When Critical Thought is Applied to Fanatical Belief

December 16, 2013

A friend asked about Lynn K. Wilder’s Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church. This was my reply:

Mormons seem a bit unique, at least to me, in how many there are of those who leave the church that leave faith altogether. One convincing explanation I’ve heard is that the LDS church “spiritually burns people out.” Yes, Mormons rank high in surveys of devotion, but if the shelf ever breaks, the critical thought applied to the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon slide over very easily to the Bible, its stories, miracles, and historical compilation.

The LDS church plays a very dangerous game: Heavily indoctrinate people into “every member a missionary” zeal, bind them emotionally through their “forever families” and “celestial marriages,” tie them culturally and hierarchically into an invasive interview, confessional, home visiting culture, a “ward family” culture and even a social network, employment culture, and then through fear keep them in line, believing and wanting to believe so much that the most active members can be said to be “church broke,” willing to “sacrifice all” that they possess, even their “lives if necessary, in sustaining and defending the Kingdom of God.”

I mean, once a person is into something that deep, especially without full agency–i.e., you were essentially stepped or phased into it, groomed–then, you know, you are kind of fucked spiritually in terms of ever being able to know your own true light. And if you ever release the bonds, your trust in anyone selling spiritual goods will likely not be very easy to gain.

“God never changes, except when He does”

August 31, 2013

I don’t get how all the changes aren’t more testimony busting than they appear to be, or at least shelf bending. When you are in the magic bubble, you explain all the changes away; they even become validations–when the Brethren make changes, that must mean that God saw fit for those changes now; that’s part of His plan. The post hoc reasoning is just mind numbing. Yeah, weren’t we told that God is unchanging, God’s law is unchanging, the Gospel is unchanging, it’s a rock, its principles are eternal, Smith got the Temple ordinances from God, pure from the time of Solomon…but the Brethren keep changing shit over time. Why? Or apologists will play the “Be flexible” card or the “Don’t fall into the fundamentalist trap” card. I hate the playing both sides against the middle, but no one will acknowledge, except someone like Armand Mauss and his fans, that the LDS church is a sociological creature bent on accommodating itself over time to the wider culture. That’s the truth the orthodox Mormons say they love so much, but they treat that particular sociological truth like it’s Satanic or “anti.” I can’t grow spiritually with people who won’t acknowledge basic truths and who insist instead on living in a fairy land.

Failures of Informal Logic: Fallacies of the Faithful

August 31, 2013

Reading the blog, “From DC to BC A Mormon graduate student’s attempt to harness intellectualism and faith,” and see that, as she addresses the Hans Mattsson affair, on her list, under #1, “There are myriad resources available to understanding the ‘less appealing’ parts of Mormon history.” This sort of excuse or rebuttal is deceptive. There are people in the LDS church who have no idea about the scholarship she lists. (She also lists books that have among them heavy-handed apologetic accounts–she mentions Juanita Brooks, but she also mentions Givens and Bushman, two unofficial mouthpieces for orthodoxy. There are alternative accounts that are much more convincing and detailed about the difficulties of church history.) Primarily, the whole “rebuttal” is false b/c many people have no problems with church history until they start to have doubts. That’s when they go looking for further information and start finding disturbing parts of the puzzle. Essentially, they begin to engage their critical faculties upon the church, and all the LDS church has given them has been white-washed, hagiographic pabulum. To say that there are “many resources” or that she doesn’t “believe that it is the Church’s responsibility to hold our hand and teach us our history. We need to be proactive and study it carefully, as well as prayerfully.”–to say this is to not address the problem: People don’t have a need to go looking or to learn more about the church until they have their doubts, at which point the hour is late, and the only knowledge they have is what the church has given them. When they go and then test this knowledge, it comes up woefully short and inadequate to the demands of a thinking human being looking for thoughtful, truthful, accounts of the church’s doctrines and past.

It’s interesting that basic informal logic gets abused by not just her, but other apologists before her. Blake Ostler makes this very charge against those with doubts who complain that the church betrayed them. He does this in the Mormon Matters (I think) podcast on immunizing the saints.

Do LDS church callings make members feel important and worthwhile?

