The Question

Here is a question, to which the answer is either yes or no:

Is it acceptable for the LDS church to rely on faith-promoting lies to draw in new members, retain existing members, and improve its PR?

If your answer is “well, it’s not really lying as such . . .” then your answer is yes. It’s a simple question, and I’m not allowing wiggle room. I do not mean putting one’s best foot forward, or simplifying stories to capture their essential meaning. I mean lying. Lying to puff up the stature of Joseph Smith as a demigod, lying about polygamy because it’s inconvenient to be honest about it, lying about the reasons “apostates” stop coming to church, and so on. Things that are factually untrue but are easy to swallow and comforting to the members. Things that are misrepresented to avoid upsetting the applecart. Another way to frame my question is to ask whether or not you agree with a statement Boyd K. Packer once made on how truth should only be used if it furthers the interests of the Church:

“Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer. There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.” Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect”, 1981, BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 259-271 (There are many more such quotes that establish the LDS position on obscuring truth if it isn’t faith-promoting.)

Are faith-promoting lies acceptable? Here’s what I think your answer says about you.

If you say yes, you are someone who believes the ends justify the means. You are not interested in how your actions ripple out to affect the world, and if something is useful to you you don’t really care how it was produced. You might be someone who doesn’t value ethics greatly. You might also be pragmatic rather than idealist, which makes it a lot easier to get things done. You don’t really care if a flesh-and-blood man was as good as the bronze statue of him claims that he was, because as symbols heroes serve a valuable purpose to people who need hope. But you might also be dismissive of people who take issue with leaders exhibiting shady behaviour. You look the other way at dishonesty used to achieve what you believe is good and do not think that by ignoring lies you are condoning them. You do not think you are lying to others by failing to correct them when they ignorantly repeat lies they have been taught. You might be the sort of person who doesn’t think about whether your clothing was made by children in a sweatshop, because the price was right and you look good. You’re more likely to be able to build consensus because of your moral flexibility. You don’t really care if things are done properly as long as they get done, and if this comes back to haunt you, you don’t acknowledge that you created the problem for yourself. You are okay with a little bit of cheating as long as nobody gets hurt and your good guys win. If someone does get hurt, you find a way to dismiss the role that you and your team played in causing damage to that person. You probably pay your tithing without caring about how it’s actually spent; you’ve obeyed God, so your part in it is done. You feel idealism is a luxury that we really can’t afford, and when someone calls you a hypocrite for claiming to believe in a set of principles and then tolerating the violation of those principles, you tell them you are just being realistic and they should stop being so negative and picky. As often as you are wrong in making that statement, you are right.

If you say no, you are someone who believes that evil should never be used as a tool to accomplish good. You might be someone who has been accused of rigid idealism, and the accusation might be fair. You are someone who won’t compromise your ethical standards, even if you have a lot to lose. This can lead to burning bridges but at least you know you haven’t sacrificed your integrity just to fit in. You would rather fail than cheat to win. People have probably accused you of being preachy, and those with no interest in ethical behaviour resent you for pointing out when they are hypocritical. You’ve often been asked why you care so much about everything, and why you can’t just drop a controversial issue and leave it alone. You don’t understand how somebody could. Your commitment to what you believe sometimes causes friction with friends and family, who can’t understand why you won’t cooperate with the crowd. When you point out mistakes, your intent is to prevent long-term failure but you are often accused of being a disloyal know-it-all who is tearing down the team. You probably make an effort to avoid purchasing products that were produced by violating human rights. People who wrap themselves in comfortable lies because it makes their lives easier are bewildering to you. When you contribute money to organisations, you want accountability and reporting in how that group spends its money and what it accomplishes with it. People tell you that you are raging a hopeless battle of idealism against the machine of reality. You know this, but you don’t care. You’d rather be run over by the machine than become one of its cogs. Tearing down others is not your intent, but people often think that is what you mean when you say people should work toward their goals without using dishonest methods. You often feel exhausted by putting up such a difficult fight and sometimes wonder if it’s worth the effort. But you also realise that while hypocrites tend to win battles, idealists tend to win the wars. It takes a long time, and you know that you may not live to see your side win, it’s important to keep fighting the good fight, even though it causes strife in your family and social circle.

