What the CoJCoL-dS Offers: Retro Morals

In the second episode of this series, I claimed that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers a lot of nothing — but then in the most recent installment I mentioned a substantial selling point:

And the church will be right there to constantly pat you on the back for how superior you are as a person than people who fail on any of the points above.

The CoJCoL-dS offers the comforting belief that the customs of the good old days were, in fact, more moral, more righteous than their more modern counterparts. A hilarious case-in-point would be tattoos and piercings:

Personally I follow the Mormon rules on this issue. I have no tattoos, and I have only one piercing per ear — the allowed amount for women. My husband has none, and he’s clean-shaven.

Do you know why?

It’s because I was born in 1971 — and back when I was forming my ideas about what looks good, tattoos and multiple piercings weren’t fashionable. Similar story for my husband, born in 1969. Consequently, I think excessive tattoos and piercings look kind of weird, not attractive.

But the difference between me and the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS is that I recognize that this is simply a personal aesthetic preference — not a statement of morals or ethics.

The part I find hilarious is the fact that the church allows exactly one pair of earlobe-piercings (and for women only). So they can’t pretend that they have some consistent principle about body modification. It’s simply that whatever random thing happened to be stylish in the US in 1980 is righteous — and more recent fashions are sinful.

This canonization of the good old days is the main reason why the CoJCoL-dS can’t stop doubling-down on the gay issue. The church can’t evolve unless its members want it to, and it is unfortunately stuck in a bit of a feedback loop of bigotry.

Back in the 1970’s, one selling point of the CoJCoL-dS was that it was the church that let you say, “Hey, it’s not that I’m a racist — it’s God!” More recently it has been offering the same feature for sexists and homophobes. Each of these iterations affects the composition of the membership because it attracts bigots and repels people who care about equality. This loop builds a situation where it’s impossible for the church to forcefully root out bigotry because too many of the members see it as a feature and not a bug.

Honestly there are a lot of things I love about my Mormon heritage. It annoys me to see the Mormons mainstreaming their unique theology to align it with (Evangelical) Christian theology — as if the beliefs of the Christians were somehow objectively less nutty. But it seems that the members of the CoJCoL-dS have chosen to merge with US Christianity’s worst element: Religious Right politics. So instead of seeking real religious freedom for fellow minorities like the LGBTQ community, the Mormons are willing to help bully them in hopes of getting a seat at the mean girls’ table of the Religious Right.

Tagging along with the Religious Right — which is dominated by Evangelicals (who will always see Mormonism as a dangerous heresy or cult) — doesn’t demonstrate a lot of self-respect on the Mormons’ part. But it looks like it’s too late for the CoJCoL-dS to turn back and take another path. For better or (more likely) for worse, giving a moral stamp of approval to conservative privilege is one of the biggest selling points that the CoJCoL-dS has to offer.

Trump and the Rise of the Uninformed Expert

I got some hate mail last Thursday.

It was a voicemail, actually, from an old friend. He said he’s cutting his ties to us because of my husband Mark’s recent suggestion that Syrian refugees be admitted into our country.

Boasting an extensive knowledge of Islam (he owns a Quran), this “friend” scolded Mark—over my voicemail—for inviting an influx of crazies who only want to “put black sacks over women” and “distort their genitals.”

Then on a conciliatory note, he gave Mark a pass because he is a victim of “Mormon Whiplash,” a label this man (who has never been LDS but owns a Book of Mormon) invented for the blanket of former Mormons who (in his mind) always do the exact opposite of what the Mormons do.

Gosh, I loathe black and white thinking. But it seems to be all we get these days. Thanks to the rise of Trump and the alt-right, people like our friend now feel free to express the hatred they’d kept hidden for so long, and in a recorded message, no less. What used to be a dog whistle is now a bullhorn.

Does our former friend read the news? Okay, so maybe he thinks it’s all fake. He still goes to the grocery store though, right? Does he really believe that the friendly kid in produce wearing the “Muhammad” nametag dreams of mutilating women? How does one reduce a worldwide population of 1.8 billion into such a narrowly drawn, repugnant, and false stereotype—one that is so easily disproven?

