Jim Bennett, son of late US Senator from Utah, wrote a reply to the CES Letter in 2016.
Jim is an incredibly witty, entertaining, and talented writer. Not only were the answers helpful, but it was a joy to read, given Jim’s wonderful style.
Many of us know Latter-day Saints who have recently struggled with their faith, especially when unprepared and facing down a huge list of criticisms and unfamiliar context.
Drinking from a critic’s fire hose isn’t a good idea. It’s best to get help and to see a line-by-line response to critics’ claims. Jim provides helpful answers and insights for those sincerely seeking answers.
Jim updated his response here to this anti-Mormon PDF and released the update today.
To review other scholars’ responses click here. The answers to LDS critics are scholarly, fair, exonerating, and voluminous.
Dan Peterson shares the sad story of a young man who left the Church and later took his life. Dan points out positives associated with faith.
Peterson quotes Bertrand Russell’s dreary thoughts about the pointlessness of life.
“That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave;
that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.
Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”
The best solution to lack of faith and despair is a return to faith and hope.
Among other things, Peterson shared research by Harvard scholars and compared C.S. Lewis’ life to Freud’s. They correlated better mental health with faith and church attendance.
LDS critics often charge that our faith and its policies precipitate and trigger suicide.
To properly speak on this topic, one should understand quite a lot. I’ll link a few articles below that only skim the surface, but will begin to inform readers of at least a few of the many associated variables.
Engaging in this complex issue with unsupported allegations — often done by LDS critics — is highly irresponsible.
Trouble is, the number far exceeds the suicide figures collected by the Utah Department of Health.
Preliminary figures for November and December show 10 suicides in the Beehive State for people ages 14 to 20, with two more cases “undetermined.”
In fact, the department reports, the overall number of Utah deaths for that age group in those months was 25, including the 10 suicides and two “undetermined” cases, along with 11 in accidents, one by natural causes and one homicide.
“We monitor the numbers [of youth suicides] very closely. We review them every month,” says Teresa Brechlin, who works in the department’s violence- and injury-prevention program. “If we had seen such a huge spike, we would have been investigating it.”
Had there been any mention of the LDS Church’s policy on gays, her department “would have noted that,” Brechlin adds. “We have not seen that at all.”
Other paragraphs make the point that depression and suicide are extremely complex. No one factor triggers suicide.
“People with depression tend to have less efficient energy utilization in certain parts of their brain, like the prefrontal cortex,” said Brent Kious, a U. psychiatry professor and the review’s lead author. This energy roadblock, he said, means people have a tougher time overcoming negative emotions.
It turns out other mountainous states have similarly high suicide rates, with Montana, Wyoming and New Mexico also in the top five and Alaska ranked second, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This trend has earned the Intermountain West a morbid nickname: the suicide belt.
The U. researchers reviewed several U.S. studies that found suicide rates increased with altitude. One that examined nearly 9,000 suicide deaths in 2006 across 15 states found the suicide rate at high altitudes was three times higher than for those living near sea level. Another study noted a “threshold effect,” where suicide rates increased dramatically between 2,000 and 3,000 feet. Salt Lake City’s altitude is 4,265 feet.
Scientists in other countries have discovered similar associations, the U. review found. Suicide rates in Andalusia, a mountainous region of Spain, were higher than the country’s average, a finding correlated with high altitude. In Saudi Arabia, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among depressed patients at a high-elevation psychiatric hospital was more than five times higher than at a sea level one.
These studies have piled up in recent years, Kious said, including several conducted by researchers at the U. One 2015 study showed how exposure to altitude led to more depression-like behavior in female rats. After a week of thin air, the rats were less likely to struggle in a swim test.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control, youth suicide is in the midst of a precipitous and frightening rise. Between 2006 and 2016, suicides by white children between ages 10 and 17 skyrocketed 70%; while black children are less likely than white children to kill themselves, their suicide rate also jumped 77%. And as The Blaze points out, CNN reported last year that “the suicide rate among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 rose to a 40-year high in 2015.”
“It’s not just young people. According to Tom Simon, a CDC report author, “We know that overall in the US, we’re seeing increases in suicide rates across all age groups.” As of 2016, suicide levels were at 30-year highs.
A few years back, the trendy explanation was economic volatility — the market crash of 2007-2008 had supposedly created a culture of despair, cured only by suicide. But the economy is booming, and has been growing steadily since 2009. There are those who blame the rise in drugs as well, particularly opioids — but according to a study from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, drinking, smoking and drug use may be at the lowest levels “seen in decades,” as the Los Angeles Times reports.
There seems to be a crisis of meaning taking place in America. And that crisis of meaning is heavily linked to a decline in religious observance. As The Atlantic observed in 2014, citing a study in Psychological Science:
The researchers found that this factor of religiosity mediated the relationship between a country’s wealth and the perceived meaning in its citizen’s lives, meaning that it was the presence of religion that largely accounted for the gap between money and meaning. They analyzed other factors—education, fertility rates, individualism, and social support (having relatives and friends to count on in troubled times)—to see if they could explain the findings, but in the end it came down to religion.
Suicide is complex. Please understand the data before demagoguing.
Great podcast! Faith is reasonable. And is a choice.
