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“They feel like they were tricked or betrayed.”
July 21, 2013 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt
"The church is grappling with a wave of disillusionment among members who encountered information that sabotages what they were taught about their faith."
posted by andoatnp (135 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
Learning your history has a way of bringing religion into context.
posted by Riovanes at 4:12 PM on July 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


Information, knowledge, and education are dangerous. I wonder if there have ever been instances of religions attempting to keep them from people. Nah, religion is about truth and honor and doing right in the eyes of your deity/is, it's not about power or control.
posted by headnsouth at 4:13 PM on July 21, 2013 [29 favorites]


The entire history of LDS is a history of the leaders lying to the followers. The handcart tragedy, the constant revision of the official history of the church, selective use of Smith and Young's statements, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, etc. It's hard not to be sarcastic about a religion with an origin myth as suspect as LDS complaining that young followers are having second thoughts when they're exposed to actual impartial information about what they'd been taught.
posted by goatdog at 4:22 PM on July 21, 2013 [22 favorites]


“I don’t want to hurt the church,” Mr. Mattsson said. “I just want the truth.”

Ah yes, unfortunately you cannot have both.
posted by nevercalm at 4:23 PM on July 21, 2013 [54 favorites]


I have many feels about this.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:24 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Very interesting article. It should be noted, I think, that the quest for truth isn't limited to Mormonism. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of people 18-29 are non-religious/atheist.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:25 PM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Saying that information sabotaged anything is really anthropomorphizing information.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:25 PM on July 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


The Internet can't be beat for accessing information, but for the curious that dare to question their faith, dead trees have been around a lot longer. The Utah Lighthouse Ministry, founded in pre-Internet 1983 by ex-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner, has published dozens of books, pamphlets, and newsletters challenging the accuracy of LDS church history.
posted by cenoxo at 4:32 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Previously: The Case of the Mormon Historian
posted by andoatnp at 4:32 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's easy to hate on LDS, but this article is a pretty nuanced take on the difficulty of reconciling faith history and factual history. It seems insane to me that any Mormon would be ignorant of Joseph Smith's polygamy, for instance, but as the article notes it's just something that's not discussed within the culture. LDS is a religion founded entirely in a time of good historical record and as a rule Mormons (at least in the US) are well educated and able to do their own research. It's a conundrum for any religion, but doubly so for an American religion founded in some very dubious pseudohistorical mythology.

I was particularly interested in this official church history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. That article does bend over backwards to explain the historical context that led to a bunch of ignorant Mormons murdering a bunch of innocent settlers. But it also conveys the facts and situation in a pretty forthright way and seems a reasonably honest treatment. All that's missing is an examination of the claim that Brigham Young himself ordered the massacre, but my understanding is there's no real historical record to back that up.
posted by Nelson at 4:34 PM on July 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


The difference, cenoxo, is that pre-Internet it was much easier to characterize folks like the Tanners as being simply "anti-Mormon". But with the Internet you now have faithful and active members connecting with each and sharing doubts on their own steam. The dynamic has shifted.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:36 PM on July 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Saying that information sabotaged anything is really anthropomorphizing information.

Now I'm imagining information sitting in a bar, slightly drunk, and complaining to the bartender: "I just feel like, I dunno, the better job I do, the less people like it, you know? Like they'd almost prefer lies? It makes it hard, when no one appreciates what you do. Your wife is cheating on you, by the way."
posted by jcreigh at 4:38 PM on July 21, 2013 [218 favorites]


One has to wonder how so many people are only now realizing google is a thing.
posted by jenlovesponies at 4:39 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


One has to wonder how so many people are only now realizing google is a thing.

Considering how many relatives cheerfully forward utter baloney without checking snopes.com first, I think it's a very large number.
posted by ambrosia at 4:41 PM on July 21, 2013 [40 favorites]


Google is one thing, but now there are whole communities online, peopled by active, still-believing members who are openly discussing their doubts and concerns.

I think there are other factors too: Romney, Prop 8/DOMA, Facebook. More people are talking more often. Shit is bound to hit the fan.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:44 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:45 PM on July 21, 2013 [44 favorites]


This is basically my story, although I grew up United Pentecostal, not Mormon. It's a truly gutwrenching feeling to realize you've been told so many things that aren't true....and I think it's kind of difficult to understand how hard it is from the outside. I hope the man profiled in the article finds peace eventually.
posted by PrettyKnitty at 4:56 PM on July 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


As with so many other examples, it's not the crime that gets you, it's the cover-up. An open and transparent church would have allowed Mormons to control the message and rob their critics of ammunition. For example, say the Mormon church had widely released the following statement:

Joseph Smith married multiple wives, as did Abraham, David and Moses. This was a common practice in the past, and may be so again someday in the future. It is the church's position that at this point in history plural marriage is not the best suited form of marriage for strengthening the family, and so people of the faith do not practice it at this time.

Of course, not everyone would find this message agreeable, but I'm willing to bet that the majority of people who are already willing to take Mormon teachings on faith would be able to seamlessly integrate it into their worldview. It's only when the church is revealed as having tried to hide something that people really start to have doubts.

Of course, the public relations strategies that work best in the age in the internet are not the same as the ones that worked best 150 years ago, and religions are slow to adapt as a rule, but you'd think that someone high up in the church would have caught on by now.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:58 PM on July 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


"We built our house on lies and shoddy guesswork, and now we're having problems! Who could have foreseen this?!"

Seriously, if you haven't already, page through the Book of Mormon sometime. It reads like a guy who isn't very literate trying to imitate the cadence and vocabulary of the King James, because it's a guy who isn't very literate trying to imitate the cadence and vocabulary of the King James. It's like a cargo cult version of the Bible.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:01 PM on July 21, 2013 [66 favorites]


This morning I drove through some back roads that crisscross the middle of Pennsylvania. I drove through a little town, probably 600 people all told, when church was getting out. One big Lutheran church, right in the middle of town. No other churches. I betcha most of the folks in that town were Lutheran. Because, hey, that's our church. That's where we go.

Religion is a often just a silly happenstance, as are, I suppose, so many other things.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:02 PM on July 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Just wait 'til he hits a YouTube video for "Hasa Diga Eebowai."
posted by delfin at 5:04 PM on July 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


Seriously, if you haven't already, page through the Book of Mormon sometime. It reads like a guy who isn't very literate trying to imitate the cadence and vocabulary of the King James, because it's a guy who isn't very literate trying to imitate the cadence and vocabulary of the King James. It's like a cargo cult version of the Bible.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:01 PM on July 21


Here's Mark Twain's take:

All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the “elect” have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so “slow,” so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle—keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, accourding to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.

The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James’s translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel—half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern—which was about every sentence or two—he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:06 PM on July 21, 2013 [196 favorites]


Damn, that's dead-on.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:08 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


The story of the Kinderhook Plates is a damning one.
posted by Agave at 5:13 PM on July 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Joseph Smith married multiple wives, as did Abraham, David and Moses. This was a common practice in the past, and may be so again someday in the future. It is the church's position that at this point in history plural marriage is not the best suited form of marriage for strengthening the family, and so people of the faith do not practice it at this time.
Uh oh, it's only a step from there to gay marriage, if it is possible for the best suited form of marriage to change according to the times. Did they think this through before using it as an explanation of Smith's polygamy?
posted by jepler at 5:14 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The difference, cenoxo, is that pre-Internet it was much easier to characterize folks like the Tanners as being simply "anti-Mormon". But with the Internet you now have faithful and active members connecting with each and sharing doubts on their own steam. The dynamic has shifted.

Now I can find a blog written by someone who seems very much like me and shares a lot of my values and way of thinking and is giving voice to questions that were vaguely in the back of my head. And very likely there's other people in the comments, and I can ask my own questions and get responses from people who are neither close-minded adherents nor antagonistic outsiders.

I can see this dynamic going on in a lot of religious communities -- evangelicals talking for the first time about feminism, acceptance of homosexuality, questioning the doctrine of hell. Almost none of the content people are discussing is new; it's been available in books for a long time. What's new is people connecting with people they trust in ways that make it much harder for gatekeepers to discredit the source.
posted by straight at 5:16 PM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


DC, long-time Internet user here. With the speed at which the Internet can spread information or disinformation, it's still up to each of us to examine the truth as we see it. More information may raise more questions, but not necessarily more answers, especially where personal beliefs of any stripe are concerned. Faith, even when slapped in the face with Fact, may choose to turn the other cheek.

A local shopping mall has the following quote on a window poster in an unoccupied retail space, "Man searches for meaning, not truth. - Michael Burns". I think that sums things up pretty well.
posted by cenoxo at 5:22 PM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


The article was good, but it only scratches the surface. There is a lot going on here.

Like others have mentioned, this information has been around for ages, long before the internet. The difference is in how Mormons are interacting with that information. In the past it was generally treated as anathema, i.e. "don't entertain those sinful thoughts, brother, they'll only lead you astray" or "the person who wrote this was excommunicated for adultery and has a grudge against the church". Furthermore the only place that fellow Mormons could really get together and discuss these things would have been during a church function, and the content of general church discourse has always been heavily regulated by the local authorities (you can talk about THIS but not about THAT).

Nowadays it takes a couple of clicks and you're online, having a discussion with your fellow members across the globe. Seriously go check out the "mormon blogosphere" some time. It's vasty.

Interestingly a lot of these discussions were happening in the past as well, groups and publications with alternative or skeptical views about certain elements of the church, but they were always just pockets of activity, again easily identified as "deviant" or "kooky" or just plain "apostate".

