August 7, 2008

Michael Ash: Shaken Faith Syndrome


"If you don't like [the book], I'll take full blame. If you do like it, it's not my creation completely."

Among reasons for the loss of faith are:
1) Someone loses faith because of death or calamity. "How could God do this?"
2) Some are exposed to info which call into question the truth claims of the Church.

Mike mainly approaches the second point in his book.

On the term "Syndrome."
Some have supposed that Mike is indicating that those who doubt are somehow diseased or ill." Mike says it can refer to the result of extenuating circumstances, such as the "Stolkholm syndrome." Also, the 1979 movie "China syndrome."

Syndrome:

1.Pathology, Psychiatry. a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder, disease, or the like.
2.a group of related or coincident things, events, actions, etc.
3.the pattern of symptoms that characterize or indicate a particular social condition.
4.a predictable, characteristic pattern of behavior, action, etc., that tends to occur under certain circumstances: the retirement syndrome of endless golf and bridge games; the feast-or-famine syndrome of big business.

Shaken Faith syndrome is not a disease, it is the result of the actions of another trying to hurt or damage. Doubt isn't a sin. About 95% of Americans believe in God. Nearly half seriously doubt at times.

"Our people are given the largest possible latitude for their convictions, and if a man rejects a message that I may give to him but is still moral and believes in the main principles of the gospel and desires to continue in his membership in the church, he is permitted to remain and he is not unchurched. It is only those who on rejecting a revelation rebel against the church and withdraw from the church at their own volition." (Joseph F. Smith, Senate Report of Smoot Hearing Testimony, vol. 1, pgs. 97-98)

Those who are more dogmatic or fundamentalist about doctrine seem more prone to shaken faith. Fundamentalist, as far as believing in a very rigid, uncompromising approach to their belief system. "Close-minded," in other words.

Mike said that all of us maintain some form of fundamentalism regarding various views.

Cognitive Dissonance:
Thought disharmony, when beliefs are not congruent. Mike used speeding as an example; when one is breaking the law by speeding, they might make excuses to account for their behavior. They aren't lawless knaves, they are merely in a hurry, or they are responsible enough to drive quickly.

The level of discomfort we feel is related to the strength of the particular convictions called into question. Each person assigns a particular amount of weight to each belief based on experience, education, etc.

Hunger, thirst, a psychological dry state where one needs something to fill the void, and soon.

Managing Cognitive Dissonance:
1-Reject competing cognition (call it false.)
2-Reject it as unimportant to the issue.
3-Accept it and reject the former views.
4-Accommodate current views by allowing or synthesizing the new information.

A common approach by LDS is the first and second:


1a Reject anti-Mormon info as propaganda. Brush it aside as false, resolving the problem. (Reject as false usually without investigating the material or issues.)

2a Reject the critical information in light of our spiritual testimony. (Unimportant, put on shelf.) Some have better things to do than worry about the weight of the gold plates.

Both of these approaches tend to avoid full examination of the issue. People tend to stick with their original ideas despite unsettling information. Why? Like in a relationship, people realize that current or future benefits outweigh the current problems or doubts. In the end, some LDS may rely on popular folklore, or out-dated opinions on LDS matters.

A different approach includes the third and fourth:

3a Change cognitions or beliefs. Decide that they were wrong. (Some who leave the Church, like people in point one or two, disregard studies that challenge their beliefs. It is ironic that some who leave for intellectual reasons are often unfamiliar with the current scholarship)

4a Accommodate the new information or find an answer for it. (Paradigm shift.)

Most people accept beliefs without the utmost thorough examination; there is not time to fully examine all things. The danger occurs when people do not think outside the box of conventional LDS traditions. Mike compares this to building a house of straw built on a sandy foundation of fundamentalist views. (Such as believing that all prophets from the OT to today's prophets all had the same gospel as we do today. [I think there are some BoM verses that lend into this thinking, in addition to the concept of "restoration," forgetting that things that have never been revealed will come out in this last time.]

Black and white thinking leads to problems. Some ideas such as:
-Mormons have truth, others do not.
-Pay tithing=blessings.
-If you doubt, you must have sinned.
-All children of good parents go on missions.

We should use our brains as well as our spirits when we study the gospel.

Common misconceptions leading to apostasy:

*Unrealistic expectations of prophets.
(Prophets are not infallible.)People have an assumption that true prophets will be able to predict things, never be unsure, or speak incorrectly. Prophets are not suddenly divine. They are subject to their own bias, mistakes, misconceptions, and world-views in addition to all their strengths. Joseph Smith talked about not having all knowledge all at once. Many of his visions or revelations grew out of his circumstances which led him to ask God. Even then, answers are not always given.

*Confusing tradition with doctrine.
An example of this is the view of Book of Mormon geography. Early on, church leaders easily saw the Book of Mormon geography as encompassing N. and S. America. Reading the internal text of the BoM, however, seems to fly in the face of this understanding. Many LDS scholars now see a limited geography theory. How do we reconcile that past prophets were wrong? (Remember that some LDS members were not convinced of a Hemispheric theory.) Remember that in the Bible the description of the earth is based on current understanding. Because humans are creatures of habit we tend to stick to our assumptions, especially culturally.

