LDS Mormon Musing





The following thoughts come from a well-respected former Mormon, Al Christensen.

Al goes by the nickname "Stray Mutt" on the Recovery From Mormonism forum.

On Criticism...
Out in the big wide world expressing our opinions isn't considered sinful, it's called criticism.

Just like there are movie critics and literary critics and political critics, there are religion critics. Just like a teacher might critique your term paper, we critique your church. (And who better to critique Mormonism than those of us who have actually experienced it?) When confronted with theological and social absurdities, we are not obliged to let it pass without comment. In fact, we would be doing a disservice to others by not pointing out the pitfalls of belief systems like Mormonism -- sort of the same way Mormons feel obliged to condemn the world for its faults.

It's a wonderful free market of ideas and beliefs out here. We can all believe whatever we want. If your faith -- your certainty -- of the LDS church is strong, then it shouldn't matter what we have to say. But if your faith is weak, perhaps you should ask yourself why. The church would have you believe the problem is you, but what if the problem is really the church?

On Joy...

The church also establishes the definition of happiness. The Mormon way, the iron rod, the cookie cutter life leads to true happiness, nothing else is valid.

But what if the standardized Mormon life fails to fill your life with joy, or, more fundamentally, what if the promised reward at the end of the trail doesn't really appeal to you? Well, then it's your own fault, you must be doing something wrong, you must not be trying hard enough, you must be listening to deceiving spirits, your heart must not be in the right place.

I spent half my life trying to win approval from earthly and heavenly fathers who were incapable of giving it. It drove me to self-loathing and depression. Before I could get my sanity back, I had to learn to accept I'd never get what I wanted from them.

On Theology...

Even more dehumanizing is the foundation of the theology. Sure, it claims to be about the exaltation of the individual, but in practice it's about suppression the individual and the elevation of the organization. The natural man (the self) is the enemy of God. Man is sinful and must be whipped into shape. Individual wants and needs take a back seat to the will of God -- well, actually, the will of the church leaders who claim it's the will of God. And, as in any organization, individual worth is measured by how well one fulfills the demands of the organization.

On Church structure...

Corporate culture and structure of the mid 20th century were emulations of the military culture and structure the people of the day learned in WWII. They admired it because it had pulled the nation through a tough time. Centralized command, layers of authority, uniform behavior, strict protocol, unquestioning obedience to superiors, serving the group and its cause before one's self... The good soldier became the corporate man, filling his niche in the great machine... The current Mormon organization was fashioned after the same model. (So, ironically, was communism.)

Since then, thanks to some hard lessons, businesses have learned the benefits of distributing more decision-making power down the chain of command, of creating semi-autonomous units, and of encouraging individual initiative and entrepreneurial passion. Businesses have learned how to be nimble and fluid, how to adapt quickly to the demands of an ever-changing market and customer base.

Meanwhile, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become even more ossified. It clings stubbornly, blindly, uninspiredly, to the old business model while its market goes elsewhere. Naturally, they blame their customers for failing the company rather than admitting the company is failing the customers. The Corporation of Jesus Christ is stuck in the old brand loyalty model, but the new consumers of religious products are unwilling to be loyal to a brand that doesn't fulfill their spiritual needs and desires. They can get something more fulfilling at a lower price elsewhere, but the church just keeps raising the price without updating the product. In fact, it has been quietly deleting features while shifting more service and support onto the customer. The corporate leaders prepare glowing reports bragging of wonderful sales growth but fail to mention that the vast majority of sales don't translate into lifelong customers, that most new customers, fooled by new packaging, buy the product once, try it, and never buy it again.

Well, I could go on and on about the flawed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints business model, but you get the idea.

On Conversion...

Sometimes you have to allow people to make their own mistakes. Once a convert sees Mormonism from the inside, once everyone stops love-bombing her, once they start pushing her toward the temple and making more demands of her time and money, once she sits through a few mind-numbing Sunday school and Relief Society classes, once the missionaries move on to new victims, she'll realize she was bamboozled. Fewer and fewer converts stay active.

I think the most useful thing you can do is keep reminding her that she can change her mind, that the church doesn't own her, and if they were deceptive in any way, they're unworthy of her devotion.

About His Issues...

I consider myself completely recovered in the sense that I don't wonder whether I've done the right thing, I don't worry about my eternal fate, I have no fear of the claimed powers and authority of Mormon leaders, I don't define my life vis-a-vis Mormonism, I'm more likely to laugh about my past life than be upset about it, and I can walk among Mormons without getting upset. If, in real life, I were to find myself wandering into a temple and being chased off, I'd probably act the same as in my dream.

But some things will always be there. Like Richard Packham has written, my heritage is in Mormonism, it's my history. My family goes back to the very beginnings of the church, I'm descended from polygamists, and I spent the first half of my life trying to be a good Mormon. I have devout LDS siblings, nieces and nephews. I can't simply flush all that without losing a large chunk of who I am.

Some might ask why I hang out here if I'm recovered. Two reasons, basically. I'm here to help (a latent Mormon trait) and I'm here for the community of those who share the same legacy. Who else would laugh at my Mormon jokes? Or understand the significance of my dreams?

On Belief in Magical Symbols...

I was just reading some of Quinn's "Early Mormonism and the Magical Worldview." It's the section about the Smith family's magical parchments, or "lamen." Regardless what the symbols on it mean, behind it all is a belief that lines and circles and words on paper have the power -- directly or indirectly -- to control the real and imagined world around you. Evildoers and bad spirits will leave you alone and good spirits will visit you because you have MARKS ON PAPER!

"You can't hurt me, I have these squiggles and circles and phrases from old books! Now God will protect me better than if I didn't have them."

People who really believed this silliness started Mormonism. So no wonder there are special marks on temple garments. The odd underwear alone wouldn't be sufficient to remind you of your covenants and help keep you chaste, oh no, you have to have symbols or else the magic won't work.

And you have to perform the just so or the magic won't work. "I'm sorry," says God, "I'd love to bless you but you said some of the words out of order."

And you have to know the secret handshake and magical words or they won't know you at the gates of heaven. "Yes, we know you, but we don't really 'know' you unless you can do the voodoo for us."

How did we ever believe this idiotic stuff?

On why People Leave...

I don't think most of the people who leave the church aren't doing so because they've decided it's false. I think they've decided it's just not worth it, that there's not enough, if any, spiritual sustenence in return for all the demands, that the church is hollow and it just doesn't work.

I think it's that dissatisfaction with the church - whether it's conscious or not - that opens members' minds to considering the possibility the church might not be exactly what it claims. A person won't receive the damning evidence unless they're ready.

On the Percentage of Polygamy...

Whatever the actual percentage there weren't ENOUGH men practicing polygamy if you read the sermons of Brigham Young. He castigated those who believed monogamy was sufficient to get into the highest reaches of the CK. He preached that monogamy was an abomination.

Of course, statistically, it would have been impossible for ALL Mormon men to practice polygamy, since there were roughly equal numbers of men and women. At least half the men would be left without wives at all. In fact, that was a problem -- polygamy created a shortage of eligible women, which led to the popularity of brothels.

