Sunday in Outer Blogness: BYU Coke edition!

In my day, “caffeinated pop” was one of those sinful beverages that good Mormons avoided. Then it became a point of controversy, and then President Newsroom announced that there’s not actually any rule against it. And now Brigham Young University has finally started allowing the sale of Coke with caffeine on campus! Which, naturally, takes all of the fun out of it.

The other bit of Mo-news was that the CoJCoL-dS purchased the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon from the Community of Christ for $35 million. Many were shocked, but I can’t bring myself to be remotely surprised that the richest branch of the Mormon tradition bought a valuable historical artifact from another branch in need of cash…

General Conference season is upon us, so it’s time for exciting activities like voting opposed! The first controversial development so far is that Joy D. Jones explicitly mentioned “Mother in Heaven”! Maybe talking about Heavenly Mother will one day be allowed again, like Coke.

There were some interesting scripture-study topics, including :

At no point does anybody say, “hey, we went from millions to less than a hundred, let’s stop and think about this.” At no point does someone say, “I’m getting out of here to live on my own before these animals destroy everyone.” At no point does anyone say, “Maybe the fact that we keep fainting from the loss of blood doesn’t bode well.” It’s just continuous fighting, with occasional breaks for sleeping and for fleeing to other made-up place names between battles. When did they have time to prepare and ingest food to fuel more fighting? How is it that one side didn’t win by attacking while the others slept?

None of this makes sense. None of this feels like the behavior of real people—although, admittedly, it would make one seriously badass action movie (Jason Statham IS…Coriantumr. Coming summer 2018). No one is this obsessed with victory or vengeance, but even if there are people like that, what are the odds that the last hundred or so warriors of a nation numbering in the millions would ALL be that kind of person?

But you know what’s even more ludicrous? After these millions of Jaredites have hacked each other to pieces, the last two combatants after every single other person has died are the two leaders of the armies. The final inning is a showdown between Shiz and Coriantumr.

Gimme a break.

Then there were a bunch of other interesting LDS-interest discussion topics:

As soon as a white Mormon man decides to ‘reimagine’ Eve as black, she is naked and up for auction.” Likewise, Bryndis Roberts, a Black convert to the church who practices law in Atlanta, told the Salt Lake Tribune that “this depiction with more of a focus on her breasts than her face is far too similar to pictures of black women on the auction block.”

But Richards did not listen.

In personal journeys, we have some literal ones and a poignant live journey:

There were so many things I didn’t know that day as I knelt at an altar and agreed to the LDS vows of a forever marriage. For example I would have been devastated to know that three close family members who were present at the ceremony would die too soon. My father would only live two more years because of pancreatic cancer, I would lose my brother-in-law to lymphoma five years later, and my grandmother a decade after that. I couldn’t foresee that I would move more than 15 times in those 25 years or that the wedding gift that I received that day, of a sewing machine from my mother, would become one of the very few possessions that would travel with me for each of those moves. And of course it was completely beyond my imagination that the eternal wedding vows I agreed to that day would, seventeen years later, be erased by the action of a stake president when he excommunicated my spouse from the LDS Church, or that a year after that I would file for a civil divorce.

See you in a fortnight!!

What does the CoJCoL-dS offer me? — the wrap-up!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my series of articles analyzing the strategies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!

Here they are, in case you missed any:

Now you may be wondering why this subject interests me so much. Of course I’ll start with the standard answers to the #1 exmo FAQ (If you’ve left the church, why won’t you just leave it alone?)

Being raised Mormon played a big role in making me the person that I am. That’s never going to change — I’m not going to magically, retroactively get a new past just because I don’t want to continue to practice Mormonism indefinitely. It’s a little like High School — I see no point in staying there forever, but that doesn’t mean that I hate it or that I didn’t learn anything of value from it or that I wish I’d never done it.

As I’ve said, I have every right to my own stories — and I strongly reject the believers’ claims that my perspective on Mormonism is less valid and/or more biased than theirs.

