Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormons aren’t alone in feeling devastated when people leave

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” When Mormons Doubt: A Way to Save by Jon Ogden.

In this guest post, author Jon Ogden draws from his new book When Mormons Doubt: A Way to Save Relationships and Seek a Quality Life, available today. (And only $4.99 on the Kindle.)

Jon says the book is for:

  1. Mormons who want to better understand a family member or friend whose beliefs have changed;
  2. Unorthodox or former Mormons who are looking for ways to talk about their transition with believing family members and friends; and
  3. People who are experiencing a Mormon faith crisis and wondering where to turn.

I have read part of the book and appreciate its warm, nonjudgmental tone, as well as his willingness to draw upon positive examples outside of the Mormon fold for models of how relationships can be preserved even when one person changes in religious belief. As he puts it, “internalizing stories from other communities helps us develop humility, empathy, and love.” — JKR

 

Jon Ogden

Jon Ogden

Jon Ogden

A guest post by Jon Ogden

A Catholic family in Utah adopted a baby boy.

The boy’s parents raised him inside the Catholic faith. The spiritual nature of his upbringing resonated strongly with him, and he aspired to the priesthood even as a boy.

Then he fell in love with a Mormon girl.

As their courtship progressed, he assumed he would easily convert her to Catholicism. At the same time, she assumed she would convert him to Mormonism.

As it turned out, she was right. When he was old enough to no longer require his parents’ consent, he was baptized as a Mormon. His family was devastated. It has been decades since his baptism, and his parents are still hurt by his decision to convert from Catholicism to Mormonism.

This story, from a Mormon who lives in my stake, is universal. It’s the story told in Fiddler on the Roof as Tevye, a Jewish man, watches in sorrow as his youngest daughter leaves his faith to marry a Christian. It’s the story told by Carolyn Jessop in her book Escape when, after fleeing with her eight kids from Warren Jeffs’ polygamist sect, she is pained to see her oldest daughter decide to return to polygamy.

There are millions of similar stories — some more extreme and heart wrenching, some less so. But they each have one thing in common. In every case, when people reject the traditions of their loved ones, their loved ones feel pain.

That’s the way it’s always been. Breaking from tradition is the world’s second-oldest tradition.

Unfortunately, there is a temptation to think that because your child or spouse (or even your parent) left your tradition, your life is a failure. You failed to keep someone you love in the fold. Maybe you blame yourself for not being faithful enough.

And yet everyone knows that leaving a tradition isn’t inherently bad. Somewhere in your ancestry someone broke from tradition to give you the traditions you enjoy today. And all sorts of people — Mormons especially — get excited when they see someone leave another tradition to join their own.

If we’re not careful, what we call truth is merely that which has been repeated often enough to make us feel comfortable.

This is why nearly everyone’s default worldview is the one we were born into.

The French writer Michel Montaigne noted this phenomenon as he visited different countries throughout Europe. People in each country seemed to believe without question that they had the truth and that their customs were the best in the world. Montaigne wrote, “There is always the perfect religion, there the perfect government, there the most exact and accomplished usage of all things.”

In other words, tradition blinds us with its comforts and familiarity. As the behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman once said, “Familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.”

I sometimes ask myself what my life would be like if I’d been born in another country. If I’d been born in Afghanistan or Japan, would I still be Mormon? Likely not. Instead, I would probably be a Muslim or a Buddhist, respectively.

Or say that I was born in the same place (Utah), but 500 years before. In that case, I would have likely been raised as part of a Native American tribe, with their traditions and beliefs. As a child I would have claimed my conviction that those traditions were true.

Chances are, you would have done the same.

Knowing this should open up a wellspring of humility within us. Whenever someone disagrees with our beliefs, we should remember just how much our beliefs are a result of the context we were raised in. As we internalize this fact we can be filled with love even for those whose beliefs suddenly differ from our own.

Finally, we can also recognize that when our love for other people depends on their beliefs, our love by definition is conditional. What a tragedy it would be to let our religious convictions break apart the relationships that our happiness hinges upon right now. We can’t afford it. As Mark Twain said, “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”


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About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

21 Comments

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  • Very nice post, Jon. Quite insightful. Though I sincerely hope you make enough money from the sale of your book that you’ll be able to afford a better personal photograph. 🙂

  • “Breaking from tradition is the world’s second-oldest tradition.”

