Why do some people turn away?
Were they ever converted?
Sometimes people leave the church. This is sad, because the church is what we make it. Whatever the problem is, there is a way to turn it round - to turn weaknesses into strengths. But sadly, many people never really understand the church. So they are unable to benefit from it.
page simplifies, and focuses on individual cases
page relies heavily on a small number of cases:
To those who do not recognize themselves on
To critics who are still not convinced:
To those who leave after investing many years
in the church:
Most people who drift do not have a conscious reason
Usually, when people do not accept the gospel, or do not live up to its teaching, there is no real reason - it has not been thought out and reasoned over. The vast majority fall under the categories identified by the Lord:
|Luke 8:5-15: the parable of the sower|
|some never hear||"A sower went out to sow his seed"||"The seed is the word of God."|
|some forget||"And some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it."||"Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved"|
|some never understood||"And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture."||"They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away."|
|some get distracted||"And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it."||"And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection."|
|"And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold."||"But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience."|
|"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."|
This is how most people fail to join the church, and how some do not stay faithful. But these are not "reasons," because they are not reasoned. The individual does not think them through rationally. People just respond to circumstances and drift away from the truth.
The three conscious reasons for not believing
Where conscious reasons are given, they fall into three categories. You may not recognise these at first people seldom put them in so many words. But as you carefully read the case studies provided by critics, you will see that every reason is one of these three.
1. "I was offended"
People reject religion because they think it is responsible for wars, cruelty, etc. They reject the church (or any other religious body) because they feel the individual members should have been better. These are often the saddest cases, and deserve the most sympathy. They often refer to times when church members really could have been more loving, as church leaders are always telling us to be! Sometimes really tragic stories are told e.g someone needed super-human help, and the church members were merely human.
2. "I prefer some other religion"
See the pages on do members really understand the church? and 'Born Again Christians.' for details.
3. "I am cleverer than you"
E.g. "I have decided that this or that principle is wrong. I am obviously right, so if you think differently you are either stupid or a liar or both".
|Reasons for not believing (in New Testament times)|
This web site focuses on the Bible, so it is worth noting that the reasons given today are the same excuses that were used in New Testament times.
1. "I was offended"
When Jesus was teaching popular things, multitudes followed him. But when things began to get more difficult...
John 6:56, 60, 66
" [Jesus said] 'He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.' ... Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, 'This is an hard saying; who can hear it?' ... When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, 'Doth this offend you?' ...
"From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him."
The early church must have offended in many other ways as well.
- Although many were healed, many more were not. That must have been difficult.
- The disciples appeared to ignore the law of Moses.
- Jesus seemed happy to have expensive perfume used in himself
- Jesus told his disciples to leave their families
- Many church members felt that other members were being hypocrites by not being circumcised
- The church tried to get all your money off you not just one tenth!
- Jesus seemed happy to have expensive perfume used in himself
The disciples often failed to live up to what people expected.
- All of the disciples were sinners, and fell short of what Jesus taught in some way or other.
- Sometimes the disciples could not cast out devils. This would not have looked very impressive.
- Although many were healed, many more were not. That must have been difficult.
- Peter denied knowing Christ. Others would have remembered this.
- Paul rebuked the High priest.
- The disciples appeared to ignore the law of Moses.
And there must have been many more serious events that did not make it into the scriptures.
2. "I prefer some other religion".
This was of course the main argument against Jesus and his church. The Jews already had a perfectly good religion, and the new teachings seemed to contradict it. The Pharisees felt that they were the true followers of God, and this new imitation church was wrong in all kinds of ways. For details, see the page on answering questions.
3. "I am cleverer than you"
Many of the arguments used against the early church implied hat the Christians were simply stupid, and perhaps dangerously so. The Pharisees plainly thought that they understood the issues more clearly than the Christians. Some of the educated people will always mock the church:
"(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter."
Note that, for the New Testament Church, the resurrection was much like the Book of Mormon was to the modern church. It was a physical thing that the believers thought was backed up by plenty of evidence. But some of the intellectuals thought it was laughable.
Paul was well aware that others considered the Christens to be stupid. He rejoiced that God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound those who consider themselves to be wise. See 1 Corinthians 1:17-27.
|Reason 1: "I was offended"|
"I was offended" is short for "this group has done terrible things". For example, many people reject religion because they think causes wars, superstition, closed minds, and so on. None of these claims make sense when you examine them closely. But that does not stop people using them. Being offended is seldom rational - it is all about feelings. let us look at how people are offended by a particular church.