Likewise the less ambitious “Mormon Whiplash” analogy. I’m actually quite familiar with this stale theory, having heard it time and again from the black and white thinkers at church—“People who reject the gospel ricochet into washed-up losers who booze it up in front of the porn channel.” Or maybe even vote Democratic.

Again, the false stereotype that is easily disproven—starting with Mark who, upon leaving the LDS Church over two decades ago, “whiplashed” out of the Republican Party just last year when it nominated Donald J. Trump for president. But he still hasn’t started boozing it up or looking at porn—so there!

Besides, how is kindness to refugees an example of so-called “Mormon Whiplash?”

I’ve written extensively about the Mormons, on this blog and elsewhere. Much of my writing has been humor aimed at the culture and much of it criticism leveled at the church’s exclusionary policies and practices. I believe all religions deserve scrutiny, especially those that claim exclusive access to God and salvation.

But after years of being told I was “offended and wanted to sin,” I’ve steered clear of drawing the same sort of uninformed conclusions about practicing Mormons. After all these years, the false stereotypes still get under my skin. For example: “all Mormons practice polygamy” or “Mormons perform kinky, satanic rituals in their temples.” The ever popular “Mormons aren’t Christians” or, hat tip to our former friend, “all Mormons are bigots”—a good thing, according to him.

Our nation’s newly embraced bigotry exploded in violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, the ultimate example of black and white thinking. An event egged on by, I believe, an increasing lack of civility in our public and private discourse, a tone set by our commander-in-chief. Even now, President Trump refuses to blame the white supremacists for this terrible incident, his true colors showing in his boorish tantrum before the press yesterday.

Mormonism is neither as large nor as steeped in history as an ancient faith like Islam. However, we still defy stereotypes, especially when our spectrum is broadened to include the fundamentalists on the right and the post-Mormons on the left. Hopefully, we can reject the national trend and keep our discourse civil. Latter-day Saints like to say they’re “not of the world.” This would be an excellent time to live that example.

And as long as I’m on a tear over the ignorant hate mail, I’ll conclude with a lesson that was impressed upon me as a child. One that I, in turn, impressed upon my own children: You don’t display your expertise by boasting your thin resume.

Imagine Dr. Kissinger prefacing his remarks with, “I have an extensive knowledge of the Middle East. I own a Quran.”

But then, since our national tone is set by a guy who insists he’s really smart because he went to Wharton Business School and had a hit reality show, I see more ignorant hate mail and hollow boasts in our future, leaving the critical thinker to go on calling out the hatred while stubbornly sticking to the facts.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: **edited: forgot to add a title edition, lol

I guess it’s not Mormon news, but various Mormons had a lot to say about the recent racist violence in Charlottesvilleand about racism within Mormonism. Good for the CoJCoL-dS for specifically calling out racism — something Trump couldn’t bring himself to do.

I wish the atheist movement were doing a better job of stepping up to the platesadly, no.

The biggest Mormon story was that a General Authority got excommunicated. The CoJCoL-dS didn’t say what it was for, except to say that it was not apostasy. So let the speculation begin! (Both about what this dude did to get X’d and about why the CoJCoL-dS felt the need to tell us all that it wasn’t apostasy…)

On to discussion topics! We have some new takes on familiar topics like whether Joseph Smith had sex with his polyandrous and teen brides, how the CoJCoL-dS delegitimizes the stories of those whose experiences with the church were less than positive, the problem with faith-promoting stories, how to communicate across the Mo/exMo divide, the church taking credit but not blame, whether prayer works, and masturbation! Plus some modern topics like blaming the poor for poor health (as opposed to socialized health care) — looks like blaming is actually more biblical. There are also women’s issues like fat shaming, rites for girls in other faiths, gender essentialism, and being trained in which aspirations are allowed.

In history, there’s the ambiguity of the succession crisis, plus a follow-up!

In scripture study, the Book of Mormon teaches some questionable ideas about faith.

