The Human Cost of Drawing People Away from Faith

Anti-Mormon zeal brings a high human cost, in my opinion. Sometimes I see people who seem to value attacking Mormonism more than actually helping the people they are supposedly trying to save. For some it seems more desirable to drag people into anything other than Mormonism. For some any tactic seems justified to “rescue” a Mormon. A painful example I am watching involves the ex-husband of a relative of mine who is so keen on keeping his troubled young adult daughter away from Mormons that he did all he could to pull her out the safe setting she had finally found with LDS relatives and bring her back near a place where she had previously been entangled in drugs and other horrific problems.

She has been rescued from the Mormons, where she was engaging in such vices as prayer, attending sacrament meetings, and having a steady job and a drug-free life. Back near her old friends and away from the support she needed, she is now on the path of tragedy and self-destruction. But at least she isn’t acting like a Mormon. It’s not all his fault, of course, but his intervention to bring his daughter away from Mormons, fueled by his anti-Mormon zeal, was a critical turning point. We are praying that there will be another turning point toward healing and happiness again.

I know many who leave the Church publicly declare how much better their lives are when they leave. It may be so, and some did face genuine problems, pressures, or disappointments in the Church. There are good people who leave the Church for what may be good reasons to them, and I know some who go on to have productive, happy lives with good relationships and good careers and meaningful service to society.  I hope people of any faith will experience such blessings and success. But I think there is great joy that the LDS faith, properly lived and understood, brings into the lives of its members. Breaking that connection is not worth the zeal that many put into their anti-Mormon efforts.

The LDS faith has never been an especially easy religion, and our human mistakes in the Church can make it much worse and unnecessarily difficult for some. Yes, there are genuine complaints that sincere former members can raise. But a high fraction of the people I know who have left the Church seem to have lost a great deal in their lives. Especially when the move out of the Church is into a world without the grounding of religion, the loss and the pain seems to be great, as it is for the young adult woman we know and love who is entangled again with destructive influences. Is her father’s gain worth what she has lost?

For those whose goal or end effect is to replace Mormon or any fervent Christian faith with atheism, their work seems especially misguided. Of course, when it comes to religion and its benefits, I am biased. So was Nobel Literature laureate Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn (d. 2008), quoted by Daniel Peterson in his outstanding presentation at the 2017 FAIRMormon Conference, “What Difference Does It Make?” (transcript and video available at Peterson quotes from the opening lines of Solzhenitsyn’s 1983 lecture sometimes titled “Godlessness: The First Step to the Gulag”:

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I
recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation
for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten
God; that’s why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of
our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected
hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight
volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by
that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as
possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some
60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to
repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be
understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of
what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a
process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to
identify briefly the principal trait of the entire 20th century, here
too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to
repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.

Those who remember God, at least those who believe in God and participate in organized religion based on studies in the US and Europe, as Peterson discusses in his presentation, experience higher mental health, physical health, healthier marriages, higher rates of charitable giving and service, and many other factors that our society should welcome and encourage. Instead, though, religion, particularly Christian religion, is disparaged from numerous angles by the elites in our society.

Among several sources Peterson relies on is Dr. Rodney Stark, a leading authority on the sociology of
religion with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley,
where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey
Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society and later was professor of sociology and
professor of comparative religion at the University of Washington. In
2004 he became Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and
co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor
University. Peterson draws upon his 2012 book, America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists. An excerpt from Peterson;s presentation dealing with Christian religion in general and not Mormonism in particular, is still relevant to my concerns regarding the occasional loss of faith resulting from casualties of anti-Mormon zeal:

As I’ve already noted, fashionable schools of psychology have long
taught that religion either contributes to mental illness or is itself a
dangerous species of psychopathology. But the evidence, says Professor
Stark, “shows overwhelmingly that religion protects against mental
illness.” For example, persons with strong, conservative religious
beliefs are less depressed than those with weak and loose religious
beliefs. “They are happier, less neurotic, and far less likely to commit

Religious people are more likely to marry and to stay married than
their irreligious counterparts, and, on the whole, they express greater
satisfaction with their marriages and their spouses. They are far less
likely to have extramarital affairs. In addition, “Religious husbands
are substantially less likely to abuse their wives or children.”
Mother-child relationships are stronger for frequent church attenders
than for those who rarely if ever go to church, and for mothers and
children who regard religion as very important, they’re stronger than
for those church-attenders who don’t value religion so highly. Precisely
the same thing holds for the level of satisfaction of teenagers with
their families. Greater religiosity means higher satisfaction.

Strongly religious persons seem, all other things being equal, to
enjoy reduced risks of heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure or
hypertension than those who are less religious, and seem to recover
better from coronary artery bypass surgery. The average life expectancy
of religious Americans is more than seven years longer than that of the
irreligious. Moreover, “a very substantial difference remains” even when
the effects of “clean living” have been factored out.