"I am not trying to prove anything, but this is just my experience"
An offended person will often say, " I don't care about your reasons, that is just how it seems to me". Yet that is the whole problem! Experience is entirely subjective. It only exists in the individual's mind.
Think of the best person you know. There are probably some people who think they are bad for some reason. Now think of the worst person you know. Even they probably have some friends who think they are a good person. Think of your own life. Some people will look at the good things you have done and say "what a great person!". But if the same person sees only the mistakes you have made, they will say "I don't think much of that person." It all depends on your point of view. The same glass can be seen as half full or half empty.
People are more likely to fall away from a church when their lives are also going wrong in other areas. If you are under great pressure (from family, illness, money worries, etc.), or if you have previously been offended by someone, you are more likely to see negative motives in innocent acts. A well meaning remark may be seen as sarcastic or having hidden meaning. A single thoughtless remark may be seen as "typical" of that person. Very often we attribute motives when, really and cruel, we do not and cannot know what is going on in someone else's mind. (This is the central fact of the branch of philosophy called epistemology.) How we see others says more about ourselves than others.
"There are some bad people in the church"
By far the most common reason given for leaving the church (in my experience) is that some church member or other did not live up to their teachings. "Brother so-and-so did this", or "sister so-and-so said that". Then the next "discovery" is that many people outside the church lead very moral lives. Usually, when someone is offended, and you track down all the witnesses and work out what actually happened, it is not as terrible as the offended person remembers. Or is is a one-off mistake. This is not to justify thoughtless words or selfish behavior. It is very sad people say and do bad things, and church members are not immune from sin. We should repent! Church leaders are always urging us to be better people. But this is no reason to leave the church.
The basic argument is that "some people in the church are bad, some people outside the church are good, so it follows that I should leave the church". This argument has three main logical flaws, or fallacies. (For more about fallacies, see the page on answering questions.)
Fallacy 1. Concealed quantification
This is the fallacy that hides the numbers involved. Showing that SOME people are a certain way does not mean that MOST people are. In this case, it is true that there are some bad people in church, as there are in any group.
Fallacy 2. The red herring
The quality of the people in church is not relevant to the issue of whether or not you should come to church. We come to church because we want to learn about Christ, and we believe in working together. Hopefully other people at church feel the same. But we do not come because of other people. The church is not a social club. (It is true that some people come for the social side, but unless they get an independent testimony, they will eventually be offended by someone or just drift away.)
Fallacy 3. The bogus dilemma
This is a very common fallacy. We are given a scenario (some bad people in the church) and it is implied that we can draw only two possible conclusions. EITHER the church makes people bad, OR the church attracts bad people without changing them. In fact, there are several other possible conclusions:
- The church attracts bad people and DOES change them for the better, but it just takes time.
- There are people in the church who do not do what the church teaches.
- The church has more rules and higher expectations than the world in general (For example, if I ignored you when passing in the street, you would think nothing of it. But if I ignored you at church, suddenly I am a bad person).
- There are other possibilities, but these are enough to illustrate the point.
"The church exists to help me"
Many people feel that the church exists to help them. We focus on what the church can do for us, rather than what we can do for the church. The church does stress service, but not so we can GET, but so we can GIVE. If we say "I want!" then we have missed the point.
Of course, in one way, we do come to church for what we can get - blessings of eternal life. Nut with the exception of church welfare, all these blessings are either at in the next life, or involve character building (e.g. not necessarily comfortable or physical). Even in the case of church welfare, the purpose is to help us become self-reliant, which is a better blessing.
If someone does not help me, they are deliberately mean, selfish, lazy, etc.
The fallacy of reification
This fallacy treats the church as something separate from the individual members. But in fact, the church is made up of individuals, with their own strengths and weaknesses. If someone says "I cannot help", there may be a very real reason, at least from their point of view. Also, not all members are experienced,or strong in the faith. It is wrong to lump everyone together as some kind of "representative Mormon."
