The Ironies of Science: Religion is the Addiction

It’s not uncommon for TBM Mormons to claim that people who leave the religion do so because they want to sin.  Tied to this are all sorts of claims about addiction: addiction to drugs, to pornography, to alcohol, to coffee, and to sex.  A simplified caricature of the TBM perspective might be something like: Mormons are righteous, good, healthy, people with no addictions and non-Mormons – but particularly ex-Mormons – are less-righteous, not very healthy people with lots of addictions.

Then along comes that thing called “science” and flips all of these baseless claims on their head.  I don’t mean to wax toward scientism, but it’s awesome when you have data, rigorous methodology, and closer approximations of reality on your side.

I’m not sure if you caught it, but an article recently came out in Social Neuroscience that used fMRI on 19 devout, returned-missionary Mormons and found some really, really cool stuff.

First, the big finding: when Mormons claim they are “feeling the spirit,” the “reward” center in their brain is being activated.  This same center of the brain is activated when people feel romantic love, parental love, and drug-induced euphoric states.

So, what does that mean?

It means that Mormons are addicted to Mormonism!

Mormons are kind of like junkies.  They get a “hit” (aka “feel the spirit”), it activates the reward centers in their brains, and then they want more.  So, they seek out other opportunities (e.g., fast and testimony meeting, watching Mormon-produced videos, youth conferences, etc.) to get another “hit” and are constantly in pursuit of more “hits” where they can “feel the spirit” in order to feel that same reward.

Mormons are junkies.

Oh, the irony!

But the study isn’t done dropping delightful little, technically-worded bombs.  Here are a couple more that I thought were amazing.

“Activation of the medial prefrontal cortex in all three tasks may suggest a role in representation of affective meaning for the religious stimuli and suggests that cognitive attribution and judgment of the meaning or value of religious stimuli contributes to their experience.”

Translation: You have to be taught to associate emotions with religious stimuli.  In other words, Mormons don’t “feel the spirit” because the “spirit” is actually there.  Mormons are taught that there are times when you associate X (e.g., people crying at youth conference) with Y (e.g., a powerful emotion).  Feeling the spirit is taught, not innate.  Ipso facto, there is no “spirit.” There is just a learned association between stimulus and response.

“Broadly, our findings are consistent with the view that religious experience may be described through known neural circuits mediating cognitive processes such as reward, social cognition, attention, and emotive processing rather than through a novel category of experience.”

Translation: There is nothing novel or unique about religious experiences – they are just an aggregate of other experiences.  In other words, religious experiences aggregate other types of neural experiences – rewards, cognitive attribution, attention, and emotion – into an experience such that the result is feeling something, but there is nothing special or unique about “religious experiences” per se.  They are cognitive/neural experiences.  Nothing mystical or supernatural is happening at all.  It’s all visible in the brain and fits neatly within the neuroscience paradigm.  Religion isn’t supernatural; it’s neurochemical.

Okay, what’s the big takeaway from this study then?

The biggest one is that Mormons are addicts (note: I doubt this is true for all Mormons but it is likely true for many).  That explains a lot.

Have you ever tried talking an alcoholic out of drinking?  How about telling a heroine addict that they are ruining their lives?  Reason and logic don’t work.  Until they see the damage from their behavior and make a decision on their own to change, they will continue down the path they are on (and even that is an over-simplification of how addiction and recovery work).

What about using logic and reason with Mormons?  You’re likely to get the same result.  It doesn’t work.  Those of us who have left often use simple explanations to address this, like, “They always turn to faith in the end.”  Yes, logic, reason, and even evidence may be on the side of the nonbelievers.  But until we recognize that Mormonism (and, likely, religion generally) is functionally like meth, we will continue to fail in our interactions with Mormons.

 

Citation: 

Ferguson, M. A., Nielsen, J. A., King, J. B., Dai, L., Giangrasso, D. M., Holman, R., … Anderson, J. S. (2016). Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religious experience in devout Mormons. Social Neuroscience, 0(0), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2016.1257437

City Creek Center – breeding cynicism

I’m an alumnus of the University of Utah.  As an alumnus, I get their alumni magazine, Continuum.  With all of the other stuff I have to read, I rarely read the magazine all that closely.  I typically just skim through the articles, looking for anything that might seem interesting.  The latest issue was fine, but one thing did catch my eye – an advertisement for City Creek Center.

We all know that City Creek Center is a for-profit shopping center owned by the LDS Church.  That, in itself, breeds a fair amount of cynicism about the motives of the Church.  But the ad went so, so much further.  Here’s the full page advertisement in its entirety:

Full page advertisement in Continuum.
Full page advertisement in Continuum.

You’re probably already seeing some of the issues with this ad, but, in case you don’t, let me go ahead and point out the most obvious ones for you.

First, the women (presumably – I don’t want to gender people, but let’s go with that intended perception) in the upper left quadrant aren’t dressed “modestly” by Church standards:

No garments.
No garments.

I, of course, think there is nothing wrong with this.  But, in a church that photoshops sleeves on little girls to make them appear more modest, this seems a little cynical to me.  It’s like the Church is saying, “City Creek Center isn’t really for Mormons.”

On to the guy on the right.  See any problems given what the LDS Church teaches its members about “proper” dress?

Who is this ex-Mormon?
Who is this ex-Mormon?

It doesn’t get much more “heathen” than this guy.  No garments, obviously!  A man-bun?  And facial hair?  My old stake president would be calling him in for a worthiness interview instantly.  Yeah, he may be physically fit and attractive, but temple recommend holder he is not.  Again, what message is City Creek Center sending with this particular picture?

Now for the coup de grace, this smaller photo:

That's not water in that glass.
That’s not water in that glass.

The two glasses on the right very well could be water.  Of course, vodka and a variety of other liquors are transparent, too, so it may be something else.  And giving that they are clinking their glasses together and saying something like “cheers,” I’m inclined to think it’s not water (though the middle individual sure has a lot of whatever is in her glass if it’s not water).  Regardless of the two on the right, the glass on the left is definitely not water.  Perhaps it’s carbonated apple juice, ’cause, sure, that’s what they have in stock at the various restaurants in City Creek Center, right?  But cynical old me is thinking that’s a white wine.  What, then, is the take away from this last image in the advertisement?  Come to City Creek Center where we have alcohol, you can get inebriated, and have fun doing it (they are all smiling, even if the guy on the left is more smirking than smiling).

Overall, then, this ad for City Creek Center – the for profit shopping center run by the LDS Church – is conveying all of the following: we sell clothing that isn’t garment friendly for all genders, it’s okay for men to have long hair and beards, and drinking is fun.  Hmmm… Isn’t that interesting.  Seems like a rather cynical ploy by LDS, Inc. to increase the bottom line at the expense of the values they teach their members.  I can’t help but also note that this ad was in an alumni magazine from the University of Utah.  I’m sure LDS, Inc. would run a different ad in a BYU alumni magazine.

