Why not investigate?

From the per­spec­tive of a believ­ing mem­ber, there are many valid rea­sons to avoid crit­i­cal­ly1 inves­ti­gat­ing the truth-claims of the Church.2

Lack the time, energy, interest, or capability

To inves­ti­gate requires time and effort. Most mem­bers are busy rais­ing a fam­i­ly and have many demands on their time and focus. Maybe now is just not a good time?3

Oth­er mem­bers may feel that a thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tion is too far out­side their abil­i­ties. A per­son who has not spent time in their edu­ca­tion or employ­ment assess­ing data or argu­ments is like­ly to be reluc­tant to engage in crit­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion.4

Predetermined irrelevance

Some mem­bers may be so com­mit­ted to par­tic­u­lar facets of the Gospel (say, the Book of Mor­mon or the hap­pi­ness they feel in a com­mu­ni­ty of Saints) that the ques­tion of whether the truth-claims stand up to scruti­ny feels com­plete­ly irrel­e­vant to them.5

For exam­ple, some feel that their ini­tial exam­i­na­tion of the Church is enough to mer­it their life­long devo­tion. They know that liv­ing the Church lifestyle gen­er­al­ly makes peo­ple hap­py and that is enough for them. They would rather focus on liv­ing the Church than on find­ing infor­ma­tion that might detract from their hap­pi­ness and the hap­pi­ness of those around them.

Become vulnerable to loss or change

To inves­ti­gate is to open one­self up to poten­tial loss or change in at least two sig­nif­i­cant ways:

Loss/damage of past and future meaning.

The fol­low­ing are the major ways in which a person’s entire under­stand­ing of their past and present pur­pose and mean­ing may be altered through investigation:

Major consequences of critical investigation of the LDS Church’s truth-claims
Major con­se­quences of crit­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion of the LDS Church’s truth-claims

Some exam­ples might include a re-assess­ment of the val­ue of hav­ing paid large amounts of tithing and the man­ner in which a per­son treat­ed “way­ward” fam­i­ly mem­bers.6

Possible loss/damange of important relationships.

Vir­tu­al­ly all Lat­ter-day Saints have expe­ri­enced friend­ships that were lost or dam­aged when a friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber under­went a faith tran­si­tion. In some cas­es, those who change faith can end up being shunned or viewed as an ene­my by mem­bers who they once con­sid­ered their close friends.

Sim­i­lar­ly, a faith tran­si­tion can strain exist­ing fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships with active mem­bers of the Church. To inves­ti­gate may mean to face a loss in the close­ness of some fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships for an inde­ter­mi­nate length of time.

Fear of becoming an apostate or a wolf in sheep’s clothing

Mem­bers know that inves­ti­gat­ing is the first step to poten­tial­ly becom­ing an “apos­tate”, and apos­tates are gen­er­al­ly por­trayed in the Church in the worst pos­si­ble light.7

A per­son may remain in the Church after inves­ti­ga­tion but the inves­ti­ga­tion may result in their faith becom­ing more nuanced. If they adopt more nuanced views in an effort to rec­on­cile their faith with the evi­dence they have encoun­tered, they may then face the poten­tial dis­ap­proval of some ortho­dox mem­bers who might view them as a wolf in sheep’s cloth­ing.8

Damage to ego

Inves­ti­gat­ing the truth-claims of the Church my require self-nega­tion of one’s own ego in these ways:

  • The mere act of inves­ti­ga­tion may imply that the spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences a per­son had are insuf­fi­cient or their faith is some­how lacking.
  • If inves­ti­gat­ing were to result in a loss or dam­age to faith, then a per­son might have to admit: 
    • defeat to the oth­er-side (i.e., “anti-mor­mons” were right)
    • that they’d been fooled or blind­ed for a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of their life.

Assert faithfulness, pass a trial of faith, and avoid distraction

Some mem­bers may feel like crit­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion is some­thing to be avoided—that refus­ing to inves­ti­gate is to pass a tri­al of faith. Refus­ing to inves­ti­gate may be a way to assert a person’s devo­tion and faith­ful­ness to the cause. Or, a per­son may see refus­ing to inves­ti­gate as a sto­ic choice to avoid dis­trac­tion with things of less­er impor­tance to their eter­nal progression.

