785-786: Jon Ogden – Author of “When Mormons Doubt”

In these episodes of Mormon Stories, we interview Jon Ogden—author of When Mormons Doubt.  Jon describes how his faith crisis blossomed during his LDS mission and time at BYU and ultimately became the impetus to writing the book, which strives to explore how the pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness can save relationships even when we disagree with those we love.

We cover:

  • How his faith crisis developed on his LDS mission, but he finished his mission anyway
  • Dating while at BYU and how it distracted him from his faith crisis
  • How when a family member left the LDS Church, it forced him to confront his own doubts and begin an academic study of the truth claims of the Church
  • When he realized that the same problems with Mormon historicity were also at play with Christianity in general
  • He and his spouse’s current belief state, and their desire to have a sense of community and solid religious framework for their children to hold onto
  • The main topics of his book, When Mormons Doubt, including a deep dive into sections on “Truth,” “Goodness,” and “Beauty.”

When Mormons Doubt, available on Amazon

An audio version of the book will also be available by September 8, 2017

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Part 2:

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  1. JOHN my wife and I will be signing up and I am trying to get a few more signed up . You have to come JOHN . People will pull out if you don’t come . We want to hear you speak .. please supply the link to me in fb fir applications

  2. Jon Ogden you are a beautiful soul. I’ve especially benefitted from your de-coupling of truth and beauty. Trying to make sense of conflicting truth claims via revelation was crazy-making for me. What a relief to not have to discard any of the beauty (and to keep my integrity to truth-seeking too). Your thoughts are a balm to heart and soul. Thank you.

  3. Jon,

    Ask a dozen non-mormons to read the book of mormon.

    Then ask them if it seems like it took someone with super-natural or super-human abilities to write the book.

    30 years ago during my debates with mormons, I copied 4-5 pages from the book of mormons and I also made up 4-5 pages. When I presented it to my mormon friends to read, they really had no idea which came from the book of mormon and which I had made up.

    I think Mark Twain’s opinion on the book of mormon is worth consideration.

  4. I was very disappointed with your view on female ordination. You say you want women to have an equal voice, but how can women have an equal voice without equal power? I was especially disappointed when you wouldn’t support female ordination and then in the same breath you say you do support marriage equality. Did you forget about lesbians? How would their family structure work in the church? They would be below single women, women with non-member husbands, and plural wives. If the church grows and eventually includes marriage equality but not gender equality that would hurt women even more. I’m sorry to attack you, but for being such a thoughtful person, I was shocked that you cannot (or at least have not yet) accepted gender equality. I’m also quite frustrated because I read Galileos daughter for my book book club and we discussed it last night with a 99% Mormon membership, and it was the most hypocritical discussion I’ve ever heard. Because the nuns did not hold the priesthood in the Catholic Church, Galileo’s daughter and other nuns were subjected to rape, blackmail, and other abuses at the hands of the clergy when they visited their cloister to administer the sacrament or do confessions or other priesthood duties that the women were not allowed to perform. The women in my book club smugly stated that this book strengthen their testimony of the great apostasy and proof that the Catholic Church was an abomination, yet they will not pay any attention to the abuses of priesthood power in the Mormon church or in any church where women are not allowed the priesthood. Inequality breeds abuse .

    1. I appreciate your comment, Jasmine. Embarrassingly, I hadn’t given the issue enough thought before John asked the question, so I mindlessly passed on the question. Your voice here helps shape my thinking.

    2. With more Women than Men attending church, take away the priesthood privilege and you will most likely have even less men attending Church.

      Priesthood helps men feel in charge, by making that uniquely their responsibility they have more opportunities to serve and participate. If all of the sudden women position start filling out the once only male positions then the Women to Male ratio will dwindle even even further.

      Women’s voice need to be taken more into consideration, but by giving them the priesthood there would be a terrible unbalance.

