Episode 201: Cults

87 comments on “Episode 201: Cults”

  1. Steve Kimball Reply

    Sadly the whole point was missed. The point of why people study cults and make lists.  The lists cited and the research done is there to describe “dangerous cults” and give warning signs for people to consider.  Instead this podcast was more of a discussion of opinions that never addressed why the term cult is brought up to Mormons, and why it is important.  Yes we all know every religion and even groups can be considered cults, duh. As a military retiree by the way wordily or worldly scholars I was never nor was anyone I knew brainwashed and or taught to kill without thinking and that is offensive. 90 minutes of my life I can never get back and I will rank it the worst podcast I have ever listened too and I listen to many.

    • Richard of Norway Reply

      That may be “the whole point” as you see it but I couldn’t be less interested in such a point. After all, the word “dangerous” is subjective, isn’t it? In my experience, there is little on this earth more “dangerous” than an organization that influences people to resign reason for conformity and control. If you don’t see that as a big problem than the LDS church may not be a problem for you. For me, the treatment I got from family and loved ones, based SOLELY on my apostasy from Mormonism, showed how dangerous and harmful this organization is.

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      This is a discussion that we hoped would continue right here, namely how these descriptions and categories could highlight dangerous or harmful aspects of Mormonism. 

      In the military you weren’t taught to follow orders without hesitation? Hmm, must be a different military than the one I am familiar with.

  2. Richard of Norway Reply

    Don’t forget to link to the lists. I want the discussion to continue here, the way described at the end of the podcast.

    I actually agree with John-Charles (dude, choose ONE name, the double-name-with-a-hyphen thing is too much) that it’s more productive to discuss the points and areas where the church causes harm and addressing those rather than using the term “cult” or any other term. So I hope that’s where this discussion can go.

    Also, I admire Jared’s optimism regarding church reform I just wonder how in the world he can be that way considering the history. I don’t see why we should believe the church will drop all of its harmful practices and become a healthy place to be. It might happen in 300 years but certainly not in my lifetime nor the lifetime of anybody living today – probably not for several generations (if EVER) and it will always be a generation or 3 behind society in general.

    I think we have a responsibility for our families and loved ones to provide for them and their children the best possible life. And I don’t see how one can argue that such a life is possible within Mormonism – in spite of Brandt and the many good members who are involved in the organization. I really want to hear some arguments that could persuade me to change my mind on this.

    • brandt Reply

      I think that was a compliment. In any regard, I’m taking it as one. So there.

    • LoganJohnson Reply

      Here is a list of 11 characteristics to aid in identifying a cult. I don’t think it was one of the ones on the podcast. In my opinion, most of these apply, to a varying degree, to Mormonism.
      1. Their leader/s may claim a special, exclusive ministry, revelation or position of authority given by God.
      2. They believe they are the only true church and take a critical stance regarding the Christian church while at the same time praising and exalting their own group, leader/s and work.
      3. They use intimidation or psychological manipulation to keep members loyal to their ranks. This could be in the form of threats of dire calamity sent by God if they leave; certain death at Armageddon; being shunned by their family and friends etc. This is a vital part of the mind control process.
      4. Members will be expected to give substantial financial support to the group. This could be compulsory tithing (which is checked); signing over all their property on entering the group; coercive methods of instilling guilt on those who have not contributed; selling magazines, flowers or other goods for the group as part of their “ministry”.
      5. At the same time bible-based cults may ridicule churches that take up free-will offerings by passing collection plates and/or sell literature and tapes. They usually brag that they don’t do this. This gives outsiders the intimation that they are not interested in money.
      6. There will be great emphasis on loyalty to the group and its teachings. The lives of members will be totally absorbed into the group’s activities. They will have little or no time to think for themselves because of physical and emotional exhaustion. This is also a vital part of the mind control process.
      7. There will be total control over almost all aspects of the private lives of members. This control can be direct through communal living, or constant and repetitious teaching on “how to be a true Christian” or “being obedient to leadership”. Members will look to their leaders for guidance in everything they do.
      Bible-based cults may proclaim they have no clergy/laity distinction and no paid ministry class – that they are all equal.
      8. Any dissent or questioning of the group’s teachings is discouraged. Criticism in any form is seen as rebellion. There will be an emphasis on authority, unquestioning obedience and submission. This is vigilantly maintained.
      9. Members are required to demonstrate their loyalty to the group in some way. This could be in the form of “dobbing” on fellow members (including family) under the guise of looking out for “spiritual welfare”.
      10. They may be required to deliberately lie (heavenly deception/theocratic strategy) or give up their lives by refusing some form of medical treatment.
      11. Attempts to leave or reveal embarrassing facts about the group may be met with threats. Some may have taken oaths of loyalty that involve their lives or have signed a “covenant” and feel threatened by this.
      Refugees of the group are usually faced with confrontations by other members with coercion to get them to return to the group.