    1 Peter 1:18, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;”
    I broke from the tradition of Mormonism, but it wasn’t because I was tired of the tradition and wanted something new. It was because there came a time in my life when I heard the Gospel and came to faith in Jesus Christ, the Jesus of the Scriptures. And not long after God revealed to me through His Word that the teachings and doctrines of Mormonism were lies. The Jesus of Mormonism is a counterfeit. Joseph Smith was a false prophet (and anyone who uses God’s way to determine whether or not a person is a prophet sent by Him would discover this). And the gospel of Mormonism is a false gospel…it cannot save anyone from the judgment of God that is sure to come. Mormonism is definitely a tradition to break away from.
    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  • As a life-time Mormon raised in Texas where I was the only Mormon and therefore defended my faith rigorously (not obnoxiously though) I’m fascinated by your take on the LDS faith. When I first saw your articles, usually picked up by Real Clear Religion, I thought you were on the verge of apostasy, but after reading more articles, I’ve come to the opinion that you serve a much-needed purpose. You speak for so many who have a different view of the church than I do, and therefore you’re a force to be reckoned with. I hasten to add a good force because you are not afraid of addressing important issues regarding faith, helping me to better understand the struggles of those whom God loves just as much as He does me. In my role as missionary, and later in many other callings, including bishop, and in my own family and the family of my wife I’ve seen those who question and those who “drift away.” My heart hurts for them. Your article helps me realize how those of other faiths have the same genuine feelings for their loved ones when they decide to join the LDS religion. Thank you.

  • Lies? How can a bitter font give sweet water? I was brought up LDS but for many years lived where there were very few members of my faith. My friends from other Christian faiths invited me often to their churches. I enjoyed the things I heard both from the pulpit and from the classroom. We remain friends to this day. But my humble faith increased from what I observed and felt. I have been extremely happy to remain LDS and acknowledge that your experience was different and am happy if you have found a better way for yourself. It is always interesting to me how I can accept the teachings of other faiths, but those who break away or who have an axe to grind for some other reason feel somehow threatened by the teachings of the LDS church. I have been studying the Book of Mormon this year and am constantly drawn closer to Christ. How can that be a bad thing?

  • Other faiths? There is only one faith (Ephesians 4:5).
    I am not threatened by Mormon teachings…God delivered me from that. But Mormon’s are threatened by Mormon teachings that preach a counterfeit Jesus and a false gospel.

  • A literal reading of the New Testament points to God and Jesus Christ , His Son , being separate , divine beings , united in purpose. . To whom was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and Who was speaking to Him and his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration? The Nicene Creed”s definition of the Trinity was influenced by scribes translating the Greek manuscripts into Latin. The scribes embellished on a passage explaining the Trinity , which is the Catholic and Protestant belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest versions of the epistle of 1 John, read: “There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water and the blood and these three are one.” Scribes later added “the Father, the Word and the Spirit,” and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Chairman of the Religion Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. He no longer believes in the Nicene Trinity. . Scholars agree that Early Christians believed in an embodied God; it was neo-Platonist influences that later turned Him into a disembodied Spirit. For example, it was an emperor (Constantine) . who introduced a term, homoousious, which defined the Son as “consubstantial” (one being) with the Father. Neither term or anything like it is in the New Testament. Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.” The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate divine beings , in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts

  • Mormons don’t term Catholics and Protestants “non-Christian”. They believe Christ’s atonement applies to all mankind. The dictionary definition of a Christian is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ”: All of the above denominations are followers of Christ, and consider him divine, and the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. They all worship the one and only true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and address Him in prayer as prescribed in The Lord’s Prayer. It’s important to understand the difference between Reformation and Restoration when we consider who might be authentic Christians. . Early Christians had certain rituals which defined a Christian , which members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continue today. . If members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) embrace early Christian theology, they are likely more “Christian” than their detractors.