Which view is better? Hard to say. Without pragmatism nothing would get done, and we’d just have a bunch of stubborn idealists beating their head against unbuilt walls. However, those who value ethics have integrity and have an important role to play in checking the desire of pragmatists to win at any cost. It’s the harder path to walk, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t have my integrity. When it came to the LDS Church, I decided I needed to give it tough love by refusing to support it while it engaged in self-destructive behaviour. That might mean I’m priggish at times, but that’s a vice I can live with better than hypocrisy. I won’t help to build up an organisation that asks you if you are honest before you’re allowed in the temple, but uses lies to get people in the chapel. I will call it to repentance, though, and I’ll encourage others to do the same.

32 thoughts on “The Question

  1. Oh I guess I should add that I used to be a Yes, but I never really thought about it. Now that you made me think about it I have to admit No is better. Thanks for making me responsible for my actions sheesh. šŸ˜›

  2. I disagree. I don’t see them as “lies” (although I disagree that they should be taught as literal truth, and I certainly don’t believe that I’m a thoughtless, ethically moribund person. To be honest, I’m not sure how you get one out of the other. People believe in many different things, for many different reasons.

    If I teach the story of Noah in Sunday school, then I’m teaching, by your rigid definition, a faith promoting lie. In fact, if I teach any story from the Bible, I’m teaching a faith promoting lie. Taking faith out of it, we have no actual proof that these things happened–and, in the case of Noah, certainly, I personally believe it’s a metaphor for a larger truth. The issue, really, isn’t the literal truth or untruth of the story, but, rather, how we use it. Are we using it as a tool, to teach moral and ethical principles, or are we using it as a tool of social control? What are moral and ethical principles but, in fact, social control? We call the methods of control we like (“don’t murder”) “morals”.

    Moreover, not everybody set on exposing church history is doing it out of some sense of higher purpose. They’re not all motivated by great, glorious ideals. For some, quite the opposite.

    If I got anything out of law school, it was that there’s really no such thing as one rigid definition, nor should there be. There’s tremendous value in the debate, which both creates, and is created by, the response “maybe”. Then again, I’m not a huge fan of totalitarianism to begin with.

    The fact is, I’m a member of the church who derives benefit from so-called “faith promoting lies”, and passes them on to others. To me, one doesn’t cancel out the other; there’s the church of faith, and the church of fact, and both are true, in the same way that both the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of fact are true. I especially like the faith promoting lie about feeding the five thousand, even though the historical Jesus never committed any such literal act.

    And yet, the way you’ve chosen to characterize me doesn’t, I think, accurately reflect my character. Nor am I especially interested in entering into a “guilty until proven innocent” kind of debate. If you want to slander people’s character without getting to know them, that’s your bag, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily the right way to go about opening the channels of communication.

    • It’s different to believe that the scriptures are metaphorical and that you can glean important teachings from them, and what the church does by hiding the truth about the Book of Abraham or Joseph Smith or polygamy.

      You might not believe or teach them as literal truth, but the church does, to the exclusion of actual truth.

      The question Molly asks is does it bother you that the church actively lies about its history to make it seem more appealing? Or do you think it’s ok for the church to lie because it teaches morals you think are good?

      It really is a simple question, and I think it’s disingenuous to avoid answering it.

      • No, it isn’t, if you explicitly say that there’s no wiggle room. The question Molly asks requires a yes or no answer, without qualification. “I believe in a different ‘yes'” isn’t an option. Therefore, based on that limited paradigm, my answer is “yes”.

    • I wasn’t all that easy on the other side — both perspectives have advantages and flaws. I deliberately chose words that would make people uncomfortable, because you can’t engage in self-scrutiny without discomfort. And I may not have made my purpose clear enough. As Craig mentions, I’m not talking about Bible stories or things that are so ancient that it’s pointless to discuss whether or not they really happened. Noah’s Ark is an etiological flood narrative that goes along with similar ancient tales. It serves no real doctrinal function (unless you’re LDS and you believe the earth needed to be baptised) and is more about where rainbows came from and showing that Elohim had no problem wiping out most of creation because it failed to please him. There are also morality tales in scripture that do not need to be literal to be relevant. Stories like this are not what I’m referring to here. I’m referring to Joseph Smith having a criminal record and the LDS Church pretending he doesn’t so that he can be the poster boy for the religion.