      • Jared Anderson Reply

        Wow, this certainly fits Mormonism down to subscriptions to magazines. Was this the source? 

        Looks like a carefully put together site, though it would be more helpful with more documentation. Remember that *all* religions have most traits such as these, though this list is helpful in that it includes the extreme and harmful degree within the criteria themselves. 

    • Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

      Richard of Norway,

      I would agree with you in some respects to your critique of Jared’s opinion, but I disagree in some key aspects , and Jared please correct me in how I am wrong in describing your position. Jared more than talking about the possibility of change in the whole system from the top down so to speak, although I think that this is a small part of his point, but more greatly I believe his point focuses on the reality of the ability for any individual Mormon to have a healthier Mormonism in their own lives, than we observe in Elder Oak’s comment quoted by Jared himself. 

      • Jared Anderson Reply

        Correct @Gail_F_Bartholomew:disqus . I am not pinning my hopes on reform within the Church, though I think it is more possible than ever before. I think the Church could go one of two directions… open up and get better or double down and retrench. 

        So, yes, almost all of my optimism rests in our ability to make our lives better independent of what the Church does, and I feel passionately about encouraging people to do just that.

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      @NightAvatar:disqus , I hope I have made clear that I share most of your concerns. 

      I wish we had been able to talk more in detail the way the Church causes harm and limits freedom, the ability to think critically, etc. 

      So to address your main point, my reasons for optimism (though I have said it is a cynical optimism as far as the institutional Church goes) stem from the combination of past reasons the Church has changed with the very unique circumstances of the present. 

      If we can have faith in anything, I think it is the Church’s desire to save its own ass(etts). I think the one force that can change the Church is social embarrassment, and the Church is more vulnerable to that than ever before. Technology, media, especially social, and Mormons in the public eye than ever before…. these elements are weakening all authoritative regimes and it will do the same for the Church. 

      My greatest hope for happiness and optimism is that whatever the hell the Church does or does not do, we can meet our own and each others’ needs more than ever before. 

      I completely agree with you that we have a responsibility to watch out for the well-being of our loved ones and do what we can to maximize it. My wife and I talk about this frequently. 

      I will say explicitly that I don’t support “full-price Mormonism”, which I think is both harmful and unethical. I will be partially active and use elements of Mormonism to model Mormonism at its best. I think I mentioned my approach in this episode… I feel it is critical to instill a “circuit breaker” in our children especially so that if ever we need to choose between our well-being and the Church, our connection with the Church breaks before we do.

  3. Elder Vader Reply

    Based on the highly charged comments so far, I’m doubly interested in listening to this episode.  

    Also, commenting based on only having read the comments so far – I’ve talked to Jared on facebook discussions, and a year ago I shared his optimism about reform.  I’ve since shifted to a more pessimistic stance.  

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      Funny you should say that Elder Vader since I feel more pessimistic too. 😉 We must have started in different places. But as I noted, my optimism has a cynical edge to it as it is mostly based in my opinion of the Church’s desire to save its own ass(etts). So my optimism is more in social and technological reforms.

  4. 3rdNephi3-7 Reply

    The “reverse ad hominem” is the sine qua non of fallacious reasoning.

    I like to call it the “ab homine” fallacy, though it’s very similar to the Argument from Authority.

    And Holland has no real answer to give. It’s not really his fault, although he could at least be honest.

    • Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

      Gadianton and the pride cycle,

      I do not believe the problem is strictly Holland’s here. What you say is true he does not really engage the interviewer, and I am not trying to give him a pass, but the interviewer in my opinion was not really engaging Holland on the issues either. He did not ask him to respond to any real substantive or specific allegations.  Neither of them are trying to discuss the real points here, they are waving big flags saying look at me.  They are both full of shit. Which is the point of having this discussion on ME because maybe this is a venue we may have the ability to really engage this discussion here, because the Holland interview is far from an insulated case. It seems to be a repeat of every time this discussion is brought up.

  5. Kyle Harris Reply

    A couple points. 

    1-The fact that John Charles is a believing Mormon should have been divulged at the beginning of the program. I am not against him being on, but that is a huge potential bias that we should have known about. Especially when it comes to the question of whether or not the LDS church is a cult.2- Sure, there are cult-like aspects to the militarybut I wish people would stop repeating the idea that the military teaches you to kill without thinking. It is simply not true, at least with my military experience. When I compare how much the military attempted to control my life vs the LDS church, The church was so much more controlling. It isn’t even a fair fight. 3-I agree that the term cult is problematic because it can be a loaded term, but to just thrown it out because it is pejorative and replace it with “New religious movement” doesn’t make sense to me. So what if it is pejorative? I think the whole point is that cults are harmful, so of course the term is going to be pejorative. Besides, “new religious movement” doesn’t make sense either, because many of the groups that are labeled cults, including Mormonism, are not very new. 

    • Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

      Mr. Harris,

      Yes being active in the church is a bias in this conversation.  Having left the church is just as big of bias.  Being an Evangelical Christian gives just as big a bias.  Being a Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, or Atheistic I think you could argue would even bias you, because any of these people in order to be right Mormons would need to be wrong.  I don’t think any one would be unbiased in this discussion.  This is like the discussion John has every year about weather ME is bias.  The answer is of course.  If you breath you are biased.  I think this is best place though for this discussion, because it seems to me that Mormon expression is a place that is not only open and self aware about the biases presented, but it also at least attempts to not discriminate according to ones bias. 

      • BlakeGarten Reply

        I thought the point you needed to answer one way or the other was that his being “a believing Mormon should have been divulged at the beginning of the program.” Going on and on about bias into the realm of relativism is just misdirection.

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      1. John Charles is not a literal believing Mormonism. It is not my place to explain the contours of his belief, but I can say in our pre-conversations he pointed out that his careful communication regarding the idea of cult stems from his professional integrity, not apologetics. 

      2. I have to concede to your military experience since I have never been in the military. But logically it seems that is a requirement to train people to engage in battle… isn’t the point of boot camp to condition you to the point where you respond to orders without thinking? Hesitation can mean death. 

      3. I am with you on this. As I said, I think we need a word for “harmful abusive religious group in tension with mainstream society”

  6. Kevin Johnson Reply

    Well, having been forced into Mormonism from birth to adulthood, with no clear option to dissent ever allowed until I forced it, and having discovered that the covenants I was making in the temple were reinforced by ghoulish references to an imminent disembowelment, I have to say the church exhibits some cultist like attributes that I have never appreciated.  I am confident that I would have had a much happier and secure childhood without it.  If there is one definition of a cult I would embrace, I think it is simply this:  a cult is any organization that believes to be a member is right for everyone , and to not be a member is wrong for anyone.  You have to allow for a respectable road out of your   religion.  There has to be respect given to dissent, even and especially, within your own family.

    • Donnell Allan Reply

      I love this definition of cult, Kevin.  Thanks for expressing it.

  7. David Clark Reply

    Goodness gracious.  I’m at the 1 hour 20 minute mark and they still haven’t done anything except pay lip service to these lists they keep referring to.  Typical academics, all masturbation, very little reproduction.

    • Heather_ME Reply

       Typical non-academic… doesn’t understand the pleasure of masturbation.

        • Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

          Not to knock the pleasures of either masturbation of reproduction both being joyful avocations.  I do believe all the meta conversation is not only enjoyable, but necessary for this topic. On the other had Mr. Clark I think what you say points out the importance for sequel to this pod cast were we actually spend some quality time going over the points.

  8. Hermes Reply

    I have long been one of those people who uses the word cult to mean alternately “religious group” (as in church or hetairia) or “religious behavior” (as in “the cult of saints” or “the ancient Greek cult of heroes” vel sim).  Even as a believer, I would tell people that the LDS church was definitely a cult (just like their churches or schools or other organized social venues with ritualized behavior).  What changed for me was not the definition of the word but my perception of how the modern LDS cult affected me, personally.  As a child and adolescent, I took some real benefits from church (really and also ephemerally: some of the benefits were unreal); as an adult, not so much.  Not only did I lose benefits (as the world of inquiry closed down and the prophets’ “one true answer” became more important): I realized that some of the benefits I kept (like complete subservience to priesthood authority) were actually harmful (to me and to other people close to me, including some who were harmed by me because of my obedience: this was unacceptable).

    The LDS church should not be ashamed to be a cult.  It should be ashamed because it is (too often) a bad cult.  Unfortunately, as Greg pointed out, many of its worst features are the ones it is currently most proud of.  (“We will save the family by chaining it to incoherent definitions emanating from our theocratic headquarters!  Yeah!”)

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      @Hermes_Trismegistus:disqus , I like your comment, but I don’t understand how you are using “cult” differently than the world “religion”. “The LDS church should not be ashamed to be a religion. It should be ashamed because it it is (too often) a bad religion”. 

  9. Elder Vader Reply

    Okay.  I now understand Steve Kimball’s comment.  This episode was highly frustrating for me to listen to, because it didn’t seem like anybody was willing to go out on a ledge.  The closest one was Greg.  — I have all day for Jared Anderson finessing things out so I don’t want to complain too much.  

