All of us have those moments when we realize that our cherished beliefs contradict what we know to be true. A believing Mormon has to believe that Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 is correct when it tells us that the earth will have only “seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.” But we know through science and hard evidence that the earth has been around much longer than 7,000 years, and those millions of years were not devoid of death. Most Mormons do one of two things: they reinterpret the facts or the scriptures to accommodate reality, or they simply compartmentalize, refusing to apply their knowledge and learning to matters of the spirit.
I think I did the former, for the most part. I understood, for example, that Church doctrine was incompatible with human evolution, even though there is ample evidence that we have evolved. I just put that item on the shelf and figured that either my understanding of evolution was flawed, or my interpretation of doctrine was. Either way, God created humans, however he had done it. I suspect that this kind of rationalizing goes on all the time in the church, as there are a lot of church claims and doctrines that do not conform to reality.
With the advent of the Internet, it’s become quite easy to find information about church history and doctrine, and much of it is problematic. Take, for example, the Book of Abraham, which Joseph Smith claimed to have translated from some papyrus scrolls discovered with some mummies. We learn that Joseph’s translation is completely wrong, and not only that, the church has known it was wrong since 1967. But unless you did your own research, you as a member would not have known that. You’re left with two options: find some way to make it work, or just ignore it. Some apologists, like John Gee, have made valiant (if not always honest) attempts to make it work, but most of us just ignored it. I always figured that God would explain it later.
The problem comes when you realize that every single one of Mormonism’s claims is in dispute as to whether it reflects reality. Mormonism makes a lot of claims about the history of the Americas, and when we attempt to verify them, they fall apart, just as the Book of Abraham does. No matter how you approach it, the job of reinterpreting or compartmentalizing is constant in Mormonism. I found out the hard way that it’s very difficult to maintain that kind of rationalization indefinitely.
So, how is the church responding to these kinds of situations? Here’s what current church president and prophet Thomas S. Monson has said about it:
“Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.
“Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: ‘I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the processes of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God’s word. I wasn’t with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it'” (Thomas Monson, “The Lighthouse of the Lord:
A Message to the Youth of the Church,” Ensign, February 2001).
What he’s telling us is that we must willfully drive doubt from our minds before we ever get to a point at which we have to reinterpret or compartmentalize. Just will it away, and it will go away.
Years ago an episode of the Twilight Zone had a young boy who could read the minds of the people in his town. If they thought or did something he didn’t like, he would turn them into grotesque monsters or giant toys, and then he would wish them away into a cornfield, where they couldn’t disrupt his happy existence. This is what Monson is telling us to do: wish those evil thoughts of doubt and reason away into the cornfield of blissful ignorance.
How long do you think that’s going to work?