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?

20 thoughts on “Lying for the Lord

  1. What is the “banned” nonsense at the video beginning? Obviously it’s not banned, I’m watching it on my screen. As if the Mormon or other churches had the wherewithall or authority to ban anything. The typical pattern is churches piss and moan followed by an increase in sales volumes.

    The Church has engaged in lying for the Lord as much as anybody, but the Millet tape isn’t a particularly good example of it. Millet is telling them not to lie, but to direct questions they don’t want to discuss (and which frankly, few missionaries are equipped to discuss) into friendlier, more easily defended territory. An example not of lying, but of controlling discussion and of avoiding certain topics.

    Context matters so for me this is situational. Looking at the scenario presented, if someone comes up to me cold I am going to actively direct where any discussion goes. Within a missionary context that’s sensible for a first contact. As for subsequent contacts if you’re teaching, you need to be prepared to answer questions.

    • That is pretty sensationalistic. This was a private address to missionaries only, and so strictly meets the standard for ‘leaked content’ but it doesn’t need the histrionics. Just post the video and let it speak for itself, right?

  2. It’s safe to say you can ignore the “banned” nonsense. I tried to find one w/o that or the commentary to post, but couldn’t.

    Millet is indeed telling them to lie, if not tell a direct lie. It’s a slippery, sneakier form of lying. Answering the “question they should have asked” is lying because you’re misleading and manipulating the questioner.

    The whole “within a missionary context” is exactly the point. All missionaries are lying to their prospective converts. They’re hiding the whole truth, talking around it, making excuses for it, and white-washing it. Often (like re: becoming gods) it’s never taught until after someone’s become a member. Several times I’ve witnessed first hand how betrayed and manipulated a convert felt when finding out these “deeper” doctrines. They expected to have been informed up front what they were getting into. It’s a bait-and-switch.

    In fact, not only has the church cleansed the missionary discussions of controversial doctrines, they’ve also removed a lot of them from the Gospel Principles manual – the book that new converts are taught out of during sunday school. They do this so that by the time they hear about becoming a god, or heavenly mother, or that polygamy is still practised, they’re so far in that they can’t get out.

    It’s a classic cult tactic – milk before meat – i.e. obfuscate, manipulate, and water-down the truth to make it more palatable – or in other words, lie.

    • You’re certainly entitled to an opinion. But I strongly suspect that if you are confronted without warning by a hostile questioner you’re going to steer the discussion to your terms. Anyone with skill in debating, presenting, and teaching would do precisely the same thing. And dismissing it as lying is a convenient oversimplification if not misrepresentation.

      As far as the “classic cult tactic”, you’re just talking smack like the conservatives who dismiss Catholicism as the whore of the earth, and it’s disappointing as discussion I’ve seen at Molly’s tends to be higher quality than that. We can disagree and be critical of things that merit criticism without being inflammatory or disrespectful.

      • This isn’t (only) about hostile questioners. Millet is here teaching missionaries that in order to win converts, they shouldn’t tell the whole truth about Mormonism. Yes, I would agree that with someone who’s just trying to “get you”, it’s sometimes ethical to not directly answer their questions, but that is not what this is about.

        As for cult tactics – you should read up about what sorts of things are cult tactics. I think you’d be surprised to see how very many (a majority) Mormonism practises. There are degrees of cultishness, and pretty much all religions fit somewhere on the scale. Mormonism is pretty cultish, but slightly less so than Jehovah’s Witnesses for example, yet more cultish than Catholicism. I’m not using the word “cult” to daemonise Mormonism, rather I use it because it’s applicable. I’m not being inflammatory. I might be disrespectful, but I don’t believe in respecting bad or harmful ideas, so I’m ok with being called disrespectful.

  3. I guess I can’t say I’m more qualified to speak about taqiyya, than anyone, but…despite the fact that you went through Wikipedia all through the suggested reading to compile this post, I really don’t think that taqiyya is a good analogy for the Millet video. In fact, I have thought of taqiyya as being a quite reasonable doctrine for Isma’ili Muslims and other groups.

    It seems to me that if there is a witchhunt against your group — whatever that group is — and you can do something to hide away and protect yourself and your family, you should be supported in that. Instead, we have instances where people would rather die than deny their religion/whatever, and so people do die. Because we don’t have this kind of hiddenness concept, we believe that loyalty MUST be “out of the closet” (wherever that closet may apply) and that those who stay hidden are cowards.

    I think a better example of Taqiyya, I guess, in a Mormon context would be the absolute secretness of later era Mormon polygamy, as was discussed by…I don’t even remember. I believe it was a Mormon Stories podcast episode at some point..?

    • Your comparison between Taqiyya in persecuted Muslim groups like crypto-Muslims in Spain and the Lying for the Lord that polygamists engaged in to keep their husbands and fathers from going to jail is a good comparison. Maybe we need a follow-up post here that compares good lying with bad lying in Mormon/Muslim/Catholic settings?