Polygamists weren't just marrying widows and old maids. Looking at the seven polygamists in my family tree (none of whom were more than bishops), for the most part they married women between 18 and 25 years old (while they themselves were in their forties or so). There were only three widows among 26 wives. Besides, the point of polygamy was to create lots of heirs to the kingdom, it's a head start on eternal increase, so you avoid marrying women out of their prime child bearing years.

About God's Plan...

It's not about the best plan it's about tradition. "This was my God's plan so it's good enough for me."

I used to wonder if I'd be able to do things differently if I got to be a god, or would I have to follow the same blueprints. They used to (and maybe they still do) teach that God is a god by virtue of perfectly obeying eternal law, and that if he failed to obey he would cease to be God. So God is just another drone in the eternal hive, keeping his omnipotent nose to the grindstone of the law? No thanks.

On Women Wearing Pants...

When I was a teenager there was a major protest and scandal at Skyline High (SLC) when a group of girls showed up one day in pants. HORROR OF HORRORS!!! They were sent home and suspended. Such was the state of things in 1970. The powers that were insisted no proper young lady (or not-so-young lady) wore pants to school, and of course, pants in church were unthinkable. It seemed a bit weird to us that a culture that would put so much emphasis on modesty would prefer something less modest than pants. After all, pants covered the legs and no one ever talked about being able to see up someone's pants, or having the wind blow their pants over their heads. But it wasn't about logic, it was about tradition and behavior control.

Fast forward five years. I go home from college to visit my parents and, surprise surprise, Mom is wearing pants. I was amazed and amused. She had become one of those little old ladies in polyester pant suits and sensible shoes. The winds of change had blown and she was much happier and more comfortable. She still wore dresses to church, though.

On Seeing the Truth...

No one wants to believe truths that fail to support their preconceptions.

On D&C Section 129...

Oh, but you must understand the early Saints were all claiming visions, visitations and revelations. Many of them had their own peep stones and such. One of Joseph Smith's big struggles was establishing himself as the sole conduit of "divine inspiration." It was one of the things that caused friction in the early church. The church was once rather democratic. Members would exhibit what they claimed were gifts of the Spirit and Smith would say sure, yeah, those are signs of the new dispensation that testify of the truthfulness of my calling blah blah blah. But then that started to work against his plans for running the show. So he started clamping down, producing "revelations" that essentially discounted anything that didn't come from him. We see some of that ploy in his dealing with Cowdery's desire to translate. Oops, see, Ollie, you don't really have the gift, sorry amigo.

So I don't think D&C 129 is nonsense, it's one of several carefully calculated moves on Smith's part. It lets members flatter themselves that they might be visited by angels, but it sets them up so they will think any experience they have is of the devil, because no matter what they see, they're not going to be feeling any hands -- and Smith knew it. And if they're being visited by the devil, then it means either they're really special people involved in a really special work that the devil wants to thwart, or that their hearts are not in the right place (aligned with JS) and they've opened themselves to the temptations of the great deceiver. JS understood human behavior very well and knew how to exploit it.

On the Magic of Time...

Not only does time heal wounds, it ads a varnish of credibility and wonder.

For example, we have warm fuzzy thoughts about people like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln because we are ignorant, for the most part, of the context of their lives and the unpleasant details. On the other hand, we know way too much about our current leaders, we're not going to elevate them to saintly status. We can see, though, how Reagan and Carter are slipping far enough into the misty past for us to have faulty or selective memories about them.

As far as religion goes, Joseph Smith is far too contemporary, and his times too much like our own (compared to biblical times). It's easier to see him as he probably was, whereas we have a tough time imagining the life of Paul and how he might have invented Christianity. And when it comes to imaging Abraham or Moses, well we're mostly clueless about the reality of their lives. We just have stories that might be true or might be total fabrications.

That's the oddity of all this. Often, the less we know the more we're willing to believe. Gee, we think, these stories have survived a long time and a lot of people claim they're true, so they must be. But actually, chances are the longer a story has been around, the greater the likelihood it has been changed. Hell, we know how much the official Joseph Smith story has been changed in just 170 years. Take biblical stories, pass them through many centuries and several disparate parties with their own religious/political/social agendas and it's dubious whether any truth survives.

On Measuring Outward Things...

Since personal relationships with God can't be measured, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints measures outward signs. Are the members happy and full of the Spirit of Christ? Don't know, but the latest numbers are in.

Ultimately, the numbers, and the organization that administers them, become more important than its mission of nurturing spiritual relationships. Improving the numbers becomes the mission instead. It's becoming more and more that way as LDS leadership ranks become glutted with businessmen.

Where are the church's theologians? Where are the leaders who can bring spiritual mysteries to life, who can lead the prayerful to transcendence? You know, the touchy-feely guys? They are where they are in most business structures, relegated to the sidelines. And so the church loses its heart and soul and becomes spiritually hollow. The only real spirituality exists independently from the organization, in spite of it, not because of it. It exists in individuals, not in structures.

On Expressing Doubt...

Many saints believe doubt is contagious. It's not surprising, since they're constantly taught to avoid corrupting influences and the appearance of evil.

Yes, I think many of them do know their faith is too weak to deal with another's doubts. But it goes beyond that sometimes. People are also shunned for reasons that have noting to do with the state of their testimonies. People get shunned for being poor or unattractive. They get shunned when there's trouble in the family -- because most people just don't want to deal with other people's problems. That's not just a Mormon thing.

If for some odd reason I were to try to go back, I know I'd be rejected, because I would be unable to keep my questions and opinions to myself. You want me back? Then let's act like adults here, let's speak up and wrestle with the questions, not just give the expected answers like school kids. Let's face the truth, good or bad, and come out stronger on the other side because of it. And that would make enemies really quickly.

On Appearances...

Peoples' exteriors usually are not reflecting who they are, but rather expressing who they want to be.

On the Mormon Purpose of Life...

This is only a test. That's the way my father saw it. Your individual happiness in this life doesn't matter, this is the probationary state in which we prove ourselves. And if proving our worthiness means putting up with stupid or degrading crap, or inflicting it on others, you do it and be glad that you're one step closer to the throne of God. Okay, so that's a slight exaggeration, but not by much.

On Blind Obedience...

The difference Mormon Leaders make in blind obedience and unquestioning obedience:

- Blind obedience is when it never occurs to you to question the orders because you don't see the problems with the orders, either out ignorance or because you agree with the orders in the first place.

- Unquestioning obedience is when you have doubts about the orders, or actually disagree, but you go along without saying anything.

The net result is the same either way. You obey, and that's what the brethren want.

On Life After Mormonism...

I think it's easier to deal with life's setbacks once we realize the shit that happens isn't part of an eternal battle between good and evil. You didn't get laid off, for example, because you missed church, or touched yourself, or didn't complete your home teaching. You got laid off because of economic circumstances, or because the boss is a bastard, or because you weren't good enough at your job.

If we stop looking for the supernatural cause and effect in everything, if we can drop the idea that everything is a reward, trial or punishment from a capricious deity, we can get down and deal with the reality of the situation. We can take control instead of hoping and praying for magic to rescue us. And we become better prepared to deal with future problems.

Since I left the church 25 years ago, my life has been incredibly normal.

On Fear...

I was making toast this morning, and because of the way I happened to grab the bread, I put it in the toaster upside down. As I let go of the bread a little voice in my head said, "Aak! It's upside down!" Fortunately, a bigger voice in my head said, "Yeah, so?" Of course, the toast came out fine.