*Imposing our views on others. 
People tend to see things differently, and assume that others will do so likewise. Language can cause problems this way. Every written document provides immediate participation on the part of the reader. When the reader and writer come from a different social system, non-understanding often results when the reader recontextualizes the words. When the Bible talks about the "whole earth," it generally referred to the land where people live; the known land. (Ash here is referring to thoughts found in Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, by Bruce J. Malina, Richard L. Rohrbaugh.)

*Unrealistic expectations of science and scholarship
People without a full understanding of the nature of historiography, DNA, archeology, etc. tend to project a false comfort in the fields, while findings by LDS scholars are said to be colored by "bias." Thomas Kuhn talked about the nature of shifting world-views in science, religion, etc. Data is theory laden.

Inoculation
Inoculation can make people immune from surprising information. [I would add, it is actually a way to encourage critical thought among members of the Church, rather than presenting a "lighter version" of the "hard things." More on this later.] This has a small danger of negatively affecting some. In the end, Mike believes that, because knowledge is power, members will be better off if they understand the harder issues, or at least understand how to confront them.


For more on the book, a free sample chapter, and information on purchasing, see ShakenFaithSyndrome.com.  

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thomas S. Ferguson lost his faith over the archaeology of Central America. Joseph Fielding Smith spoke boldly about the fallacy of two Hill Cumorahs. Michael Ash is on dangerous ground with the Cental America location. On horses, he chooses to ignore the North American Indian.

The continued promotion of Central America does much more harm than good, and follows a course that has already caused many to lose their faith over.

The only good science that was ever at BYU on indigenous people was when Albert B. Reagan (non-lds) was employed in the 1930s. Interesting that Sorenson never mentions him. Ferguson highjacked the faith, then threw his own away.

Michael ignores all of the secular studies and the Jesuit Relations that demonstrate there is much more to the indigenous people than he promotes. His sources are LDS books, most of which were written when Joseph Fielding Smith stated that such teachings were harmful.

Most LDS are ignorant concerning the North American Indian, and far too many assume that because they think they are familiar with one tribe, that they know all of them.

Why do those like Michael never realize that the Central America game blinds an individual from even considering the living people next door? Joseph Smith said "the western tribes", but are we to assume he was wrong?

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute and FAIRS do more damage than a book "Shaken Faith Syndrome" can repair.

BHodges said...

"Anonymous," above the comment field I requested that visitors identify themselves by a pseudonym or real name, rather than using "anonymous." Your comments are very reminiscent of Rod Meldrum and his recent dvd production/tours, etc. A review of that work can be found here:

http://fairlds.org/Book_of_Mormon/MisguidedS.html

Anyone who places geographical matters over spiritual matters is walking on dangerous ground, in my opinion. Certainly things like archeology, sociology, anthropology, etc. can help us deepen our understanding.

However, above all, the witness of the Spirit, keeping the commandments of God, and relying wholly upon the merits of Christ ought to be far above matters like Jesuit writers and even Joseph Fielding Smith.

Michael said...

BHodges said: "Your comments are very reminiscent of Rod Meldrum and his recent dvd production/tours, etc".

On the contrary, he is even further out in left field.

I very much agree with what you said about spiritual matters. It is my opinion that the absolute proof some seek in Geography is like trying to prove the existence of God without the need for faith.

Blaise Pascal says it best in his writings, to paraphrase; we live in a universe where our creator reveals just enough to give us faith but never enough for proof.

I prefer his writings, as one of the earlier Christian Apologetics. They still hold up today.

By comparing my comments to Meldrum, are you a supporter of the Central America view?

BHodges said...

Currently, my understanding of the Book of Mormon fits better with my understanding of Mesoamerica than with a N. America geographical setting. I have found it to be a very fruitful way to see the Book of Mormon, though as we both note, the spiritual message of the book exceeds the geographical particulars, etc.

I am very impressed with Sorensen's idea of creating an internal map based on the Book of Mormon text alone. His book, Mormon's Map, is a good place to start. He accounts for the internal evidence. Because Joseph Smith was a translator and not author of the Book of Mormon, and because he no doubt had more pressing matters, I view the Book of Mormon itself as a more reliable or more substantive source on its geography than Joseph Smith, whose own views fluctuated over time.

BHodges said...

By the way, Mike Ash's book is a very good read and comes highly recommended from me.

BHodges said...

PS- Ferguson worked under some unfortunately inaccurate expectations, poor methods, etc.

Though you've already dismissed FARMS out of hand it seems, (and not all things published by FARMS are created equal) more on Ferguson's faith etc. can be found here:

http://tinyurl.com/dcptf1

Michael said...

I think we agree with each other quite a bit. I find a map useful in reading the events, as a way to understand where one thing occurred in relation to another.

