As someone who loves talking about Mormonism with both believers and non-believers and also runs a website devoted to the subject, I get to hear a lot of arguments from Mormons who think what I believe and do is wrong. I love engaging in healthy debate, and I think all Mormons should be able to discuss their beliefs with ex-Mormons (and vice versa), but too often, those conversations are laced with bitterness and fallacies (from both sides – I don’t hold ex-Mormons blameless!)
In the interest of saving time for Mormons and ex-Mormons alike, here are 14 things that I hear FAR too often that really don’t work in a constructive debate about the church.
This isn’t usually something that is explicitly said from believer to non-believer, but rather, about the non-believer. (Though I’ve also heard it just outright stated to me, usually from strangers on our Facebook page. People who know us are kinder!)
It’s a common misconception that people leave the LDS church because they were offended or want to sin (though of course, it happens). A study conducted by Dr. John Dehlin showed that “wanting to sin” and “being offended” are the two most common reasons Mormons believe people leave the church, but in reality, they’re some of the least common reasons people leave.
Every ex-Mormon I know personally left after a long and painful journey studying church history and the doctrines/practices of the church.
I’ve seen the notion that it’s “by their fruits, not their roots” that you should view the LDS church. Even if that were the case, I still wouldn’t want to be a part of it. But let’s be perfectly clear—the doctrines of the LDS church rely on history. Either Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God or he didn’t. Either he saw God and Jesus Christ in a grove or he didn’t. Either God commanded him to start practicing polygamy or he didn’t. While it could certainly be the case that Joseph had a form of psychosis that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality for him, it doesn’t change the fact that the church is either true or it’s a fraud.
My father-in-law once said to me, “How do you have time for all that negative history? I’m too busy raising my family for that!” While it is certainly true that he is busier than me, as I am childless and have a pretty easy life compared to him and his job and 5 children, I don’t think belittling someone’s interest in LDS history is constructive. His comment was laced with judgment that I would “mess with” church history by—gasp—reading it!
The church makes a lot of bold claims, and there’s nothing wrong with investigating those claims more thoroughly than simply “praying about it”.
No one has read every “anti-Mormon” (read: historical/current church-practices-based) resource out there. I, for example, only found out about the Reed Smoot hearings a few weeks ago, and I spent literally thousands of hours researching the church. (Research that consisted mostly of church-approved resources and apologetics like FAIR Mormon.) I’m constantly amazed at how much information is out there, and how much there is to learn.
I highly doubt there is a person alive who has read everything there is to read about Mormonism. And unless you’ve read every page of the Joseph Smith Papers, the Journal of Discourses, Rough Stone Rolling, all biographies of church presidents and early members, the research of all LDS historians, including Grant Palmer and Michael Quinn, and so on, you shouldn’t even begin to consider yourself as having “read it all”! (The things I just listed are still just a drop in the ocean. Crazy, huh?)
PS. Arguing with evangelicals on your mission DEFINITELY doesn’t count as having “heard it all”. 😉
I’ve always found this comment particularly bizarre, but it’s one that I hear a lot from Mormons trying to convince me that I’m wrong. Given that the truthfulness of the church rests on whether or not something happened 200 years ago, are we really surprised that there’s no “new” arguments for the church’s falsity?!
This is a comment that really shows a person’s bias. If you’re operating under the assumption that the church is true and every negative claim about it is essentially made up or exaggerated, then sure—you might expect there to constantly be “new” arguments for why the church is false. But if you recognize that there are a finite number of claims from the church, and many resources through which they can be investigated, you see it differently.
Time has definitely given us new evidence and information about the LDS church, generating some new concerns about its validity that might not previously have been considered, but essentially, it all boils down to a few key things.
If you are a moral relativist—which as I understand it, Mormons aren’t (though don’t get me started on that)—then this might be a legitimate argument. However, if you believe in a God who gave you a brain and a moral conscience to use, then you can probably understand why people have an issue with things like Joseph marrying 14-year-olds and other men’s wives.
