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Doubt is the Unforgivable Sin

Mormons don’t believe in hell, except for what they call “Outer Darkness,” which is where people go who have had a witness of Christ and then deny Him. Though no one will point a finger and say — this person will be in Outer Darkness, it has become clear to me over the last year or so that doubters and anti-Mormons are the ones who go to hell. We have to be what Joseph Smith meant when he invented the idea of Outer Darkness. The concept is meant to frighten us so that we never step over the line into doubt. If we just hold tight to our testimonies (or at least pretend to), then we will end up in one of the kingdoms of God, and will at least have visitation rights to people in the other kingdoms. But doubters will be thrust down to hell and will not be redeemed in any way. How can they be? They are trying to destroy the foundation of the gospel, faith itself.

All other sins, murder, child abuse, theft, adultery, blasphemy, all of them can be redeemed if you are repentant. I hear people complain all the time about the recent excommunications from Mormonism, most of which are on the grounds of “apostasy.” What this apostasy means is doubt. It means questioning the leadership, questioning the narrative of Joseph Smith’s First Vision and the translation of the plates.

Doubt cannot be redeemed. Doubt means that you cannot be allowed inside the church anymore. Doubt makes you dangerous. Doubt is a seed that grows up into such a large plant that it steals resources from other plants and chokes them to death. Doubt is the unpardonable sin of Mormonism and of every other religion.

I’m going to add here that sin does not make you dangerous. Sin actually makes you more likely to stay in Mormonism because it means that you trust the church to offer you redemption. It’s when the narrative starts to slide away and you doubt that you and your sins are the reason for anything bad that happens in your life that your doubt has to be ejected from the church.

Elder Montoya recently said that doubt comes from other people’s doubt (so it’s contagious). It comes from listening to i the “father of lies” and “his sinister purpose,” which is to weaken “our certainty that we are God’s children.”

The best thing to do, he says, is simply to erase doubt from our minds. We can do that by praying harder, remembering past spiritual experiences, and never giving up our testimony. That’s the answer to doubt? Just stop doubting? Yeah, that’s not very helpful. But it does highlight the truth that having doubts in and of itself is the great sin. It is prideful. It shows that you trust yourself more than God or church leaders. It shows that you’ve already given up faith.

(https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2017/06/overcoming-the-danger-of-doubt?lang=eng)

Elder Holland at least acknowledges that most people doubt and that it’s normal. But he treats it as a kind of original sin, something we must all ask to overcome. “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” And he quotes from Alma, “Even if ye can no more than desire to believe,” Alma declares, “let this desire work in you, even until ye believe.”

(https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng)

But what about people, like two of my children, who simply never believed, who felt like they never had an experience with God in their whole lives in the church and ultimately stepped away? What about people who have an unbelieving, doubtful nature? It seems to me that the church has no interest in retaining them. They’re told that they already do believe, or that they’ll get a testimony sometime in the future — both of which are rejections of their doubt instead of taking it seriously and sitting with it. Why? Because doubt is so toxic to church members that it has to be turned away from, along with those who doubt themselves.

A few years ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend about my experience never being tempted to break the Word of Wisdom. Or any of the rules of the church. This friend said, “That’s your problem. You don’t think you need the Atonement.” And I guess on some level he was right. I don’t think I ever believed that I was perfect already. But I was very good at following all the rules. I didn’t have frequent feelings of needing repentance. I was trying to perfect myself. I didn’t often have transformative experiences confessing sins, being forgiven, and trying to do better.

I think there are a lot of ex- and post-Mormons in the same boat. That is, they are people who followed all the rules of Mormonism and said, “Now what?” I suppose they outgrew the church on some level, or at least they outgrew the level of the church that most people operate on. The basic rules of the church are really useful for a lot of people. But if that’s all it has to offer, then you begin to doubt.

I think this is a problem that many religions are still trying to solve. Those who sin and repent are seen as examples of the deeply emotionally held belief that church/gospel helps people who are sinners to change and become better. So they are welcomed in with open arms.

But those who doubt — they don’t follow the pattern of sinning and repenting. Many see them as refusing to repent, and this is also unpardonable. There can be no church without needing an institution to offer a mediator to help the penitent get pardoned by God.

So yes, doubt is the unpardonable sin. Doubt is the sin that rejects the need for pardon.

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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