A friend of mine who read Is President Monson Going to Jail? asked if I had investigated the charges against him, i.e., against the LDS Church. It hadn’t even occurred to me, possibly because the headline charge—collecting tithes under the “fraudulent” teaching that all humans on earth are descended from Adam and Eve—is so nonsensical. It got me to thinking, though, that even if the charges were more rational, I doubt I would have investigated further. There are just some areas where, once a decision is made, facts (or the assertion thereof) lose their power. Religion for one. Marriage for another.
Any -ism for a third; think environmentalism or feminism, which if practiced fervently enough are their own religion.
Let’s say I’ve decided to marry, and someone wants me to know all the bad things that have happened and can happen to married people. The abuse, the divorce rate, infertility, adultery. Even if I know the statistics intimately, even if I know my marriage has only a 50/50 chance of succeeding (25/75 if we both have children already), there is something so grand in the value of marriage that I want it anyway. It’s the same with religion.
Once we’ve decided to be Catholic, for instance, it is our personal experience that matters more than verifiable facts about pedophile priests. Even if we learn that clergy high up in the Catholic Church were involved in some degree of cover up, by reassigning offending priests, if our personal experience of being Catholic has enough value, we absorb those facts without it changing our commitment to the faith.
At this point, my experience of being Mormon, the undeniable transformation it has wrought in my life, makes any new fact about the Church, Joseph Smith, the doctrine, etc. something to absorb and not anything I think will change my mind. I know there are some people who will leave their particular faith if this, that, or the other happens, and certainly the former Stake President in England who is suing President Monson is a good example of that. I’m not sure what the difference is between us. Maybe the value of the religion for him wasn’t enough to sustain him through to the end. Maybe one day I will be looking for a way out of the Church, and controversial parts of its history will be sufficient to make my break.
The other point my friend brought out was that she thought eight was too young to make the decision to be baptized into our church. It’s true that an eight-year-old is rarely acting under their own mind to “make” that decision but rather is responding to parental and church leader expectations around them. I don’t have a problem with that. The alternative is to raise children without any religion until they are old enough to make an informed decision—twenty-five if we’re going by completed brain development—in which case, a life lived without religion for the first twenty-five years will almost certainly preclude a life lived with it thereafter. Better in my opinion to teach a child solidly about one religion, and then he or she can use it as a reference point for evaluating any other religion, or no religion later.
I have another friend who feels somewhat “tricked” as she put it, to find out later in life about the Mountain Meadows massacre and other controversial points of LDS Church history. Again, I understand the reaction; I just don’t share it. Do we stop being Christian because we find out about the Crusades? Or the Inquisition? Faith, as practiced by imperfect humans, will always be replete with ego, greed, violence, pride, etc. I can’t think of a single religion that doesn’t have both fantastical (e.g., the parting of the Red Sea) and horrific elements (e.g., the Salem witch trials).
I think the question is, what do you expect from your faith? Faith, religion, belief, whatever you call it is meant to tie you to God and delineate guardrails for happy, meaningful lives. Just because somebody or bodies back up the line messed up, doesn’t change that for me. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Mormon Church is a complete fraud, that there is no God even. Am I a better person for living this religion? Do I provide more service because my church encourages it? Are my tithing funds used to build more church buildings where more people can worship in a way that elevates them? Are other of my tithing funds used to provide humanitarian relief from disasters around the world? That’s good enough for me. Nobody needs to prove to me in a court of law that every point of Mormon doctrine is true, or that no one in Mormon history was a fraud, con, or cheat. It simply does not matter to me because the value of my religion makes those facts irrelevant. I don’t investigate the charges because what for?