"Argumentum ad lapidem"
This is the fallacy of saying that something is so, without providing any evidence. In this case, we claim to know someone's motives. We claim to read their mind! Anyone who has studied epistemology, or anyone who stops to think, will know that we cannot assume we understand how others feel. For example, if you have children, you cannot expect that your single friends will understand what it is like. If they do not offer help, it may not be because they are cruel and heartless, but simply that they do not have our experience.
So, if someone does not shape up to our expectations, we cannot just conclude that they are morally deficient.
"I didn't ask for much"
The fallacy of unobtainable perfection
Typically an offended person will see that the church has not done enough for them. Yet if you look closely you will usually find that, even though they did not do enough, church members still did more than any other group would have done. For example, a person complains that a particular thing was not done very well, not done enough, not done as requested, etc., forgetting that at least someone did try once or twice. Another ex-member complained that church members arranged to baby-sit for one day each week (for an eight hour stretch) but only kept it up for four weeks. She saw this as a lack of love. Perhaps it was, but it was more than the world could offer her. Babysitting for eight hours may not sound like much, but there are many circumstances that would make it a huge burden. So the church is better than the world, but is condemned because its members are not perfect.
A related issue is that an offended person often says "I would have dome the same if the positions were reversed." Perhaps so. (And perhaps not.) But given that we are all different in so many ways, the positions seldom are reversed in a way that suits us. When we ask for someone to sacrifice to suit us it is still a sacrifice. We should be quick to understand, quick to be thankful, and slow to judge, slow to criticize.
"I found a particular doctrine offensive"
Sometimes people complain that a particular doctrine is offensive. But this always means that they do not understand the doctrine.
For example, one ex-member was married in the temple, but her husband died soon after. Temple marriage means marriage for eternity, not just "til death do us part". It is a great and wonderful thing to work towards. Now, single men in the church naturally tend to look for someone they can be with forever. As this woman was going to be reunited with her first husband in the next life, this meant that members looking for an eternal companion might decide to look elsewhere. She saw this as a "terrible stigma," that she was a second choice, a less desirable partner. She would never find a good husband!
It is very sad that she felt this way, and no doubt the pain was very real. We should not make light of her suffering. But she did not understand the doctrine. If she understood the revealed doctrine, she would know that she was in a very privileged position when compared with other women.
The case of the "temple widow"
First, she had not lost her husband - she could look forward to being reunited with him for eternity. (Unless of course she felt he was a bad man, in which case he would be unworthy to be with her, the temple marriage is void, and she can choose to be sealed to someone else. So she cannot lose.)
As for not marrying, quite the opposite! There are many good and noble men who are not active in the church, but are able to genuinely love someone and support their faith commitments. (I know several such men myself.) IF THE SPIRIT APPROVES THE CHOICE she can choose from a much larger pool than those women who want someone for eternity. Of course, some members would disagree with this approach. But that illustrates the genius of Mormonism. Some unusual and personal areas like this do not have clear direction from modern prophets. In such cases, each individual is entitled to personal revelation for their own life. The important thing is that we understand the risks and rewards, and follow the spirit.
Where doctrine is concerned, truth is truth, and God is love. If a doctrine seems difficult or unloving, we just need to study it some more. Or, as Nephi put it, when asked about something he did not understand (in 1 Nephi 11:17): "I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things."
The case of priesthood restrictions
Another practice that offends some is the history f the priesthood in the church. Right from the days of Adam, it has only been given to certain groups - firstborn, Levites, Jews, Men, etc. This never implied that those groups were fundamentally superior to others. But some people think it does. This and other such issues are discussed on the page about authority.
prefer some other religion"
Most of these issues are discussed in more detail on the pages about critics in general and about 'Born Again Christians.'
Some people reject the church because they do not like the doctrines. This happened in Jesus' day as well (see John 6:56-66, referred to above). If a church is true, and based on revelations from God, we should expect some of it to seem strange, or to go against what we previously thought. On the other hand, if a church is man-made, we can expect it to pander to our expectations, to feel comfortable, and not to challenge us too much. There will always be easier churches to accept.
This is not to say that everyone who leaves does so because of another church - often joining another church is a result and not a cause. But some people do claim to have moved to another church for theological reasons. They are free to do so, but they cannot complain if I question some of their false assumptions.
|Reason 3: "I am cleverer than you"
- implied by claiming that a particular opinion is OBVIOUSLY true
It all comes down to the same thing
- Some people have a list of doctrines that, to them, do not make sense.