We're ever more connected, and younger people are increasingly vocal and unafraid to share whatever is on their minds. Hitting 'post' on Facebook is remarkably easy, and I a lot of dissent gets voiced that way. Used to be the black sheep of the family would just skulk in the corner at Thanksgiving, now they get to say whatever they want and all their relatives can read it at their leisure.

I think it's also important to consider how different people paproach religion in general. It's facile --and myopic, really-- to say that religion is all about control and the sheeple just need to wake up, etc... as if that was always the case for all people for all of time (Arsenio brings up an excellent point about geography upthread). On the other hand it's more difficult, but far more interesting to examine religion's origins and intent through the lens of human desires, desires which continue to exist no matter the day or age.

For example, my wife's approach to religion is nearly polar opposite to mine. For her it is a source of community and a guiding light. It helps her parse difficult events in her life, it serves to remind her of higher-order principles like love and compassion and service.

For me it was a path to truth enlightenment, until one day it wasn't.

I found I had to re-examine my faith. This is of course an ongoing process. I'm fairly well planted in the skeptic's camp, and yet I haven't felt any great compulsion to reject the faith of my upbringing outright. I'm sure this is because I'm a flawed individual, unable to fully commit to some Dawkins-esque rejection of all things religious. Probably a deadly character flaw!

Getting back to the article, I think the single biggest challenge the church faces is that for years we have held on to a false dichotomy that the church is either "all true" or "all fake". Such a black and white proposition is impossible to maintain and completely divorced from reality. But the church is caught between two hard places: They could make policy changes and other clarifications that would appease a great many of these disaffected members. But if they do that, they run a great risk of losing a sizable portion of stalwarts who are utterly convinced that the church leaders can never lead them astray. They're trying to find a middle ground but finding very little purchase there, a predicament of their own making.

Finally I want to point how disaffection is still dealt with in a large number of Mormon congregations. That is to say, it isn't. On the rare occasions a member is vocally malcontent, they tend not to last the year before being exommunicated. There very likely are other people with similar thoughts, but they've learned that 'silence is golden' and they keep their doubting thoughts to themselves.
posted by Doleful Creature at 5:25 PM on July 21, 2013 [41 favorites]


I suspect that a good deal of the skepticism may come from things such as this Wikipedia article, which notes that quite a lot of the archaeological research sponsored by the LDS to verify the historical reality of the Book of Mormon has done quite the opposite. (As has, it should be noted, much of biblical archaeology in general, although the debate continues to rage, as with this recent discovery.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:30 PM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


This morning I drove through some back roads that crisscross the middle of Pennsylvania. I drove through a little town, probably 600 people all told, when church was getting out. One big Lutheran church, right in the middle of town. No other churches. I betcha most of the folks in that town were Lutheran. Because, hey, that's our church. That's where we go.

Religion is a often just a silly happenstance, as are, I suppose, so many other things.


This is exactly the realisation that led me at age 18 to become atheist. I finally got a decent grasp of statistics and realised how vanishingly unlikely it was that I would just happen to have been born into the one true religion (and in fact, the one "correct" denomination of that religion). And moreover, that my parents and grandparents would also happen to have been born into it. Lucky for us, I guess! And what do you know? Everyone else who is fervently religious and belongs to completely different religions from me also thinks they got lucky and were born into the right religion! So we can't all be right. And what's the chance that of all the people who got it wrong, I'm exceptional?
posted by lollusc at 5:44 PM on July 21, 2013 [25 favorites]


It should be noted, I think, that the quest for truth isn't limited to Mormonism.

Unfortunately for the Mormons, many of their claims can be contested by well documented historical record or by modern science (in the case of the decended from Israelites nonsense).

Most other religions don't make claims so easily subject to verification. (Transubstantiation aside.)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:44 PM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


i got online for the first time in '94 or so when i was 13 years old. i was having a hard time at the lds church (i was born under the covenant, 3rd generation) - our town was pretty split between rich and poor and the church was no different. i wasn't one of the affluent members and i wasn't especially beautiful or pure looking. i was just starting to notice how much those things seemed to matter. i had seen a number of things over the previous few years that shook my faith, but the internet was the nail in that particular coffin.

i still remember what it was - i think i had a question about something i heard in sunday school or something a friend had argued during our intense conversations where i doubted and she worked hard to save my soul - i wasn't searching for what i found, but what i found couldn't be unseen. i had always been told that there had only been a handful of changes to the book of mormon and they had all been things like typesetting and spelling (which proved its divinity - since JS was so uneducated no way he could make a book that stayed consistent throughout with few if any grammatical errors). then i learned about the thousands of changes, and how things as huge as the concept of the trinity are among the changes.

i'm so thankful for a little erroneous internet searching. without it i might have found a way to bury those doubts (and my queerness). i'm glad the information is a lot better indexed now.
posted by nadawi at 6:38 PM on July 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


Unfortunately for the Mormons, many of their claims can be contested by well documented historical record

yeah - the problem has always been the newness. i very much believe all the rest are just as (if not more) ridiculous - but their true histories are long lost, some purposefully. the mormons have always had a knowable history problem.
posted by nadawi at 6:42 PM on July 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Most other religions don't make claims so easily subject to verification. (Transubstantiation aside.)

Why just transubstantiation aside? A 6,000-year-old Earth, global flood/extinction, resurrection, afterlife...

No religion (depending on how you define "religion") stands up to scientific scrutiny. Mormonism just feels more culty to 21st century Americans, so people find it more... I don't know, justified? reassuring? that Mormons are finding out that their faith-history is just as nonsensical as a burning bush giving stone tablets to a dude wandering around in the desert.
posted by Etrigan at 6:42 PM on July 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Interestingly enough this phenomenon is nothing new... it's something that all new American religions have gone through recently thanks to the internet.

Scientology is a fantastic parallel. Just like Mormonism, it has incredibly dubious origins. Sure, it's probably helped some people here or there, but it's also been incredibly destructive (probably even more destructive than Mormonism, except that Scientology hasn't had any violent events like Mountain Meadows). Scientology, like Mormonism, has a "for us or against us" attitude and a very "black and white" way of looking at the world. It's also completely based on feelings, rather than any kind of evidence, just as Mormonism is... "I feel that Dianetics has helped my life... I have a burning in my bosom that Joseph Smith was God's prophet."

Scientology is actually further in the process of implosion, though. It's just starting for the LDS.

For Scientology, there are maybe 20,000-30,000 active members left worldwide at this point, and that number is shrinking every year. The internet is delivering the death blow.

Ten or twenty years ago, if someone left the church, they left as quietly as possible. Leaving and making noise meant that you'd face harsh retribution from the church. If anyone expressed any doubts, they'd be punished severely and warned that they needed to get away from all these sources of "evil, false information." Today, people are leaving the church and starting blogs, creating websites, starting protests... it's really unbelievable and you'd have never seen it coming given how things were just five or ten years ago.

Sunshine is the great disinfectant. Thanks to how much of Scientology's scriptures, dogma, and history are now available online, people can look it up and see what the church is really about.

A simple Google search will show you that this is a church that believes that you need to give it hundreds of thousands of dollars so you can exorcise dead alien souls that are all over your body. Ten or twenty years ago, you wouldn't know that information until you paid $350,000 and had spent at least 10-20 years of your life in the group.

Of course Mormonism has been a great benefit and help in many peoples' lives, but it's refreshing to see some sunshine and some people asking questions.
posted by Old Man McKay at 6:45 PM on July 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


yeah - all those things are ridiculous (6000 year old earth, etc) - but they aren't quite as instantly ridiculous (or able to pointed out as instantly ridiculous, i guess) as things like the abraham image that turned out to be run of the mill funerary texts.

also - i get the comparisons to scientology - both pretty new, both pretty wacky, both with some alien type stories - but they've never really been similar in numbers or scope. the lds are a legitimate religion (as legitimate as any of them) while scientology has always been a lot closer to self help/pyramid marking/scam artist stuff. if anything, scientology is better compared to some of the mormon offshoots.
posted by nadawi at 6:51 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wasn't Mormon, but a lot of my own personal seeking is reflected in this article and the big part of it was nobody could give me answers that would satisfy my younger self. But, maybe most critically, they wouldn't say "We don't know, but my best guess is..." It was always a smugly condescending (or it felt that way anyway) "It's God's plan..." or "Well, the Bible says..." or "The Lord works in mysterious ways..."

So, naturally, I turned to the internet, and so began tugging at the thread that unraveled my whole faith. It was only after that that I even ran into believers who could give me better answers and I had some very interesting discussions, but nothing that changed my mind. The irony is I had to be atheist to run into them.

T'were I a church elder of any stripe, what this would say to me is to make it a priority for everyone to study their faith deeply rather than just sort of blithely accepting it. Realizing the main reason that my family was Catholic wasn't some deeply held conviction in the Catholic philosophy or belief system, it was more that's what we'd always been so we just kept doing it took a lot of wind out of the "one true religion" sails. For me, anyway.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:05 PM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


To me, the mistake the founders of the faith made was in making the falsifiable claim that native americans were descendents of middle easterners. All the way up to 1981 it was pretty clearly stated, "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."

Apparently nobody with the gift of prophecy was able to predict the emergence of genetic testing.
posted by mullingitover at 7:05 PM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


I learned about Mormon polygamy from A Study in Scarlet. I realize other people might not read Sherlock Holmes as much/often as I do, but this historical fact of the LDS is definitely entrenched in the cultural record.
posted by RainyJay at 7:20 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


the lds are a legitimate religion (as legitimate as any of them) while scientology has always been a lot closer to self help/pyramid marking/scam artist stuff.

