The Second Article of Faith

“We believe that men1 will be punished2 for their own sins3, and not for Adam’s4 transgression5.”

1. By “men” we mean of course “white people with penises.”

2. By “punished” we mean granted access to one of three levels of heaven. Even if you’re Hitler you still get to have very pleasant daily brunches with Gandhi, Stalin, and Mother Theresa in the Telestial Kingdom. Pretty brilliant deal, eh? Mormonism seems to be taking the honey approach over the vinegar when it comes to encouraging obedience, as threats of damnation seem to be so eighteenth century.

3. Once again we want to point you to the definition of “men.” Because if you’re female, dark-skinned African, or Native American you will absolutely be punished for the sins of your predecessors Eve, Cain, and Laman.

4. Men aren’t punished for Adam’s role in the fall. Women are absolutely punished for Eve’s role, although there are dozens upon dozens of mealy-mouthed platitudes attempting to quash the cognitive dissonance felt by Mormon women on this topic. Methods of coping with the knowledge of one’s inferiority conflicting with being kept on a confining pedestal include baking casseroles, wearing excessive make-up, assembling a horrifyingly large collection of doilies and silk roses with which to decorate church classroom tables, and transferring neuroses onto one’s children.

5. Mormons don’t believe in Original Sin. Lack of baptism doesn’t consign one to Hell so much as deprive one of access to the VIP room in the heavenly country club. This would almost be admirable if the rest of Mormon doctrine weren’t so utterly barmy.

The First Article of Faith

This is the first in a twelve part series analysing the Articles of Faith. I haven’t read any of them for a while, although I used to know them all by heart and could rattle them off on command just like a good little drone. I want to see how much value they have as ethical guides, or if they are mainly explanatory in nature. I’d also like to tease out the language and try to explain exactly what Mormons mean by these articles, as some of them could easily be seen as more ecumenical than they actually are.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Article One: “We believe1 in God2 the Eternal3 Father, and in his son4, Jesus5 Christ, and in the Holy Ghost6.”

1. It’s safe to assume that this view of deity, referred to by the LDS as “The Godhead”, means a general Protestantish view of the Christian god that Americans brought with them from northern and western Europe. Under no circumstances should this be mistaken for an esoteric Catholic-style Trinitarian belief, which Mormons will scoff at as utter nonsense. Three gods in one? They think not. Three Nephites, however . . .

2. Elohim, former human and current denizen of a planet near the star Kolob, where he resides with his wives who give birth to souls that will populate the worlds he creates. Has a body of flesh but instead of blood Mormons believe he is “quickened by spirit” which is how a body stays immortal after resurrection. Most Mormons believe there is no doctrinal conflict between their concept of a flesh-and-bone, married, sexually active and physically procreative deity and the historic conception of God that mainstream Christians evolved out of Judaism, but the Christians usually disagree.

3. The God of Mormonism is only Eternal in the sense of going forward, but not eternal in the sense of always having been God. If possessing a physical body is problematic for Mormonism’s claims that they worship the same deity as Christians, the non-eternal nature of the Mormon god is a complete deal breaker. The conventional Christian view of their god is that of a spirit which was never created and always has been. Elohim isn’t eternal in the past because at one point he was just a human on a world created by the god that he worshipped. He only became eternal in the sense of immortal after successfully completing a life as a Mormon and becoming one of many gods that exist.

Mormonism is often describes as being uniquely American in character, and I believe the multi-level marketing aspect of its doctrine is what makes this view accurate. Mormonism is a spiritual pyramid scheme. Adherents promise to follow the exclusive plan (available to you at the low low cost of ten percent of your income and all of your spare time). The American Dream is realised in Mormonism after an initiate to the Temple ceremony manages to make it through some appallingly dull amateur theatre to end up in the Celestial Room. While each temple has some unique features, the best way to describe a Celestial Room is to compare it to the lobby of a three-star hotel with a white and off-white colour scheme, or perhaps a more spacious version of the sort of sitting room that your grandmother will not allow anybody to use because the furniture will get dirty. All this can be yours, Mormons! Elohim achieved godhood and so can you!

4. That’s literal son in both the spiritual sense and physical sense. According to Brigham Young, God had sex with one of his heavenly wives to birth Jesus’ soul. God then had sex with Mary to produce a body for Jesus. A lot of Mormons balk at this, but what do you think the general authorities mean when they say that Jesus is the literal offspring of God and that the rest of us are too?. This presents the doctrinal necessity of polygamy. With billions of souls needed for worlds without end, one man would need quite the harem to generate the needed population.

Correlation ensures that only the most current manual is used, and all old teachings go down the memory hole, even teachings that are still necessary for the doctrine to work. When asked how souls are created, some advanced-level Mormons may be able to fish out a quote about “organising intelligences”.The reality is that past and present doctrine makes it extremely clear that God has a body, that he has multiple wives, and that they used their bodies to physically procreate spirits. What do you think they mean by saying souls are “begotten and born?” Orson Pratt certainly explained that souls are conceived and birthed in the same manner that physical bodies are. This provides a more or less logical basis for the doctrines of God’s physical body as well as polygamy being essential for the achievement of godhood. However, because this idea is odd or even distasteful, it has not been taught for some time. Mormons retain the idea that God has a body and that Mormons who reach the Celestial Kingdom will have bodies, and that polygamy factors in somehow, but most remain ignorant as to the explanations for why these doctrines are necessary.

And a question for the naysayers: if none of these things are part of Mormon doctrine, then what is an eternal body for? Why do Mormons spend so much time focusing on the physicality of God and the literal nature of the flesh-and-spirit resurrection if those bodies are not needed for sex and reproduction?

5. Jehovah, who created the world under Elohim’s instructions and became its Saviour.

6. A disembodied male personage whose only function is to give warm fuzzy feelings to Mormons behaving well and to run away like a squealing cartoon piglet from anyone who is naughty.