This reminded me of my early days leaving the church. As I believed less and less (and eventually none of it) I started violating small rules. What would happen if I didn't wear a tie to church? Nothing. What would happen if I turned down a calling? Nothing. What would happen if I stopped going at all? Nothing. What if I stopped wearing garments? Nothing. Nothing bad, anyway. None of that stuff we're conditioned to fear ever happened.

It was particularly true the first time I had sex. I had a great time and afterwards............. nothing happened. No lightening from heaven, no angels with flaming swords, no visitation from my dead mother, no priesthood leaders at my door to brand me a fornicator, no life failure, no diseases... nothing. Life just went on -- with a bigger grin.

Sometimes it's hard to shake things that have been drilled into our heads, particularly when they're compounded by superstition. We can lose all sense of proportion, imagining punishments far greater than the crime, or creating crimes where there are none. Thinking that if you take the sacrament with your left hand you'll lose the companionship of the Holy Ghost is really no different than thinking you'll break your mother's back if you step on a crack, or that the toast will turn out wrong if it's upside down.

The realization that nothing happens -- at least nothing beyond the natural consequences -- is one of the surest ways to escape the quagmire that is Mormonism.

On What Mormon Doctrine Is...

Mormon Doctrine is whatever makes the members feel good about the church and/or that which maintains order, cash flow and a conservative culture.

When the brethren answer that some bit of debated doctrine is unnecessary for your exaltation, what they're really saying is that they don't want to risk alienating anyone by taking a position. (If really pushed, they might fall back upon the claim that a living prophet trumps a dead one.) So if believing Jesus was a polygamous father makes you more devoted to the church, fine. If believing he was celibate keeps you devoted, then that's fine, too. All that matters is that your particular set of beliefs not lead you away from the church and out of the brethren's control.

On Solitude and Peace in the Temple...

To me, solitude is being alone, not surrounded by several dozen others. To me, solitude is being left alone with my thoughts for as long as I need, not being directed at nearly every moment what to do as part of a group ritual. To me, peace doesn't involve oaths and threats and penalties for failure. Peace doesn't involve worrying about whether you do the gestures right or wear the clothing right or remember the magic words. If the temples were such places of peace and solitude, there would be lines out the door instead of leaders badgering people to attend more than once or twice in their lifetimes -- if ever.

No, temples aren't places of peace and solitude. They're places to perform rituals and be hustled about. They're glorified auditoriums. Functionally they're all the same, except the old temples that still use live actors for the ceremonies instead of a movie (how spiritual). They're all decorated differently but still in the same granny's parlor style Mormons think is elegant.

On the Letter of the Law Versus the Spirit of the Law...

When a Mormon is living the letter of the law, but his leaders want him to do something more or slightly different, they say he should rise above the mere letter of the law and follow the spirit of the law. On the other hand, when a Mormon is following the spirit of the law, but not in a way the leaders like, they say he's guilty of not living the letter of the law.

It's all a smokescreen, of course. What they really want is for the members to do whatever they're told. They trot out either the letter or spirit of the law to justify their case and extract compliance. And of course, in Mormonism, "the law" is a somewhat fluid thing. Strictly living some laws can get you excommunicated. The only law that always counts is "Obey the prophet."

On Mormonism as an Externalizing Religion...

Yes, yes, yes, spirituality requires internalization. It requires making beliefs your own, fitting them to your own mind and heart. But Mormonism (among others) is all about fitting the believer to the system, adhering to the eternal plan. Your own feelings, experience or needs are relevant only when they conform to and serve the plan. The flow of spirituality is reversed. The church doesn't bestow spirituality, because it has none to give. Instead, what spirituality there is comes from individual members, and the church takes credit for it. That's why so many Mormons seem burned out. The vampire church has sucked the vitality out of them.

On Smith Having Sex with His Wives...

D&C 132 tells us Joseph Smith was boinking other women. How so? It goes on and on about what is and isn't adultery. If Smith had only platonic, spiritual wives, adultery wouldn't be an issue. In essence, it says having sex with other women is okay as long as God sanctifies it under the New and Ever-convenient... er... Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. Verse 56 is the smoking gun. It commands Emma to forgive Joseph his trespasses. Which trespasses? Well, the topic of discussion is multiple wives and concubines and what constitutes adultery, so...

Of course, the cynical view of D&C 132 is that Joseph Smith was caught with his pants down and came up with a "revelation" to justify his philandering.

On Marriage...

I don't know that I can accurately express what I feel about all this. Oh well, I'll just plunge in.

- I suspect (only suspect) "Marriage and family are the foundation to strong culture" is one of the biggest fallacies of our time. Because there are stable cultures that don't fixate on marriage and the family like we do, and there are societies on the verge of extinction that have strong families because that's all they have left. I suspect stability, predictability, vast shared knowledge and a decent economy make up the foundation of a strong society. On top of that we need flexibility and responsive adaptability to change. Cultures that dig in their heels are the ones that get run over.

- The way I see it, it's not the gender or number of the persons you have sex with that's the problem, it's whether you do it irresponsibly. Spreading diseases and creating unwanted children is irresponsible. So is withholding information and technology that could help prevent them. So is creating a culture of shame where people are afraid to seek information and protection and are left to rely only upon inner strength or appeals to mystical forces.

- If you want stability and predictability -- if you want people in family units -- let gay people marry and assume the commitments and responsibilities of parenthood. Seems to me like that would validate the principles of marriage and family rather than threaten them.

- Where do we draw the immovable line of what's sexually acceptable? At non-consensual sex (which would include children, the mentally incompetent, animals or any other living thing incapable of granting informed consent) and irresponsible sex. It's not about what is or isn't deviant, it's about protecting the rights and safety of individuals and society. But where there is no harm, there's no foul. It's the same way that owning and driving a car is only a problem when you act irresponsibly. Otherwise, go anywhere you want with anyone you want anytime you want -- just don't hurt anyone or anything. (An imperfect analogy, I know, but bear with me.)

- Of course there's a right and wrong. The question is what you base it on. Arbitrary pronouncements? Superstitions? Religious beliefs? Majority vote? Empirical evidence? Experience? Guesses? Do you establish universal absolutes to ensure maximum conformity? Do you go case-by-case for maximum freedom and flexibility? Or do you try to find a workable balance that achieves the most good for the most people?

On How Mormonism Started...

It all started with a social reject -- Joseph Smith. The Smith family were on a lower rung of the social ladder. They were poorer and less educated. Joe Sr. was a business and farming failure. They kept moving west, looking for a break. I sincerely believe it was the craving to be somebody important that drove Joseph Smith to make up stories. And once the church saw a little success, he took advantage of it, indulging every desire, setting himself as the grand poobah, ordering people around... He had a colossal chip on his shoulder.

I think the church attracted other misfits from the social fringe. After all, people happily entrenched in the mainstream don't go running after prophets. I think they were looking for something to raise themselves to the levels of respected society, and when JS came along and promised them they could be priests and kings -- even gods -- well, hell, Marge, that's much better than being mayor.