      Thinking this is ok does not make you evil, but it does make you ethically flexible. And as I said, ethically flexible people have an easier time in mainstream culture and consensus building than ethically firm people, who can have trouble compromising.

      • My principal point was to discuss the issues that flow from not allowing “maybe”. And, truthfully, I don’t see that viewing Joseph Smith as, essentially, two people–the man of history, who was a less than law abiding polygamist, and the man of faith, who is as the church presents him today–makes me ethically flexible. I’m sorry, this is obnoxious, but it makes me educated. Religious absolutism–on either side–is, to me, the last refuge of the ignorant.

        • Ok, so explain “maybe” in more depth.

          I just have trouble seeing how you can trust that Smith’s religious teachings were good and correct when he is proven to be such a liar, cheater and (in our parlance) rapist. It’s not, I think, being absolutist to say that a man who is unethical as Smith cannot be trusted to have told the truth about his visions, the plates, his revelations, etc., especially when his story changed so often and was contradictory. I’m not at all suggesting that a man must be perfect to do good, but when we objective look at Smith’s character, we see that he was a con-man, a philanderer, a liar, a manipulator. He probably wasn’t “evil”, but he has little credibility to outweigh his many indiscretions.

          The church hierarchy knows this, and lies about it to the members. How are these things (sometimes) justifiable?

          Just as with Smith, how can we trust a hierarchy which lies and conceals the truth to be telling the truth in other areas? Where is their credibility? For what reason should we separate out their actions from their teachings?

          Basically the question is why should we trust hypocrites?

        • I have this conversation all the time with Mr. CJ, who is an atheist.

          The actual person doesn’t really need to exist, for the person of faith to exist. Let’s say that, tomorrow, it turned out that Jesus was entirely, 100% made up. Would the truth of His teachings be any less? Maybe to some people, but not to me. The further along I get in my life (and I’m still not very far along; I haven’t turned 30 yet), the more “true” His teachings, particularly as expressed in the Book of Matthew, are to me. I totally dig what Jesus has to say about the Golden Rule, etc. But that’s the person of faith–the “let Jesus take the wheel”-type Jesus we’ve all grown to know and love/hate/ignore/whatever. His comments in, say, Matthew 23 (the part about how following the rules for the sake of following the rules is bogus–my credo, and my justification, to church authorities, for much of what I do as a professional writer, gay rights activist, and sometime political pundit) have absolutely nothing to do with the historical person who may or may not have existed.

          Likewise, the “real” Joseph Smith–the historical person who actually walked the Earth–has little, if anything, to do with the figure of faith in most Mormons’ lives. I say “maybe”, because I think it’s kind of ridiculous to base one’s faith on what one can historically prove. Faith is, ultimately, an intensely personal relationship with oneself, with thoughts and feelings that can’t be proved. It’s the willingness to see something that doesn’t, as yet, exist. In the 1890’s, there was a movement to close the US patent office on the grounds that everything worthwhile had already been invented; sometimes, faith–whether in personal relationships, religion, or science–is about willingness to throw out terms like “impossible” and just go with your gut. Keep creating, even if everybody tells you you’re stupid, and wrong, and worthless.

          I’m not saying we should trust hypocrites. To me, the truth/non-truth of Joseph Smith’s historical life, and our issues, as modern believers, with a church leadership that feels comfortable lying, or at the very least misleading, are two separate issues. Whether or not Joseph Smith even existed (which obviously he did) some people will find meaning, and comfort, in the faith-promoting stories of his life. Those stories are no more or less valid, from a sociological perspective, depending on their truth. If they help you live a better life, then they’re true–the same way that nobody’s attacking people for believing in a Jesus who, truthfully, couldn’t possibly have existed.

