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.
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.