Follow some counsel from General Authorities

Although some of the Brethren have encour­aged inves­ti­ga­tion there are many state­ments by Gen­er­al Author­i­ties that seem to dis­cour­age crit­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion.9

For instance, Sheri Dew, a for­mer coun­selor in the Relief Soci­ety Gen­er­al Pres­i­den­cy taught:

As seek­ers of truth, our safe­ty lies in ask­ing the right ques­tions, in faith, and of the right sources—meaning those who only speak truth: such as the scrip­tures, prophets, and the Lord through the Holy Ghost. (BYU Ida­ho Devo­tion­al, Will You Engage in the Wres­tle?)

Why investigate?

There are sev­er­al com­pelling rea­sons to crit­i­cal­ly inves­ti­gate the foun­da­tion­al truth-claims of the Church.

Most who investigate are glad they did

A pair of infor­mal sur­veys were con­duct­ed in an attempt to quan­ti­fy the per­cent­age of peo­ple who were glad they had inves­ti­gat­ed the truth-claims of the Church. The results were high­ly con­sis­tent: regard­less of the out­come of inves­ti­ga­tion (i.e., whether or not a per­son retained their tes­ti­mo­ny and/or mem­ber­ship in the Church) the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple who inves­ti­gat­ed the truth claims of the Church are glad they did or wish they would have inves­ti­gat­ed soon­er.10

Small relative expenditure of time and effort.

A 40 year old mem­ber of record has spent approx­i­mate­ly 5,000 hours lis­ten­ing to core Church instruc­tion. An indi­vid­ual who served a mis­sion spent between rough­ly 6,000 and 8,000 hours knock­ing doors, ask­ing peo­ple to inves­ti­gate the mes­sage, and attend Church with them. Against this back­drop, the time and effort required to inves­ti­gate the Church’s truth claims seems rel­a­tive­ly small.

A for­mer mem­ber reflected:

I wouldn’t even buy a nose­hair trim­mer from Ama­zon with­out check­ing a ton of neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive reviews, but I nev­er even looked at 3rd par­ty reviews of the church before invest­ing my life into it. (source)

Gain something valuable in the investigation

There is much poten­tial for good to occur in the course of investigation—regardless of the outcome.

Opportunity for reconciliation

The process of inves­ti­ga­tion opens the door for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with for­mer mem­bers or oth­er mem­bers who are grap­pling with dif­fi­cult Church issues:

  • If an inves­ti­ga­tor see flaws in the log­ic or evi­dence that’s been neglect­ed then they can offer it up and per­haps con­vince those who have cho­sen a dif­fer­ent path to come back. Per­haps those peo­ple have missed some­thing?11
  • If an inves­ti­ga­tor is per­suad­ed by the evi­dence (even par­tial­ly), then they have gained some com­mon ground with indi­vid­u­als who have expe­ri­enced a faith transition.

If a per­son inves­ti­gates and their beliefs do not change, some kinds of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion may still occur:

  • Mere­ly read­ing through the issues is an acknowl­edge­ment of the sin­cer­i­ty and human­i­ty of oth­ers who have cho­sen to investigate.
  • A per­son who inves­ti­gates may find them­selves bet­ter able to empathize and under­stand those who have expe­ri­enced a faith tran­si­tion. They may be in a bet­ter posi­tion to then defend and advo­cate in the reli­gious square for those who have cho­sen to leave.

Greater appreciation for eternal truth

If the inves­ti­ga­tion alters a person’s view of the Church to some degree, then they may simul­ta­ne­ous­ly gain a greater appre­ci­a­tion for whichev­er truths with­stood scruti­ny. All that was good and true beforehand—if it was tru­ly good and true—should remain even after investigation.

In addi­tion, mem­bers are taught in the tem­ple that “all truth may be cir­cum­scribed into one great whole”. How can a mem­ber accom­plish this cir­cum­scrip­tion with­out con­sid­er­ing all truth?

May foster a climate of belief

BYU Schol­ars are fond of quot­ing Austin Far­rar, a famous theologian:

Though argu­ment does not cre­ate con­vic­tion, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that abil­i­ty to defend is quick­ly aban­doned. Ratio­nal argu­ment does not cre­ate belief, but it main­tains a cli­mate in which belief may flourish. 

While many indi­vid­u­als who inves­ti­gate end up with less belief in LDS Church truth claims, some indi­vid­u­als who inves­ti­gate have com­ment­ed “that this addi­tion­al dig­ging and uncov­er­ing has actu­al­ly made stronger [their] belief that the Mor­mon church is the only true church of Jesus Christ.”