You can use this argument to justify your beliefs up to a certain point. I used to apply it to polygamy back when I hadn’t researched the subject much. But once you’ve done the research, you have to ask yourself—did joseph Smith marry over 20 women, some of whom were 14 and others who were already married, contrary to scriptural mandate? Yes or no? Why did God go against what He himself said in the scriptures? Does he expect us to abandon His words at times? Do I need to be ok with all these accounts from women who claim polygamy was an awful, miserable practice and the words of Oliver Cowdery who called Joseph’s marriage to 16-year-old Fanny Alger a “dirty, filthy affair”?
At what point does the evidence of Joseph being coercive and fraudulent become stronger than the argument that “God’s ways are higher than our ways”?
In many cases, ex-Mormons DID try talking to their bishop/other leaders about their doubts, but were met with confusion and/or unsatisfactory answers. My bishop hadn’t read any of the LDS.org essays on controversial issues like multiple first vision accounts, polygamy, The Book of Abraham problems, and race and the priesthood. How could I expect him to answer questions based on my even more in-depth research?
We respect that you have had those experiences, as have most of us, but they are not a suitable trump card once you get into the problems with the church. Feelings are not a reliable method of determining truth, as spiritual confirmations people receive in many different religions can tell us. Heck, people are literally killing people right now because they think God told them to.
Confirmation bias is also a thing. Again, people in all religions have “miraculous” experiences that confirm the “truthfulness” of their beliefs to them.
Telling us to simply “trust in our experiences” feels quite belittling of our extensive research and desire for answers/truth.
We understand choosing to believe. I’ve done that too. I respect Mormons who understand the issues and accept that perhaps the church is false but choose to believe anyway, more than those who refuse to research whatsoever. But let’s not pretend that the evidence is equally weighted on both sides. A whitewashed (often outright false) narrative of church history from LDS.org is not comparable to legitimate contemporary sources and the work of unbiased historians. When a church excommunicates historians who say too much, there’s clearly a problem.
My advice: check out the evidence available, and then see what you think. There’s a LOT more than the majority of Mormons think. When the cigarette industry first found out it smoking was bad for people, they did anything they could to generate doubt about the evidence—finding any possible holes in it to convince people that there was evidence on both sides. As we all now know, the evidence that smoking isn’t bad for you turned out to be very weak.
I appreciate people wanting to reach out to me because they care, so I have no problem with Mormons sending me conference talks etc. that they think might help me. But I will say that if there’s a talk about doubts, I’ve almost definitely read it. “Safety for the Soul” is almost offensive to me at this point. (Not because of the person sending it to me, but because of Elder Holland’s painfully false statements that I’m almost certain he knows are weak, because—have you heard of Tom Phillips?)
I’m sure Rosemary Wixom is a lovely lady, but her general conference platitudes are like nursery teachings to me at this point. They might sound comforting, and she’s definitely got the “woman talking in conference” cadence down, but she doesn’t exactly address polyandry or DNA problems with The Book of Mormon, and platitudes aren’t a good answer to legitimate problems with the church’s claims.
Cool story. Considerably MORE intelligent people have determined that the church is not true. A handful of Richard Bushmans don’t stand strong against all non-LDS Egyptologists, archeologists, and historians.
There are intelligent people in all religions. Don’t use an appeal to authority fallacy on me and think it will fly. 😉
Once again, I want to point out that I respect Mormons’ efforts to answer my questions, and for that reason, I respect someone sending me an apologetic article that at least attempts to resolve my issues than just dismissing them altogether.
The thing is, I’ve read a heck of a lot of FAIR Mormon, and have repeatedly found them to be intellectually dishonest. Their arguments, to put it simply, suck. Not to mention the fact that most of the time, people sending me their articles haven’t even read them fully themselves—they’re just satisfied knowing that they exist.
I’ll gladly take a look at an article you send me if you’re willing to discuss it, but please don’t just fling it at me without giving it any real consideration yourself.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was extremely bitter when I left the church! The church was my life—I was completely devoted to it. Finding out that the narrative given by the church about Joseph Smith, among other things, was totally wrong was heartbreaking to me. I studied for literally thousands of hours trying to see how the church could be true in spite of the extensive evidence that it’s not. (In church-approved resources, I might add!)