Justifying Polygamy Part 2: Smith’s Doctrine

This is the second of three planned posts regarding Mormon polygamy, the misconceptions Mormons have about the reasons for it, the actual reasons for it, and the consequences of doctrine and practise. You can read Part One here.

Mormon Polygamy, referred to as Plural Marriage or The Principle by those in the know, is one of the least understood yet most central doctrines of Mormonism. I previously discussed common misconceptions that modern Mormons often have regarding plural marriage, which include nonsense such as a surplus of women that needed looking after (census records do not indicate a surplus), increasing the number of offspring (polygamy doesn’t increase the overall number of children, just the proportion of children fathered by polygamous males), and an effort to revive an Old Testament society (in which raping teenagers is fine, but they kept right on eating bacon). Since the mythconceptions are bollocks, I’m now moving on to the actual doctrinal reasons that Mormons who practiced in the past and at the present give for The Principle.

This post will focus on the reasons developed by Joseph Smith for the practise of polygamy, which I describe as a theory of breeding better blood into fallen races and ensuring the more rapid dissemination of the “good blood” of righteous men such as himself.

The eugenics that would plague the Western world in the 20th century focused on eradicating undesirables who had the audacity to be born to the wrong tribe or with a less-than-perfect body or mind. Joseph Smith was by no means exempt from the reprehensible ideas about women and minorities that were common in his day, but at the least we can say that he felt everyone could be redeemed. He may have been influenced by the ideas of Lamarck1, who taught that heredity was a result of mixing. Under the common knowledge of Smith’s day, bad blood could be diluted and eventually bred out through liberal doses of good blood.

This was back before anybody knew what DNA was, and it was thought that blood was the conveyer of genetic information. We still use expressions like “it’s in the blood” to describe hereditary traits that are actually conveyed via DNA, which can preserve certain traits intact no matter how many generations pass. So when Smith wrote his very earliest possible revelation on polygamy in 1831, the idea was likely that by appropriating the wives of the less righteous, upstanding saints like Smith and his cohorts could breed out the bad blood:

[I]t is [Jesus Christ's] will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites [i.e., Native Americans], that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.3

Once again, keep in mind that this was before Mendelian genetics, before Darwin, and before the discovery of DNA. Humanity had figured out that too much interbreeding by close kin was a bad thing, but the idea of purifying blood lines through selecting superior males to act as sires was commonly practised with livestock. The burgeoning population of Europe and problems associated with increasing urbanity and industry spawned thinkers such as Malthus and satirists like Swift to experiment with unorthodox ideas about improving the human race. If the goal is to improve humanity as rapidly as possible, there is a logic to Smith’s idea of appropriating virtuous females, shutting out unwanted bad-blooded males, and increasing the rapidity with which good blood could be distributed to the next generation.

There are obviously numerous problems with this ideology, but they only come to light when we have the benefit of modern understandings of evolution, psychology, and genetics. Joseph Smith did not have any of the information we now take for granted. We cannot fault him for theorizing about using breeding to reshape humanity to his liking. We can fault him for the utter disregard for ethics that he displayed in actually experimenting on human subjects.

Something of this idea was echoed years later, when Brigham Young openly advocated the idea of a woman ditching her current husband in favour of a man with a better spiritual pedigree. This too was preached at General Conference, giving it the full force of doctrine:

“If the woman preferred a man higher in authority and he is willing to take her and her husband gives her up. There is no bill of divorce required, in [this] case it is right in the sight of God.”4

This idea is positively Darwinian, encouraging females to mate with the most advantageous male, presumably passing on the benefits of a higher pedigree to her offspring.

Lamarckian breeding philosphy has carried down in less expected ways as well. At the October 1960 General Conference future prophet Spencer W. Kimball cheerfully reported on missionaries who were donating their blood to Native Americans in the hopes of assisting them in being transformed from dark and loathsome to white and delightsome:

“There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.”5

DNA had only been discovered seven years before this talk was given, but I am not certain that ignorance of science can it does anything to diminish the astonishingly ugly racism that runs through the text.

It’s likely Smith had been dabbling in polygamy 1831, as reported in several “hypothetical” conversations on the subject, and in 1832 the Mormons began converting the followers of the Christian polygamous sect led by free love advocate Jacob Cochran. It wasn’t until 1843 that Smith produced a revelation that is still regarded as doctrine by practising Mormons:

And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. . . . And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.6

The fire and brimstone tone of the revelation makes it very unlikely that this was a brand new issue for Joseph Smith. I sincerely doubt that “God” would have felt the need to threaten Emma Smith with so much damnation had she not been grumbling about the very young girls and married women her husband was shagging.

There did always seem to be a spiritual component to Smith’s theory of polygamy. His modus operandi for persuading young women to become his concubines involved approaching them through compliant relatives or sending troublesome relatives away on missions before bringing the girls under his roof as his wards or employees. The girls would then be told that if they submitted to his wishes, they would attain high glory for themselves and all their family in heaven, and that if they did not they would suffer certain damnation. I firmly define this sort of coercion as rape, but for the sake of argument, if polygamy truly was “God’s will” then it would have been the case. Smith consistently seemed to view families rather than individuals as the basic spiritual unit. If a teenaged girl became his wife, she would have access to the spiritual country club in the sky, and through her her family would gain access as well.

This idea was further elaborated by Brigham Young, who preserved the idea of polygamy being a vehicle to more rapidly distributing superior blood and the accompanying spiritual superiority that comes of being sired by a high-ranking Mormon. But in the next generation Smith’s Lamarckian ideas of improving blood was combined with a sort of spiritual pedigree that created a justification for polygamy in the next life as well as this one.