A full-measure of agency

Arguably, a per­son who is unfa­mil­iar with all the data and poten­tial inter­pre­ta­tions is con­strained in their abil­i­ty to make an informed choice about whether they ought to become a mem­ber or con­tin­ue their mem­ber­ship in the Church. True agency is depen­dent on knowledge.

Concern and duty for loved ones

A per­son who feels con­cern for or duty towards loved-ones may feel a need to inves­ti­gate in behalf of those they love.12 For instance, a par­ent might rea­son that their chil­dren will ulti­mate­ly con­front the truth-claim data at some point and want to be ready with some answers and per­spec­tives. Or a par­ent might want to inves­ti­gate so they can fair­ly rep­re­sent alter­na­tive inter­pre­ta­tions in order to give their chil­dren ample oppor­tu­ni­ty to exam­ine dif­fer­ent belief sys­tems and form their own beliefs.13

The con­se­quences of Church mem­ber­ship for an indi­vid­ual and their fam­i­ly are enor­mous, so it seems rea­son­able to sug­gest a per­son respon­si­ble for oth­ers has some duty to crit­i­cal­ly inves­ti­gate the truth claims to ensure they are sound.14

The search for truth is its own reward.

Expo­sure to addi­tion­al light and knowledge—even if it caus­es a per­son to need to rework some of their ini­tial narratives—is sat­is­fy­ing in its own right and a wor­thy endeavor.

Joseph Smith taught:

One of the grand fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of Mor­monism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may. (source)

And Hugh B. Brown taught:

Only error needs to fear free­dom of expres­sion. Seek truth in all fields… (1958 BYU, Hugh B. Brown, Man and What He May Become)

Gen­er­al­ly, under­stand­ing more truth will allow a per­son to pro­duce a more accu­rate inter­nal map of real­i­ty, and a more accu­rate inter­nal map of real­i­ty will allow them to more adept­ly change what is pos­si­ble to change and to peace­ful­ly accept what can­not be changed.

No more fear of the unknown.

Once a mem­ber has ful­ly inves­ti­gat­ed the Church’s truth claims (from both crit­i­cal and apolo­getic per­spec­tives) they can­not be surprised—they no longer need fear what a for­mer mem­ber might say. Per­haps some indi­vid­u­als imag­ine more dif­fi­cul­ties with the truth claims than actu­al­ly exist?

Eleanor Roo­sevelt once stated:

You gain strength, courage, and con­fi­dence by every expe­ri­ence in which you real­ly stop to look fear in the face. 

And the Mor­mon News­room explained:

It feels uncom­fort­able to lis­ten to crit­ics call our cher­ished beliefs into ques­tion, and yet we show strength by engag­ing in sin­cere con­ver­sa­tions with those who oppose our views. After all, we trust that “truth will cut its own way” and love will even­tu­al­ly win out in the con­test of ideals. (source)

General Authorities have encouraged investigation

Elder M. Rus­sell Bal­lard taught CES instructors:

… please, before you send them [your stu­dents] into the world, inoc­u­late [them] by pro­vid­ing faith­ful, thought­ful, and accu­rate inter­pre­ta­tion of gospel doc­trine, the scrip­tures, our his­to­ry, and those top­ics that are some­times mis­un­der­stood… I’m talk­ing about polygamy, seer stones, dif­fer­ent accounts of the First Vision, the process of trans­la­tion of the Book of Mor­mon or the Book of Abra­ham, gen­der issues, race and the priest­hood, or a Heav­en­ly Moth­er. … It is impor­tant that you know the con­tent in these essays [the Gospel Top­ics essays on lds​.org] like you know the back of your hand. (The Oppor­tu­ni­ties and Respon­si­bil­i­ties of CES Teach­ers in the 21st Cen­tu­ry, Feb­ru­ary 26, 2016.) 


The deci­sion to crit­i­cal­ly inves­ti­gate the truth claims of the Church car­ries with it sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences, and each per­son must weigh for them­selves the rel­a­tive mer­it of each of the rea­sons for and against. Hope­ful­ly this break­down has pro­vid­ed some light on the con­sid­er­a­tions involved in decid­ing to investigate.

