As explained last week, some critics claim that Latter-day Saints reject reason and rationale in favor of “emotion” when forming and maintaining their testimonies. I noted that if members followed the counsel of the scriptures, their testimonies would be based on what their heart and mind tell them is true. Spiritual impressions are much more than mere emotions.
I also pointed out that, ironically, many critics (especially the more vocal and angry critics) reject the restored gospel for emotional reasons as well.
Scientists have known for many years that all people rely on emotion when making important decisions. In a 2006 study by Emory University, for instance, committed Democrats and Republicans both generally relied on emotion rather than reason when evaluating information that challenged their political views.
When brain activity was measured from test subjects who were asked to evaluate negative information, researchers found that the emotional centers of the brain (rather than the reasoning centers) were more predominately engaged.
Once the test subjects “had come to conclusions that fit their underlying beliefs — essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted — the brain circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust were turned off, while the circuits involved in behavior reward were strongly activated,” almost like what is “seen when addicts get a dose of a drug.” As one of the researchers explained, everyone from politicians to scientists reasons with emotionally based judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret the “facts” (cited in "Shaken Faith Syndrome," 6-7).
Although members who leave the faith do so for a variety of reasons, it’s accurate to say that a number of those who leave the church are precipitated by emotional reasons — such as pride, feeling offended, feeling that God did not follow through on expected promises, or even feelings of betrayal (more on this in a later issue). When a member leaves for emotional reasons they often try to sustain their decision with intellectual “evidences.”
Several critics who write contra-LDS material, for example, began their journey out of the church for emotional reasons. One critic’s marriage fell apart, and he wondered how God could allow this to happen. Another critic lost faith when a close friend was tragically killed, and he couldn’t understand how a loving God would have allowed it.
Once they were hurt emotionally and formed emotion-based reasons for their belief that God didn’t exist, they began looking for intellectual ammo to support their already-determined conclusions. As one critic wrote:
“I left before I knew of any historical issues. I left because I didn’t want to worship a God with such an ego that He demanded worship, and needed so many silly rituals and ordinances. … I also didn’t like the idea of a God who would speak directly to old white guys and not me.”
In a 2008 FAIR blog, I quoted several ex-Mormon critics and how their emotional distaste for the church could outweigh any evidential support for the church. Some ex-members frankly bragged to each other that no amount of secular evidence or proof could convert them back to the church.
Because they have already decided that the church isn’t true, all evidence in favor of Mormonism is discounted, brushed away, twisted or ignored. Their emotional conclusions help guide their interpretation of all data as evidence which dismisses Mormonism.
A few weeks ago I stated that some critics would reject the church even if there was indisputable proof that it was true. While this statement may seem like mere hyperbole, the fact is that according to a 2001 informal poll of nearly 400 ex-Mormons, more than half said “nothing” could open the door for their return to Mormonism regardless of any new information that could come forth (cited in "Shaken Faith Syndrome," 13).
It’s ironic to see that some ex-members and critics who claim to reject the church for purely intellectual reasons actually dismiss LDS intellectual arguments with the wave of a hand for non-intellectual reasons. The simple truth is, there are often complex factors involved with “belief.”
Michael R. Ash is on the management team for FAIR (the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research FAIRLDS.org) and is the author of "Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One's Testimony In the Face of Criticism and Doubt" (ShakenFaithSyndrome.com) and "Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith" (OfFaithandReason.com). Michael's column, "Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith," appears Mondays on MormonTimes.com.
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