I dunno. Scientology requires you to pay increasingly more money to progress to the next OT level. The LDS require you to tithe 10% to get a temple recommend so you can complete all of the ordinances necessary to get into the Celestial Kingdom.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:26 PM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


When I read this headline, my first reaction was: "Of course they are." This is one of the main reasons that the Orthodox Jewish community in New York has been seeking ways to keep its members off of the Internet. Their leaders are so afraid that the faithful will find reasons to leave the fold.

There should be no fear of people investigating their beliefs. The exercise should in fact be one of the major tenets of any belief system.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:42 PM on July 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's not a pyramid scheme, though the book it rallies around may be blatant hokum.

The really interesting thing about Mormonism in Utah is how it seems that, so long as you're a member of the church in good standing, the church and your neighbors will take care of you — help you through financial rough patches, that sort of thing. A sort of friendly socialism-of-the-believers. But if you're not a church member in good standing, well, you're not really there to them.

So, yeah, it's its own thing. Not a pyramid scheme.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:49 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


But when he discovered credible evidence that the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, was a polygamist and that the Book of Mormon and other scriptures were rife with historical anomalies, Mr. Mattsson said he felt that the foundation on which he had built his life began to crumble.

I'm sorry, but has Mr. Mattsson ever read scripture?

D&C 132 is all about plural marriage, and 51-57 very specifically command Joseph Smith's wife Emma to shut up and accept his new wives.

I know that and I'm not even Mormon, much less a third generation, born in the covenant Saint.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:50 PM on July 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


Most other religions don't make claims so easily subject to verification.
46% of Americans believe in Creationism. I think the Mormons are just doing a poor job of Message Control.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:51 PM on July 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think Mark Twain summed it up best as far as Mormonism's book goes.That said, I would rather have Mormon neighbors than Scientologist neighbors or Jehovah's Witness neighbors.
I've known some pretty nice people who happened to be Mormon.
But religious discussions with them can be pretty fraught. :)
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:00 PM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


lots of religions require tithes of one form or another (or givings to charity or passing the plate). megachurches around here have atms in the foyers. you don't need to convince me of the shittiness of the mormon tithing but it's still a very different thing than scientology and levels and hiding people in crazy dungeons.

beyond all that though - just to the matter of membership. scientology at its peak was counted in the couple hundred thousands by outside sources and 2 or so million by the church itself. mormons are close to 15 million. they aren't really the same at all no matter how the internet conversations often go.
posted by nadawi at 8:04 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


the not knowing about polygamy is weird, i agree. if anything, even back in the 90s, the mormons were pretty good at teaching a revision on the critiques. these often happened before you heard the critiques so you were already ready with the answers (and serves as a good buffer for doubt).

the polygamy stuff was taught to us in primary. as i remember it went like this - god gives different people different rules because the challenges faced are different - back in the beginning of the church, because of persecution, there weren't enough men for the women - but god required that marriages happened between mormons - so polygamy allowed more children born into and raised unto zion. our lessons often focused on the times that church leaders would marry very old women and adopt their adult children, not as a sexual or loving marriage, but a marriage of protection. it was taught hand in hand with things like the bishop's storehouse.

having said that - our lessons absolutely never touched on joe smith's teen brides who were told to run if they saw (his primary wife) emma.
posted by nadawi at 8:10 PM on July 21, 2013


I'm mormon too, and all I have to say is, do these people not understand the words "due diligence"? Are there racist homophobes in the church? Yes, more than I would like, but we're working on that.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:12 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing about the 10% tithe is, yes, it's a requirement for temple attendance, but the church policy strictly forbids any church leader verifying exactly what '10%' means to the membership. This is actually a fairly big deal; the church is very careful to say only that members are asked to offer 10% of their increase annually, which is quite similar to Catholic and most protestant churches. What that 10% is actually based in is a private matter. This is very different than Scientology where there is a specific (as far as I've read) dollar value for each OT level.

I've always thought the members being shocked about Joseph Smith polygamy was a little weird...it certainly wasn't a taboo subject in my household and I'm pretty sure it was discussed in church too. But I grew up Mormon in California, which may be slightly different than, say, being Mormon in Utah or being Mormon in a faraway country where your primary contact with the church is through missionaries (like Mattson in Sweden). Granted I definitely didn't know about the polyandry. That one was pretty shocking.

Something else interesting that I have noticed, especially here in Utah where I live now, is that very often it is socially better to just be a lazy Mormon than a questioning one. Like, if I stopped going to church simply because I would rather go fishing, friends and family might *tsk* about it but it wouldn't be a huge deal. On the other hand, if I stopped because I didn't believe anymore, the reaction would be a lot more negative. And if I stayed while also being open about my doubts and skepticism...well, that doesn't tend to go over well at all. You're either with us or your against us...

Actually on that note, I spoke in my local congregation today. The subject was pioneers. I really really wanted to discuss the idea that folks like Mattson are a kind of pioneer, because they're seeking new ground, trying to engage fully with the church's past and present. But, being a bit of a coward and not willing to jeopardize my family's social standing in the ward, I kept my remarks to a generic "we should be willing to listen to those with whom we disagree". It's really hard to be bold and speak truth when everyone is a gatekeeper.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:18 PM on July 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


T'were I a church elder of any stripe, what this would say to me is to make it a priority for everyone to study their faith deeply rather than just sort of blithely accepting it.

When I was a pastor, I used to run an adult Sunday School class. I think we called it "Advanced Bible Interpretation" or something like that, but I referred to it at "Skepticism Innoculation." We looked at the evidence that parts of the Bible were redacted from earlier texts, set out parallel passages side by side to look at the irreconcilable differences, took note of the numerous places that the pre-scientific cosmology the text assumes makes a literal reading unworkable. It shook some people up, but most--and this was a fairly conservative church, overall--were happy that someone was treating them like grownups. I told them that if they ever looked more deeply at the Bible, they were going to notice these things on their own or have someone point them out, and I'd rather we just deal with it all in church. Sometimes I think I ought to write that up and publish it as a Bible study curriculum, but I don't think most Christian publishers would touch it, and I doubt there's a huge market for it. You kind of need a pastor with liberal sensibilities in a conservative church for it to make any sense.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:18 PM on July 21, 2013 [35 favorites]


To me it seems like a con game just to get people to give 10% to the elites to use for whatever purposes.

I assumed that everyone knew that the LDS started as a rationale for Joseph Smith getting laid by the subjects of his lust outside his marriage. It worked so well that other men wanted a bite of that apple, and so on. Add in getting ten percent of ALL the action and it was irresistible.
posted by Repack Rider at 8:18 PM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


For a religion that's less than two centuries old, Mormonism doesn't seem especially unusual to me as far as cultish proclivities go. In fact, it's a good deal more coherent and compatible with the society it dwells within versus my understanding of what Christianity was like at the end of the 2nd century.
posted by XMLicious at 8:20 PM on July 21, 2013


I am a Mormon, and I encountered every single one of the issues brought up in this article, before the Web was a thing and by the time I was 20. Most of them I read about in LDS publications. The idea that the church is hiding its history just is not the case. Yes, there are issues that are difficult to deal with, and there are anomalies. But look at the case of the Joseph Smith Papers project whose goal is to make publicly available every single piece of paper that Joseph Smith wrote, dictated, etc. So, while I fully agree that the church does not highlight every issue that is difficult, I think is not fully accurate.
posted by bove at 8:21 PM on July 21, 2013


Doleful Creature brings up a good point - most of my comments come from being a mormon in the south - in a southern baptist stronghold. the church is supposed to be sort of like mcdonalds - the same everywhere you go - but much like mcdonalds, it does still change regionally.
posted by nadawi at 8:21 PM on July 21, 2013


the church doesn't hide its history, but it does obscure it (and threatens temple membership for studying the matter in "anti-mormon" places). see the recent changes to language as it refers to the ban on black people and the church, or how this ensign from the 80s deals with the question of the abraham/papyrus controversy.

all the same - as a former member i am really glad to see things like a rising feminist group (pant suits! challenging the priesthood on breastfeeding issues!) and lds lgbt (or at least lg) supporters and skeptics. i'm not sure how the church reconciles its view of the family and eternity with the growing harder to ignore fact that if god exists, he creates gay people. i'm not sure how a church that requires solely male leadership (except a couple token positions that still answer to men and never puts women in a position of power over adult men) finds a better equality balance. i'm not sure how skepticism is introduced into such a closed system. but, i'm glad for the children in my extended family that at least people are trying.
posted by nadawi at 8:33 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Since I guess it's OK to be sarcastic, but not when you're the first commenter, I'll try this again down here: "They're all pissed that the Plates of Nephi haven't been scanned into Google Books yet."
posted by goatdog at 8:49 PM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


the church policy strictly forbids any church leader verifying exactly what '10%' means to the membership.

I recall hearing, through the circles of LDS folk in my extended family, that the real reason Mitt Romney fought so hard against the practice of releasing ten years of income tax returns was because it would become clear that despite very generous giving, he'd actually fallen well short of the 10%.

But we will never know, will we?
posted by ambrosia at 8:50 PM on July 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


Hey goatdog! I was the first snarky commenter!
posted by Windopaene at 8:57 PM on July 21, 2013


I apologize for stealing your invisible thunder. You must have posted while I was composing or something.
posted by goatdog at 9:02 PM on July 21, 2013


being Mormon in a faraway country where your primary contact with the church is through missionaries (like Mattson in Sweden).