My concern is when it is attempted to be placed in a current location. This can bring harm.

What Ferguson showed is that individuals can lose faith but not leave the Church or become an open enemy. This can cause believers to wonder if current members and some leaders even believe.

Another concern is that when a location such as Central America is considered, what about the North American Indian who have traditions so similar to some Book of Mormon teachings?

Many choose to ignore and disregard them as individuals. This can be harmful to an indigenous person who accepts the Gospel but finds the members do not accept them as being from "Book of Mormon Lands".

I find that following the thirteenth article of faith and looking for the good in all boosts faith much more than setting limits on things because of geography.

BHodges said...

What Ferguson showed is that individuals can lose faith but not leave the Church or become an open enemy. This can cause believers to wonder if current members and some leaders even believe.

I guess that possibility always exists regardless of the actual issue in question. B.H. Roberts, for example, wrote a very difficult investigative piece on the Book of Mormon, though didn't lose his faith in that work. Even still, one could argue his supposed "doubt" can lead others to "doubt." But even sharing our own testimonies has that possibility. I describe my testimony and someone could take a look at it and decide that because mine differs somewhat from theirs that there is no good basis for belief based on such testimony.

Another concern is that when a location such as Central America is considered, what about the North American Indian who have traditions so similar to some Book of Mormon teachings?

Peoples all over the globe likely have some parallel beliefs that could be found in the Book of Mormon. I personally haven't seen many persuasive arguments that demonstrate the current Native Americans have a tie back to the Book of Mormon that couldn't possibly be accounted for by other means.

Many choose to ignore and disregard them as individuals. This can be harmful to an indigenous person who accepts the Gospel but finds the members do not accept them as being from "Book of Mormon Lands".

Like Christ said, He is capable of raising up children of Abraham from stones. A person's faith needs to be grounded in the Savior, not tenuous bloodlines.

I find that following the thirteenth article of faith and looking for the good in all boosts faith much more than setting limits on things because of geography.

At the same time, a good geographical setting greatly aids in understanding the Book of Mormon from a cultural, social, anthropological perspective, and can even add some interesting theological elements into the mix. I believe Mesoamerica does that for me.

BHodges said...

Michael, are you from Centerville?

Michael said...

No, I am not from Centerville. One problem I have with Central America is that it's governments have not fit the model of freedom that the United States has maintained. I remember hearing Mark E. Peterson and Marion G. Romney on this subjects years ago.

Here's an angle you might not have considered: Study the events of the American Indian during the nineteenth century and the overlaps with the LDS on the overland trail. Consider that it might be a continuation of Book of Mormon events. It can be stunning, without having to try to locate a geographical setting of 1,600 years ago.

Much of those years before the railroad were not considered then or now, because even in 1841, Stephen's book caused so many to look south.

BHodges said...

One problem I have with Central America is that it's governments have not fit the model of freedom that the United States has maintained.

I certainly do not see the US Constitution within the Book of Mormon by any means. Our current government structure differs in important ways from that found in a close reading of the Book of Mormon. One problem we sometimes encounter is attempting to read our current situation, or force it, back into the text instead of seeing what the text has to say.

Study the events of the American Indian during the nineteenth century and the overlaps with the LDS on the overland trail. Consider that it might be a continuation of Book of Mormon events.

Much of those years before the railroad were not considered then or now, because even in 1841, Stephen's book caused so many to look south.


Historiography itself has undergone fundamental changes, including what certain Indian tales etc. contain. Further, I believe the Book of Mormon, for the most part, presents "Nephite" and "Lamanite" as political labels rather than as genetic labels as we may read them.

Michael said...

We really agree on the political labels you mentioned. I have thought that idea for years now, that a cultural spread outside of bloodlines occurred.

You might consider studying what you call "Indian Tales", from a more historic angle, but not from popular books on them which are usually wrong.

One of the things that impressed me with Albert B. Reagan was the flood myth studies he did on the western coast.

When the tsunami occurred in Indonesia, it opened up an interest in his works, because geology showed that a wave had hit the coast.

His and other ethnologists published works in the 19th century showed that oral histories carry a credible element.

BHodges said...

If you are under the impression that I favor legends etc. such as Quetzelcoatl in favor of a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon, that would be a mistaken assumption.

I haven't looked into the flood tales you mention.

Michael said...

No, I didn't assume that. Actually, I am enjoying this exchange with you, as I see we think very much alike on some things.

You do have to be careful with American Indian legends, as so much published today ties in with New Age nonsense, and is way off track.

Living tribal members are cautious to expose too much, and it can be difficult to be accurate.

I do get tired of the North American claims that I call "crank", such as a horse head found in a mound in Wisconsin, etc. There certainly are walls of falsehoods to get past in a search for accuracy.

BHodges said...

Agreed.

BHodges said...

Just wanted to make it clear that I feel your assessment of Michael Ash, FARMS, the Maxwell Institute, and FAIR, is off base.

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