that – very much. So…where’s doubt? It’s swept out with the garbage.
I remember attending a High Priests group lesson once and I said to them something to the effect that if I were at a General Conference and all at once the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles started passing around a 1/5 of whiskey and a block of chewing tobacco that, after the shock of the situation settled, I would realize that such a situation doesn’t phase, in the least, the truthfulness of the fact that this is the Lord’s church.. The keys of the priesthood are with them until God takes them away when He sees fit to do that. Where does that leave us? Something like this. God knows where God goes and, sometimes, He doesn’t stop to tell the monkeys. Don’t worry, He’ll get around to us.
Doubt?? What’s that?
Rich, what I hear you say is that there is nothing a man can do to be considered a false prophet? As long as you believe he is a prophet, he is one regardless, and can’t be fallen..??? That’s a scary and slippery slope. Ask the Heavens Gate cult or the Branch Dividians how unquestioned faith worked for them. Over 150 years of black people couldn’t receive the priesthood nor be sealed in the temple and enjoy temple blessings because of JS and BY racism. This continued until the Late 1970s. Then the current church prophet and apostles said these “theories” and “explanations” are not and never were doctrinal. So following a prophet blindly had real spiritual consequences for 150 years for black people. That’s one example of many from polygyny, polygamy, polyandry , BofA translation debacle….Rich, I guess what I’m saying is… feel free to believe what you will, heck, I’m still mormon but I can no longer believe in a modern prophet. By their fruits ye shall know them. The list of fruits I just mentioned tell me everything.
Terryl and Fiona:
Where did you learn to use language in that way? Beautiful put – theologically wonderful. It was like there was a self-judgement after each sentence and for me it was guilty, guilty, guilty,etc..
I don’t care what the prophet’s hangups are. As long as God has talked to him, and I know that (and I do) that’s all that matters. Other followers of other prophets are going to have to take care of themselves.
“feel free to believe what you will, heck, I’m still mormon but I can no longer believe in a modern prophet. By their fruits ye shall know them. The list of fruits I just mentioned tell me everything.”
I’m LDS also and the fruits of our leaders along with the fruits of all the leaders of other faiths don’t tell me anything. I may not even know what they are. God has all ready told me what I need to know.