atheism – the bane of Mormonism

I’m not exactly sure what is going on, but apparently the LDS Church is increasingly worried about this whole atheism thing. Russell M. Nelson just gave a talk to young adults in Massachusetts in which he railed against atheism. This combines with a talk from the October 2009 conference (I didn’t listen to it, but caught mention of it in this Mormon Expression podcast) that decried atheism as well. While the entire text of his talk is missing, I get the distinct impression he is saying that everything about atheism is bad and it will lead to the downfall of the U.S.

So, here’s my guess why this is popping up these days: The LDS Church is losing even more people these days than it did in the early oughts (2000-2009), and people today are telling their bishops (or writing in their resignation letters) that the reason for their decision to leave is that they don’t believe in a god anymore, particularly the Mormon god (you know, Elohim, the embodied, hyper-sexual, uber-polygamist, misogynistic, genocidal maniac who supposedly listens to prayers, but never seems to do anything except cause natural disasters, probably because he’s too busy having sex with his billions of wives). What do you think? What’s with the recent spate of anti-atheist rants by Mormon GAs?

(On a side note, I’m clearly really far out of Mormonism at this point as I have a hard time even understanding why the LDS Newsroom would be proud of something like Nelson’s talk and post it on their blog. If someone I knew spoke this unintelligently about atheism, I’d do my very best to distance myself from him/her. It seems like damage control is more in order than advertising, though they are the ones who broke the news about Bruce Hafen’s gay bashing, and they seemed to think that was good news as well. Someone in the PR department needs to be fired…)


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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20 Responses

  1. Measure says:

    I actually find myself agreeing with Nelson on one point:

    >”If civil law were altered to recognize same-gender marriage, it would treat theistic people of faith as bigots — like racists. They would be penalized in the same way that society punishes other forms of bigotry.”

  2. Chino Blanco says:

    It’s co-belligerence week in Mormonia.

    I’ve got the DVD set from the past Amsterdam World Conference of Families, and I remember watching Paul Mero make his remarks and then introduce Sheri Dew, who made her remarks and then introduced Russell Nelson, who closed the session. After watching Nelson share the stage with a professional hater like Mero, I realized there are no degrees of separation between the General Authorities and the LDS anti-gay industry.

    Of course, in the case of atheists, the GAs don’t need proxies to fight their battles for them. Nobody gets called a bigot for hating atheists. Do they?

  3. Seth R. says:

    I don’t know…

    It couldn’t be because the atheists have gotten exponentially more obnoxious in the past few years.

    That couldn’t be it…

  4. Seth R. says:

    Incidentally, I’d say the decline in Mormon numbers has far more to do with LDS birthrates than anything Christopher Hichens did.

  5. profxm says:

    Seth, I agree that the defections are more an issue of demographics than the “Hitchens effect”, but I do think it’s interesting that the “Hitchens effect” is what gets mentioned by the GAs.

    Also, while the “obnoxious factor” is noteworthy, I have to think that it’s actually working, else why mention it? Reminds me of porn… 🙂

    Measure, I saw that and absolutely agree.

    Chino – it’s scary how much we think alike sometimes. 😉

  6. Andrea says:

    Pretty 99.9% of people in prison have some sort of religion.

    I don’t know any atheists that aren’t nice people. I know TONS of religious people that aren’t nice.

    Atheism isn’t a threat to religion and society. Religion is a threat to religion and society. The most compelling arguments against religion are made (inadvertently) by religious leaders.

  7. chanson says:

    I have to think that its actually working, else why mention it? Reminds me of porn

    So true! 😉

    The most compelling arguments against religion are made (inadvertently) by religious leaders.

    I think so too. I made this point in the Religious Right vs. Young People — that the marriage of religion with bitter, short-sighted politics has had a bigger effect on religious demographics than the “new atheists” have.

    It seems like damage control is more in order than advertising, though they are the ones who broke the news about Bruce Hafens gay bashing, and they seemed to think that was good news as well. Someone in the PR department needs to be fired…

    This sort of incompetence isn’t surprising once you’ve read the inside scoop. 😉

  8. Chino Blanco says:

    By the way, in the third excerpt, I think there’s a typo. It should probably be (theistic), not (atheistic) in parentheses.

  9. Seth R. says:

    Because, as we all know, General Authorities are actually robots that always rationally respond to only those things that present maximal threat.

    They aren’t actual people who feel like punching a guy just because he’s acting like a jackass.

  10. Chino Blanco says:

    You know, I think some Mormons might do well to read Cynthia L.’s #245 over at T&S:

    Anyone truly deeply concerned that religious perspectives are being received with increasing hostility in the public square would do well to make certain that he or she is not contributing to the track record of such perspectives being frequently wrong, harmful, hateful, etc.

    Little wonder there is growing skepticism of the value of our contributions. While the value of ones contributions and track recordbasically whether people like what you have to sayis no kind of argument about whether you have the right to say it, Im not sure were talking about rights to the public square anyhow. The concerns really seem to be more about the nature of our reception from others. All I can say is, we have to earn the respect in how we make use of our patch of the public square.

    Good heavens, that sounds like a grown-up Mormon talking for a change, someone willing to take on responsibility for her and her community’s actions.

    Am I wrong that Mormons seem to want to insist BOTH on getting everything wrong ( hello Civil Rights, hello ERA, hello Prop 8 ) AND excusing their own boorish or brutish responses to others when understandable outrage forms in the aftermath?

    Gah. Sorry. That T&S thread put me on edge. Too many incoherent and rude Mormon comments for one day.

