An Embarrassing Revelation

Most people on their way out of the Mormon mainstream and into apostasy or nonconformist practise spend years delving into Mormon history, theology, scripture and doctrine. They waste countless breaths arguing and discussing and pleading with various people such as bishops, spouses, parents, children, friends, strangers on the Internet, and imaginary persons dwelling on Kolob in an effort to sort out the viable and non-viable bits of the religion.

In recent months, I have discovered something incredibly embarrassing. Among atheists, sceptics, and freethinkers, Mormonism is considered to be so transparently fraudulent that it is only considered useful as a punching bag when they need an example of exactly how self-deluded some people are.

It’s true. Where heavy hitters like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are willing to spend many words on the character of Yahweh, they mention Mormonism only as the most sad and unfunny of jokes. As Hitchens put it in God is Not Great:

“The actual story of the imposture is almost embarrassing to read, and almost embarrassingly easy to uncover.”

There’s quite a lot of fuss going on lately about tugging on Salt Lake’s coattails and begging for things that simply aren’t going to happen, such as the ordination of women, or things that are extremely unlikely, such as allowing LDS couples to have public wedding ceremonies along with temple weddings. (As it stands, the only places LDS, Inc. allow this practise are in countries like Britain, where they do not legally recognise secret ceremonies, especially if they involve funny hats, secret handshakes, and oaths to procreate.)

I understand how hard it is to let go of something when quite a lot of time and effort has gone into it, but I have come round to the position that people seeking to force Mormonism into the mold of a hip, modern, secular-values friendly, defanged diet church is a complete waste of time. This church could be reformed, but why would you bother? If you think changing swapping out Wild Cherry flavour for Berry Blast makes a difference, it doesn’t. You’re still drinking the bloody Kool-Aid.

Mormonism is to philosophy what homeopathy is to medicine. Any benefit it has works entirely on a placebo effect, but this marginal benefit comes with a monster price tag, takes up an unreasonable amount of a person’s time, and infuses the user with dangerous misinformation that will cripple a person’s ability to be truly whole and well. There isn’t anything you can get from Mormonism that you can’t get somewhere else for a much better price and with far fewer side effects.

I was recently confronted with the idea that it’s inevitable that each new wave of disaffected Mormons will have to go through their own process of disillusionment. I don’t think it has to be. We don’t let people sell poison and call it food. There are laws against that. And the poisons that we do allow to be sold, such as tobacco, alcohol, saturated fats, and refined sugars, come with warning labels. We have organic labels to indicate that a food is less likely to contain bad stuff, and fair trade labels to indicate that a product was more ethically produced.

Why don’t we have these sorts of warning labels on the things we put in our minds? Religion can never and should never be outlawed, but why is it that as a culture we have this abject fear of identifying true and false faith claims as such? Why do so many generations of people have to go through the same life-crippling process of losing faith when we could have helped them out years ago through some kind of culturally agreed on Bullshit Meter that lets the world know how viable their truth claims are? If we can come up with a bloody food pyramid we ought to be able to sort out which philosophies are mostly harmless and which ones aren’t. It wouldn’t be hard. Just pick concrete, testable truth claims and test them. Is the existence of the alleged American culture described in the Book of Mormon supported by a shred of scientific research? Are Native Americans long-lost Hebrews? Is the Book of Abraham an accurate translation of the Joseph Smith papyri?

I pity those still trapped within the psychological prison of belief, but I resent those who have escaped but then make patronising comments such as “well, some people just need to stay” or “if people want to try to fix the church we should be supportive.” I’m sorry, but I refuse to give my support to an activity that wastes precious years of a brief and beautiful life. I refuse to be so arrogant as to think that freedom is just dandy for us enlightened types, but some silly sods just aren’t bright enough to lose the crutch of religion. Those trying to change the church from within are most likely on their way out. It would be a far greater service to do whatever we can to hasten that process rather than enable their self-torture.

12 thoughts on “An Embarrassing Revelation

  1. This post is trying to accomplish quite a bit, but some of the things it points out can’t address other things it’s trying to point out.

    For example, objective truth or falsity on historical issues is a completely different issue than values judgments.

