The Mutt’s Nuts

Where religion is about as attractive as a two week holiday in Afghanistan

Posts Tagged ‘Mormon

Fallen hero

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200px-joseph_smith_jr_1843_photograph.jpgAs a Mormon, the church’s early mythology was an important element in my initial acceptance of, and continuing loyalty to, the church. It cemented my sense of being part of a living, growing movement, one with heroism and pathos in its past, divine power and approval in its present and glory in its future.

The “official” history of Mormonism involves the selective retelling of the life of its founding prophet, Joseph Smith, and of the early church that he created. It’s the story of a poor, ill-educated farm boy who has a spiritual epiphany, receives a long-hidden book of significant religious and historical importance, is visited by God and by angels, restores the true church and priesthood of Jesus Christ which had been lost for centuries, withstands serious persecution, triumphs in the face of adversity, becomes an inspirational leader of his people, founds a city, commands an army, and is finally martyred for the cause of the gospel. Along the way, Smith is portrayed as an heroic character, a man’s man, strong, handsome, honest, loyal, brave, a loving husband and father. He is permitted a few minor flaws which do nothing to diminish the picture of his overall character – allowing himself to be taken advantage of by others because of his trusting nature or becoming overly-competitive in games of strength with his friends.

This is a figure that church members can be proud of and inspired by – someone who overcame the disadvantages of his situation in a spectacular way, a role model for the ideal patriarch and leader. Down-to-earth, yet blessed with extraordinary spiritual gifts of prophecy, revelation and seership. A character to aspire to, yet a personage to stand in awe of at the same time. In common with the mythologies of other religious founders, Smith is painted as larger-than-life, yet comfortably accessible too.

It’s not surprising that Smith plays such a central role in church history. His influence on the fledgling church and its continued progress since his demise at the relatively young age of 38, is immense and, indeed, provides the foundation for all of the most significant doctrines and activities of the church today. Everything that I believed and held sacred as a Mormon originated in the ideas of this one charismatic figure.

Because Smith’s life and teachings provide the backdrop to the church’s most sacred beliefs, they have necessarily been airbrushed by the religion’s leaders to provide an appropriately spiritual canvas upon which to build faith and testimony in both converts and long-time church members. As Mormon Apostle Boyd K Packer once famously commented: “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” (The Mantle is Far Far Greater Than The Intellect). In other words, prevarication in the presentation of church history is sometimes essential to maintain the faith of its members. If the truth does not promote faith, then church members need protecting from it.

This approach has proved very fruitful, as once the “approved” version of Mormonism’s early mythology is ingrained into its membership, it’s difficult to dislodge. For a start, the leaders of the faith do all in their power to ensure that the “official” history is widely taught, while seeking to dissuade members from accessing a more accurate, and potentially uncomfortable version. They often dismiss more accurate histories as “intellectual” rather than spiritual, as though using the intellect to assess and report historical events is shameful and unprofessional. Basically, they insist that maintaining a faith-promoting mythology is essential, even if the censorship of truth is required to achieve it. Often they do their job so effectively that most faithful members are unwilling to accept a more sceptical view of their church’s origins, no matter how much evidence there is for its veracity.

As I had only ever known the church-sanctioned version of Mormon history, realising that there was more to the stories of Smith and his exploits than I had suspected came as a nasty shock. Revering the man as God’s chosen vessel through which to restore his true church and priesthood certainly elevated my expectations of his behaviour above the ordinary. Of course I was aware that he had flaws, but I assumed that the uniqueness and responsibility of his calling required a certain level of integrity and honour. I had bought into the faith-promoting mythology so thoroughly that I was totally unprepared to discover the more unsavoury aspects of Smith’s character and actions.

It was his attitude towards women, and more especially his wife Emma, that first shook the foundations of my testimony regarding Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. I read a couple of books on one of his most controversial doctrines – plural marriage. One book in particular – Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard van Wagoner – detailed how Smith went behind his wife’s back numerous times to “marry” other girls and women. In one particularly poignant incident Emma, as president of the newly formed Relief Society (the organisation for women of the church), gave an address designed to quash the rumours that she believed to be wholly false regarding the institution and practice of polygamy within the church, while embarrassingly unaware that her two counsellors and her secretary were all secretly “married” to her own husband. Other stories of Smith propositioning the wives of his friends who had been sent away on missions at his direction, and reacting with venom towards the women who rejected him, cast serious doubt in my mind as to the likelihood that God would choose such a man to restore his true gospel to the earth in preparation for the eventual return of Jesus Christ, as I had always been taught.

