Michael Vinson, of Salt Lake City, a master’s graduate of the Divinity School of the University of Cambridge, has a fascinating essay in the current issue of Sunstone. Titled, “The Crisis of Doubt in the Church,” it offers the proposal that “we formulate a new view of faith and doubt, one that recognizes the latter as an integral part of testimony.”
As has been mentioned in media reports, there is a trend of apostasy in the LDS Church, including “some of the most educated and highest income earners,” as Vinson relates from anecdotal sources. I’d add, citing anecdotal evidence, that many others are young adults who spent their childhoods as active members of the church. Vinson notes that a misunderstanding between faith, knowledge and doubt can hinder efforts to counsel members whose faith is tried and are seeking questions relating to doctrine or LDS Church history.
To get to the nuggett, Vinson is arguing that we need to give the acknowledgment of doubt more respect, and to regard it as a major component of faith, rather than a weakness. He writes, “The underlying problem is not the level of a member’s church activity but the fact that they have bought into a false dichotomy about the relationship between faith and doubt … suggesting that the effective exercise of faith requires that one have zero doubt.”
Vinson is on to something here. He quotes Alma 32:18, “for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe.” In short, we are commanded to have faith, which is something not known. “As Vinson writes, “… if the truthfulness of the plan of salvation and the Church can actually be known, then faith is unnecessary. But since faith is the first principle of the gospel (and therefore necessary), we can conclude that it is certain knowledge, not doubt, that is the opposite of faith.”
Vinson suggests that members of the church embrace a union of faith and doubt, as a way to “believe something” via faith rather than “know something,” which really doesn’t take faith. He argues, convincingly in my opinion, that “it is our emphasis of testimony as a knowing experience rather than as a faith experience that causes our angst.”
The author also cites Mark 9:24, as an example of faith and doubt being in harmony. “And straightway the father of the child cried out with tears, ‘Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief.’”
Knowledge, as well as perfection, are ends, not journeys. Faith is a journey that includes doubt and obedience. Christianity, and many other faiths, demand that we subject our will, and reason, to an unseen deity. In the LDS faith, we are asked to sustain men as senior representatives of Christ’s church. These are actions that cannot be proven. To say they can is deceiving. They demand faith. Even in times we may doubt there is a loving God or a man who speaks with God, I believe our faith in those things are more powerful than the rhetorical “I know” uttered for the same criteria.
If persons struggling with the claims of any religion, Mormon or otherwise, were told that these feelings are not a spiritual weakness, but a natural, and healthy, component of faith, there might be fewer apostasies. However, that requires tremendous patience, from parents, mentors, siblings and ecclesiastical leaders, such as bishops. Religious beliefs are so bedrock to many of us that to witness a loved one question those beliefs results in hostility. Even the late LDS prophet Spencer W. Kimball reached a point with his eldest son, Spence, a skeptic of Mormonism, where to maintain a relationship the father had to quit talking with the son about his church standing.