Never-Before-Seen Letter on Doubt By Hugh B. Brown

Hugh B. Brown
Hugh B. Brown

 

Hugh B. Brown served as an apostle, and later, as a member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Before that, he worked for a short time as a professor of religion at Brigham Young University. While there, he received a letter from a close friend who was experiencing what is now commonly called a “crisis of faith.” The advice he gave nearly seventy years ago has never been published, but is still pertinent to us today as we all struggle to “keep the faith.”

 

November 8, 1946

My dear—-:

I was really glad to get your letter of October 25, and I appreciate your confidence. The revelation of your mental and spiritual struggles does not come as a surprise, as I had felt for some time that the waters of your usually placid soul had become somewhat roiled and disturbed.

Would you be surprised if I should tell you that I, too, have had periods of perplexity, uncertainty, and doubt; that I, too, have known the darkness, fogginess, and chill of the valley which lies between illuminated peaks of faith and confidence, and that only the memory of the hilltops along the road over which I have come coupled with the somewhat misty vision of others still ahead has given me the courage to plod on when I was tempted to “chuck it all,” to wrap myself in the comfortless blanket of doubt and self-commiseration and just quit the field. Well I have had that experience. But this I can say positively, that each peak which I have climbed has seemed higher and more inspiring than the last, due at least in part, I think, to the dark background of the valley through which I came. Sharp contrasts are sometimes most revealing.

In view of the above admission, you will not expect an argument or a brief on faith in God and immortality. However, and I hope it may be so, a relating of some personal experiences and observations may give you a fellow-feeling and bring comfort, courage, hope, and faith, may renew in you the spirit of adventure, of zest for the quest of truth.

First, I have found that periods of doubt and skepticism, of negative reactions and disbelief have always been characterized by darkness, refrigeration of spirit, pettiness, cynicism, and general misery, even to a point of wishing for oblivion. Whereas, periods of faith, hope, and positive reactions have been times of buoyancy and cheerfulness filled with a desire to be and to become, to lift and encourage, and to point with confidence to something even more about to be. Here, life had cadence and lilt and zest and value, and I gloried in the thought that I could extend these benefits and joys and possibilities to my children.

From the selfish standpoint of personal satisfaction then, I have chosen to swim in the clear, cool stream of faith rather than wallow in the turbid, enervating, stagnant swamp of doubt and cynicism. In other words, faith pays dividends of joy as we go along.

I like Fosdick’s definition of faith: “Faith is vision to believe what as yet one cannot demonstrate and valor to act on the basis of that insight.”

At times I have had to take myself in hand and command my knees to bend, my head to bow, my spirit to become contrite. But of this I bear witness, that I have beheld more distant vistas when on my knees than when standing upright. Somehow the bending of the knee has seemed to open the shutters of the soul and to bring the lens of faith into focus.

Many more before you and I have wondered if praying were not merely a soliloquy and its only answer the echo of its sound. On the other hand, however, prayer has been a vital principle–the central faith of millions of noble men and women. The fact that it has been an age-long rapture certainly attests its value–it endures. It’s faithfully recurrent like the sunrise. It’s not a private vagary nor is it mere wishful thinking or rationalizations. I have come through my own experiences with the conviction that prayer is comradeship with God; indeed, I doubt if I could have endured some recent experiences if I had not had that refuge.

As to whether there is in fact a God, I shall not argue. But I, like you, have looked about me and seen the myriad evidence of plan and purpose and design and have chided myself for ever doubting the existence of the Designer.

I am told, and there seems to be ample evidence to support it, that matter is indestructible, that it is eternal. As a youth, if I had been told by my teacher in school that the desk on which I wrote was indestructible, and then when the schoolhouse burned had seen the mocking ashes where my desk had been, I doubtless would have lost faith in my teacher. Clearly, and before me, was the evidence of his folly. But later in High School and University, where in the laboratory, I learned how to catch and weigh the gases, oils, and ashes that resulted from burning wood and found that the process of burning had not in fact destroyed anything, I concluded that my youthful skepticism was but evidence of the narrow limits of my knowledge. From then on, humility bade me hesitate before questioning the truths which witnesses of research and observation had established. My questing soul still questions, but my questions had to do with ways and means of deciphering and getting at the truth and finding the relationship between observation and intuition, between knowledge and faith.