The cultish side of Mormonism requires it to have a superior attitude. You can't maintain a movement by admitting you're no better than people outside the group. You can't recruit new members by admitting there's no real difference between belief systems. You can't extract the kind of devotion necessary to keep the machine running unless all the cogs believe they're in the best damned machine ever, the only true machine. That exclusivity turns to snobbery. And when the church become the majority culture, like in Utah, the snobbery becomes oppressive.

Even the first presidency knows too many Mormons have become snobs. They had to issue a special message last year on the subject. But even so, the brethren can't resist any opportunity to stroke the egos of the saints, to talk up the church, criticize the outside world, or recount history that reinforces the big persecution complex. Because they know that for many people what Karen Armstrong said is true: "What's the point of religion if you can't disapprove of other people."

On the Secrecy of the Temple...

Must maintain the aura of mystery about the whole thing. If people who hadn't been sufficiently indoctrinated into the mindset of Mormonism were to see what a bland, disappointing and creepy thing a temple ceremony is, word would spread far and wide. Then the church would have one less carrot to dangle. The temple is great extortion. If you want inside you have to play the game and pay the price. The joke is, there's nothing there.

On Allegiance to the Church...

The church is first, foremost and always about allegiance to the organization -- before the self, before anyone or anything else. That's its most destructive, cult-like feature. Sacrifice your happiness, your aspirations, your identity, your self esteem, even your family and marriage, if necessary, in order to keep in line with the organization and the bunch of invisible carrots it dangles before you. Members think they're demonstrating devotion to God, but they're really just devoted to an idea in their heads - one they will literally do anything to obtain. The church just makes itself the personification (real or not) of that idea. Forsaking the church becomes the same as forsaking the ideal.

On Religions Being Anti-Orgasm...

I think many religions fear orgasms because, first of all, most spiritual experiences can't compete. Like they say, even a bad orgasm is good. Secondly, once you've found a way to make yourself feel wonderful, you're less likely to want someone telling you true happiness comes from self-denial.

Al's Personal Articles of Faith

1 I believe the things we attribute to supernatural powers are, in reality, our own unrecognized abilities.

2 I believe we will experience the natural consequences of our actions, unless we discover ways around them.

3 I believe that through our own wits we can save ourselves a lot of grief.

4 I believe that the first principles of humanity are: take care of yourself but don't take yourself too seriously; take care of everyone else; don't dish out what you can't take; don't shit where you eat; don't believe everything you hear; measure twice, cut once.

5 I believe we must find our own callings in life.

6 I believe in organizing ourselves in any way we see fit.

7 I believe in the gifts of love, empathy, bravery, truth, beauty and so forth.

8 I believe in the power of books and the knowledge and truth they may contain.

9 I believe in the usefulness of all I have learned, all that I'm currently learning, and I believe that I will yet learn many great and important things about to life.

10 I believe in gathering together, especially if there's good food.

11 I claim the right to disbelieve.

12 I believe in obeying the law and trying to change the ones that are wrong.

13 I believe in being honest, true, benevolent, knowledgeable, and in doing good to all people; indeed, I may say that I try to follow the admonition of my old roommate -- Don't be an asshole. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, I seek after these things and try not to mess them up.

On Finding the Truth Behind the Symbols...

I read some Joseph Campbell over the weekend. Among other things, he writes about how some religions know their stories are just myths that help explain bigger, higher, purer ideas. They may pay homage to gods, but it's not really the gods they're worshiping, it's the transcendent truths those characters represent. The gods are just a name and a face, a sort of shorthand for things that can be experienced better than they can be explained. This sort of view of gods is more common in Eastern religions.

Meanwhile, we Westerners tend to take the myths too literally. That's certainly the case in Mormonism. A literal god, a literal heaven, a literal creation story... Even the temple ritual is supposed to be a dramatization of literal past and future events. On top of that, Mormonism becomes a system of checkpoints on the straight and narrow path. It becomes about adherence to rules rather than a quest for spiritual enlightenment. It clings to the iron rod, with eyes fixed on the finish line, instead of marveling in the beauty of the universe.

Mormons go on and on about their testimonies. But what is it they're actually testifying about? Mostly, it boils down to having a good feeling that they're on the right path and about the reassurances they've received in the form of blessings. But have you ever heard a supposed prophet of God say anything like this? "Let me help you see beyond the veil. Let me try to explain the sublime beauty that awaits beyond the law, beyond the atonement, beyond our very concept of God. Let me help you understand the why behind the what."

I haven't.

LDS "prophets" don't really have a clue. They have nothing to tell because, first of all, they have no special access to whatever divine light there might be out there, and secondly, because they're mired in a literalist view of their own mythology. That's what makes Mormonism so shallow. That's what turns their leaders into taskmasters rather than spiritual guides. It would never occur to them to look beyond symbols because they don't believe they are symbols.

On Sins of Omission...

First off, I agree that the measure of character is the "good" things you do rather than the "bad" things you avoid doing. Positive action is more valuable than simply avoiding negative action.

While a lot of LDS culture is based on not sinning and less is based on doing positive things (unless sitting in meetings is a positive thing), there's still that frustrating doctrine of sins of omission -- the good things left undone. It's a handy catch-all for guilt. No matter what good you might do, there are always good things left undone. There isn't enough time in the day to do all the good that could possibly be done. Each second you spend on one good thing is a second not spent on other good things. So when the Mormon voodoo doesn't work as promised, we can always find ways we fall short of worthiness, we can always find ways to blame ourselves. No, it can't possible be the voodoo is bogus, it's that we aren't good enough.

What a neat setup. First you convince people blessings depend upon worthiness, then you convince them they can never be worthy enough, so you never have to deliver the promised blessings.

On the Still Small Voice...

Back when I was trying really hard to gain a testimony (which everyone I knew seemed to have gained without trying) I kept listening for the "still, small voice." I listened for the voice's counsel on other important matters, too. I'd get nice, warm feelings confirming my righteous desires. Occasionally I'd get a flash of new insight.

Over the years, I understood that the "still, small voice" was really just me talking with myself. It was thoughts and knowledge from beneath my conscious level coming to the surface. It was synapses making new connections.

Because my head was full of Mormon indoctrination, there were plenty of prefab answers to my questions.
I knew before asking (even if only subconsciously) what the correct answer was supposed to be. Furthermore, our minds can only make decision using what's in our heads. The more we know, the better our answers. Like they say, chance favors the prepared mind. If there's just Mormon stuff in there, we'll only get Mormon answers. Like they also say, when a hammer is the only tool in your box, every job seems to require a hammer.

Since my professional life requires finding unique, creative solutions on an almost daily basis, I've become even more familiar with the way my brain works. It's very common (not just with me, but with others I know) to spend hours concentrating on the problem without coming up with a suitable solution. But later, while casually engaged in something else, a solution will bubble to the surface -- complete with a warm fuzzy feeling that it's the perfect answer. Often, looking back, I can see that part of the problem was that I had been asking myself the wrong questions.

Morality Rooted in Love...

That's really it, isn't it? When you love and are loved, you act in ways that don't harm others, in fact, you act in ways that benefit them.

So what do you do in a society where people don't/won't can't love each other? You invent substitute beings to love and to love you perfectly in return. Then morality becomes a matter of acting in such a way to express your love and to attract the love of that being.

On the Motivations of Top Church Leaders...