In life journeys, John Gustav-Wrathall explained why he stays in the CoJCoL-dS (despite having been excommunicated), myrtlejoy told the story of a transgender pioneer, the Narrator has taken off his (metaphorical) hats, and Adult-Onset Atheist lost a friend to intimate partner violence:

There are so many things that are happening in the world that some 63-year-old man bashing in the head of his middle aged girlfriend in an out-of-the way West Virginia home barely claws its way into local news. There is a family bereft of their flame-haired matriarch, and scores of people who have suddenly lost a good friend. Not just an acquaintance that is so cordial that they earn the title “friend”, but an honest-to-goodness good friend. She was a close friend of my younger sister.

And there were a whole lot of book reviews in Mormon land over the past few weeks! See these reviews of Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons, Days of Awe and Wonder, The Burning Point, Mother’s Milk, Illuminating Ladies, Tears We Cannot Stop, and Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon!

Happy reading!

My most bizarre interfaith interaction

This is something that happened to me when I was about 11 years old, and it has stuck with me all these years because it was just so dang weird. As you can tell from the title, I do not mean to imply that this is at all typical of interactions between Mormons and (non-Mormon) Christians.

Back when I was 8 or 9, the movie Grease with Olivia Newton-John was the coolest thing! My favorite cousin — a devout Mormon about my age — loved the film. We all sang to the record together when our two families visited. I think that’s why my parents didn’t really have a problem with the film — it was a fave with other trusted Mormon family members. And — while we were very active Mormons, and pretty strict — we were far from the strictest Mormons in the ward. My parents were strict but flexible.

Anyway, when we moved to Minnesota, a Christian girl from my neighborhood quickly became my best friend. Her family was stricter than mine. She wore skirts to school and was forbidden from wearing jeans (specifically “double-seam pants”). I’ve never met anyone before or since who had that particular restriction.

Sadly, it wasn’t long before another Christian girl moved into the neighborhood. I’m not sure whether they went to the same church, but the new new girl was quickly BFF (to use an anachronism) with my best friend — whereas with me, we had kind of a tolerating-each-other standoff.

One day I had my two friends over for a slumber party. Yes, in those days, that was totally typical for Mormon kids. In those days, there wasn’t even a whisper of a hint that slumber parties were something good Mormon kids should avoid.

One of the components of an early-80’s slumber party was renting a VHS film. I don’t recall whether my friends came along with me to “Mr. Movies” where the film was selected, but the film for the evening was Grease. And we all watched it without the slightest indication that anything was amiss. We then spent the rest of the night playing board-games and dress-up, as was the custom of the time.

The next school day, my two friends walked up to me together during recess. They explained to me — with much gravity — that if ever I were to throw a party again where the film Grease would be shown, then I should tell them, so that their moms could come pick them up and take them home.

This was, sincerely, one of the weirdest things anyone has ever said to me in my life. Because of course I told them the film was Grease before I put it in and we all watched it. And how insulting of them to imply that — if they had objected to watching it (which they didn’t) — that I would have insisted on putting it in, and they would have had to call their respective mothers to be driven three blocks home, and I would have watched it alone.

But the coda of the story was even more bizarre!!

They then told me that next time I should show them a more wholesome movie, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This stuck with me because it was just so random. I mean, I had never seen this film (still haven’t), but I’d heard of it, and naturally I would have been fine with selecting that as the film of the evening — if they’d have suggested it.

It was very clear that they’d gone home and told their mothers that they’d watched Grease, and then they came to school and recited to me wholesale exactly whatever nonsense their mothers had said to them about it — without attempting to filter it through their own brains in the slightest.

Needless to say, one corner was soon cut from this friendship triangle. (I’ll give you one guess who it was…)

This whole story came back to me recently when I learned that — not only is the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a story of forcibly abducting women and holding them against their will — it actually has a catchy song about the joys of rape:

As questionable as the film Grease is, it absolutely floors me anew to realize that those strict Christian parents found the above to be more appropriate fare for their 11-year-old daughters!!!!