Religious students tend to get better grades than do their
non-religious counterparts, as well as to score higher on all
standardized achievement tests. They are less likely to be expelled or
suspended or to drop out of school, and are more likely to do their

Religious Americans are also, on average, more successful in their
careers than are the irreligious. They obtain better jobs and are less
likely to find themselves unemployed or on welfare.

Committed religious believers are less likely to patronize
astrologers or to believe in the occult and the paranormal than are
nonbelievers. On the other hand, though they’re often caricatured as
ignorant, churchgoers are more likely to read, to patronize the arts and
to enjoy classical music than are non-churchgoers.

“Translated into comparisons with Western European nations,” writes
Professor Stark, addressing an American audience, “we enjoy far lower
crime rates, much higher levels of charitable giving, better health,
stronger marriages, and less suicide, to note only a few of our benefits
from being an unusually religious nation.”

None of these facts proves religious claims true, of course. But they
certainly undermine the old accusation that religion is unhealthy and

As Harvard’s Robert Putnam expresses it in his famous book Bowling Alone,
believing churchgoers are “much more likely than other persons to visit
friends, to entertain at home, to attend club meetings, and to belong
to sports groups; professional and academic societies; school service
groups; youth groups; service clubs; hobby or garden clubs; literary,
art, discussion, and study groups; school fraternities and sororities;
farm organizations; political clubs; nationality groups; and other
miscellaneous groups.”

“So,” asks Mary Eberstadt in her book How the West Really Lost God,
“is it in society’s interest to encourage Christian practice?” She then
provides her own response. “The answer is: only so far as it is in
society’s interest to encourage quality of life, enhanced health,
happiness, coping, less crime, less depression, and other such benefits
associated with religious involvement.”

Perhaps not all of these benefits are experienced by Mormons, but in my experience all or nearly all  are.  Fortunately, some members of the Church if they choose to leave stay involved in many of the good things they were doing before — service, family prayer, diligent study, temperance, etc. — but too many drift into other paths, far from their roots, far from where they should be, and find themselves allegedly happier but without the grounding the Restored Gospel gave them. Losing faith in God is not a healthy step, in my opinion. Giving up on prayer and the grounding of a personal relationship with Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit represents a tragic loss, in my opinion. May we do a better job in helping our people grow in their faith and find the fullness of joy that is possible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is much to lose, and yes, it does make a different because, as Peterson explains, Christ makes all the difference.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

72 thoughts on “The Human Cost of Drawing People Away from Faith

  1. Is this a confession of guilt that it was wrong to refer to other religions as great and abominable whores soliciting corrupt professors in the employ of Satan?

  2. What I'm wondering is how you justify the fact that the #LDS people have higher than average depression, opioid abuse and LGBTQ suicides?

  3. Utah, unlike the neighboring states of Idaho and Arizona, also high in Mormons, does have the highest rate of prescribed antidepressants. But that rate does not necessarily say anything about the influence of religion upon the lives of those who live it. Studies looking at that issue generally show LDS religion has a positive effect. See the FAIRMormon page on the issue of antidepressants.

  4. And why is teen suicide higher in Davis County Utah than anywhere else in the USA? What is the mormon church doing, if anything, about this aside from constantly reminding the membership that they must be perfect in all things all the time?
    Here's what helped me and my wife transition out of the church (and get this: we still consider ourselves Christians): we won't want what the LDS church offers as the ultimate in salvation. The LDS church teaches that polygamy is an absolute requirement for the highest level of the celestial kingdom. NO THANKS! Everything else fell into place when we realized we did not want what they pretend to promise. We still believe we'll be together (literally ever Christian denomination believes this), but we don't have the sword of absolute perfection hanging over us at every single turn. Good night.

  5. The LDS church teaches that polygamy is an absolute requirement for the highest level of the celestial kingdom.

    Uh… no it doesn't. I've heard this one before, and I can guarantee that this is taking one isolated statement out of context.

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful post. Any effort to expose members to LDS truth-claim data, or alter their living environment, must take into account some overall cost-benefit analysis of exposure or environmental disruption, and I think most former members would agree (this kind of cost-benefit discussion happens regularly on ex-mormon forums, for instance)

    Of course, former members likely do not weigh the helps and harms in the same way active members do, so that may account for some of the vigor with which former members pursue their proselytization.

    Helps and Harms

    The Pros and Cons of Mormonism

    Finally, please be aware of the religious engagement paradox, which is a well documented sociological phenomenon, and has particular implications for those in wealthier nations:

    > "Curiously, irreligious places (nations, states) and highly religious individuals tend to exhibit high levels of health, wellbeing, and prosociality. Religious engagement correlates negatively with prosociality and well-being across aggregate levels (countries and American states), and positively across individuals (especially, as noted earlier, in more religious countries)"

    > … in nations which suffer from poverty, hunger, and low life expectancy, religiosity was correlated with SWB [subjective well being], and religious individuals had a higher SWB in poor nations but not in wealthy and secularized nations.