1. Wikipedia: Lamarckism
2. Wikipedia: Origin of Mormon Polygamy
3. Arrington, Leonard J. (1992), The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, University of Illinois Press, ISBN 978-0-252-06236-0. pp. 195
4. Brigham Young, from Conference Reports, 8 Oct. 1861.
5 Kimball, Spencer W. “The Day of the Lamanites.” Conference Report October 1960, pp. 32-37.
6 Doctrine and Covenants, Chapter 132

How to Discredit an Apostate

A while ago I put out a post with an infographic regarding the Plan of Salvation. The overwhelming majority of the responses were positive, because most people aren’t stupid and are capable of recognising satire when they see it. But those who choose orthodoxy are obligated to pay for it by surrendering their sense of humour.

I was pleased to learn some unexpected things from this post. First was the satisfaction of seeing people enjoy themselves when they had a good laugh. Second was the value of constructive comments and requests for clarification. I’ve finally got some time to revisit the infographic, and will be delighted to include the many good suggestions for improvement that I received. I’ll also thoroughly annotate the chart to show that I do, in fact, know what the hell I am talking about when it comes to deep Mormon doctrine.

That post also caused me, regrettably, to have to ban a commenter for only the second time. The first time I had to bid adieu to a user was when I banned SethR, a pro-Mormon grouch who specialises in alternating between concern trolling and invalidating legitimate objections to the abusive aspects of Mormonism. I appreciate robust debate, but threadjacking is tiresome and I have to draw the line somewhere. This time I had to show the digital door to a bloke who called himself Edgrr, for no other reason than he spewed nonsensical streams of comment vomit all over perfectly good discussions. His comments were not so much offensive as a simple waste of space. I am still not certain what his deal was. The theory that is least confusing to me is that he is a pro-Mormon troll seeking to discredit a site he finds threatening by trying to make it look as if the readers here are psychotic babbling fools. It makes more sense than Edgrr being a real person with that much sincere contempt for the Queen’s English.

But the biggest thing I gained from the comments was exactly how a believer chooses to defend their faith, and the sheer number of logical fallacies that entails.

Response #1: You’re a Bigot

“Tyrone” accused me of crafting “stunning piece of bigotry, half-truth, and misrepresentations.” And that was it. No examples, no legitimate discussion, just the Internet equivalent of a schoolchild responding “NUH-UHH” to something he dislikes. At least he said it was stunning . . .

Response #2: You’re an Idiot

This is the smugger, more self-righteous version of Response #1, utilized by people who are clever enough not to sound like babies, but not clever enough to realise that adopting the tone of an uptight schoolteacher makes them sound like twats. For example see “Spens” who said “Any of you that take this for any sort of educational value are honestly rather pathetic.” He then criticised my grammar with incorrectly spelt words, affirming my point about people like this being neither stupid nor clever.

Response #3: You’re Wrong

Another variation on Response #1, when “Trent” said “Good luck finding a Mormon who believes this” he was not only displaying phenomenal ignorance and an inability to address my work on its actual merits and defects, but he’s also just behaving like a child who, after being told to stop whining, whines, “I’m not whining!”

Response #4: You’re Wrong Because We’ve Whitewashed The Bit You Criticised

It’s a fairly ineffective attack on my credibility when “Anne” “invites me” to “actually” talk to Mormons about what they believe. The average Mormon is not a trustworthy source on LDS doctrine. They aren’t permitted to discuss what goes on in the temple, and misinformation abounds thanks to years of Sunday School manuals glossing over issues like the Curse of Cain, the Curse of Eve, the actual material purpose of polygamy, and so on. Pray enlighten me, Anne, what is the doctrinal purpose of polygamy? And believe me, I already know what you are going to say, and it’s bollocks.

Response #5: Criticism Is Bad Because It’s Critical

If you truly believe that any criticism of a social system is inherently bad because it ruffles feathers, grow the fuck up. This attitude is for infants, not grownups capable of understanding the significance of their chosen faith system. I’m talking to you, “Shelly”.

Response #6: Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain

Sack-of-delight “Shelly” rebounds from a rebuff by claiming that the LDS Church is good and correct because it does some charity work. I could engage in an entirely separate criticism of the illusion of charity the church projects, but that’s off-topic. “Inviting” me to witness a Bishop’s Storehouse (no thanks, I’ve done my share of slave labour there) contributes nothing to the criticism of the merits and deficiencies of my presentation of LDS doctrine. Running over to some shiny objects and waving your arms and shouting will not distract me from the issue at hand: your doctrine is rubbish.

Response #7: I’m No Expert, But You’re A Bitch

“Ed” starts off poorly by admitting he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, but he thinks I ought to shut my gob because public criticism of beliefs never accomplishes anything. I beg to differ. The vibrance of the skeptic community is largely responsible for the increasing liberation of the human population from the childish belief in all powerful imaginary friends.

Response #7: Why Are You Picking On ME?

“Kevin” falls into the common fallacy of mistaking a challenge to his religion with an attack on himself. Mormons take their faith so personally that separating the two can be nearly impossible. So let’s use a different example. If I were criticising a failing school, only a fool would equate that with an attack on the students themselves. Like children locked in a failing educational system, I view Mormons as victims in all this.

Response #8: Real Criticism Can’t Be Funny

“Michelle Parnell Beck” admits that Mormonism might be nonsense. She also admits that I’ve made good points. Yet she’s able to reject it because I used humour. Oh, darn. Too bad serious arguments can’t be made using Humour. Erasmus. I mean Swift. I mean Voltaire. I mean Twain. Inexplicably, this defender of the faith concludes by telling me to “suck her balls.” I think perhaps she ought to inform her Bishop that she is transgender so she can be excommunicated, since doctrinal purity matters so much to her. Oh, I apologise. I was being funny again.

Response #9: You’ll Be Sorry When You’re Dead

“Chris” and “Mrs. H” berate me for being a dirty evil bitter angry apostate, and then gloat over the fact that God will smack my arse after I die for this blasphemy. I can’t even dignify this position with a response.

