Searching for Truth:
My Journey Into, and Out of,The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
This web page is dedicated to the story of Donald Cohen and his dealings with the Mormon Church.
Donald Cohen is a well-educated, former convert of the LDS Church.
I was born into a typical middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, NY, in 1951. I attended 5 years of Hebrew School, in the afternoons after regular school, starting at age 8, and had my Bar Mitzvah at age 13. But my thinking was much more influenced by an intense interest in Science. I had a passionate desire to understand myself, and how the world worked, and this has driven my actions throughout my life.
By the time I graduated from High School, I was, for all intents and purposes, an atheist. I viewed the universe as a giant chemical reaction, and had no use for anything ‘supernatural,' God or otherwise. I started off Pre-Med in College, but my journey soon led to a significant course change. Basically, I faced an existential crisis: if there was no God, then I saw no purpose or meaning in life, no reason to get up in the morning. If the universe, and all it contained, would eventually cease to exist, with no trace of what went before, then what was the point in doing anything?
I first changed my major to Psychology, as a possible path toward self-knowledge. I quickly determined that for me, there were no absolute answers to be found here. I next started exploring Philosophy, and then Eastern Religious thought. I found no mention of ‘God' or anything ‘supernatural;' just a course of action that could lead to actual experiences which could yield insight into the purpose of life. (I would eventually receive my B.A. in Religious Studies.)
I then embarked in earnest on a path of meditation, trying to gain self-knowledge and insight into the human condition. It was during this time that I encountered the LDS Church, through my room-mate and close friend, Bill. Raised Catholic, he had a copy of the Book of Mormon, given to him by some High School friends. He started reading it, and shared it with me, saying that if this book were true, that we had some changing to do.
This led to a very intense investigation of the Church, lasting well over a year. I quickly read through the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and basically any other books about Mormonism that I could find. I was attracted to the expansive view of humanity, where man is seen as being of the same ‘species' as God, with the potential to become just like He is. I appreciated how the religion was the focal point of the members' lives, permeating any and all aspects of how they lived. The emphasis on family, expanding it to an eternal dimension, was very satisfying emotionally.
The presence of scientifically testable claims intrigued me. This was around 1970-1972, and there seemed to be growing physical evidence supporting the claims involving the Book of Mormon story. As one small example, I found articles about the Bat Creek Stone, which purported to have Hebraic characters on a pre-Columbian artifact.
But there were other areas that worried me. There seemed to be an anti-science, anti-evolution mindset showing up in Deseret News editorials. The Patriarchal nature of the hierarchy, which seemed quite authoritarian in nature, also concerned me. The Church just seemed somewhat ‘behind the times' overall.
I prayed and fasted fervently, but never had any compelling experience in response to my efforts. But I was attracted enough to the positives that I found myself willing to give the Church the benefit of the doubt, and made the decision to be baptized. I hoped that the future would yield increasing evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, that over time the very human leadership would grow out of their limited understanding of Science, and that the Church would ‘catch up' with the rest of the world in other areas of concern.
I was baptized in 1972, immediately after graduating from College, and I baptized my wife about 5 months later. We were completely and fully active in the Church. Within 6 months or so of my baptism, I was teaching Gospel Doctrine class in a University Ward, which was a very interesting experience. I continued to read voraciously, learning everything I could about the Church. Within a few years, we wanted to start our family, and went to the Washington, DC Temple to have our marriage sealed.
We raised our eventual 4 children in the Church. The only boy went on a Mission. The 3 who have married were married in the Temple. I served in diverse callings, but most were missionary oriented: Ward Mission Leader, Stake Seventy's Presidency, Stake Public Relations Director, Gospel Essentials Teacher, etc. I was also involved in the Church's initial efforts to preach to the Jewish people, in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
But there were always those nagging doubts and concerns in the back of my mind. My initial hope for increasing findings supporting Book of Mormon claims seemed to be in vain, as more and more evidence argued the exact opposite. I saw no ‘tempering' of the Church's anti-science, authoritarian demeanor. Its stance on various human rights issues did not improve.
By now, my career path had come full circle, and I had in fact fulfilled my original goal, and become a Physician. I anticipated that once my children were grown, that I would be financially secure, and I could then serve the Church full-time. I wanted to devote myself completely to the service of Truth. But given those doubts and questions that refused to go away, I knew that I needed an unmistakable, unshakeable, testimony that would serve as the foundation for such life-long service.
I then committed myself to receiving that rock-solid testimony that I was unable to obtain when I first investigated the Church. For months on end, I prayed incessantly, fasting often, literally going into the mountains for isolation. But once again, I received absolutely nothing. I knocked on the door until my knuckles were battered and bruised, but the door didn't open. I shared what I was going through with a number of relatively upper level Church leaders, but this didn't help.
I continued to read, study, and pray, hoping for a miracle, for an experience that would overwhelm my doubts, and confirm that the Church was true. I even prayed that if I weren't worthy to receive such an answer, that He could tell somebody who was, and that person could then tell me. Nothing came. Nothing.
Over time, I had to very reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Church wasn't what I had hoped and prayed it was; not what it claimed to be; not what I thought it was.
I was then serving as Branch President, and asked to be released. I continued to attend, served in a few callings here and there, but my heart was broken. I eventually resigned my membership, not wanting to have my name associated with an organization that not only made false claims, but one which acted dishonestly, disingenuously, and one which was consistently on the wrong side of various human rights issues.
I recently wrote a document attempting to distill and encapsulate the basis for my concluding that the Church's claims were false. Those interested can click on this link to read it:
I also have a blog where I've posted on a number of topics that have been important to me:
Finally, I welcome any questions or comments on this, or anything else I've shared or written: