First, to provide some context, I provide the following quote:
"Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision. ... Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life." (Ensign Mag., Nov. 1998, Gordon B. Hinckley, pp. 70-71)
Several years ago I decided that I needed to be more actively engaged in studying the scriptures. I have never been a fan of reading scripture. I'll admit that I have never been too interested in them. Its never interested me to the point that I could read the scriptures daily. I was taught that I should and I felt guilty that I didn't have a desire to. I would often pray to gain that desire, although that didn't work. I also felt guilty that I felt extreme boredom every time I read the scriptures. So, in order to feel as though I was following the counsel of the Brethren, I decided to read about church history instead. As I can read church history without being bored to a deep slumber I thought this would be a good replacement. So I started at the beginning - the First Vision.
I searched the Internet for anything to do with the First Vision and came across a FARMS article about the subject that fascinated me. They had an article examining three written accounts of the First Vision. Wait just a second here... there are three written accounts of the first vision? That just couldn't be the case. I had grown up in the church, been learning church history for over a quarter of a century, served a mission and married in the temple and I had never heard of the multiple versions. I got excited at the prospect that I could learn more about the First Vision than I had originally been taught. I figured that the official First Vision account that we read about in church and all of our church manuals and in the church video's was so inspirational that there must be more insight into it if there were other written accounts. I read the two other accounts in earnest to learn new nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. I was hoping that I would gain further insight into the Church's beginnings and gain a greater understanding of the gospel that would help my testimony grow. But what came was completely different and unsuspecting. All I gained from the other First Vision accounts was confusion. Why did they differ so much? Why were they contradictory at times? Why did they not match more closely? Why did one account mention God and Jesus Christ when another didn't mention them at all? Instead of answers, I had questions.
Instinctively I began earnest research. I steered away from anti-Mormon websites that claimed all sorts of outrageous claims that I knew were false and kept with Church approved sources. Everything I read about the other First Vision accounts attempted to explain the differences in ways that didn't add up. I happened across a few anti-Mormon websites that used Church books as resources for their arguments and I cross-referenced them for accurateness. It was interesting to me that the quotes from Church sources seemed to uphold their outrageous claims accurately. In many cases, all they had to do was quote the references and leave it at that.
I had a belief. That belief was that everything in the First Vision was pure, true and fact. Now I was learning new information that contradicted my core beliefs in the Church. I was experiencing cognitive dissonance:
In the simplest explanation, cognitive dissonance is having 2 different and contradicting beliefs in your brain at the same time. Cognitive- a mental awareness, Dissonance- a clash or disharmony. Cognitive Dissonance makes people feel uncomfortable, but this feeling of discomfort is the reason why people make changes in their lives.
I couldn't continue believing the official version of the First Vision and believe the other versions and everything that I had been taught as well. They contradicted to the point that I couldn't reconcile the differences satisfactorily. I further researched this and other topics by reading the viewpoints and explanations of Church apologetics and have found their reasoning to be quite muddy and it seemed as though they were grasping at straws to explain something that could not be explained by simple fact and truth. I had to either go on blind faith and believe what I had been taught from the beginning, or change my beliefs.
I ultimately chose the later. It was not an immediate decision. I continued to read and study and contemplated the big picture before coming to that conclusion. It is not something that I have done on a whim. It was a difficult and extremely stressful decision that I still question, but I feel that it is the right decision.