The cynicism of the leaders of LDS, Inc. to put out an advertisement like this should be pretty shocking to me (but it’s not).  It’s like their not even trying to hide their profit-seeking behind “family values” any more.  This ad is a straight up sales pitch to get people to come to City Creek Center and violate the moral teachings of the Church.  Congratulations, LDS, Inc., you win the award for most cynical advertisement of the year!

Orson Scott Card teaming up with Scientology?

Did anyone else catch Orson Scott Card’s recent interview in the magazine, Freedom, published by the Church of Scientology International?  Not sure how or why, but I was sent a copy in the mail (I’m not a subscriber).  The interview is kind of trippy and suggests just how ostracized Card must feel these days.

Card claims that journalists are all required to share a political worldview,

Right now we have a monolithic mainstream media. They all go through the same journalism schools where, if you don’t subscribe to the same politics, you don’t graduate. You don’t get the grades. You find yourself driven out of the field. Very few people who are not completely compliant with that viewpoint make it through. So guess who gets hired in the newsrooms? People who already all think alike.

That strikes me as both not true and the foundation of a conspiracy theory.  There are clearly left-leaning news outlets (e.g., The Nation) and right-leaning news outlets (e.g., Fox News).  If Card was correct, we wouldn’t see any diversity among journalists.

I particularly like the innuendo throughout the interview,

At the same time, vicious smears spread just as quickly. Somebody decided that because I had a well-reasoned, controversial opinion on a hot-button issue that I was evil and had to be silenced.

I can only assume that the “well-reasoned, controversial opinion” Card is referring to here is his views on homosexuality, like these quotes or this Salon.com article illustrate.

I think his point about universities not bringing controversial speakers to campus is fair,

I mean, we still call them universities, but anyplace that has a speaker somebody wants to invite—and people demonstrate to not allow that person to speak—that’s not a university anymore. That’s a seminary to train true believers.

But to claim that we have a state religion that is “political correctness” isn’t really accurate.  If we have a state religion, it’s heteronormative Christianity.

My favorite question, given that it comes from some un-named source inside the incredibly authoritarian Church of Scientology is this one,

How can we swing the pendulum back from political correctness at all costs to a place where institutions—academic and otherwise—support inclusive, reasonable discourse?

When has Scientology ever engaged in “reasonable discourse”?  And how is Card saying that being gay should be illegal “reasonable discourse”?

Card again attacks the universities as the culprit for a monolithic discourse,

All you have to do is open up the universities to professors who actually have divergent views. The trouble is that we drove them out before they got doctorates; they couldn’t get approval for their dissertation project. There are some who tough it out anyway, but they aren’t tenured professors.

Looking past the irony that he is one of those professors, the numbers just don’t agree with him.  College professors are more liberal than the general public, for sure, but they are not monolithic in their political views. Anyone who has a hard time believing this really just needs to step into a college of business at a university, where a sizable percentage of the professors are right-leaning.

Card goes so far as to call universities, “fascist,”

Start with tenured university faculty. They all sound like they believe the same thing, but they don’t. They just can’t say so because they know they’ll be attacked. I think most academics hate the fascist state that exists in most American universities. They want it to end, but they’re afraid. Somebody brave needs to speak up and put a stop to it.

This statement doesn’t come close to my experience in academia.  Most of my research has to do with religion, and I am constantly running up against religious conservatives and religious moderates who dislike what my findings say about religion (not surprisingly, I’m quite critical).  Far from facing a liberal backlash because I’m too conservative, I spend most of my time fighting for more liberal/progressive views because most other academics are too moderate or conservative in their views (this could be specific to my area of research, but I don’t think it actually is).  I don’t consider this fascism; I consider it the slow advance of science, which is inherently conservative.  Card doesn’t seem to realize that.

Card ends with some interesting thoughts.  First, he claims we’re in a McCarthy-like era against conservatives,

Right now, it’s like the height of the McCarthy era, when the mere allegation that you might be a communist was enough to seriously damage your career and your reputation.

This sounds to me like him being bitter about how his homophobia tarnished his reputation.  I loved Ender’s Game, but really don’t like the fact that the author is a homophobe.  As a result, I’m reticent to admit that it was the favorite book of my childhood, and am reticent to suggest it to my son, who also loves science fiction.  I can understand that he’s frustrated, but advocating for unequal treatment for a huge segment of the world’s population can result in criticism (and should).

Finally, he seems to think that religion is the only solution for holding back the floodwaters of so-called liberal “progress,”

But the social justice warriors are running up against more and more walls that won’t crumble, in churches. Sure, there are plenty of mainline churches that crumbled immediately because they didn’t want any attacks on them, but you run up against Orthodox Jews—they’re not going to bend. You run up against Mormons—we tried to cooperate, but we’re not bending. You run up against the Southern Baptists, they’re not going to roll over and play dead; they fired a minister who did. You run up against the Scientologists—they’re not going to change their doctrine for the sake of popularity, because they stand for something. They’re not going to bow.

Any bets on when the Mormons will bow?  I give them less than 20 years on allowing gays and lesbians being able to fully participate in the religion.

I really like this article because it shows that conservative religions are losing.  How could Mormons and Scientologists possibly find common ground given their disparate beliefs and exclusive truth claims?  They find common ground when they realize they have a common enemy: secularization and progressive views on gender and sexuality.  If you need evidence that conservative religion is dying, look no further than Scientology asking a Mormon for his thoughts on how the two can withstand the coming onslaught of nonreligious people who hold egalitarian worldviews.  The writing is on the wall for exclusive, bigoted religions, and they know it.

A Desire to Help

I have heard hundreds of members of the LDS Church, when they encounter someone who has left the church who is now critical of the church, say, “You can leave the Church, but you can’t leave it alone” or, more confrontationally, “Why can’t you leave the Church and just leave it alone?” Throughout this post, I’m going to refer to this as the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism.

I can’t say whether this accusatory aphorism was popular prior to Glenn L. Pace’s 1989 General Conference talk, Follow the Prophet, but I believe Pace’s talk may be the source of at least the couplet associated with the aphorism.  Here is Pace’s original quote, “It seems that history continues to teach us: You can leave the Church, but you can’t leave it alone. The basic reason for this is simple. Once someone has received a witness of the Spirit and accepted it, he leaves neutral ground. One loses his testimony only by listening to the promptings of the evil one, and Satan’s goal is not complete when a person leaves the Church, but when he comes out in open rebellion against it.”

Regardless of its origins, what members of the religion are doing when they repeat this aphorism us accusing those who have left the religion of having a preternatural fixation on criticizing the religion.  There are many, many flaws related to this accusation. In this post I will address just a few.