- Some believe that the church is good for some people, but they have grown out of it, and moved on.
- A small minority have interpreted their spiritual experiences as meaning that God has told them to leave the church. This is a matter of interpretation. All answers to prayer depend on our personal understanding of what is good and bad.
All these experiences have one thing in common: the individual claims a better understanding than those thousands of people (such as myself) who see the same things, but see them in a different way.
'I am not saying that Mormons are stupid'
Really? This is Webster's dictionary definition of 'STUPID'
1 a : slow of mind : OBTUSE b : given to unintelligent decisions or acts : acting in an unintelligent or careless manner c : lacking intelligence or reason : BRUTISH
2 : dulled in feeling or sensation : TORPID <still stupid from the sedative>
3 : marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting : SENSELESS
4 a : lacking interest or point b : VEXATIOUS, EXASPERATING <this stupid flashlight won't work>
This is exactly what is implied, or stated outright, by critics of the church!
Discoveries and ignorance
Many people who have been in the church for many years still do not know much about it. There are many ways to see the church, and some people choose a view that cannot do them much good. But as the difficulties pile up, they do not choose a different way to see the church. They just reject it, believing that their current understanding is the only one possible.
Professional scholars, however, know that each "discovery" is just another step in our understanding. Further discoveries can cause us to change our beliefs once again. Often, for example, people are brought up as religious, they reject religion when they become teenagers, thinking that they have made some great new discovery. Then as they grow older and wiser they see it in a different light and return.
It is arrogant and naive to assume that our latest personal conclusion is a "discovery" of "the truth." It is equivalent to saying "I am cleverer than you - my opinions are the final statement of truth!" and anyone who disagrees is clearly too stupid, ignorant, or deceitful to see for themselves.
I am reminded of the great mathematician Laplace. He was famous in the nineteenth century as the atheist who declared that everything in the universe is essentially mechanical and predictable. Hence there was no room for chance or for God. Laplace was a highly intelligent man, and he had the weight of scientific discoveries behind him. But despite the strength of his arguments, he was wrong. He is nowadays only quoted when quantum physicists wish to show how ignorant people were in the nineteenth century. I am sure that is not how Laplace wanted to be remembered! (For more about quantum uncertainty, see the page on science and the spirit world. For more examples of scientific ideas changing, download the book on Book of Mormon evidence.)
In conclusion, when we say that our view is obviously the right one, we only betray our ignorance.
"This or that prophecy was wrong"
One area where we need to be especially humble is in the interpretation of prophecy. Some people get excited when they find a prophecy that, in their eyes, was not fulfilled, and see this as damning evidence. But in every case, closer inspection shows that it is not as it seems. For example, people often quote conditional prophecies (that will be fulfilled IF the person concerned is obedient), or prophecies that are fulfilled in unexpected ways.
For example, one critic complained that her husband, a church member, was promised that he would do a great work "on this earth." A few years later, the man died. We are not told exactly what he was to accomplish, but there are many things that can be accomplished in a short space of time but are not obvious until later. Jesus Christ was the prime example. Other people sow seeds that do not bear fruit until years later, or do great work through their example (the Holocaust victim Ann Frank is a prime example). Without more details, we cannot assume that an early death means that good cannot be accomplished "on this earth".
"I lost my faith at university"
Perhaps the most common example of the naive "I discovered it was wrong" attitude is when young students enter university. It may be the first time that they are exposed to new and challenging ideas. There may be highly educated and persuasive lecturers who can quickly demolish the young student's previously held ideas. But if we go on and continue studying, we discover that the lecturer was not, after al, the ultimate source of truth, and there are other ways to look at things.
For example, we may learn in sociology that lots of religions have a charismatic leader who claims to represent God. But so what? All that matters is, are any one of them genuine?
Or we may learn in psychology that other people also believe that their church or faith is true. Of course they do! Then we do not reject all religion, we find out why, and how, and what is the nature of these feelings.
After all, we may learn that people used to have different ideas about science. Does that make us reject the whole of science as a fraud?
Actually, the restored church is especially strong in the area of education. Unlike in almost any other church, The more educated a member is, the stronger is that persons faith. (See the page on science and the evidence book for details.)