"In the small but cohesive Mormon community where he grew up, Hans Mattsson was a solid believer and a pillar of the church. He followed his father and grandfather into church leadership and finally became an “area authority” overseeing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout Europe."

Hans Mattsson was an area seventy. That's a bit more than only having church contact via missionaries.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:09 PM on July 21, 2013


It's like a cargo cult version of the Bible.

Hey. I LOLed. Read the bible first, then read the BoM. Talk about second rate plagiarism and woo. I absolutely couldn't stomach the writing, let alone the message.



The more you know...

*rainbow*
posted by BlueHorse at 9:22 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mattsson was featured in a Mormon Stories podcast a couple days ago.

In part 4 Hans mentions a special emergency meeting held with several disaffected Swedish church members in November of 2010. This meeting was led by Elder Marlin K. Jensen (General Authority and Church Historian) and Richard Turley (Assistant Church Historian), and a written transcript of the meeting can be located here.

That transcript is pretty interesting. I haven't had time to listen to the podcast yet.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:36 PM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


i love the mormon stories podcast.
posted by nadawi at 10:06 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting article, but it really boils down to the usual case of "Man is completely convinced his beliefs are the One True Way, until he actually examines them."
posted by xedrik at 10:08 PM on July 21, 2013


Sometimes I think I ought to write that up and publish it as a Bible study curriculum, but I don't think most Christian publishers would touch it, and I doubt there's a huge market for it. You kind of need a pastor with liberal sensibilities in a conservative church for it to make any sense.

As a mega church attending, conservative (theologicaly - not politically), evangelical Christian let just say that I would love it if you published such a curriculum.
posted by vorpal bunny at 10:11 PM on July 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


The United States is kind of fascinating when it comes to religion. Very generally speaking, you can see our history laid out geographically. The more westward you go, the nuttier things seem to get. By "nuttier", I mean newer. (maybe older religions feel more legitimate to some?) It's like the nutters decided to flee the establishment on the east coast and set up camp further and further west. There's also a bit of the "keepin' the govt outta my business" about the affair too. (practicing polygamy might be an example) I don't think it's a coincidence that Mormons are in Utah and the first Scientology church is in California. The west also has a lot of the crazier veins of evangelical Christianity too. Snake handlers in Texas. Westboro in Kansas. Palin's kooky church. On and on it goes. I know these are generalizations and that neoreligions can be found almost anywhere, but generally speaking I think the generalizations hold true. I live near St. Louis, which is called the "gateway to the west". It is really quite amazing to see the transformation as one crosses the river from Illinois into Missouri (an LDS holy spot of sorts, no?). The geological terrain changes pretty dramatically once you leave St. Louis headed west and so does the religious terrain. Sure, the establishment Catholics and Baptists and Lutherans, etc are omnipresent, but suddenly you start seeing things like "megachurches" sprouting up everywhere. You won't find anything like just 20 miles to east in Illinois. And from there is just gets weirder the further west you go. Heaven's Gate, Branch Davidians, white power churches. By the time you hit the west coast, you have yogis, Tom Cruise, Jim Jones Temple, Manson Family. I will grant that much of this deals with the difference between cults and religions (to me, they are the same) and there's probably a good deal of good old fashioned American hucksterism intertwined in the story (the Mark Twain quote above is great, btw).
posted by readyfreddy at 10:11 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Being a Mormon in Sweden can't be an easy row to hoe. This documentary (Swedish radio link) really opened my (non-Mormon, not previously paying attention) eyes to that when I heard it as a podcast.

If you can understand Swedish, it's a good listen: it tells the story of one young woman who left the Swedish LDS church and the repercussions for her understanding of herself and her relationships with devout family members. The portrayal of the LDS church is the real point of interest here, though (For me, anyway: the young woman's story isn't all that surprising, at least to Americans used to religious mobility). It's unrelentingly negative, repeatedly suggesting that LDS believers in Sweden are dangerous freaks and quasi-foreigners, and that this is a story of a Swede who made a lucky escape back to the "real Sweden". It can't have been easy to be a Mormon kid in a Swedish school the Monday after this aired. So while Mattsson may not have been all that isolated, he wasn't actually in Utah either.
posted by Wylla at 10:58 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: If you can understand Swedish, it's a good listen.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:04 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am so proud...
posted by Wylla at 11:15 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


What is fascinating to me as an atheist is that, from where I stand, every theistic religion looks pretty much the same. So I definitely nod along with LOL Mormons and LOL Scientology--but note that LOL _____________ works as a formula for religion in general. So it's puzzling when the adherents of one religion get all "haha!" about another.

I would have thought the existence of other religions, and more importantly, True Believers of other religions, would be a cause of introspection, questioning, integration and understanding--just as scientific discovery should do the same. I would suggest a believer's faith isn't very deep if the existence of other beliefs, or a factual observation about the world, causes them or their church to circle the wagons and pretend it isn't so.
posted by maxwelton at 11:15 PM on July 21, 2013


I think it's probably a sure bet that at least some of the people laughing at these Mormons hold some pretty silly beliefs of their own. Yet because these beliefs are older they're not open to scrutiny. Water to wine and burning bushes that talk somehow get a pass because it was 2000+ years ago. Cast the more out of thine own eye etc etc.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 11:24 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cast the mote. Damn you autocorrect.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 11:29 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would have thought the existence of other religions, and more importantly, True Believers of other religions, would be a cause of introspection, questioning, integration and understanding--just as scientific discovery should do the same.

I would think that the existence of thoughtful, educated, wise, introspective, self-critical religious believers might similarly make atheists a little less quick with the "LOL religion."
posted by straight at 11:36 PM on July 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


What is fascinating to me as an atheist is that, from where I stand, every theistic religion looks pretty much the same. So I definitely nod along with LOL Mormons and LOL Scientology--but note that LOL _____________ works as a formula for religion in general. So it's puzzling when the adherents of one religion get all "haha!" about another.

In modern society, it would seem like that one's belief or unbelief is just as often determined by one's sense of aesthetics as anything else. With our exposure to more differing sets of worldviews and schools of thought than in any other time in history, people are able to pick and choose what they believe in like anything else. And as with any other preference, one's beliefs may be driven by a sense of aesthetic tastes, as anything else.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:38 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


God bless the web.
posted by Decani at 11:39 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The idea that the church is hiding its history just is not the case.

As Mormon Church Grows, So Does Dissent From Feminists and Scholars

The Mormon Church, whose early leaders feared the wrath of outsiders, has lately viewed its gravest threat as coming from within: intellectuals and feminists in the temples.

In what dissidents have described as a purge, church leaders took severe disciplinary action in September against six Mormon scholars and feminists. The transgressions fit into two categories: academic research that raises questions about official church history, and the call for opening the priesthood to women, which is granted to males over the age of 12...

Michael Quinn, a Yale-educated scholar who formerly taught at Brigham Young, believes that he was expelled from the church for his research. In 1985, Mr. Quinn unearthed evidence that Mormon leaders continued to practice polygamy for 14 years after the church officially ended the practice in 1890, known as the Great Accommodation, to win statehood, which came six years later.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:42 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


What is fascinating to me as an atheist

What's fascinating to me, as a bog-standard human being, is the fact that atheism as a label of thought came about because of advances in structured inquiry and cognitive discipline, namely the scientific method, and it just so happens that this scientific method was pioneered and refined primarily by very devout, Christian thinkers who were keenly interested in proving the truths of their faith. That it backfired on them in a mostly positive way is the story we prefer to tell, but let's not forget the origins.

In other words, I find it puzzling --no wait, not puzzling, I find it cruel-- when any of my fellow humans sneers and joins in on the "LOL Religion" or the LOL anything thing, really.

Aren't we all so eager to put on our -ists. We gather around the virtual cave fire and what starts out as an interesting fireside about individual experiences and perspectives eventually devolves into the most tired, unoriginal pissing match ever: no, no, THESE people are like THIS, but THOSE people are like THAT, now point and hisssssssss

Yes, religion can be spectacularly shitty, very often. That's a good thing to skewer, skewer away. But that's the structure, that's the power imbalance. The lost souls in between, they're just people. Hans Mattson doesn't deserve that kind of scorn. Sounds like he was an honest person who did his best based on his convictions. And then he found doubt, and it hurt him. What's so funny about that?
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:05 AM on July 22, 2013 [28 favorites]


In other words, I find it puzzling --no wait, not puzzling, I find it cruel-- when any of my fellow humans sneers and joins in on the "LOL Religion" or the LOL anything thing, really.


posted by Doleful Creature at 8:05 AM on July 22


Oh, perish the thought that we should ever deride or criticise anything that is eminently worthy of derision and criticism.
posted by Decani at 12:39 AM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Not what I said.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:45 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the bright side, at least everyone's getting along, we're talking things out, and nobody's getting burned at the stake for heresy.
posted by mullingitover at 1:06 AM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Not what I said.

Nope, you didn't, and thank you for that. As an atheist talking about religion in general, I'm definitely in the LOLWUT camp. When I'm talking to individuals however, i will keep my derision in check and often just use a Socrates method of inquiry into a persons belief - I know I cannot reason a person out of any position they didn't reason themselves into, but I sure can try to get some seeds of inquiry planted. It has led some very interesting discussions into things like morality, where the 'gee I learned something just now' goes both ways.
posted by DreamerFi at 2:16 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know I cannot reason a person out of any position they didn't reason themselves into

I disagree strongly with this. Demonstrating that a person has reached a position without reasoning can be one of the strongest ways of moving them from that position.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:52 AM on July 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I disagree strongly with this. Demonstrating that a person has reached a position without reasoning can be one of the strongest ways of moving them from that position.