    The end of the episode was almost a plea for comments.  And since I love you guys and gals at Mormon Expression so much, I’ll bite.  The following is a list of non-culty things about the church, in another comment I’ll list the things I found to be culty.  

    NON CULTY:  
    Education – In my experience I have seen nothing but encouragement for people to get all the education they can get.  In my family of origin, and my extended family it was considered very abnormal for anybody not to have a bachelors degree, and it was not considered crazy talk to go for a masters degree or higher.  This goes for women as well as men.  In my experience, when I’m in Utah it seems like there is a higher level of baseline education.  Even the guy who changes your oil would think its weird if his coworker didn’t know the capitol of North Dakota.  

    Culture – People are encouraged/expected to learn to play musical instruments, read books, sing songs etc…  These things are embedded in doctrine and custom.  When I write my ‘culty’ list I’ll talk more about the missionary program, but because of the missionary program you’ve got a huge amount of multicultural experience in any given congregation, as well as people who have practice going out of their comfort zone to accomplish something better.  

    Kindness – In my experience, Mormons are really really nice people.  I know what it feels like to be treated as an outsider/apostate.  I’m aware that that can flip the unkindness switch.  But still, I’m of the opinion that LDS people are some of the kindest people out there.  

    High Standards / Hard Work – The church gets good marks on this too.  Sure you can accuse mormons of being good worker bees.  But even as an apostate, I’d gladly hire mormons as employees, not just because they’re worker bees, but also because they can think for themselves, and do what needs to be done to get results.  Count me as a big fan.  

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      @Elder_Vader:disqus , wait for my Phoenix Mormon Stories keynote to get online. I dance out on all sorts of ledges. My gmail is jared1260 if you want me to email you a copy.

  10. Jared Anderson Reply

    I know that this episode feels a bit egg-heady, and I wanted to explain all the meta-discussion a bit.  “Cult” is such a messy term that is requires a lot of shoveling to get to linguistic bedrock. If people stopped using it, we would not need to engage with it. But since people throw the word “cult” around, I figured it would be worthwhile to dig into the issue in detail rather than facilely saying “oh this discussion isn’t valuable” or “Mormonism is not a cult in the way people are using it.” If people are more careful about how they use the term I think this episode will have done one of its jobs. I also think that different religions fall across a spectrum of benefit and harm. I strongly feel we need to support religious traditions with demonstrable benefits and condemn those with demonstrable harm. More precisely, I feel it is important to encourage beneficial aspects and discourage harmful aspects, since both elements are present in all religious traditions to differing degrees (and not just religions, but all institutions, governments, corporations, etc). Thus I think “cult” can remain a useful lens to encourage critical reflection.  I mostly wanted this episode to turn into a discussion of the way Mormonism does harm, constrains freedoms, etc. but with all the shoveling we didn’t get to that point. We will see if we can get some follow up action.

    • AdamMichael Reply

      You guys should have a discussion in which you weigh the harm the church does and the good that the church does for people.  I believe strongly in the 13th article of faith which states that we should seek out everything that is good. The flip side of that is also important which is avoiding or fixing everything that is bad.

      • Jared Anderson Reply

        That would be beneficial but also extremely challenging, since the ratio of good and harm is different for every person. Wouldn’t this end up being similar to the discussions about why people stay vs. why they leave? 

    • Chris Wheeler Reply

      ‘Cult’ is an overloaded term, so I appreciated the exploration of the term. While I don’t believe the LDS church is a cult, I do think the church behaves in a way that attracts the label. Perhaps a follow-on podcast could explore what it is about the church that lends itself to such characterization. My opinion is that strict fidelity to the tenets of mormonism on the part of it’s adherents contributes to the image of cultishness, and it would be interesting to explore what would happen if members took a more laissez-faire approach to the religion; would that diminish the appearance of cultiness?