Loaded words: "faith" and "reason"
Words do not always have the same meaning to everyone. So we should beware statements like "my testimony is based on faith and not reason." If "faith" means "blind faith", and "reason" means "evidence", this is terrible thing to say. But to those with experience of both words, the meaning is a little clearer.
Faith, although a form of belief, essentially means evidence coupled with hope. That evidence includes:
- The evidence used in "reason" (see below).
- Evidence from more experienced people (it is often wise to listen to those who know more).
- Evidence from experience that is hard to quantify. Sometimes we cannot remember the origin of an idea, but experience (or gut feeling) makes us feel a certain way. This is the kind of evidence used in so-called "fuzzy logic", and enables us to make better use of the more obvious or formal evidence.
- Evidence from direct revelation. (This is the category that others find hardest to cope with.)
In contrast, "reason" means:
- Applying our limited ration of intelligence (we tend to forget that out intelligence is severely limited, and thus apt to draw false conclusions)
- Only using evidence that is easy to communicate to others.
Hence so-called "faith" is based on MORE EVIDENCE than so-called "reason".
Loaded words: "honest" and "reputable"
A whole lot of attacks on the church are based on loaded words. E.g. "the official, censored version of church history compared with the discoveries of honest and reputable historians." This is a childish attempt to sway the argument without appealing to any hard evidence. As long as we stick to the evidence,w e find that the church position stands up extremely well.
And so it goes on. Whatever topic we consider, there are always different approaches, different conclusions, and new evidence to discover. Why should that come as a surprise to some people? If we decide to stop as soon as we find someone who disagrees with the church, of course we have problems! But if we continue digging, we will find that the LDS view is not just another opinion, but it makes more sense than any other, and stands up to any attack you can throw at it. Which brings us to our next class of attack...
"Look what I discovered!"
The more vocal critics of the church like to parade their so-called proofs for all to see. This is often very amusing. They seem to be competing with each other to pack in as many fallacies into as small a space as possible. This web site is not about examining every anti-Mormon claim. They come up with some crazy ideas and this could spend all day. Instead, I will start with a typical list of so-called "problems" and look at enough to demonstrate how silly they really are.
The following (like most of the examples on this page) is from a letter to "Recovery from Mormonism:" Like many such documents, it starts with general insults (Mormons are frauds, General Authorities are liars, etc.) then moves on to the hilarious (sorry, "damning") details.
|"LooK how clevr i am"
A typical list of intellectual proofs against the church
|Argument against the church||Fallacies used (For more on fallacies, click here)|
|The Hoffman forgeries: General Authorities should have known by inspiration that the "ancient" documents were forgeries.||"Maybe" is confused with "always." Because someone can pray and ask God for truth, it does not follow that they pray over everything. Ancient documents are simply not that important to a living church (they would be more important to a dead church).|
|"Since leaving, church members have hounded us / members have avoided us".||This is simple loaded words - making either contacting or not contacting both sound sinister. This is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. Unless someone sends a letter to have their name removed, they will probably still be a member, and so get occasional visits. But if they request their name to be removed, it is assumed they do not want visits. What else are we supposed to do?|
|Members do not want "anti" literature, so they must be afraid of the truth.||This is "argumentum ad lapidem" (saying "it just is"). It implies that "anti" literature is "the truth," without providing any evidence for that assertion. Even if it contained any "truth," there could be numerous reasons for avoiding it - for example, it may just be a tedious waste of time.|
|"No-one ever mentioned [the First vision] until 18 years later."||Apart from being simply false, this statement is a straw man - if something is not written down at the time, that does not prove that it did not happen. Many great events were not written down until years later (the New Testament histories for example). Why would Joseph write it down? He was not likely to forget it!|
|"The official History of the Church is only 40% Joseph Smith's writings."||Again, a straw man. This is no secret. Some of the history is openly written by others. Also, it was common practice in the early nineteenth century, if someone employed another man to keep his records, for that other man to write in the first person. Hence Joseph Smith would ask William Clayton (or whoever) to keep his (Joseph's) daily history, and each day Brother Clayton would write "Today, I did this..."|
|And so it goes on. The author goes on to repeat old arguments about the Book of Mormon and other topics, apparently unaware that all his questions have been answered in great detail on other web sites. The main issues are also discussed in the book on Book of Mormon evidence. There is nothing new. Is this the best they can do?|
The bottom line:
When people reject the truth, it is a tragedy - in the literal sense of the word.