I think most religious people are well aware that they didn't arrive at their beliefs rationally. You're not telling them anything earth-shaking.
posted by hoyland at 3:44 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: I find it puzzling --no wait, not puzzling, I find it cruel
posted by jscott at 5:13 AM on July 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think most religious people are well aware that they didn't arrive at their beliefs rationally. You're not telling them anything earth-shaking.

You'd think so, but then there's the huge tradition of searching for logical proofs of the existence of god and other similar exercises. The idea that religion is not wholly rational is actually much less common than I'm comfortable ruminating on.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:27 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would think that the existence of thoughtful, educated, wise, introspective, self-critical religious believers might similarly make atheists a little less quick with the "LOL religion."

As an atheist, I don't deride religion. Given the diversity of atheists, like the diversity of Mormons, Protestant and Catholic Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc., there are lots of us whose aren't in any way "quick with the LOL religion" response. (Of course, there's the important factor of perception that is often overlooked with regard to LOL ________ : what one persons sees as derision another sees as simple disagreement). If my interlocutors are interested, though, I will be frank and honest in why I disagree with a particular religious belief.

This is what I find valuable in stories like Mattson's (which, incidentally, I first encountered on atheist blogs which had their usual mix of derisive and introspective responses). Seeking out and engaging different points of view helps us manage our coexistence with each other, though engaging difference can lead to a sometimes painful change in one's own position. Related examples can be found in The Clergy Project.

this scientific method was pioneered and refined primarily by very devout, Christian thinkers who were keenly interested in proving the truths of their faith. That it backfired on them in a mostly positive way is the story we prefer to tell, but let's not forget the origins.

In the spirit of acknowledging diversity and not forgetting origins, the early modern pioneers of the scientific method were continuing a long human tradition of the empirical study of nature.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:38 AM on July 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's like the nutters decided to flee the establishment on the east coast and set up camp further and further west.

To be fair to the Mormons, they didn't so much "decide to flee" as they got chased out of lots of attempted settlements by pitchfork- and torch-wielding mobs of persecuters. No matter what you think of the religion, reading these accounts is an invitation to see some of America's lowest, basest, most repulsive moments of homegrown terrorism.
posted by Miko at 6:01 AM on July 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Wylla - what you describe is pretty much what it felt like in arkansas in the 80s, as far as how others saw the mormons. i've spoken on mefi before about how i wasn't allowed to be friends with some of the other kids because of my family's religion. lots of non mormons i encountered believed some really out there shit about what happened in the temples (child sacrifice, orgies, etc). it was very a very lonely and isolating upbringing. for many years i had the feeling that the mormons were the only nice people. as i grew up (and as the satan worship sex abuse panic stuff lessened in the US), i realized that's how insular religions worked - creating and fostering an us vs them scenario. luckily for the mormons, the outside world is all too happy to play along.
posted by nadawi at 6:20 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


No matter what you think of the religion, reading these accounts is an invitation to see some of America's lowest, basest, most repulsive moments of homegrown terrorism.

Mountain Meadows, for example.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:45 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's already come up a few times. I don't seek to assert that Mormons never have never done anything wrong, and am not personally a Mormon apologist. But I'm talking aboutt the persecution that that happened to them starting much earlier in the East, long before they found themselves resorting to the most unwanted possible land in the entire nation. I tend to think that violence begets violence, and the story of the position of Mormonism in America has no good guys.
posted by Miko at 7:05 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


maxwelton: What is fascinating to me as an atheist is that,...

As an atheist, I see this as more of a personal failing myself.

straight: I would think that the existence of thoughtful, educated, wise, introspective, self-critical religious believers might similarly make atheists a little less quick with the "LOL religion."

One would think, that the existence of a broad spectrum of atheists (at least six different flavors according to research that made the news last week) might make you a little less quick with the "LOL atheists."

Doleful Creature: What's fascinating to me, as a bog-standard human being, is the fact that atheism as a label of thought came about because of advances in structured inquiry and cognitive discipline, namely the scientific method,...

This isn't a fact, it's a folk-history.

Aren't we all so eager to put on our -ists. We gather around the virtual cave fire and what starts out as an interesting fireside about individual experiences and perspectives eventually devolves into the most tired, unoriginal pissing match ever: no, no, THESE people are like THIS, but THOSE people are like THAT, now point and hisssssssss

Curiously, they also seem to devolve into references to penises and anuses in some form. But what do I know? I'm just an atheist, bog-standard human being, and someone who actually gives a damn about religious tolerance.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:33 AM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Pope Guilty's comment above reminds me of a Catholic blogger's label for the LDS scriptures: KJV fanfic.
posted by resurrexit at 7:58 AM on July 22, 2013


the catholics are maybe next in the line of least able to throw stones about the silliness of another religion.
posted by nadawi at 8:03 AM on July 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


i mean, the mormon prophet has underground tunnels - the pope has funny hats and the popemobile. those two groups could trade ridiculous shit helped along by great wealth all day long (and lets be fair, the catholics would totally "win" that fight).
posted by nadawi at 8:05 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regarding the literary antecedents of the book of mormon:

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Origins of the Book of Mormon by William L. Davis
Eber Howe, in his 1831 anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed, noted the use of names — “Desolation” and “Bountiful” from Pilgrim’s Progress(1678) in the Book of Mormon. Bunyan's texts provide extensive narrative parallels to the Book of Mormon, often containing unique characteristics shared only by Bunyan and Smith.

Furthermore, the parallels tying the stories together occur on multiple levels, both in the underlying structural framework and in the specific language used to express ideas and events

Bunyan’s other works play a significant role in the Book of Mormon, including Grace Abounding, Pilgrim’s Progress (Part 2), The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, Holy War, and several others. In fact, based on my years of extensive research and discoveries, Holy War provides what may be the most comprehensive collection of parallel narratives bridging the Book of Mormon to Bunyan’s texts: battles between light- and dark-skinned combatants to the point of annihilation, siege warfare and battle strategies, seditious factions and civil strife, secret cabals attempting to seize government control, righteous men who are heroic captains of war, and even a personal visitation of Jesus Christ and his establishment of a righteous society. The parallel narratives are ubiquitous and systemic, appearing with sustained consistency throughout the entire narrative of the Book of Mormon. Indeed, reading the Book of Mormon is tantamount to reading John Bunyan’s many works condensed into a single volume.
with bonus description of seer stone:
When Smith produced the Book of Mormon, he did not sit down and carefully compose and revise his narratives the way most authors do. Adapting a practice from folk magic, he placed a seer stone in the bottom of an upturned hat, held his face to the hat to block out light, and then proceeded to dictate the Book of Mormon to a scribe, without reference to texts or notes. In approximately sixty working days, he completed the Book of Mormon – a work in excess of 500 printed pages – and did not return to revise the text, beyond minor adjustments (mostly spelling and punctuation). Yet, the work contains a highly complex and powerful narrative structure that remains internally cohesive. The significance of the work, in literary terms, is that the text of the Book of Mormon represents a first draft – one with little revision to Smith’s original stream of narrative creation. Few authors have ever attempted a comparable feat.

The work is, then, no matter how much the product of literary reading, not itself a literary production; it is the record of an extended oral performance – comparable in length and magnitude to the classic oral epics, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
posted by ohshenandoah at 8:56 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Halloween Jack: "quite a lot of the archaeological research sponsored by the LDS to verify the historical reality of the Book of Mormon has done quite the opposite"

I don't think I will ever experience more schadenfreude than the first time I listened to the Mormon Stories interview with famed Mesoamerican Archaeologist Michael Coe. It's basically ~3 hours of the interviewer asking, "So the Book of Mormon says X" and then Coe saying there's less than zero evidence for X. It'd be a total trainwreck if Coe weren't so charmingly avuncular.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:50 AM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


This gets at the heart of my understanding of the difference between a religion and a cult.
I may live in a glass house* as far as most of you are concerned - but I believe that in my little corner of the first estate we don't keep secrets.

A cult is based on secret knowledge. Secret wisdom. Controlled access to information.
A religion seeks to express all of its information, virus-like, into the public consciousness.

There is nothing I have learned in six years of graduate-level studies about the history of the church, the Holy Bible, our rites and liturgies, and my own doubts and fears that I would not gladly share with you over apple pie and icecream. In fact, if you gave me a chance I would talk at you until we both died of dehydration. But then, I suppose I am a very religious person. I hope to see a marked increase in the beloved community before I die. And - because I am a true believer - I think the propagation of the Gospels and the way of Jesus Christ are the most efficacious and expeditious means of getting us there.

Cults give me the screaming creeps, because they aren't actually interested in distributing information in service to their eschatology. They want members, perhaps to validate some other cause. Often financial, I suspect.

*mine, at least, has lovely stained-glass windows - for what it's worth.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:51 AM on July 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


on the one hand, I wish I had thought to post this as an FPP, because I have had this and other articles (and the Mormon Stories podcast episode, and several other articles) linked in my various liberal/unorthodox/uncorrelated/disaffected/ex/post/former Mo spaces no fewer than 10 times (but honestly, who's counting?)

