An LDS spokesman…says that the way to handle it is not to try to silence those asking hard questions, but to try to provide them information to address their doubts. That is also true. Seems to me that no church can suppress serious questions for long and expect to hold on to future generations, not in this skeptical day and age. You may not be able to provide the answers the skeptics require, but being willing to address the questions — whether about theology, history, or the behavior of church leaders — honestly is, as a Mormon historian quoted in the Times story says, the only way to go. This is true not only for Mormons, but for all of us.
Yes, this will happen. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. It’s human nature. People would rather believe the lie that helps them make sense of the world and sleep well at night. It’s true in religion, it’s true in politics, it’s true of everything that our humanity touches. A few years ago, I knew a woman whose family was really messed up. Her father had serious mental problems that were dramatically affecting the emotional health of the family system. But everybody in the family had to pretend that Everything Is Fine With Dad, because to face the obvious would mean that everything is not fine, and nobody wanted to deal with that. My friend really suffered from this, as did everybody in the family — and one component of the suffering was the sense that the situation was hopeless, because too many of her family members were emotionally dependent on not confronting the problem. I’ve heard this kind of thing over and over from friends who have had alcoholics in the family — and who, in a couple of cases I can think of, had to separate themselves from their families to protect themselves and their children from the family system that demanded assent to the Big Lie — that Dad Is Fine — in order to be a member in good standing. My friends felt the cost to their own integrity, even their safety, depended on separating themselves from a system that crushed the truth for the sake of maintaining itself.
The book I’m reading now, The Captive Mind, by the Polish anti-communist dissident intellectual Czeslaw Milosz, examines four cases of fellow intellectuals who embraced the Big Lie of Communism, and what it cost their minds and souls. The danger to men like Kevin O’Brien is that the people who demand that the Big Lie is true, and that anybody who denies the Big Lie is an Enemy, will drive the truth-tellers into a place of bitter cynicism. In the case of the Church, if you come to see authority figures as profoundly untrustworthy (or worse), you may come to cease believing in their authority in other areas, and come to think everything they say — even the truthful things — is part of the Big Lie, or at least might be.
Fr. Jiang and Archbishop Carlson may be innocent here, but presuming their innocence does not require turning oneself into a credulous fool. It is very, very hard to walk the tightrope between cynicism and credulity; I struggle with this every day. The problem is when you don’t struggle at all. Hardcore cynicism is a different kind of Big Lie.