No mention is made in “official” church history of Smith’s infidelity and deceitfulness, nor the way he used his position of authority to coerce married women into acquiescing to his demands that they enter into a polygamous relationship with him behind their husbands’ backs. Nor are members told about the malicious way in which he publicly destroyed the reputations of the women who refused his overtures. I’m sure these incidents would come under Boyd K Packer’s category of that which is true but not very useful in promoting faith.

Learning of these and other distasteful but verified and documented aspects of church history made me realise just how much my testimony had relied on the truthfulness of what I had been taught about the church’s beginnings and Smith’s career as an instrument of the Lord. I found it very hard to reconcile what I was now discovering with what I had always believed. Realising that the “faithful history” could not be trusted to give an accurate picture of what really happened, I was left with a dilemma. Did my new and growing knowledge of Smith’s character and actions mean that he may not have been a prophet of God after all?

But in my heart of hearts I already knew the answer. After 27 years of indoctrination, the church had done a wonderful job of convincing me to listen to my feelings, to treat my gut instinct as a communication from the Holy Spirit. My distaste for some of Smith’s more obnoxious activities felt too much like a confirmation that he wasn’t the man I had always believed him to be. With Joseph Smith gone, there was nothing left to support my belief in the uniqueness of the church. My hero had fallen – and taken my testimony with him.



Written by islaskye

March 21, 2008 at 6:49 pm

Jim Jones and Joseph Smith

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Last night I watched a documentary on Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, something which I really knew very little about. By the end of the broadcast I felt really shaken – it’s the kind of programme that haunts you for a long time afterwards.

The story of Jones and his followers was very disturbing on several different levels. The terrible tragedy of so many unnecessary deaths was heartbreaking, especially as described by the few survivors, some of whose wives and children died in their arms, and who were still profoundly affected by their experience 30 years later.

The knowledge that one person could accumulate enough power over others that they would willingly poison themselves at his command was also incredibly troubling.

But for me, one of the most shocking aspects of the whole documentary was the description of Jones and his “religion”, because it wasn’t difficult to make connections between his behaviour and that of the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith. Having previously been a Mormon for many years, I was shaken by the similarities exhibited by these two charismatic men. At times I almost felt as though I was watching a modern-day re-telling of the beginning of the Mormon church.

Let me say here that I don’t believe that Joseph Smith would have encouraged his followers to take their own lives. However, many of his qualities, experiences and actions were uncannily close to those of Jones in other ways.

Jones came from a poor family and grew up in a small town, as did Smith. He developed an interest in religion at a young age and so, by his own admission, did Smith. Jones became a preacher on the revivalist circuit. As a teenager, Smith acted as an “exhorter” at Methodist revival meetings, encouraging people to make a commitment to the church as they were touched by the message of the preacher. Both young men recognised the potential for influence that a religious leader held.

The messages of both men held broad appeal and attracted all types of people to their congregations. Both were well-known for their policy of welcoming whites and non-whites – in Jones’s case, African Americans, in Smith’s case, Native Americans. Admittedly, Jones’s determination to encourage desegregation was impressive and presumably built on a desire for racial equality. Smith’s rationale for gathering Native Americans into his fold, on the other hand, was rooted in religious belief. He taught that, anciently, the indigenous peoples of the Americas were of the House of Israel and, as such, were heirs to the blessings that God pronounced on the great patriarch, Abraham.

Jones and Smith were forced to relocate their growing band of followers in the early days of church growth, in order to better implement their visions for a more egalitarian society. They were both interested in the concept of “having all things in common” and encouraged church members to sell their homes and possessions and give the money raised to the church for redistribution more fairly, although in Smith’s case, this idea was met with enough resistance to prevent it from being implemented in any coherent way. However, both men did create communities that were set apart from the rest of society, giving them a committed power base that allowed them to mobilise hundreds, if not thousands, of people in support of the causes they espoused.

