Sunday in Outer Blogness: Torture Edition!

This week Mormons are in the news again, and not for something terribly flattering. A certain report about the US Government (particularly the CIA) torturing people hit the press, and two of the masterminds behind the torture are faithful Mormons. Noredseariver summed up the problem: Human Rights Lawyer = Excommunicated; Architect of Brutal Torture Program = Bishop.”

John C. of By Common Consent unequivocally condemned the moral reasoning behind torture, and invited his fellow members to consider the problem very seriously:

Certainly Bybee was under tremendous pressure (and was possibly influenced by deceptive information) when he signed the memos. Certainly Jessen was hoping to help his country. Neither of these factors mitigate what they did, while they may contribute to our understanding of how they acted. The truth is they were asked by their superiors to find a way around the most basic human rights and they did.


If we create men who understand that torture is wrong in the abstract, but when faced with the pressure of keeping a job, the greed of potential government largesse, the opportunity to justify revenge and torture in the name of national security, they fold and authorize it, we are not doing a good job at creating good men. This should not be a position up for debate.

I think John C.’s post itself demonstrates that some faithful Mormons don’t hesitate to show moral courage and leadership. By contrast, check out Meg Stout’s post on M* where she suggests that maybe Mormons should introspect on the torture issue before somehow blaming this whole fiasco on the critics (“let us worry not so much about the beams in the eyes of others, but whatever might be in our own eye”), but stops short of explicitly condemning torture, and apparently can’t even discuss a criticism of Mormons without reminding us of what Joseph Smith suffered. And don’t forget Thomas Monson’s advice not to lose faith in the cos!

If you exmos and other types of Mos want to make amends for what your tribe has done, you can start here.

Coincidentally, I just got done writing a book review of a novel telling the tale of the young men who endured electric shock therapy at BYU for being gay. In other torture news, Glen Beck claimed that making fun of Jesus on Family Guy is worse than crucifying him. Perhaps related: the police brutality problem isn’t over.

I think part of the problem is taking this book as a moral guide.

Setting torture aside, let’s look at some fun topics people covered in the past two weeks! Like Mormon-themed porn!

What if that gender issues survey were correlated? Nearing Kolob has been providing a series of highlights and commentary from LDS missionary blogs that is not to be missed!

Serious LDS topics include Andrew S’s meditation on how Mormonism doesn’t offer the theological and cultural tools to have a constructive discussion about race. Galdralag wrote a fascinating comparison of Muslim vs. Mormon polygamy. Tom Doggett gave some additional perspective on the The First Council of Nicea (for those of us who only know the LDS version of the story). Alan Rock Waterman uncovered more problems with the justification for modern tithing to the CoJCoL-dS — and he might just agree with Utah billionaire Jon Hunstman, Sr on the topic. And David Knowlton posted some interesting musings on ex-Mormons and the connection with Mormonism:

This un-named subject of Marshall’s research exemplified how people find transcendence (the old stuff of religion) in the world around them, including in science and rationality. They find mystery and awe even in a God-less world.

For me this work raises other questions especially at this time when so many people seem troubled by the facts of Mormonism’s past and the politics of its present as to whether that ex- of ex-Mormon means you can no longer define them as part of the experience of the Mormons as a people.

In life stuff, Exmormon Tales is deciding whether to resign. Uomo Nuovo is traveling and posting photos. Oh, and that whole thing about divorce being on the rise is just a myth.

Awards season is upon us! T&S has already started collecting nominations for Mormon of the Year, and the CoJCoL-dS has already chosen their winner!

I had planned to open our award nominations today, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans… My apologies for last week — we had a major tech crisis at work (but, thanks to our planning and efforts, our clients apparently didn’t even notice, yay!). I had thought I’d do a week-and-a-half SiOB (as I do sometimes), but with all the stress, it was just one thing too many. I’d rather do SiOB on a pleasant, relaxed day like today.

It’s been a fun weekend here in Switzerland. We put up our Christmas tree yesterday, we’ve had friends visiting, and I still found time to make some good progress on the drawings for my comic book. I hope things are going well for you, too!


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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27 Responses

  1. Holly says:

    Well. Thanks for the link to that absolutely shameful piece by Meg Stout.

    If we Mormons don’t talk about the evil of torture on a constant basis, it may because we have ourselves been historically subjected to torture, assuming that’s what one would consider rape and shootings, burnings and lootings. For Mormons to get overly upset about torture might just ignite anger about those wrongs that have been done to us.

    That’s certainly one way to justify the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

  2. chanson says:

    @1 It’s quite a piece of work, isn’t it? She wrote a piece on Mormon participation in torture, and her take on it is essentially, “Oh yeah, well we Mormons have had bad things done to us, too!”

    It makes John C’s piece all the more impressive (including the fact he even went so far as to point out that the Mormon fondness for unquestioning obedience is part of the problem). It’s easy for someone like me to criticize the CoJCoL-dS, but it’s not easy for the members.