Strategies of the CoJCoL-dS: The whys and hows of polarization

Any path that bills itself as the one true path for everyone is bound to lead to judgement. Naturally the path will be better suited to some people than to others, and — if it’s what everyone is supposed to be doing — that leads to the conclusion that those who do it well are simply better people; more righteous, more worthy, of better character, etc.

In the case of Mormonism, everyone is supposed to marry heterosexually and reproduce. There is no other path that is equal or greater. Those who fail are pitied, tolerated, given platitudes and excuses — but not respected on the same level as those who follow the path of biological reproduction.

Additionally, if you’re attractive, financially successful, good at public speaking, and generally have the kind of social skills that would put you in the popular clique in Jr. High/High School, then you’ll make a good Mormon. Bonus points if you have musical talents, a low (but not absent) sex drive, and if you’d rather conform than rebel. Ideally your family gets along reasonably well without any major hidden abuse or dysfunction simmering under the surface. It goes without saying that it’s better to have right-leaning political views and to be white. (Double bonus points if you’re related to “Mormon royalty.”)

If that’s you, then boy-oh-boy does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints want you! And the church will be right there to constantly pat you on the back for how superior you are as a person than people who fail on any of the points above. If you don’t meet the above description, then — as far as the CoJCoL-dS is concerned — you’re the problem. You’re just not as righteous. (See Donna’s recent article for an example of how this plays out.)

A lot of ink has been spilled on the question of how Mormonism trains people to be successful, and the CoJCoL-dS is indeed good at training people to have modern success skills. But they also increase the proportion of the beautiful people among their ranks by creating an environment that is so miserable and odious for those who don’t fit the Mormon ideal that they often just leave.

This is where the polarization dynamic comes into play. The CoJCoL-dS broadcasts the message: “It’s not the church, it’s you. You didn’t pay, pray, and obey enough. You didn’t try hard enough. You weren’t righteous enough.” This message pushes people toward the two poles.

At the one pole we have people whose problems (and not-inherently-problematic differences from the Mormon ideal) simply can’t be prayed away. These folks are further battered by the message that it’s their fault if they couldn’t make an unworkable solution work. If this insult upon injury makes them angry as they leave, then that simply reinforces the church’s narrative: “Their hearts are full of contention; they have turned their backs on righteousness.”

At the other pole we have the people who are winning at Mormoning, and who are encouraged to believe that their success is due to their righteousness — that success with respect to the Mormon measuring rod is an objective measure of virtue. The bonus for the CoJCoL-dS is that the winners’ commitment to Mormonism is reinforced and integrated into their very identity.

I don’t claim that any person or committee within the CoJCoL-dS intentionally developed this strategy of polarization. I think it’s more likely that it’s a cultural strategy that developed over time because it has been effective at maintaining a successful, attractive, and highly-committed core of members. But there have been a number of actions from the Church Office Building that make it look like they’re doing it on purpose. Specifically: spreading lies and slander about those who leave the faith — which serves to make the leavers angrier which, in turn, proves how bitter and angry they are. See, for example, the Thomas B. Marsh and the milk & strippings story.

An example that made a strong impression on me was when the CoJCoL-dS released statements through its newsroom that misrepresented the actions of the Ordain Women movement (see my link roundups here and here). Those who participated in the actions found them positive and uplifting — and they felt they’d made a good connection with the church leaders there at the time. Then for the CoJCoL-dS to turn around and lump them with protesters shouting that Mormonism is of the devil hurt quite a bit. Maybe the folks in the Church Office Building were only thinking of their more orthodox audience when they crafted the statement (that has since been deleted), but maybe they wanted the women of Ordain Women to see the CoJCoL-dS as an institution that will lie about them for the purpose of hurting them. If they’re going to stand up to the CoJCoL-dS and its policies, then maybe the church reasoned it’s better that they leave, and leave angry.

A similar case was the infamous November Policy. A Mormon apostle stated that the CoJCoL-dS’s policy to bar children of gay parents from membership was parallel to their policy of barring children of polygamists from membership. If you don’t fit, they don’t want you to try to squeeze yourself in — and bend the CoJCoL-dS in the process.