I don't doubt the church leaders are sincere about what they do, but I also suspect that their vision of "the church" and their role in it is very different from what the general membership believes it is. I think they see themselves mostly as builders and guardians of the kingdom, the institution, the corporation. I think they see themselves as commanders of an army. Though the Big 15 are sustained as prophets, seers and revelators, I think they see it as a job title (like executive vice president) not a collection of spiritual gifts.

I think being actual spiritual leaders is further down their list of priorities. That's why their utterances from the podium are so bland and shallow, or sentimental and cloying.

I don't know if it's intentional, but I can see how it's a natural byproduct of not separating spiritual and temporal responsibilities. Dealing with the nuts and bolts of running the church is tangible and direct. You take action A and you see results B. There's more gratification when things go well, and more pressing need for attention when things go awry. But things of a purely spiritual nature are ethereal, intangible. You can't plot things of the spirit on a spreadsheet. And it takes special gifts to lead the flock in spiritual matters, to touch hearts and souls. The current crop of GAs don't have that gift. I suspect it's because they were chosen more for their devotion to the institution than their understanding of the Lord. They're managers, not spiritual guides. They're administrators, not visionaries, not prophets.

On Grown-up Love...

A certain political and social commentator has written about two kinds of love people have for this country. I think it applies to ways Mormons love the church.

He says one kind of love is like the way a 4-year-old loves Mommy. Everything mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad.

On the other hand, "Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad, and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world...[W]e see things we're very proud of. And we also see some things, which might have seemed like good ideas at the time, but turned out to be mistakes. And some things we did, well, they were just bad. That doesn't keep us from loving our country. It's called honesty. What do you think is more important to a loving relationship; honesty or lies?"

I see the church as more like the 4-year-old. Never say anything bad, never criticize. Pointing out shortcomings is a sign of disloyalty, it's a sign of sin. The church doesn't want to sit down and discuss itself like adults, dealing with weakness and building on strengths. It wants to maintain the illusion of Mommy's perfection. That leads to dishonesty. And it leads to the brethren treating the members like 4-year-olds.

On the Magical World of Joseph Smith...

They believed in spells, charms, ritual magic, necromancy -- even animal sacrifice and blood oaths. They believed inanimate objects, like boxes, were moved around underground by guardian ghosts. They believed in doing important things -- like getting the plates or founding the church -- on dates determined by astrological charts. They believed words and symbols scribbled on paper had protective power.

The sanitizing of Joseph Smith's image is one of the church's fundamental lies. The truth of the Smith family's deep involvement in ritual magic and superstition is a source of embarrassment to the brethren who know about it. Mark Hofmann new how to exploit that shame and fear. The brethren were willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to keep the Joseph Smith they'd manufactured from being tainted by anything resembling the truth. JS needed to be a pure, wholesome vessel of the Lord, the chosen one, the hero without spot or blemish. JS's credibility is blown to hell when it's learned he claimed to see not only Moroni and the Father and Son, but ghosts of treasure-guarding decapitated pirates as well. It changes the picture when you learn JS's doctrines of priesthood power were preceded by beliefs in priestcraft and ritual magic, that the laying on of hands was preceded by the drawing of magic circles and the spilling of animal blood on the ground to appease the spirits.

Joseph Smith wasn't some humble seeker of religious enlightenment, firmly planted in mainstream American life. He and his family were way off in the land of nut job superstition and religious quackery.

Nothing Happens

I used to work at a messed up company. As one coworker put it, "You do a bad job and nothing happens. You do a good job and nothing happens."

That was like my life in Mormonism. No amount of righteousness on my part ever made things better. And breaking taboos never made anything worse. Quitting that job and quitting the church -- getting out of those dysfunctional systems -- made my life much better.

Misplaced loyalty and the wisdom of quitting
I'm in a business where people change companies fairly often in search of better opportunities, more interesting work and better pay. Three years at a company is about standard. Some leave after a few weeks. I was a rarity. I stayed with the came company for 13 years.

There were many times I was unhappy with the company and the work I had to do, but I stayed, knowing/believing things would improve. We were a C level company hoping to become a C+. There were always interesting, rewarding things on the horizon. Some came to fruition, most didn't. But I held on, waited it out. Besides, I was being paid pretty well and management liked me.

Meanwhile, people I worked with went off to other opportunities. Rather than wait for the next interesting project, rather than wait for the company to reposition itself and break into the next level, they went off to companies that were already at a higher level. Those who left seemed impatient, self-serving and (gasp) disloyal.

I eventually left that company myself -- not so much because I decided I deserved something better, but because the company was in chaos and about to slide into the toilet. Things had to get bad before I could justify being disloyal.

It was pretty much the same way with me and the LDS church. I invested 24 years of my life, believing things would get better soon. On good days I was mildly happy, but most days I was unhappy, maybe even depressed. But I held on, waiting for things to improve. I didn't leave because I thought, "Darn it, I deserve better than this." I left when it finally became unbearable.

I have learned since that there are seldom any points to be won by sticking with a bad situation to the bitter end -- at least not for yourself. It's usually others who benefit from, and exploit, your loyalty.

Mormonism indoctrinates members into the cult of loyalty to the group -- loyalty even at the expense of yourself. That's why "The One True Church" becomes a mantra. Leaving the One True Church would be a horrible mistake, no matter how unhappy you might be. So you stick it out and stick it out, enduring to the end, hoping for the "real" happiness that's just over the horizon in the next life. Meanwhile, the people who have left the church for happier, more fulfilling lives, well, they're just selfish and disloyal, right?

On the Magic of Secrecy...

Mormons like to say the temple ordinances are sacred, not secret. I propose it's the secrecy that makes them "sacred."

It's the difference between, "Hey, did you hear the news?" and "I'm going to tell you a secret, but you have to promise never to tell anyone else." Whatever follows automatically becomes more special. And, if you're an honorable, moral person, your promise not to tell adds even more gravity, even if the secret you have sworn to keep is inconsequential.

Another example. I could give you a common pebble and say, "Here, take this token, keep it with you always, never be without it." OK, the pebble becomes special where it was once just another pebble. But then, if I were to add, "Never let anyone else see it, never tell anyone you have it, never ever let it fall into the wrong hands," then we cross over into the realm of sacredness.

And yet there are many things in life that can be sacred without being the least bit secret. Secrecy is a crutch used to prop up things that can't stand on their own sacredness. Secrecy is the magic fairy dust that turns the ordinary or laughable into the holy.

About Sex Rules in Mormon Marriage...

Oral sex is okay? Garments on or off for sex? Sex only for procreation? Any number of questions. But there's a big difference why these things are vague: the brethren don't want to talk about sex at all (except to avoid it). They're from a generation where no one ever talked about it, not even with their spouses. Oh, they had sex, but they never talked about it. Most men of that generation are unbelievably ignorant of the biology of sex, particularly when it comes to women's bodies. Most of them did it with the lights out and their eyes closed. Most of them didn't see their children born, because the delivery room was no place for husbands.

These are people who are deeply, deeply ashamed of their bodies, so, naturally, they aren't going to get up in general conference, or even priesthood session, and say, "OK, here are detailed rules about what is and isn't acceptable in the marriage bed."