The most obvious problem with the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism is that it is often asserted to be true about everyone who leaves the LDS Church, which is implicitly the case in the original statement by Glenn L. Pace.  That assertion is, of course, patently false. As of 2015, the LDS Church claims 15 million members. Yet, scholars have attempted to verify that number and have found plenty of evidence to suggest that the claimed number is substantially inflated.  For instance, the LDS Church claims close to 1.2 million members in Brazil.  Yet, the Brazilian census, which includes self-reported religious affiliation, only lists about two hundred thousand members of the LDS Church.  This disparity means there are roughly one million people in Brazil who at some point joined the LDS Church but now no longer consider themselves Mormons.  Why bring this up?  If the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism is true, there should be about one million vocal critics of the LDS Church in Brazil.  Admittedly, I don’t speak Portuguese and don’t follow the former-Mormon community in Brazil (if in fact such a community exists). But I would be astonished if there were more than a few hundred fairly vocal former Mormons who publicly criticize the religion in Brazil. I don’t know of any and there were no critical websites in the top 20 search results on Google Brazil when I checked (in July 2015). Even so there are not, most assuredly, a million vocal critics of Mormonism in Brazil.

Collectively, most scholars who have examined the total number of Mormons think there may be around six million people who consider themselves Mormon worldwide.  Even if the number is as high as eight or nine million, that still leaves six+ million people who have left the religion. If there were six+ million people who couldn’t leave Mormonism alone, I would imagine that those people would eventually put together some formal organizations that existed just to criticize Mormonism.  Yet, how many such organizations exist?  A handful, and all of them are run by less than a dozen people, most of whom are now Protestants and want to convert Mormons to their particular strand of Christianity (see here and here).

Are there vocal critics of Mormonism?  Yes. Perhaps a few thousand (see here for a list of blogs by former Mormons). But is the assertion that the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism applies to all those who leave the religion true?  Of course not!  Almost all of the millions of people who have left are not vocal critics of Mormonism. They left the religion and got on with their lives.  Some may, of course, say that this first problem with the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism is a strawman argument because aphorisms rarely apply to everyone in a population.  I agree with them, but that doesn’t mean devout Mormons haven’t made this assertion.  They have (see the original quote, which implicitly asserts this about all who have left).  I have heard them assert this about everyone who leaves.  And they continue to do so.  If you think this is a strawman argument, feel free to tell that to those making the argument that it cannot possibly be true that everyone who leaves the LDS Church becomes a vocal critic.

A second problem with the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism is that it sets up an unequal playing field for any subsequent discussion of Mormonism.  By asserting that those who leave Mormonism can’t leave it alone, devout Mormons are basically saying, “Devout Mormons are the only people who should be allowed to talk about the religion. No one else should.”  A not-entirely-hypothetical example might be a scenario like the following: if a former Mormon is asked about Mormonism, regardless of how knowledgeable they may be about the religion, many devout Mormons will insist that they shouldn’t say anything about the religion because they are biased.  (The thought that devout Mormons have their own biases never seems to occur to them.)  Even admitting that you were once a Mormon is implicitly assumed to be criticism of Mormonism, because it suggests that there may be reasons why someone would want to leave the religion.  Thus, if a former Mormon living in Delaware is at work and a co-worker brings up Mitt Romney’s failed campaigns for President with the former Mormon and several other employees and that turns into a conversation about Mormonism, most Mormons would prefer that the former Mormon: (a) not mention that he/she is a former Mormon and (b) not say anything about Mormonism.  If the former Mormon does either (a) or (b), many devout Mormons will immediately see this as confirmation of the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism.

This is an absurd conclusion, of course.  It’s like demanding that someone who used to be a Democrat but later in life changed her political views and became a Republican should never say anything about politics ever again.  Should Democrats insist that all former Democrats avoid any discussion of politics for the rest of their lives because, if politics come up, former Democrats may be critical of Democrats? Of course not.  But that is exactly what some Mormons insist should happen with former Mormons: they should never, ever speak of Mormonism again.

Ironically, many former Mormons tend not to walk around spewing venom against their former religion.  To the contrary, that is often just the opposite of what happens.  My maternal grandfather was technically Mormon, but never attended religious services, smoked a pipe, drank alcohol and coffee, and didn’t believe most of what the religion taught.  He was also critical of the religion around his Mormon relatives, particularly when they tried to push it on him (which, not surprisingly, was often).  But when non-Mormons asserted claims that were not accurate about the religion or were critical of Mormons, he was the first to defend the religion and the members.  This is often the case for former Mormons, as well.  As a former Mormon myself, I have spent far more time correcting people’s inaccurate beliefs about Mormonism than I have criticizing the religion, and I’m a well-known critic of the religion.  In the hundreds of interviews I’ve done with reporters, I would guess 75% of my time is spent explaining Mormon teachings and correcting misconceptions.  The remaining 25% is spent offering commentary on whatever issue it is the journalist called to discuss with me.  In short, while former Mormons may be critical of aspects of the religion they dislike (e.g., gender inequality, sexual discrimination, emphasis on obedience, denial of historical events, etc.), they are also often pretty good ambassadors for Mormonism and are quick to defend Mormon people, usually because they still have family members who are Mormon.

Changing the context slightly from the above situation of a former Mormon talking with people who have never been Mormon to conversations between former Mormons and devout Mormons extends this problem with the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism.  Many devout Mormons hold a double standard when it comes to talking about their religion.  If a former Mormon visits with devout Mormon family members and the family members, as they are wont to do, begin discussing Mormonism, many devout Mormons assume that the former Mormon family member should not say anything about Mormonism.  If the former Mormon does, it is assumed that it will be critical.  Thus, many devout Mormons see nothing wrong with discussing their religious activities and beliefs in front of former Mormons.  But if former Mormons comment on those activities or beliefs or have the audacity to talk about their new beliefs or activities, many devout Mormons will take offense.  Another example here is illustrative of this issue.  When I go to visit my devout Mormon family members, I don’t attend church services with them (and I’m guessing they would find it offensive if I said I wanted to as they would likely question my motives).  This inevitably leads to the awkward situation of them simply not asking me or my wife and son what we plan to do on Sundays when we are visiting.  They know that we know they are going to church.  And they know that we’re NOT going to church.  But they don’t actually want to know what we are going to do, because, unless it involves spending three hours in a Mormon chapel, it is not in line with what they believe is the right thing to do on Sundays.  On a recent trip to visit family, my wife, son, and I went on a tram ride to the top of a mountain and had Sunday brunch at the resort while my family went to church.  We didn’t tell them we were going to go and didn’t tell them where we went (though one family member did ask discreetly what we did and we told her).  The fact that we spent money on Sunday, a violation of keeping the Sabbath holy in Mormonism, is an affront to their beliefs.  The point being, it isn’t even necessary to mention that you aren’t Mormon anymore or mention that you did something Mormons wouldn’t do for many Mormons to take offense and consider it an affront to their religion.  Some Mormons could benefit from accepting the outlandish idea that most of the people on the planet are not Mormon, don’t want to be, and that is okay.  Just because someone is not Mormon doesn’t mean their existence should be offensive to you. In fact, if you find anyone’s existence offensive, you have some serious issues involving foundational human rights.  Most non-Mormons don’t consider your Mormonism offensive to them.  Live and let live, or as your own 11th Article of Faith states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”  In other words, it’s okay to not be Mormon.  Joseph Smith even said so!

I could raise numerous other issues with the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism, but I’m going to wrap this post up with my biggest issue with the aphorism: the stunning level of naive hypocrisy that the aphorism involves.  Many devout Mormons believe that it is morally imperative that they try to convert everyone to Mormonism.  And, of course, included in that imperative is the desire to re-convert former Mormons.  I’m fairly confident that what drives many Mormons to want to convert others to Mormonism is a belief that they have The Truth (note the capital “T” here) and that that Truth will be beneficial for everyone else.  In other words, they are driven by a desire to help.  That is respectable and admirable.  I won’t deny that for a second.

But that motivation and fixation on their Truth also leads to many Mormons’ inability to recognize that other people may be motivated by the exact same desire, a desire to help.  The problem comes from the fact that many Mormons only recognize the existence of their Truth and therefore deny the existence of or even the possible existence of any other “truths” (little “t” here).  Thus, they cannot fathom why someone might be motivated to criticize Mormonism out of a desire to help.

Another anecdote here may help illustrate my point.  I have a six year-old son. Occasionally I observe him doing things or about to do things that I believe could harm him.  For instance, my son loves to climb stuff. On a recent hike in the mountains of Utah, my son saw a small cliff, about twelve feet high, and told his mother and I that he wanted to climb it. We have ropes and harnesses for climbing and rappelling, and if we had those with us, I would have let him climb that cliff. But we didn’t have our safety equipment that day. Do I, recognizing the risks associated with climbing that cliff, have an obligation to warn my son about the harm he might face?  Or should I simply let him climb the cliff and risk falling, potentially leading to permanent injury or even death?

What’s my point with this story?  I think most people would recognize that there is a moral imperative to help those who need help, particularly if it will prevent harm befalling them.  This is certainly true for those we love.  But I think it is also true that we should help strangers.

As an avid hiker, I’m keen to help those I encounter on my hikes.  If, for instance, I was hiking and had just encountered a venomous snake on a trail, then rounded a corner and met some hikers coming the other way, what should I do? Do I have a moral obligation to warn them about the snake? Or should I let them discover the danger on their own? Perhaps not everyone will agree with me that the moral course of action is to help others avoid injury or harm, whether you know those people or not.  But that is often a motivation of mine, a desire to help.

And that returns us back to the “can’t leave it alone” aphorism.  Many people leave the LDS Church because they found it harmful.  Mormons reading this may have a hard time accepting that assertion, as in, “How could the LDS Church, which you find so beneficial, be harmful?”  I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but here are just a few ways:

Now, Mormons reading this may not want to admit that any of those things have happened.  I provided links just to make it clear that they have.  But they have happened and continue to happen.  And that leads to this question:

If you were a member of an institution and found out that some of the policies or practices of that institution were causing people to commit suicide or were leading to the physical or sexual abuse of members of that institution, what would you do?

And if you left that institution as a result of your discoveries, would you keep quiet about it?  Or would you want to help those inside the institution who might be suffering?  Would that lead you to criticize the practices, policies, and teachings of the institution?

If you would criticize a harmful institution for its harmful practices, congratulations!  You now know what motivates a small minority of those who leave Mormonism to criticize their former religion: a desire to help.

Why Nathaniel Givens Can’t Face Reality (or the real reason John Dehlin is going to be excommunicated)

Nathaniel Givens’ latest article on John Dehlin just went live on Meridian Magazine’s website.   While it’s unlikely responding to Givens will do much to alter the opinions of those already decided on this matter, I realized as I read his article that I wasn’t reading it how most Meridian Magazine readers might read it.  So, here are my thoughts as I read his article.

First, his opening line is a winner:

“Excommunication is always evidence of deep spiritual tragedy.”

Givens asserts a truth that is both impossible to prove and ambiguous enough that he could weasel out of the claim if someone tries to pin him down on it.  Whenever someone writes, “X is always Y,” I immediately want to come up with an exception.  In this case, I think there are likely lots of exceptions: For many people who are excommunicated on the grounds of apostasy, they probably don’t consider themselves “spiritual tragedies”.  Many of these people changed their views about Mormonism or believe Mormonism has changed.  Thus, from their perspective, their excommunication wasn’t a spiritual tragedy.  If there is a spiritual tragedy involved, it’s the Church that is experiencing one, not them.

Of course, Givens would likely weasel out of this interpretation of his statement and argue that the spiritual tragedy is the loss of that person’s spiritual blessings.  In other words, from the perspective of the devout, faithful Mormon, everyone who is excommunicated is losing the chance for godhood, so the devout, faithful Mormon sees this as a tragedy, regardless of how the person who is excommunicated sees it.  Which, therefore, makes this statement true, because, like the entire article, it’s all about maintaining a faithful perspective with absolutely no regard for what anyone else might think or believe.

Most importantly, I think an enterprising former Mormon needs to create a “spiritual tragedy” badge (both analog and digital) that people who have been excommunicated from the LDS Church can proudly display. Something like this would work:

Givens follows up his opening line with an excuse for why he is going to hatchet John Dehlin:

“For this and many other sound reasons, formal charges of apostasy should never be treated lightly or tried in the court of public opinion. John Dehlin’s decision to make his own disciplinary council public has moved the issue onto a national stage, however. It is still not appropriate for us to speculate or advocate about the outcome of the disciplinary council, but it would be unfair for Dehlin to take the story national—with implications for the Church to which we all belong—and then expect every other Mormon to acquiesce to his version.”

Translation:

This is supposed to be a private matter, but I need an excuse to attack John Dehlin.  So, since he made it public, I have every right to go public, too.  Forget that whole “Turn the other cheek” or “Do unto others” crap Jesus taught.  John’s a public figure, so I’m going to attack him publicly and I don’t feel guilty doing so because I don’t actually have a moral conscience. I have a Mormon conscience, which is way, way better.

The next section says John is making money off of Mormon stories, as though that is some how immoral (like, maybe, charging people to enter temples or get baptized).

Givens then notes that John Dehlin has interviewed faithful Mormons and “hostile critics,” like this person:

Givens then labels John a “critic” of the Church.  I’ll give him credit for at least not calling John an anti-Mormon, which is probably the term Givens would prefer to use (and uses for some of the people John associates with), but hopefully we’re past claiming that anyone who disagrees with the LDS Church wants to kill Mormons.  Calling John a critic is an effort to discredit John by poisoning the well.  But, you know what, I don’t really care on this point.  John is a critic of the LDS Church, as is anyone else who has ever said, “Hey, wait a minute.  The LDS Church leaders just did what?”  The second you question anything in the LDS Church, you’re now a critic, because that’s all it takes to be critical of an institution – questioning it.  So, props to John for being publicly labeled a critic – he joins the ranks of many other well-respected critics of the LDS Church!

