Thursday, March 25, 2010

Questions, Anti-Mormons, and Cognitive Dissonance



As I said before, I had very little exposure to "anti-Mormon" literature prior to college. My first real experience with anti-Mormons was in the first few weeks of my first semester.
While browsing YouTube one afternoon, I stumbled upon a "Banned Mormon Cartoon," which purported to expose some of the more controversial teachings of Mormonism, such as (among other things) the Curse of Cain doctrine and Adam-God theory, and the LDS belief that 1) God was once a man, and 2) we may become gods. I actually found the cartoon amusing in what I supposed to be its inaccuracy. It was amusing because some of its claims were, in fact, true, but most of them were patently ridiculous. I posted a comment on the video expressing this opinion, and almost immediately was rebuffed by former-Mormons armed with facts and references to Brigham Young's Journal of Discourses. I proceeded to argue with these comments, until I became so frustrated that I snapped off my computer in frustration and did not engage in the debate again.

While this incident did not really affect me in any way other than making me exceedingly frustrated, it marked the first in a series of incidents that would lead to my eventual loss of faith. Some weeks later, I got into a disagreement with my roommates on the subject of-- of all things-- nylon stockings. Apparently, a number of stake presidents had issued statements asking that all sisters wear nylons to church. I, personally, am not a fan of nylon stockings. They itch and scratch and are a pain to get on and off, and they get runs in them and are expensive to replace. I felt that if a stake president wanted to mandate that all women wear nylons, then he could wear them himself and see how he liked it. I voiced this sentiment, and the attitude of my roommates was that since a priesthood leader had given this directive, it must be inspired, and who was I to question it? After my roommates had gone to bed, I decided to look online to see if I could find anything about the legitimacy of priesthood leaders dictating feminine attire beyond modesty. I didn't find anything, but I did find several blogs, including Feminist Mormon Housewives, where other women voiced sentiments similar to mine. This led me to other discussions and articles about sexism in the LDS church. I don't remember precisely why this made me doubt the validity of the church, but it did. That night I wrote in my journal that "if the church is true, then I'll stick to it to the end. But if it's not, then shouldn't I look for what is?" I felt lost and sad, and didn't know what to do with the issue.

As the days went by, daily life and the routine of classes and homework pushed my concerns into the back of my mind. Not a few weeks later, however, a Google search in attempt to verify an LDS urban legend led me to a Christian site devoted to converting Mormons. The site listed a dozen or so things about the Mormon church that I had never heard, or had heard in the YouTube video but thought preposterous. However, I was easily able to verify that the Mormon church had taught such things as the Curse of Cain (the belief that blacks couldn't have the priesthood because they had been less valiant in the premortal life, and so were born into a line that was denied the priesthood) and the Adam-God doctrine (the belief that Adam was, in fact, God). I was confused and more than a little upset by this information. I emailed my Book of Mormon professor with my questions, in the hope that he would be able to shed some light on the subject. He was rather dismissive towards my findings, saying that anti-Mormons were always bringing up little things and blowing them out of proportion. They didn't seem little to me, though. If such things really had been taught as doctrine, and were later abandoned, what did that mean about the church? The thing about the LDS church is, it teaches that it is headed by a living prophet and always has been. Herein lies the conundrum: if Brigham Young taught one thing, and Spencer W. Kimball and Thomas S. Monson taught another, even opposite doctrine, which is the true prophet? One has to have been wrong. But the LDS church teaches that a prophet will never lead his people astray. How was I to reconcile this information? It was impossible.

As the days wore on, I forced myself not to think about these things. I started to feel physically ill when I did-- my heart rate sped up, I felt nauseated and clammy, it wasn't pleasant. This was making it difficult for me to focus on my studies, so I chose to "put it on the shelf," as Mormons say. I was willing to just stick with the LDS church in spite of my doubts, because I was sure that the problem was me, not them. I just wasn't smart enough to see how it all made sense. I was sure that if I just stayed true to the faith and endured to the end, the answer would make itself clear somehow.

The final straw came one Sunday night in early November. It's almost ironic how trivial that last straw was. I was up late, finishing up some homework that was due the next day. As was my habit, I checked my Facebook when I was finished, and saw that one of my friends was "attending National Hug a Mormon" day. I thought this was cute, and wondered if it really was a national holiday or just some dumb Facebook thing. So, naturally, I Googled it. As I browsed through the search results, I found more anti-Mormon information-- Joseph Smith's polygamy-- the Book of Abraham-- multiple accounts of the First Vision of Joseph Smith-- it seemed virtually endless. It all came crashing down on me; the last shreds of faith that I had been clinging to were destroyed. I felt so alone and helpless. The world was dark, everything had been destroyed, I was trapped, and there was no way out.

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