Thursday, April 28, 2022

Real vs. Rumor part 2: the youth

The most perplexing aspect of the book is the way Brother Erekson does not follow his own advice about how to approach history. We'll look at several examples in coming posts, but in this part 2, we want to focus on the impact of Church history issues on the youth of the Church.

On page 156, Brother Erekson writes,

"Does anyone even run into that faith-challenging, anti-Mormon stuff?" an older woman asked.

"The only people who do are the ones hanging out in bars and places like that," said a man of her same generation.

I was surprised how prevalent this assumption is, so I began to gather evidence. During the summer of 2019, I spoke to hundreds of Latter-day Saint youth at conferences and firesides. Using an anonymous polling system that operated through their phones, they responded to this question: "Have you ever encountered something that challenged your testimony?" The "yes" results were usually in the 90 percent range and never less than 80 percent. The most surprised people in the room were the adults!

I have questions. 

First, the opening dialogue isn't plausible, but let's say they are accurate quotations nevertheless. Who talks like that? Who thinks like that? And what does hanging out in bars have to do with anti-Mormon literature? The conversation depicted here reflects extreme isolation and naivete, more of a parody than an authentic scenario.

Is relative exposure to "anti-Mormon stuff" a generational difference? While the Internet has made materials far more accessible, "anti-Mormon stuff" has been around since the inception of the Restoration. Maybe in pockets of Utah or Idaho there are Latter-day Saints who never "run into" these things, but that's definitely an exception.

Alternatively, the opening dialogue may reflect the "lazy learners" who don't ask questions and are impervious to outside literature or even conversations with people outside their bubble.

I don't know how old one has to be to qualify as "older" but when I was a 19-year-old missionary, I had long since heard the "anti-Mormon" arguments that I encountered during my mission. So had all of my companions. We discussed these things. And this was decades ago.

Another question: why would the adults be surprised at the poll? I don't see any indication that the adults themselves were polled, so it's not clear how Erekson knows the adults were the most surprised people. Are these parents who never talk with their kids? Church leaders who never engage with the youth they are responsible to lead?

Again, let's assume everything Erekson reports here is accurate. If so, that leads to the inescapable conclusion that there are adult Latter-day Saints who are poorly informed themselves, don't talk with their kids, and have fragile testimonies that have never been challenged. That doesn't bode well.

Then again, the question "Have you ever encountered something that challenged your testimony?" is so open-ended it doesn't help us much. People would answer yes if they felt a prayer went unanswered, if they thought about the evil in the world (war, crime, hunger, etc.), or if they read the CES Letter. 

For many Latter-day Saints, it is the teachings of certain LDS intellectuals that are faith challenging. Lately some of our own LDS intellectuals are trying to persuade us that Joseph Smith never really translated anything, that he didn't even use the plates, and that he and Oliver misled everyone about the Nephite interpreters and the New York Cumorah.

We have examples of these teachings right in Real vs. Rumor!

It would be interesting if Brother Erekson had polled the youth regarding their reaction to the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) narrative. Or the M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). In my experience, few people find SITH either credible or inspiring. The well-known declines in activity and conversion rates correlate to this SITH narrative, which became popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. While correlation is not causation, it's difficult to believe that the SITH tactic employed by Mormonism Unvailed in 1834 would not have the intended impact when it is so fully embraced by LDS intellectuals that it is now in our curriculum.

M2C explicitly rejects the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. When LDS scholars teach the youth that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah, it hardly builds faith.

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