Response #10: You’re Wrong Because You’re Only 90% Right

Uncreative commenter “Anonymous” (who couldn’t be bothered to come up with a generic anonymous handle so we’ll call this person “HGluvR4tehWIN”) tells me that I got LDS doctrine almost entirely right, but then takes the typical Mormon route of rejecting the whole thing because I was irreverent rather than obsequious and groveling.

So what’s the common factor in all ten of these responses? They are *all* Ad Hominem attacks. Not one of these approaches engages with the facts. The gentlest techniques try to distract from the issue, and the more heavy-handed ones go straight to my character. (My favorite moment was being called Korihor, which I consider an immense honour. I never dreamed of ranking that high on the apostate-o-meter.)

Here is a friendly word of genuine, honest-to-flying-spaghetti-monster advice: If you want non-members, apostates, or even allies to take you seriously in a discussion, learn what logical fallacies are and avoid them. Hard though it may be, learn to separate a person from their ideology when the ideology is what is under the microscope. Realise that name-calling, distractions, mud-slinging and whining, whilst the norm on Fox News, is not going to reap you any benefits in the real world outside the hermetically sealed bubble that you live in. Here’s the downside for you, though: as soon as you figure this out, you’re going to start agreeing with me. I know it’s scary but give it a try. It’s nice over here on the apostate side. We have beer.

Religion: A Glossary

Agnostic – Someone who is an atheist but is too chicken to admit it to themselves or others.

Allah – The world’s second most popular imaginary friend. Hobbies include Arab linguistic and ethnic supremacy, vengeance and mercy, and inspiring middle-aged failures to develop malignant late-blooming megalomania.

Apologetics – A misleading term which sounds as if it consists of a person apologising for the negative aspects of a faith system, when in fact it is quite the opposite.

Atheist – A person whose life decisions and moral compass are not assisted by an imaginary friend, and thus exhibits a better grasp on reality than a Believer.

Believer – A person who has been deluded by themselves and authority figures into denying reality in favour of a softer, gentler fantasy in which death is not real and the injustices of life will be corrected in the afterlife with lavish rewards for themselves and heavy punishment for their enemies.

Bible – A collection of pro-imaginary-friend propaganda assembled by a collection of politicians in the third century to encourage more efficient administration of the dwindling Roman Empire via arbitrary social controls (see: Church).

Church – 1. A building used for the purpose of collective communication with an imaginary friend. 2. The broader affiliation of people with the same imaginary friend.

Cult – 1. A faith-based organisation with unusually deceptive recruiting techniques and prohibitively difficult barriers to disaffiliation. 2. The term used to describe a Church you do not like.

Faith – The wilfully ignorant position that things which do not exist do, in fact, exist.

God – The most popular generic name of an imaginary friend utilised by adults for the purposes of self-justification. Individuals engage in imaginary conversation (see “prayer”) with this fanciful character to avoid thinking about how death gives them the willies, how insignificant we really all are in the universe, and the responsibilities that go with being a sentient species.

Holiday – A calendar event which, deep in the mists of history, was a cause for extra devotion to some aspect of faith but is now an excuse to sell mattresses at 40% off.

Prayer – Talking to an imaginary friend in order to visualise the magical materialisation of one’s wishes. Used as an alternative to getting up off of one’s arse and actually doing something to cause those wishes to become reality.

Prayer Breakfast – A gathering of fat middle class people for the purpose of stuffing their faces with refined carbohydrates and smugly congratulating themselves for their sincere belief that their actions are magically making the world a better place.

Qu’ran – The ramblings of an epileptic in the throes of a mid-life crisis, passed off as the teachings of the world’s second most popular imaginary friend.

Torah – A bizarre collection of rules that make no sense whatsoever, such as bans on consumption of bacon and the prohibition of the wearing of polyester, which have led inevitably to such psychotic regulations such as the proper disposal of nail clippings to prevent miscarriage by any pregnant women that may be nearby. Also includes stories glorifying rape, murder, ethnic cleansing, and the neurotic foot-stamping jealousy of Yahweh when it comes to inviting other imaginary friends to join a party.

Unbeliever – A perjorative term used by Believers to describe people who don’t talk to their imaginary friend. Sub-terms include Kuffar, Infidel, Apikoros, and Apostate.

Yahweh – The world’s most popular imaginary friend. Hobbies include genocide, the ethnic supremacy of Hebrews, and creating detailed lists of justifications for capital punishment. Enjoys sexually assaulting underage girls and executing the first born offspring of his prophets, enemies, and himself.

There’s a lot more terms we can collect here. Add your own definitions below!

New Directive: No More Independent Sacraments

I’ve managed to patch things up a bit recently with my family. Recently I went on holiday with the family and Mr. Molly. One of the things we were both concerned about was Sunday, when the family would have their own brief church meeting. I do not know if any of my family members know that I am no longer a member of the LDS church and so in their view should not take the sacrament. Mr. Molly is a Nevermo, so he excused himself to take a walk whilst the rest of the family met. I stayed because it was the politically appropriate thing to do.

I was asked to lead the music, which I felt comfortable doing. After the ranking male priesthood member started the meeting several younger family members were asked to bear their testimonies. This is something that’s always bothered me because assigning someone to bear a testimony violates the idea that testimonies should be voluntary and impromptu, given if and when the person feels it is appropriate. One family member still living with her parents is a closeted mentally ex-Mormon. I struggled with two conflicting emotions as I listened to her testimony sharing her gratitude for the men in her life who had the priesthood. On one hand, she was saying all the right words and the older family members were genuinely moved. On the other, she was talking absolute rubbish. I told her later that if it didn’t sound too cynical, I was very impressed by her acting ability. She thanked me heartily and reiterated her wish to move out as soon as she was old enough so she could stop pretending to believe.