There are many things I cannot explain, there are many things I cannot understand, but of this one thing I am positively sure, that God does live, that death will not end my conscious existence. I cannot bring myself to believe that while my desk, mere inanimate matter as it is, is indestructible, that far more valuable, in fact the most valuable thing I know, human personality and love, is but transitory and temporary and must be destroyed and come to an end when I cease to react physically to my surroundings in this world.

The little logic I have mastered, what little knowledge I have gained forbids me to accept the hypothesis that individuality will entirely be wiped out.

Just why God does not move closer to me or enable me to come closer to him, that through my physical senses I may apprehend him, I do not know. But this I know, He has so tuned my spirit that I am sensitive to and respond when certain impulses emanate from Him.

I assume that if the unborn babe could speak, he would rebel at the prospect of birth; he would say, “I cannot live if you take me out of my present environment beneath my mother’s heart. My life is so definitely a part of her life that if you separate us I am sure I will die and cease to be.” And yet, that babe, when born, finds himself in an environment suited to his undeveloped organs and functions. He finds that someone has made provision for his coming, that there is water and food and air to satisfy his stomach and lungs which, though present, were not needed in his pre-natal state.

I wonder if when we die, we are in fact just born into another sphere. Personally, I am quite content to leave the outcome with the same good God who made provisions for my coming here, and personally I believe that I might have certain spiritual organs which will function fully only when I am born into an environment suited to them.

Well, this letter is already much too long. I promised at the beginning that I would not argue, and yet I fear that I have verged at least onto the edge of argument. I want you to know, my dear son and brother, that I am intensely interested in your future. I believe that the violent attacks that have been made on your faith, upon your reasoning powers, upon the hope you have held in the past were made as a test. I firmly believe that you have an unusual future, and that because of your possibilities, the Adversary, and I think there is an Adversary, is making a determined attack upon you. I know you too well to feel that you will give up and quit the field while that attack is on. I counsel you to assume the positive attitude in your talks to others, that you undertake to convince them of the reality of the things in which you have believed, that you search for evidence to support that faith, and I think you will be surprised to find that there is far more evidence in support of faith than can be marshalled to support the negative side.

I look forward to the time when we can visit again, and hope it may be possible to get together often, as I have appreciated your comradeship and association in the past. My love to your wife and baby and to you, and may God bless you to see through the fog and glimpse the sunshine.

Sincerely your friend and brother,

Hugh B. Brown

A note from Steve Densley, Jr. regarding provenance: I received this letter from my grandmother. She was Hugh B. Brown’s secretary when he was a professor at BYU. She was asked to transcribe the letter and send it to the original recipient. She loved the letter so much that she asked if she could make a copy for herself. Hugh B. Brown agreed to let her keep a copy on the condition that the name of the person be removed. A scanned copy of that letter is posted here at the link below. Readers will see that after the signature line, it indicates that it was transcribed by ‘mld’, which stands for Mary Lou Dixon, the maiden name of my grandmother, Mary Lou Taylor. Readers will also see that there is handwriting on the first page. That is from my grandmother. It says, “Lost Faith in God Immortality and ready to chuck it all.” Minor corrections have been made within this article to improve readability.

Download a copy of the original letter

Download the Affidavit of Mary Lou Taylor

Listen to a podcast about the Hugh B. Brown letter

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Steve Densley, Jr. is an attorney and is licensed to practice law in Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and before the U.S. Supreme Court. He graduated with University Honors from Brigham Young University with a combined Bachelors and Masters degree in Public Policy and Political Science. He received his law degree from Brigham Young University where he was a member of the Law Review and the National Moot Court team. He has served in church on the high council, as the stake executive secretary, elders quorum president, young men’s president and as a gospel doctrine teacher. He has been recognized in SuperLawyers Magazine as one of the Mountain States Rising Stars and has been listed numerous times in Utah Business Magazine as being among the Utah Legal Elite. He has appeared on CNN, C-Span, BBC Radio, KUTV, KTVX, KSL Radio, KTKK Radio, and Swiss TV.
  • Ron

    What a treasure! Thank you.

  • Cliff

    It’s interesting that doubt felt like darkness to Elder Brown. For me, accepting doubt felt liberating, peaceful, and light. I could embrace the truth that I know very little for certain. I could embrace the idea that I should follow my own conscience on matters that I care about, following my own heart above what anyone else says I should do.

  • BuddyM

    What a great read! Thanks for this.