    There was a recent piece by RJH that made be laugh because — although it was a very mild suggestion that it would be good if the CoJCoL-dS were open about its finances — he had to open with this disclaimer (to preemptively ensure no one would mistakenly think he’s criticizing the church):

    1. There is absolutely no evidence that the Mormon Church’s reluctance to disclose details about its finances are the result of any corruption. All evidence points to an honest stewardship.
    2. It is absolutely fine for a religious institution to invest money to make money.

  3. Holly says:

    @2: It is definitely a piece of work, especially since no one is asking Mormons to “talk about the evil of torture on a constant basis.” But acknowledging it once in a while might be a good thing.

    And Jesus talked about the evils of violence and abuse and retribution pretty regularly, even though, according to Christians, he knew he was going to be subject to them before long. He managed to acknowledge what was wrong with them without letting it “ignite anger about those wrongs that have been done to [him].”

    When push comes to shove, people like Meg Stout don’t even try to be Christian.

    It’s shocking that she can’t see how this destroys what little credibility she claims to have.

  4. Parker says:

    M.S. at M* is my favorite example of (1) the effort required to keep the story intact in the face of challenging data; and (2) but finding that same practice/behavior intolerable in her engineering profession. It is interesting to me how the Church has so many highly educated people who are so good at questioning and challenging data in their profession, but refuse to do the same with their cherished belief system.

  5. chanson says:

    @4 That’s interesting. I hadn’t noticed her stuff on M* before, so I didn’t know she’s an engineer. I’ll keep that in mind reading her posts in the future.

  6. Parker says:

    She has a series of posts where she has rewritten the Nauvoo polygamy story (and calls it history). Historians have misinterpreted what actually took place, but with lots of perhaps, and maybe’s, and it is likely, you can have an entirely different story, which includes Joseph and Emma actually working together to control the bad elements of polygamy, and protect those women being victimized, which included Eliza Snow being seduced (not by Joseph).

  7. Holly says:

    @6: Well, that sounds impressive.

    Can you provide a few links? I would definitely like to check that out.

  8. chanson says:

    @6 & @7 I agree, I’d like to see that! I’m surprised I missed it earlier.

  9. Suzanne Neilsen says:

    Thank’s for the link.
    I found this tidbit interesting, “The inconclusive results obtained in Josephine’s case result from known common ancestry between Joseph Smith and Josephine’s descendants”
    Oh, so there is common ancestry. Josephine could be Joesph’s daughter then?
    Here how I understand the DNA results. If potential children are excluded we’d hear it trumpeted. But if they’re not, the results don’t mean a darn thing. (Is this kinda like how some folks deny the Heming-Jefferson connection? But I not a geneticist. While this stuff is cool, I don’t understand it.)
    Does anyone know if the raw data has been released so others can analyze it?

  10. Holly says:

    Yes, Parker, thanks for the link. I see what you are saying @4. The effort she expends to keep the story intact is truly impressive.

    I also have to comment on this statement:

    Though God seemed to opine that I should remain an active Mormon

    God seemed to opine?

    Do omniscient beings who demand obedience generally “opine”?

  11. Parker says:

    Only if your black and white world is constructed of the same material as the emperor’s new clothes.

  12. chanson says:

    Parker, that is really wild stuff. My favorite part is in this essay where she compares Joseph Smith to another religious leader around the same time period who was also commanded by God to sleep with his followers:

    But Cochran’s free love spiritual wifery turned women into sluts while Smith’s concept of marriage turned women into queens (albeit potentially sharing their “king”).

  13. Holly says:

    @13: Wow, Chanson–you did a lot of delving into Meg Stout’s stuff. I clicked on the link you provided to see how “Cochran’s free love spiritual wifery turned women into sluts while Smith’s concept of marriage turned women into queen”–but of course she can’t explain that and doesn’t even bother to try.

    I was struck by this:

    Numerous early members of the Church were either former Cochranites or neighbors of Cochranite settlements in Saco, Maine, and Grove, New York. Neighbors hardened against the excesses of Cochran and his followers included Oliver Cowdery’s brother Warren (LeRoy, NY) and Austin Cowles (Bolivar, NY). Understanding that key Church leaders were intensely opposed to Cochran’s heretical marriage practices casts a new light on the Kirtland apostasies, the persecutions in Missouri (where Danites advocated death for dissenters, like Cowdery), and the defection of those who wrote the Expositor in Nauvoo.

    It certainly does cast a new light. It makes defectors and apostates even more sympathetic, because they’ve already dealt with religious leaders who turn out to be not just con artists but sexual predators–they’ve been betrayed before, and they know where things are headed. And it makes Joseph even more reprehensible, because he’s following someone else’s play book, but trying to come up with ways to avoid the calumny and consequences suffered by those he’s emulating.

    Good grief, he just gets more and more vile.

