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Marlin K. Jensen on Doubt

I wish the following excerpt from the interview of Marlin K. Jensen had been in The Mormons.

Q: Was there ever a season of doubt after [your conversion experience]?

A: Yes. I went off to college after my mission. I took some philosophy classes. I took some anthropology classes. I’ve tried to read widely. I’m not an intellectual, I don’t think, in any stretch of that word, nor am I a brilliant person. But I do think; I do discuss. I have a substantial library, and I’ve tried to test my belief against other philosophies and other theories of life.

And sure, your question, I think that’s part of life. I think it’s in that questioning, if you’re honest and if you’re really a true seeker—if you’re not just a skeptic sitting back and taking potshots at everything and everybody and their philosophy of life—I think it tends to bring one to a deeper seeking, and I hope that’s what my doubts have done. They’ve caused me, I think, to study and to ponder and to compare and in the long run to become even more convinced that the way I’ve chosen, the way that came to me early in Germany, is the right way.

What an utterly refreshing thing to hear from a General Authority! Why don’t we hear more things like that coming out of General Conference? I have never heard another General Authority make the connection between doubt and being a true seeker. (Maybe I’m just poorly-informed?)

If the LDS culture could accept the reality of doubt (when was the last time that you heard “I believe that the Church is true” or “I hope that Joseph Smith was a prophet but sometimes I’m just not sure” in a public church meeting?) and even see how beneficial doubt can be, perhaps it could start to really help those who doubt secretly for fear of appearing weak.

Other highlights of his interview:

So we need to be better, I think, in the teaching process. We need to make sure that people really are committed before they join the church, and then I think as members, we’ve got to be ever so loving and careful in bringing them into our midst and making them feel a part of our society, our Gospel. Not easy. [emphasis added]

We can accept, I think, the indictment that sometimes we have been provincial, and I think we probably were to some extent on this point. [priesthood for men of African descent]

I think the hardest public relations sell we have to make is that this is the only true church.

And yes, some people argue sometimes, well, for the gay person or the lesbian person, we’re not asking more of them than we’re asking of the single woman who never marries. But I long ago found in talking to them that we do ask for something different: In the case of the gay person, they really have no hope. A single woman, a single man who is heterosexual in their thinking always has the hope, always has the expectation that tomorrow they’re going to meet someone and fall in love and that it can be sanctioned by the church. But a gay person who truly is committed to that way of life in his heart and mind doesn’t have that hope. And to live life without hope on such a core issue, I think, is a very difficult thing.

We, again, as a church need to be, I think, even more charitable than we’ve been, more outreaching in a sense. A religion produces a culture, and culture has its stereotypes, has its mores. It’s very difficult, for instance, in our culture not to be a returning missionary. What about the young man who chooses not to go, or the parents who marry and for whatever reasons don’t have children, or the young woman who grows old without marrying, or the divorced person? I think we can be quite hard—in a sense unwittingly, but nevertheless hard—on those people in our culture, because we have cultural expectations, cultural ideals, and if you measure up to them, it’s a wonderful life. If you don’t, it could be very difficult.

…when I compare our little bit of persecution to what the Jews have suffered for 6,000 years, we’d have to carry their briefcases. What do we have to tell them about what it means to be persecuted or to be exterminated or to have their memory obliterated?

I’ve come to believe that it’s probably the best course for the church to take to dwell on what I might call a sacred history and to talk about those elements: the restoration of the church, the gathering of Israel, the establishment of Zion and the creation of a covenant people. Those are things that not only run throughout history today, but they run through the history from the beginning. Those are the things you’ll find in the Old Testament as well as the New. …

If we could kind of have that as our organizing principle and then as part of that encourage the more traditional, narrative-type history of the church and biographies that have been written and to make our archive available for that, make our assistance available for that, and leave that writing to other Mormon historians and other non-Mormon historians, I think that will gradually dissolve the tension that exists between what is faithful history and what isn’t. We’ll each have our individual roles, and the Lord will be better served in that way.

We don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true in this religion, but there is something that holds sway over just the intellect, and that is the counsel of God. When that comes through men, who may be very fallible, that’s probably very difficult for people to accept.

There were also many humdrum, disappointing comments which towed the party line, but those weren’t especially interesting to me.

Marlin K. (as he was affectionately known to his missionaries) is a great guy. I no longer share his faith and I must admit that he does spin and whitewash some of the issues, but as I’ve said before, what’s a little theology among friends? He gives me a small glimmer of hope that the future of Mormonism may be brighter than I expected.

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  1. Sadie said,

    May 2, 2007 @ 10:02 am

    Ah. So you were a Mormon once? An elder at my church whom I respect very, very much was a Mormon at one time. He gave my husband and I a crash course in some very strange Mormon teachings. You might be interested in viewing his blog–he did a whole week of blog posts recently dedicated to his previous Mormon faith.
    You can go to my blog and then click a link in my blogroll titled Pietyhill Press-Bo’s casual Blog

  2. Kullervo said,

    May 2, 2007 @ 11:29 am

    I also think that Marlin K.’s comments were often surprisingly refreshing.

  3. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 2, 2007 @ 1:47 pm

    I was an active member of the LDS church until recently when I came out as an atheist. If you’re interested, you can read about my awakening at length, or read a short, cranky version.

