Shaken Faith Syndrome is a newly-coined phrase to connote what is ailing people whose faith is shaken by gospel questions that seem to have no satisfactory answers. Lately, for Mormons, most of these questions have to do with the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially as they relate to the behavior of people, because people tend to be pretty flaky.
Since all churches are comprised of people, all churches have questionable and confusing events in their histories. Thing is, The Church of Jesus Christ claims to be the restoration of Christ’s ancient church (which also had its share of flaky people) and to be the only true and living church on the face of the earth. It claims to be led by revelation from Christ Himself through modern prophets, so it’s held to a very high standard.
My husband remembers suffering from shaken faith syndrome very briefly during his mission. It suddenly struck him that the story of Noah and the ark could not possibly be true. He spiraled down in a matter of minutes, hit spiritual bottom, and then realized it didn’t make any difference. The Bible story of Noah and the ark is spotty and incomplete, so there’s not much there to explain some necessary details.
Very recently, scientists have declared that Noah’s ark could indeed have held tens of thousands of animals and that there is enough water in the earth’s mantel to equal what sloshes around in the earth’s seas, making the story much more plausible, indeed. Even so, it needn’t shatter one’s faith.
The Nature of Prophets
Part of the cause of Shaken Faith Syndrome can be from a misunderstanding of the nature of a prophet. Prophets are just people. Period. They are righteous people who have “an eye single” to the glory of God and are willing to keep on going in loyalty to the faith no matter what. They receive revelation from God for the Church, and even for the world, but in their own personal lives, they see through a glass darkly, just like everyone else. Prophets are also influenced by the cultures they are raised in. Their opinions are shaped by the cultures they live in, and revelations they receive are perceived through those cultural biases. An interesting example is seen in Ezekiel’s biblical explanation of future events. He likely saw modern warfare, but perceived and explained it by likening it to animals and chariots.
Changing Culture through History
We also tend to impose our modern cultural biases onto people who lived a long time. When they offend those modern biases, we lose faith in them instead of trying to understand the historical biases that shaped their behavior. Most of the converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1800’s were of Northern European descent. Most were Protestants, and many were driven by a restorationist ideal that mandated a full restoration of Christ’s ancient church. It was the Victorian era, a time when men’s and women’s roles were clearly defined and moral transgressions were closely guarded. Life spans were short; people married young; men had little standing unless they belonged to at least one local militia; and vigilantism was common, especially outside the original northern colonies. Even among abolitionists, racism was universal. Science knew very little about the earth and next to nothing about the heavens.
Where to Get Answers
Of course, the first place to go is to God Himself, who can give us knowledge and assurance we cannot get through our own thought processes or logic. Reading scriptures and praying about them, putting ourselves in church and at the temple where revelation often flows freely, can open us up to spiritual experiences that are more real than anything else around us. Those spiritual anchors can help us weather the storms of doubt. Doubting our doubt also helps, before doubting our faith.
“Apologetics” is the defending of the faith with truth. The people who are experts at it tend to be religious scholars who are dedicated to finding the facts from primary sources wherever possible. FairMormon.org is a great place to find answers to the most challenging questions about Mormonism.
For the Black question, FairMormon is good. Also try BlackLDS.org. On this site, a chart shows LDS history regarding the Blacks and the priesthood next to U.S. history and that of other religions. It’s all demonstrative of bumbling fits and starts toward equality and respect.
For Mormon polygamy, go to Mormon-Polygamy.org.
For the Mountain Meadows Massacre, go to MormonMeadowsMassacre.com.
For the Book of Abraham, go to BookofAbraham.org.
For Book of Mormon internal and external evidences of its authenticity, go to Jeff Lindsay’s accumulated information.
For Mormonism and same-sex attraction, go to MormonsandGays.org.
There are many other good sources…and many bad ones meant to confuse and befuddle. Know that questioning can often lead to greater spiritual strength.