Givens then moves to the real meat of his argument: John Dehlin has claimed that among the reasons why he is being excommunicated is because of his support for Ordain Women and same-sex marriage.  In fact, it’s this part that really gets Givens because the NYTimes picked this part up and ran with it, sending a breaking news text to millions of people that said, “Prominent Mormon Faces Excommunication for Backing Gay Marriage.”

Why is it that Nathaniel Givens doesn’t want to admit that John Dehlin’s excommunication may be rooted in his support of same-sex marriage and Ordain Women?  Oh, right, because if it is true, then it makes the LDS Church look bigoted, archaic, and hateful.  Givens tries to argue that these issues aren’t core to the excommunication,

“Among the concerns King felt were most important, gay rights and same sex marriage are not mentioned in any way, and female ordination is at most implied tangentially by point #3 (although that is far from certain).”

Givens then points out that John Dehlin has been inconsistent in emphasizing how central his support for same-sex marriage and Ordain Women have been to his disciplinary council.  Yeah, that’s kind of true.  It’s not entirely clear how central they are.  Are his support for same-sex marriage and Ordain Women 10% of the reason for the disciplinary council?  50%?  80%?  100%?

The actual answer is: the only people who know what percentage of the disciplinary council is based on John Dehlin’s public support for same-sex marriage and Ordain Women are those who called or arranged the disciplinary council (i.e., his Stake President and, in all likelihood, some people at Church headquarters – no one believes they aren’t involved since this is too high profile of a case).  John Dehlin doesn’t even know, because disciplinary council’s are basically opaque.  Disciplinary councils are basically like military tribunals or federal criminal court cases where the evidence against the accused is classified as confidential.

The only people who get to see it are the prosecutors and the judge (or panel of judges).  Everyone else basically just hears, “He engaged in espionage” or “He stole state secrets” but we don’t ever get to find out exactly what happened, because the government doesn’t have to reveal it.  And that is what happens in disciplinary courts: We have no idea: (1) Who started the process against John; (2) What the actual reasons for this are; (3) and Who is actually running the show.  Why?  Because the Church doesn’t have to do that and its members are too sheepish to call them out on this.  If the process were confidential to protect John’s interests, that would make sense.  I can understand this in the case of someone who had an affair or did something else that might tarnish their reputation.  But, in John’s case, what he did isn’t tarnishing his reputation; it’s tarnishing the Church’s reputation.  That’s also why the Church has a caveat in the Church Handbook of Instructions that says no one is supposed to record disciplinary councils – not to protect the accused, but to protect the Church.  They don’t want a record of what the actual reasons are for the disciplinary council, because that would make them look bad.  Really bad.  Instead, they keep it all hush hush and then let their apologetic minions do all the necessary work to attack critics of the Church for them.  This way, the Church’s hands look clean, even though, when you make them take off their gloves, they are nasty.

So, we don’t know whether or not John’s support for same-sex marriage or Ordain Women is 10% or 90% of the reason for the disciplinary council.  But Givens then turns to John’s stated beliefs and practices, noting that John has admitted he isn’t sure he accepts everything.  Givens then claims that the key here is that John is a public figure.  So, John isn’t really allowed to state his doubts or raise concerns because he has a public following.  He even notes that this is why he thinks John has crossed the line,

“It is one thing to disbelieve privately. It is another thing to disbelieve publicly, and with a very large following. And it is yet another to act openly in accord with this disbelief, and to evangelize others to share that rejection of Church teachings. It is in that last instance in particular that Church leaders may have considered that Dehlin crossed a crucial line.”

In other words, Givens thinks it’s wrong to openly disbelieve in teachings of the Church, particularly if you are well-known and have lots of followers on social media.

Wait!

Hold on!

Givens thinks it’s wrong to openly express disbelief!  Isn’t this the equivalent of saying, “If you have questions, keep them to yourself!”  Or, “It’s fine if you don’t believe everything so long as you never tell anyone.”  What is Givens really saying?  He’s saying that anyone who questions Mormon teachings is a threat to those who don’t.  Publicly expressing questions or “disbelief” threatens to pop Givens’s Mormon bubble.  Popping the Mormon bubble might just make other Mormons question.  And questioning is bad!

Believing is good!

Doubting is bad!

Letting the prophet and apostles think for you is good!

Thinking for yourself is bad!

For Givens, then, it’s much more acceptable to kick someone out of the LDS Church because they have admitted they don’t believe everything and that may allow other people to think for themselves than it is to kick them out for supporting equality publicly.  Hmm…  From my perspective, any institution that would consider kicking someone out for doing either of those isn’t an institution worthy of respect.  It’s an institution that doesn’t allow freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, or freedom of association.  It’s an authoritarian dictatorship.

Givens concludes that he is clearly right,

“An objective observer would reasonably infer that King is concerned that Dehlin is using his position of prominence in order to undermine the Church and its mission and in so doing has placed his affiliation with the Church in jeopardy. That, at least, seems a plain and reasonable interpretation of the public record.”

The irony, of course, is that Givens is anything but an “objective observer”.  Givens has a leg in this game – he’s a believer and an apologist, trying to defend his religion’s efforts to control what the members say and do publicly.  Givens isn’t objective and is about as far away from being able to think objectively about this as is possible.

Finally, Givens ends with this absurd statement,

“There may be personal motives and considerations that further amplify or ameliorate the alleged offenses. They are—and should be—beyond the purview of a treatment like this one. But the details outlined above based on publicly available sources are sufficient to correct media reports that an individual is being sanctioned for following his conscience, or for holding particular personal beliefs.”

To Givens, John Dehlin isn’t being sanctioned for what he believes or does.  He’s being sanctioned for hurting the Church.  Never mind that those may be (though arguably are not) the same thing.  John is following his conscience, both in his support for Ordain Women and same-sex marriage, and in his disbelief.  Givens just thinks that it’s dangerous to ask questions and publicly express disbelief, because it might pop someone’s protective bubble.

This is my new image of John Dehlin.

So, he prioritizes protecting blind faith over thinking, and ends up concluding that Dehlin is being sanctioned for making it easier for people to ask questions, but instead frames it as John being a threat to the Church.  John IS a threat, because people need to threaten authoritarian dictatorships.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think Nathaniel Givens genuinely believes that the Church is going after John because he is a threat.  But Givens also can’t see the reality behind why John is a threat – because John might make people question.  Because Givens likely believes that the Church can do no wrong (it can’t, or would why he do so much for it?), this is about what John Dehlin did that was wrong and the Church defending itself, not the Church victimizing John Dehlin for expressing his conscience.  Givens has to defend his religion to defend himself.  As a result, he can’t see what the Church is really doing.  He can only see what he wants the Church to be doing.

At the end of the day, Givens is putting the continued existence of an institution ahead of what may be best for its members.  And that is sad….

Missionary Chat: Origins of the Bible

I’ll admit up front, this chat was basically just an attempt to show that Mormon missionaries are ignorant.  I wanted to know what they knew about the origins of the Bible.  Here we go:

Bailey: hi how are you?

Bart (me): I’m good. How are you?

Bailey: good

Bailey: what can we do for you?

Bart: I have a question.