On the other hand, it's fascinating to see the basic consensus MeFi response. I've skimmed over a lot of comments, but I guess what I'm saying is -- discussions like these are interesting to get a glimpse of what never-Mormon folks think about stuff like this.
posted by subversiveasset at 10:16 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


the only definition of cult that could include the mainstream lds church would also include most major world religions. it might be insular and they might have an alternate history time line, and there might be some sacred temple stuff (all of which has been published online at this point) but they aren't a cult.
posted by nadawi at 10:23 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with the infant balrog. An organization where most everyone is a "gatekeeper" ready to fink out anyone who is questioning, where there are secrets of such magnitude that they destroy faith when discovered, where there is a sharp "us and them" distinction and the ultimate punishment is to be "othered" . . . well, that's a cult. You might not wish to acknowledge it, because no one wants to admit being a cultist, but dammit, that describes a cult.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:32 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Baby_Balrog, I think that's a really insightful distinction. But I think there are "cult-like" sects of mainstream religions which do not attempt to control the ideas as much as to control the people.

I think secrecy is a very likely marker of "culthood," but it may be just one tool for marking the "members" as different than (and privileged over) the "outsiders." I agree that emphasis on the Us-Vs-Them, iniated-vs-unitiated, is indeed the most salient feature of a cult.

But all religions (and many clubs, sports teams, employers and schools) have rituals of membership and rites of initiation. It's just that the more the ideology requires you to give up the trappings of normal life, separate from your other friends and family, and associate only with other members, the more like a cult it is. If there is an attempt to keep certain ideas and information out of a community, as well as keeping secrets within it, the description of "cult" fits even better.

Either way, your basic points stands. Healthy religions (including LDS) don't keep their ideas secret, and they don't isolate their members. Both their ideas and their members are sent out into the world to inspire others.

Any religious tradition can inspire cult-like communities within it. The Skull-and-Bones Society and Masons are rather cult-like, despite not being religions at all. But I think your idea suggests a simple test to know whether one's community is danger of becoming a cult -- are the members of your sect afraid to talk about what they believe? Are they afraid to befriend non-members? Then get out while you still can!

Given the missionary tradition of the LDS church, you would think that the process of questioning and discovery described in the article would be very common within, and very healthy for, the Mormon community overall.
posted by OnceUponATime at 10:36 AM on July 22, 2013


:|

This is my concerned face.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:21 AM on July 22, 2013


To be fair to the Mormons, they didn't so much "decide to flee" as they got chased out of lots of attempted settlements by pitchfork- and torch-wielding mobs of persecuters.

To be fair to the mobs of persecutors, they often had good reason.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:25 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do Mormon missionaries not receive specific instructions on how to overcome these sorts of objections when they're on mission? Seems like marketing 101. (The freshfaced young men I encountered as a 19-year-old at home during the day seemed simply incapable of conceptualizing or accepting my atheism, and rejected the butterfly effect with "you don't really believe that's possible, do you?". I have since learned not to engage in these discussions.)

Has anyone analyzed conversion rates for the missionaries? Is the purpose of the mission actually to gain converts, or is it to make firm the missionary's own commitment to the LDS church?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:39 AM on July 22, 2013


A cult is based on secret knowledge. Secret wisdom. Controlled access to information.
A religion seeks to express all of its information, virus-like, into the public consciousness.


Meh. Religion is just a cult that's old enough to have its history recede from living memory (i.e. there is no direct witness generational memory of the founding times). Look into the early history of Christianity, and you'll find plenty of the cultish characteristic you identify - "controlled access to information". The whole fight as to what actually should be included in the "bible" and the efforts to suppress and destroy other source materials.

One of the primary tools used when Christianity kept splitting off into sects and competing denominations was information control, and "approved" sources, with competing information frequently violently suppressed.

Glass houses, all of them. There is only one stark division here - science vs belief. One unsupported and arbitrary belief system is no different from another with regard to the scientific method.
posted by VikingSword at 11:48 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Given the missionary tradition of the LDS church, you would think that the process of questioning and discovery described in the article would be very common within, and very healthy for, the Mormon community overall.

In my experience, it is both very common and very healthy. Mormons of more dogmatic cultural strains and individual belief systems are, in my observation, those more likely to somehow (unaccountably, IMHO) keep themselves ignorant of the church's history and doctrines and then eventually express shock and dismay when they "discover" stuff that less orthodox Mormons have been trying to tell them and speak about openly for basically forever.

It's more than a little weird for me to see friends and family members leave the church because they started learning stuff they read on the internet when, for decades, they thought I was a heretic within the church for trying to tell them about all that stuff. They thought I was unrighteous because I didn't believe all the folk beliefs that people mock, and now they've left the church because they have just now "discovered" what people like me tried for decades to tell them. And then they try to tell me I should leave the church, too, because all that stuff they used to believe is obviously false and I simply respond that I have never believed, and do not now believe, any of the nonsense on which they based the faith that they have now lost.

I mean how can anyone grow up in the Mormon church and not know that Joseph Smith was a polygamist? That's completely baffling to me. It gets mentioned in church all the time. They would literally have to go out of their way not to discuss their religion with other Mormons on a regular basis to stay uninformed on that and other subjects.

Then there's the problem of Mormonism's clinging to non-doctrinal folk beliefs - and the problem of folk beliefs becoming doctrine through sheer force of cultural pressure. I would estimate that 95% of the beliefs that can fairly and accurately be described as "what Mormons believe" are folk beliefs, not taught, preached, or even necessarily believed by leaders at the highest levels of the church. For example, it is fair to say that Mormons believe the President of the Church speaks directly, face-to-face with God. But has the current President of the Church ever alleged that that is the case? No. How about the previous one? No. The one before that? Nope. And on and on.

Which is not to say that there are no actual doctrinal beliefs of Mormonism that are incorrect or false. But it's a bigger tent than people inside or outside the church often realize, and there's no injunction requiring members to subscribe to a particular flavor or Mormon belief.

Do Mormon missionaries not receive specific instructions on how to overcome these sorts of objections when they're on mission?

Yes and no. When I was in the Missionary Training Center more than 20 years ago (eek!), teachers and trainers spoke openly about the stuff people claim now to be "discovering" for the first time on the internet. But most missionaries seemed to be so overwhelmed with zeal and "missionary blinders" that it just went right over their heads. There is a lot of fingers-in-ears denial in Mormon culture.

Has anyone analyzed conversion rates for the missionaries? Is the purpose of the mission actually to gain converts, or is it to make firm the missionary's own commitment to the LDS church?

In my opinion, the purpose of the modern Missionary program is to convert the missionaries to a lifetime of service and church membership and to teach them skills and traits that will make them good husbands, wives, parents, and church community leaders. But then, I served as a missionary in a place where almost nobody was ever converted, so my view may be influenced by that.

And on the topic of secrecy in the Mormon church, I've had some very interesting conversations lately with other active Mormons about the fact that the "secrecy" of the Mormon temple liturgy is, it appears, a purely cultural phenomenon, as there is actually no injunction in the temple liturgy itself, nor any actual doctrinal instruction, asking members to refrain from discussing or disclosing the temple liturgy in detail. There are injunctions about keeping very specific, narrow details secret, but nothing about not disclosing all the other aspects of the liturgy. As I noted above, the vast majority of Mormon beliefs are, it seems, without even any basis in actual doctrine.

(Wow, that was really rambling. I hope it makes sense.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:12 PM on July 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


You might not wish to acknowledge it, because no one wants to admit being a cultist

if that you is me, i'm an ex mormon. i have zero loyalty to the church. i will talk all day long about the problems with the mormon faith. if it were a cult, i'd be screaming it from the rooftops. but it's not.

i'm not really sure why this guy didn't know about the church's history with polygamy or any of the other big topics - their discussed in depth in the scriptures, in talks at every level from ward to general conference, and all over the official lds page. what he knew or didn't know might not be a great yardstick for how informed or uninformed general mormons are.
posted by nadawi at 12:15 PM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


For example, it is fair to say that Mormons believe the President of the Church speaks directly, face-to-face with God. But has the current President of the Church ever alleged that that is the case? No. How about the previous one? No. The one before that? Nope. And on and on.

This precisely. In fact I had this very conversation with my parents the other day, the end result of which was that I was deemed to be holding heretical beliefs and that I needed to repent. All because I asked them to prove their folk beliefs using actual LDS scripture! *forehead slap*
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


yeah - the differences of belief among my own extended family - people raised together and now living within 50 miles of each other mostly - are amazing. i imagine it's the same as most faiths - the question of how literal to take scriptures, and what counts as doctrine, and what god thinks about the big social questions, and how infallible the leadership has been and is currently.

while it's generally understood that 2 baptists (or methodists or catholics) could have wildly different beliefs about most of the particulars, a lot of people think that mormons are a single block, like the borg. this is something that i think some mormons at every level reinforce, but the truth is a lot more complicated.
posted by nadawi at 12:27 PM on July 22, 2013


I have, on occasion, referred to Utah Mormons as "the Morg." So there's that.
posted by The World Famous at 12:29 PM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


ha! and yet, the member of my family that is the least orthodox, the most likely to separate the folklore from the faith, is a utah mormon and has been for decades. the, er, more spirited and, uh, wrongly literal mormons in my family are in missouri.
posted by nadawi at 12:33 PM on July 22, 2013


Yeah, we probably shouldn't even get into what one of my family members believes about "what homosexuality is really all about". That's an entire (sad, horrifying, bizarre) FPP unto itself.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:34 PM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


the catholics are maybe next in the line of least able to throw stones about the silliness of another religion.

I dunno, hinduism is pretty batty.
posted by Tarumba at 4:24 PM on July 22, 2013


Meh. Religion is just a cult that's old enough to have its history recede from living memory

I think it's a continuum. Lots of religions have as part of their culture and practice some cult-like elements to some degree or another. For example, trying to cut members off from people outside the religion, demanding huge monetary sacrifices, exerting direct control over someone's life.

