Mormon doubts? Let's talk about them

From October 10 to November 7, we'll be discussing this book each Friday here on the blog.

From October 10 to November 7, we'll be discussing this book each Friday here on the blog.

We've had some constructive discussions on this blog in the past about the role of doubt in faith, particularly in Mormonism. The Church has taken great steps forward recently to destigmatize doubt and doubters. (God bless you, Dieter Uchtdorf.)

But we've also had some terrible shut-downs here too, with people fighting, fighting, fighting over disputed points of doctrine or practice, or accusing each other of apostasy.

We don't yet have a lot of constructive examples in Mormonism of how to talk about doubt.

For example, I remember a time not so long ago when the "I Have a Question" section of The Ensign felt more like a parody than a satisfactory Q&A. The official answer was often something along the lines of, "That question [DNA and the Book of Mormon/seer stones/birth control] has already been resolved to your betters' satisfaction and it's not your place to ask. Aren't we blessed to know the truth?"

And even now, I get emails from readers telling me that their bishop has taken away their temple recommend or calling just for asking questions or raising doubts. These leaders see doubt as a contagious infection, a contaminant to be eliminated from the rainbow-and-unicorn world of the Saints.

But for anyone who has ever struggled with doubt (raising my hand) and been disappointed when those doubts are met with either inadequate platitudes or fearful reprisal (raising my hand even higher), here's a thread of hope to latch onto: the thoughtful discussions Terryl and Fiona Givens have offered on doubt in the last few years.

Now, their long-awaited book has come out on the same topic -- from Deseret Book, no less, which tells me that the Church is concerned about addressing doubt and doubters in a more loving and thoughtful way.

And, yay! We're going to read it together here on the blog.

Starting October 10 (next Friday) and continuing for five Fridays through early November, we'll be reading the book together in chunks and discussing it. You can buy your copy from Amazon or Deseret Book.  For next week, focus on reading pages 1 to 36.

And I've assembled a crack team of featured commenters to help make sure our conversations are constructive, thoughtful, and not filled with the argumentative remarks that characterize too many online discussions of religion:

  • Samuel Brown
  • Robert Couch
  • Kristine Haglund
  • Heather Hardy
  • Emily Jensen
  • Brandt Malone
  • Mitch Mayne
  • Rosalynde Welch
  • Dan Wotherspoon

We hope to see you here next week, adding your thoughts on the book and the weekly topics alongside these excellent folks. But I'm warning you now: if you try to use those Friday discussions to call other people apostates, make it clear that you alone are in possession of the One True Answer that everyone else needs to bow down to, or pick your nose in any other way here on this blog, your comment will be deleted.

I'm upping the game for this discussion.

Because what we say about doubt, and how we say it, is that important.

All the posts in this series on doubt:

  • Kickoff here: Mormon doubts? Let's talk about them
  • Chapters 1 & 2 discussion here: How do Mormons deal with doubt?
  • Chapters 2 & 4 here: "I know the Church is true" and other Mormon muddles
  • Chapters 5 & 6 here: The dangers of idolizing Mormon prophets
  • Chapters 7 & 8 here: Mormonism as "the only true and living church"
  • Chapters 9 to 11 here: Staying Mormon when God is silent




  1. Sounds like fun, though I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to contribute. But some of us will be buying this for the Amazon Kindle, could we get the reading assignment by location number?

  2. I’m in. Looking forward to reading and discussing.

  3. I “doubt” I could find a better topic to discuss, but I am working on that doubt! 🙂

  4. Jana,
    I’m showing my age and/or IQ.
    I get your Facebook posts on my news feed.
    It had a link to this, your blog.
    I’d love to read the book and be part of this. How do I find the blog? Is there a web address?
    Oh, sorry to show such ignorance.

  5. Barbara, no worries. All of my blog posts are linked from Facebook, so you can continue getting the updates that way. Or, to make it easier for you, you can subscribe to the blog at the top right corner. That way you will get an email alert each time there is a new post, and you can click through on the ones that interest you.

