Why Do People Who Look Into Mormon Church History Lose Their Testimony?

“I’m just going to be straightforward and blunt… All this information is a result of over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history…. Like you, I put my pants on one leg at a time and I see through a glass darkly. You may have new information and/or a new perspective that I may not have heard or considered before. This is why I’m genuinely interested in what your answers and thoughts are to these troubling problems.” (CES Letter)

When anti-Mormons are quick to tell me how much deep research and rigorous study they put into Mormonism, I find that it turns out all they did was read some anti-Mormon websites. History can be dangerous to testimonies for those who do not take an intelligent approach.

Look At Original Sources – As for CES Letter, I do not doubt their claim that they read several books, including Rough Stone Rolling, but I do doubt that they did so objectively or in good faith. My guess is they first read some anti-Mormon sites like Mormon Think, and then read these books as an after-thought so they could tell everyone they sought both sides of the argument. But really their mind was already made up.

I came across the website Ex-Mormon when I was very young. A dump-truck of attacks were flung at me, but I noticed one glaring lie: they said it was scientifically false for the Book of Mormon to claim elephants existed in the time of the Nephites, but I knew the Book of Mormon made no such claim; elephants existed in the time of the Jaradites, thousands of years earlier. With the knowledge that one of the attacks was a bold-faced lie, this helped me plot a course for keeping my faith.

My attention turned to raw information. I started reading, at a young age, through lengthy volumes of official Church History. I collected general conference talks and searched through apologists sites like Jeff Lindsay and Hugh Nibley. I believe the scholarly approach is to personally investigate and study the raw data for myself, rather than skim through Wikipedia or some angry blogger.

Guide your research smartly and put in a lot of time and effort.

When I looked at the Ex-Mormon Reddit site, I was struck by the incredible sophomoric pompousness and fake humility. It’s unbearable to read. CES Letter sounds open to considering new information, but they already showed an unwillingness to consider perspectives outside of their narrow frame.

Yep, a real Rhodes Scholar, this one!

There is no “new” information – Let’s face it, there is nothing new under the sun. The same anti-Mormon attacks have been published thousands of times. Nothing I say is going to change CES Letter‘s mind. All they want is an “official” response so they can gain credibility for their theories and gain new material to attack the church with. Millions of eyes have poured over the vast library of Mormon writings in existence, so it is hard to believe that CES Letter is going to be interested in what some random guy has to say.

Fake intellectualism and skewed history is a convenient excuse for those who want to doubt their faith.

CES Letter Logical Fallacies

Appeal to Novelty CES Letter disregards hundreds of years of research that directly addresses his issues, and wants “new information.” He briefly mentions modern websites like Fair Mormon, but does not even consider looking at raw information from the 19th century and studying the issues objectively.
Post Hoc
CES Letter implies that their concerns with Joseph Smith developed due to a “rabid obsession” and “intense research.” They don’t admit that the concerns were sparked by anti-Mormon websites. They want to pass it off like the concerns naturally developed during church membership. We are left to assume that evidence cropped up in his normal church study which led to his anti-Mormon turn.
Affirming the Consequent By requesting “new” information to address their questions because nothing else satisfies them, CES Letter gives the impression that their arguments themselves are new and groundbreaking discoveries. They aren’t. They have been around for hundreds of years.
Appeal to Common Folk CES Letter builds a connection of trust with the audience by acting like a regular person. “Like you, I put my pants on one leg at a time and I see through a glass darkly.” Actually, he is a rabid anti-Mormon who spent many hours coming up with persuasive attacks against the church.
Appeal to Mystery CES Letter claims no existing information has answered the troubling questions, that it will take “new” revelation or data. We “see through a glass darkly” otherwise.

Prideful Approach To Scholarship – By using euphemisms like “concerns” rather than “anti-Mormon narratives,” and by casting this image of a normal every-day guy with normal needs, CES Letter shields themselves from normal scrutiny. The scholastic approach is to welcome scrutiny and provide easy methods for opposing voices to test and disprove your theories.

CES Letter is deceitful about why they compiled all these claims. Why all the repetition? Why the shotgun of accusations? They claim:

“I’ve decided to lay down just about all the major concerns that I have. I went through my notes from my past year of research and compiled them together. It doesn’t make sense for me to just lay down 5 concerns while I also have 20 other legitimate concerns that are keeping me from believing the truth claims of the LDS Church.”

This kind of prideful approach to Mormon scholarly studies, where you start out with rigid assumptions and build narratives that only boost your assumptions, is certain to result in a damaged testimony. It is not about how many books you have read or how much you pretend to be interested in other people’s opinions. It is about how you approach the information objectively and in good faith, truly listening to both sides and searching for answers for yourself.

Image Obsession – Followers of Satan are careful to give an impression of humility and erudite intelligence. It is the impression that counts, not the rigor or soundness of their intellectual and spiritual approach.

A successful seeker of truth does not need to convince the reader about the sincerity of his approach, as it will be self-evident.

Infiltration – Another hallmark of Satan’s followers is infiltration and corruption of righteous institutions, sowing seeds of doubt and apostate messages. Rough Stone Rolling is presented as a great pro-Mormon book, and many Mormons even believe it as such, but really it is anti-Mormonism in disguise. CES Letter likewise gives the impression in their introduction here that they are “like you.”