  • When we realize that all faiths including NONE at all are products of our upbringing and geography it is easier to see the differences and similarities of our mythological desire to explain and control things.

  • Hey has anyone ever found those original golden tablets that Joseph Smith
    boasted about? (Not the second set fabricated to cover his backside)

    Didn’t think so. That guy was a master con artist and the whole Mormon
    religion is a giant con – like mainstream Christianity but even more so.

  • I can understand how someone can suspect Joseph Smith of being false, because like all men, he is fallible. However, is there anything doctrinally wrong with the teachings of the Book of Mormon? It all seems so compatible with the Bible, so to me the scriptures seem to complement each other and lead to the belief that the Church of Jesus Christ (not Mormon, not Moses, not Joe Anybody) is a restored Church of God, preparing the earth for the return of the King.
    The Saviour is the main figure of the Book of Mormon. Where is it wrong? And how did Joseph Smith do it? How do prophets do anything? By authority of God.

  • If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, then READ the Bible and Book of Mormon. And more. You will see that God does love all, even me and you, and you will be a much happier person.

  • Christianity and Mormonism are both false. It’s your Ego’s need for a story that you are believing.
    There were over 25 historically relevant writers, record keepers and historians who lived in the Greco-Roman world at that time, that left us with enough written material to fill a library, and there is not one mention of Jesus or any of the acts/miracles that were said to have happened. No mention of a virgin birth, no mention of the slaughter of innocent babies, no mention of a man with thousands of followers, giving sermons and healing the sick and blind. There was not one single mention of the earthquakes and the sky turning to black for days or of the Resurrection. There has yet to be anything found that was written during the time that Jesus supposedly lived that even so much as mentions him.

  • There is a lot that is doctrinally wrong with the Book of Mormon. Much of it was copied and reworded from two books that were each written in the early 1800’s and widely available in the school system in New York. These books are The First Book of Napoleon and The Late War. Here is one small example. There are pages and pages more just like this example.
    Here are the similarities in the first few pages of The Book of Mormon and The First Book of Napoleon:

    condemn not the (writing) … an account … the First Book of Napoleon … upon the face of the earth … it came to pass … the land … their inheritances their gold and silver and … the commandments of the Lord … the foolish imaginations of their hearts … small in stature … Jerusalem … because of the perverse wickedness of the people

    -Parallels in sequence, The First Book of Napoleon (from the first pages)

    condemn not the (writing) … an account … the First Book of Nephi … upon the face of the earth … it came to pass … the land … his inheritance and his gold and his silver and … the commandments of the Lord … the foolish imaginations of his heart … large in stature … Jerusalem … because of the wickedness of the people

    -Parallels in sequence, Book of Mormon / The First Book of Nephi (from the first pages)

  • Thank you for reading the blog! I (Jana) did not write this particular post, which is a guest piece excerpted from Jon Ogden’s new book.

    And thanks for sharing about your family members and others you have seen drift away from the LDS Church. There are untold numbers of reasons for people leaving, and I think what they need most is for Mormons to listen, truly listen, about why. It sounds like you are trying to do that.

  • I wish more members could see some of the good in Jana’s (and others) critique of the LDS church, teachings, and culture as much as vidottsen does. I seem many that seem to fear what is pulling people away from the church and they just want to yell, “BAD DOUBTS!” and shame anyone that even has a confused look on their face. And guess what – THAT reaction drives them away much of the time. A feeling of, “the way you think/feel/believe is NOT wanted here!” I am getting that much of it is fear, but that does not stop it from having the same effect on those that have questions.

  • You have made a case for plagiarism, but not doctrine. Doctrine means what is taught about the nature God, man, our existence, what is it all about. The Book of Mormon is full of huge doctrine. Like the Bible. They both are true and testify of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all mankind.

  • ” and there is not one mention of Jesus or any of the acts/miracles that were said to have happened.” Rubbish. And irrelevant. (Besides, who told you that all of the ancient documents have survived to modern times? Of course, of those which DID survive and document the first century Jesus, there is no lack of evidence for the historical Jesus. I speak as a scholar, not a confessionalist.)

