I don't often go to LDS meetings or devotionals anymore, but I went to one Friday night because I was really bored and lonely and it was hosting Madilyn Paige, a moderately successful singer of whom I had heard. She sang some songs and gave some good motivational speaking and showed some cute videos of herself singing as a child, including one where a sibling was saying, "Stop, stop, please, stop, stop." I feel the same about my roommate's singing, but even at that age, hers was actually good. Toward the end of the devotional she touched on something that's become almost obligatory to acknowledge in these settings: faith crisis. She said she's had doubts and she still has questions and it seems like people are stepping away from the church more than ever these days. She said she's thought about what if she gets to the end and it's all made up, but she can't deny what she's felt. And I mentally rolled my eyes at that and then I chastened myself for being judgmental because I was in the same position not long ago. Well, almost the same position. I was never famous or pretty or good at singing.
Because of what I felt within the context of the LDS Church - not often, but often enough - I thought for years that I was doing the right and intellectually honest thing by trying to rationalize or defend every issue with the predetermined conclusion that the church is what it claims to be, and by fighting to hold onto my faith at all costs long after I should have known better. I thought that if I just held on a little longer, everything would fall into place and make sense and the church would stop letting me down. After I had to accept that that wasn't going to happen and the church isn't what it claims to be, I clung to the hope that God still had some important divine purpose for it besides opposing social progress. After that hypothesis failed, I clung to the possibility that, as David Whitmer explained at length in "An Address to All Believers in Christ" (which should be required reading for all Latter-day Saints), the Book of Mormon was true and Joseph Smith started out as a true prophet but the LDS Church fell into apostasy almost immediately when he overstepped his boundaries. I didn't want to believe that I'd wasted so much time and energy defending pure fiction. But that's just how life goes sometimes.
Jeffrey R. Holland recently shared this big steaming pile of desperation in a devotional that I'm not sorry I didn't watch: "Real faith - life-changing faith, Abrahamic faith - is always in crisis. That’s how you find out if it’s faith at all. I promise you that more faith will mean less crisis until, finally, God says, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant.'" Faith is always in crisis, but more faith means less crisis. (With this statement he broke his own previous speed record for contradicting himself, set in 2012 when he lied to a BBC reporter about the pre-1990 endowment penalties before conceding their existence seconds later.) I was never taught anything remotely like this when I grew up in the church, and of course it's not being taught now because it makes any kind of sense but only because none of the church hierarchy's previous attempts at damage control have worked. So now they're trying to rebrand constant cognitive dissonance as proof that the church is true. I did think for a while that I was passing an Abrahamic test, but when it didn't end and didn't end and didn't end, I decided that life is too short to put up with that crap indefinitely.
I don't deny that I felt feelings at times while I was in the church. I don't know what to make of those feelings now because all I have are memories of them, and memory is unreliable in part because it's filtered through my current knowledge and perspective. And of course I have no idea what Madilyn Paige has felt. But I know there have been people in every religion, including suicide cults, who have felt equally confident that their religion was the correct one. I don't know that this is common. The LDS Church places more emphasis than most on personal revelation (although it also teaches that any personal revelation that doesn't conform with its teachings is, ipso facto, invalid), and many, maybe most people just go through the motions in whatever religion they're born into unless and until they have a compelling reason to really think about it. But at least some people in every religion have feelings they can't deny. And then, if they so desire, they can find apologetics and scholarship to back up their predetermined conclusion that their religion is true, and they can reassure themselves that their testimony is based in logic as well as feelings, even though there's almost a 0% chance that they've actually held their religion to the same standard as all other religions. For example, LDS apologists make rationalizations for their prophets' and apostles' words and actions that they would never make for anyone else who claimed to represent God.
This is the infamous video that brought me to that soul-crushing realization. It's a compilation of people bearing emotional testimonies that their various religions, including suicide cults, are true. By that time I had been out of the church for over a month, but it severely shook my confidence in God himself and I haven't recovered. I found it through FAIR. And I'm not being snarky for once, but I legitimately couldn't even understand what FAIR was trying to say in its lengthy and convoluted response. I thought the restored gospel of Jesus Christ was supposed to be beautifully simple. I thought we had personal revelation so we didn't have to get bogged down in philosophy.
So I no longer believe that feelings are a reliable guide to truth. Now I may, of course, end up having to give up on God entirely, but I'm not ready to do that yet. I still believe in him not so much because of what I've felt but because of philosophical arguments and experiences that I don't believe can reasonably be attributed to coincidence or confirmation bias. And I don't believe he cares what religion I belong to or don't belong to as long as I do my best to love others and be a positive influence in their lives. Maybe he did tell some of the people in the video to be part of the religions where they could do the most good. Having recently watched it again after thinking about it for months, I tentatively think that strong feelings, like ones that bring people to tears, are a red flag. I think the teaching that God speaks in a "still small voice" is onto something. And I think certainty is an even bigger red flag. Faith is faith. It is not and never will be certainty. A lot of people in this video think it is, and every month Latter-day Saints reinforce their beliefs by standing up in their echo chambers and proclaiming "I know this church is true" when they actually don't. I think certainty stifles growth and defeats whatever purposes God may have for not showing his face to the world and telling everyone exactly what to do and what to believe.
I don't know what Madilyn Paige's questions are. I'm going to take a wild guess that one of them is why "God" creates gay people and then commands them to stay alone until they die. The world of LDS musicians is a small one, and I'd be surprised if she wasn't personally acquainted with David Archuleta, who left the church because its teachings about his sexuality made him hate himself and contemplate suicide. The answer to this question that I came up with is very simple: God has nothing to do with it, but the church is run by old straight men who think gay sex is gross. Another question she may have is why "God" denies women like herself the opportunities and privileges in the church and in society that men have. My answer is very simple: God has nothing to do with it, but the church is run by old male men who think women are baby factories. Maybe she wants to know why "God" banned black people from the priesthood and the temple for 126 years. My answer is very simple: God had nothing to do with it, but the church was run by old white men who thought black people were inferior to them. Latter-day Saints - including myself when I was one - make these questions out to be more complicated than they are because they can't accept the logical and straightforward answers that don't involve the church being what it claims to be.
I bet I could answer all of Madilyn Paige's questions, but she wouldn't like the answers. And that's fair. I wasn't ready to accept them at her age either, and if she's happy where she's at, I wouldn't want to take that away from her anyway. I wouldn't bother arguing against the LDS Church's truth claims at all if it didn't harm people I love. And I don't think she's the type to use her beliefs to harm people. She's been a more positive influence in the world than I've been. Here's a nice uplifting song she did.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.