          However, as I see it, the issue isn’t Joseph Smith at all–and when we focus on him, we’re really focusing on the wrong thing. Essentially, as I see it, we’re using him as a scapegoat. The real “bad guy”, here, if there is one, is the church leadership–or, at least, the breach of trust it’s caused, and the subsequent effects, on members’ individual lives.

          I don’t know much about church leadership, being a lowly woman ;-), but I do know something about leadership in general, and the challenges inherent in leading other people, often in stressful or even dangerous situations. A good leader builds the confidence of the men and women serving under him, and one of the ways in which he does that is by projecting himself as confident, as someone who always knows the answer. The problem, here, is that many almost-great leaders are actually terrible leaders, because they misconstrue knowing the answer as being infallible. They become rigid, and refuse to so much as entertain questions, or concerns. Which, of course, doesn’t dispel those questions and concerns; quite the opposite. This is how mutinies happen.

          The current church leadership has, for some time, been projecting this same attitude of perfection. Because nobody actually is perfect, they’ve bent over backward to sanitize and rearrange history, in order to back up their truth claims. Ultimately, though, it’s not a truth failure, but a leadership failure in refusing to acknowledge the truth–both the literal and figurative truth.

          I’m cool with the fact that Joseph Smith was an imperfect human being; what I’m not cool with is the church’s unwillingness to admit that. Joseph Smith was open about who or what he was (or thought he was, if you want to put it that way). It’s the current leadership, not Joseph Smith, that’s being dishonest.

      • Also, say what you want about me, or my religion, but at least I don’t see the mere fact of someone disagreeing with me as evidence of moral turpitude.

  3. As you might guess, I’m a very, very, very, very strong no.
    There is a clear difference between the Mormon church and its approach to faith (lie about reality to keep people believing) and a liberal Christian church where they don’t lie about reality, and yet still are able to teach their Christian beliefs. The latter is justifiable, the former is not.

    It’s not that the Mormon church teaches that most of the scriptures are literally true, it’s that that it lies about homosexuality, it lies about polygamy, it lies about its history, it lies about Joseph Smith, and the hierarchy knows they’re lying. They know they’re hiding the truth and only telling 10% of the story to their members and the outside world. They do it because the whole truth reveals that the its leaders, past and present, are imperfect, flawed humans.

    Whitewashing history is a serious sin and a very dangerous lie.

    • At the same time, the fact that so many people look to the church to be their Big Brother is, as I see it, a serious problem. At those liberal churches you mention, members aren’t expecting to go, plug into the knowledge teat, and be fed all the answers. People are angry at the church for not providing all the facts, all the answers–but is that the church’s job?

      I would hope that most of us aren’t naive enough to think that church, where we go to be indoctrinated (for good or for ill, any church is an angular institution, promoting a specific agenda), is the A-1 place to learn the truth about that very institution. At no pulpit in the United States will you hear a sermon beginning with a disclaimer. Rather than getting angry at this, or any other church for not giving us all the answers, we should probably spend more time wondering why we’re looking to any institution to provide the answers, instead of finding them for ourselves.

      • But Mormonism absolutely claims to be the source of all perfect truth. Or rather, Mormonism accepts outside truth so long as it doesn’t contradict with already established doctrines and beliefs – so long as it’s neutral. That, coupled with the fact that many, probably most Mormons look to the church to give them all their answers, is the crux of the problem. When your church tells you that homosexuality is ABC, and science/reality says, no, it’s not, whom do you believe?

        I know you’re not like this, and that’s really good, but your church is, and most of your fellow members are.

        • The choice to be free thinking is like the choice to be faithful to your spouse; it isn’t about lack of options. If you’re only free thinking in the absence of people trying to indoctrinate you, you’re not very free thinking, are you? A couplet about bears, and lack of hair comes to mind šŸ˜‰ All religions, to varying degrees, claim to teach the truth–sociologically, truth claims are the defining hallmark of religious practice.