I think it would be nice if the success and happiness of those of us who have left weren’t seen as a threat to the worldview of our friends and family who remain in the faith. It would be great if there were a neutral middle ground. But I don’t foresee any changes in the CoJCoL-dS’s polarization policy.

———–

Other posts in this series:

The Mormon Way to Get Rich

Thanks to some of my believing Mormon friends, the blog post, “Will Your Child be Rich or Poor? 15 Poverty Habits Parents Teach their Children,” has been hovering on my radar, popping up repeatedly in my Facebook feed and even landing in my inbox via mass email. When I finally broke down and read the thing I immediately understood the appeal. The author, Thomas C. Corley, doesn’t specify any church affiliation. Nevertheless, he is clearly a shoe-in for speaker on the LDS potluck circuit.

Distressed that parents, teachers, and other confused bleeding hearts are teaching today’s children that the wealthy “have too much wealth” and the underprivileged are “victims” of poverty, Corley began a five-year “Rich Habits Study” conducted through his “Rich Habits Institute.” Confessing that he is not a scientist, economist, or other so-called “study expert,” he instead applied his “unique CPA skills” to determine why some people are rich and some are poor. His results?

Surprise!!! Rich people have good habits and poor people have bad habits.

The wealthy, according to Corley, are paragons of morality, intellect, and physical fitness. They listen to audio books, they do aerobics, they attend Back-to-School Night, their kids are on the honor roll, they’re thrifty and driven to succeed. They own all of Thomas C. Corley’s books. Bottom line: they’re rich because they really want to be rich.

The poor, on the other hand, are a seedy, slothful bunch. They eat junk food and gamble, they’re at least 30 pounds overweight, they laze around watching reality TV, and spend all their money. They blow off Back-to-School Night. Bottom line: they don’t really want to be rich.

It’s hard to overemphasize how well this philosophy plays in the LDS community, especially among the die-hards and higher-ups. Given the hierarchy’s principal message is “if you’re offended it’s your fault,” it’s easy to jump to “if you’re poor it’s your fault.” In fact, some extremists in the faith would argue that even the circumstances of birth are not by chance, but determined by the individual’s valiance in the pre-mortal “War in Heaven.” Imagine that logic coupled with Corley’s findings:

“I hear some bleeding hearts are taking a collection to help that newborn discovered inside a dumpster over in South Central. What a waste. Face it, the kid had it coming. He didn’t fight hard enough for Jesus. Anyway, all is not lost. He just needs to save his allowance, listen to some audiobooks, and lay off the junk food so he won’t get fat. He can still succeed. If he wants to.”

Bottom line: the Brethren really don’t want to know about your problems.

Given that a sizable chunk of our populace believes our previous president was born in Kenya, I should point out that Corley’s article isn’t entirely fake news. While hardly a guarantee for financial freedom, his suggestions for at least personal improvement are essentially sound, encouraging his readers toward healthy living, attentive parenting, frugality, etc. In fact, his formula makes infinitely more sense than the LDS model of serve a mission, have a bunch of kids, devote your spare time to church callings, pay your tithing, etc.

But it’s the claim that the rich are morally superior that is so damaging, not to mention perversely inaccurate.

Take, for example, our current commander-in-chief who has risen to success by way of gambling casinos, reality TV, defaulted loans, lawsuits, salacious headlines, and, of course, lies. On top of that, he is hardly a model of physical fitness.

If the “haves” can make a successful case that status is achieved solely through hard work and moral superiority, they can demand goodness knows what from the “have-nots.” But then, I suppose that’s what the Brethren and guys like Corley are going for.

Also, while I’ve no “unique CPA skills,” I can claim over a half century of life experience. And throughout that experience, I have never known anybody who didn’t want to be rich. With one notable exception.**

Of course, I am one of those bleeding hearts and certainly not one of the “haves.” Which really blows because I listen to audio books, exercise regularly, and am less than 30 pounds overweight. I attended Back-to School Nights and my kids were on the honor roll. Also I know how to save a buck. Must have been my Conscientious Objector status during the War in Heaven. Or maybe I just need to read Thomas C. Corley’s books?