It would be psychologically abnormal for someone to find out they’ve been lied to to such a large extent and not feel angry or bitter for at least the time it takes them to heal. (Healing is a thing when you leave a high-demand religion.) Remember, ex-Mormons are human, and they have just as many feelings as you. Most of us really really wanted the church to be true, and now that we know it’s not, we don’t want others to go through the pain we went through. We don’t want lies perpetuated—because the church we were raised in taught us to speak up for truth.
I do have an anti-Mormon agenda. I talked about why I’m proud to say that here. It’s definitely important to be aware of people’s biases and agendas when doing research, but, as I’ve said, most ex-Mormon did their research with a bias toward the church being true. Remember that whole “we wanted it to be true so please don’t hate us” thing? Take note of people’s biases, sure, but don’t dismiss legitimate points just because someone hopes they will yield a certain result. Truth is truth regardless of any agenda someone attaches to it.
It’s also hilarious to me when people claim that scientists, archeologists, Egyptologists, and historians have an “anti-Mormon agenda”. As I recently said to a stranger who messaged me about this—most scientists don’t give a damn about Mormonism. It’s not even on their radar. It’s a niche, ethnocentric, Utah-based religion that people know next to nothing about, most of the time. Who is more likely to be biased—a scientist who doesn’t even care about Mormonism, or people who have devoted their lives to the religion and whose social circles almost entirely depend on it?
Science is a method of testing validity, not a belief system. It’s not a case of “putting your trust in science”, but putting your trust in significantly more reliable methods for determining truth than the LDS church offers. (Oh, and PS—that National Geographic article Mormons keep sharing to back up The Book of Mormon? It says the opposite of what you think it’s saying!)
If you think a point I’m making is wrong, tell me why. Don’t just fling ad hominem attacks me as if they invalidate the evidence I’m presenting. If someone had an “anti-smoking agenda”, would you dismiss anything they said about the damaging effects of smoking?
My agenda is truth.
First of all, the majority of people who leave the LDS church do so silently. Just go to the exMormon subreddit and you’ll read hundreds of stories of people trying to slowly fade away and not draw attention to themselves because they don’t want to deal with the social consequences or the judgment. I get several messages a week from people who no longer believe the LDS church is true, but are too afraid to say anything to anyone in their lives. So let’s bust the myth that everyone who leaves the church can’t leave it alone.
However, there are those of us, like myself, who do not wish to leave it alone. I’ve explained why here.
When you belong to a high-demand religion that requires a huge chunk of your time, energy, and emotions—a church that is your entire world, your entire social circle, and your entire reason for doing what you do everyday—it’s not as simple as just “leaving it alone”. When you’re a victim of financial fraud, it’s ok to press charges. If you’re a rape victim, it’s ok to press charges. Talking about your experiences can be incredibly healing, and while it’s not for everyone, speaking up is an important part of making things better for others. I am not ok with people being lied to or living a sub-par life because they haven’t even been given the OPTION of deciding whether or not they want to remain a part of a church that has such a cruel, awful history. (Because they don’t even know that that stuff happened.) Disaffected members of any cult or high-demand religion are the most effective way to help people “wake up”, so to speak. Have you ever watched Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief? I highly recommend it.
Truth is important, and the church taught me to stand up for it whatever the cost.
It’s strange to me how members often declare this proudly. Warren Jeffs is currently in prison for raping children and FLDS members still believe he’s a prophet. Do you really want to boast that your mindset is the same as theirs? No one ever became more enlightened by closing themselves off to new information.
I hope any Mormons reading this know that I don’t take offense when these things are said to me, it’s just that I’ve heard them a LOT and it’s kind of tiring repeating myself so often. I always appreciate people wanting to be there for me, and I understand that your worldview encourages you to do so in a certain way. I can respect that, and I hope you’ll respect my beliefs too.