August 30, 2013

Initially, the different callings did make me feel important, like I was doing something worthwhile, and also working with good, sometimes quite talented, men.

Of course, after a while, the shiny wears off. You start to wonder about the entire Sundays that are devoted to doing church things. Activities night; service projects on Saturdays; projects for revamping this or that in the ward organization or directory or records or home-teaching. Then there is your own family: Family home evening, daily devotionals, worrying about your own edification, learning all the church talks and scriptures that you can…. It just got to be a chore, and I realized the dangling of “important” positions and stature as a way to keep people engaged who otherwise would get bored. I really did get sick of it and I worked through the sick and the burn-out and had to leave. No amount of presumed prestige or leadership roles was enough to rope me in anymore. On some level I recognized that it wasn’t real, that it was all essentially a social club based on made-up silliness, not worth my time.

Maxine Hanks, Privilege, and Dreams of Ameliorism in the Mormon Church

August 5, 2013

Like many others, my experience of “chapel Mormonism” was very much you are either all the way in or you’re out.

Sure, you can be a hanger-on as a low down, lazy, second-class Mormon who doesn’t have a Temple Recommend, and would be lucky, depending on the Bishop, to bless or baptize his own kids. But who wants that? No, the idea is that you toe the line, put your shoulder to the wheel, drink the Kool-aid, live with “honor” and respect, and get on that hamster wheel of callings and being an instrument of the Lord in the ward, i.e., do whatever anyone asks you to do and do everything you can to be obedient “with exactness” in following the counsel of church leaders.

(I’m saying all that and it just sounds like brainwashing, but THAT’s what it’s like to be in the LDS church, at least as I have found it “in the mission field” or outside of special havens along the Wasatch Front or Maxine Hanks’s or Joanna Brooks’s wards.)

A number of the timesandseasons/bycommonconsent “bloggernacle” educated Mormons–many of whom seem to common folk like me to fall somewhere along a NOM spectrum of belief–like to appeal to Dalin Oaks’ “Alternate Voices” talk (1989), taking it as showing how enlightened the LDS leadership is (–see sociologist Armand Mauss’s discussion of it, with Oaks’ agreement). They’ll point to one of their main gurus, Mauss, and conclude that no one should blame the LDS church for being an authoritarian mind-control organization bent on restricting and hiding information about its past because the LDS church is flexible, liberal, and open, and all this talk about a crisis, of an exodus from the LDS church, of people like Hans Mattsson feeling betrayed, is just over-blown. The LDS church has hidden nothing and has never told members to avoid anything that conflicts or might seem to conflict with official church doctrine and policy.

From Oaks’ talk, I don’t get the idea that “alternate voices” are simply okay, that the LDS church is all that flexible. In the Youtube video, his “Leader’s” voice thrums with authority and dire significance under that single dome of light on the otherwise dark Gen Conf stage, acting like a prophet warning and counseling the people. Alternate voices are still basically risky to check out and potentially dangerous (from the TBM point of view). Oaks is still basically scaring people about alternate points of view. In fact, when he says in the talk that “Members who listen to the voice of the Church need not be on guard against being misled,” he’s just lying. The church is not perfect. (See the recent Times and Seasons blog post, “An Information-Rich Gospel: Correlation and the Growth and Maturation of the Church, with pertinent discussion thread post. Mauss is cited in comment 95.)

For too many Mormon accommodationists, ameliorists, “liberals,” the LDS church is quite acceptably flexible; indeed, the church is largely just misunderstood. This is the perspective of some relatively privileged Mormons whose cultural and heritage roots are so deep that reading Dialogue or Sunstone was a staple in their homes growing up. They don’t seem to understand Mattsson or other exmos’ anger about feeling betrayed.

Maxine Hanks writes,

“[T]he negative story that emerged from 1993 wasn’t objective or accurate, it was born of fear, anxiety, reaction, supposition and media hype. It was one-sided – we didn’t have a dialogue with input from both sides.

“I agree that rhetoric from Church leaders pre-2000 pushed conformity while discouraging public disagreement. Yet that rhetoric wasn’t simple or unitary, it was complex, and included opposite suggestions as well — about personal conviction, authenticity and actualization. The cautionary or condemnatory language was perhaps more intense, because it was negative and personal.”