So you end up with sexual policy by rumor, by fifth-hand personal opinion, by not talking about it. So some temple matron born during the Hoover administration tells you one thing, a know-it-all institute teacher tells you another and your bishop, after he finishes blushing, tells you something completely different. Who really knows? No one. They're all making it up because there is no official policy. The brethren don't even want to think about it. And when they do, it's from the perspective of geezers for whom sex is a dim, dusty memory.

On What A Cemetery Tells Us About Mormon Women In Polygamy...

I was in the Manti cemetery this summer taking photos of relatives' headstones. There were (and are) a lot of polygamists in Manti. I'm descended from some of them.

There are several family plots where the husband/patriarch/priesthood holder has a monument the size of a refrigerator. Arrayed around him are simple headstones, about 18" square, for each wife. The woman's first name is engraved along the top, upward-facing, edge of the stone -- Mary Ann, Elizabeth, Margaret, Harriet... On the face of each stone, in larger letters, it says "Wife of (insert big man's full name here)." No other identification.

Clearly, the women were of lower status than their husbands. They had no identity except as wives. It was almost like they were property. But then, one of the main purposes of polygamy was to establish the man's status in this life and the next. The bigger your harem, the more righteous and blessed you supposedly were, the bigger your legacy, the bigger your eternal reward. In that context, women were a means to an end. They were a way of keeping score.

Another variation on this has the names of the wives engraved on the man's monument. At least in these instances the women's full names were given. At least they were slightly more than "Wife of _____________." But they were still simply an adjunct to his identity.

This also goes to show the claim LDS women are placed on a pedestal is total horseshit.

On Dissonance

Dissonance is like the Invisible Fencing of the church. "Ooo, questioning the church makes my head buzz, so I won't go there." Never mind freedom and the truth are on the other side. Must avoid the shock...must avoid the shock...must avoid the shock...

On Dumping a Belief System

When people dump a belief system and then, thinking they have no moral or ethical obligations, go out and engage in destructive behavior, it's a sign that they had never developed their own set of values. It's a sign they had been living on borrowed standards, that the fences of their religion have been the only things keeping them in bounds.

Common sense should tell us that unless we want to risk our families and marriages, we don't cheat. Even atheists know that. We try not to hurt the people we love.

Judging from your brief tale, it seems like you never internalized all the morals you were taught. You never made them your own. Maybe you'll do better this time.

Book Of Mormon as Talisman

The BoM has become the magic answer for everything. The act of reading it has become more important than what the book might actually say. Read and you will be healed. Read and your problems will disappear. Read and you will be happy. Oh, and pray, pay tithing and obey the brethren. In fact, just carry the BoM with you, or keep it on the nightstand so that its mystical juju can radiate upon you and your family.

Belief in the premise of the BoM -- its magical origins, the claimed validity of Joseph Smith's calling, the church's exclusive franchise on truth, the authority of modern leaders who must be obeyed -- is more important than believing the doctrines presented in the book (which are subject to change). The prime function of the BoM is as a symbol. Belief in the book equals allegiance to the organization. "I believe the Book of Mormon" really means "I believe in the church." And quite often, particularly for those born in the church, it's, "I believe in the Book of Mormon because I believe in the church."

No one ever talks about having a testimony of the truthfulness of the Bible. That's assumed. Besides, belief in the Bible doesn't separate the saints from the rest of christendom. It's not a sufficient test of loyalty to the LDS church. And, oddly enough, no one ever bears their testimony of the truthfulness of the D&C or PoGP, even though they contain the bulk of the doctrine that makes Mormonism unique. It's not that they don't believe them to be true, rather, they just don't have the same symbolic power, the magic, the BoM does.

Believe in the BoM, believe in its power, believe in the organization it stands for. It's actual contents? Eh, not so important. But the act of reading it because your leaders told you to, that's important. It shows your willingness to obey, and obedience is the first law of Mormonism, even more important than faith.

On Not Believing in Any One Particular God

Someone said:

"It doesn't particularly concern me that no one has proven Allah doesn't exist. Or Zeus. Or Odin. Or any of the other countless gods proposed by humanity over the ages."

"Nor do I give all that much thought to worrying that no one has proved the nonexistence of unicorns, leprechauns, fairies, or furry purple aliens, with or without green polka dots, in the next galaxy over."

"So likewise, I'm not especially concerned with proving the nonexistence of any specific gods. I'm atheist simply because I don't believe in any gods, and that's simply because no one has yet demonstrated any good reason to believe any kind of god exists. I don't care that they don't exist, I only care to know if any do exist."

This reminds me of a quote by Stephen F. Roberts:

I contend we are both atheists, I just believe
in one fewer god than you do. When you
understand why you dismiss all the other
possible gods, you will understand why I
dismiss yours.
-Stephen F Roberts

Be Part of the Tribe

Most Christianity says to come as you are, just come. But Mormonism is always placing restrictions, building walls. They want everyone to conform because they imagine sameness is next to godliness. Think alike, act alike, talk alike, dress alike. But since they can't tell what you really think or believe, they stress outward appearances. If you're willing to act and look like a dorky Mormon, then at least you're obedient to the brethren, and that's 90% of the game.

In a recent conference talk, one of the brethren counseled members in foreign lands to jettison whatever parts of their culture and heritage prevent them from being active, program-following Latter-day Saints. In other words, pound yourself into the mold of Mormonism, whatever the cost. And the Mormon mold is conservative, white, geriatric, uncurious, culturally disinterested, anti-intellectual, suspicious, backward-looking, passive-aggressive, willfully naive, paranoid and self-righteous. In short, the Mormon mold is made from life castings of the brethren. Any deviation from what the brethren would do is suspect. "I would never wear my hair like that, so it must be unholy."

On How The Church Will End

The church will slowly erode as fewer and fewer members are willing to put their shoulders to the wheel -- because its costs outweight its benefits, because the world is changing faster than the church is willing or able to adjust, and because, at its heart, the whole empire is built on an illusion and on promises the church can't really deliver.

As society moves faster than the church, people actually get ahead of it, and looking back, they gain perspective and see the church for what it really is -- and more importantly, for what it isn't. The church isn't the answer to life's important questions. The best it can do is to limit the questions you ask and focus your attention on what they want you to see.

The church will erode because the leaders, in spite of their belief, are spiritually empty and ineffectual. If it were otherwise, they wouldn't need to brow beat the members about following the prophet. The faithful would gladly follow if the prophet was actually leading anywhere. But the core beliefs of the church are like a leash on the leaders. There's only so far they can go, so they end up leading the church around and around in a circle while the rest of the parade moves on.

That's why we see subtle changes in doctrinal emphasis, as well as the brethren's refusal to clarify the borders of Mormon orthodoxy -- because they're trying to lengthen the leash, or even pull up the spike it's attached to, without anyone noticing.

I imagine they know -- or at least sense -- the problem isn't really that the forces of evil are winning in an ever more corrupt world. Rather, they're losing out to better, more relevant and responsive religious options. They're losing in the marketplace of ideas, because the brethren attained their leadership positions by being faithful guardians of the status quo, not for being visionaries. So when the times call for change, they're out of their element.

Why it's so hard to lead others out of the church
I read this from an article about the continuing growth of religious movements:

"The main thing you've got to recognize is that success is really about relationships and not about faith. People form relationships and only then come to embrace a religion. It doesn't come the other way around, it's something you can only learn by going out and watching people convert to new movements. We would never, ever, have figured that out in the library. You can never find that sort of thing out after the fact--because after the fact people do think it's about faith. And they're not lying, they're just projecting backwards."