    Anyway, thanks for the link. If you’re curious about hearing about Mormonism, including some of the warts, I highly recommend watching the documentary that this post refers to. (available online) Though I’m not a faithful Mormon anymore, I still feel a little indignant when I hear other people of faith dismiss Mormonism as a cult (which I often hear from evangelical Christians though there are wonderful exceptions from that group). That’s such a one-dimensional caricature that it doesn’t do the religion and its people justice.

    It’s a strange thing for an atheist to say, but of all the Christian religions, if I had to choose one of them, I would still choose Mormonism over all the others. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for my mother church, but I still find its doctrine the most compelling. Its theology is unusually resilient to atheists’ arguments (perhaps because of their neglect). If I were going to buy into the whole supernatural schtick, then I would want what Mormonism offers. Forget 72 buxom virgins. I want to be with my family forever as a family.

  4. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 2, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

    By the way, I do realize that only Muslims get the 72 virgins, not Christians. But if I had to rank promises made for rewards in the afterlife, that is definitely a strong (but distant) second place to Mormonism’s promises.

  5. Hellmut said,

    May 2, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

    Yes, it is refreshing. But Marlin Jensen still demands that people subordinate their conclusions to the words of “the prophet.” Because the prophet “knows” best.

    In the end, Jensen’s position on doubt is incoherent. Notice, that the logic of his position becomes disjointed at the point where it affects his interests. He is not only contradicting himself but he is contradicting himself in a self-serving manner.

    Jensen refers to this behavior as humble. But that does not make it so. He is merely subconsciously manipulating his mindset so that he can pursue his self-interest without getting bothered by his conscience.

    In the end, one has to forgive him for he does not know what he is doing. Insofar as others are getting hurt, unfortunately, we cannot spare him criticism.

  6. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 2, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

    Hellmut, thanks for making sure I don’t go soft. ;)

    It’s impossible to be coherent in Mormonism. For example, personal revelation and following the prophet are inherently incompatible as long as you admit that personal revelatory experiences may not always lead a person to follow the prophet.

    My preferred definition of humility has nothing to do with false modesty. Humility is the strength to see and accept things as they truly are. This documentary has shown that many LDS members struggle to accept LDS history as it is.

  7. Kullervo said,

    May 2, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

    Hate to break this to you, Jonathan, but wanna know what else is incoherent about Mormonism? The doctrine of eternal families:

    If I were to be a theist and/or Christian, I’d probably be the nondenominational Brian McLaren/Donald Miller kind (which is handy, since my wife and I attend the church McLaren founded). Barring that, I’d be Episcopalian or Quaker. Definitely not Mormon, though.

    Before settling on probably-atheism, I did some looking around, and it turns out despite what you learn growing up as a Mormon, there really are some compelling Christian alternatives.

  8. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 3, 2007 @ 9:11 am

    Interesting thoughts about eternal family. You’re right. Every concept of heaven that I’m aware of is incoherent, not just Mormonism’s. If I could wave a magic wand and make the incoherence disappear, then Mormon heaven still sounds better to me, on a purely visceral level.

    In the real world where I don’t have a magic wand, I would like to attend a Universalist Unitarian congregation and a Zen sangha. I’ve heard good things about the Kwan Um School of Zen.

    For the record, if I became a Mormon now, I would probably not be LDS. I couldn’t go back to that institution. In some ways, I feel more Mormon now than when I was an active participant in the LDS church. I recognize the heady liberty of Joseph Smith’s eclectic searching. Joseph Smith brought together Christianity, Greek mystery religions, Freemasonry, folk magic, and Kabbalah. He really was on a quest to circumscribe truth into one great whole. I don’t agree with everything his search brought together—most of it actually—but I sympathize with his passion for learning new things and creating new myth. I don’t see that passion for myth and truth in LDSism which has become bogged down in its dogma and orthopraxy.

    If I didn’t think it would lead to misunderstanding, I would still identify myself as Mormon, but never again as LDS.

  9. Sadie said,

    May 7, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

    Here’s a weird thing: A mormon friend of mine got married young which produced a child. They later divorced. She remarried and the new marriage also produced a child. When they went to the temple to be “sealed” together as a family–the child from the previous marriage was excluded. How’s that for sound theology? Sounds sick to me.

  10. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 7, 2007 @ 3:09 pm

    Agreed. I think the operative rule is that children of temple divorce are not sealed under the aegis of any subsequent marriages. If I heard it straight, when the children come of age (or maybe it’s during the Millennium), each child can choose which parent to be sealed to. How’s that for heartbreaking?!

  11. Sadie said,

    May 7, 2007 @ 7:53 pm

    It’s just sad. Mormonism goes so outside the Bible–it scares me. I don’t understand why you don’t qualify it as a cult.

  12. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 7, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

    I guess it all comes down to how you define “cult”. Sometimes it is just used as a generic pejorative aimed at a religious minority, basically a religious slur. It’s not conveying much information and is only useful to slander.

    If your definition of cult is a group which uses unethical methods to control its members, then I would agree that Mormonism has elements that would qualify it as a cult. Many forms of Christianity also have elements of cultism. Teaching children to be good for fear of Hell qualifies as an unfair cultish tactic in my book, for example. Most religious communities probably use some such tactics that we could point to as objectionable. Most religious communities could be placed somewhere on a scale of cultishness.

    So when I hear Mormonism being denounced as a cult, I’m put in the strange position of agreeing but insisting on pointing out that the pot is black, too. :-?

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