      1. David,
        Your comment deserves a complicated response that is difficult to do in a comment section, but I hope that you will listen to the link below of an interview john had with Margaret toscono–it’s short, only 30 minutes, and addresses many of the nuances.
        My sister had the exact same argument as you did–she wants that special priveledege for her 3 sons.
        I only have sons and I want them to have special experiences but not special privileges. I want my kids to know that they are very important but not more important than anyone else.
        If the only way to keep men involved in the church is to let them be in charge and have special power over women, then that is a problem. But I don’t have such a cinical view of men. I think men can feel value and empowerment even when their sisters feel value and empowerment.
        It’s ridiculous to teach our sons that they should feel emasculated if they are not always in charge: they are not less of a man if their boss is a woman. Watching a movie with a female lead will not “feminize” our boys. Having a spiritual connection with a mother and a father in heaven will not diminish their sense of self–my sons love me as much as they love their father.
        Right now in the church men are empowered by taking power from women. Men are empowered by “righteous dominion” over women. Which I feel is a perverted form of empowerment. You are worried that if men and women both have the priesthood, that men would suffer, but women are suffering now.

        1. I know this was two years ago, but this comment is spot on. I hope the men who participated in this discussion were able to learn from and empathize with your excellent and concise analysis of male power.

  5. I enjoyed the discussion about the distinctions between good, beauty and truth. Others have tread this path . . . .

    “Information is not knowledge.
    Knowledge is not wisdom.
    Wisdom is not truth.
    Truth is not beauty.
    Beauty is not love.
    Love is not music.
    Music is THE BEST.”

    Frank Zappa

  6. Jon,
    We were both in the integral polarities Thomas and John Kesler taught last fall. I liked some of the thoughts you expressed in a small circle group we were in toward the end. I purchased your book when I learned about it and have appreciated your insights. Today I listened to your interview on Mormon Stories. I would like to pass on a blog piece Fiona Givens wrote a few years ago on women and the priesthood.


    1. That integral class was fantastic! I think about the concepts we discussed all the time, and I loved the people who attended.

      Thank you for sharing the piece from Fiona Givens. As I mentioned above, I (embarrassingly) haven’t given the topic of women and priesthood enough thought, and so I’m glad people are willing to share their ideas with me.

  7. Jon you are right about the wisdom traditions being our tie to the past and they are capable of leading us into a future where we can fulfill our ultimate potential. The ancient wisdom is all about the inner transformation necessary for us to achieve the perfection spoken of in the scriptures and for becoming the god men/women we were always meant to become. No need for trans- humanism or some kind of technology, no need for genetic alterations. The wisdom traditions have the keys of knowledge and the spiritual technology to get us there. The church has no programs to support the inner development necessary for us to achieve the perfection. There is a spiritual movement rising up outside the boundaries of the religious institution making the wisdom available to all. Indeed some of us choose to supplement Mormonism because we are starving there.

    1. Hi Janet!

      I really resonate with everything you’re saying about the wisdom traditions and hope we continue to see more organizations embrace them fully. There’s so much value there.

  8. When Jon Ogdn speaks what I hear is a very conflicted and even confused young man, His double-speak indicates his psychological confusion: do I stay or do I go? His amorphous phrase “moving upward together” brings to mind George Orwell. John Dehlin had to work so hard to draw something, anything, useful from the interview. Sadly this podcast was deeply disappointing. Normally Mormon stories podcasts are consistently cogent, strong intellectual explorations. This podcast was akin to listening to a so-called guru who says everything, anything, and nothing.

    1. I sympathize with your disappointment, Teresa, and hope to do a better job conveying my ideas in the future. For whatever reason, I sometimes struggle to articulate my positions on the spot. The best I can do is keep practicing! :)

      If you’re interested, I explore these concepts more fully (including precisely what I mean by “moving upward”) in the book and in articles such as this one about Sad Heaven (https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=4190887&itype=CMSID) and this one about truth, beauty, and goodness (https://mormondom.com/utah-is-divided-by-belief-but-this-ancient-idea-can-help-us-close-the-gap-b851ce5c3281).

      That said, I often resort to the idea in this quote from Rachel Remen: “Perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.”