  11. Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

    I believe the isolation from information is far more extensive than just the prohibition on none approved or anti Mormon information. I would say the proscription of all the things we are to read and do largely limits our time and ability to evaluate any other information or even come into contact with it.  We all are asked to go to church for at least three hours on Sunday if not more.  We than are to have a calling, do home or visiting teaching and receive them.  We are to read the ensign, the priesthood relief society lesson, the Sunday school lesson, book of Mormon every day personally and as a family, family home evening, get your kids to all church activities, personal prayer, family prayer, couple pray, date night, and the list goes on.
    During my process of leaving the church.  I was still attending. My wife had stopped attending. We were married legally, but since she is gay we were not really married.  She was not ready to come out to our LDS friends.  She went with a lesbian friend to a few community events like our cities inauguration ball for Barack Obama, or the women’s film festival.  One of my friends at work who knew what was going on would see her around the community with a woman. She would ask why does your ward not see her in these places and know what is going on.  I said none of them go to any of this stuff.  Their society is the church. This is a form of isolation.
    I would say a high percentage of active Mormons only have close intimate friends that are not only active, but in their ward and they have callings with. Even though the brethren advocate members to befriend none members for none missionary reasons, the brethren’s requirements make it difficult or impossible to do so.
    On my mission I taught that we asked no one to believe what we say. We ask you to examine the information and ask God. I believed this.  I still believe that some form of this is a great way to make decisions.  I spent my life in the church trying to live by this. I always saw it as a check and balance on following the prophet.  When my answers became visually different from what the brethren advocated, prop 8. I was shocked at how many members did not believe their was any check and balance on the brethren. These individuals would not listen or consider logic of my stand or the illogic  of the brethren’s stand because the brethren are all ways right.  Yet I saw so many examples through out history were I thought they were obviously wrong, again these people could never even look at these. 
    I think with out some sort of external check on a closed system it can be a very unhealthy way to live ones life.  Yes Jared there are healthier ways to live Mormonism, but I think few members can sustainablely continue in these healthier paths. One reason is your own example of Elder Oaks. The brethren ask you not to live that way.
    Great pod cast.  Do another on this topic. You got a lot more to discuss.

    • Greg Rockwell Reply

      Excellent points.  The admonition to study worldly topics out of the “best books” takes a back seat to the need to do all the incredibly time consuming s**t it takes to be “Mormon”.  That is an incredibly effective (and difficult to detect) form of isolation. 

      Great comment. 

      • Blorg Jorgensson Reply

        Not to mention that whenever the worldly knowledge we acquire conflicts with prevailing church teachings, we are simply supposed to disregard it as the limited understanding of men (or at least put it out of our mind). Russell Nelson’s recent comments in conference showed that we might even do well to ridicule it.

        And of course, there is no consistent model for what information we must ignore, other than, “If it refutes a church teaching, it’s wrong.” (But don’t worry: give it a few decades and the church might embrace it.)

        • Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

          I would agree.  I think there is a common belief in the church and in many Conservative religious movements that science will eventually catch up with reveled truth.  I find it interesting that when we look at the historical record we see religionist over time accepting scientific understanding and not scientist discovering religious truth.

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      “Yes Jared there are healthier ways to live Mormonism, but I think few members can sustainablely continue in these healthier paths.”

      No argument there. I am doing what I can to make it easier/more likely to shift, but I totally agree with that sentiment.

  12. VianWireman Reply

    I loved this one. Some great moments where people weren’t afraid to challenge each other and I think it was at a high level all around. Duffy was great. 

    I personally enjoyed Jared and Greg articulating the thought of just how free are we when we stand to lose everything if we leave. That was my experience as I journeyed simply from “I know” to “I’m not absolutely sure”.  The shit storm that followed me reverberates to this day in my family. 

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      I wish you the best with the navigating family crap. It ties neatly into the cult discussion that in order for us to be fully accepted by those close to us, we need to either conform or lie.

  13. Lindsay P Reply

    Great, great job guys!  So….. I have a request. Can I make requests? I would love to see this exact same panel discuss on a podcast the topic of “What is Doctrine?”  I think this is a discussion that needs to happen much more in Mormonism and it relates to this topic you discussed here. I’d love to see your opinions on what is “doctrine” in the LDS church. What we can consider theology, what is cultural, what is belief, etc.  Make it happen!

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      Oh, there would certainly be rich, steaming fodder for discussion on that one. I would be particularly interested in exploring the social and rhetorical reasons for playing the “catch the greased doctrine” game. Plausible deniability as John often says. Hinckley, the PR expert he was demonstrated willingness to throw central Mormon ideas under the social acceptability bus. 

  14. christopher allman Reply

    When the podcast began and I realized John wasn’t on the panel I got
    nervous. Historically, when John hasn’t been on the panel, it has been
    all supporting characters with no lead man, so the discussion tends to
    wonder and not be quite as good. But this episode was great! It wasn’t
    all supporting actors at all, it was several main characters with some
    very strong supporting roles. Excellent episode. I would love to hear
    more like this, where the panel includes academics. It raises the level
    of discourse dramatically.

  15. christopher allman Reply

    One thing I love about the podcast forum is it is the only place I know, outside of academia or conferences (which are often an extension of academia) where people are allowed to make such complex and nuanced points. This panel was amazing. Every point was good, smart and well reasoned, even the one’s I strongly disagreed with. I love when people make a point that requires communicating two or three build-up points to get to the main premise. This happened over and over again, sometimes even 3, 4 or 5 preface issues were required to make a point and I loved every bit of it.

  16. Throw Away Reply

    I generally love Mormon Expressions, but this conversation was very scattered. You should have defined the word for the sake of argument in the first 5 minutes.