A moment of great relief came when the bishop leading our family meeting informed us that Salt Lake has recently decreed that it is no longer permissible for the sacrament to be administered at private gatherings of family or friends. Sacrament may now only be administered during a regulation LDS Sacrament meeting. Until now, it was the norm for families to administer their own sacrament if they were away on holiday or somehow unable to be at church on a Sunday. I watched the faces of my family very carefully when this information was conveyed. The look on each face was a mixture of surprise, sadness, and submission.

I have a few questions for members, former members and non-members:

Do you feel that this change is doctrinal?
Do you feel that this change is appropriate?
Do you feel that this change was necessary?
Why do you think this change was made?
Do you think this change was made to discourage LDS people from being away from chapels on Sundays?

If anyone has more detailed information on this policy, such as whether or not it applies to Sacrament administered privately to those who are infirm and unable to come to church, I would be interested to know that as well.

Halloween in Sunday School

The last calling I had at church was as a Sunday School teacher. At the time I was called, my testimony had already unravelled, but I was desperately trying to keep it (and my marriage) together. The more I studied church doctrine and history and the clearer my understanding of the church became, the more my testimony collapsed. Teaching out of the manual left me feeling incredibly conflicted. I now knew the lesson plans contained many things that were demonstrably false. I was beginning to have doubts about whether or not it was ethical for me to continue in my calling when I had no testimony of the things I was supposed to be teaching. But I tried to find ways to make it work. I ignored large chunks of the lesson plan and tried to grasp at something good and universally true about each lesson. By cherry-picking materials to teach and carefully vetting my language I could try to teach what I hoped were good, ethical ideas without endorsing the Book of Mormon as a historical record. I supplemented the lessons with my own material and by inviting commentary from members of the class. The more time the class spent in discussion, the less I had to say and the less I felt like a hypocrite.

I noticed one week that the lesson that fell just before Halloween contained some material that I was particularly uncomfortable with. It promoted a demonstrably false view of ancient American history and contained racist ideas that did not mesh with accepted scientific research. So I did something rather tricky. I decided to devote a chunk of the lesson to the history of Halloween, which would allow me to shorten the intended lesson, leaving no time for me to teach the questionable content. I knew at first it would be hard to hook the audience, with their righteous fear of evil pagans and all, but I also know that I could play on the latent anti-Catholic prejudice that Mormons seem to have, and also touch on the teaching that all faith systems have some light and truth to them.

The modern holiday is quite different from what Halloween was thousands of years ago. Most ancient agricultural societies celebrated their new year in the autumn, when the harvest was in. In pre-Roman Europe, the Celtic calendar divided the year into “light” and “dark” halves. So much of “Celtic Religion” gets romanticised and mushed up to fit modern neopagan views that it can be hard to understand what prechristian Celtic beliefs actually were. But what we do know is that Celtic New year fell around Oct. 31, and was a time of celebration, feasting, reciting family lineages, and communing with the spirits of departed ancestors. In Old Irish the holiday was referred to as Samhain. It has survived as Halloween and All Saints’ Day.

Celtic European culture was largely subsumed under Roman rule, but Irish culture retained its older Celtic beliefs for some time. Even after Christianity was adopted, traditional beliefs remained alive and well, arguably until the present day. The ancient Irish didn’t think of the afterlife as most people do today. The “Otherworld” of Irish folklore does not resemble Christian ideas about the dead departing this world permanently. Old Irish beliefs about the dead hold that the departed are all around us, in this world, but invisible to us. Some Mormons also believe that the “spirit world” in which the dead await the final judgment is also here on earth. Samhain celebrations gathered friends and family together, where family lineages were recited, rituals to honour the departed were performed, and hollowed-out turnips guided the spirits of the departed back to their families. It was believed that the veil to the Otherworld grew very thin on this night, and that spirits could visit the living. In this belief system, the dead were viewed very much as ordinary people; some were evil, some were good. The spirits of ancestors were welcomed home, and malicious spirits were warded off.

As the church grew in influence, priests wanted nothing to do with this blasphemous worship of spirits. Our God Is A Jealous God, after all. Those who still observed Celtic new year, mainly in Ireland and Scotland, were taught to frighten away the souls of their ancestors. They had been set straight. They were not honoured loved ones come home to visit; they were devils come to take their souls to hell, and anyone who said otherwise was a nasty horrible witch. Parents began dressing their children in costumes to disguise them from the evil spirits. Demons must be pretty daft to fall for masks and robes, but there it is. I commented that it was a shame that a holiday so focused on genealogy and family togetherness in this world and the world to come was corrupted. Someone commented that we couldn’t expect less from the Great and Abominable Church. At least in the end when superstition about demons chasing people down the street once a year was (mostly) done away with, we were able to have some fun with it again.

But really, it was a holiday all about family togetherness. That’s very much at the heart of everything Mormonism preaches. I commented that I thought it was interesting that the original holiday had been about preserving family unity, which is something we could respect, considering how much time we spent on temple work. While I absolutely enjoyed the fun and games of dressing up, trick-or-treating, and decorating our homes for the modern, corrupted, secularised version of Halloween, I reflected that it was a shame the holiday had lost its overt emphasis on family. I speculated on a few ways that Halloween could still be silly and fun, but also a day for family togetherness. Parents trick-or-treat with children, of course, but I encouraged the class members to think of ways to place an even larger emphasis on family. Suggestions trickled in. One person suggested that, before a family goes out trick-or-treating, the family look at photos of past years and tell stories to help children know more about the fun details of their predecessors’ lives. Others suggested scrapbooking to preserve family memories. All brilliant ideas. One class member spoke up that all faith systems had some light and truth to them, and the older Celtic views were among some of the “plain and precious truths” lost over the years.

