Mormons navigate faith and doubt in the digital age

Published: Friday, July 26 2013 8:50 a.m. MDT

Some have asked for that trouble — and found it. During the 2012 Sunstone Symposium, Don Bradley, an editor and researcher specializing in Mormonism and author of the soon-to-be-published "The Lost 116 Pages: Rediscovering the Book of Lehi," described his journey out of and back into the LDS Church. He described a time in his life during which he came to rely more on intellectual processes than spiritual processes while studying the early history of the church and especially the life and teachings of Joseph Smith.

“Spiritual inquiry wasn’t an objective discipline,” Bradley said. “There were too many unpredictable variables — like God — that couldn’t be worked into a systematic methodology. But intellectual inquiry could always be worked into a systematic method. It was therefore easier to trust and rely upon the intellectual than the spiritual.”

And so, like Sampson pushing on the pillars to bring a building crashing down, Bradley said that historical evidence became the pillars of his faith, and by pushing on those pillars “I brought down my faith on myself.”

After leaving the church he explored a number of different faith possibilities but could never find peace and fulfillment in any of them. When his beloved brother died a few years ago, he said he “reopened the question of whether God revealed theological truth.”

Eventually his pursuit led him back to the LDS Church. He took all of the historical evidence that he had allowed to damage his testimony and re-examined it through the eye of faith and gained “new insights” — and new faith. He has since been re-baptized as a Latter-day Saint.

“It would be wrong to think that I am unaware of the weaknesses of the Mormon subculture,” he said. “But I pay no mind to them because they are not the basis of my faith. I came back focused on everything that is ‘virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,’ and determined to nourish the wheat until it choked the tares.”

Today he is continuing his research into Mormonism’s past, but he finds that “digging into Mormon history is ultimately favorable to faith.”

“The central claim of Mormonism is not that God spoke to a fallible human being in 1820,” Bradley said. “The central claim is that God can and will talk to fallible human beings today. When we reach out to him, we will find his hand reaching out toward us, waiting.”

And that, according to Givens, is the kind of faith that can absorb doubt — and be enhanced by it.

“Faith can’t operate in a vacuum, which is presumably why LDS scripture (instructs) the addition of study and use of ‘the best books’ to build faith,” he said. “If God is a being of light and intelligence, then belief in Him and His workings must be reasonable. At the same time, there is good reason to doubt the human capacity to fully grasp the Divine rationally, to understand history completely, or to always intuit human motives accurately. Faith must always have a role to play in human relations with the Divine, and with whatever institution we take to be His church.”

And patience with each other, Elder Holland said, should always come into play with regards to faith and doubt among members of the church.

“Be kind regarding human frailty — your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a church led by volunteer, mortal men and women,” Elder Holland said last April. “Except in the case of his only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to him, but he deals with it. So should we.”

The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) conference, which runs Aug. 1-2 at the Utah Valley Convention Center, is intended to provide "information and answers needed to faithfully deal with criticisms leveled against the church and gospel," according to FAIR's website.

The purposes of the Sunstone Symposium, which runs July 31-Aug. 3 at the University of Utah, include "gain(ing) insights that can come only from rigorous examination of Mormon doctrine and culture from insider and outsider perspectives," according to the symposium's schedule.

Email: jwalker@desnews.com

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