As negative information about the history and foundational claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints becomes more and more apparent to members and non-members of the faith, Mormons have a big task ahead of them. With the help of typically fallacy-loving apologetics like FAIR, they must somehow resolve evidence that conflicts with their current beliefs in a way that doesn’t destroy them.

Pro tip for any Mormons: Read the Givens’ work. It’s far more intellectually honest than the likes of FAIR.

It’s a classic square peg round hole scenario, except it’s not that simple. When humans are exposed to information that contradicts deeply held beliefs, the brain can do a lot to make that information somehow appear to fit in with those beliefs. The psychological theory of this is called cognitive dissonance—a term people are becoming more familiar with now they must seek to resolve more doubts than other generations of Mormons had to.

Every week brings new internet posts from faithful Mormons—bloggers or otherwise—who describe how they encountered painful information, felt like crap, felt peaceful when they ignored that painful information, and chose to continue believing. Cognitive dissonance is no longer a rare thing experienced by those intellectual enough to constantly study—it’s becoming a normal experience for (particularly younger) Mormons. Thus, Mormons are faced with the dilemma of either recognizing cognitive dissonance for what it is, or calling their dismissal of negative information and subsequent peace “the Spirit” and trying to move on with their lives.

“We’ve heard it all before” seems to be a popular tactic of those who dismiss negative claims about the LDS church, and the same party line is being used when it comes to accusations of cognitive dissonance.  Now that Mormons know what their dismissal is being labeled, they are speaking out against that label.

A recent post on an orthodox Mormon blog tried to tell readers that while Mormons may have cognitive dissonance, exMormons experience an equal measure of it. Their reasoning was that, “exMormons feel guilty because they have chosen a life of sin, so they must justify it by telling themselves Joseph was a fraud, etc.”

Anyone who is actually exMormon can call “bullcrap” on those statements in a heartbeat, as they are the ones who have been on both sides of the fence. Mormon commentary on general exMormon mentality is, of course, limited to their own ideas from inside the fence. So it’s understandably lacking. For Mormons reading this, listen up! Here’s why the cognitive dissonance you experience when faced with negative information about the church is absolutely not (typically) experienced by exMormons.

Cognitive dissonance involves being met with conflicting evidence.

A testimony is not considered “conflicting evidence” when it does not, and cannot, meet the standard for evidence. One commenter on the Mormon subreddit put it perfectly:

“Some modes of enquiry (such as scientific skepticism) are good for cutting through cognitive biases, while other modes of enquiry (and the institutions that can grow and calcify around them) instead may reinforce and leverage these cognitive biases to a particular end. 

Apologetics–in any domain, whether it be religion, politics, or pseudoscience–shelters, nurtures, and encourages cognitive biases. In the end, everyone must choose whether to try to resolve their cognitive dissonance by masking it with apologetics and cognitive bias or by confronting their own cognitive bias and letting go of sacred cows.”

Of course, exMormons can be met with information that contradicts their beliefs, but it’s not distressing and painful and desperation-inducing. For example, if a Mormon shows an exMormon a diary entry from Fanny Alger saying that she was loving her life as a married minor, that could certainly be conflicting evidence for an exMormon’s belief that Fanny Alger didn’t like being married to Joseph Smith. (I’m using this as an easy example—it’s not something exMormons typically focus on.) But:

a.) Such information is rarely presented to exMormons, as they are usually the most well-read when it comes to history and other things relating to the church. (Because they’ve gone through a long process of trying to keep believing/resolve their doubts faithfully.)

and b.) It does not cause the same inner turmoil that Mormons experience when their beliefs are challenged, because it doesn’t force them to reevaluate their entire mindset about everything. It may simply change their mind about that one thing. To challenge an exMormon’s belief that the LDS church’s historical claims are false would require something like the presenting of the actual gold plates, maybe a few legitimate Egyptologists or archeologists saying that, you know, there might be something literal to the Book of Mormon/Book of Abraham, or a visitation from some kind of higher being. And, of course, those aren’t typical experiences.

And don’t worry, Mormons—we read your Greg Trimble articles about how a bone from 24,000 years ago of Eurasian origins somehow provides evidence that Nephites traveled by boat to America 2,600 years ago despite the fact that every reputable historian on the subject knows people traveled by land bridge and they certainly didn’t come from Jerusalem. It doesn’t cause us any cognitive dissonance, because it simply is not relevant, as nice of a confirmation bias hit it might supply you with.

Pro-tip: Always look into claims. Don’t grasp at straws to make them what you want them to be. And never trust Greg Trimble. I know people who have left the church because they read his article of “evidences” for the Book of Mormon, researched the claims he made, and realized how utterly false not only they, but all claims regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon were.

To summarize, bearing one’s testimony does not present any new and conflicting information to exMormons. Neither do unsupported claims most Mormon historians and archeologists don’t even agree with. Many exMormons have spent hours and hours poring over faithful resources to attempt to explain the obvious problems with the church’s claims, and found them very inadequate. We’re ready and waiting if anything more viable comes along, though.



Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young would have been a millennial blogger, but she died in 1901. The wife of Brigham Young, and prior to that Joseph Smith, and prior to that Henry Jacobs, who was sent on a mission by Brigham before he married her, Zina loves writing, long walks on the beach, and playing the field.
  • jimmyjam15

    “The Difference Between Mormon and exMormon Cognitive Dissonance” ….is zero. There is no difference. The position this author holds seems haughty. As if to say cognitive dissonance is a phenomenon exclusive to those who think. Or worse yet, there is the suggestion that the apologist/believer worldview is not cognisant of the real truth, therefore not dissonant of apparent inconsistencies. I hope we can all recognise the absolute value of conscience, stop worrying about what others believe, and go on our merry way.

    • Steve Lowther

      Your comment itself reeks of cognitive dissonance! Those of us who have viewed Mormonism from both a faithful perspective and a non-believing perspective know the difference is huge. You are in the position of a child trying to tell a senior citizen what it is like being old. You have not experienced it; you can only guess.

      • jimmyjam15

        Incorrect. I have experienced it. I was only speaking in terms of the absolute value of knowledge, morality, or what have you… It takes an equal amount of cognitive dissonance to make either position.

        • Samantha Louise Shelley

          Hey, Steve! I’m sorry I came across as haughty. I’m sure you can understand how frustrating it is when someone who has never been a part of a group you’re in thinks they understand the mindset of that group. Like I said, I have been both Mormon and ExMormon, so I feel that my view is a little wider than those who have simply only ever been members. I don’t claim to speak for everyone and I am not trying to tell individual people what they feel.

        • Zelph on the Shelf

          I don’t think it does. But hey, I am just an average white lamanite warrior. What do I know?

        • Steve Lowther

          Sorry, but your comment is as coherent as mud splatters on the wall.

          • jimmyjam15

            Ok, gotcha. Look, I’m a far cry from an apologist. I’m probably in a similar position as you. All I’m saying is, there is equal and opposite CD on both sides if you look for it.

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      Hi, Steve! I’m sorry I came across as haughty! As I’m sure you can understand, having someone who has never been in a group you’re in claim to understand the mindset of that group can be frustrating. Our experience has been that the cognitive dissonance experienced by an exMormon is absolutely minimal compared to that felt while we were faithful members trying to make sense of things. Let’s remember that cog diss isn’t some kind of insult, it’s just describing the difficult feelings you experience when things don’t make sense.

      • Steve Lowther

        I think you are confusing my comment with jimmyjam15’s comment. I didn’t think you sounded haughty whatsoever.

        I absolutely agree with you. As an active Mormon, the CD was constant and the juggling was frenetic. From the outside looking in, the prevalent feeling is easy relief. Things just make so much more sense once you are not stretching and trimming puzzle pieces to make them fit.

        • Zelph on the Shelf

          Haha. Typo.

    • highpriestinaspeedo

      I’m not sure I agree with the notion that conscience has absolute value, since our consciences depend in large part on our worldview and the values we were given by the group we were raised in. Also, while I disagree with the notion that exmos have the same level of cognitive dissonance, I don’t think the level of cognitive dissonance an exmo feels is zero. There are some exmo dogmas that could be refuted. I think the main difference is that an exmo is less likely to be emotionally attached to his/her ideas, and could probably have an easier time rejecting them in the face of conflicting evidence.

  • Generally, I agree. The level of cogdis for a well-read LDS can be much more severe than the kind of exmo cogdis you speak of, ie discovering a new, minor fact like one of the young polygamous wives thought it was great. But I disagree, I think strongly–let me think more and see how it sits, with your statement ” Cognitive dissonance involves being met with conflicting evidence. A testimony is not considered “conflicting evidence” when it does not, and cannot, meet the standard for evidence.” I agree it’s offensive and usually silly when LDS say the exmo has cogdis over their sins and guilt. However, I think it’s very real for an exmo to have cogdis over testimony related things. I think very often there could be a longing for things missed in the LDS church, ie a place to worship God, missing the good things LDS does to strengthen youth and family, a feeling like something spiritually is missing. I’m not saying all exmo’s feel this or that it’s excruciating for a large portion, but I do believe this is a legit aspect of cogdis an exmo could feel.

    • Samantha Louise Shelley

      Good point! I can only speak from personal experience and the experience of my close friends, none of whom have experienced anything close to the level of cog diss that we experienced as members.

    • Samantha Louise Shelley

      Also, while exMormons do often miss things like the community, it doesn’t shake their beliefs. It’s just kind of a sad thing! But it doesn’t cause confusion.

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      Good point! I can only speak from personal experience and the experience of my close friends, which has been that there is almost no cognitive dissonance since leaving the church, as difficult things are finally resolved.

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