How are “authenticity and actualization” any part of a church that essentially forbids open doubts? She acts like everyday Mormons can just call a time out on their church involvement and callings, and investigate alternative ideas and practices, self-actualize, and explore their own “shifting paradigms,” and somehow, LDS church discipline, consequences, and pressure from family won’t be immediately brought to bear on that person. What church is she talking about? I’m getting the impression that there’s one church for chapel Mormons (she speaks of the “lay church”), one church for Internet NOMish Mormons, and one church for those cognoscenti who have achieved some sort of intellecual hall-pass from the GAs, e.g., I think of David McKay personally calling off Sterling McMurrin’s church court. Think McKay would have done that for Lyndon Lamborn?

Hanks continues,

“Yet as I’ve gone back and revisited talks from the past, I’ve often been surprised by the presence of positive or empowering or nuanced messages coexisting along with warnings and denouncements.

“The Church focus on personal or inner knowledge didn’t strike me as ‘individualism’ – which is a fascinating reading – but as spiritual epistemology. Yet this was accompanied by talk about social responsibility – relationships with God and family and church. The lay church has an uncommon emphasis on community.

“What was indeed fractured and worsened via 20 years of fallout was the sense of community once held by us, the liberals and feminists. –Maxine H.”

I don’t understand how she can ignore, beyond her narrative centered on herself and her experience, what has happened to everyone else who has become disillusioned, disenfranchised, disaffected with the LDS church precisely because of its handling of its history: “I agree that troubling info about the Church has been around for decades, readily available in many forms.”

“For decades,” and the Internet isn’t a huge catalyst today for faith crises in the LDS church? Really? How many exmos have we heard of who recount their experience of leaving the LDS church in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s, and how they had no community, no easy access to resources?

“Those disciplined [in the early 90s] were deeply or intensely ‘processing and grasping the complexities of the Mormon story.'”

And she’s talking about university people, Mormon scholars, struggling with the information they were uncovering, in the 1980s and 1990s. So if a Swedish businessman, Hans Mattsson, or anyone else who isn’t a professional historian or scholar, discovers some of these things and feels betrayed, that person “thirsting for knowledge” just needs to process the lies, disgust, and resulting nausea better:

“I completely agree that faith crises and mass disillusionment have been overly simplistically attributed to ‘the internet’ as the culprit or cause. There are multiple causes, and the internet is secondary.

“A primary cause is simply our thirst for knowledge and understanding about life, accompanied by shifts or collapses of our paradigm(s)- the psyche’s need to learn, individuate. We evaluate our beliefs via new information ongoing, or take refuge in our beliefs, for a time. Also, the group or cultural psyche has a collective trajectory, voiced in public discourses.”

And because LDS church leaders have been so wise, even in the 90s, to preach self-acualization and authenticity, then no one should be angry with the LDS church.

That seems to be her basic conclusion. All of the anger is misdirected. People leave the LDS church misguidedly (because, I guess, it goes without saying that there’s no good reason to leave). It’s very frustrating to read these sorts of apologetic remarks that minimize the pain the LDS church causes in its abuse of power.

And don’t get me started on the uses of selective history to sell the LDS church to converts who can trundle along for years and years before they start to figure out there are numerous problems with this organization that they’ve given their lives, families, and money to. The LDS church has to figure out how to give investigators a clear view of the truth, and of course that would have to begin by abandoning the claims to historical truth of the Book of Mormon.

See Hanks’s recent comment to the David Knowlton’s blog post: http://stormsandpower.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-contemporary-crisis-in-mormon-faith.html#more

Unlife as a Mormon

August 5, 2013

The LDS church mediates everything between people, keeps people with energy busy in a calling hamster wheel, and makes a lot of people self-censor and self-repress so they submerge who they are enough that the real person gets confused with the church appropriate identity. The people I thought worth knowing were too busy to do much of anything with, and I was busy too, so the usual place you could interact with people was in church activity. Getting to know people past the church sanctioned hooey is something of a miracle in my experience. There’s too much Mormon church in the church and not enough authenticity among its people, which is why the church was a big fail for me.