  7. Ramera 2:07 PM, August 28, 2017 –

    Yes, there are many, many things that are no longer taught, but “one isolated statement” and “out of context” …. Now who is twisting things?

  8. Ramer, have you read section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants? Or Brigham Young's thoughts on the matter?

  9. Jeff, why do you still allow Mormography to comment on your site? As if the repeated insults and projection weren't bad enough, now s/he's assuming people's gender (incorrectly, I might add).

  10. Ramer, read Journal of Discourses 11:269 then get back to me. I'm not going to strip it of context. It's clearly and plainly laid out that polygamy is required if you want mormonism's brass ring.

    And as for calling Mormography out: grow up. This is the real world. People disagree with people. Do you call for someone to get banned whenever you're backed into a corner?

  11. Ramer, sorry, I missed the gender slurs but have now deleted them. I'll have to be more vigilant about insulting comments to ensure they are deleted.

    Watch, it people. Stay polite.

    Mormography, viewing "other religions as great and abominable whores" is not what the Church teaches, in spite of the sometimes harsh rhetoric one can find in the past. It might do you a world of good to listen to a few dozen General Conference broadcasts and count how many times the word "whore" is used or how often other religions are treated with the disdain certain commenters show here with almost every breath they take.

    Brigham Young welcomed the Catholics, for example, and helped them build a beautiful building in Salt Lake and early Mormons helped them in St. George. Brigham did not excoriate them and drive them from Utah. Mormons are taught to respect other religions and not assume we have a monopoly on truth and goodness, though we definitely have something to offer.

    Yes, we believe the the Lord was not pleased with some rather infrequent aspects of the creeds that overthrew truths about God, Christ, and man, and He used some harsh language against the religious leaders pushing those harmful doctrines, but hostility toward other churches is NOT what we are taught. Read the Articles of Faith. List to Conference. Attend some sacrament meetings and Sunday Schools. You might be pleasantly surprised.

  12. This is not a post about polygamy. A comment on the topic has been deleted. But no, we certainly do not teach that polygamy is required to go to heaven. Ugh. Strange words from the Journal of Discourses that allegedly support that notion are not our doctrine. There was much said about polygamy and other topics in the past that expressed personal and apparently errant opinions. Such strange statements, if accurately recorded, are not part of our canon and do not rise to the level of official doctrine that we are taught to follow. I know that's horribly disappointing, but there are still plenty of other issues you can use to make inflammatory comments about Mormons, so don't stress.

    1. You're right Jeff, I'm not sure how anyone could interpret that plural marriage is a requirement for the highest degree of glory based on LDS scripture. The idea is completely asinine: (D&C 132)

      1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines–
      2 Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.
      3 Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.

      20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
      21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.

      31 This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.
      32 Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.
      33 But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.
      34 God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.

    2. Monogamy is the norm except for exceptional situations, as explained in Jacob 2. Section 132 teaches eternal marriage, which can include polygamy but of course monogamy. The polygamy option was ended with a canonized declaration over a century ago. But of course you know this. Of course you know that LDS doctrine does not require us to become polygamists now or in the next life.

  13. Mormanity – So it is a confession of guilt and u admit it was wrong. Like I said, u r not much of apologist. Especially when your defense is there is nothing to defend w "that was never official doctrine" broken record.

    U and ramer opening reject the foundation and even recent belief structures, only defending a reimagined Mormonism.

  14. Sorry for slurring my speech I will try to enunciate more clearly. Pushing modern basises aside, men and women r more than anatomically different. Activities such as this are predominately male. I didn't think that was an earth shattering revelation. Do Not worry, there is no shortage of things u can find for phony outrage.

  15. Nice try, Anonymous @9:23, we all know the apologist's response: "no it isn't. We aren't talking about that anyway. Because it isn't. How could you think that? It isn't!"

  16. Mormanity –

    “But of course you know this”???

    I know many Mormons who are confused and do not know the answer. That is because both you and Anon are correct. The scripture had been interrupted both ways. “the norm” and “exceptional” are defined by sampling bias. I personally know Mormon spouses that make promises based on when they will know the answers (the after-life)

    For me to describe your statement, “but of course you know this”, as being out of touch is charitable.

    1. The issue I am addressing is not whether it can exist, but whether it is required and whether the Church teaches that it is essential. No, those familiar with the Church know thus.

  17. The problem I see with members falling away is Mormonism is the ultimate Teflon religion. I don't know of any other religion where doctrine, canon, prophesy, revelation are all so equally and easily disregarded, disavowed, and simply declared wrong!
    How can anyone depend on the very word of God when it's constantly changing?