  9. John Ogden
    I would really like a response from you

    There are things that contradict what you claim to believe
    I’m confused And Frustrated with your inability to hear your own words

    1. You said truth was one of the principles that you think will make a happy life
    It seems you admit you have found disturbing truth (if it is disturbing to you )about the church
    And that members have been lied to
    And yet you feel it is fine to go to church and take your children where they will be taught things that are not true
    That is not authentic nor in harmony with your search for living a truthful life

    2 You referred to the Mormon church as having a grand history and a grande future
    That is completely contradictory to your admitting that the history is full of lies and disturbing behaviors of leaders
    How many have been hurt by those lies
    This is not a church of truth
    It is not a grand history it is a history to be ashamed of

    What do you mean when you say Mormons have a grand future ? In this life or the next?
    Do you mean the doctrine of eternal salvation?

    do you mean members have a grande future in this life? I will go right into the fact that the church creates people who are very perfectionist and never measure up to that perfection– it has become a culture where leaders tell people what to think and do and how to behave and leaves very little up to the on personal choice

    What kind of grand history or grand future are you talking about

    3 And the group you went to is basically like a yoga meditation group with discussion afterwards like a therapy group
    It is a place where no one tells you what to think or do or be ! where you are just accepted for who you are and your own ideas are valued and you can feel free to be yourself and not judged !! you cannot find that in the Mormon church

    And the thing that was most powerful for you seemed to be to recognize that you had a very low esteem of yourself and you did not value yourself as you should
    This is very common in the church
    Utah has A very high rate of depression among adults and suicides amount teens

    In other words the culture and doctrine of the church is actually hurtful to people and can also hurt your children

    4 Don’t you see that the church is doing the opposite from what you believe —they are teaching lies and they are taking away a persons self-esteem and freedom to think and do as they are inspired

    How can you not feel any resentment or anger toward leaders and a church that has lied to you about the most important things in your life

    If you have had no church discipline it is because you have held back your anger and resentment and you are trying to walk the middle line of being accepted by Mormons and trying to be authentic. It is in evitable as you speak out more that there will be church discipline

    I think what is happening is that you were holding that down deep inside you
    if you are not grieving then how can you say you were devoted and truly the church at one time–because if you were losing something that was such an important part of your life that guided every thought and action that you loved with all your heart–you would be devastated to find that it was based on lies
    There will come a time when you see the disturbing truth for what it really is and know that The Mormon church is not of God —-and then realize that to be authentic you have to let it go and be honest and forthright about it ….that is when you will grieve and grieving includes sadness and anger

    You are like a person who has lost someone to death and hasn’t faced The grieving process

    You have a big investment in living in a Mormon community and Are not ready to let go of that
    And who knows what your family relationships are like within the church
    It may be very detrimental for you to withdraw from the church and possibly lose those relationships

    Connection with people you love is perhaps more powerful than and being true to ourselves

    Along with that desire for love is the desire for social acceptance esteem and even financial benefits when writing books that members read
    I think this is what has happened with Bushman and andand others who know the truth but continue to live a lie
    But maybe you will be like them and when you see the truth you will convince yourself that it isn’t that disturbing
    You will convince yourself that it’s OK that the church has lied and hurt people
    And maybe you will continue to ignore the great loss and grieving

    It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done after a faithful devoted life in the church at the age of 65 to take a new course in my life and letting go of what I know is a lie and that includes letting go of the social structure good friends and family –it is a loss of something precious which continues to affect me every day

    But to have remained active would be such inner discord and unhappiness–I would be living a lie

    There is the option of quietly stopping going to church and not speaking much of it
    You may still be excepted by family and church members But you won’t be able to express who you are or what you believe and you won’t feel the acceptance for Who you really are — it’s one way to keep those relationships but withhold your true feelings and beliefs
    By just not participating in the church

    1. Hi Emma —

      Lots to think about there! Thanks for the questions.

      In essence, my approach is that I hold to whatever is true, beautiful, and good in Mormonism, and I drop what isn’t. This is the same approach I take to any organization, but there’s something different about Mormonism: It’s the religion of my upbringing, and so it means more to me personally.

      In some ways, I resonate with this quote from Reza Aslan, who acknowledges the appeal of Islam for him personally, even though he doesn’t endorse the religion’s truth claims. He says, “Let me be clear, I am Muslim not because I think Islam is “truer” than other religions (it isn’t), but because Islam provides me with the “language” I feel most comfortable with in expressing my faith. It provides me with certain symbols and metaphors for thinking about God that I find useful in making sense of the universe and my place in it.”