    If you can’t agree on a definition then how can you discuss whether this applies to the church, or what other organizations fall into the category?

    • Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

      Hi Throw,

      I disagree completely.  I do think we need another pod cast to have the conversation you believe they should have had the first time, but the whole discussion of what people mean and don’t mean when using the word cult is not only useful but imperative. Any attempt to start this discussion without the understanding of the problems and nuance of the word cult would totally miss the point. The point being every time the topic of whether or not Mormonism is a cult is discussed people never ever engage, because the use different definitions of the word and talk passed each other, or they completely hid behind the nuances of this term in so they don’t have to engage the other person on specific points. 

      • Throw Away Reply

        So you’re saying this conversations was in itself a case study of how adherents to a group think the title to applies to everyone but themselves?

        Alright.  I’m convinced. 

        Now let’s have that second podcast where we actually discuss “cults” and how that relates to Mormonism.  Preferably the type of discussion that involves sources, prework, some background material, and more than just off-the-cuff speculation and opinion.

        • Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply


          No not why I think the conversation on this pod cast was important, but will concede that part of the pod cast may have been a case study illustrating your point. I am also you agree that another pod cast would be great.

        • Jared Anderson Reply

          I agree a second podcast as you describe would be very valuable. That was part of the plan but we had to get the framing out of the way. Lots of shoveling to be done and obviously I am on the side that such nuancing was needed. 

  17. JTurn Reply

    Thanks to all for this discussion.

    I am left to wonder if cults are only secondarily related to religion – that they expressions of general group psychology ineabled by peculiar social and geographical environments. This came out in several comments.

    Perhaps religion simply provides a high-octane fuel that charges a naturally charismatic leader with hyper-status (via privileged connection to a deity) and rank-and-file member with hyper-motivation to cooperate meld their self-identity with the group.  Religion may be the group-psychological analogue of a Twinky® and a cheeseburger.

    Two weeks ago I heard E. O. Wilson speak on his new book The Social Conquest of Earth that updates his pioneering sociobiological theory of human eusocialilty with group selection.  He ended his interview by saying that human societies will always experience tension from two conflicting sets of evolved psychological dispositions:

    (1) Dispositions that favor self- and kin-interest, which evolved by individual- and kin-selection, and

    (2) Dispositions that draw us into group identification and commitment, which evolved by group selection

    It’s as if each of us lives in a state of more or less easily perturbed social equilibrium, with innate self-interested centrifugal forces balancing group-interested centripetal forces.  People who heavily lean toward autonomy will careen outward at the least provocation – legitimate or otherwise – while those that lean heavily toward group affiliation will stay attached even at great personal cost. The rest who fall somewhere in-between will respond in like manner depending on external factors.

    I’m interested in analyzing Mormon history, doctrine and praxis in these evolutionary psychological terms.  I believe my own apostasy arose primarily from an innate discomfort with feeling plugged into the Mormon “beehive.”  Clues to this are reflected in my never joining cliques or fraternities, not placing college decals on my car, and never identifying with a professional sports team. My temple experience produced the first “get me out of this group” emotion.  Book of Mormon, historical, and doctrinal problems were almost post hoc rational justifications.

    Immediately afterwards my skeptical thinking was along the lines of: “They tell me I’m doing these things for my own eternal exaltation, but they seem to be more about here-and-now group benefit.”  Before I ordered my first “anti-Mormon” book (Quinn’s Mormonism and the Magic World View) I was well on the way to reinterpreting  Church doctrine or practice in mundane group-centric terms.

    Perhaps an evolutionary psychological framework is now robust enough to deepen this understanding.  Mormonism was “selected” from other Burned-Over-District groups thanks to a confluence of Joseph’s personality, intuitive innovations, and borrowings. This was followed by the Church’s timely removal from American society and then a lot of luck in its later adaptive accommodations. In all of this the benefits proffered its individual worker-members is of secondary importance – all rhetoric to the contrary. Furthermore, I don’t even see the leaders as being fully aware that they are acting as sub-units of a group mind – notwithstanding the rewards of status and at least one is not an “idiot” and has “read a couple of books and been to a pretty good school.”

    So, my working hypothesis is that Mormonism is a co-evolving “superorganism” that will either adapt to or be crushed by a rapidly changing American society.  A good evolutionary psychological theory would be able to predict its success or failure based on environmental factors and the scope and pace of its possible adaptations.  My guess is that the Mormon Church’s conservative top down hierarchical control structure will fail – or at least lead to a major contraction and marginalization – or perhaps this is just wishful thinking.


  18. SacKIngsFan Reply

    I’m not as intelligent as most people on here but this one bored me to tears. I hope this doesn’t mean you are running out of subject matter because nearly always I really enjoy these podcasts.