Bailey: ok. go ahead.

Bart: What can you tell me about the origins of the bible – particularly the New Testament?

Bailey: Well we know that the new testament testifies of Christ’s life in Jerusalem. It was in that part of the world. The middle east.

Bart: Right. But how did those specific writings come to be considered canonical books in the Bible?

Bailey: Christ’s apostles where with him all the time and so they wrote the things that Christ did. They were special witnesses of Him.

Bart: And do you know who finally compiled them into the modern Bible.

Bailey: It was a man by the name of William Tyndale. It was in the early 1500’s I believe. He translated the Bible.

Bart: Okay. Thanks.

Bailey: Do you have any other questions?

Bart: Nope. That was it. Thanks for your help.

So, Bailey is clearly unaware of the fact that the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – were not written by apostles of Jesus.  Of the books that bear the names of apostles, the authorship is in question for most of them (e.g., epistles of Peter, James, and John).  Bailey also didn’t answer my actual question but instead told me who translated the Bible into English, William Tyndale. This probably means that Bailey, like so many of my students, has no idea where the New Testament actually came from other than believing erroneously something like: the apostles wrote what they saw then bound it together in a nice little book when they were done, oh, around 32 CE – you know, right after Jesus was crucified.  I know this is kind of mean to do, but I think it’s interesting to note that Mormon missionaries are pretty oblivious about the origins of Christianity and the Bible that they are trying to convince people to believe in.

Missionary Chat: Native Americans cursed?

I had another question I wanted to run by “Mormons on the street”: Are Native Americans cursed?

Emily: Hello!

Sam (me): Hello!

Emily: What brings you to mormon.org chat today?

Sam: I have a question about Mormon teachings.

Emily: Okay… we will do our best to help you

Sam: A friend of mine is LDS and he mentioned something that I thought was odd. I’m Native American, part of the Cherokee Nation. He said that the history of my ancestors is described in the Book of Mormon. That seemed interesting.

Emily: Oh wow! Well the Book of Mormon The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel. oops said the book of mormon twice.. sorry! (She then posted this link.)

Sam: Well, I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon and found a passage disturbing: 2 Nephi 5:21: And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. Does that mean I’m cursed?

Martha: so the blackness of the skin was not the curse.. the curse was that the lamanites didn’t want to hear the words of God so they were cursed to be not of God meaning they can no longer feel his presence in their lives because they chose to live in their sin.. the color of their skin was just a sign, so that nephites could recognize them.. so the skin color at that time served as a reminder for them that they have chosen not to follow God

Sam: So, dark skin is just a symbol of a curse?

Martha: There is a difference between the mark and the curse. The mark placed upon the Lamanites was a dark skin (see Alma 3:6). The curse was not the dark skin but being “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:20). Notice that in both Alma 3:7 and Alma 3:14 the conjunction and is used between the curse and the mark. This implies that they are not the same thing. The people brought the curse upon themselves: “And even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation” (Alma 3:19). Through righteousness the curse may be removed, but the mark may remain as it has with the Lamanites (see commentary for 2 Nephi 5:20–25 on page 62).

Martha: so we don’t believe that you are cursed.. unless you choose to disobey the Father willingly now.. and the same curse would come upon me if I would choose that.. but the mark was something that they needed to have in that time recognize the people.. that will not happen again.. the mark has remained in their ancestors.. but that shouldn’t affect you today if you choose to follow God.. does that make sense?

Sam: Yeah, sort of. But it seems kind of racist for god to mark people with dark skin to symbolize a curse, don’t you think?

Martha: well at that time those people were very wicked.. and God did that for various reasons.. one of them being to protect the people who followed God, so that they wouldn’t mix their blood with the wicked at that time.. but as you read in the book of mormon a lot of Lamanites changed but in several hundred years.. and accepted God.. but we don’t know all of the reasons why God needed to do that…

Martha: I don’t know the meaning of all things, but I do know that God loves His children and He wants them to be happy and His ways are higher.. and we with our minds cannot understand it all, but if you know that God loves you and you want to follow Him nothing can stand in your way

Sam: Okay. Thanks.

Martha: did this help you at all?

Sam: Yep.

Martha: so are you interested to learn more about the Church?  do you have other questions?

Sam: That was my only question for today. I may have others in the future, but that’s good for now. Thanks.

Martha: maybe you would like to keep in touch with us?  and we could help you in the future?

Sam: If I have more questions, I can always come back here, right?

Martha: but what makes you interested in our church?

Sam: I just thought what my friend said was interesting and what the Book of Mormon said was interesting. I might think differently about my friend if he really believes skin color is a curse from god.  But you said it wasn’t.

Martha: so have you been reading the Book of Mormon?

Sam: Parts of it, yes.

Emily: Well we hope we have been able to help you today. But as missionaries and members of the church we would love to invite you to pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true, we know that he can give you a personal witness that it truly is the word of God. We haven’t learned that this church is true and that the Book of Mormon is true from others telling us but from searching ourselves and asking God.

Martha: that is cool! we know that only through reading and praying about the Book you can find out if this is the truth

Martha: maybe you could read one chapter today ? it is in Moroni 10 it is in page 500 something.. 529  it talks about the promise that God has given to everyone who want to know if it is true

Sam: That seems like an odd way to determine whether or not a book is true. Why not study it from a scientific perspective to see if the factual claims the book makes are accurate?

Martha: well ,… we cannot convince you about the truthfulness of this word but we can invite you to ask God.. because there will be many opinions and “evidence” of different things.. but if you truly receive a witness from God you cannot deny it

Martha: do you believe in God?

Sam: Well, it depends on what you mean by God.

Martha: I just want to ask you Sam, what if you find out at the last day when you pass away from this life that everything we tell you was true.. and you never tried to find it out for yourself when you were here on earth?

Sam: That seems kind of like a manipulative tactic. You’re trying to induce me to feel fear to manipulate me into believing. That seems kind of disingenuous to me. Doesn’t it to you?

Martha: well , I don’t know.. I am just saying these things because I have received a witness from God.. and my life has been so blessed because of this Gospel.. my purpose is not to persuade you to believe in it but to invite you to try it for yourself.. I think me trying to persuade you with facts .. if I would pour different facts over you and tell you everything I know and would ask you to believe because I believe I think that would be manipulative.. but I am just inviting you to try it for yourself.. and then it is all up to you – your desire to know and your communication with God

Martha: but how can you know that these “facts ” are true or not?

Sam: Providing people with facts isn’t manipulative. It’s persuasive. It’s using evidence and logic and critical thinking. Praying relies on emotions. Emotions are manipulative. Well, I’m pretty sure the earth revolves around the sun, even though it doesn’t seem like it.  I think we know that is true.  Or are you saying the only way we can know that is by asking God?

(FYI: AT THIS POINT I STARTED READING THE NEWS WHILE “MARTHA SPOKE”)

Martha: I know that praying is more then emotions.. answers from God are not only emotion based..