    Your second-to-last paragraph is where this comes together in a really obvious way, at least for me:

    Why don’t we have these sorts of warning labels on the things we put in our minds? Religion can never and should never be outlawed, but why is it that as a culture we have this abject fear of identifying true and false faith claims as such? Why do so many generations of people have to go through the same life-crippling process of losing faith when we could have helped them out years ago through some kind of culturally agreed on Bullshit Meter that lets the world know how viable their truth claims are? If we can come up with a bloody food pyramid we ought to be able to sort out which philosophies are mostly harmless and which ones aren’t. It wouldn’t be hard. Just pick concrete, testable truth claims and test them. Is the existence of the alleged American culture described in the Book of Mormon supported by a shred of scientific research? Are Native Americans long-lost Hebrews? Is the Book of Abraham an accurate translation of the Joseph Smith papyri?

    So, the issue is that Mormonism isn’t simply about “concrete, [easily] testable truth claims”. On the one hand, you do have claims about whether Joseph Smith papyri are an accurate translation…but you also have claims about whether the values espoused by Mormonism can improve some folks lives or not. The former are a lot more concrete than the latter.

    But even if we focus on the former, you’re still going to have the life-crippling process of losing faith over and over…because the issue is that each generation raised in the church isn’t raised with your Bullshit Meter, as it was. Every generation has to discover such on their own.

    • I don’t believe that in the name of liberal enlightenment we have to abandon all value judgment. Any system designed around a structure that precludes the possibility of equal opportunity for all members is a system of inferior value. The LDS enshrinement of white patriarchy is, to use an American phrase, sooooo last century. To go back to my comparison to homeopathy — just because it provides a little benefit to some happily deluded people does not provide substantial grounds for legitimizing and mainstreaming a deviant school of thought.

      Even if many people will still have to go through the process of disillusionment, we can greatly decrease that number through delegitimisation of beliefs incompatible with human rights. Not all churches deserve tax exempt status. Germany has refused to give Scientology tax-free status, meaning that the government won’t subsidise a cult. Potential converts may be aware of this when approached and will be less likely to join because of its lack of status as an organisation with public value. In Britain we refuse to recognise LDS temple marriages or give tax-free status to temple properties because we decided as a society that in order to count as a “church” or “charity” the doors must be open to the public.

      Not everyone can be saved by any one method, but taking a stand against harmful ideologies at least by refusing to finance them or grant them authority in public spaces can at least prevent making their efforts more successful.

      • I don’t believe that in the name of liberal enlightenment we have to abandon all value judgment.

        Right, to the contrary, it is only in the name of liberal enlightenment that you can promote these value judgments over others.

        Any system designed around a structure that precludes the possibility of equal opportunity for all members is a system of inferior value.

        Per the liberal enlightenment value system.

        The LDS enshrinement of white patriarchy is, to use an American phrase, sooooo last century. To go back to my comparison to homeopathy — just because it provides a little benefit to some happily deluded people does not provide substantial grounds for legitimizing and mainstreaming a deviant school of thought.

        And yet, white patriarchy is pretty well-enshrined — in America and elsewhere.

        I mean, I’ll lay things out a little differently — I live in the US’s bible belt — people don’t get elected here with campaigns that aren’t friendly to conservative/traditionalist religious values. (certainly mormonism wouldn’t be very well appreciated, but it’s for entirely different reasons than why the liberal enlightened folks don’t.)

        Maybe these sorts of things would work better in various European nations (given the examples you have for Germany, the UK…but also, say, things like France’s [but other countries'] policies against burqas, etc.,). America’s background doesn’t allow it to happen…

        Tolerance/diversity is a working compromise because there’s no guarantee that if we started picking and choosing which value systems to enshrine that the liberal/progressive enlightened value system would be the one to win.