      Taqiyya can be difficult to pin down because Islam, unlike the Catholic Church, isn’t exactly one cohesive faith system. It’s easy to say that Rome deserves blame for the paedophelia scandal. But Islam is all over the place. Arab-speaking Wahabis are very different from Indonesians with heavy Buddhist influence. However, Taqiyya has been interpreted on many occasions as condoning lying when it protects oneself or Islam from “enemies,” and that’s a pretty vague term. Page two of this Time Magazine article outlines the slippery slope problem with inheriting a scripture justifying dishonesty. The Koran intended Taqiyya as a protection against abuse. With a little twist, it can be used to abuse. In the article, the author writes, the ambiguous Islamic approach to honesty can make someone “sound exquisitely polite or deceitful, depending on the point you’re trying to make.” Taqiyya is a tricky historical artefact for the wide spectrum of Muslim belief much in the same way that Consecration and Polygamy is for Mormons.

      Needless to say, it makes a big giant mess when policies permitting lying aren’t pinned down definitively as only being applicable when someone is under duress. Here I’m not talking about legitimate reasons to avoid engaging with someone trying to bother you in an unfair or sensationalistic way. LDS critics like Ann Eliza Young and Utah Lighthouse Ministry come to mind as useless sources to engage with. I’m talking about getting a straight question like “do Mormons believe men can become gods,” as Millet mentions, and the prophet of the Church saying he has no idea what the questioner is talking about.

      • I know this post is very old, but I just read about the Mormon ‘milk before meat’ thing and was curious if anyone connected it with ‘taqiyyah’. But as a Muslim (who was raised Catholic), I just wanted to point out that the concept of taqiyyah as lying for the sake of PR is definitely NOT a part of orthodox/Sunni Islam.

        (That practice is taught by Shiites, and they do engage in such deception, but average Sunnis wouldn’t even know what you were talking about if you mentioned this to them. In which case, they’d then be accused of practicing taqiyyah!)

        What it actually means in Islam is that in very limited cases (like when you are being severely persecuted), you can say that you don’t believe in Islam, as long as you acknowledge in your heart that you really do. Otherwise, lying is forbidden except in three specific cases: in battle, to bring about reconciliation between people (for example, telling each of them that the other respects him or her and wants to make up – even when they didn’t actually say that), and between a husband and wife in order to make peace between them (as in: No, you don’t look fat in that – even though he or she does).

        I wish you would correct this…

  4. Honestly, I find the whole “answer the question they should have asked” concept to be completely disrespectful of the person asking the question and very rude.

    I recognize that a question like that might be asked just to pull soneone’s chain, but it could also be asked in a perfectly sincere manner. You know: “I heard this thing and I just want to know if that’s what your church teaches.” I’m afraid that if I got that from someone when I asked them a question, I would a) be offended (oh, horrors) and b) tell them straight out that they aren’t answering my question and would they please do so.

    But then, I’m kind of direct like that. Probably one of the reasons I didn’t fit in well with the Mormons.

  5. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Blasphemy Edition! | Main Street Plaza

  6. You have to remember who the audience is. These are 19 and 20 year old kids that are getting ready to go talk to people about their religion. I bet 3/4 of them would have no idea how to explain to a person a deep doctrine of the church. The whole reason he teaches them to deflect questions in this manner, is because these kids would have no idea where to begin to answer tough questions. It doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer, it just means these young kids have no way of being able to explain it to people. They are not lying because in all honesty, they have no way of explaining to a stranger theories about men becoming gods. The one thing they are good at, is telling you the story of how the mormon religion began, which is what they always want preach.

    • Which raises the fundamental problem of LDS proselytising: we’re sending out ignorant kids who are marketing a prepackaged, superficial message. They’re like college students walking around with Greenpeace petitions. They care about their movement but they don’t really understand it on a larger, deeper level.

      • But the time it takes to understand it on a larger, deeper level, takes decades, even lifetimes for some people to understand. Are people going to listen to a 75 year old guy walking around talking about religion? Is a 75 year old guy even going to be able to do as much as a 19 year old? Of course not, so thats why the mormon religion decided to send out kids to spread their religion. And really, what is wrong with sending out a prepackaged, superficial message? That’s what every door-to-door salesman does. Thats what every college student who volunteers for political causes does. When Obama’s followers came to my door, and I started asking where he stood on policies, I got that blank look ,and they look through their packets of information and then end up giving me a pamphlet and his web address. Sure their presentation sucked, but that didn’t mean that Obama didnt have the same positions as me. For some people having the ignorant kids going out won’t work. For a majority of human’s, (sorry, but there are a lot of simple minded people) some kid coming and telling me a story about some guy in New York is amazing.

        • FWIW, door-to-door salesmen and political canvassers trying to ram their beliefs down my throatnannoy me just as much as religious people trying to ram their beliefs down my throat. We have the Internet now to crowdsource information about literally anything, so picketing, cold-calling, and canvassing are obsolete forms of messaging. I don’t like junk mail, and I don’t like junk visits from people who want my time and money. My e-mail inbox has a spam filter; I wish I had the same thing for my front door.

  7. I can’t believe I’ve been a Catholic my whole life and never knew anything about Mental Reservation. I mean, I know about how priests are supposed to keep all sins confessed a secret, even if it’s something like a serial killer telling him his name, etc. He’s still not supposed to tell anybody.

    But I consider myself pretty well-versed in Catholicism’s crimes, especially the institutionalized ones, and I’ve never heard of this! Where can I read more about it?

    • I’m not a Catholic, but I’d start with the Catholic Encyclopedia and work outward from there. Look and see what the Catholic Church has to say for itself on the subject, then start including neutral and critical sources that discuss the topic. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

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