Both leaders were revered by their people and clearly revelled in this adoration, setting tests of their followers’ loyalty and commitment. In a horrible preview of the later events in Jonestown, Jim Jones arranged for drinks of Kool Aid to be given out during one church service, telling the congregation after they had drunk it that the juice was poisoned and then waiting to see their reactions. Smith devised a different kind of test, introducing the practice of polygamy, initially among the Mormon elite, much against their instincts and sensibilities. He charged one Mormon leader, Heber C Kimball, to give him (Smith) his wife. After much agonising, Kimball and his wife presented themselves to Smith, who then congratulated them on passing this test of their faithfulness and sent them home. (Smith later “married” Kimball’s 14 year-old daughter). Both Jim Jones and Joseph Smith had relationships with women (and in Jones’s case, men) outside of their marriage, using their position of church leader to accomplish this.

Smith and Jones both became involved in politics and accrued significant power in that area. Jones assisted Mayor Moscone to win a very close vote in San Francisco and was rewarded with the post of Head of the Housing Commission. Smith became Major of Nauvoo in Illinois and also launched an unsuccessful bid for the presidency of the United States.

Both men felt the force of opposition from mainstream society and were accused of law-breaking. Both eventually succumbed to an untimely death, as a direct result of their controversial lifestyles and teachings.

Towards the end of Jones’s life, he was addicted to drugs and clearly mentally ill. Meanwhile Smith definitely developed delusions of grandeur, at one point declaring that:

I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 408-409)

However, I wonder if, ultimately, what both Jones and Smith offered people, over and above their own charismatic teachings and presence, was hope and idealism. Those who felt disenfranchised could join a community of like-minded people. Those for whom the prevailing religions of the day no longer met their needs could embrace new, almost revolutionary, religious ideas. Those who believed in social justice could feel that they were able to make a difference.

There is no doubt that Smith and Jones were clever manipulators. As one woman commented in the documentary, Jones’s actions seemed completely plausible at the time. However, both men managed to transcend mere personality cult and tap into the undoubted desire in many of their followers to be part of a movement that was working to create a better world – a utopia or a Zion. One might argue that it was their drive, their personality, their astuteness that allowed them to convince people to give up so much and follow them to a new life. And it was their narcissism that ultimately led to their downfall and put their loyal followers at risk. In Jones’s case, paying the ultimate price for relying on him to fulfill their dreams of freedom and equality.


Written by islaskye

February 2, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Mitt Romney knows better

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There’s a particular Mormon forum that I used to be a regular contributer to, for many, many years. I don’t post there now, as I’ve lost the sense of “belonging” that I had in the days when I was an active participant there. But occasionally, I will silently visit and read the words of those who I once had an affinity for, and this brings me to the reason for this entry.

Earlier today, I read the transcript of Mitt Romney’s speech, the link to which I had come across at the forum that I refer to, and a certain paragraph jumped out to me. Actually, there were more, but I want to say a few things about this one paragraph:

Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.

I read that and immediately thought to myself, “Oh, come on, who are you trying to kid? Whose eyes are you trying to pull the wool over?” Of course, it’s quite obvious that he’s trying to appease certain Christians who find his brand of religiousness troubling. But seriously, as a practicing Mormon, the importance of willingly submitting to the words of church authorities will have been indelibly etched on his psyche, so I don’t believe for one minute that he’s capable of temporarily disentangling himself from a lifetime of Mormon indoctrination at the drop of a hat. If Romney is as devout as he appears, I doubt that he will be able to ignore his deep-rooted prejudices, his innate Mormonism.

So I just want to show how a “good” Mormon, like Romney, views the authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although he says that they will never “exert influence on presidential decisions”, the church authorities, especially the prophet and President of the Church, wield a huge amount of power in the lives of Latter-day Saints. I hope to demonstrate this by referring to an address that’s very well-known in Mormon circles.

In 1980, Ezra Taft Benson, who was at the time a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave a talk called The Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet, which has since become a Mormon classic, where he explained that if a person hopes to be crowned with God’s glory in the hereafter then that person must follow the prophet. This “grand key” – as he called it – is chief in importance as it alone unlocks the door to the highest heaven and all the membership of the Church knows this, so there’s no getting around it. This talk encapsulates everything that orthodox Mormons – including Romney, if his profession to be a faithful church member is correct – believe about their prophets. So though Romney claims emphatically that he can ignore his firmly implanted beliefs when making crucial decisions, I very much doubt this, given the paramount significance of the prophet’s utterances in the lives of Latter-day Saints.