There were only ten minutes left at this point in the lesson, so I glossed over the racist, historically false lesson I was supposed to teach and closed the lesson. I apologised impishly for hijacking the real lesson, but felt that once in a while it was fun to teach a holiday-themed lesson. Someone answered that it was fun to learn that there was a way to think about how to infuse a secular holiday with ideas from the gospel. We prayed. The class trotted out, happy and humming with conversation.

I felt satisfied with the lesson that I had taught, but I didn’t feel good about myself. I knew that by covering the parts of the gospel that were rotten, I was only setting up my classmates for the same sort of fall I had taken. But at that point I wasn’t prepared to accept that the Church wasn’t what it said it was. I still wanted it to all be true, very badly. I managed to teach five or six more lessons like that before I asked the bishop to release me. I was honest about the reasons, and he honoured my request, although he tried to talk me out of it, saying I was popular as a teacher and seemed to enjoy it. I cried. I loved teaching. But I couldn’t lie by omission any more.

Sometimes I still miss it, although I think that if I were still teaching today, I wouldn’t feel so bad about being subversive.

Lying for the Lord

Hat tip to The Loathsome Joy for putting up this video and starting this train of thought.

“Lying for the Lord” is a Mormon interpretation of a survival technique used by all religions with utilitarian and totalitarian leanings. It’s no surprise that this concept is part of Catholicism and Islam, the world’s two biggest faith systems, and even less of a surprise that Mormonism, a faith system founded with the goal of taking over the world, would follow along. If becoming the dominant religion and culture on Earth is your goal, then protecting the organisation must be prioritised above truth or doctrine, as outlined by influential BYU Professor Robert Millet:

Islam has a doctrine called Taqiyya, which is the same thing that Robert Millet describes in the video above when he instructs the missionaries to refuse to answer inconvenient questions and only answer the questions a person “should have asked.” If a Muslim finds himself or herself in a position where answering direct questions about their faith would be harmful to the individual or Islam, they are permitted to lie, mislead their questioner, or redirect the conversation around the topic. This is permitted in extreme circumstances, such as a Muslim being forced to renounce their faith, or in settings that are PR-related, such as being questioned about portions of the Koran that advocate violence against non-Muslims. It’s a blanket clause that allows any Muslim to lie, directly or by omission, specifically to protect the greater good of Islam and individual Muslims.

The Catholic Church has had the doctrine of Mental Reservation since the middle ages, which is described as “lying without lying.” It’s not Canon Law, but nobody ever gets punished for doing it and it’s never been officially denounced. This doctrine was the official policy of bishops in Ireland and California who protected paedophile priests through lies of omission. In the California case, a priest explained that those who use Mental Reservation “claim that it is morally justifiable to lie in order to protect the reputation of the institutional church.”

Millet’s Lying for the Lord is, along with Mental Reservation and Taqiyya, a subspecies of Doublethink. People who engage in Doublethink can be frustratingly slippery in a debate. Cherry-picking, straw men, red herrings, avoidance and outright denial are critical weapons in their arsenal to convince you that nobody is lying, and anyway there is nothing to lie about in the first place. To get out of answering a difficult question, you can’t just say “no”. You’ve got to slip around it and muddle the issue until nobody can remember what they were asking about in the first place.

Mormons who consider themselves “True Blue” or “Defenders of the Faith” are accomplished at Doublethink. The overwhelming majority of the information at the FAIR website exhibits this behaviour. Complicated issues are misrepresented, denied, worked around, and lied about in textbook examples of Doublethink. A faithful Mormon who read FAIR’s work and found it confusing and contradictory would be experiencing Cognitive Dissonance, which is what happens when Doublethink fails and your brain starts working. Their entry on Lying for the Lord reads like satire, but because they are serious, it’s just ironic.

Dishonesty will always happen when the success of the organisation is the top priority for its members. If a person’s main loyalty is the organisation then anything that furthers the cause of the organisation, even violating the ethical principles the organisation teaches, is permissible. The Church becomes a false idol. Lying for the Lord happens in the LDS Church. The FLDS do it too, as the doctrine is part of the shared heritage of the two churches. There are many Mormons, Muslims and Catholics who may think they aren’t Lying for the Lord. However, failure to condemn those who engage in this practise are giving consent through silence. That in itself seems to be another type of lying.

There are ways to put your best foot forward. There are ways to address topics in the right order so that they are placed in the appropriate historical and doctrinal context. But if it’s clear someone understands the context of a question and they want a straight answer, then they deserve a straight answer.

But I suppose I can’t really expect the experienced practitioner of Doublethink to do that, now can I?

Is there a way out?

I want to end my discussion of polygamy on a constructive note. I’ve elaborated on my belief that polygamy is a problem because Joseph Smith engaged in sexually inappropriate activity and leveraged his position as a religious leader for personal benefit. (Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll also tackle it from a theological, LDS belief-based standpoint rather than the social angle.) My conclusion was that the LDS Church is in a massive bind when it comes to polygamy, and that its current approach to the issue is dishonest. A question I’d like to look at now is whether or not there is a way out.

There are three options for the LDS Church in dealing with polygamy:

  1. Publicly disavow it and make the necessary changes to LDS scripture, teachings, and rituals to remove polygamy as a doctrine
  2. Publicly accept it as a doctrine and cease attempts to whitewash the issue
  3. Attempt to deflect attention from it, conceal it whenever possible, and make no attempt to deal with the issue

Option 3 is what they’ve been going with since the 1920’s, and this means the issue rears its ugly head every few years and causes a PR headache. It’s also the most dishonest approach and causes damage to the Church’s reputation and the well-being of its members. To demonstrate an example of how the LDS Church does this, I’m going to use a very simple and high-profile example. The LDS Church recently launched a makeover of, which now includes member-submitted testimonials and introductory information about the religion. This is a fair source for me to analyse because:

  • It’s public-facing and intended to be a point of first contact for people interested in Mormonism
  • It reflects the most up-to-date policy on how to present information about Mormonism
  • This official source represents what the LDS Church wants its members, investigators, and the general public to believe

Let’s have a look at the page that introduces Joseph Smith to outsiders. It’s a simplified version of Sunday School stories we’ve all heard plenty of times. The first few sections provide good background, and although the section “A Prophet of God” can be quibbled over due to cherry picking from the multiple accounts of the First Vision, it sticks more or less with the 1838 account, which has been considered the official version for quite some time.