That said, there are a whole lot of aspects of my past that I don’t spend so much time analyzing, so why this one in particular?

Some of it is just random. My first experiences with socializing on the Internet were centered around ex-Mormon websites, and that led to being linked into a community of friends centered around that shared experience. Also, since I moved to Europe (and integrated myself into a new, European life), following Mormonism is a way of reconnecting with the culture I left behind.

But in addition to all of these personal reasons, I actually think that Mormonism is objectively interesting.

Some outside of Mormonism think it’s fascinating that people would believe in a prophet who’s “obviously a con-man” — but, honestly, I don’t think that part is unique at all. At best — because Mormonism started more recently than many other religions — the paper-trail is still warm. And that can help shed light on what other religious leaders might look like if we had perspectives on them written by someone other than their own followers. But I don’t think it’s that exceptional.

What I think is more interesting is that people would venerate an organization that is obviously a for-profit corporation. Just because the leaders aren’t living lives of conspicuous consumption like wealthy televangelists, believers don’t seem to mind giving 10%+ of their income to a real-estate corporation that is amassing great wealth apparently just to invest it and amass some more. That’s that point that’s kind of always in the background in all the articles in my series linked above.

I hope you’ve found my analysis interesting. I certainly had fun coming up with it and writing it all out. I welcome further discussion!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Disaster edition!

I hope all of you in Florida and Texas and other disaster-stricken regions are safe today! It is time to take climate change seriously. Runtu’s daughter and son-in-law’s home was flooded by Hurricane Harvey and they didn’t have flood insurance — he has set up a fund for them here.

Surrounding the hurricanes, prosperity-preacher Joel Osteen was shamed for not sheltering people, and a Texas professor got fired for making an insensitive remark.

Let’s have a look at this week’s Mormon discussion topics!

In life journeys, Brooke W recounted some adventures with fertility. Andrew Hackman’s son just turned 16. Paul Sunstone lost his mother. David Johnson shared some thoughts about the CoJCoL-dS and his mixed-faith marriage. Dad’s Primal Scream participated in a discussion of divorce and gay parenting. Ben came out to his new ward, and Alexis’s cousin had an unusual gay Mormon experience:

We were led to believe that he suffered with a mere lack of direction in his life which compelled him to spend hours at a time in front of the family’s living room television, thoroughly engaged with Food Network programming. Richard’s fascination with all things related to Bobby Flay did not escape the attention of his mother, who honestly believed she could change her son’s true nature to what it should have been according to LDS teachings by the simple act of cancelling her family’s cable TV connection.

And I could relate to Bethany Jane’s experience of not connecting with one of the central components of Mormonism:

It took me until my late twenties to realize that I am not a spiritual person. I don’t feel things in church or when I pray or when other people are. The only time I feel something is when music is involved and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the pioneer hymns of Mormonism. When you are not a spiritual person and frankly most religious things make you incredibly uncomfortable, it is virtually impossible to try and gain faith in things you feel nothing for and are super confused by. I deal primarily in logic and not feelings; religion is not logical. When I told my bishop that I was not a spiritual person he tried to assure me that isn’t true and of course I am; I do not see this as a fault but just how I was made.

This week’s Book of Mormon lesson was pretty fun:

And it came to pass that his high priest murdered him as he sat upon his throne.

Again!? I’m starting to think that if the FBI developed a time machine and used it to track American crime statistics back a few thousand years, they’d discover that about 80% of all homicides in this country prior to European invasion took place on either a throne or a judgment seat. It’s literally the most dangerous place for any character of the Book of Mormon to be at any given time.

Or maybe Joseph Smith just wasn’t that creative when it came to dreaming up scenarios for the assassination of government officials (luckily for Lilburn Boggs).

Then there was quite a lot of discussion about books:

Good luck to all, and happy reading!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Intolerance edition!