**In 1988 I had a memorable encounter with some Carthusian monks in the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuese, near Grenoble, France. They had taken a vow of poverty. But were surprisingly svelte and never watched reality TV.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Extreme Parenting Edition!

By now you’ve probably heard the story about the Mormon family who dumped their son in Bryce Canyon when he didn’t want to serve a mission — and about the BYUI professor who got fired for posting pro-LGBT remarks on Facebook.

By Common Consent’s new publishing house looks like it’s off to a great start! I wish them well, and hope MAA Books‘ publishing arm will be ready to roll soon. Other books discussed lately include The Burning Point, The Handmaid’s Tale, Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons, Days of Awe and Wonder, The Burning Point, and ABC’s of Science and Mormonism!

There have been some great discussions lately on apologetics and conspiracies, on gerrymandering, on what the priesthood is anyway, on how the disaffected are silenced and how to counterbalance the problem, and on garmies and porn shoulders.

Sam Young continues to shine the light on the church’s despicable practice of having untrained middle-aged me grill adolescents about masturbation in closed-door interviews. And Grouchy brings us more terrible news from Trumpland — the only worse disaster is climate change.

In life journeys, Myrtlejoy has posted a lovely story about her connection with her pioneer ancestors. Froggie is exploring mystery through photos. Uomo Nuovo has been on an epic bike tour. Kevin Barney recounted becoming a liberal-minded Mormon. And Chiroscuro recounted an adventure with black-and-white thinking:

Do you think I’m being extreme? I wish I were! President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Each of us has to face the matter — either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.” (May 2003 Ensign) And guess what? Church history is absolutely not the rosy whitewashed picture we were all taught.

Thanks for your patience, everyone! Sorry I’ve been doing such a terrible job of keeping up my posting here at MSP lately — the thing is that (in addition to extra stress from getting a new job) I have been desperate to finally finish drawing part 1 of my comic book. Well, I finally finished the last panel this morning — yay me!! I still have corrections to do, but I plan to be ready to print up some pre-prints in two weeks. This takes a lot of pressure off, and I’m hoping to have time to catch up on all my other projects in August.

BTW, another fun project I did IRL was to participate in an “Evening of Apostasy” panel hosted by the local freethinkers group here in Zurich. Here’s a write-up of it (warning: it’s in German).

I hope all your projects are going well too, and I hope to be back on track with my series on Mormon strategies next week — happy reading!

Strategies of the CoJCoL-dS: High demands and polarization

A few years ago there was a lot of discussion in the Bloggernacle about the fact that highly-demanding religions (like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are currently retaining members better than low-demand religions (like Catholicism). Both types are shedding members, but the more demanding denominations are apparently not shedding them quite as quickly.

I think this claim about the differing rates of attrition is probably true — here‘s an article from a Catholic perspective on how grave their situation is — so let’s analyze the advantages and disadvantages of the two strategies!

Catholicism offers the possibility of choosing pretty much any level of devotion, from full-time (becoming a nun or monk) on the one end of the spectrum down to zero-time (not giving the church a second thought after your parents have you baptized as a baby). My husband, for example, identifies as Catholic despite the fact that he also identifies as atheist (and did not want our kids baptized). Although that particular combination is not common, I think it is pretty common (especially in Catholic-majority countries) to consider oneself Catholic despite going to mass essentially never. I understand my husband’s brother is planning to have his new baby baptized Catholic, even though I’m pretty sure he and the mom aren’t married, I don’t think they attend mass, and who knows what they believe. Viewing the church as simply a set of cultural rites-of-passage doesn’t really disqualify people from embracing a Catholic identity.

On the other hand, with Mormonism (particularly in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints branch of Mormonism), there’s a very strong sense of “you’re in or you’re out.” If you’re in, then you’re expected to fulfill a calling (a job helping to run some aspect of the local congregation) in addition to some additional calling-like tasks: home/visiting teaching, cleaning the church building, and attending temple sessions (in addition to the 3 hour block of ordinary church services every Sunday). You are also expected to pay at least 10% of your income to the church (otherwise people will know you didn’t because you can’t go to the temple!) and wear special underwear and you’re expected to follow the “Word of Wisdom” — that is, to abstain from coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol. That’s a lot of work! And it helps keep your social circle confined to the Mormon community.