Martha: well but people believed hundreds of years ago that the earth was flat.. and it was a fact to them

Martha: God knows everything

Martha: He created the universe

Martha: He has all of the answers even about science, because He is Father of that all

Martha: and again this is what I believe is a fact

Martha: but to you it is only my theory ..

Martha: so that is why we invite everyone to pray and to find out for themselves

Martha: if there is God .. if He loves you , you should be able to receive answers.. something that is hard to explain .. but it is up to you to try it or not

Sam: But how could you know the answer is from God?

Martha: that is a good question and it takes time and practice to really recognize, but something that helps you too recognize these answers and receive them is Faith.. faith – trust in something you don’t see but believe is there. and hope that God will answer

Martha: and this is again.. up to you.. if you have at least a little degree of faith .. or a desire to believe you can receive an answer

Sam: So, you don’t actually know if God is answering your prayers? Could it be aliens? Or evil gods? Or just emotional manipulation?

Martha: well I know it is God.. because of the scriptures, and because of the feelings I have felt .. and because of everything that has happend in my life.. and all of the experiences when I have received an answer from Him … that is why it is so important to get to know Him through scriptures.. .. yes it is scary to think all of what you are saying.. it could be but if you don’t ask you will never know.. and you can say that those are theories.. or facts based on something someone has said to you.. but do you really want to know for yourself?

Martha: do you want the answer to this question?

Martha: if you will study the book of mormon with real intent and will pray God humbly in the name of Jesus Christ you will receive a witness from the Holy Ghost

Martha: and Holy Ghost will manifest unto you the truthfulness of these things..

Martha: and it is not an emotion it is something greater.. and it is hard to explain it.. but it is something you have to experience to know

Sam: You seem really determined to convince me that praying to get an emotional response will actually work. Are you trying to convince me or you?

Martha: you keep talking about emotions.. I know that this witness is not based on your emotions.. yes they are there too but it is something grater as I said.. and I am not here to convince but to testify of something I have witnessed in my life.. I wouldn’t be here on my mission if I hadn’t felt an answer from God.. if I hadn’t got to know my Father and most of all if I hadn;t received my own testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.. His Sacrifice and His love for me

Martha: and if you want to believe and know it for yourself you have to decide.. but I can’t deny what I have experienced and what I know.

Martha: because I have tried to do it before.. I wasn’t always so sure of what I belie in.. I tried deny these things and I was so unhappy.. I was lost.. I have never been happier ion my life , because I finally understand the truth

Sam: Is the response “something you feel”?

Martha: well it is hard to explain and describe it it is something you have to witness for yourself.. until then you will think that I am deceived or confused with my own emotions or something else .. of course it is easier to think that way

Martha: and I don’t blame you for it

Martha: all I can do is to invite you to try it for yourself

Sam: Well, I think you could do more. Like provide scientific evidence that the Book of Mormon holds up under critical inquiry. That would be pretty compelling.

Martha: so I was saying.. there are so many things I have studiesthat I could tell you and provide evidence.. but do you need them because you want to know that the book is true just because you are curious or because you would want to know if there is God and that the Christ lives? .. there were many people who saw the Golden plates in real life when they were here on the earth .. they wrote down their witness but then changed their minds and decided not to follow the teachings.. this proof really didn’t change their lives.. they never denied that they saw the plates

Martha: so the question is why do you want evidence? do you think you will follow God if you will have it?

Sam: So, where are the plates?

Sam: If there was overwhelming empirical evidence that God existed, I would follow that God.

Martha: well if everyone knew with perfect knowledge that there is God they wouldn’t want to sin , they would only make the choices they think God wants them to and that would take away their agency.. of you have faith and you want to believe and want to change your life and become better and you truly search for Him you become greater than the person who has full knowledge of that.. I don’t know how ot explain it

Martha: for example- if you knew there was a test in school on a certain date you would only prepare couple days before and wouldn’t really learn.. but if you would know that it will come sometime you would actually study and learn more and would gain more from that

Martha: so God is wise .. He knows why it was so important for us to come here on this Earth to grow and He knows what is the best way for us to grow

Martha: but we need this experience … we need tomake mistakes on our own and fix them and learn from them .. we need to feel sorrow and pain here so that we would know the difference..

Martha: but God can give you a witness that you are moving in the right direction He can send you a witness from Holy Gost so that you would know which book to read which Church to join to know what is the truth and what to follow in this Earth to return back to Him,..

Martha: one day everyone will know that God is real with perfect knowledge.. and they will look back on this life and will say – I wish I had done this and that.. I wish I had tried to known this before..

Martha: because I would have made other decisions

Martha: and the truth comes from the scriptures.. from the prophet.. and you have every right to ask God if this book is true.. if this is a direction that He wants you to go

Martha: because there are many ways to go in this life many opportunities to follow different teachings..so if you want to know if there is one way.. if there is the surest way to happiness.. in this life and life to come God will bear a witness to you if you will ask Him.. but it depends on that if you really are searching for that.. so… it is up to you..

Sam (Martha paused for about a minute here, so I interjected): Okay. Thanks. Got to go now.

Martha: well I hope you will at least think about it and if you ever have questions.. you know that you can always turn to your friend..or here I guess.. it was nice talking to you!

Martha: if you ever want to talk to us again.. you can leave your e-mail or something

Sam: Bye.

 

Commentary: These missionaries were better prepared than the last ones.  I’ve never found the distinction between the “curse” and the skin color all that compelling, but at least they knew what apologetic argument to use.  Of more interest to me, however, was their clear belief that the Book of Mormon is a literal history of Native Americans.  I guess they missed the memo about it being about a book about some people “among” the ancestors of Native Americans.

And, I apologize for the length of this one.  Martha was really determined.  I wasn’t even trying to lead her on, but she wouldn’t let it go.

Three Ways to Leave the LDS Church – Loudly, Quietly, and Forcefully

I had a missionary email me after he listened to a podcast in which I was interviewed.  He was deciding whether he wanted to be Mormon and was wondering what the best way to leave the religion was.  I’ve written about this before, but after having spoken with lots of people about this over the years, I think my views have changed a bit.  Here’s what I wrote to him.

——————————————————-

There are a lot of ways to leave Mormonism and every situation is different. In my experience talking with people who have left, there are basically three approaches, each of which has its merits/benefits and drawbacks/costs. Let me see if I can describe them sufficiently so they make sense to you.