Benson says that “the prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything” (fundamental 1, emphasis mine) and follows that up by quoting from Mormon scripture:

Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;

For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. [Doctrine & Covenants 21:4-6]

Did you hear what the Lord said about the words of the prophet? We are to “give heed unto all his words”–as if from the Lord’s “own mouth.”

Suppose the prophet makes an official declaration that runs counter to a presidential policy decision. How would Romney, as a Mormon, respond to this? Am I to seriously believe that he will choose to ignore the Lord’s mouthpiece and, in effect, ignore the Lord himself?

In his talk, Benson addresses this dilemma and answers it (fundamental 7):

The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.

Said President Harold B. Lee:

You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life…. Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow…. Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church. [in Conference Report, October 1970, p. 152-153)

How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness.

So where’s the wriggle room for a professed faithful Mormon when it comes to choosing between obedience to the Lord’s anointed and political expediency?

In his speech, Romney suggests that its inappropriate for a spiritual leader to become involved in political matters, that their stewardship is solely “within the province of church affairs”. But Benson says (fundamental 5):

The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.

We encourage earthly knowledge in many areas, but remember, if there is ever a conflict between earthly knowledge and the words of the prophet, you stand with the prophet, and you’ll be blessed and time will vindicate you.

And he reinforces this concept later in his talk (fundamental 9):

The prophet can receive revelation on any matter–temporal or spiritual.

Said Brigham Young:

Some of the leading men in Kirtland were much opposed to Joseph the Prophet, meddling with temporal affairs…

In a public meeting of the Saints, I said, “Ye Elders of Israel…. will some of you draw the line of demarcation, between the spiritual and temporal in the Kingdom of God, so that I may understand it?” Not one of them could do it….

I defy any man on earth to point out the path a Prophet of God should walk in, or point out his duty, and just how far he must go, in dictating temporal or spiritual things. Temporal and spiritual things are inseparably connected, and ever will be. [Journal of Discourses, 10:363-364]

The Mormon prophet is able to pontificate on any subject he feels inspired to speak about and it’s the duty of church members to “heed” his words and incorporate them into their everyday life, and even mindset. The prophet’s words will always be preeminent in relation to “earthly knowledge” or the wisdom of men.

When Romney says that the prophet’s authority “ends where the affairs of the nation begin” he’s pitting himself against Brigham Young who stated that no man should “point out the path a Prophet of God…or point out his duty, and just how far he must go, in dictating temporal or spiritual things.” Of course, I don’t believe that Romney thinks he knows better than God’s chosen representative on earth, as that would belie his persona of being a good Mormon, so I can’t help but think that he’s deliberately being disingenuous by making such a statement.

In all, there are 14 fundamentals that Benson talks about – read the talk! – which give a correct impression of what all true blue Mormons believe. I hope the points I’ve brought out give a glimpse into how important the concept of obedience to higher authorities is within Mormondom. And as a former Latter-day Saint who found the prospect of being a latter-day ain’t more attractive, I understand completely the homage that members pay to those powerful men who sit in the highest quorums of the Church. This is why I find Romney’s statements utterly unbelievable.

To think that he would allow a lifetime’s worth of propaganda not to “exert influence” on him is a ludicrous idea, more so as he believes that his indoctrination is a good thing that will eventually lead him through the pearly gates. He would have been taught from a very young age to follow the prophet, and that that is where safety lies. It’s preached week in and week out at church and reinforced in the home. Not only are church authorities always exerting influence over him by virtue of what he’s been taught to accept as true from childhood onwards, Benson’s summary of what Mormons believe regarding their prophet explains what Romney’s attitude would really be if he was faced with a conflict between political necessity and the pronouncement of the man he upholds as God’s mouthpiece on earth.

Curmudgeonly Yours

Dangerous thought

with 40 comments

From the moment I decided I could no longer believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and all through my questioning and ultimate rejection of all types of religions and gods, the most exciting and satisfying discovery that I made was that I could think for myself. For most of my life I had been content to accept that other people knew more about most things than I did and I would bow to the opinion of the “experts” or, in the case of religion, to those who claimed to be “inspired”.

