I realised earlier today that not only is it Fast and Testimony Sunday for Latter-day Saints around the world, but it’s also Post Your Testimony Day, which is a worldwide event encouraging Mormons to share their testimonies with people in order to encourage someone to change their life by joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So, with this in mind, I want to share a few thoughts on what a Mormon testimony is and how it can cause a Mormon to go bad.
Firstly, and for the benefit of anybody reading this that has no idea what I mean when I refer to Mormons having testimonies, here’s what the LDS Church says on their official website:
A testimony is a spiritual witness given to an individual by the Holy Ghost. The foundation of a Mormon’s testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves us; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the infinite Atonement; that Joseph Smith is a prophet, which God called to restore Jesus Christ’s church to the earth; that we are led today by a living prophet; and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Saviour’s Church restored on the earth today. (What is a “testimony” that Mormons speak of?)
There are many cognitive biases that cause people to think in certain ways. We all have them. Mormons who have a testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints clearly exhibit a cognitive bias known as “overconfidence effect”. The 5-minute video below will explain what overconfidence effect is and how it operates in people’s lives.
A testimony is the very foundation of what Mormons think, say and do. It’s the reason why a lot of Mormons are intellectually lazy, overly reliant on church leadership, wilfully ignorant about “real” church history, are able claim “All is well in Zion!” when it’s not, justify treating questioning Mormons with contempt, indoctrinate small children who know no better and think they have the only answer to every question. The list could go on and on. Their overconfidence is astounding.
When church members fall back on their testimonies, for whatever reason, they’re utilising an overconfidence bias as a mental short-cut to achieve peace of mind. They will, for example, completely ignore troubling, but verifiable, evidence of Joseph Smith’s coercion of young girls into marriage because their testimony tells them that he’s a prophet of the Lord and God’s mouthpiece. They feel that it’s pointless to investigate any claim of impropriety on the Prophet’s part made by ex-Mormons, instead choosing wilful ignorance but not realising it. Those Mormons who are fully aware of this information are, in essence, allowing their bias to change their moral compass and completely ignore the ethical ramifications of the Prophet’s actions. Such overconfidence often causes Mormons to make untrue statements about ex-Mormons which could very well damages their reputation. Many an ex-Mormon has borne the brunt of such attacks.
Something missing in the video above is an explanation of how such a bias can make good people do bad things, and that was my initial reason for writing this post. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that most Mormons are inherently good, but when they are overconfident in their testimony, they misjudge the value of their opinions, beliefs and abilities, and can become self-righteous and judgmental of people who don’t share their views.
Take my ward bishop, for example. Before I turned my back on the Mormon Church, I was under the impression that he was a good and kindly man and someone I considered to be a very good friend and, if I’m honest with myself, I actually looked up to him as he was someone I wanted to emulate. But he treated both my wife and me with disdain when we were struggling with questions regarding the veracity of the LDS Church. He completely misjudged our motivation for asking the questions we did, even though we tried to explain ourselves to him. It was all very baffling, and quite hurtful. In the end, our bishop accused us of apostasy and told us that we shouldn’t make any more contact with our fellow church members, and neither would we receive any more home and visiting teachers. I was completely disgusted by his actions.
I share this to show that an overconfidence bias can undermine good character and cause a person to say and do things that they wouldn’t say and do under normal circumstances. I have no doubt that the questions we asked challenged the bishop’s testimony. But he lacked the knowledge and understanding to address our concerns with the LDS Church, so he relied on his testimony and used it as a buffer to absorb any impact that our questions might have on his beliefs.
Many Mormons make a laughing stock of themselves when they allow their overconfidence to overestimate their accuracy and depth of knowledge about the Mormon Church. They will challenge, say, an ex-Mormon who happens to be fluent in “proper” church history and suddenly find they are gasping for air. For far too long they’ve let church authorities spoon-feed them revisionist history. They won’t admit their ignorance, but instead will conjure up all manner of excuses to make way for their escape. But, before they go, they will share their testimony with you because they think that there is a special kind of power in a testimony that can overthrow human reasoning. They believe that saying “I know the LDS Church is true!” answers every question. Why did Joseph Smith marry 14 year olds? “The LDS Church is true!” Why has there been nearly 4,000 changes made to the Book of Mormon? “The LDS Church is true!” How can you trust your prophet when 11 of them where wrong about the salvation of black people for almost 150 years? “The LDS Church is true!” It’s ridiculous, and it gets tiring. If you can’t answer a question, then say so.
A Mormon’s overconfidence bias gives free rein to the leadership of the Church. They can say and do almost anything with impunity. Consider the following statements by church leaders:
- “…most women get the type of man they dress for.” (Ted R. Callister, BYU-I Devotional, Jan. 22, 2013)
- “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” (Dieter F Uchtdorf, General Conference, Oct. 2013)
- “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy.” (Ward Teachers Message, Improvement Era, June 1945.)
- “Those who have used human reasoning to supersede divine influence in their lives have diminished themselves and cheapened civilization in the process.” (Dallin H Oaks, BYU-Idaho, “Witnesses of God”.)
- “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you…’” (Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, Oct. 1970, p. 152.)
- “In our system of Church government, evil speaking and criticism of leaders by members is always negative. Whether the criticism is true or not…” (Dallin H. Oaks, Criticism, Ensign, Feb. 1987, page 68.)
Most Mormons don’t bat an eyelid at such teachings. They have so much confidence in their testimony that they are “led today by a living prophet” who can’t or won’t lead the LDS Church astray that they will just sit back and enjoy the ride. They will pay, pray and obey without a murmur. Such is their overconfidence. They won’t actively seek information to challenge their initial diagnosis, that the Church is true, but are happy to rest on their laurels.
I was once one of those Mormons. I made the fatal mistake of rarely questioning my assumptions, biases, and knowledge, and I’m embarrassed to admit that my overconfidence bias made a fool out of me.