23 November 2014

Dishonestly and Manipulation: Mormonism's Modus Operandi

"Modus operandi (plural modi operandi) is a Latin phrase, approximately translated as 'method of operation'. The term is used to describe someone's habits of working, particularly in the context of business or criminal investigations. In English, it is often shortened to M.O."
With the release of and subsequent media blitz on the LDS Church's new essays, there has been a resurgence of discussion surrounding the validity of the claims the Mormon Church makes within the membership of the church. It has been interesting to see the response. Some, fueled and armed with official Church sources, have found the courage to speak up to friends and family about the loss of belief they have encountered over years past. Others, unprepared to handle the onslaught of accusations, hunker down and buy into the Church's insistence that the new information has always been widely known and accepted by "well-read" "long-term" members of the Church, effectively putting the blame on the membership if they were unaware of the uncomfortable information.

But, by and large, it seems that more people are upset about the dishonesty and manipulation of information than the actual historical facts themselves. I think it is justified considering what the LDS Church has to say about honesty:

“When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”

The problem is, with the recent essays, it becomes shockingly clear that the Mormon Church has not been honest with the world.

Joseph has always been depicted with one wife- Emma

 The Book of Abraham was presented as a translation,
which has now been proven false

These are only a few examples- the very tip of the iceberg. But, Mormonism has a long history of lies and deception- starting with Joseph Smith, and it makes one wonder- if the LDS Church and its leadership is what it claims to be, why lie? Why mislead? Why lie to your wife and the church about polygamy if God commanded it? Why destroy the printing press that threatened to reveal your supposedly god-sanctioned polygamy? Why purchase artifacts and documents that threaten to destroy truth claims to hide them away from the public (even though they turned out to be fake). This is the biggest question. It would seem that the Church itself does not believe its own claims that it will "go forth without hands to fill the earth," and "nothing can stop its progression," otherwise, why try so hard to control information? Why revise history? Why deny the past?

These are all valid questions and concerns for members to ask, yet recently, the LDS Church released this in response:

"Some of the hardest questions come when what we believe is challenged by changing cultural fashions or by new information, sometimes misinformation, that critics of the Church confront us with. At such times, it may seem that our doctrinal or historical foundations are not as solid as we thought. We may be tempted to question the truths we’ve taken for granted and the spiritual experiences that have formed our faith. 
What do we do when doubt seeps into our hearts? Are there really answers to those hard questions? 
Yes, there are. In fact, all the answers—all the right answers—depend on the answer to just one question: do I trust God above everyone else?”

So, right there, in very plain text, the church has just stated that questioning and doubting is a temptation and that new information that causes doubt is likely misinformation from critics even though the church itself has finally partially admitted to what the "critics" have been trying to say all along. People should ignore the facts, ignore the evidence, and rely on “feelings” and simply trust “God” (or in this case, the leadership of the church that speaks for God).

Guess what! Those people who crash planes into buildings and strap bombs to themselves also trusted in God above all and ignored reason and doubt. I wonder how people read this and not clearly see how they are being manipulated into blind obedience. It isn’t about whether or not the Church does good in the world or not. It’s about whether or not people feel that their church should be in the business of manipulation. If the Church really is what it claims, why should it need to manipulate and control information? It is very unsettling whenever you give up your capacity to think and reason and question simply to follow a self-proclaimed leader. It is dangerous even.
"Doubt your doubts!” (Uchtdorf)

"Some things that are true aren’t very useful!" (Packer)
Or, as the guys at south park put it:
When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head,
Don't feel those feelings!
Hold them in instead
Turn it off, like a light switch
just go click!
It's a cool little Mormon trick!
We do it all the time
When your feeling certain feels that just don't feel right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
and turn em off,
Like a light switch just go bap!
Really whats so hard about that?
Turn it off! (Turn it off!)

 Galatians  6:7
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."    

Looks to me like the Mormon church is reaping what it has sown.

16 November 2014

A Lesson in Respectfully Stating One's Disbelief

One of my roommates from BYU just came out of the closet. Not the gay closet, the non-believer closet. It has been heartening (and I know believers would find the use of that word in this situation weird, and perhaps evil) to consistently run into people from my mission and from my BYU wards who have left the LDS Church. Some of them are people I would have never thought would leave- Relief Society Presidents, Elders Quorum Leaders, hard-core every-fiber-of-my-being type believers. It's really hard to state your disbelief when you grew up in an LDS environment. Those who leave the faith are viewed as enemies. They threaten the faith of others simply by their own disbelief and so they are often cut out of the lives of friends and family. Members of the Church automatically discredit anything the person has to say about the religion, even if the person spent most their life devoted to the religion. So, you see, it takes some bravery to be honest about your disbelief.

