"There is so much damaging information about the history of the Mormon church, the many conflicts in its teachings with the findings of science, and the internal contradictions in many of its doctrines. The leaders (the "General Authorities") have all this information available, including some information that they do not release to the public because of its damaging nature. Surely these men must realize that the overwhelming evidence shows that their church's claims are false?"How can anyone know what is in the mind and heart of someone else? All we can do is guess. I think it would be quite presumptuous for anyone to say that any of the present general authorities is conscious of lying, even when they are making statements that are false.
Here's my theory (and it's only a theory - there is no way to test it that I can think of):
Every Mormon, whether a convert or born in the church, starts out by accepting Mormonism as true. That is the basic premise: "The church is true. Joseph Smith was a prophet." Therefore, anything that contradicts or casts doubt on the basic premise must be false, and there is probably a good explanation for why it doesn't look false (whether you can find the explanation or not). Those who have a strong testimony of the truth of the Mormon gospel naturally advance in the church. Nobody advances, of course, if they express doubts or if they ask too many questions. Every general authority in the history of the church (except for the very few who were excommunicated or who apostatized) has achieved that distinction by strengthening and continually bearing his testimony and the testimony of others.
What happens, then, when some embarrassing historical fact or doctrinal contradiction surfaces? The general authorities are not historians, nor are they theologians (except in the most amateur sense of the word), nor are they scientists. So how does President Hinckley deal with the assertions about the DNA evidence showing that the Indians are not Israelites? He turns it over to a scientist at BYU and asks HIM to deal with it. Now, put yourself in the position of that BYU scientist. Are you going to tell the president of the church that the Book of Mormon is wrong about the origin of the American Indians? Of course not - you would lose your job, your temple recommend, your church membership, and probably your wife. So, you rack your brain to come up with some spin on the evidence that Hinckley will like. And you finally come up with some off-the-wall pro-Mormon explanation and write a very long report, with dozens or hundreds of footnotes. Hinckley doesn't read through the entire report. He doesn't have the time. All he's interested in is the conclusion, so he reads that. Hinckley is relieved that everything is OK, his testimony is strengthened, and he can state publicly, in all good conscience, that the DNA is not a problem for the Book of Mormon because a top scientist at BYU has told him so.
Obviously the leaders think that they are receiving revelation. They believe that firmly, because by definition they are SUPPOSED to receive revelation. So they interpret any idea, any hunch, any flash of imagination as revelation from God. Every such idea or hunch, then, confirms their belief that they are receiving revelation.
They studiously avoid asking embarrassing questions of themselves or of their colleagues, because they know that that is the first step to apostasy, and the sign of a weak testimony. And they firmly believe that their primary job is to be a model for the members of the church. (Hinckley even stated that in a public interview, saying nothing about receiving "revelation.") They are busy running the organization. They believe in the advice that they give to doubting members: Surely there is a suitable answer somewhere, but it is not necessary for your salvation - all our questions and puzzlements will be satisfied in the next life. Meanwhile, pray, study the scriptures, and attend to your callings.
Remember what happened when B. H. Roberts (a general authority and assistant church historian) presented to the Apostles his disturbing study about the Book of Mormon, how it appeared to be a poor fiction, authored by Joseph Smith, based largely on Ethan Smith's book "View of the Hebrews"? The apostles' response was to bear their testimonies that they knew the Book of Mormon was true. They never dealt with the problems that Roberts raised.
So, my guess is that the leaders really believe it because they refuse to acknowledge or investigate any evidence to the contrary with an open mind.. Remember all the courtiers and servants in "The Emperor's New Clothes"? They all could see that the boss was naked, but to say so would mean that they were "unworthy." And nobody ELSE failed to see the beautiful clothes. So they MUST be there.
That does not excuse them morally, of course. In the law, for example, you are responsible for what you know but ALSO for what you should know after exercising "reasonable diligence" to find out the truth.
I think that Joseph Smith, on the other hand, knew from the beginning that he was lying. He may have ultimately convinced himself that he was telling the truth, or that God really was helping him, but, again, he should have been more honest with himself and his followers.
Lying and liars are a complex phenomenon. Once a liar gets good at it, he doesn't think of it as lying any more, especially if people believe him. And actually, the fact that some people DO believe the liar tends to persuade the liar to think that what he is saying is true, because other people acknowledge it as true. This was the attitude of Mark Hofmann, who produced forged historical documents and sold them to the church and to antique dealers. His attitude was that if he presented a forgery to the experts and they certified it as genuine, then it WAS genuine.
- Richard Packham
For a more authoritative view, with indications that the General Authorities do, in fact, know very well that the church's claims are false, see Grant Palmer's reports of private conversations with a member of the First Quorum of Seventy, at "Three Meetings With A General Authority".
- Robert G. Ingersoll