Around the world and in the United States, where the faith was founded, the Mormon Church is grappling with a wave of doubt and disillusionment among members who encountered information on the Internet that sabotaged what they were taught about their faith, according to interviews with dozens of Mormons and those who study the church.
“I felt like I had an earthquake under my feet,” said [Hans] Mattsson, now an emeritus area authority. “Everything I’d been taught, everything I’d been proud to preach about and witness about just crumbled under my feet. It was such a terrible psychological and nearly physical disturbance.”
Mr. Mattsson’s decision to go public with his disaffection, in a church whose top leaders commonly deliberate in private, is a sign that the church faces serious challenges not just from outside but also from skeptics inside.
Greg Prince, a Mormon historian and businessman in Washington who has held local leadership positions in the church, shares Mr. Mattsson’s doubts. “Consider a Catholic cardinal suddenly going to the media and saying about his own church, ‘I don’t buy a lot of this stuff,’ ” Mr. Prince said. “That’s the level we’re talking about here.”
The relative newness of Mormonism, which dates to the 19th century, creates a big problem, because some of the church’s core claims can easily be falsified, or at least called into serious question. Among the questions now being asked, according to the Times:
■ Why does the church always portray Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon from golden plates, when witnesses described him looking down into a hat at a “peep stone,” a rock that he believed helped him find buried treasure?
■ Why were black men excluded from the priesthood from the mid-1800s until 1978?
■ Why did Smith claim that the Book of Abraham, a core scripture, was a translation of ancient writings from the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, when Egyptologists now identify the papyrus that Smith used in the translation as a common funerary scroll that has nothing to do with Abraham?
■ Is it true that Smith took dozens of wives, some as young as 14 and some already wed to other Mormon leaders, to the great pain of his first wife, Emma?
An LDS spokesman quoted in the piece says, every church has to go through something like this, which of course is true. He says that the way to handle it is not to try to silence those asking hard questions, but to try to provide them information to address their doubts. That is also true. Seems to me that no church can suppress serious questions for long and expect to hold on to future generations, not in this skeptical day and age. You may not be able to provide the answers the skeptics require, but being willing to address the questions — whether about theology, history, or the behavior of church leaders — honestly is, as a Mormon historian quoted in the Times story says, the only way to go. This is true not only for Mormons, but for all of us.
I know this blog has some Mormon readers. If you feel comfortable talking about it, I’d like to know how you handle issues like this. Anybody non-Mormons who want to comment on this, I remind you to be respectful in your criticism.