So yeah, you can point to pretty much any religion, and tick all the boxes on your cult checklist. But there is a hell of a lot of difference between suggesting a 10% tithe and demanding you sell your house and move into a commune. Or between being aware of the difficulties in inter-faith relationships and completely shunning someone who marries outside the faith. Or between believing that on some level being gay is wrong (as awful as that belief is) and literally kicking your gay child out of the house and never speaking to them again.

For mainstream religions (and I count the LDS church in this group), they tend to be sufficiently un-cult-like that calling them cults just seems inaccurate. (And also kind of mean)
posted by jcreigh at 4:53 PM on July 22, 2013


The difference between a cult and a religion is real estate.
posted by mullingitover at 4:58 PM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, "The Cult" is a pretty badass name for a band, whereas "The Religion" is just not badass at all. And, as much as I like the band The Church, that particular name makes it really difficult to do a Google search for stuff about the band.

The difference between a cult and a religion is real estate.

The difference between The Cult and The Church is Sunny Day Real Estate.
posted by The World Famous at 5:07 PM on July 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


"The Cult" is a pretty badass name for a band, whereas "The Religion" is just not badass at all.
How about Bad Religion?
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:08 PM on July 22, 2013


I used to rent a room in a house from a Mormon couple. There were seven people in the house and I was one of two non-Mormons. The other one came to me one day and told me he was planning to convert and asked me what I thought of the idea. Now, personally, I don't find the Mormons the faith I need, especially after some long evangelical discussions with the landlord.

My basic outlook on religion could be easily encapsulated by the question I asked the housemate - "Does it seem to offer you what you need?"

I try very hard not to critique the faith choices of others, which makes me bad at religion, since I am staunchly non-apostolic, as I believe your relationship with your deity of choice is wholly yours, as long as you aren't kiddy fiddling or lighting people on fire or such.

Anyway, I remember about 20 years ago when my best friend from high school/roommate was dating a Jewish girl, and he and I and her were discussing what being Jewish was like on a day to day basis whilst noshing at the food court at the mall.

Some big chappie proceeds to come over to our table COMPLETELY uninvited and says "You don't need all that if you just accept Jesus into your heart." Samizdata Red Button HIT! I looked up at him and said "Want to see Jesus in person? Back the fuck up from our table NOW."
posted by Samizdata at 9:55 PM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


To be fair to the mobs of persecutors, they often had good reason.

Not only was that something I'd never seen before, I was tickled to see an actual $3 bill was part of the printing.

Mormonism seems to me a classic case of American Exceptionalism, because god forbid you worship someone who hadn't even set foot in the country. But, y'know, I was raised Catholic, so extreme nationalism on one hand versus a bloke in a funny hat.
posted by gadge emeritus at 1:01 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the comments:

"Some things that are true are not very useful".

- Boyd K. Packer, Mormon Apostle. From an address to LDS religious educators, instructing them to gloss over certain historical items that would paint the church in a bad light.

That about sums it all up, doesn't it?
posted by misha at 9:22 AM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fortunately, Packer's views are in the minority among the Apostles.
posted by The World Famous at 11:17 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


BYU Studies has posted a fairly thoughtful, though measured response to the NYT article. I don't generally like BYU Studies much, but it's interesting to see how they decided to respond.

There's a much more detailed and - to my mind - more interesting response and commentary over at By Common Consent. This is a topic that, in my opinion, requires a willingness to dig into some real inside baseball stuff like what the term "correlation" refers to in LDS church history and that sort of thing. But John F.'s article on By Common Consent should, in my opinion, be required reading for Mormons and non-Mormons alike who have any interest in this issue.
posted by The World Famous at 12:19 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mormonism just feels more culty to 21st century Americans, ...

I think what makes Mormonism more (and Scientology even more extremely) suspect than older religions to us modern folk is that the former were so recently contrived that we can still see the means of contrivance. To those not of the faith, it is easy to read about and believe descriptions of all the nonsense that went into fabricating the system of belief around some hokey artifacts and self-justification of the leader(s) and their peccadilloes. Older religions may have been no less transparently fabricated, but the manufacturing process is hidden in the mists of time, covered by the long-engaged efforts of the faithful to hide the strings and pulleys.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:13 PM on July 23, 2013


I see that rationale a lot applied to mockery of Mormonism, but I don't think I've ever seen it in the context of other American religions like Seventh-day Adventists, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Nation of Islam, Shakers, Unitarian Universalism, or the many religions that came out of the Second Great Awakening along with Mormonism. I also haven't seen that rationale in the context of other modern religions, of which there are lots and lots. The argument that Mormonism is extra suspect because of when it was founded strikes me most of the time as either ignorant of just how many religions are as new or newer than Mormonism or simply backpedaling. I'm not saying either of those applies to you, Mental Wimp, since the argument is so common at this point that I think it gets raised inevitably, regardless of the argument's merit.
posted by The World Famous at 1:22 PM on July 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


i see it used as a mockery of mormonism - but i also see it used (and i use it) to say "you're only laughing because it's new. to consider it beyond that would malign a lot of your personal spiritual beliefs." i say it as a defense of mormonism. i'm somewhere between agnostic and atheist, but i don't see a lot of use in denigrating people who have a different opinion on that matter (although i will always resist it being used as a reason to control how non-believers live). it was my reading that Mental Wimp was saying something similar - that if we had great records for the first couple hundred years of any world religion, all of them could be mocked for probably similar things.

also - i see lots of mockery of the jehovah's witnesses and seventh day adventists specifically. and the attention that the nation of islam gets if a far more dangerous sort than is hurled at the mormons. the UUs are usually just laughed at like people laugh at the over earnest teen hippies. i think the mormons get a specific kind because they are one of the most successful, have instantly recognizable missionaries, a strong PR outreach (commercials/60 minutes/etc), charted on billboard with the mormon tabernacle choir, have seeming control of an entire state (and surrounding counties), have some cult offshoots, and wade into national politics more and more. which is to say - they make themselves very visible. i totally get that it's frustrating and the mockery often doesn't align with the facts, i just think it's easy to see why mormons are a unique cultural touchstone.
posted by nadawi at 1:58 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I agree with that assessment, nadawi. Very well put.
posted by The World Famous at 2:38 PM on July 23, 2013


I see that rationale a lot applied to mockery of Mormonism, but I don't think I've ever seen it in the context of other American religions like Seventh-day Adventists, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Nation of Islam, Shakers, Unitarian Universalism, or the many religions that came out of the Second Great Awakening along with Mormonism.

I guess I'm not as familiar with the founding stories of those other sects. Did they create new founding documents and mythology the way LDS and Scientolgy do (I do not mean to equate the two; LDS is at least based on a traditional Christian theology, whereas Scientology is not and is clearly an on-going con)? Much of the mockery of these two focuses on the apparently gullible acceptance of the absurdities contained in the recently created documents and the events they purport to document. I do think those less mocked sects are less exposed to public view, but most are subjected to some of the suspicion and mockery that LDS and Scientology experience, but are less open in their political efforts and less overt about their internal discipline structures. This is why the LDS and Scientology get subjected to aspersions more vehemently and widely. I was just pointing out that all religions have some oddities worthy of mockery and for that older ones, the passage of time has hidden them or made them seem less ridiculous because, after all, that was a long time ago.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:02 AM on July 24, 2013


Unitarian Universalists, Adventists, and Shakers are direct offshoots from historic Christianity (Unitarians generally from Calvinism, Universalism from various Pietist movements, Adventists from Baptists via Millerism, Shakers from Quakers). Even Jehovah's Witnesses, which were more of a new movement than a splinter from an existing branch of Christianity, are basically just another Christian Restorationist movement with their own spin on reading the Bible.

Christian Science, which like the LDS puts forward a bunch of new foundational texts, isn't as common as the LDS, but it seems to me they get mocked as much or more than the LDS when people encounter them, with similar skepticism directed toward the modern founder. So I think it's not just the modern origins of the movement, it's the modern origins of the foundational texts (allowing greater scrutiny and skepticism of their origins) as well as being less connected to existing religious traditions that causes the LDS to be subjected to more criticism than some of the other religious movements from the same time period.
posted by straight at 11:06 AM on July 24, 2013


I was just pointing out that all religions have some oddities worthy of mockery and for that older ones, the passage of time has hidden them or made them seem less ridiculous because, after all, that was a long time ago.

Here's the thing: The older religions are still coming out with new oddities worthy of mockery all the time. It's not like the Pope never makes any claims or assertions about anything or Orange County megachurch preachers never add any new assertions or claims about divine guidance. One notable MeFite who is an outspoken Christian has stated on the Blue that leaders of that MeFite's Christian church are modern-day prophets. Catholicism contends that transubstantiation happens today - not just hundreds or thousands of years ago. Padre Pio was canonized in 2002 and was alleged to have born the stigmata from 1911 through his death in 1968. He is alleged to have been given transverberation through a series of heavenly visitations and to have suffered ill health and eventual death not by natural causes but because he was in a state of continual religious ecstasy that caused his body to suffer from the inside out. And just in case that's not sufficiently obviously ridiculous, in the last years of his life - when he still allegedly had the stigmata - he stopped wearing gloves and it was clear and obvious that his hands had no wounds or marks at all. Still canonized in 2002. From the Shroud of Turn to the apparition of Nossa Senhora de Fatima to Pope Francis alleging in April of this year that a boy in Colorado was healed by the supernatural intervention of Mother Theresia Bonzel from beyond the grave, the religious world is abounding in oddities worthy of mockery and gullible acceptance of absurdities.