Giv­en the com­plex­i­ty of such a deter­mi­na­tion, it seems wise to refrain from harsh­ly judg­ing oth­ers who have or have not engaged in such an inves­ti­ga­tion. There are a num­ber of rel­e­vant con­sid­er­a­tions, and the deci­sion for any giv­en per­son will like­ly be influ­enced by a vari­ety of fac­tors relat­ed to their per­son­al­i­ty, past expe­ri­ences, and life goals.

  1. The word “crit­i­cal” can be used in two ways: the most com­mon def­i­n­i­tion is “inclined to find fault or to judge with sever­i­ty, often too read­i­ly”. The sec­ond is “involv­ing analy­sis of the mer­its and faults of a work”. I am refer­ring to the sec­ond def­i­n­i­tion in this doc­u­ment.
  2. I think rea­sons giv­en to not inves­ti­gate are, for the most part, very valid. I think I under­stand them, and I can empathize with those who choose not to inves­ti­gate. For the first 20 years of my adult life I tend­ed to avoid read­ing direct argu­ments against the Church. So, even though I read broad­ly about Church issues, I gen­er­al­ly worked my way through issues begin­ning with the apolo­getic side first to ensure there was already a response in hand. And when peo­ple came to me with doubts or ques­tions I invari­ably looked pri­mar­i­ly for the answer to their prob­lem (i.e., how do I make this work?), rather than try­ing to weigh the mer­it of their ques­tion or posi­tion on its own terms. As a per­son who avoid­ed inves­ti­ga­tion for decades, I can­not real­ly crit­i­cize any­one who would rather not inves­ti­gate or would rather not inves­ti­gate right now.

  3. To every thing there is a sea­son, and a time to every pur­pose under the heav­en.” (Ecc 3:1).

  4. The con­tent of this point was tak­en from or influ­enced by feed­back from the red­dit user Anti-Mor­mon-Moroni.

  5. The con­tent of this point was tak­en from or influ­enced by feed­back from the red­dit user Anti-Mor­mon-Moroni.

  6. Many who decide the Church is no longer true no longer view their past tithing pay­ments as a par­tic­u­lar­ly wise use of their resources.
    Dallin H. Oaks gave pos­si­ble respons­es to a gay child ask­ing to bring a part­ner home for a hol­i­day vis­it. Depend­ing on the cir­cum­stances at home, pos­si­ble respons­es includ­ed: “Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that posi­tion.” Or, “Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and intro­duce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a pub­lic sit­u­a­tion that would imply our approval of your ‘part­ner­ship.’” (source). Some­one who decid­ed the Church was not true might regret fol­low­ing Elder Oak’s advice in this regard.

  7. Con­sid­er the words of Joseph Smith to Isaac Behunin—frequently repeat­ed by lead­ers and man­u­als— when Isaac sug­gest­ed that if he were to leave Mor­monism he would sim­ply leave the Saints and set­tle down some­place else:

    Broth­er Behunin, you don’t know what you would do. No doubt these men [mur­der­ous apos­tates] once thought as you do. Before you joined this Church you stood on neu­tral ground. … When you joined this Church you enlist­ed to serve God. When you did that you left the neu­tral ground, and you nev­er can get back on to it. Should you for­sake the Mas­ter you enlist­ed to serve, it will be by the insti­ga­tion of the evil one, and you will fol­low his dic­ta­tion and be his ser­vant. (Teach­ings of the Pres­i­dents of the Church: Joseph Smith, ch. 27: Beware the Bit­ter Fruits of Apos­ta­sy)

  8. A per­son who believes in unortho­dox viewpoints—however hon­est­ly they they may have arrived at them—may be viewed by oth­er mem­bers as either “lazy or proud”, depend­ing on the sophis­ti­ca­tion of their think­ing.
  9. The Church strong­ly empha­sizes use of “approved” sources gen­er­al­ly. Past lead­ers have advised mem­bers to avoid “faith-killers” (see, for exam­ple, Car­los Asay’s Octo­ber 1981 GC talk where he tells of “an apos­tate” draw­ing away a mem­ber by show­ing them changes in the Church’s past. Asay advis­es: “Avoid those who would tear down your faith. Faith-killers are to be shunned. The seeds which they plant in the minds and hearts of men grow like can­cer and eat away the Spir­it.” and “Do not per­mit faith­less peo­ple to turn you out of the right way or to put you out of existence.”).
    In addi­tion, Elder Bal­lard instruct­ed CES teach­ers con­cern­ing their students:

