Archive for the ‘Cults’ Category

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.

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

“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, 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.)

Cultish characteristics of the LDS church

January 26, 2011

Here’s something I posted at a Top Ten Cults list comment thread.  I like the way the post tries to speak to a general audience.  I wish I had said more in the conclusion about the need to do two years as a missionary and achieve other markers of future ability to move up the Mormon hierarchy.  –MD (aka Phyllis Stean, and Phyllis Stein, and derrida at RFM)

(Originally posted at http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-cults.php.)

Phyllis Stean mantisdolphin.wordpress.com says:
July 11, 2009 at 11:28 am

As a converted Mormon (plus eight years now), my opinion is that “the Church”–such is how it is called by its “members,” itself another common appelation among the LDS to refer to those on the rolls of the Church–is cultish at the least.

Note: Jan Shipps, one of the foremost non-LDS historians of the LDS Church, also refers to it in its origins as a “cult” (Shipps, Mormonism, pp. 47-51). Unfortunately, Shipps’ definition of “cult” is entirely academic, sociological, and external: She sees successful cults as those that develop and become dominant or mainstream traditions, a fate she sees as shared by the LDS Church. Thus she refuses to judge her subject and proceeds with her narrative with archival pleasure and ambition.

However, living the faith is another matter: The prospect of living in a “part-member” family really brings the cultish character of the faith into relief. If children are involved, then one parent not being “active,” i.e., going to church regularly, can easily end a marriage and divide a family. (This seems more destructive to me than what one finds in mainstream religions.) The whole emphasis on being “sealed for all time and eternity” to one’s spouse and children, and the heavy indoctrination of youth through all manner of expected activities outside of the three regular Sunday church hours, lends great force to the bind that the Church keeps “weak” members (those in need of “strengthening”) in: to split from the Church creates a serious threat to one’s family and great pain and confusion to one’s children for not having a parent of “integrity” (I’m quoting all the buzz words here.)

Add to this the expected annual “tithing settlement” with the Bishop (he–always he–is like the head preacher of a given “ward” or church community–usually numbering from 300-400 people). One must go with one’s family to answer the Bishop’s question, “Do you pay a full tithe?” As invasive as this may sound to mainstream protestants, this “interview” setting is quite common in the Church, extending to regular “worthiness” or “Temple” interviews with youth and adults. Waywardness is watched for vigilantly, and to me this seems cultish. In fact, now the Church puts barcodes on “Temple recommends” and the Bishop of each ward gets a weekly report of who in the ward has been faithful in going to the Temple (another expected outside-regular-Sunday-Church-meeting activity of “faithful,” “valiant,” “worthy,” “active members”).

Connected to “Temple worthiness” (imagine being a member of a church where you are formally considered a less worthy member than someone else), there also are levels of acceptance and prestige in the Church as well: If one has a genealogy that goes back to the original members of the Church (1830s), that is quite special. If one has ancestors who were part of the 19th century “Pioneers” who traveled across the US to Utah, then one is certainly pedigreed. Being a relative of one of the Church leaders in Salt Lake is certainly a way into the Church aristocracy, and there are various other ways to ascend in this informal Church hierarchy, including perhaps most importantly the attending of BYU or one of its satellite campuses in Idaho or Hawaii.

I don’t have time presently to talk about the importance of “sacrifice” and “service” in the Church. Suffice to say that the emphasis on these can be quite overwhelming in terms of (voluntary) time commitments from the faithful.

 


The Hyperarchival Parallax

by Bradley J. Fest

Doubting Mark

An atheist's adventures in a land of faith

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