The section “A Leader of Christ’s Church” glosses over the basics of church structure but slips in the one-sided, vague reference to “persecution” that early Mormons suffered. We could quibble some more here over the fact that much of the “persecution” was deliberately provoked by Mormons who barged in on neighbourhoods, disrupting the locals’ way of life, and were nasty to people who asked them to quit it. However, there were incidents where innocent Mormons who had not engaged in provocations were harmed, so I can let that pass as a statement with a pro-LDS slant rather than a total lie.

Until now, I can’t really take to task for failure to include nuanced discussion of Danites, the Salt Sermon, and whether there were angels, one personage or two personages present at the First Vision. It’s an introductory document, and I can hardly blame them for condensing information and putting their best foot forward. But now we arrive at “A Devoted Husband and Father”. Here is the entirety of the text of that section, with my comments in boldface. I’ve marked lies (meaning factual errors and misrepresentations of fact) with numbers in superscript.

“The heavy burden of leading the Church did not distract Joseph from his responsibility to his wife and children1, it increased his love for them2.”

It’s fair to say that Smith did love his family, but without a statement from Smith supporting this, implying that the mantle of leadership increased that love makes this misleading and falsely sentimental.

“One of the later Prophets of the Church told the members, ‘No success can compensate for failure in the home.’ The statement came more than a century after Joseph Smith died, but Joseph had exemplified the idea all his life.3

All his life? He didn’t fail Emma when he was tried for vagrancy for a treasure hunting scam and had a “revelation” telling her to quit grumbling about his dodgy activities? When he and Emma had to live with the Whitmers, Newel K. Whitney and Isaac Morely because he couldn’t make enough money to pay the rent? When he took plural wives without the other wives’ consent? When his sexual relationship with Marinda Johnson riled up a mob that broke into his house to tar and feather him and left the door open, causing his adopted child to die of exposure?

The bar must be fairly low if engaging in socially unacceptable actions that causes a chain of events resulting in the death of a baby isn’t failure in the home. I would accept a statement that said Smith did the best he could, or that he never stopped loving his family amidst the chaos of his life, but to say he is the perfect example for family life is a lie. This is hero-worshipping propaganda.

“Even though Joseph was constantly persecuted4 and imprisoned on false charges,”5

Liberty Jail is the best example of the “false imprisonment” claims Mormons make. When Smith was arrested, it was after a series of escalations involving many Mormon provocations of native Missourians that came to be called The Mormon War. Mormons had caused a massive amount of trouble in Missouri, and vigilante action on both sides left the state government utterly fed up with the presence of violent religious extremists. As the official leader of the Mormons and their militia, Joseph Smith was responsible for the violence and provocations of his people. He could have been executed as a military combatant, but another general intervened and decided he should be tried as a civilian. He was held for four months without charges in Liberty Jail, which is improper legal procedure, but given Smith’s involvement with Sidney Rigdon and the Danites, not necessarily unjust. Considering the brutal winter’s effect on travel and the fact that Missouri was only semi-civilised at that time, it’s not shocking that he wasn’t brought to court right away. Had Smith been tried for his role in the 1838-39 conflicts, he would probably have been convicted of many charges such as destruction of property, conspiracy to commit murder, inciting others to commit murder and destroy property, disturbing the peace, and so on.

Let’s not forget that Smith was in Missouri in the first place because of his illegal activities with the Kirtland Safety Society. Fleeing money troubles or looking for a bailout wasn’t unusual for Smith; when he moved from Palmyra to Harmony, he was only able to avoid arrest for debt default because Martin Harris had bailed him out. When he was murdered in Carthage Jail, he was awaiting trial on 100% legitimate charges of destroying a printing press. Joseph Smith was often in legal trouble, but it was almost always a situation of his own making due to mismanaging assets given to him by others or by encouraging Mormons to be a nuisance in a new neighbourhood. There were occasions where action taken against him was illegal, such as when he was tarred and feathered and when he was shot to death. But these actions didn’t take place in a vacuum, and they were conducted by people who felt their property, way of life, or family honour was at stake and did not feel the law was doing enough to protect them. It takes considerable provocation to actually be chased down by an angry mob, and Smith provided plenty of provocation.

So this sentence is only halfway completed, but it’s already a blatant lie and will mislead newcomers to Mormonism into thinking that Joseph Smith was never guilty of the crimes for which he was legitimately arrested.

“his first thoughts were always for his family.”6

This is a bit of a generalisation, as his letters from Liberty Jail focused on many things beyond his family. I would move on and say that I had bigger fish to fry, but it seems by “family” is only referring to Emma Smith and her offspring. What about the rest of his family? Do the plural wives not matter? Are they less important than Emma, or worse, are they inconvenient people who need to be deleted from the record? Do their lives, sacrifices, and contributions mean less than Emma’s? Even if Smith’s first thoughts were always for his family, his actions were generally for himself.

“He wrote to his wife, Emma, while he was imprisoned in Missouri, ‘Tell the children that I am alive and trust that I shall come and see them before long. Comfort their hearts all you can, and try to be comforted yourself all you can’ (‘’I Was with My Family’: Joseph Smith As Husband, Father, Son, and Brother’ Brent L. Top, Liahona, December 1992).”

I don’t doubt that Smith probably felt wretched whilst in jail and probably missed his family dearly. But the effect this had on the rest of his family is omitted. Joseph Smith also wrote some rather tender things to his plural wives. Presenting Emma as his only wife is lie by omission #2 about polygamy.