  11. chanson says:

    Good comment by Cynthia L. — I hope people will listen.

    The trouble is that the leaders want to convince people that anything done in the name of (their) religion is — by definition — moral and righteous. They want people outside of Mormonism to say “Ah, well if you were motivated by your religion, then your action must be good and right.” And they’re incensed when people don’t see it that way.

    But when you do rotten, unethical things and point to your religion as the motivation, then that reflects badly on your religion. Period.

    Criticism of religiously-motivated actions is not a threat to your religious freedom, not matter how badly you’d like to cast it that way.

  12. Jon says:

    I too have noticed this trend and wrote about it at the SHAFT blog a few months ago:

    A Mormon friend of mine had an interesting insight into why the church might be targeting atheists. It’s worth a read:

    “I think secular opposition is precisely what the Mormon church needs right now. Its moving into a world tradition (according to Jan Shipps, its already there) and simply wont be viewed as credible without it (to the ten of you who just about took a dump in your pants, follow me for a second). Secular opposition may, in fact, be the very bonding agent to other faiths Mormonism seems to be so earnestly seeking. I suppose I dont need to explain the unifying power of a common enemy to a blog full of atheists, but Im personally sold on its extraordinary power. Prop. 8 seems to validate this view. Varied religious viewpoints working together and fighting side by side. The chasm that exists between secularists and religionists on social issues is going to explode in the next ten years, and the utility of having a little brother with deep pockets wont be lost on my evangelical friends.”


  13. profxm says:

    Hi Jon,

    Two points. First, as much as I like Jan Shipps (I know her personally and she’s quite nice), I think she’s wrong on Mormonism becoming a “world tradition.” Mormonism is barely growing these days and, even though it is in most countries, it’s influence and historical contributions don’t measure up to those of the other world religions (Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity = i.e., Catholicism and Protestantism, and Islam). So, is Mormonism a “world tradition” at this point? Not only does it have fewer people who self-identify as Mormon than does Judaism, the smallest of the world traditions, it has had virtually no influence on history outside of the U.S. Ergo, in my opinion, Mormonism has a long, long way to go before it can be called a “world tradition” in the same group with Judaism or Buddhism.

    Second point, does Mormonism need secularism? Well, Mormonism already has enemies in common with evangelicals: gays, women (i.e., women’s rights), drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, Hollywood, etc. Most of these are already attributed to secular culture. So, the only thing that may have changed is that Mormonism is now calling it “secular” or “atheistic.” But in terms of having a unified enemy with evangelicalism, that’s already been the case for a long time. The bigger point, however, is whether this will get evangelicals to drop their derision of Mormonism and actually team up instead of simply using Mormonism when it’s convenient. My guess: No. Evangelicals are just as immoral in their blind pursuit of truth as are Mormons. The goal isn’t to destroy the secular (though, if they were smart, they might realize that it is a goal they have in common). The goal is to destroy all that is not “my specific brand” of evangelical Christianity. And that is ridiculous, because there is a lot of contention among evangelicals as to what is the correct interpretation of Christianity.

    I hate do draw on someone like Christian Smith (the Notre Dame sociologist, not the blogger), but I think his point on this is well-taken. This is a matter of identity demarcation, not pursuit of truth. Evangelical Christianity needs to distinguish itself from, well, everyone else. So, they stake out positions that make them different precisely so they will be DIFFERENT. Et voila, they feel different. In practice, are they actually different? Not really. But they feel like they are different, and that gives people a social identity. People like having a social identity that is a little unique, but not too unique.

    Returning to my point – evangelical Christians aren’t going to forgive Mormonism its heresies any time soon. Doing so would legitimize Mormonism, meaning people wouldn’t have to be “my specific brand” of evangelical Christian. And that is unacceptable to evangelicals.

  14. Ah Q says:

    It looks like the Newsroom blog post has been taken down. Wonder why.

  15. profxm says:

    Did we do that?

    If so… 🙂

    Um, I can’t find a copy in Google’s cache. Did anyone manage to copy the page? We should repost it here if anyone can find it.

  16. First, as much as I like Jan Shipps (I know her personally and shes quite nice), I think shes wrong on Mormonism becoming a world tradition.

    Actually, Shipps is NOT of the viewpoint that Mormonism is a world tradition. Her stance that Mormonism is a “new religious tradition” has been confused with Rodney Stark’s 1985 claim. In this Sunstone presentation, Shipps outlines the statistical exaggerations of Stark. Really, the idea that Mormonism is a world tradition came out of the 1980s as the result of growth sparked when Church leaders decided to get international a few decades before that. Church membership overseas boomed. But since then, maintenance of this internationalism has been somewhat troubling for the Church.

  17. To answer the question of the post: “Why GAs talking about atheism?” … In this case, the atheism is clearly linked to same-sex marriage.

    My theory is that GAs come from a generation when sex was about reproduction, and younger Mormons come from a generation when sex is also about intimacy and desire. Hence, younger folk are more “in tune” with the why’s of same-sex marriage in America today, whereas the older GAs think it’s all about hedonism and self-indulgence. So, when the GAs say, “Atheism!” the younger folk realize it’s more complicated than that.

  18. Kevin says:

    The delivery of an atheist argument might be obnoxious, but that doesn’t mean the argument in itself doesn’t hold water.

  19. profxm says:

    Kevin, your comment is a bit vague. Are you saying that “atheism arguments hold water” or that “Nelson’s argument against atheists holds water”? I’d like clarification before I respond. If it’s the first, great, we agree. If it’s the second, well, we don’t.

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