    Remind them that James did not say, “If any of you lack wis­dom, let him Google!” Wise peo­ple do not rely on the Inter­net to diag­nose and treat emo­tion­al, men­tal, and phys­i­cal health chal­lenges, espe­cial­ly life-threat­en­ing chal­lenges. Instead, they seek out health experts, those trained and licensed by rec­og­nized med­ical and state boards. Even then, pru­dent peo­ple seek a sec­ond opin­ion. If that is the sen­si­ble course to take in find­ing answers for emo­tion­al, men­tal, and phys­i­cal health issues, it is even more so when eter­nal life is at stake. When some­thing has the poten­tial to threat­en our spir­i­tu­al life, our most pre­cious fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships, and our mem­ber­ship in the king­dom, we should find thought­ful and faith­ful Church lead­ers to help us. The Oppor­tu­ni­ties and Respon­si­bil­i­ties of CES Teach­ers in the 21st Cen­tu­ry, Feb­ru­ary 26, 2016. 

  10. 14 of 15 respon­dents (93%) who con­sid­er them­selves a believ­ing mem­ber of the Church and who have inves­ti­gat­ed the argu­ments against the Church answered “no” to the ques­tion: “Do you wish you would NOT have inves­ti­gat­ed the argu­ments against the Church? (ques­tion for believ­ing mem­bers) (source). 111 of 123 respon­dents (90%) on the exmor­mon sub­red­dit answered”Yes” to the ques­tion: “I wish I would have learned about the data and argu­ments chal­leng­ing the Church’s truth claims soon­er than I did.” (source) (As of 2016-04-12). Almost all those who explained their “No” response chalked it up to tim­ing.
  11. Con­sid­er the sto­ry Elder Faust told of a young man’s brave res­cue of his broth­er Pete.

  12. The con­tent of this point was tak­en from or influ­enced by feed­back from the red­dit user Anti-Mor­mon-Moroni.

  13. Par­ents often sub­ject chil­dren to many hours of reli­gious instruc­tion each week to influ­ence their chil­dren to believe like they do (typ­i­cal­ly done with only the best moti­va­tion). Being aware of and also pre­sent­ing alter­na­tive mod­els can be use­ful to ensure chil­dren are giv­en a gen­uine oppor­tu­ni­ty to devel­op their own beliefs. Con­sid­er the argu­ments pre­sent­ed in groom­ing minds.

  14. The open­ing para­graph of “The Ethics of Belief: The Duty of Inquiry” begins with this analogy:

    A shipown­er was about to send to sea an emi­grant-ship. He knew that she was old, and not over­well built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had need­ed repairs. Doubts had been sug­gest­ed to him that pos­si­bly she was not sea­wor­thy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhap­py; he thought that per­haps he ought to have her thor­ough­ly over­hauled and refit­ted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, how­ev­er, he suc­ceed­ed in over­com­ing these melan­choly reflec­tions. He said to him­self that she had gone safe­ly through so many voy­ages and weath­ered so many storms that it was idle to sup­pose she would not come safe­ly home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Prov­i­dence, which could hard­ly fail to pro­tect all these unhap­py fam­i­lies that were leav­ing their father­land to seek for bet­ter times else­where. He would dis­miss from his mind all ungen­er­ous sus­pi­cions about the hon­esty of builders and con­trac­tors. In such ways he acquired a sin­cere and com­fort­able con­vic­tion that his ves­sel was thor­ough­ly safe and sea­wor­thy; he watched her depar­ture with a light heart, and benev­o­lent wish­es for the suc­cess of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be…[and] she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales. 


    • Was the shipown­er guilty of the deaths of those people?
    • Did the shipown­er have a duty to inspect the ship when oth­ers had giv­en him cause for concern?
    • Had he inspect­ed the boat and found it to be sound, would his inspec­tion have been faith destroy­ing or faith building?
    • Had he inspect­ed the boat and then dis­cov­ered that the boat was unsound and need­ed repair or replace­ment, should he be labeled a “faith-killer”?

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August 29, 2017 2:09 pm

Excel­lent arti­cle! This was writ­ten with con­vinc­ing pow­er as well as empathy.

You men­tion in your foot­notes “The Ethics of Belief: The Duty of Inquiry”. I’m inter­est­ed in read­ing more of that. Can you point me to the source arti­cle or book?

Thank you!

Reply to  bwv549
August 29, 2017 3:04 pm

Thanks for the link! Yeah, that ship anal­o­gy was great. I almost felt like I was in gen­er­al conference.