You may have noticed that there have been some racial tensions in the United States lately. Also the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has traditionally had some problems with racism (see this helpful infographic). And, yes, there’s racism in the Book of Mormon:

This scripture is important because it racializes skin color. That is, it was because of the dark skin, that we know the Lamanites were bad hombres. This as opposed to the idea that the Lamanites were sinful and thus they were cursed with a dark skin. Also note that the dark skin was a mark of marriage prohibition. This is racism 101. Let me provide an example to help better understand what I mean

“How do we know Blacks (insert negative stereotype) act that way?”

“Because their skin is black and black people always act that way.”

There is no way 2 Nephi 5:21-24 can be read metaphorically.

It turns out there’s a Mormon Mommy Blogger who is one of the leaders of the Alt-Right! To the church’s credit, President Newsroom explicitly called out white nationalists when the Nazi mommy interpreted their more ambiguous statement as being favorable to the alt-right. Next step maybe actually excommunicate her?

The Mormon Church has been making empty statements about racists not being proper Mormons since well before the Alt-Right groups became a thing. Individuals, like Ayla, have risen in popularity while the great authority of the Mormon Church has excommunicated people like Kate Kelly for suggesting that some women could be given the same magical “blessings” reserved for eight year old boys. This leads the outsider to think that, to the Mormon Church, respectfully discussing aspects of magical wacky-woo is much more egregious than openly espousing neo-fascist ideology.

For the average Mormon, some tips on standing against white supremacy from BCC and the Young Mormon Feminists. Dooce recently resigned from the CoJCoL-dS over the racism:

When I found out that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was going to sing at the inauguration of a self-professed sexual predator and unadulterated bigot, I submitted my name for removal. Here’s the PDF I have hanging over the laundry basket where I throw my dirty panties.

Trump’s flailing incompetence is fanning some very dangerous flames of hatred. In my analysis on my personal blog, though, I’ve found a possible ray of hope:

The critical point is that the Republicans in Congress are finally starting to turn on him. Trump doesn’t seem to understand that those Republicans in the House and Senate are currently the only people standing between him and jail. And he is just too. damn. stupid. to do a bare minimum of maintenance on those alliances that are so critical to his survival. Instead he has repeatedly demonstrated that teaming up with him is the fast track to finding yourself under a bus.

The CoJCoL-dS also has some problems with homosexuality, but some gay Mormons are making it work — sometimes in unusual ways. Specifically, this lesbian couple earned praise for getting divorced in order to be members in good standing!

In happier gay Mormon tales, Dad’s Primal Scream came up with a positive way to keep himself from being erased from his son’s life:

My e-mails have usually been full of the latest details about our family, me and his sisters. I always tried to include a healthy amount of humor. I’d send jokes or the latest memes because I know how somber and dreadfully serious everything can be on a mission.

But now that he’s coming back I’ve been dreading the same sort of snubbing at homecoming events that I experienced when he left.

So, I’ve decided that instead of feeling sorry for myself I am going to take my power back. I’ll be hosting my own welcome back party for him. I’m be inviting my gay and ex-Mormon friends and he can invited whomever he wants. The focus will be on our joy to have him back. That’s it. I’ve run it by him and he has agreed!! I’m very excited.

On to other LDS-interest news and discussion topics!

And Alexis posted a fascinating Mormon doctrinal riddle — comment on her blog if you know the answer!

What is the protocol concerning informing new spouses about old secret names? And what about if two husbands know a woman’s secret name? What if the original husband says he has moved on, but he really hasn’t, in an emotional sense, and he still knows his ex-wife’s secret name? What if he manages to get himself posited into the right place to bring his ex through the veil? The wife is unsuspecting and thinks it’s the right person bringing her through the veil, or whatever, and then VOILA! She gets through or across and sees that she has been facilitated into eternity by someone she wasn’t at all expecting to see there. What does she do then?

Or does she get a new secret name so that the old husband, in case he’s not on the up and up, doesn’t know her more current secret name?

Also don’t miss this new blog with travel tips from one exmo friend to another!

Wow, there was really a lot of fantastic discussion in blogspace this past fortnight! I hope you get a chance to check out some of these links despite my getting this out so late. Happy reading!

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.

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:

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! 😀