  14. Parker says:

    Then there is the part about Eliza Snow, who is carrying not Joseph’s child but William Bennett’s. And Emma didn’t push Eliza down the stairs, she tripped. Joseph and Emma worked so hard to protect Eliza’s vulnerable reputation, even to the point of allowing people to mistakenly think that Joseph was the father of Eliza unborn child.

  15. chanson says:

    @14 So true!

    @15 I haven’t gotten that far yet, but I am tempted to continue…

  16. chanson says:

    OK, I went to the next one Of Wives and Handmaids. Wow!! We have left the realm of historical fiction and entered the genre of full-on fantasy novel.

    It’s Christmas Eve, so I should not be sneaking off to the Internet — especially not for tawdry stuff like this — but… We finished Christmas dinner and now the kids are watching a Garfield movie. So maybe a short break is justified. 😉

  17. Parker says:

    We will continue the discussion later. In the meantime I’m sending holiday sentiments your way.

  18. chanson says:

    Happy Holidays to you too!! 😀

  19. Holly says:

    Oh god. Oh lordy. That “Wives and Handmaids” post is so appalling.

    The crucible that gave birth to modern Mormon marriage practices, however, is the mis-understood, never-talked about *thing* that causes so many to question the simple faith they had as children, converts, or young missionaries

    No duh, Meg. That’s how growing up often works.

    That there were enough women that she could come up with seven different categories is shocking. How does she think this makes anything better?

  20. chanson says:

    That there were enough women that she could come up with seven different categories is shocking. How does she think this makes anything better?

    lol, I didn’t even think of that. The category that made me laugh was this one:

    Detectives. Joseph taught these women about “Celestial Marriage” and asked them to enter into covenant with him in connection with the search for the men teaching “Spiritual Wifery.” As Emma was also one of these detectives in her role as Relief Society President, it is possible or even likely that she knew about these “wives.”

    So that’s why he married them himself! Of course! It all makes sense now.

  21. Parker says:

    It even helps us understand why Emma later maintained that Joseph had never taught or practiced polygamy. Even to the last she had to protect the honor of those women seduced by William Bennett.

    M. S. points out that Bennett was quite successful with his “spiritual wifery” campaign. But she fails to address how it came to be that there were so many women who apparently bought into “if no one knows, it isn’t a sin.” On the surface, at least, it doesn’t seem like a particularly compelling spiritual argument. Yet according to Meg quite a few women experienced a burning bosom, which, we know, verifies the truth of all things, and they desired to be a spiritual wife.

  22. Holly says:

    @22: yeah! It’s almost like they were groomed for it by someone they really respected–or some of them might even have been interested in a variety of sex partners, all on their own.

  23. Parker says:

    Another fresh entry about Nauvoo polygamy from M. S. What puzzles me is the number of people who need to argue that Joseph didn’t have sex with his plural wives, but have no problem with B. Y. and H. K. who subsequently married these women and had children by them.

  24. chanson says:

    @24 I’ve wondered about that as well…

    Also, I must thank M.S. for inspiring me to re-read No Man Knows My History for the first time since I left the church 20 years ago. A fascinating book — I just finished reading it last night (coincidentally just in time for this year’s Brodie Awards!).

    I was wondering what her justification was for blaming everything on Bennett. Turns out, it’s rather straight-forward human organizational behavior: The person who leaves an organization on the worst terms gets to be scapegoated for all of the organization’s problems in perpetuity.

    Problems with the “It’s all Bennett’s fault” theory: JS’s polygamy didn’t start with his arrival, nor did it end with his departure, far from it.

  25. Holly says:


    What puzzles me is the number of people who need to argue that Joseph didn’t have sex with his plural wives, but have no problem with B. Y. and H. K. who subsequently married these women and had children by them.

    I think that has to do with the fact that Joseph is who thought it up, whereas BY and HK and so forth were “just being obedient” to the prophet’s dictates.

    If Joseph had sex with those women, then he’s open to the charge that he made everything up in order to seduce or coerce them.

    But if he didn’t have sex with any of them, then his motives were as pure as his virtue.

    BY and HK are, to people like MS, somehow free from any charges of excessive lust or plain old shitty behavior because they simply accepted the system in place instead of trying to create a way for them to have sex with as many women as they wanted.

    Which baffles me as well, even as I can think up reasons why. I always feel revulsion whenever I think of this statement from Heber Kimball: “i think no more of taking another wife than i do of buying a cow.”

    I’m sure he didn’t. And that pretty much sums up what’s wrong with polygamy and what’s wrong with him.

  26. chanson says:

    BY and HK are, to people like MS, somehow free from any charges of excessive lust or plain old shitty behavior because they simply accepted the system in place instead of trying to create a way for them to have sex with as many women as they wanted.

    That and the fact that those guys were open about it, and more-or-less supported their wives and children. JS was lying and sneaking around the whole time, visiting married women when their husbands weren’t home and young girls at their parents’ houses — often without his legal wife’s knowledge. The other guys’ polygamy is more palatable because it looked like marriage, whereas JS’s looked like simple cheating.

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