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.

Levels of Comprehension

If you don’t read Naked Pastor, you should. No, it’s not related to the Catholic sex scandal. Yes, it is a Christian leader courageous enough to bare his thoughts, doubts, and concerns open to the world. If only all religious leaders were so introspective and committed to the health of their congregations.

Pastor Hayworth recently applied Bloom’s Taxonomy to spiritual development. It’s a brilliant exercise, because it provided me with a very simple way to evaluate how useful a belief system is in truly helping its followers achieve their greatest potential. After some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that the higher up the ladder your belief system pushes you, the greater its value to you individually and to humanity as a whole. Any system that attempts to stop people on one of the lower rungs is probably more interested in power than in truth. The God it serves desires obedience and not enlightenment.

I’d love to see some comments applying this system to various beliefs. I’ll go ahead and provide my old perspective as a Mormon and contrast it with my current belief as an atheist. Quotes below explaining each step on the ladder are from Brother Hayworth.

Knowledge is the lowest form of thinking. This is the accumulation of facts. At this lowest level you can recall data or information. For instance, you might know your scripture verses and be able to recite a creed or know the facts about doctrinal theology.

Mormonism definitely encourages this. We learned songs in Primary, memorised scripture as we got older, chanted in Young Women’s, and at BYU religion courses were required. I had to memorise the Articles of Faith when I was baptised, the Mormon equivalent of Catechism. This is reflected in the culture; Mormon parents generally encourage their children to do well in school. My tendency to gobble up facts is something I’m grateful for, although ironically it set me on the path to seeing through it all.

Comprehension is the next level. Here you begin to understand the meaning of verses and creeds and doctrines. You understand it at a level where you can actually state them in your own words and discuss them. This shows you have a deeper understanding of them than the simple rote knowledge of the first level.

This is also encouraged in Mormonism, although I’ll add the caveat that understanding tends to be guided carefully toward officially accepted interpretations. Lip service is paid to the idea that anybody can read and interpret scripture for themselves, but in general everyone is expected to arrive at fairly uniform conclusions. It’s not a good sign that cognitive dissonance is going to happen at such an early level of thinking skills. It’s a fracture that goes almost all the way to the foundation.

Application is the third level. At this level you not only know your scriptures and some doctrinal theology, but you begin to understand how to apply it to your personal life and real life situations. In other words, scripture and theology is a kind of second nature to you because you apply what you know to novel situations in your life.

Mormons are highly encouraged to apply their religion to their daily lives. Speech, food and drink, clothing, home décor, entertainment, social activities, and friends are all selected based on religious teachings. “Second nature” is a good way to describe the stamp that Mormonism places on members’ behaviour. At this level knowledge and comprehension are fully integrated, but at this level only the exercise of the faith system is going on. There isn’t any self-scrutiny or thinking going on about the larger picture or the significance of these actions. At this level, a Mormon pays tithing, attends church, goes to the temple, and slips slang like G’s (garments), GA (general authority), RM (returned missionary) into daily speech, but without deeper thought than that needed to execute the motions. For example, at this level a Mormon will pay tithing, but will not think about what happens with tithing money once it is paid into the system, nor will that person think about whether or not they approve of what those funds are used for.

Ignorance is bliss, and this is the highest someone can go whilst remaining ignorant and happy. This is the highest most members of my family have ever gotten, which is why they are able to spout out things they have learned from rote repetition, such as “Everyone is born with weaknesses. Some people are born with a risk of becoming alcoholics, and others have the temptation to be gay. They don’t have to give into those temptations.” They neither believe nor disbelieve the things they say, because at this level true belief is impossible. They simply don’t grasp the significance of anything they say, and also don’t grasp the significance of their knee-jerk reactions when somebody challenges the rubbish they spout.

Analysis is the next highest level. The first 3 levels (knowledge, comprehension, application) are the most common levels achieved. Analysis is a more advanced kind of thinking because you can separate the concepts into parts. You begin to see the framework, the under-girding, the skeleton, and the connections in the texts and doctrines. You are beginning to be able to critique the texts and doctrines and their relationship to one another.

It’s interesting that Hayward notes that most people do not progress beyond application of their belief system. I believe this is because beyond this level you have to commit a lot more intellectual resources than most people can handle. It’s not that most people aren’t smart enough to do it; more likely most of them are busy or just don’t care. If they fall within the mainstream of people who are readily accepted by their belief system (for Mormons, this means white, middle-class, straight, cisgender, conservative) then the system probably works for them, so there’s little need to examine it or want to address the parts that are broken. It just works. Very few people comfortable with their system are going to have the time or interest to progress beyond application. This means a disproportionate number of people who progress to analysis are going to be misfits of some kind.