Loudly:

The first approach is basically the one I took: Decide when you want to leave and then announce it to everyone who you think should know. In my case, my wife and I (I was already married) announced it through letters to our parents and our bishop (we had callings and didn’t want to leave the ward without someone to fill the callings). The benefit of this approach is that your position is very clear – you are leaving and you aren’t hiding that fact at all. This approach also makes it easy to make a clean break from the religion. But there is a major drawback to this approach: confrontation. Despite the fact that this approach is typically motivated by sincerity and honesty – traits you are taught to value in Mormonism (sort of) – it also involves confronting people who strongly believe in their religion and basically telling them that you reject it. Unfortunately, for most Mormons who are very devout, rejecting their religion is the equivalent of rejecting them, personally. Once I was on better terms with my mother, she said that to me. Literally. She told me that my rejection of Mormonism was the same as me rejecting her, which is why she took it as hard as she did. And, yes, she took it very hard and very personally. This approach basically has the biggest risk of ruining family relationships. Despite what Mormons claim, family doesn’t come first; religion does. If your family feels threatened enough by your apostasy, they can (and sometimes do) cut you off. By basically shoving your rejection of their religion in their face – through announcing it publicly – you will make them feel threatened, and people aren’t very nice when they are threatened. So, in summary, the benefit with this approach is that your new position is clear; the cost is the possible loss of congenial family relations.

Quietly:

The second approach is basically as opposite to the first as you can get: Don’t tell anyone, just slowly ease your way out of the religion until you are no longer attending, participating, wearing garments, etc. The best way to make this successful is to move away from home, so your family is not constantly around you and can see your efforts to work your way out of the church. Once you move, you can look up the local ward, in case someone in your family, like your mother, asks which ward you’re in, but you don’t have to make any efforts to attend. Make new friends who aren’t Mormon and slowly start to rebuild your life without Mormonism. When religion comes up over the phone or in other communication, downplay your involvement. Tell family that you haven’t been given a calling. Then, slowly, over time, talk less and less about it. When you go to visit family, you can still go to church with them. It will be hard, but you’re the more mature individual and you can suffer through it in the interest of maintaining family harmony. If and/or when they realize that you’re no longer participating in the religion and they ask why, don’t make a big deal out of it. Tell them that you’re busy. Tell them that you go occasionally, but feel like you have more spiritual experiences in nature, so you go camping or hiking or biking on Sundays instead. Don’t be confrontational, just show general disinterest. Tell them that you love them but that Mormonism just isn’t that important to you. The major benefit to this approach is that you have the best odds of maintaining family harmony. Things may get a little uncomfortable at times, but because you are avoiding confrontation, you should largely avoid any major issues. You’re not telling them that their religion is not true, only that you have different priorities. That is a bit easier for them to swallow then the full frontal assault on their beliefs and values. The major cost to this approach is that your family and friends won’t know your true feelings AND they are likely to keep pestering you to get you back in the religion. That leads to option #3.

Forcefully:

The third approach is somewhere in between the first two. For the most part, you can follow option #2 – slowly disengage over time. Don’t make a big deal out of it and just let things develop, all the while maintaining as close of relationships with your family as you can. But, when your family finally figures out that you are no longer participating in Mormonism, you don’t have to make excuses. Don’t try to be overly confrontational, but slowly let them know your true feelings. Tell them that you found some problems with the religion and they made you question the teachings, history, etc. After careful study, you decided it wasn’t right for you. If it works for them, that’s fine, but you’re just not interested. If they press you and try to address your concerns, warn them that the conversation may not go where they want it to, but then push back. Again, you know more than they do; this is, in my experience, almost always the case. It is very rare that those who leave the religion because they have studied it know less than their still Mormon family members. So, be forceful and defend your position. The benefit of this approach is that it emphasizes your prioritizing of family over religion and minimizes confrontation, but still can eventually make it clear to your family where you stand. The drawback is that there is likely to be confrontation at some point. But because you eased into it, it probably won’t be as severe as option #1.

It really is up to you and your specific situation which approach you take. I took option #1 because I didn’t know any better. I thought I was being honest and sincere. But the backlash from my family was tough. I have several good friends who took option #2 and it went much better for them. In fact, my mother told me that she would have preferred that I had simply never told her and just stopped attending. Some people have a lot of success with option #2. In fact, my brother-in-law took option #2 about 5 years after my wife and I left. He still gets occasional re-activation efforts from my mother-in-law, but he largely just ignores them and lives his life. It’s uncomfortable for him, but he can take it because he knows why his mother is doing it. The third approach would probably alleviate the re-activation efforts, but will make the relationship a bit more strained.

Option 4 – Don’t Leave; Be a Jack-Mormon

There is another option, but it’s a tough path, and one that I’m not inclined to believe is morally honest. I’ve found that more and more people in the Mormon Church are Mormons when it is convenient for them. Basically, they use the church rather than letting the church use them. I had a girlfriend in high school whose parents were this way. They never went to church; they drank coffee and alcohol on occasion; they swore; they didn’t wear garments; etc. But when one of their still active kids was going to get married, they started going back to church, started paying tithing, and lied to get a temple recommend. As soon as they got it, they quit with the Mormon act and went back to living their jack-Mormon lives. In other words, they pretended to be Mormons when it suited them but certainly didn’t follow the strict behavioral guidelines the religion demands. Morally, I could never do this. But some people make it work.

Repurposing Temples

Maybe others have thought about this before and I’m late to the game, or maybe mind is just weird, but I saw this press release from LDS Inc. about their new temple in Fort Lauderdale and a thought struck me.  Already in some areas, churches are being repurposed as more and more people are leaving religion and “demand” for religious services is declining.  I presume that will eventually result in LDS church buildings being closed for services and sold (hasn’t this already happened in Chile?).  The regular church buildings could probably be fairly easily repurposed into the headquarters for a corporation or nonprofit, though not necessarily all that cheaply given the internal remodeling that would have to be done on the chapel and “cultural hall.”

But what about Mormon temples?  If/When the LDS Church begins losing members and tithing revenue starts to dry up (hypothetically, of course), how long could they afford to maintain all of their temples?  And when they can no longer afford to maintain their temples, what are they going to do with them?  I have a hard time imagining how you could repurpose these easily:

Fort Lauderdale temple
Fort Lauderdale temple

 

Madrid Spain temple
Madrid Spain temple

 

Nashville temple
Nashville temple
Oakland temple
Oakland temple

Of course, I’m sure the leaders of the LDS Church are not factoring this possibility into their projections for the future of the Church.  For them, the Church is true and it will only continue to grow, forever.  Er, until the millennium, when, I guess, Jesus can just move into these.  But would Jesus really need more homes than Mitt Romney?  I mean, he’s a resurrected being; why does he even need a home?  He doesn’t have to eat or sleep, and that would also mean he doesn’t have to mictorate or defecate.  Does he just need a place to change his clothes?  Store his clothes?  And where do resurrected god’s shop for clothes?  And why would a god be worried about nakedness and privacy, since those are social constructs?  Or would he use these for, um, making more spiritual offspring?  Ahh – Celestial Nurseries!  It all makes sense now!  Sorry, I think I mentioned my mind is a bit weird sometimes…

Anyway, I really can’t envision what you could do with a Mormon temple.  The lack of windows means these wouldn’t work very well for palatial estates for the super wealthy.  They wouldn’t even work all that well as corporate headquarters without windows.  The landscaping would be a nightmare to keep up (except in NYC and Tokyo, I guess).

So, MSP readers, suggestions for what to do with Mormon temples when the time comes for the LDS Church to start selling them off?  And anyone want to guess when that will be?