All that started to change one day in 1995 when Gordon B Hinkley, recently ordained prophet and president of the Mormon church, visited our city as part of a short tour of the British Isles. As we very rarely got to see the prophet “in the flesh” over here, it was a wonderful treat and I was as excited as anyone. I couldn’t wait to hear what God’s representative on earth, as I believed, would have to say to us. I was expecting revelation, prophecy and a powerful spiritual experience. What I, and the other faithful, actually received was a series of reminiscences about the old guy’s missionary experiences some 60 or more years before, a tetchy complaint about the quality of the Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip supper that he had just consumed and, finally, the usual mantra of “pray, pay and obey”. The only time he looked and sounded the least authoritative was when he suddenly glared at the audience and told us to “cease backbiting”. I hadn’t noticed that we had a particular problem with backbiting, but as the man speaking to us claimed to have a hotline to God, I supposed that he knew our weaknesses better than I did.

As the meeting ended and President Hinckley made his exit from the building, I felt a tangible sense of anticlimax. This was not what I had expected from a prophet of God. The next week at church one of the women announced that she had copied down the prophet’s words in shorthand and transcribed it into typed copies, which other members happily clamoured for. I couldn’t bring myself to take one – it would only remind me of my disappointment. This was the first time I can remember ever having a rebellious thought in the whole of my church life thus far and, although I could never have anticipated it then, I had taken the first tentative step on the road to free thought.

Although I put my dissatisfaction to the back of my mind and carried on as a good little Mormon, the feeling never quite went away and, looking back, I can see now that it started to colour my attitude towards the church in subtle ways. Once I had had the temerity to find the prophet wanting, it would be easier to slip off the rose-tinted glasses that I had always worn to view the church and begin to see the reality behind the hype.

Fast forward 3 years to June 1998 and the dedication of the Preston Temple. Another huge spiritual event in the life of English Latter-day Saints. Again there was a great sense of anticipation. Everyone had taken the day off work especially to attend the dedication service. People had fasted, prayed and prepared themselves for a spiritual manifestation of divine approval. Unfortunately, the reality was much more mundane – a long coach journey, crowds of people that meant our group was initially herded into seats in the adjoining chapel rather than the temple itself (although just as the ceremony was starting some extra seats were found in one of the rooms of the temple and we were able to actually get inside the building). As we settled ourselves excitedly in our chairs, a video link to the celestial room allowed us to view the prophet and his counsellor, Thomas S Monson, as they gave their preparatory talks. The spirit that I had eagerly been awaiting seemed conspicuously absent as I listened to words that should have inspired, but didn’t. Only when the whole congregation stood to sing “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning” and the Hosanna Shout rang out inside the building, did a feeling of spiritual power descend upon the proceedings. However, the ceremony ended shortly after and I shuffled my way out into the daylight again, an ordinary mortal untouched by the hand of God.

This second big disappointment had me seriously worried and, naturally, I concluded that I was somehow to blame. Religion is good at convincing people that all their blessings come from God, but negative experiences are always their fault. I guiltily reflected that I had been less than conscientious about fasting on the first Sunday of each month as the church required. My prayers were not as fervent as they might be and I sometimes neglected to read the scriptures on a daily basis. The absence of a spiritual experience, both at the visit of President Hinckley and at the temple dedication could only mean one thing – I wasn’t worthy.

But try as I might to humble myself under this shameful knowledge, it was no longer the motivator it had once been. For some reason, much as I wanted to do better, I couldn’t seem to improve. In fact, I became somewhat more lethargic about prayer and scripture study and began fasting for less and less time on the appointed day, until I was only missing out one meal instead of two. Eventually I stopped fasting altogether. What had been easy for so many years started to become a burden. Oh, I continued to faithfully pay my tithing, keep the Word of Wisdom (the church’s health code) and work hard at my calling as a teacher in Relief Society, the women’s organisation. But the daily spiritual rituals were harder to maintain. I would have periods of rededication to them, but these rarely lasted longer than a few weeks at a time. What I realise now, but would never have accepted then, was that the church wasn’t fullfilling me as it had once done.

Athough the big events stand out in my mind as key moments at the start of my cognitive dissonance, I think it was the church’s tireless insistence on only providing gospel “milk” rather than “meat” that began to really tell on me and sap my enthusiasm. There was a big emphasis on “the basics”, as they were called – faith, prayer, scripture reading, keeping the commandments, following the prophet. Week after week the talks and lessons that we heard at church were variations on the same old themes and, quite frankly, for someone who had been a long-time member it was simply tedious. I began to long for an in-depth discussion, some revolutionary ideas, a radical programme to regain lost spirituality, but none of these ever materialised.

