“Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt,” by Michael R. Ash

Book Review and Recommendation

I have spent thousands of hours studying the church and gospel, reading hundreds of church related books, including biographies, histories, and commentaries, in addition to the scriptures, and attending dozens of lectures and symposia. Thus, whenever I have been confronted by anti-LDS claims, my faith has not been shaken.  (Of course, the “keystone” of my testimony is the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.)

Realistically, few members are inclined to spent this kind of time and effort in a rigorous study of church doctrine and history. This sometimes leaves them vulnerable to anti-LDS attacks.

Shaken Faith Syndrome” is perfect for those members. It is the best single volume for “strengthening one’s testimony in the face of criticism and doubt.”  I highly recommend it.

Misplaced Testimony and Anti-Mormon Vulnerability

The first 100 pages of “Shaken Faith Syndrome” discuss member’s vulnerability to anti-LDS claims.

“More members than ever before are encountering doubts generating ‘discoveries’ because of the Internet.” (p. xii)

“Because faith is not a perfect knowledge, it seems that all of us are, at times, beset by periods of doubt…. Why are some people’s testimonies strengthened by questioning, while other testimonies are destroyed?” (p. 3)

“While we respect each individual’s right to believe or disbelieve for their own reasons, it is lamentable when personal misconceptions, naïve assumptions, and lack of knowledge makes one vulnerable to accusations and claims that have rational answers.” (p. 17)

“So how does one distinguish the good information from the bad information? Through better education.” (p. xii)

Allegation of Church Cover-up and Betrayal

Most of the anti-LDS websites allege that the church has betrayed its members by covering-up negative information.

“[Antagonists] frequently claim or imply that the Church hides [critical] information from members.  The critics supposedly are merely exposing a ‘cover-up.’… It is the feelings of deception and betrayal that ultimately drive people out, not the discovery itself…. Is there any truth to the charge that the Church has withheld challenging details of the past? The answer is both yes and no.” (p. 12-13)

“LDS scholars have openly discussed these topics for decades and any student seriously interested in LDS history has access to material that engaged these issues.” (p. 17)

“While General Authorities are typically well versed in the scriptures, they may not be very well versed in Church history.” (p. 16)

“The purpose of Church curriculum, including Sunday School, Priesthood, and Relief Society, is to support the mission of the Church: to bring people to Christ. Very little actual history is discussed in Church classes.” (p. 13)

I personally learned about most of these controversies from the church during my college institute classes and church sponsored lectures and symposia on church history.   Plus, almost all of these controversies have been discussed in church books and magazines, and in church-related publications and websites. Everyone has easy access to these materials.  No one is hiding anything.  There is no betrayal.

Sometimes, members are blindsided by their own ignorance.  They have a superficial knowledge of the scriptures, doctrine, and church history.  They expect someone else to spoon feed them rather than putting in the effort to rigorously study and learn for themselves.

Unrealistic Expectations of Prophets

Most of the anti-LDS websites point to alleged mistakes and misstatements of church leaders.

From my experience with ex-Mormons and members who testimonies have been challenged this is the single most frequently misunderstood issue related to personal apostasy.” (p. 31)

“[N]ot every word spoken by a prophet is infallible, inspired, or factually accurate.” (p. 31)

All prophets and apostles, modern and ancient, have, and will, continue to make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Only Jesus is perfect.

I personally take comfort when a church leader says something wrong or makes a mistake.  If the Lord does not reject them because of their mistakes, then there is hope for me with my mistakes.

Confusing Tradition with Doctrine

We … sometimes confuse tradition-based interpretations with doctrines or official positions.” (p. 42)

For example, when I grew up there was a tradition among members that when the Nephites arrived in the New World the land was vacant, and all the inhabitants were descendants of Lehi.   This belief comes from members who never read the Book of Mormon, or who read it superficially.   

Even as a youth, I never believed that tradition. First, the Book of Mormon never makes that claim.  Second, I always believed that intermarrying with indigenous peoples explained the population explosion and the darker skins among the Lamanites.

There are so many erroneous traditional beliefs, that I sometimes refer to the adult Sunday School class as the “False Doctrine” Class.

I didn’t want to argue with, or publicly embarrass my church teachers, and so I kept my opinions to myself.  There are a lot of traditional beliefs that we need to unlearn. They are neither scriptural nor doctrinal.  And they have nothing to do with whether the restored church and gospel are true.  

Response to Specific Anti-Mormon Claims

In the final 200 pages of “Shaken Faith Syndrome,” Michael Ash responds directly to the following antagonistic claims. His answers are intentionally brief. “[T]his book is targeted at the lay member and is not intended as a scholarly thesis on all issues relating to an ‘intellectual’ apostasy.” (p. xiv)

  • Book of Mormon witnesses
  • Book of Mormon ghost writers
  • Joseph Smith’s environment and vicinity
  • Book of Mormon anachronisms
  • Book of Mormon geography and archeology
  • Book of Mormon and DNA
  • Book of Mormon textual changes
  • Book of Abraham and Egyptology
  • Plural marriage
  • Temple symbols and rituals
  • Multiple accounts of the First Vision
  • Race and the church

For the serious student, that is a plethora of scholarly articles that give in-depth responses to all these allegations. Many of these articles are cited in the 30 pages of endnotes of “Shaken Faith Syndrome.”

But for those with limited time or interest, “Shaken Faith Syndrome” is a wonderful resource for “strengthening one’s testimony in the face of criticism and doubt.” It is a good substitute for a rigorous and time-consuming study of church doctrine and history.

(Other articles at: londonedition.home.blog or http://www.londonedition.net)

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