“Are your Mormon families all just waiting for your lives to fall apart since you left the LDS church? “

July 30, 2013

What’s really maddening is the whole double-bind embedded in most attempts to leave the LDS church: Mormons are so tied into their wards and church socially, psychologically, religiously, sometimes financially, that if one of them actually has the chutzpah to call shenanigans on the whole business and leave, there is tremendous social and psychological pressure often brought to bear on that individual. (This isn’t news to any exmo.) Guess what happens when people lose their social networks and most or all of their family ties? They get stressed out and depressed. Guess what happens when people get stressed out and depressed? They can make some bad calls in their personal lives. And what does the LDS church do? It tries to turn people who leave it into object lessons about what happens if someone leaves the church! The LDS church and 99% of its members won’t give you any exit counseling or support, at all, and so the usual advice for recent exmos is to take it easy, don’t go crazy with normal human enjoyments that the LDS church has controlled and denied in your life, give yourself time, breath, see a non-LDS therapist, and wait at least a year or two to get your own moral compass set-up. I was an adult convert and it took a huge act of will to drop it all, and it took two to three years to be in a position where I could talk to a Mo at the door without getting very angry. I can’t imagine the situation for BICs or for people in heavily Mormon enclaves, e.g., Utah. “Social suicide” isn’t just an empty phrase, especially in Mormondom.

Mormonism, the Priesthood of Believers, and Maxine Hanks

July 28, 2013

Interesting, from the article linked below, that at least part of her going back to the LDS church had to do with the idea of lay priesthood. It sounds like, as she says, she “pulled back” in her studies or from being ordained (?) or couldn’t go through with that, perhaps because the idea of a priesthood separate from the laity didn’t fit well with her Mormon background. That would make some sense. And so she re-discovers to her relief the point of a completely lay priesthood, and goes back to the LDS church.

I’m not sure how that works with any feminism, given that the LDS church’s priesthood is decidedly patriarchal, in focus and largely in practice. But yeah, one of the things that attracted me to Mormonism as a convert was the LDS church being led by laity at the local level. My DW thinks that men performing priesthood blessings of healing and comfort is one of the most beautiful things about Mormonism.

Of course, what’s really pulling at me these days, in the wake of the NYT piece on Mattsson, is how empty Mormonism was for me spiritually and intellectually as a practicing Mormon. Couple that with the rigid authoritarianism, the paleo-conservatism, and the intense, cognitively paralyzing and emotionally crippling indoctrination techniques used in the LDS church (members who question LDS church dogma are essentially coerced into staying in the LDS church, sacrificing sacred matters of individual conscience because they don’t want to lose marriages or family ties), and the LDS church seems an odious place.

For me now, considering my experience in the LDS church and considering the Mattson affair, I think about the obvious virtues of a theologically and historically educated class of pastors, ministers, priests, etc., who can REALLY perform actual pastoral work and discussion in the wards. (The experience of sitting in a LDS chapel on Sunday morning is mind-numbing, so one starts to wonder if there are any seriously wise and well educated ministers out there worth listening to each week.) The pastor is paid for pursuing his vocation, rather than a ward or stake having a necessarily puffed up full-time accountant or podiatrist or business executive doing part-time pastoral and ministering work (as though these were after-thoughts!). And he or she is not part of a special priestly class (a la Catholicism) that is understood to specially mediate sacred teachings for the members. For example, I can see where a born and raised Mormon would pull back from Catholicism, or maybe ordination in a church in the Anglican or Lutheran line of Protestantism, but a Calvinist, Baptist, or Presbyterian church doesn’t doctrinally separate off the laity from the priesthood (“of believers)” like that.

In practice, Mormon priesthood is largely symbolic and empty. A pro forma affair where men run around doing Important things; they lay hands of blessing on people; they perform ordinances. But actual pastoral work is often reduced to checklist interviews for “worthiness,” or “pray about it, read your scriptures.” Gee, thanks. I mean, when one is going through a faith crisis in the Mormon church, one is a bit naive to go to one’s Bishop, although that’s exactly who the LDS church hierarchy wants you to go to. And why? Because he’s their man in your ward. He’s there primarily, in the last analysis, as the Handbook of Instruction says, to “protect the good name of the Church.” He is not there first and foremost to counsel, to heal, to offer real advice helpful to that individual. If he does any of those things, that’s just a matter of luck. There’s no design in Church hierarchy and administration for real pastoral work, for an honest grappling with doubts or trials of faith, to actually happen. That’s partly why the LDS church is in such a mess now: Faithful people with serious doubts or questions go in to the Bishop’s office, struggling, and they more likely to be berated, chastised, mocked, looked down upon, than they are to be treated with consideration, compassion, understanding, and true ministering.