There exist people who believe the tenets of Mormonism but simply don’t practice (called “Jack Mormons”), but they’re really not integrated or accepted as members of the community the way similarly non-practicing Catholics are. The fact that there’s a separate name for such people is an indication that they’re not really seen as just Mormon — they’re kind of a weird, suspicious alternate category. And if you neither practice nor believe the tenets of Mormonism anymore, then you are actively discouraged from continuing to consider yourself Mormon.

An obvious advantage to the low-demand strategy is that those people who are simply going to participate very little or not at all are at least still members of the community. Of course, the less they participate, the less they are likely to miss the religion if they leave. A high-demand religion, on the other hand, relies on the strategy that people value things that they’ve invested time and energy into. Mormonism gives you not only a community but also a purpose, and it fills your day with stuff to do. And Mormonism encourages people to care a lot about how invested their friends and relatives are in practicing Mormonism. So abandoning Mormon practice can have a huge social cost in addition to leaving you wondering what you’re going to do instead of all that Mormon stuff you were doing — plus it makes you feel like all the sacrifices you’ve made in your life so far were completely in vain, something not many people want to feel. With a low-demand religion, it’s possible to leave incrementally, just by shifting your social circle — hardly noticing that you’ve left.

One of the biggest differences in the two strategies is the amount of polarization. A super-devout multiple-mass-per-week Catholic can be married to a nominal Catholic and still feel like they’re both essentially on the same page. And, from the church’s member-retention point-of-view, the kids get raised Catholic without it being a source of contention or conflict within the family. In majority-Catholic communities, you can easily have whole families that are participating only marginally, whose kids end up later taking a more active interest in the faith — without that being seen as anyone rejecting anyone else’s values or cultural identity.

In the CoJCoL-dS, such a dynamic is really not possible. Varying levels of Mormon belief and practice are typically a huge source of conflict and contention within families. As more people are leaving the situation has been improving (for leavers), but traditionally it has not been uncommon for devout Mormons to cut off, shun, or divorce family members who stop believing. From the church’s member-retention point-of-view, the threat of such social consequences is a major incentive that keeps people from leaving. But there’s a flip side. You can have devout, extremely devoted members who love Mormonism and who — left to their own devices — would never have left, but who start questioning when they realize that the church itself is the source of the conflict in their home. Contrast this with a similar family in a low-demand religion: the devout member doesn’t face the same pressure from the community to “fix” the (possibly non-believing) spouse, and the kids don’t grow up with the impression that the church is a conflict-creating monster that wrecked their family.

Now you’re probably detecting a bit of bias on my part in favor of the low-demand strategy. Yep, it’s true. Each strategy has its pros and cons when it comes to helping the organization retain members. But, naturally, I think that avoiding pointless, family-wrecking conflicts is a much better goal than retaining members.

As a post-script, the hilarious part is that I’m apparently not the only atheist who has made this same calculation. According to this 2008 Pew study, atheists have by far the worst retention rate (in terms of kids raised in atheist households growing up to identify as atheist). The negative interpretation is that kids raised in atheist households are very unlikely to want their own kids to have the same experience. The positive interpretation is that atheists really are serious about not brainwashing their kids but rather honestly expect their kids to make up their own minds — even if that means choosing a different path than the way they were raised. There’s something to be said for not believing in hell — you may be annoyed when your kid starts believing in Jesus, but at least you’re not worried that your kid’s annoying beliefs are going to get your kid tortured for eternity…

But seriously, I think the biggest reason for atheists’ lack of kid-retention is that it’s a world-view without being a culture — it’s not a cultural identity in the same way that being a Mormon, Catholic, Christian, Muslim, or Jew is a cultural identity. Atheism doesn’t have the organizational apparatus or cultural rites-of-passage. So once your beliefs change, there’s really no community or culture to feel a continued connection with.