  2. Well put Molly. I also shake my head at the “Wear pants to church” crowd, or letting women pray at conference movement, or this ordaining women thing, or even worse the tragedy of gay people I know who continue to deny themselves a complete life because of a preposterous hope that the church will one day embrace them, so they stay alone, celibate and despised. Their will never be a Mormon enlightenment or reformation. In a surprising (especially to me) defense of the church, these movements are asking the Mormons to no longer be Mormon, which is kinda nuts. It’s like joining the NFL as player, then announcing you are way more into baseball, and demanding they give up football. Not going to happen. To them I always say “just get the fuck out” and be done with it. The only way to prevent more wasted years is to stop wasting years. I am still furious about the 20 years or so I will never get back, that were surrendered on my behalf by two people of at least normal intelligence (my parents) who should have known better. But when I got free of their clutches I was free of their goofy church. To those thinking this massive institution, so involved as it is in billion dollar business interests and full-scale whitewashing of it’s past is going to stop these enterprises to meet them half-way because they have a sad…. please get real and give them no more of your finite life.

  3. When I was a Protestant, we used to look at religions like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witness as “crazier” than us because they had more bizarre beliefs than we did. The tacit assumption was that more doctrine meant the religion was crazier and less likely to be true. You could interpolate that if more doctrine meant more crazy, less doctrine meant less crazy, and the least crazy belief is none at all.

    I think this whole belief that “more doctrine means more crazy” actually revealed our own subconscious struggle to believe our own doctrine, the Old and New Testaments. It doesn’t surprise me that attempts to modernize Christianity have often tried to ignore or outright remove doctrine that makes them look ridiculous. And, no shocker that attempts to paint Jesus as a loving hippie in pajamas are easily undone by the shadow of the murderous, genocidal Yahweh.

  4. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Good Luck, Ladies Edition!!! » Main Street Plaza

  5. Why don’t we have these sorts of warning labels on the things we put in our minds?

    Who says we don’t? There are plenty of things labeled nonsense and bullshit.

    Religion can never and should never be outlawed, but why is it that as a culture we have this abject fear of identifying true and false faith claims as such?

    Speak for yourself. Maybe part of your inability to understand what happens with each generation is that you, Molly, had “this abject fear of identifying true and false faith claims as such” and project that onto everyone else, so you can’t see how the process works for more reasonable people. I never suffered from the “abject fear” that paralyzed you and I grew up in the Mormon corridor from Mormon pioneer stock. Yeah, losing faith was hard, but I wasn’t crippled by abject fear like you were.

    I’m sorry, but I refuse to give my support to an activity that wastes precious years of a brief and beautiful life.

    You’re conflating all sorts of things. You called a whole group of people developmentally slow and announced your contempt for them and their spiritual and political struggles. Refraining from doing that doesn’t equal support. Don’t support it if you don’t want to. But don’t condescend to others and say, “God, how BORING and PATHETIC you are that you haven’t become enlightened as quickly as I have!”

    You took your own sweet time to figure things out compared to many others. Does that mean you deserve to be dismissed by those who moved on from the church more easily and without a lot of the mess and ugliness you demonstrated? If so, I’ve got plenty to dish out to you. You were such a giant, embarrassing hot mess that plenty of people just couldn’t watch.

    • Sorry, Molly, for the following; please remove if necessary.

      Oh dear, moreapostate when you have finished your little snit you might want to go over to Ex-Christian.Net and read the testimonies of others who had similar difficulties leaving their faiths and, perhaps having a little empathy for them.

      Your foolish little rant identifies you as a troll who deserves feeding with the truth that you are a pitiful little know-nothing and a hateful whiner unable to publish a successful and popular blog.

    • @More Apostate Than You

      Ah, yes, Ad Hominem attacks. They hurt my feelings so much because I’ve never heard them before. What originality! What dazzling prose! By the Invisible Pink Unicorn, your one anonymous comment on my blog has made me reconsider my entire world view! If only I could have seen the light sooner. What a hot mess I am. Thank you for your kind words of wisdom.

      @playonwords

      Thanks for the compliment. Please feel free to quote and thank you for linking back for attribution.

  6. Now for something more temperate.

    Would you mind if I posted elements of your last 3 paragraphs on Democratic Underground’s Atheists and Agnostics group or possibly the Religion Group? What you are saying about warning labels should be spread more widely. I would, of course, link back here.

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