Cf. https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pillars-of-my-faith-2012/

[Relevant quotes from the SLTrib article:

Hanks rejoined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February.

On Friday , during a popular evening session of next week’s Sunstone Symposium, an annual meeting for Mormon intellectuals and observers, Hanks will detail her 20-year spiritual sojourn as a feminist theologian and chaplain, which brought her full circle back into Mormonism.

“Given who I was, there was no place to go but out,” Hanks said in 2003, on the 10th anniversary of the excommunications. “Mormonism was limiting to me, so I needed to test the limits — to see who I and the church really might be. … Excommunication opened the door to a larger cosmos, inside and outside myself.”

From that point on, she explored various Christian teachings and practices, assisted clergy with religious services and served as volunteer chaplain at Holy Cross Chapel for 13 years. In 1999, she joined the Interfaith Roundtable for the 2002 Winter Olympics, where she enjoyed the association of representatives from various faiths and led the annual Interfaith Week.

She studied “traditional, sacramental Christianity and priesthood,” Hanks said this week. “But when I got to the point of priestly ordination, I pulled back. I moved into recognizing the value and power of a lay priesthood in the body of Christ and Christian community. My searching was complete. I had my answers.”

Brigham Young’s racism and false prophets

July 26, 2013

Argh, it hurts to read this guy’s apologetic stuff: http://stallioncornell.com/?p=1472. Basically, as far as I can tell, he just messes around with historicizing and contextualizing Young’s racism (the contextualizing with Young’s text is useful, the historicizing a bit random). He concludes that lots of leaders had an insufficient understanding of racism (even Lincoln). Of course, this side-steps the whole problem of how a PROPHET OF GOD could be okay with slavery in the 1860s (the country was at war in great part over this issue and people were taking life and death stands for equality). How could the Voice of God be okay with the whole curse of Cain racism in the Book of Mormon? How could God (through Young) ever be racist? “Cornell” never addresses any of that.

Mormonism, censorship, and the limiting of cultural achievement

July 23, 2013

The LDS church has had an official historian from the start, and later a whole history department, but who has heard of its official artist or art department?

In matters of the arts and literature, even philosophy, history, and I dare say the social sciences, the LDS church and its culture seem eerily similar in their control and censorship to Stalinist dictates about what could count as “official Socialist” art or literature. Even more eerie is that both cultures favor(ed) overt realism in the representational arts, suspicious of the subjective freedom or potential for subversion in abstraction and expressivism. Even Shostakovich was expected to keep his music compositions in line with more predictable, less abstract or discordant, paths in order to appease his Soviet masters.

The Ostlings, though they can be quite sycophantic about Mormonism, loving as they do any semi-Christian organization so long as it is culturally so in tune with Evangelicalism and conservative–do have something instructive to say about the limits of Mormon cultural achievement:

“Weaker areas of [cultural] achievement are equally predictable. A characteristically literal turn of mind combined with dogmatic Mormon ideals and a certain cultural isolation results in highly sentimentalized representational visual arts. LDS sculpture, paintings, even typography and graphic arts, appear rather like orphans from the late nineteenth century. Something similar undercuts Mormon efforts in the high arts in general; art is confused with propaganda, never with a quest; preconceived answers precede questions. In Mormon culture art is inspiration or entertainment, not exploration[–just as for Mormons, members of the church are not on “spiritual quests.”] As a result, Mormons…are largely absent from the highest levels of achievement in the fine arts, literature, and the humanities in general. History is something of a special case.” (Mormon America, pp. 145-146.)

The Hyperarchival Parallax

by Bradley J. Fest

Doubting Mark

An atheist's adventures in a land of faith

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