In my mind and to all outward appearances I was still a true-believing Mormon, but I was finding it harder and harder to get excited about what I was hearing at church. There were welcome oases in the desert of blandness – occasional talks or lessons that would temporarily fire me with enthusiasm and determination to increase my faith and obedience – but these were few and far between. By denying me the chance to explore, examine and discuss issues of real depth, the church was gradually squandering my love and commitment.

However, a calling to be Gospel Doctrine teacher reignited my enthusiasm somewhat. I set aside the predictable church-produced lesson manuals and sought to make my lessons more thought-provoking and scripture-based. Now that I was in charge of my own class, I could instigate some in-depth discussions and get people thinking. In my determination to make the most of this opportunity, I redoubled my efforts to really study the scriptures and search out their meaning for our lives.

My lessons were well received, and everything was fine until we began the annual course of study that included the Doctrine & Covenants and church history. I was making use of the internet to search out information about the early church to bring my lessons alive, when I started to notice some striking differences between a few important teachings of early church leaders such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and those that were being promulgated by the current hierarchy. Doctrines that had once been claimed to come directly from God, and to exist everlastingly, had either been watered down or even discarded entirely over the years. To me, this couldn’t be right. Either the truth was always the truth, or either the early or later leaders had made mistakes, while claiming to be inspired.

Once I accepted that somebody, somewhere, was tinkering with God’s revelations for the sake of convenience or popularity, I realised that a fatal flaw had occurred in my testimony of the church’s truthfulness. After much study of early church scriptures and writings I decided that the former prophets had simply been more “in tune” with God’s will, had manifested more impressive spiritual experiences and generally sounded more confident in their assertions of revelation than those of recent years. Because of my mounting questions about the discrepancies in scriptures and teachings, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable listening to talks and lessons at church. A couple of times I tentatively raised potential problems in Sunday classes, which, in my heightened state of awareness seemed almost glaring in their inconsistency, only to be “slapped down” by pompous members secure in their complacency. I realised that I didn’t belong at church any more.

Once I had made the decision not to return to church, a huge feeling of relief engulfed me. For the past few months I had been attempting to keep a lid on thoughts and feelings that were becoming more and more insistent. At last I was free to give them full reign, examine them properly without anxiety or guilt and stand by the conclusions that I drew from them. I relished the chance to free my thoughts from the channels in which they had been confined for so many years. It was an amazing feeling – and it still is.

As I allowed myself to think about and consider things that had been almost taboo as an obedient Mormon, I began to understand why the church was so determined that members shouldn’t stray from the party line. It became clear that freethinking will always be a danger to any organisation that relies upon obedience as a mechanism for controlling its members. Once someone begins to think for themself there is a real potential for dissent. Because the controlling organisation requires unquestioning loyalty and submission to authority to maintain its power base, new ideas, alternative views, open debate and discussion cannot be countenanced. In fact, as far as the LDS church is concerned, safety lies not in merely discouraging these things, but in continually reinforcing the belief that such actions are in complete opposition to God’s will. Query the church’s version of its history? Question the words of the Lord’s mouthpiece here on earth? Point out contradictions in scripture? All totally unthinkable.

Dissent from orthodoxy must be condemned in the strongest terms and perhaps the most derogatory epithet of all is the most telling – intellectual! This term in some religious circles has become almost synonymous with “trouble maker” or even “apostate”. While secularists might be flattered by such a label, believers shun it like the plague. To be labelled an intellectual in a church context is almost to be considered a disgrace to your religion. At the very least you can expect to be treated with suspicion; more likely you will be firmly called to repentance and warned of the dire consequences – particularly in the life to come – of your misguided actions. If you refuse to admit the folly of your ways, you face becoming a virtual pariah among your formerly friendly fellow-believers.

This may well be part of the reason why the freedom to think my own thoughts, unregulated by people who imagined they had some divine mandate to impose their thinking upon me, tasted so good when I finally threw off the shackles of religion. It was the first and, so far, the sweetest fruit of my unbelief and has made the long and difficult journey that I have subsequently undertaken all the more challenging and fascinating.


Written by islaskye

October 13, 2007 at 8:37 am