When Mormonism failed me, the sparkle of fairy-dust began to wear off the system that I had believed magic and all-knowing. I began to see the man behind the curtain, and I could not ignore him. I saw how the machine operated, and I saw that it had no safety valves to catch women like me. All it had was a structure that kept me pinned beneath the authority of whatever random man the machine assigned, and my psychological and physical health was in the hands of that man. I was paired up with a bishop who was convinced that if I just prayed a little bit more and tried just a bit harder, my (soon to be ex) husband would come around. He didn’t, and when I stopped coming to the bishop for counsel I suddenly found that there was no place for me in the machine. Unsupervised women in Mormonism are like bolts that have come loose from the machine and fallen to the factory floor. They either need to be screwed back in or discarded.

Whether or not one remains a believer, it is impossible to achieve the stage of analysis without becoming disillusioned. The perfect fairy-story world that existed in stages one, two and three shatters. This is the phase where there is the most anger, as one’s worldview has been completely turned upside down. This is also where those at lower phases dismiss those with legitimate concerns as “angry apostates,” again because they are unable to comprehend anything larger than their world of ingesting knowledge and performing prescribed duties.

I believe that the LDS Church is hostile to this level of thinking and all the levels above it. There is superficial lip service to “progressing in knowledge” but even this term just shoots you back to step one — knowledge. “I know this church is true” is not a belief statement for most Mormons — it’s a statement of fact. Church = true. Anything that would cause a Mormon to examine the structure of the Church will also inevitably lead them to notice its conflicting doctrines and practises with regards to women, polygamy, non-white people, and sexual minorities. The farther up we go from here, the less able a person will be able to be the good little True Believing Mormon that LDS, Inc. wants them to be. The open hostility the Church shows to “the philosophies of men” and the pride Mormons take in its uneducated, anti-intellectual prophets is strong evidence of this.

Synthesis is the fifth level where you begin to build your own structure and pattern of thinking out of the diverse elements from the texts and doctrines. You unite different parts together to form a new kind of whole. You create a new meaning or structure of thought that is uniquely your own. You find a way to assimilate and integrate various elements of thought, even from outside your own tradition or system, into your own way of thinking (or some might say “believing”).

Building your own structure can only come after the spiritual applecart has been upset. After the shattering process of Analysis, we begin to pick up the pieces. Imagine a broken teapot; some people will glue it all back together and put it back to use. It isn’t as pretty or elegant as it once was, but it still makes tea. Others, disgusted with the teapot’s failure to endure the bumps and rattles of scrutiny, scoop it all up and toss it in the bin. Still more will keep some of the prettier shards, repurposing them for a new function or keeping them on the shelf as an artefact of a completed phase of life. This phase is where formerly ideal Mormons realise that there is no going back, and that they must choose a pragmatic approach to their faith system or leave it for one that better matches their new worldview. This is where people begin to figure out labels such as “ex-Mormon,” “Post-Mormon,” and “Formon” (my personal favourite).

Evaluation is the final level. At this level you not only are able to critique the texts and doctrines and their relationship to one another, but you are able to make judgement about the whole thought system and belief system altogether. You can even make judgement about the value of the religious ideas you were taught or that you possess. At this level you evaluate not only the entire system, but its value and relation to other systems. This is the most mature level.

Mormonism values obedience above all else. “Follow the Prophet, Follow the Prophet, Follow the Prophet, Don’t go astray,” they teach us in Primary. “Praise to the Man” we sing in Sacrament. I don’t know if I’ve fully reached this level, but I think that I’m prepared to begin thinking about the value of the religious ideas I was brought up with. I do not believe the Mormon church offers the best plan available to humanity. I believe its teachings and practises make it very efficiently self-sustaining. It offers comfort to those who fear death and obliteration by telling them death isn’t for real, and that they don’t have to say goodbye to their families, ever. It’s perfectly understandable why people would want that. But LDS, Inc. uses lies to sell that idea. Even if there is a god and even if there is an afterlife, dishonesty shouldn’t be used to draw people toward it. There are numerous flaws in the process that demonstrate that although LDS, Inc.’s stated goal is to get people into Heaven, what it’s better at is enriching itself as an organisation and leveraging its power over its members. It unapologetically marginalises women, minorities, sexual minorities, intellectuals, and nonconformists, and that is a fatal flaw. It sets its members up for deep distress if they ever dare to venture beyond the first three phases of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Pastor Hayworth always delivers up so much food for thought. If you don’t follow him, he’s @nakedpastor on Twitter and blogs and cartoons regularly at nakedpastor.com.