          Re: say, homosexuality, to me it’s not a science/religion dichotomy. Most so-called “Christians” haven’t actually read the Bible, but Jesus is pretty clear: accept other people the way you want to be accepted, most especially those who are different from you. If He were here now, he wouldn’t dig on all these “false prophets” running around. But don’t get me started; this is why I started my own blog, to rant about the stupidity of religion when it comes to homosexuality. And other stuff, too, but mainly that.

          Incidentally, I’m perfectly aware of the hypocrisy of belonging to a religion that teaches things with which I disagree. Most notably the homosexuality issue. But, ultimately, I’d rather stay and fight than leave. Which brings me to my final point: I think there are actually more liberal/moderate members than you think. They’re just not that vocal, either because they dismiss the church’s claims as too ridiculous to bother with (there’s a thoroughly populated camp of those, particularly here in New England), or because they’re afraid of rejection by their peers. It’s tough when you go for that TR interview, so you can go to your cousin’s wedding, and, instead of traipsing into the stupid little room with everybody else, have to wait outside with a Dirty Apostate sign flashing above your head.

        • “But, ultimately, Iā€™d rather stay and fight than leave. Which brings me to my final point: I think there are actually more liberal/moderate members than you think.”

          I respect that choice, and really hope it brings about some positive change. And I hope you’re right that there are more liberals than we think. However, that wasn’t ever my experience in the dozens of wards and branches I lived in, though to be fair, most of them were BYU student wards.

        • The problem with student wards isn’t the church, it’s the teenagers. Take any group of teenagers, put them in a controlled environment, and give them clearly defined ways to achieve power, popularity, and exclusivity, and you have a recipe for disaster. Which is why everybody hates high school so much. Student wards are like “Lord of the Flies”, because, well, let’s face it: Golding was on to something. The Bishop aside (and, really, who here was in a student ward where the Bishop actually did anything?), this is an institution run exclusively by and for teenagers/almost teenagers, most of whom are fairly emotionally and intellectually stunted.

          Student wards are about religion the way high school is about education. Sure, some religion occurs, the way that, in high school, some education occurs–but, for many sufferers, it’s really only incidental to the main goal, which is achieving the validation of popularity. Sorry, ahem, my sociology is showing.

          This spring, in Massachusetts, a teenager named Phoebe Prince took her own life after extensive bullying. The kids were vicious, but as a recent article on Slate.com points out, the school, itself, did nothing. I followed the story pretty closely, but what I got out of it was that, ultimately, anger at Prince’s tormentors was misplaced; they were vicious kids, but, at the end of the day, they were just kids–and unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions the way an adult (hopefully) would.

          Likewise, I see problems in a student ward as a failure of adult leadership. Regardless of what the church teaches, 18, 19, and even 22 year olds aren’t adults. This is why, in real life, they’re discouraged from doing silly stuff like getting married. Kids in student wards are worried about being accepted, being popular, getting dates, etc. They’re not, by and large, even aware of the issues that motivate the questions we’re discussing here.

        • Good, now watch the video šŸ˜‰

          We watched this for what passes for FHE in our household. Which usually involves a spirited discussion of the evils of organized religion. I guess I’m not a very good Morgbot.

        • Craig, the world of BYU student wards is about as removed from the reality of the majority of the North American church as you can get. Just about everyone there is still incredibly spiritually immature, and few of them really know how to actually live in their own skin, or with other people.

          I wouldn’t take my experiences there as indicative of much of anything.

    • There’s a difference between whitewashing, and simply telling a summary of the story that you feel hits on the most important parts.

      And we have no obligation to concede the correctness of critics’ arguments without anything further.

    • I love this video. It’s so funny and true. If the tables are turned, Mormons don’t seem so pleased to have unwanted (anti)religious nutters on their stoop.

    • Ironically, the LDS Church has been phasing out the door-to-door model of proselyting for the past decade. Even when I was a missionary in Japan back in 1994 door-knocking was widely considered “something to do when you absolutely don’t have anything better to do.” It was actually actively discouraged by my mission president.

      Since then, the wider LDS missionary program has followed suit with a greater emphasis on member-referrals, and recently, online outreach.

      The video is more than a bit dated.

