Doubt is all too often seen as a threatening, criminal activity at Church. I’ve found that when I’ve expressed doubts, people quickly explain them away without hearing me, or bear their testimony about the basics, or accuse me of trying to tear down the church. Unless someone has experienced the same, disorienting, feeling of doubt, they don’t hear what I’m saying.
When shame is the response to openly expressing our doubts, doubt is repressed. Either people leave the church, or they continue to attend but feel a loss of authenticity. The Crucible of Doubt presents another option.
Terryl and Fiona Givens had a family member experience a crisis of faith. The internet famous “Letter to a Doubter” was written for that family member, and was ultimately the inspiration for this book. They wrote this book specifically for people who have doubts, big doubts, and want to find a way to still embrace the church, authentically.
A few weeks ago I attended a discussion with the authors and some other folks from around the Bloggernacle. We talked about the book, and how we would bring it back to our respective online communities. The most important message that I took away from the book is the idea that we are each responsible for our own spirituality. Quick fix answers for anything are fraudulent, and this is especially true for religion. James 1:5, arguably the most important verse in Mormonism, is a Divine mandate to question. It is up to us to examine every assumption and paradigm that we have inherited about God. The book speaks of Julian of Norwich, a mystic, who spent twenty years seeking an answer in solitude, when she realized she had been asking the wrong question all along. I can relate on a smaller scale with the question about women and the priesthood. I spent my whole life asking why women would want the priesthood. My paradigm changed dramatically when I started asking why God would want a male-only priesthood.
Being responsible for your own relationship with God seems obvious, but in a world that prizes certainty, there is peace in sanctimoniously declaring, “Once the prophet speaks, the thinking is done.” In The Crucible of Doubt the Givens address this mindset, and the perils of hero-worshipping mere mortals, even if they are called of God.
Reading the book, I appreciated their candor, and their willingness to look at things from all angles. In person, the Givens were personable, humorous, and came across as completely authentic. When they discussed Joseph F. Smith, who had served as church historian for years, who as a child had seen the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum after they were killed, I finally had an idea of why church history has been so… heroic.
The book quotes fairly equally from LDS scripture and apostles, and from other sources. I really appreciated the chapter on “Holy Persons Ye Know Not Of.” For me, a good poem, is more spiritual than scripture. They also addressed Mormonism’s supposed monopoly on truth in this chapter. The entire book was like a manifesto for “Big Tent Mormonism”, celebrating Joseph Smith’s inclusive vision of Heaven, and laying a framework for Zion that is uplifting for everyone.
I like how they framed the purpose of a congregation, as a group of people, almost like family, that you might not always agree with, but you work together as a community to find common ground and help each other become closer to Christ. This, and the shift in paradigm about why we attend church, I think can be really helpful for people who are struggling within their wards. According to the Givens, we don’t attend church looking for our primary spiritual nourishment, we attend to have community. Again, we shouldn’t be looking to other people for our primary spiritual nourishment.
Over all, I am really thrilled that this book is on the shelf at Deseret Book. I think it marks an important change in the way questions and the people who ask them are treated by the church congregations and leaders. Because there is so much shame surrounding doubt, I think this book can help a lot of people who have been afraid of expressing doubts. When I first spoke some doubts out loud, I half-feared that I would be struck down. The open discussion of things that have previously been off-limits will free people from dogma centered lives, and help them center their lives around their own relationship with God.
Seriously, if you are in that space where you know the church is true, but some things about it really hurt, read this book.