    Squints, in the history academy, CONTEMPORANEOUS records has never been the gold standard. If you think that we must have surviving contemporary records in order to accept the existence of some historical person, then you’d have to dismiss and deny the vast majority of those famous individuals from the ancient world. (You’d be restricting yourself to major political figures and royals.)

    Do you also deny the existence and mathematics of Euclid of Alexandria due to the lack of contemporaneous witnesses to his existence? He spanned the 3rd and 4th century B.C.E., yet historical references to Euclid are lacking until the writings of Proclus around 450 A.D. Oh, I’m forgetting Pappus of Alexandria, around 320 A.D. That’s a lot of centuries without any written witness to Euclid’s existence. Do you deny the historical Euclid or are you a reserving your amateurish skepticism for Jesus alone?

    If not for Hesychius of Miletus writing in the 6th century A.D., we would be without any documentation for a great many people of the ancient world. Why are you focused entirely on contemporaneous witnesses to Jesus when so little of what we know of the ancient world and its people comes from contemporaneous witnesses? Why do you think you know better than those of us who have spent lifetimes in academic study of the ancient world?

    The Jesus-Never-Existed crowd is reviving a long-ago-discredited trend from over a century ago. I would challenge you to attend an international conference of historians or perhaps AAR/SBL (the world of religious studies professors from universities and institutes throughout the world) and inquire of them if they doubt the existence of Jesus. About 15(?) years ago I was asked by a reporter and camera crew to find them a few such Jesus-doubting professors for them to interview for their PBS Newshour report when the AAR/SBL conference was in Philadelphia. I could only think of one scholar who MIGHT have been willing to defend such a position but was unable to find him in time for their deadline. Unfortunately, the reporter only wanted “Man bites dog” stories and not an honest answer to the question, “Was there a first century Jesus who founded the Christian religion?” There were literally thousands of professors of every ilk at that conference (milling around within a few feet of the camera crew in the publisher’s exhibit hall) who could have addressed that question. Even the Jesus Seminar professors (Bob Funk was the scholar who had sent the reporter to me in the first place, largely as a friendly joke since he didn’t want to be bothered by such nonsense) were unable to convince them that the actual existence of the historical Jesus was more worthy of soundbites for their report. (In most other instances, reporters LOVED to report whatever the Jesus Seminar determined through their voting via color-marbles dropped into a jar, but in general the story-hungry reporters didn’t like the “uninteresting” confirmation of Jesus’ existence, even from famous “liberals” of the Seminar that is most hated by Christian evangelicals. I couldn’t even get the reporter interested in talking to infamous ex-evangelical Bart Ehrman.)

    Journalists look for jarring headlines that attract ears and eyeballs—even if the actual historical evidence examined by scholars tells a far less exciting reality of Jesus’ existence.

    I can tell from reading your post that you are entranced by Internet websites written by cherry-picked non-scholars who haven’t a clue about the subject matter. Why not consult the professional scholars/historians and see what they say about Jesus? I don’t care whether you believe Jesus performed miracles or was divine. (Obviously, the American Academy of Religion is not a fundamentalist Christian enclave!) I’m talking about your obsession with amateurish denials of the historical Jesus by non-scholars who know nothing about how we in the academy weigh the evidence. Jesus existed. We know that. You will find that my atheist colleagues agree on the fact just as surely as my theist colleagues. We care about evidence, not ideologically-driven denials of the evidence. (It sounds like you are just as personal-belief-driven as any passionate fundamentalist. You are determined to accept ONLY that which confirms your personal point of view, regardless of the actual evidence.)

    So get over it. Jesus was a real person. When you deny the consensus of the academy that is based upon historical evidence, you are no different from the evidence-denying Young Earth Creationist who denies the Theory of Evolution and billions of years of earth history. Wise up. Even Wikipedia has some excellent refutations of your nonsense in “The Christ Myth Theory”. And if you Google Jesus-denialism topics, you will find a great many excellent articles written by atheist scholars defending the existence of the historical Jesus.

  • Jana, What is your Opinion on the Refusal of the LDS to appoint a Black Man to the Quorum of 12 Based Solely on the Color of his Skin. You can run but you cant Hide from this Racist Policy Jana.

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