    1. I know what you mean. Animal sacrifice used to be cool. And perpetual, for all generations. Then God changed that. Gentiles used to be off limits. Changed. Sabbath was Saturday. Then suddenly it was Sunday. And the good ol' days had an eye for an eye and occasionally what some felt was a much-needed stoning. Now everything is so tame. A guy hardly knows what to believe anymore in this Teflon-coated world of biblical religion.

    2. You're right, Jeff. Animal sacrifice, off limit Gentiles, the Sabbath, an eye for an eye. It's amazing how the arrival of the Messiah can complete, fulfill and "Finish" God's plan for salvation. That is until the LDS Church nullifies the sacrifice of Christ with it's own version of the Law.
      And I guess if you want to equate the fulfilling work of Christ to how the Church recently tossed out the doctrinal teachings of Brigham Young in order to keep up with the culture and save face go right ahead.

  18. Plural marriage as a necessity was taught for years in the church and no amount of theatrical "Ugh"-ing will make it different. It wasn't some marginal kook who preached it–it was doctrine. But of course you know this. Your attempt to downplay its significance is extremely disingenuous. The revelation in D&C 132 is pretty clear. The church no longer practices plural marriage but the revelation in D&C 132 hasn't been renounced. The manifesto was a renunciation of the practice out of necessity but it wasn't a renunciation of the doctrine. Go back and read Official Declaration 1–I did and was reminded of this fact. Another reminder is the church's stance on marriage. Women needed a cancellation of sealing to remarry while men don't. This illustrates that the doctrine is still in place. It is still unofficially taught that there will be plural marriage in heaven because there will be many more righteous women in heaven than men and the only way to obtain the highest degree of glory is for a woman to be attached to a man through the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

    I know the church has made much of the difference between doctrine and practice in recent years in defense of past practices that had been seen as doctrine. This is a doctrine that hasn't been in practice because of political pressure. This was the first major mainstream move the church made to bow to political pressure to further its own existence. It did it with blacks and the priesthood. I'm assuming it will eventually make a similar move in regards to homosexuality at some point down the road.

  19. But the LDS church does still practice plural marriage. There are several widowed general authorities who, upon the death of their first wife, quickly got married and sealed to another woman. This is plural marriage in practice. To deny this would be to lie to yourself.

  20. I wanted to share this article, but the comments, that were derailled into polygamy discussion is such a stupid addiction that I will no share this…sad.

  21. Focusing on common ground, all parties agree that polygamy is an integral part of the believe structure, and polygamy and beliefs surrounding it are withheld from “investigators”. It is not much of an apology.

  22. Ramer – Your stated rejection criteria sound like acceptance criteria. To say I disagree with your rejection criteria is, in your words, twisting things. Please explain how your criteria rejects for example the Methodist, the Strangites, Warren Jeffs. If you cannot, all the casual observer can say about your criteria is that it has been used far more effectively against your believe structure.

  23. Unless Mormanity and Ramer care to clarify, if a young Joseph Smith today asked God which Christian denomination to join, God’s answer would be any of them.

  24. Anon@11:05, the accusation was made that the Church teaches that polygamy is essential to get into heaven. No, that's wrong. It's not what our official sources of LDS doctrine teach, including Section 132. Church has explained that for at least a century. E.g., Charles W. Penrose in the September 1912 Improvement Era gave us this:

    Question 4: Is plural or celestial marriage essential to a fulness of glory in the world to come?
    Answer: Celestial marriage is essential to a fulness of glory in the world to come, as explained in the revelation concerning it; but it is not stated that plural marriage is thus essential.

    1. From the Gospel Topics area at, "
      Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

      "During the years that plural marriage was publicly taught, all Latter-day Saints were expected to accept the principle as a revelation from God. Not all, however, were expected to live it. Indeed, this system of marriage could not have been universal due to the ratio of men to women. Church leaders viewed plural marriage as a command to the Church generally, while recognizing that individuals who did not enter the practice could still stand approved of God. Women were free to choose their spouses, whether to enter into a polygamous or monogamous union, or whether to marry at all. Some men entered plural marriage because they were asked to do so by Church leaders, while others initiated the process themselves; all were required to obtain the approval of Church leaders before entering a plural marriage."

      Yes, in its heyday you can find people saying it was essential, but that is not canonized doctrine nor accepted official doctrine and we are simply not required to enter into polygamy to be saved and enter into the Crkestial Kingdom. It is not a requirement.

    2. If you'll recall, this was the original claim:

      "The LDS church teaches that polygamy is an absolute requirement for the highest level of the celestial kingdom."

      It wasn't that you can't go to heaven. You and I both know that members are taught that there are different degrees of glory in the celestial kingdom. Compare the claim above to the scripture below. Sounds like a requirement to me (italics added). . .

      31 This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.
      32 Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.
      33 But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.