  6. Good question. I have a print copy and not the Kindle version, so I will not know the location numbers, but I can certainly tell you which chapters the page numbers refer to. For next week we are reading the introduction, chapter 1 and chapter 2. Glad you can participate.

  7. If I can sneak the book away when my husband isn’t reading it, I’ll join in 🙂

  8. Thanks for posting the chapters to read vs. the page numbers 🙂 I love this book and these authors’ voices!!! I’ve got the audio version of the book until my backordered version of the hard copy arrives (in Germany via military post). I did the same with the Givens’ prior book too because in my season of young motherhood of a growing brood, my hands free reading time is severely limited. I’m glad you’re doing this discussion – now to find you on FB!

  9. Hooray! I am IN! I’ve been looking for places to discuss what the Givens have written. Thank you! Thank you for taking this topic with such serious importance, and for recruiting thoughtful & intelligent contributors. It is not an overstatement to say that my family (both extended and nuclear) has been fractured – almost ruined – by black and white attitudes toward the Church (both in and out), and by reactions of fear and defensiveness toward doubt and questioning. This needs to change or we will keep seeing droves of people leaving the church – and families hideously divided (sometimes irreconcilably so).

  10. Jana – I am so excited about this. I will try to join in. I will be recovering from surgery so I may only be able to read comments in my post medicated delirium, but I will give it my best.

  11. I am new to this blog. What time will this start?

  12. Hopefully in this book they will discuss the issue of the restored gospel, being called into question as a result of it being discovered that the Book of Abraham was translated from an ancient Egyptian funerary papyrus and in a recent Meridian Magazine article being told that Joseph Smith rarely refered to the golden plates in writing the Book of Mormon.

  13. Here’s an idea: read the book then you’ll have some basis to comment on it.

  14. Ordering a copy now – looking forward to the discussion.

    BTW, very glad to see your qualifiers for a productive, civil discussion. We have so much to gain from each other – but only when respectful dialogue is observed.

  15. I once read an article in the Deseret News by a person testifying on how the Book of Mormon had changed their life and brought them to the LDS. I wrote a response asking, “How can you trust a book that has been changed/edited over 4,000 times.” My comment was not published. Instead I got a note from the editor saying that my comment did not meet their editorial policies. If Mormons can’t handle the lightest of criticisms, legitimate criticisms, they deserve no place at the table in serious religious discussions

  16. I’ve read the book and it’s primarily philosophical in nature. It very briefly mentions a few peripheral issues, but does not substantively address them or try to resolve them. For example, I don’t recall the Book of Abraham issues being mentioned… so if it was there, then the coverage wasn’t memorable. Instead, it focuses on a broader mindset to look at the issues “differently” (metaphorically, metaphysically, etc). That approach may work for some folks (and if so, I’m happy for them), but for folks like me who give emphasis on facts and how they tangibly relate to the world around us, it didn’t address those at all.

  17. Phil – first, I’ve never heard the ‘4,000 times edited’ claim, but I can see how a fair number of edits would be required since the book was first translated. I will say that 4,000 is hugely subjective (if accurate) and that simply arranging a book for publication requires many edits for context, abbreviation, etc. Question: the book was first published in the 1800’s in a very small print shop – how can anyone accurately claim to know the number of edits made to the work?

    Second, most of us count the Bible as canonical – anyone care to guess at the number of edits attached to that book?

  18. The KJV Bible has gone through over 100,000 changes. Modern “new translations” have gone through many more. Most people who repeat the “Book of Mormon has been changed 4000 times” are (1) ignorant of these facts, (2) have no idea what’s actually changed in the Book of Mormon (I’m familiar with every one of those changes, and I’d have no problem reading an original edition).

  19. Wow, to be in a ‘book club’ with Jana! You don’t get an opportunity like that every day!

    Is this book dealing with ‘doubt’ about unique Mormon teachings, or more general Christian/faith doubts? Would this book be of interest to your general Christian readers, or is it likely to connect only with you Mormon readers?

