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 FAIRMormon.org). 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
“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.