      • Even before Seth’s mission. Tracting has never been particularly popular, or particularly effective…it’s something that’s done to kill time and any actual results are a pleasant surprise, not the expectation.

        • Not to mention that I’d say the majority of missionaries are not that pushy about it when they do knock on doors. Most of them will give a brief pitch and give up rather quickly when turned down. Very, very few of them are obnoxious enough to try and push their way inside, or keep barraging you with questions or guilt trips to try and prolong contact. Half the time when you do encounter a pushy missionary, you’ll see his companion to one side looking rather awkward and embarrassed.

          When I went housing, I simply stated who we were, that we taught people about our religion, and “if you are interested give us a call” – at which point, I’d hand them a pamphlet with our phone number and a small flyer for our free English classes (which we did as a community service), smile, and that was it.

  4. My answer to this question is a big “No”, and I’ll tell you why.

    If an organization has to lie to gain members, there is something disreputable going on there. This is why I have so much contempt for the “milk before meat” concept. An orgainzation believes what it believes. It owes it to those who are looking into joining it the full truth about those beliefs. Otherwise, it is engaging in a ‘bait-and-switch’ operation. The last time I looked, that was illegal.

    I think the Bible, as brought up above, is a bit of special case. It can be taught, as was mentioned, in a metaphorical sense, without claiming that the stories in it are literally true. But the sorts of things the Mormons are lying about, including the history of plural marriage in the church and Joseph Smith’s record of questionable claims and practices, have nothing to do with metaphors and everything to do with selling a bill of goods in order to make a profit…in this case, collecting ten percent of what every newly baptized person makes in their lifetime in exchange for full participation in what it represents as “blessings” and “salvation”.

    I’m sorry that having been associated with the Mormon church has made me such a cynic, but it has. I do believe that, at the highest levels of the church, it is all about bringing in the bucks, and that they have no compunction about lying to up the income of the church. I think it might be beneficial for them to read that part of the Bible, Exodus 20 I believe it is, about not bearing false witness. As far as I’ve very seen, there is no addendum that says, “Unless you’re lying for the Lord.”

    • Like all authoritarians, they’re concerned about keeping their power. Since the beginning of the church, church leaders have operated under “the ends justify the means” mantra. They believe their ends are good, so the means are irrelevant – at least for them, because they’re special, they’re outside the normal rules. They routinely violate principles taught not just in their scriptures, but their own doctrines as taught in sunday school and priesthood and relief society and primary manuals.

      Mountain Meadows, continuing polygamy after 1890, burying the truth about Joseph Smith, etc., it all has to do with the hierarchy keeping power and control. I don’t think it’s ever really been about the teachings of Jesus or spiritual salvation, at least, no matter how hard they protest it is about that, their actions constantly and perpetually belie their words. They’ve taken hypocrisy to new levels, and they don’t care.

      That said, I do think at least some of their intentions are somewhat good, but they’ve become so corrupt and sucked into authoritarianism that they can’t get out. It’s consumed them, and as we know, power corrupts.

  5. An interesting discussion, and Molly does well recognizing the tension between pragmatism and idealism. Without the former nothing gets done. Without the latter, you lose track of your soul.

    My answer is no, but it’s a weak “no” just as CJ’s answer is a weak “yes”. The origination mythology of all faiths and traditions has a lot of asterisks and footnotes in the history. Mormonism has the comparative disadvantage of being relatively young and in the Internet age.

    But the sad thing is, wrt the Church and history, it’s a tension of the Church’s own making and largely due to attitudes such as those expressed by Elder Packer above. An honest and objective approach to formal history is nothing to fear, but acting as if it were has caused some to double down on fairy tales. It’s unnecessary nd it’s unfortunate.

    • Arthur, I’m glad I didn’t offend everybody. My intent was an exercise in self-scrutiny that would hopefully cause readers to see that each position can self-sabotage. Taken as a whole people are probably a mix of pragmatism and idealism. Too much of one or the other in all areas of life can’t be healthy.