      In other words, there’s an aspect of faith that’s deeply subjective and personal, and there comes a point where we must acknowledge and perhaps celebrate the fact that each of our different experiences will lead us to different conclusions.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  10. Thanks for responding but you were vague and didn’t answer specific issues
    What you seem to say is that even though you may believe the basic origin and doctrine is based on lies And has been hurtful to the members
    you want to be part of The culture of The Mormons
    To me it’s like saying I will stay married to an abuser because sometimes he’s nice
    And You don’t want to be alone
    What is ironic is that same culture is what is causing you to doubt
    And question your own personal value and goodness
    if you value truth so much how can you constantly be listening to lies
    You must have a lot of inner discord and difficulty being authentic
    I understand how devastating it is to realize what you have loved and believed in is hurtful and full of lies
    The fact that you insist that this is not hurtful to you is strange
    And when people have been hurt they often feel angry that someone has lied to them and hurt them
    You seem to ignore that
    Because if you admitted that you wouldn’t want to continue to associate with an organization that has hurt you — and continues to hurt many people every day
    Sorry this may be harsh but it is true

  11. Hi Jon, I really enjoyed your podcast. The concept of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness really spoke to me, as I try to navigate relationships with friends and family that are orthodox believers. However, the concept of perfectionism as a good and productive myth does not resonate with me, personally. The church’s teachings regarding perfectionism has caused great pain, especially among women. I am currently reading the book, “Shameful Bodies…Religion and the Culture of Physical Improvement.” Michelle Lelwica explores how traditional religious narratives and modern culture has trained us to see disability, pain, fat, and aging as things to war against. For me, letting go of perfectionism has been one of the most liberating actions of my life. Yes, myths can tell us where we came from, and give us moral lessons. But, most ancient myths were taught to demonstrate the superiority of one group of people over another. (For example, Adam and Eve, or the Laminates of the Book of Mormon.) I believe that Yuval Harari and Eckhart Tolle are right…if we, as a species, do not destroy ourselves, we will evolve. I would like to believe that we will evolve to be less concerned about physical or mental perfectionism, and more aware of our interdependence and impermanence.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the podcast.

      I agree with you that perfectionism is destructive, and I’m glad to hear you’ve let go of it. In my opinion, we should evolve toward the ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness while recognizing that we will never arrive. We should also acknowledge that it’s totally okay to not arrive. Like you, I hope we evolve to be less concerned with perfectionism and more of aware of our interdependence and impermanence. That’s a beautiful way to put it. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Hi Jon,
    Haven’t listened to the podcast yet—I will right after I comment here. I often read the comments first and there have been some interesting ones here. Since I know you somewhat personally and have had some interactions with you over a couple of years, I feel confident that you spoke well and authentically in this podcast. I’m very impressed (but not surprised) with your calm and kind responses to some who feel like they somehow how have the ability from a podcast to analyse and understand your physiological needs and defects.

    What I hear in those unwilling to accept how YOU see the world and religion (you’ve not told anyone else they are wrong or misguided) is their own pain and anger and unwillingness to allow others to still find good and truth in the church as the church works its way SLOWLY to become a more holy and whole place. It has much to repent of.

    It is hard for some to hold the complexities of all things that are truthful and beautiful. Life just isn’t black and white. Even the humans that I love and hold most dear and respect the most are complex and think, do, and say things that I don’t agree with or that trouble me. But I don’t feel a need to judge them as duped or not facing their suppressed pain and anger, or trying to maintain advantages over others or relationships only for self serving reasons.

    I am grateful you inhabit the space you do. It is a space I too have found peace and meaning in.

  13. Hey Jon (Ogden) Per your Mormon Evolution article this last Sunday. Martin Luther was a change agent for sure. However, your thought that religions like Mormonism are going to evolve is true but not at the pace that are needed in order to maintain believers in said religion. the Pew research stat of a 7% drop in in those who identify as Mormon in 7 years should tell you that religion is on the way out. another stat is that the reason said believers stay in religion is the social component not the dogma. Having a ritual and a place to go to see frineds and family is the reason they go …not the religion. Religion is not in the business of change because they are old and out dated. Look at the LGBTQ , racial discrimination, the female disparity in everything male and the fact that they are a business that has to maintain a corporation whose overhead is enormous. Cheers to you J.O.!

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