  19. Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

    I think the question of whether it is a good or bad for the church to have the criteria of a cult can be boiled down to two questions.
    1. If God himself came down to earth and his reign would employ the criteria of a cult would it be ok because he is God?
    2. If yes then which cult is ran by God?
    I think the discomfort when members reading the cult criteria stems form one of two things. Either they believe the answer to number one is no which leaves them with an unexamined quandary or they don’t want to have the conversation in public ie with none members that they think the Mormon church is ran by God directly and personally.  

  20. AleOheem Reply

    To bad we can’t ask those who perished at Mt. Meadows their stance on the Church being called a cult. BTW the “Church” has never accepted responsibility for MMM, Gordy said he was sorry it happened. BY rode the plausible deniablity horse to ground. Because it is OK to lie for the Lord, God’s kinda funny that way, he blesses his liars. But its not a cult. “Mormon’s do your duty.”

  21. katyIowa Reply

    As an ex-Mo myself, and evolved into a devout Athiest, as a 64 year old, highly educated woman….. I think the difference between a “cult” and other organized religions is simple.  SECRETS & LIES. The LDS “church” is continuing to lie and hide it’s history and it’s beliefs from it’s own people. Most active Mormons don’t even know how lies they’ve been told or they would still try the leaders

  22. BCA80 Reply

    As an inactive member of the church, I really don’t care for the classification of the church as a cult. Cultism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I hate to see people get caught up in name calling. I would rather the discussion center around the wrongheadeness of belief in the church and all of the bizarre and pathetic teachings rather than simply a label.

  23. Christy51 Reply

    I like the whole thing. I thought it was an interesting and entertaining discussion. However, I missed a female voice. Especially since I a lot of the cult like behavior is towards women.

  24. Trent Menssen Reply

    Great show as usual, loved the discussion. This might seem off topic from the rest, but in every show they talk about the discussion continues on the website and on the forums, are these comments the forums or is there a link I’m missing somewhere? Thanks for any assists 🙂

  25. Aaron Lowry Reply

    Jared (or whoever said it) – Can you please post a reference to the Dallin Oaks quote you gave about personal revelation?  Thanks in advance.

  26. iwillgodown Reply

    You do not think you are in a cult, when you are in a cult. 

    And to think most people don’t want to know the con is disingenuous.  They just don’t know they are being conned….this nicely organized disception, lacking truth and perpetuating the misrepresentation of facts, can only honestly be called a cult.  Unless you are an apologist and want to change definitions.

    Afterall a horse is a horse unless you are talking about a BOM horse and then it is a tapir.

  27. cwinchesteriii Reply

    I think it’s clear that 19th century Mormonism was a cult in the Jim Jones sense of the word, and it’s also clear that the current missionary programs operates as a cult as well. The modern church, however, while meeting several of the criteria for a cult (again, in the sense of an organization that is harmful to its members, manipulative, etc), but not enough to really count as a cult in my book. In 100 years I think Mormonism will fully normalize into something that doesn’t bear resemblance to a cult at all. 

    • AdamMichael Reply

      Either that or it will become more fundamentalist.  It largely depends on how the church deals with the gay issue in the future.

  28. AdamMichael Reply

    Great Podcast.  Very informative and revealing.  I found out that I do belong to a very cult-like organization.  But I guess if the church is true, then there isn’t a problem with that right? 
    I really don’t think that the church needs to be as cult-like as it is.  It all depends on the degree of fanaticism in individual mormon families. 

    • Michael Johnson Reply

      If Mormon families “follow the prophet[s]”, they are fanatics. You need to ask yourself, would a church that supposedly espouses free choice be so controlling of mind and body?

  29. Duwayne Anderson Reply

    It was mentioned, several times during the conversation,
    that people “choose” to join the LDS Church and they are “free” to leave.  I was “born into the church.”  That is, I was born to Mormon parents.  When did I choose to join the Mormon Church? 

    It’s my position that I never made a choice.  To make a choice a person has to be free to
    pick from at least two options – and I never had that choice.  An eight-year-old kid isn’t making a “choice”
    when they sit in a Bishop’s office and get interviewed for baptism.  A twelve-year-old kid doesn’t really make a
    choice when, after twelve years of programming, they get interviewed to become
    a Deacon.  Mormonism doesn’t give “children
    born under the convent” choices – it sucks them in, like a Boa throwing its
    coils – there is no free agency in the process. 

    What does it mean to be “free to make a decision?”  It seems that Mormons think one is “free” to
    make a decision so long as one is not forced (through absolute means) not to
    make that decision.  At least, that’s
    what they’d say when defending the church’s behavior.  But, from a practical point of view, it seems
    Mormons (and the rest of us) would agree that “freedom” is lost if draconian
    consequences are imposed on a decision.