If social ties to the church are the main thing, then problems with history or docrine can be dismissed. "I don't care what evidence you give, the church it true!" Being in the church (the social group) seems right; being out of it seems wrong. I think that's true even when one's relationship with the group is dysfunctional or abusive.

I know leaving the church was a relatively easy decision for me because I never felt like I fit with the group -- or even my own family. Many of who leave the church might have been the same way. The ones who seem most tortured are those with strong emotional and social ties to the church, not doctrinal ties. And we've seen over and over how members can value the group over their own children and spouses.

On How Mormon Apologetics Works

In one form or another, Mormon apologetics boils down to the claim that critics have failed to absolutely, 100% prove Mormonism is false. They try to wiggle out by saying there's always the possibility (no matter how unlikely or impossible) that X might be proved. For example, just because evidence of Jews in the ancient New World hasn't been found yet, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist somewhere; and even if we were to excavate and sift every cubic millimeter of both continents and come up with nothing, lack of evidence doesn't mean it didn't actually happen anyway.

Okay. Two can play that game. Defenders of the faith have failed to absolutely, 100% prove Joseph Smith was not a fraud. Until they do, I'm correct in thinking he was a lying sack of shit.

On Why Prophetic Edicts Don't Make Sense

Remember, it's not about making sense, it's about obedience. The Word of Wisdom isn't really about better health. That's a smokescreen. The Word of Wisdom was elevated from a bit of non-binding advice to a commandment to act as a yardstick for obedience and conformity. In fact, if a rule is supposed to test obedience, then it's good if the rule doesn't make total sense. Rational rules are easier to obey. Irrational rules really test one's devotion and willingness to submit to the leaders, submit to the group, surrender your individuality.

The same with tattoos, piercings and all that. Decorating your body isn't really about defiling the temple of your soul, it's about rejecting the group norm and defying the leaders. It's about establishing independent self identity. Conform conform conform.

I think magical beliefs persist because people crave them. They want to believe there's something better than reality. Penn & Teller once said that people don't really want to know how the trick works, because then it's no longer entertaining. So even though Penn & Teller occasionally reveal how a trick is done, they throw in a new, unexpected trick in the process to keep the entertainment value.

On Craving Magic and Religion

Of course, religion is based on magical thinking. There's someone out there who can make impossible things happen for us, like saving us from permanent death or from the natural consequences of our actions. Someone who can give us something for nothing. Someone who can alter the laws of time and space just for us. Someone to make sure the bad guys are ultimately punished and the good guys are rewarded. Someone who can pull happiness out of a hat.

It's fun to think such things could actually happen, but it really stinks when the magic we depended on doesn't actually work. That's what drove me crazy in the church. I tried and tried and tried and tried to get the magic to work, but...

Once I realized there was no magic I was able to find the peace of mind and happiness magic was supposed to provide.

On thinking Different

I was mentally incompatible with the Mormon Church. I was always the kind to think, "Yeah, but why? Why can't it be another way? Why does everyone need to do the same thing the same way? Why can't we make it different?" I ended up in a profession that encourages that kind of thinking, and I left the church because it can't tolerate that kind of thinking.

Church Leaders Want it both Ways

They want members to be honest, but they want gay members to lie by pretending they're straight.

They believe homosexuality can be transmitted to straight people and impressionable children, yet they encourage gay people to marry straight people and have children. (But, of course, you wouldn't want them marrying into your family.)

The church condemns pornography, yet it was willing to use both gay and straight porn in "reparative therapy."

The church claims to have the ultimate, divine word on homosexuality, but it acts like it doesn't have the first idea what to do. In reality, they just want homosexuality to go away. Hell, they don't even know what to do with single straight people except shove them into marriage. That's the church's answer to everything. Don't tailor the church to meet the members' needs; reshape the members to fit the program.

What if it's true -- and what if something different is true?

Faith is for things we don't know or can't know. It's a substitute for evidence and first-hand knowledge.

I might have faith there's gas in my car, but when the needle points to empty and the car won't start, well, I need to adjust my beliefs.

Mormons are conditioned to think all evidence must be false if it doesn't conform to the official story. If not false, then there must be some magical explanation.

That reminds me of a bit of history. Once upon a time people believed the earth was the immoveable center of the universe and everything revolved around it. They believed it because their religion said that's the way it was. But some curious people watched how things worked, they followed the movements of the stars and planets. They tried to reconcile the official story with what they observed -- which was that with the exception of the moon, nothing revolved around the earth.

In trying to make the observed facts fit the belief system, some scientists concocted outlandish explanations that required, among other things, for certain heavenly bodies to stop and reverse direction, then stop and reverse direction again. (Which is very much what FARMS and FAIR do).

Meanwhile, other scientists said, no, the explanation is very simple once you stop trying to make the data fit your preconceptions. They were excommunicated and discredited, but, of course, they were right. Eventually the rest of humanity came around. They adjusted their faith to fit the facts instead of the other way around.

So when you study about the origins of the LDS church, keep in mind everything you know about human nature and the way the world works. The ask yourself, "What's the simplest explanation for all this?" Or, to quote Thomas Paine, "Which is more likely; that a miracle should happen or that a man should tell a lie?"

On Obedience as the First Law of Heaven or Failure

The way I see it, when an organization plays the obedience card, it's a sign they're in trouble. It's like a parent who tells a questioning child, "Just shut up and do what I say, or else!" They've lost it.

When Jesus said, "Follow me," it was an invitation, not an order or threat. People followed him because the message and the promise was compelling. They followed because they wanted what he was offering, not because they were afraid to do otherwise.

But the modern Mormon church has lost its allure, even among many of the faithful. If the message and promise of Mormonism was sufficiently compelling, then the brethren wouldn't need to browbeat the members. They would attend meetings, fulfill callings and give money joyfully. But they don't because the tired, uninspired old farts running the show don't have the first clue how to illuminate the gospel and spread life, beauty and love. So they beat the drum of obedience. "Just shut up and do what we say, or else."

Why Believing in Mormonism Isn't Such a Big Leap

We often comment here that Mormonism holds some outlandish beliefs. But if you're already the religious type who believes in a supernatural world, in invisible gods and visiting angels, in devils, parting seas, miraculous rescues from lions and furnaces, magical powers, or food from heaven, then what's so odd about the stories Mormonism tells? We're quick to point out the fallacies of the BoM, that there's no evidence for any of it. Well, is there evidence for most of the things in the Bible? No. But millions of people take it on faith. They go with their feelings.

So we shouldn't be too stunned when faithful Mormons say they're not bothered by a lack of proof, that they simply believe it to be true. That's the way religion works -- belief in unknown and unknowable things, even things that make no sense at all or contradict the facts.

Don't take me wrong, though. I'm not defending religion. I'm just saying the rules and the reality are different in all religion. To one degree or another, it's all about believing the unbelievable.

That's why I ditched Christianity along with Mormonism. My initial problem with Mormonism was my skepticism regarding the supernatural. I would probably have had the same problem if I had been raised in a diffferent religion. I didn't fall back on Christianity when I rejected Mormonism because Christianity makes no more sense than Mormonism. It's all make believe to me.