  20. Hi Dave:
    I’m a Christian, but not a Mormon, and I likes Jana’s writing and thoughts, and read several of her books and her more general blog-posts.

    I’ve seen you post a number of times here.
    I would like to challenge you to look at the issues you are discussing from a different viewpoint. The arguments you make to Mormons are exactly the same types of arguments that atheists make to us, and which don’t resonate with us at all: pointing out some relatively minor inconsistencies or historical inaccuracies in scripture calls into question one’s whole belief system about the universe, and mankind. What atheists don’t understand is that small details about whether or not there was a flood, whether or not a guy named Noah made a really big boat, makes no difference to your faith or my faith: our faith is so much bigger than that. In the same way, a Mormon’s faith is far bigger than another boat story about whether a guy named Nephi made a really big boat. Many critics of Christianity, or Mormonism, make the same mistake: looking at the details, rather than the major themes of faith, and the fruit of that faith. What matters is that we believe in a God, who created us in his/her image, who wants us to live in relationship with us, who came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ so that all who believe in him, who repent and attempt to live by his words, to love justice and mercy, will be resurrected live forever with God. That’s the essence, IMO, of Christianity, and from my limited understanding, Mormon branch too (its certainly the essence of the Book of Mormon).

    Yes, as Protestant, I have seen a few things I am pretty uncomfortable with. Yes, the idea of the ‘Great Apostasy’, that Protestants and Catholics are all apostates who preach a false gospel, and some of the things that Joseph Smith said about us, are hurtful. But, I don’t think Jana and many of her readers feel this way.
    Mormons are not our ‘opponent’. Our ‘opponent’ is a worldview that rejects God, a worldview that believes that man is the center of the universe, that we are here only to enjoy ourselves as much as we can, no matter the cost to anyone else.

  21. It’s difficult to reconcile this with the definition given by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in Mormon Doctrine – specifically the part about sin (“failure to keep the commandments”) as being the source of doubt:


    Where the gospel is concerned, doubt is an inclination to disbelieve the truths of salvation, a hesitancy to accept the revealed will of the Lord; it is a state of uncertainty in mind with reference to the doctrines of the gospel. Faith and belief are of God; doubt and skepticism are of the devil.

    There is no excuse for not knowing and believing true principles for the Lord has ordained the way whereby all may come to a knowledge of the truth. Doubt comes from failure to keep the commandments. “O then despise not, and wonder not, but hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.” (Morm. 9:27; Matt. 21:21.)

    There are even more damning and explicit quotes from Brigham Young on this topic, but I’ll spare repeating them here.

    Maybe the church is now moving further away from the perspective of Elder McConkie at the time of writing Mormon Doctrine. But it would work wonders to have the brethren (today) encourage more open discussion and not label doubters. Even during conference last weekend, there still seems to only be oblique references to doubting without substantive dialogue and openness on the specific issues. There is an elephant in the room on many topics which needs acknowledgement – more than just unadvertised and watered-down essays.

  22. While the book is full of LDS references, I think Christians my benefit from many of the ideas expressed about doubt and faith.

  23. Author

    Yikes. Thanks for posting this blast from the not-too-distant past.

    Well, our conversation “of the devil” begins tomorrow. I’ll be sure to quote from this so we can see how far we all have come from the dark days of McConkie . . .

  24. Author

    Jeff, sorry I’m delayed in replying. Glad you can be part of the book club! There are some things in the “Crucible of Doubt” that are going to be Mormon-specific (like BH Roberts having to revise his cultural understanding of the Book of Mormon a century ago), but there are many other aspects that would be broadly applicable to non-Mormon readers. . . How people of faith deal with doubt (or try to stamp it down in fear), how we can integrate doubt into living faith, why we all experience seasons when the heavens seem closed and our prayers go unanswered.

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