  • Sidney

    Read this years ago

    • Steve Densley, Jr.

      That’s very interesting Sidney. I know my grandmother shared it with some close family members and obviously the person to whom it was sent may have shared it. (I don’t know who that was.) But I am not aware of it being shared generally or having been published anywhere before. Where did you read it?

  • Bryant McC

    Thanks for the letter Steve. Really interesting. Hope you are good.

  • Robert Thomas

    Pre-Apostle
    Great testimony of his own journey to find God!
    How hid he end up?

  • This impacted me so strongly, I produced this piece: http://recoverysupport.podbean.com/e/039-a-letter-about-doubt/

  • Bycote

    A truly delightful read!

    Thank you to all involved in preserving and sharing this little gem.

  • Jonny

    Great read. I’ve always liked Hugh B. Brown. Please change the false, and sensational title. It’s titles like these that raise red flags, and make people skeptical of the source, content, and purpose of its being shared.

  • Lisa

    Have faith people. You don’t need evidence this is authentic. It makes you feel good. It’s all sunshine and rainbows from there. Don’t let the gloom of doubt about its authenticity get you down. You are never higher than on your knees.

  • steve asay

    Tne key is not where the letter came from. The key is what can we learn from the letter. I recently finished Elder Brown’s biography. This matches the man he was and what he taught. I believe there is much good here and much deeper understanding than appears on the surface. This could easily have been a General Conference talk. If it was given by Elder Holland we would all be declaring how wonderful it was.

  • TerrellP

    I find it interesting then on a letter of doubt and faith it so many people question the authenticity of this letter if you truly wanted to understand the content should bend your knees and pray about it.

    • Kurt

      I find it interesting that a so called “Apostle of God” discusses doubt of faith and never once mentions, quotes, or cites Holy Scripture. Christ, St. Paul, St. Peter, Mark, etc. all speak of doubting the faith and becoming weak in the faith. Without scripture this letter has no substantial foundation other than a man’s opinion.

      • Steve

        That’s interesting Kurt. The same thing could be said about Christ, Paul, Peter, and Mark. Why didn’t they cite Holy Scripture on the matter? Weren’t they just expressing their “opinion”?

      • Zach

        Would you quote scripture to someone who is doubting that the scriptures are even true? No! If this were your friend, you would have done the same thing as the author, which is to share your heart-felt testimony of your own personal experiences and what you have learned from them.

        Sharing a scripture is not a cure-all.

        I also guarantee that Mr. Brown had no forsight to think that his heartfelt testimony would be scrutinized on a random Comment board by cynical people decades in the future, and think to add scriptures and other references to prove some point. You’ll recall, if you actually paid attention, that he repeated twice that he did not wish to argue (which is what happens when you start throwing verses of scripture at someone when you’re trying to prove something, whether it’s argumentative or not).

  • Nat

    This doesn’t really have any substance

  • Suzi

    Thank you for sharing this. Such words could only come from a true apostle of the God.

  • LoganD

    The source is my grandmother. She has shared with our family for many years remarkable and faith promoting stories of her years as Hugh B. Brown’s secretary. She is still alive and preserved this letter as a sacred keepsake of her time as his secretary not knowing the powerful relevance that it would have to her posterity. I can understand the hesitation and caution in accepting such a letter and I believe it wise to question. The best I can do is add my witness in addition to my brother’s as to the origin of the letter and my grandmother’s position as Hugh B Browns Secretary.

  • tubaloth

    There is a download link to see a copy of the letter the grandmother had.

    I’m not really sure how this could be verified beyond what has been told here. (Unless the person the letter was sent to has some copy too).
    To me that is good enough.

  • Briody

    I enjoyed the article. I wonder why it’s titled: “Never-Before-Seen Letter on Doubt By Hugh B. Brown”. Since obviously some people have seen it. Maybe it should be “Seldom Seen”. Anyways, I also am cautious about accepting such a letter without knowing its origins or validity.

  • Gale

    We’ve added a history and a downloadable PDF of the original letter.

  • Awesome letter. Anyone know the source?

  • Fred Zundel

    Forgive my caution, but what is the source of this letter? Where can I go to confirm its authenticity? it’s a great letter and timely in light of current discussions. Just want to make sure its the real deal. Fred

  • Marc

    What is the provenance of this letter? Is it in private possession?

  • Any chance to see copies of the original letter?