Some people handle it better than others. Members of the LDS Church always use the phrase, "you can leave the church, but you can't leave it alone." It is a phrase used to "prove" that those who leave the faith actually know its true deep down and so they can't just quietly move on with their lives.
Again- an example of how the Church invalidates those who leave and refuse to believe anything they have to say- even when its about their own life. It is an interesting attitude for a church that sends tens of thousands of missionaries into the world to preach their beliefs to people (I was one of them) and often encourages the membership to flood the internet with "faith-promoting" material. It's interesting attitude for a church that also looks to the example of "Lehi" who, once tasted of truth, immediately desired to share that with his family so they could know it too.

I have not always communicated my disbelief in a respectful way. I'm still working through forgiving the Church for the deep harm it caused in my life. But I am grateful for examples like my old BYU roommate who I think handled it very well. I wanted to share that here:

"I want to preface this by saying this is as much as you’ll hear on the subject from me unless you ask to talk about it. I feel this is important to preserve my relationships with friends and family.

It’s been quite a while since I realized I didn't believe in God, but the recent media blitz about the lds.org essay revealing (some of the) truth about Joseph Smith makes this seem like as good a time as any to let everyone know. It’s kind of a relief, because if I had brought up what is said in the essay a few weeks ago, I would have been called a liar. Many of my friends and family would have said I’d been led astray by Satan for believing those things.

I’ll leave my thoughts on the specific Joseph Smith matter in a comment on this post, because it sort of detracts from the general message of this post ([My wife] is a great editor).

My disbelief really had nothing to do with Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Finally letting the truth of it all sink in just strengthened my resolve. I’ve adopted a policy of only believing something if I have a good reason to, such as evidence. There’s no more “choosing to believe” for me, a concept which I think is nonsense. I do not see believing something without evidence, or “faith", as a virtue. I honestly think it is dangerous. Yes, in most cases it's harmless and even leads people to do wonderful things in the name of the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, etc. But it can also lead anywhere from racism (as evidenced by the church’s history with black people, as outlined in another recent lds.org essay ADMITTING THAT THE CHURCH WAS WRONG AND ESSENTIALLY LED FAITHFUL MEMBERS ASTRAY), to terrorism, as evidenced by the buildings-flying-of-planes-into that I'll mention in my comment below.

I don’t have any intention of proselytizing my non-belief, but I don’t think sending out a huge force of missionaries into the world puts you in any position to demonize those who do.

I’m sorry to anyone I’m hurting. I love my friends and family who still believe in the church; I love my brother and sister-in-law who are serving LDS missions, and I hope that my relationships will remain in tact. But I’ve heard too many stories, from others who have lost belief, about parents and spouses saying “it would have been better if you had died”, so I don’t think all of my relationships will make it out of this one. I'm shaking with fear of the consequences even as I type this. It saddens me, but I’m weary of pretending I know what’s going on week-to-week in my ward or biting my tongue when people say ignorant things about politics or homosexuality that are clearly influenced by their faith and not reason. I need to live authentically.

Do not take this to mean I don’t respect you if you believe. You have to remember, I believed in the church for a very long time. I know what you’re feeling. I know what it felt like when someone said the harsh things I’m saying now. I don’t like you any less, and I don’t think you’re dumb. The most brilliant people I know- geneticists, biologists, computer scientists (ok one of them is all three of those things), some of whom are my best friends- are believing Mormons, and I doubt they’ll ever stop. I will always love them and I do not view them any differently.

I also don’t regret growing up in the church. My most valued friendships, including the one with my wife, would have never happened otherwise. I have so many good memories from church activities during my childhood and teenage years that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Lastly, the dumbest thing you can possibly do is accuse me of being lazy, offended by someone in the church, or desiring to sin. These are ways many who leave the church are painted, and it’s ridiculous. Sure, I’m lazy in many aspects in life. I love to sit around and watch TV, but when it comes time to work I do it hard. Ask my employers.

I’m also not easily offended. Ask anyone who's made a crack about any of my many flaws.

As for desire to “sin”, alcohol and drugs never interested me growing up. I was perfectly happy to observe the tenents of the church for the rest of my life. I always loved the smell of coffee, but it wasn’t as if I felt I was missing out on something (turns out I was, though), and coffee would be an awfully stupid reason to give up your eternal salvation, wouldn't it?

I’m happier than I’ve ever been. My life has done nothing but improve since I made this decision. Shortly afterward, I became motivated to learn a very valuable skill and am now in a career doing something I love. Also, my wife and I continue to be more in love every day. Our Sundays are spent with each other (and our daughter/my stepdaughter every other weekend) doing fun, exciting things rather than sitting through 3+ hours of hearing the exact. same. things. I heard 52 times a year for the first 27 years of my life.

Sure, you’re welcome to believe I’m not truly happy, that instead I'm deceived by Satan into thinking I’m happy. Just don’t say it out loud, because that's what people in cults say.