“Facing unjust punishment,7 he only thought of his family’s well-being.”8

This is just a repetition of the previous misleading statement about Joseph Smith’s criminal record.

“Joseph lived the doctrine he preached9 — that strengthening our families should be the focus of our lives because they are the only things we can take with us when we die.”

Smith wasn’t living the doctrine he preached, because he preached monogamy and practised polygamy. I don’t think Smith was really strengthening his family when he used deception to marry his one legal wife and then failed her so thoroughly. He threatened her with death in D&C 132, and completely failed to provide a stable home environment or steady income during their entire marriage. He was not strengthening his family when he failed to inform Emma about taking additional wives, and he was not strengthening his family when he had her publicly lie on his behalf in the wake of the John C. Bennett scandal. When Smith died, he left his wife a pregnant impoverished widow. By the standards of his own day, he was not a particularly competent husband and father, even without taking polygamy into consideration.

The only positive spin we can put on this claim is that although he did frequently abuse his privileges, it does seem that Smith may have genuinely believed that he was the key to getting into heaven, and that by sealing as many people as possible to him he was guaranteeing their salvation. The whitewashing in this statement steals the focus from the revolutionary doctrine of families that last forever.

“When his life was in jeopardy, Joseph relied10 on his faith in Christ not only to sustain himself, but his wife and children as well.”

And his wife . . . and his wife . . . and his wife . . . and his wife . . . and his — oh, sod it. This is lie by omission #3, as well as a misrepresentation of the reasons his life was in danger. It must be incredibly important to the LDS leadership that people believe their lies about polygamy, because they’ve repeated them several times in a very small and important document. Smith appropriated people’s wives, their daughters, their money, and their trust, and frequently mismanaged them. Angry mobs in frontier cultures have killed for far less.

Goodness, that’s ten lies in 219 words. The next section, “A Martyr of the Restored Gospel” is equally problematic, but since I’m focusing on public, official LDS lies about polygamy I won’t use the same level of scrutiny. The worst part is this:

He did not die in public with the sympathy of the world, he was shot by a mob while he was locked in a jail on false charges.

This is splitting hairs, but he did die in public, propping himself up against the well outside the jail. It is correct to say that the world at large had no sympathy for him, and he was shot by a mob that probably believed he would escape the legal process — again — and took matters illegally into their own hands. But he was not in Carthage on false charges. Smith ordered the destruction of a printing press, which is a violation of the First Amendment. Telling prospective Mormons that Smith was innocent of any crime on the day he died means that when they repeat that lie, they will look like fools to their friends and families who know better. Lying to prospective members about this issue only strengthens the arguments of counter-cultists who say that the LDS Church brainwashes its members into believing whatever they say. There is one gem in the muck:

He was not a perfect person, not a deity.

If only the anonymous copywriting drone at the Church Office Building had kept that in mind when writing the rest of this rubbish. The Church is not obligated to put its dirty laundry on display, but if it claims to be God’s One True ChurchTM, then it had better not use lies to draw people in.

So there we have it; strategy number three seems to be a massive failure in terms of its ability to be honest with prospective and current members, as well as the ammunition it provides to opponents of Mormonism. However, it’s mostly effective. Many members learn to Doublethink past the issue, or remain ignorant because of the strong unspoken taboos that exist around non faith-promoting speech. But what of the other two paths available?

There are two ways to come clean on polygamy: embrace it or reject it.

A total rejection of polygamy would require the following actions, all performed in public and all officially announced by the President of the Church. They’d have to strip section 132 from the Doctrine and Covenants, acknowledge that Joseph Smith was mistaken to ever introduce the practise in the first place, and acknowledge that while the Church still believed he restored the Gospel, he abused his privilege and for that God allowed him to be removed from his office. They’d need a rewrite of all language in the temple marriage ceremony and the Proclamation on the Family that alludes to men or God having multiple spouses and establish a policy that permits people to be sealed to only one spouse at a time. This would ripple out to negate other doctrines, such as the idea that women give birth to spirit babies in the afterlife. Sealing couples and families together would become a metaphorical rather than physical reality. Families would be together in the sense of all being in heaven at one never-ending barbeque, but the doctrine of men would going on to become creator-gods of their own worlds without end would probably be sidelined or discarded altogether, as the traditional doctrinal explanation for how those worlds are populated would disappear. Mormon heaven would start to look like Christian heaven, except 99% of the world’s population would be in the Telestial Kingdom and not in Hell.

Without the doctrine of polygamy and the way it affects Mormons’ understanding of the characteristics of God, man’s destiny to become a god, Mormonism would be a plain vanilla variety of Protestantism with their work of Bible fanfiction and horribly ugly knickers to add flavour.

The other option is for Mormons to embrace polygamy and their role as peculiar people. This may not necessarily mean a return to the doctrine, as it is still illegal in most countries where Mormons are found. A return to honesty could mean richer histories and discussions, as the lives of polygamous families would no longer be a taboo subject. Plural wives in the family tree would not be a cause for confusion or shame but would be accepted as just another part of the family. Modern Mormons who chose to could probably live the principle, as society is at a point where state-mandated heterosexual monogamy is no longer enforced. It would destroy decades of PR work done by the Church to convince the world that Mormons are mainstream and probably cause a lot of people to leave but it would mean acceptance of a doctrine that has always been part of Mormonism.

Positive upsides could include a reconciliation with the FLDS which might make that community less closed and vulnerable to their abusive leaders, a cease-fire on the gay community due to now being part of the alternative marriage crowd, and embracing Mormonism’s history with no apologies. (Except for the big apology about being so neurotic over it for the last century.)

Either approach would cause massive upheaval in the Church, so it won’t be addressed any time soon. Accepting or rejecting polygamy would cause social and doctrinal earthquakes, but if Mormons really want to “do what is right, let the consequence follow,” they’ll stop lying about it.