I guess I'm not as familiar with the founding stories of those other sects. Did they create new founding documents and mythology the way LDS and Scientolgy do?

The following is not intended as an attack of any kind on the Jehovah's Witnesses, but merely as information and just one example to point out that the LDS Church is not at all unique in terms of being a modern, American church formed in the 1800s with volumes of its own foundational documents that are subject to sharp criticism and what can fairly be described using what you termed "the absurdities contained in the recently created documents and the events they purport to document."

According to Wikipedia and other sources I can readily find on the internet (so I'll take it with a grain of salt the same way I think people should with internet articles about Mormonism), the Jehovah's Witnesses emerged from the Bible Student movement founded in the 1870s and then had significant organizational and doctrinal changes by Joseph Franklin Rutherford in the early 1900s. The name "Jehovah's Witnesses" was adopted in 1931. Rutherford's book "The Finished Mystery" was a bestseller, translated into six languages and serialized in The Watch Tower, and is a book about the prophecies of the books of Revelation and Ezekiel. Rutherford preached that God's Kingdom would establish rule on the earth and raise the saints to heaven in 1918 and launched an advertising campaign attacking all other religions and all governments and claiming that patriotism was delusion and murder.

On February 24, 1918, Rutherford gave a talk in Los Angeles entitled "The World Has Ended --Millions Now Living May Never Die." He was imprisoned by the U.S. Government under the 1917 Espionage Act and the Attorney General condemned "The Finished Mystery" as "one of the most dangerous examples of . . . propaganda . . . a work written in extremely religious language and distributed in enormous numbers."

Jehovah's Witness publications have claimed that God has used Jehovah's Witnesses as a modern-day prophet, and have made detailed predictions presented as "beyond doubt" or "approved by God." Those predictions have included:

In 1877, predicted that Christ's kingdom would hold full sway over the earth in 1914; the Jews, as a people, would be restored to God's favor; the "saints" would be carried to heaven.

In 1891, predicted that 1914 would be "the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men."

In 1904, predicted that "World-wide anarchy" would follow the end of the Gentile Times in 1914.

In 1916, predicted that World War I would terminate in Armageddon and the rapture of the "saints".

In 1917, predicted that in 1918, Christendom would go down as a system to oblivion and be succeeded by revolutionary governments. God would "destroy the churches wholesale and the church members by the millions." Church members would "perish by the sword of war, revolution and anarchy." The dead would lie unburied. In 1920 all earthly governments would disappear, with worldwide anarchy prevailing.

In 1920, predicted that the Messiah's kingdom would be established in 1925 and bring worldwide peace. God would begin restoring the earth. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful patriarchs would be resurrected to perfect human life and be made princes and rulers, the visible representatives of the New Order on earth. Those who showed themselves obedient to God would never die.

In 1922, predicted that the anti-typical "jubilee" that would mark God's intervention in earthly affairs would take place "probably the fall" of 1925.

In 1924, predicted that God's restoration of Earth would begin "shortly after" October 1, 1925. Jerusalem would be made the world's capital. Resurrected "princes" such as Abel, Noah, Moses and John the Baptist would give instructions to their subjects around the world by radio, and airplanes would transport people to and from Jerusalem from all parts of the globe in just "a few hours."

In 1938, predicted that Armageddon was too close for marriage or child bearing.

In 1941, predicted that there were only "months" remaining until Armageddon.

In 1966, predicted that it would be 6000 years since man's creation in the fall of 1975 and it would be "appropriate" for Christ's thousand-year reign to begin at that time.[37] Time was "running out, no question about that."[38] The "immediate future" was "certain to be filled with climactic events ... within a few years at most", the final parts of Bible prophecy relating to the "last days" would undergo fulfillment as Christ's reign began.

In 1968, predicted that no one could say "with certainty" that the battle of Armageddon would begin in 1975, but time was "running out rapidly" with "earthshaking events" soon to take place.[40] In March 1968 there was a "short period of time left", with "only about ninety months left before 6000 years of man's existence on earth is completed"

In 1969, predicted that the existing world order would not last long enough for young people to grow old; the world system would end "in a few years." Young Witnesses were told not to bother pursuing tertiary education for this reason.

In 1971, predicted that the "battle in the day of Jehovah" was described as beginning "[s]hortly, within our twentieth century".

In 1974, taught that there was just a "short time remaining before the wicked world's end" and Witnesses were commended for selling their homes and property to "finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service."

In 1984, taught that there were "many indications" that "the end" was closer than the end of the 20th century.

In 1910, Russell wrote that God had the Great Pyramid of Giza built as a testimony of the truth of the Bible and proof of its chronology identifying the "last days." In 1928, Russell reversed his position and claimed that the Pyramid had been built under the direction of Satan.

As far as your speculation that sects other than Mormonism and Scientology are "less open in their political efforts and less overt about their internal discipline structures," Some of the most high-profile Supreme Court cases have been about Jehovah's Witnesses and their religious practices (including refusal to allow blood transfusions for children and open preaching in public streets and sidewalks).

Dwight D. Eisenhower was raised Jehovah's Witness and was baptized, confirmed, and became a communicant in the Presbyterian Church in a single ceremony on February 1, 1953, just 12 days after his first inauguration. JWs are not at all low profile, and there are many well-known JWs in the public eye, such as Venus and Serena Williams, Prince, Michael Jackson, Patti Smith, and many others.

As far as your statement about sects other than Mormonism and Scientology being "less overt about their internal discipline structures," I think that assumes facts not in evidence regarding Mormonism (where the only example of internal discipline anyone ever trots out is six people excommunicated for unspecified reasons in 1993), but the Jehovah's Witnesses have been far more strict and explicit about shunning and ostracizing former church members than Mormonism has ever been.

The Jehovah's Witnesses' shunning practice requires that expelled persons be shunned by all members of the religion, including family members who do not live in the same home. The Watchtower has described people who leave the JW church as "mentally diseased."
posted by The World Famous at 11:19 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


as someone who was leaving mormonism from a fairly devout family while a friend was leaving the JW faith, i can attest to her shunning being far, far worse. mine was all passive aggressive and backhanded. hers was specifically spelled out and strict. my family prays for me and limits the time they'll let their kids be around me. her family doesn't speak to her unless they're announcing that a relative died.

i do still think it comes back to the public eye thing - there are a lot of mormons and we have been taught from a young age to proselytize/explain our beliefs. the JWs do the same, but there religion doesn't seem mainstreamed in the same way. you'd think that would mean they'd get more mockery, but i think it's the parts of mormonism that align with the mainstream that makes their differences seem so weird. i don't think it's intellectually justified if you look at the specific facts of what the different religions believe and compare mockery to silliness - but i don't think it's going to change any time soon.
posted by nadawi at 11:47 AM on July 24, 2013


as someone who was leaving mormonism from a fairly devout family while a friend was leaving the JW faith, i can attest to her shunning being far, far worse. mine was all passive aggressive and backhanded. hers was specifically spelled out and strict. my family prays for me and limits the time they'll let their kids be around me. her family doesn't speak to her unless they're announcing that a relative died.

For what it's worth I'd rather have the full honest shunning than passive-aggressive bullshit that undermines everything about you day after day, year in and year out. Death by a thousand cuts and all that. Limits the time they let their kids be around you? And what if you have nonbeliever kids, would it be ok for them to be treated with such contempt?

Much better to say "our extended family feels strongly enough about their religious beliefs that they've chosen not to associate with anyone who doesnt' agree with them." That way it's all about them & their mindset. "We have to stay at a hotel when we visit because although Uncle Mike loves you he thinks you're unclean" makes it about you & your failure to live up to the clan's standards.
posted by headnsouth at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2013


Of course, one approach that would be better than either of those would be just to not shun people at all. Not all Mormons do the passive-aggressive thing or shunning at all. It sucks that some do. I have close friends and family members who are ex-Mormons and our family, at least, doesn't do any of that.
posted by The World Famous at 12:06 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


living through it - i'm just here to say that hers was much worse. when she was being beat by her boyfriend/father to her unborn child, her parents wouldn't pick up the phone to help get her out of the situation. when i show up at family gatherings everyone hugs me and tells me they missed me and that they love me. there's just this thing in the room that at this points stays mostly unspoken. i just have eyes and can see how the members and non-members are treated. we can all hang out, but they wouldn't let me drive their kids to the mall or let the teens come stay with me during the summer.

that undermines everything about you day after day, year in and year out.
oh no. that was actually how i felt while i was still living the lie before i got out. their opinions on my religious beliefs don't really matter in my day to day or even year to year. if i had a kid i'm sure they'd bend over backwards to accept them - but that's another thing that extends the divide between my extended family and me - i'm childless by choice and my peer group cousins are mostly on their 4th and 5th kids.

and yeah - TWF is totally right - that's why i classified my family as particularly devout (which is to say, falling under the problems he discussed earlier about folklore and doctrine and the mixing of the two). i know lots of awesome mormons in mixed faith social groups. i was more saying that mormons even at their worst don't reach the typical reaction by JWs when someone leaves (and really, i've seen similar to my story passive aggression among mainstream christians towards atheist/gay/otherwise not towing the line family members).
posted by nadawi at 12:38 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Believers of made up bullshit shocked to find bullshit was made up.
posted by stenseng at 12:56 PM on July 26, 2013


I only believe in bullshit that nobody made up.
posted by The World Famous at 1:14 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


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