SANDY — It used to be you had to go out of your way to find anti-Mormon material.

"Now, how many members (of the LDS Church) that are doing research for a lesson or a talk stumble across it on the Internet?" wondered Mike Ash, author of "Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One's Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt."

Ash was speaking to a crowd of about 320 people at the 10th Annual Mormon Apologetics Conference presented by the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research on Thursday at the South Towne Exposition Center.

By "syndrome," Ash doesn't mean a disease, but a pattern of reacting to information.

"LDS-critical material can and has shaken the faith of Latter-day Saints," he said. "It has killed testimonies, has damaged testimonies to the point of near death."

Doubt is not a sin, according to Ash. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is wide enough to hold many people, even those with serious doubts.

"It seems that those who are prone to fundamentalist, dogmatic or closed-minded perspectives about the gospel or early LDS history are more likely to suffer from shaken-faith syndrome when they encounter challenging issues," Ash said.

Conflicting information may cause cognitive dissonance, Ash said. People respond to the discomfort by making a decision either for or against the church. While some Latter-day Saints are dogmatic about their beliefs, so too are church critics, who refuse to believe anything counter to their impressions despite new information, he said.

A person may have a preconceived notion of what type of clothes Joseph Smith wore or what he looked like. Learning that he wore different clothes or looked different would create cognitive dissonance, but probably would not cause a lot of emotional turmoil because the issue is not that "weighty."

"It probably would matter, however, if you discovered information that implied that Joseph Smith was a fraud or delusional or that the Book of Mormon was merely fiction," Ash said. "Each person assigns different levels of importance or weight to their various beliefs."

People attempt to resolve conflicting thoughts in various ways. They may reject the new information as false, reject it as unimportant, reject the original belief in favor of the new information or find additional information that reinforces the original belief.

Trusting and understanding new information may not be as important in the process as how an individual feels about the gospel, he said.

According to Ash, problems come from the "fundamentalist mind-set" that makes members more vulnerable to testimony damage. Some testimonies are based on "sandy foundations," such as folklore, traditions or family pressure. But even stalwart members can leave the church. "Nobody is completely immune," Ash said.

The most common factors that lead people to apostasy include "unrealistic expectations of prophets, confusing tradition with doctrine, imposing our (modern) views on (ancient cultures) and unrealistic expectations of science and scholarship."

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