Doubting the LDS Church: My Take
Recently the New York Times featured an article called Some Mormons Search The Web and Find Doubt, which discussed the way prominent LDS church member Hans Mattson began to doubt the teachings of the Mormon faith through material he found on the web.
As I read the article, I admit that I felt my usual sentiment: "This again."
Not wanting to discount Mr. Mattson's experiences, I read every paragraph and bullet point in the article and did a mental check--did any of this material make me uncomfortable? Did any of it make me doubt my faith? Had I examined the materials and histories in question, to my own satisfaction?
The "this again" feeling that I felt comes from my own past, sleuthing around the internet in my spare time and researching more about my religion. I'm a curious guy, and I love learning new things.
My experience in uncovering "truth about Mormonism" materials on the internet mirrors that of McKay Coppins, who just yesterday wrote a reaction piece called Why The Internet Hasn't Shattered My Mormon Faith for Buzzfeed. McKay compares his own experience of uncovering internet materials at a young age with the experiences of Brother Mattson, and explains that after consuming these materials, they became part of his religious experience, and he is comfortable with the idea of "ugly" things in the history of the Mormon faith.
One of the first Mormon-critical websites I came across back in 1995 (as a senior in high school) was extremely critical of LDS church leaders' teachings against things like masturbation. The website quoted (accurately, I'm guessing) from a church leader's talk in which he encouraged young men to forego the act and do whatever they could to avoid it. After reading the material, I found that while I had been a bit shocked to come across this in such a random way (back when web surfing would lead you in random directions almost 100% of the time) I was mostly satisfied with the contents of the original quoted talk. I've since realized that much of the doubt-casting material that is written about the LDS church is written without the expectation of thoughtful consideration or reciprocal research. The assumption seems to be that LDS church members are so ensconced in their blind faith that they'll simply read the information and either immediately move along blindly or realize their faith has been misplaced and continue to educate themselves from the same source.
Other materials focus so much on personal experiences that while they may be powerful criticisms to some, it may also be easy for regular LDS church members to say, "well, that hasn't been my experience"--for example, not every member of the LDS church has been condemned or excommunicated or disciplined in a manner that was probably inappropriate to the circumstances. Again, I feel fortunate: I know of such situations, I believe they were inappropriate, but upon examining them I believe that no human organization is exempt from such occurrences. Further, knowing about these things makes me a stronger church member, a better leader. I feel better able to differentiate between compulsive decisionmaking driven by blind adherance to dogma and well-reasoned decisionmaking driven by consultation with God, his imperfect followers, and our innate capacity to explore and discover.
A friend of mine once told me that she dropped out of religion at age 16 because her clergyman refused to allow her to continue asking him "why." Apparently, for him it was important to have all the answers--otherwise he probably would have let her continue to discuss her doubts. But it was also apparent to me that it was important for her--for some reason--to continue to believe in the following 35 years that every other religious person felt the same way. After she told me this story, I realized that decades had passed in which she refused to go back to examine this situation critically. That door, it seemed to me, closed quickly, painlessly, and with a suspicious lack of hesitation.
I may be biased--I know I am biased--but as I consume doubt-casting information here and there on the internet, I have yet to find anything that falls outside these parameters. I have a brain, I can do my own research, I can talk to others. I can make my own decision to live with the ugly things or go off in search of some better belief systems. These, I believe, are all things God wants us to do and think about.