Saturday, August 6, 2016

Review of "Planted:Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt"

As a Latter-day Saint of nearly seven years, I have long known the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issues that it does not address head on as much as it should, among them being the early Church's practice of plural marriage and the race restriction on priesthood until 1978. While I had worked out many of these issues myself before joining the Church, it came to my attention after joining that many of my friends had but a passing knowledge of these issues, if they were aware of them at all. In fact, I am sad to admit that one of my best friends left the Church after she was made aware of some of these issues, and she had a strong testimony and had also served as a full-time missionary before leaving the Church. I had come to feel like the Prophet Joseph Smith in his journey saying "What is to be done?"

Soon after this happened, a woman named Chelsi Barnard Archibald (who has since become my friend) e-mailed me after reading my blog and asked whether I would like to participate in a round-table with Patrick Q. Mason, author of Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt. I have to sadly state that I did not participate, but Chelsi did send me a free copy of Professor Mason's book. I also have to sadly say I did not read it right away because I had several other reading projects I was engaged in.

Recently, I finally picked up my copy of the book and began to read it, since I was again thinking about my friends who have lost their faith, have doubts, or wonder if the Church has a place for them. Mason's words seemed like a godsend to me, saying from the outset that there is indeed a place for everyone,and that there are questions in the Church that need to be worked on and resolved. I found his "big-tent" approach to Mormonism refreshing and inspiring, because here is a man who knows all the issues and still remains a committed believer in the doctrines of the Restoration.

Planted states from the outset that it won't try to solve all problems that an individual may have with the LDS Church; this would require a book of great length and Planted is just shy of 200 pages. Rather, Mason encourages the reader to have certain beliefs that plant them in the Church and can keep them anchored in times of trouble or doubt. Namely, what he is saying is that when something happens that a person can't fully understand, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Stay with what you know to be true, but continue to inquire, and sometimes exercise the Christlike attribute of patience and wait for an answer to come if it has not come yet.

The main principle of Mason's book that I loved was that gospel answers do not come without gospel scholarship and persistence. It's not enough to simply browse the internet in search of answers about things the Prophet Joseph Smith did during his ministry, you will need to read volumes of history to make sense of what was happening and keep it in context. At the end of his book, Mason lists many books for the reader to read, among them Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman and Brigham Young American Moses by Leonard Arrington. Skeptics, put on your hard hats, you have work to do before you say Mormonism is intellectually indefensible.

While Mason does not address all issues in the book, he does tell stories about how he has dealt with some of them as a historian. One of them I will call perspectivism; understanding that things today are not how they have always been, and that is ok. Latter-day Saints, according to the 9th article of faith, believe "all God has revealed, all he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."

Close quote. Revelation means change, so we can't expect everything to be the same as it always was; it is part of our religion. Rather, we should embrace change. According to President Brigham Young, one of the things that separated the Prophet Joseph from the Patriarch Hyrum Smith was his willingness to embrace new revelation, while Hyrum found it difficult at times. If you wish to follow the Prophet, that will mean changing your views from time to time.

However, do not come away with the idea that I approve of everything Professor Mason is saying; he says some somewhat dangerous things. One of them is his idea that unbelievers should stay in the Church because that may be the better option. Oh no, bad idea. The Church has value only insofar as it teaches true doctrine; it is not a vehicle of moralism. If one does not believe the doctrines of the Church, it is best for them to leave and find a space where they can more fully contribute. This is not to say that we should cast unbelievers away, we should love and help them in their journey. But when unbelief gets to a certain point, it is best to leave and save heartache and pain for oneself and others.

I highly recommend firm believer and skeptic alike to read Bro. Mason's book and the reading list he provides at the end. 5 stars.


  1. I'll need to read that. Mason reminds me a bit about CS Lewis because he had a lot of challenges to his faith and he valiantly fought for his beliefs in his heart and mind. That's what we have to do.

    1. Mason is a smart guy and liked by Mormons and non-Mormons. I could not put his book down.

  2. Pretty amazing that one man "knows all the issues." What are they, all of them? Is it possible that God knows something that we don't? Is it possible for God to talk to certain people and to then have these people implement what was learned in a sloppy fashion? If yes, does this make the original communication false?Could God possibly be the author of something we find personally objectionable? If so, is God wrong or does he then simply become a myth? Is a testimony nothing more than a self fulfilling prophecy that dissipates when we object to Church teachings? Could we ever have to change our own thinking to align ourselves with God, or does he have to align himself with us? I don't know the answers to all these questions, but I am pretty sure I won't find all the answers by scouring history books. I would, however, like to know "all the issues" so I could start to understand them.

    1. Kyle,

      1. Mason,as a professional historian, is aware in detail of the issues that bother Church members because they were not told about them or not told the entire story about them. These include Book of Mormon translation, blacks and the priesthood, masonry and temple worship etc. The point is that Mason, like Bushman,Arrington, and W. Paul Reeve know the issues, work with them, and stay.

      2. Obviously, God has given commandments people don't like,but you are raising a red herring. The question is did certain things come from God or originate in the minds of men. On the issue if blacks and priesthood,it was gravely immoral and man-made what the Church did and how the post 1978 Church pretended it didn't happen.

      3. A testimony is piece by piece and comes over time; you don't get it all at once. This is one of the failings of the missionary discussions, we try to link everything rather than show it takes time to get a testimony.