Abstract: In this article I argue that faith is not only rationally justifiable but also inescapable simply because our decisions regarding ultimate questions must necessarily be made under conditions of objective uncertainty. I review remarks by several prominent thinkers on the subject — both avowed atheists and several writers who have addressed the challenge implicit in issues related to faith and reason. I end my discussion by citing William James, who articulated clearly the choices we must make in addressing these “ultimate questions.”
Super talk by Noel B. Reynolds. You can read or listen to it here.
– INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT
– SENTIMENTALISM VS. SPIRIT
– DISCERNMENT IMPORTANT
– LIGHT OF CHRIST
– USEFULNESS OF REASON
– THE ROLE OF SIN
– CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD
– GUIDELINES TO KEEP FAITH
– INTELLECT AND FAITH
A wonderful quote:
“Too much of the literature used, seen, and quoted in the Church today is just sentimental trash which is designed to pull our heartstrings or moisten our eyes, but it is not born of true spiritual experience. The tendency of our youth to use sentimental stories in Church talks creates a culture of spiritual misunderstanding in which thinking and learning are discouraged.”
Do you always believe everything negative about Hillary? What about the bad news about Trump? Immediately believe such news?
You shouldn’t. Everyone is wrong and makes mistakes. Trump makes lots. So does Hillary. Some policies each proposes are bad. All aren’t good. We should use balance, reason, and prudence to discern what is good and what is bad — not parrot like an uninformed, zealous partisan.
We find people debating every social, religious, and political issue every day. On Facebook. On blogs. On TV. At work. Those in these debates can usually be placed on a continuum of reason vs. blind faith. On a continuum of information and data vs. data-free emotion.
Atheists may have blind faith in their positions with no basis in fact. Theist also may have blind faith with no basis in fact. Your co-worker may be entirely emotional and not study any issues. A neighbor may never be emotional and have every fact in the Universe memorized. Everyone relies on some amount of faith and then an individual amount of facts.
We don’t know everything, so we gotta have faith in many areas of life. But to rely solely on emotion or blind faith isn’t a good approach, in my view. Instead, to we should gather all available data to make the most-informed decision possible.
I’ve noticed that many LDS critics fall into this category — partisan, uniformed zealots — on many topics. They rush to judgment when an LDS official is accused of wrongdoing, for example (this has occurred recently online). Indeed, in my experience zealous LDS critics often assume the worst when the topic involves Joseph Smith or current leaders. More data or context isn’t needed. No way! They “know” the truth, and their mind’s made up.
This tendency — to assume the worst without evidence — is indicative of a problem. A lack of balance and sense of proportion. A willingness to be ignorant. Perhaps lacking understanding that they’re, in fact, ignorant. But being ignorant, nevertheless.
A commitment to a cause — be it Trump, Hillary, the LDS Church, etc — that is not based in reality. But in large amounts of emotion.
Critics of the Church (or any organization that is being unfairly maligned) often withhold exculpatory information. This means, information that would exonerate or free of wrongdoing is intentionally withheld. This is dishonest.
Remember the Duke Lacrosse case? The lacrosse players hired a stripper. Bad idea. But they didn’t rape her, as she later claimed. The District Attorney assigned to the case stretched out the case longer than he should of, and used it as a way to get reelected.
It turned out, the DA also withheld evidence that would have freed the boys and avoided ruining their reputations (and lives for a few years). That is, he buried exculpatory evidence. He was disbarred (lost his law license) for this action.
These kinds of practices are dishonest, unethical, and a form of misrepresentation. Fair-minded people need to weigh the evidence. They should see the often weak claims — especially in light of more data and context — as undermining of a critic’s position. Waiting and researching prevents quick, rash, overreactions.
Of course, Mormons can also be immensely defensive and not follow the facts. They shouldn’t. Latter-day Saints should follow the evidence and increase their testimony. After all, we embrace all truth!
Mormon leaders have not and never will be perfect. Neither have biblical leaders or leaders of any organization now or in history been perfect. But, as unfamiliar issues and controversies arise, let’s gather all the possible associated data before we throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.
If you’re too quick at either activity — to defend or to accuse — rather than gather the evidence fully, you might fall into the zealot camp. An overzealous and uninformed fan with lacks proportion, balance, and all the context.
So, if you’re an absolute, fully committed, all-in Trump, Hillary die hard, LDS critic, or uninformed partisan for the LDS faith you might want to evaluate your positions and look at more data before you jump to the defense of your candidate or annihilation of your opponent.
My experience is that the vast, vast majority of Latter-day Saints don’t rob, steal, or assault sexually (or otherwise). However, some do. And our past leaders were good men. And our religious practices took place in a real, historical context that takes time to appreciate. So, as we learn, let’s hear all sides, allow for due process, and not rush to judgment.
And when questions arise relative to items in LDS history, please take the time to do the research. You shouldn’t immediately trust LDS critics, nor should you exclusively trust what your Uncle Bob might say about our own history (even if he’s an active member). Study things on your own. Weigh the evidence. And strive for balance and prudent understanding.
The best route is to follow the advise given in this podcast: always consider the best in other faiths and groups. Don’t knock down their weakest point. Appreciate their strongest point!