[BYU Roommate]
P.S. Here, read this: http://cesletter.com/

His comment (mentioned in the text above):

I learned some of the nasty facts about Joseph Smith a few years before I stopped believing. It hurt my feelings and I dismissed it as lies and noted to myself that he was a prophet and if it was true, God had a reason for it: maybe it was all done to try Joseph’s faith or the faith of people like me, etc, etc.

Okay, real talk time.

Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was killed because he ordered the press of the Nauvoo Expositor (a newspaper) destroyed when it was about to print the very information outlined in the lds.org essay. I don’t condone killing, but it shows that he was not an innocent martyr killed for righteousness’s sake by any stretch of the imagination.

Joseph Smith married children and other men’s wives, and lied about it. Those are facts. If you want to rely on what you believe is a spiritual confirmation that this was okay because it was commanded by God, that’s your deal. But I don’t find those feelings valid, because people of every religion have very similar feelings about what they believe. In fact, I’m willing to bet everyone who’s ever flown an airplane into a building had a stronger spiritual confirmation than you’ve had about Joseph Smith. There are many who view Warren Jeffs, leader of the FLDS church and polygamist currently incarcerated for sexual assault of a minor, the same way you view Joseph Smith because they’ve had a spiritual confirmation. When you disregard unreliable emotions, you’ll see they really aren’t that different.

I’m also not sure why so many are willing to believe that Joseph Smith’s marriages were not sexual but Brigham Young’s were. That, combined with the fact that many denied Smith was even a polygamist while accepting that Young was, makes me think on some level they know there’s something wrong with Mormon polygamy in general.

I also believe, with all my heart, that the church needs to denounce, not excuse with stories of angels and swords, 37-year-old men marrying girls when they’re 14 (or as the lds.org essay puts it, "several months before her fifteenth birthday." How about we just settle on “several months after she was 13”?) because it will lead to more present day justifications of such behavior, like Warren Jeffs. Just say he was a prophet but that he was wrong about that, like Presidents Brigham Young through Harold B. Lee were wrong about blacks and the priesthood. Please?"


It is hard to realize we've been fooled by someone we trusted. I put my trust in Mormonism and its leaders. I defended my faith. I brought other people into my faith. It is extremely painful to come to the realization that your deeply held beliefs are based on lies and manipulation. I've tried to process that as best I can. I hope I can learn from those like my old roommate. I think the key is forgiveness. Somehow I must find the courage to forgive a Church that will likely never apologize for the damage it did to me and for continuing to do damage to others. 

05 November 2014

Self-Worth: An Ongoing Struggle

Until the age of 25, the time that I finally realized that being gay was a fundamental part of my identity, I had been programed to view myself in very destructive terms. I don't remember exactly when it was that I first felt fear about the possibility that I was gay- only that it was before I really even knew the terminology to describe what I felt. Really, I think I just understood that what I felt was taboo and could never be revealed to anyone. That fear turned into resentment. I resented myself.

Due in large part to that self-resentment, I grew hungry for the validation of others- as if to prove to myself that I was good and worthy by appealing to those around me. I did well in school and got along with teachers because I learned that it would result in praise and compliments positive feedback about my worth. I was a "good student" a "bright kid." In the Church I learned that if I followed the rules and listened to my leaders, I would get similar feedback. Parents admired me for not causing trouble, for having a "strong testimony." I craved validation from any source I could find.

The sad thing is, that while people around me expressed all those positive things, I could never internalize them. Deep down I thought that if they really knew who I was, if they knew my secret, they would never say those things. I wrote off every expression of admiration and every compliment paid to me. I taught my brain to immediately dismiss any affirming language directed at me and became very uncomfortable when people complimented me for any reason. In my mind, I believed that I was unworthy... that I was a fraud. If people really knew me, they would be disgusted.

I wish I could say that I've been able to undo this pattern of thought. But after four years of learning to embrace myself and live authentically, I still struggle to view myself as valuable. This permeates most aspects of my life. The shame and guilt I unnecessarily hauled around for most of my life continues to have far reaching effects. I struggle with learning how to overcome this toxic pattern of thought that I adopted in my youth. One can't simply undo 25 years of negative rhetoric with the snap of the fingers.

Validation simply cannot come from the outside. It will never come from the praise and admiration of others. It hasn't worked yet, and it never will. Somehow, I must learn to find it within me. I need to believe in myself and value the person that I am and allow myself to be the priority in my own life. How do we reconstruct a view of ourselves that isn't full of negativity and self-doubt? How do we re-program our brains to view ourselves as good after so many years believing we are evil? I don't know that there is an easy answer... and I feel as if I am wandering in the dark knowing I am bound to make mistakes as I struggle to find the answer. I just hope I can get up and brush myself off if/when I do stumble.