Anyway, more on polarization in the next segment, one fortnight from now! Stay tuned! 😀

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Baby steps edition!

Hard to believe, but it looks like the CoJCoL-dS may be moving on from the 1950’s to… the 1970’s I guess…? Female church employees are now allowed to wear pants (naturally, I’m more astonished to learn that they weren’t…) and the dudes can wear colored shirts!

The most baffling part was Elder Cook’s quote: “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both men and women.” I can’t even imagine what he thinks he meant by that. Is he crowing about being more progressive than the FLDS? Or maybe he hasn’t set foot in an ordinary workplace in 60 years…? Or maybe he meant “I would hope Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront — and it’s really disappointing to see how far we are from that aspiration.”

Also the Zion curtains are tumbling down and BYU is making progress on its rape problem! But the changes don’t seem to be coming fast enough to retain the Mormon Millennials.

But aside from all of that, the Mormon discussion this past fortnight was really dominated by the ripples of Savannah’s story.

In discussions, we have a new allegory, a discussion of the importance of diversity in Mormon literature, and a list of Mormon doctrines that have been jettisoned:

These are not peripheral Mormon doctrines. These teachings have been CORE to Mormon Doctrine since the beginning. You might argue that Joseph Smith and early church members literally fought, starved, bled, and (in some cases) died for these teachings. Plus, these teachings are encoded into our Articles of Faith, canonized scripture, and sacred temple ceremony.

What led to the changes? Social pressure – in every case. At the end of the day, the Mormon God seems to cave to social pressure, if the pressure is significant enough.

And so I am bewildered by the fact that so many educated, thoughtful, modern-day Mormons haven’t really noticed, let alone contemplated the implications of these core changes to Mormon doctrine…and instead remain devoted (with money, time, and reputation) to a church/religion that clearly is not what it claims to be…but more importantly…is becoming less and less of what it once was with every passing generation.

It reminds me a bit of my own recent post on the subject — which is part of a series that I will be continuing and wrapping up soon!

Naturally there’s been further commentary on the ongoing tragedy in the United States, and what can be done. Sadly, the atheist movement is currently in no condition to be of any help. The climate is also getting scarymaybe we can do something about that.

In personal journeys we have an image of reconstructing one’s faith, a journey through ex-Mormonism, rosé and remembrance, contrasting one’s current and former self, and a tale of a Mormon family trying to stop an interracial marriage.

In fun, Paul Bunyan and the Mormons, chocolate chip cookies, and a list of celebrities you perhaps didn’t know were ex-Mormons!

Next weekend I hope to get back on track with my series analysing the CoJCoL-dS — we’ll see how it goes. Have a great week and happy reading!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Savannah’s edition!

I imagine that by now you’ve all seen this viral video:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have to continue to double down on its homophobia. Or its racist policies. Just look what the Southern Baptists did about their past racism:

WHEREAS, the roots of White Supremacy within a “Christian context” is based on the so-called “curse of Ham” theory once prominently taught by the SBC in the early years—echoing the belief that God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos—which provided the theological justification for slavery and segregation. The SBC officially renounces the “curse of Ham” theory in this Resolution; now be it therefore

RESOLVED, that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, AZ, June 13-14, 2017, denounces every form of “nationalism” that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called “Alt-Right” that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system; and be finally

At least the CoJCoL-dS seems to like non-conformity under certain circumstances

Other personal stories of the week include a first trip to the temple, a magical road trip, daily life in an interfaith marriage, and other interfaith connection with family.

In church news, the European outposts are contracting. In discussion topics, Lynette covered the value of life, Andrew S wrote about invisible gods. See also beauty tips, and can the wording of the sacrament prayer change?

Wheat and Tares posted some intriguing articles including a temple mystery and an account of the days of Mark Hofmann.

In Book of Mormon study, we’re up to another part where Joseph Smith throws in a convenient prophecy. Plus what’s up with the iron rod? Alex also made the best of a bad review.

And the latest Trump drama is teaching lessons about sexual coercion.

After all of that, let’s cleanse the palate with a bit of Frog Eye Salad! See you next week!