Why do we believe what we believe? Within the past few months I’ve had family members leave the LDS Church, friends and family who were struggling with their testimonies, and countless encounters with persons on this blog who have told me why they’ve left the Church, why they’ve stayed in it despite not having testimonies of it, why they’ve stayed in it and why they have a testimony, etc. Is it because these people have been exposed to different information? Have they had different experiences? Certainly we all have different experiences and are exposed to different information, but is that the reason for why they believe so differently?
In my own life information has made a big difference. As I’ve read, studied, and discussed matters regarding the LDS Church, Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, etc. with others, I have gained much in the way of understanding, and my perspective on a number of things has changed.
Experiences have also changed me. Going through an LDS temple changed me. Serving as a full-time missionary in Brazil for two years changed me. Getting married and having kids changed me. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that these experiences served as catalysts for me to effect changes in my life.
But why is it that people can be exposed to similar experiences and information and then diverge onto wildly different paths? We see this in war, where some participants who may have seemed similar before become more humble, peaceful, and introspective after enduring the hardships of war, whereas others become more hardened, stubborn, and violent. The story of Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place, comes to mind, as well as that of Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl came to the conclusion that nobody could be completely controlled, that at the core of every man there was still the freedom to choose one’s response to any external influence. Of course we may still be influenced by external stimuli, but we are not helpless.
I would put forth that it is the same in matters of faith. We are not forced to believe what we believe, although external stimuli certainly plays a role, but ultimately we choose to believe whatever it is we believe.
“But,” you might say, “the vast majority just believe what they’re taught. Just look at how people who are born Catholic, or Jewish, or Mormon grow up to believe what they’ve been taught.” Yes, that external influence is there, and in many cases it is quite strong, but people still have their choice. The LDS religion is fairly small, with roughly 14 million members, and yet another 300,000 or so people join the religion each year. And plenty leave the LDS faith each year as well. I would assume there is a fair amount of movement in and out of other religions as well.
I won’t speculate further on other religions, but when it comes to Mormonism the big question is whether it is a true religion or a false religion. Those who believe it is false hold as evidence the many crazy sounding things that Mormons believe in. Those who believe it is true claim to have received communication from God telling them it is true. The problem is that neither side seems to be able to prove their point.
Actually, this is more of a problem for “anti-Mormons” than Mormons. Mormons don’t (or at least shouldn’t) feel any pressure to prove to anyone else that Mormonism is true. From the Mormon perspective, this life is a test, and part of that test is to see what we will do when we are free to choose. In order to be free in this life, we can’t be sure what’s real. It wouldn’t be hard for God to just tell us everything. He could send an angel flying around to the major news programs, or any number of things. But if we knew with 100% certainty that there is a God, that the LDS Church is His church, that the Book of Mormon is true, etc., then it wouldn’t be that hard to know which church to join, would it? There’s more to the test than that, of course, but the point is that if God told us everything straight out, we’d all pass the test, not because we freely chose to do what He wants us to do, but because we knew exactly what we needed to do, and the horrible consequences of not doing it. This would take away a major part of what life is all about and would cause one to wonder what the purpose of life is anyway. Instead, we’re given just enough such that we’re left in doubt, but we have the opportunity to pursue God’s will if we like what little is revealed to us. And God has provided a way for each of us to prove to ourselves that we’re on the right path. He communicates with us, and thus while we cannot prove to anyone else what is true when it comes to religion, we can quite easily prove it to ourselves.
But anti-Mormons are indeed in a bit of a sticky situation. They are trying to prove that the LDS Church is false. But their only evidence is that there is nothing to prove that the LDS Church is true. Which actually isn’t even true at all, since as I mentioned, anyone can find out if the Church is true merely by asking God. There just isn’t anything out there that proves the Church to be true in an objective fashion that everyone. What anti-Mormons demand is absolute proof, undeniable proof, proof that cannot be disputed. But why should God provide such proof? It would ruin a large part of His plan, and do no good for anyone.
In truth, anti-Mormons exercise more faith than Mormons do. Mormons have an answer from God that the Church is true. Anti-Mormons have no answer from God that the LDS Church is false. Oh, I know they think they do, but it’s all subjective, circumstantial, etc. and none of what I’ve found or what has been presented to me , individually or collectively, proves anything regarding the truth of LDS doctrine. If anti-Mormons hold Mormons at fault for not having undeniable proof of the truth of Mormonism, then by their own logic they must also fault themselves, since they have not given any proof of the falseness of Mormonism that cannot be denied. Their belief that Mormonism is false is their religion, their faith, in that they act upon their belief in the hope it is true although they do not possess the proof of their hope.
Ultimately anti-Mormons believe what they believe, that the LDS Church is false, because they want it to be false. It is a choice. It is not that they have been forced to this conclusion, although they may feel this way. The forces that have influenced them in coming to this conclusion may be strong, and from their perspective completely logical. Some ex-Mormons have been abused by Church leaders, or have seen Church leaders, friends, spouses, or family members who were hypocrites. Hearing their stories, I do not wonder at their leaving the Church, and I am often impressed that they do not have more negative feelings towards the Church. But this does not mean they have no choice in the matter, only that the choice may be a significantly difficult one to make one way, while quite easy to make the other.
None of this is intended to cause contention, nor is it a means of judging those who believe Mormonism is false. As I started above, many who believe Mormonism is false are making the only rational judgment that can be made based on the information they have at hand. If I were missing a key part of the information I have, an answer from God, and I were left to nothing more than common sense, logic, and Occam’s Razor, I might very well think Mormonism were the biggest scam around. And while belief is a choice, it is not an easy choice, and I’m positive God will take every point into consideration. In the final judgment, I would not be at all surprised to see some who are today quite virulent anti-Mormons coming out quite well, while some who are today quite active members of the LDS Church faring rather poorly.
My intent is to show honest truth-seekers that they cannot rely upon any man, book, or website to convince them what is true. They may use these sources to gather information, but they cannot know whether that information is correct by any means other than by asking God and receiving communication from him.
The good news is that we are in control of our destinies. Nobody can force us to heaven or hell. We will end up where we want to be based on our choices.