  6. Actually Molly, people do leave the church for the commonly cited reasons:

    1. Getting offended by somebody

    and

    2. They had a moral problem and didn’t feel like they fit anymore

    Lots of them. And some of them then conveniently USE all the church history stuff as a reason to justify their actions after the fact. It sounds a lot cooler in an online debate to say:

    “I left the church because Joseph Smith was a fraud”

    than

    “I left the church because I was punching my wife in the face every other Friday, and my bishop took my wife’s side in the divorce, and now I blame the Church because I’m a dick who can’t take responsibility for my life.”

    Is it all of them? No, not at all. Is it even most of them? Probably not – I find it unlikely. Most people go inactive in the Church more out of mere disinterest than anything else – no deep dark sins going on.

    But don’t take your own artificial online community as representative of much of anything about what the inactive/ex-Mormon community at large is or is not. Statistically, people who comment on blogs are very rare – and it takes a certain type to do it often. Blogging ex-Mormons don’t really statistically represent a huge slice of the real ex-Mormon population out there. Most exes aren’t half as pissed as the ex blogging community is.

    I’m just saying be careful about where you are getting your data before you start throwing around accusations.

    • The problem lies, I think, in how we conceptualize the term “offended”. Often, the ex’s I’ve talked to have basically said something to the effect of, “offended is the wrong word, because it implies that my problems with the church are trite.” As in, “oh, someone really ticked me off with their narrow-minded comment in RS last week, so now I’m an ex!” The truth is, people do leave, because they’re “offended”–but on a deeper level. People are offended, if you want to use that word, by the church’s expectations of them, by invasions into their privacy, etc.

      And, sure, these are real reasons to leave any organization–but, at the same time, I find the ex community as a whole incredibly disingenuous. Sure, they *say* they’re all about meaningful discussion of the issues…but, 9 times out of 10, they’re just as committed to promoting an angular agenda as any church member. Just look what happens when you dare to disagree, however calmly and rationally. All of a sudden, you’re painted as the bad guy, a poster child for everything that’s supposedly wrong with the church–and if you don’t like being personally attacked, well, that just proves that you’re deceitful/in denial/intellectually moribund/a loser. I’ve encountered a great deal more anger, willingness to judge, and interest in categorizing people in the ex community than in the TBM community. And, generally, any group that thinks it’s just too cool for people who disagree with it (especially if it feels comfortable passing moral judgments on me) doesn’t earn my intellectual respect.

      The fact is, I was *incredibly* offended to be told that I’m “ethically flexible”, which is, apparently, Molly’s concession to the fact that, whatever side of the fence you’re on, feeling morally righteous doesn’t justify slandering large groups of people who happen to be different than you–even if they are, in fact, Mormons. I’m sorry, and I guess I’m just not cool enough to understand, but I fail to see how it’s bad for church members to judge people, but totally and completely cool for non-members to judge people. I guess the answer is, “but I’m enlightened; I finally see the truth”. Um, moral superiority is offensive, wherever it’s coming from.

      Usually, judgmental Mormons can be let off the hook somewhat by the fact that they’re ignorant of what it’s like to be judged. But for anyone who claims to have felt the pain of judgment, to then glory in turning around and doing it to someone else…dress it up however you want, but I don’t see it as anything more than schoolyard bullying, or, to coin a sociological term, internalizing the perceived morality of the aggressor. I know we’re all supposed to be impressed, here, but I’m not. I’ve never especially admired either prejudice or hypocrisy as moral virtues…so if, by refraining from these sorts of inflammatory large-scale groupings (the very sorts of judgment-inspired groupings that have, admittedly, caused you so much harm), I’m “ethically flexible” by your standards, Molly, I’m entirely OK with that.

  7. Molly,
    I Thought you’d like to see my mention of your dig at my blog that I posted over on Pure Mormonism yesterday.

    As it happens, the topic deals quite a bit with your discussion here of the downside of promoting only faithful history, with a nice summary of Richard Van Wagonen’s analysis of The Greatest Urban Legend Ever.

    Special Bonus Feature: an animated graphic of Brigham Young morphing into Joseph Smith.

    Come one, come all to the “ridiculously titled” Pure Mormonism:

    http://PureMormonism.blogspot.com

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