On Why Women Must Wear Bras Over Their Garments

Garments are supposed to be a constant reminder of the temple covenants. Those covenants, if taken seriously and literally, essentially make you property of the church. You agree to give anything and everything the church might require, which, in the case of garments, includes your dignity, privacy, comfort and appearance.

It's really significant that this symbolic clothing is underwear rather than some outward sign. It's very personal, very intimate. It's right there next to your skin, even wedging it's way into your nether regions. It's almost as personal as circumcision. It's right there, all the time, whispering, "We own your ass... We own your ass..." So wearing anything under the garment says, "No you don't, not completely." The church doesn't like that.

On Belief and Disbelief

It's not about whether the church is true, it's about whether you can believe it or not. You don't need to justify your disbelief. Mormons need to justify their belief. I tell Mormons now that I don't believe Mormonism any more than they believe Hinduism. Belief isn't about proof. We believe because it's all we can do when there is no proof.

So when asked you're no longer a Mormon, you can say something like:

"I don't believe in Mormonism. I don't believe God is one of many gods. I don't believe God is an exalted human. I don't believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. I've tried for years to believe that, but I can't. If I don't believe that, then all the rest is irrelevant. But I know I love my family and I believe we can have a wonderful life together even though I don't believe in the Mormon version of things."

On Having Past Repented Sins Come Back if You Sin Again

It's a good thing the financial world doesn't work this way. Miss a payment and you start over owing the whole amount.

I think Mormonism doesn't really like repentence -- the real kind of repentence -- where each sin is totally forgotten. No, they like keeping your past sins handy on a shelf where they can grab them when they need to beat you up a little. They like having the threat of your old sins returning. It's an ingenious little control mechanism.

On the Mormon Concept of Freedom

The church believes true freedom comes from willingly surrendering your freedom to follow the one true path. That's much easier to do if you have low self-esteem. "What do I know? I'm a loser without someone helping me along. The prophet knows best, so I'll do whatever he says." People with healthy self-esteem are less likely to surrender, or to surrender so completely.

I know my fragile self-esteem took a tremendous beating in the church. I was never good enough, even though I willingly did everything that was expected. I was a golden boy, slated for extra special exaltation, but I was severely fucked up. I was always at war with myself, trying to crush my authentic self so I could fit into the tiny church-approved role. Don't be yourself, be this other thing. The more I tried, the sicker I got.

Walking away from the church was the healthiest thing I ever did.

On the Limits of Obedience

I got thinking about the spiritual emptiness of LDS leadership. As I’ve said before, they aren’t really spiritual guides leading the faithful to transcendence and oneness with the divine. They’re taskmasters whose answer to everything is to obey the rules.

So imagine if you had a coach who acted like a church leader. He’d gather the team and say, “OK, here are the rules of the game, now go win!”

A player raises his hand and asks, “What’s our game plan?”

“Our plan is to obey each and every rule of the game. Because you can’t win if you don’t follow the rules. All the great teams before us obeyed the rules, and we will walk in their footsteps.”

“Well, yes, that’s true, but do we have a strategy?”

“Our strategy is to obey each and every rule better than the other teams do.”

Another player pipes up. “But last season we couldn’t generate any offense and our defense was useless.”

“Yes, so we’ll just have to follow the rules even more diligently this year. We’ll have to meet more often to review the rules.”

“Um, but, you know, a lot of things aren’t addressed by the rules, like basic skills and what to do in any given situation.”

“The most important skills are the willingness and determination to obey the rules, which is always the correct thing to do in any situation.”

“Coach, please, I don’t mean to criticize the rules, but it seems there’s much more to the game than that. When we play we don’t break any rules, but we’re running around out there like headless chickens. Meanwhile, the other teams are organized, they know what they’re supposed to do, and they’re handing us our asses.”

“Well, with language like that, it’s no wonder. Right now I’m adding a rule against dirty talk.”

And so on.

The brethren have nothing to offer beyond the rules. In fact, all that stuff out beyond the rules (if they ever look up from the rule book long enough to notice) seems to scare them, and they dismiss it as unnecessary for our salvation, as the meat we’re not ready to taste. But is it really that we're not ready to taste it, or that the leaders aren't ready to lead there?

Pray, pay, obey – that’s the way. Don’t stray from the straight and narrow path, don’t let go of the iron rod, follow the prophet. OK, but then what? A spiritual life is far more than not committing any fouls.

On the Brethren Contradicting Themselves

My first impulse is that the brethren are just making it up as they go along, reacting to the question or problem of the moment rather than formulating cohesive doctrine and policy. But with Monson's Fall 2004 statement to the Relief Society that women should develop marketable skills, I've changed my mind. I think they intentionally give contradicting counsel so they can pull out of their asses whatever "official" statement serves their purposes. I think they want to be able to argue for either side of a question, depending on the circumstance.

For example, you can find statements from the brethren that say you should have as many children as possible and others that say the number of children you have is no one else's business. You can find statements that you should rid yourself of a disbelieving spouse and others that say you shouldn't. And now, women in the church should forsake education and careers in order to have children and run the home, or seek education and marketable skills so they can be self sufficient in case life doesn't go as planned.

Contradictory doctrine and policy not only serves the command and control structure of the church, it can also serve the members. The brethren are far more concerned about loyalty to leadership and the institution than loyalty to any particular doctrine. Members can pretty much pick and choose beliefs as long as those beliefs keep them attached to the church and willing to obey leadership. So if a member needs to believe childbearing comes before education, they can find what they need to support that decision. Or if they believe career comes before marriage and kids, they can find justification for that, too. Either way, they get to consider themselves good Mormons and they don't have to feel alienated from the church.

On Making Uninformed Choices

Elder Oak's July 2005 Ensign article "Believe All Things" is another discourse on blind obedience. What the brethren want is for members to stop asking, "WHY?" They want the members to choose to follow even if they have no idea where they're being led or whether the leaders are qualified to direct them. That's making uninformed choices. That's acting in ignorance.

Well, according to D&C 131:6 -- It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.

So it's every member's sacred responsibility to ask questions, to know why they're doing what they're doing. "Because the prophet said so," isn't a good enough answer. And one should be especially curious when the leaders say, as this Ensign article essentially does, "Just shut up and do what you're told." Does that sound like Jesus talking? Or does it sound more like something Lucifer would say as he tries to lead people astray?

On Mormon Pornography Addiction Being a Symptom

The church doesn't want to admit porn addiction is a symptom of something larger. The church can't admit that sexually repressive cultures like Mormonism breed porn addiction. Mormonism starts out by twisting, distorting and tainting everything about sexuality and intimate relationships and then wonders why people go off the deep end with porn.

The Mormon Church makes people feel dead, sex makes them feel alive. So guess which is going to win?

On What to Tell Mormon Loved Ones about You Joining Another Church

The simple explanation might be that you weren't happy in the LDS church, that it didn't work for you, but now you've found a church that meets your spiritual needs. Never mind about the LDS church being a pile of lies. As others have learned, it won't change their minds -- because they're happy. Happy people don't change, even if their happiness is based on a lie. But by emphasizing that you weren't happy but now you are they might -- MIGHT -- start to evaluate their own happiness.

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