    For example, pretty much all my fine Mormon friends are also
    devout Republicans and hate Obama’s guts. 
    They remind me, on a regular basis, that “Obama care” has an individual
    mandate that “forces” them to buy health insurance – and thus “Obama care” is
    of the devil because it takes away “agency,” even though there’s no absolute
    force involved – just a financial penalty.

    So, back to Mormonism. 
    It seems if “Obama care” uses force and subverts “agency” with a monetary
    fine, the Mormon Church is also using “force” and subverting “agency” with the
    sorts of consequences that the church forces on people who “choose” to
    leave.  Again, I’ll give a personal
    example.  When I resigned my membership
    in the LDS Church, they impressed upon me that my resignation would result in
    the cancelation of all my temple blessings – including the temple sealing to my
    wife.  My wife, for her part, remained in
    the church, and since she believed in the church, and D&C 132 in
    particular, she realized that my resignation was – literally, from a believing
    Mormon’s point of view – gong to result in the church unilaterally and
    unconditionally divorcing us.  Not a
    legal divorce, but a far, far, *far* more significant divorce (from a believing
    Mormon’s point of view) because (as the D&C 132 says) the temple sealing is
    the only marriage that counts – from a doctrinal POV, the civil marriage is

    So, when I left the church the “choice” I made – the choice
    that was *forced* upon me and my wife – was a temple divorce.   I don’t
    think a person can honestly say that a born-in-the church Mormon, who holds the
    Melchizedek Priesthood and has been married in the temple, is “free” to leave
    Mormonism – at least not within a context where the word “free” has any
    significant meaning.   I was no more “free”
    to leave Mormonism than the folks at Jones Town were free to leave the compound.  Sure, they could try and sneak away.  Sure, I left – but in both cases it was at
    terrible personal risk that was the *direct* result of putative policies
    imposed and enforced by the church (cult). 

    • Richard of Norway Reply

      Excellent comment. I think you made the point well. I wish members would stop using those phrases: “Well, you aren’t FORCED to do anything in church!” “You can always CHOOSE to leave!”

      It lacks empathy and is completely void of understanding.

    • Michael Johnson Reply

      I was forced to go to church into my teens. I attended a church school and was forced to attend church and undergo intrusive interviews. There was nothing voluntary about my interaction with the church.

    • JT Reply


      Perhaps you’ve considered this all from an evolutionary perspective.  

      When groups expand both beyond direct kinship and the point where members enjoy regular social exchange, they must evolve mechanisms to detect and punish free riders and defectors. 

      Physical threat, or actual harm, work when a group’s power isn’t checked by external forces (Danites).  

      Hard-to-fake and costly ritual displays of loyalty work pretty well (tithing and repeated Temple ordinances). 

      Then there is the great pre-emptive innovation – a fairly late development among Homo sapiens – the omniscient and omnipotent Being who knows when a person is naughty and can deliver punishment – eventually anyway. (a Jehovah-infused Jesus)

      But people forget sometimes that God is watching them – because He isn’t – which makes the invention of priests, whose job it is to be God’s eyes, ears, and judges, so useful (prying Bishops).  

      Oh, yes, it’s good to create a culture of prejudice against out-groups using exclusive creation myths (Book of Mormon), divisive language (Saints and Gentiles), and peculiar practices (Garments and Word of Wisdom).  

      With this people are ready to exercise free agency – to make free choices! – an idea that also happens to making fault-finding easier, and, more recently, explains the existence of evil (at least that which isn’t easily blamed on demons and apostates).

  30. Michael Johnson Reply

    The cult studies group (sorry I can’t recall the name) uses the term “cult” because it does connotate negative attributes. If that is the case, the term “cult” is used as a pejorative for a reason. It’s a legitimate use of the word by those outside Mormonism who are no longer under the influence of the organisation. Only they can see the church with a broader perspective.

    If Mormonism fits almost all the established criteria of a cult, it’s a cult. “New Religious Movement” is an empty, politically correct, and frankly quite gutless (to use an Australianism) term that tells us nothing whatsoever. Compared to Judaism, Islam is a NRM.

    Those within a cult will object to the use of the term. That goes without saying. Cult members can’t see their organisation objectively. That’s part of what membership in a cult demands. Individuals who refuse to consider any other point of view with regards to their membership in an organisation cannot possibly have an objective view.

    I will continue to use the word ‘cult’ to describe Mormonism because it is an accurate description AND because it’s a pejorative. The leadership of this corporation don’t deserve anything less. They lie to the membership and collect tribute using duress – threats of eternal negative consequences for individuals and their family members. They threaten, directly or by implication, that bad things will happen to those families who don’t pay. When bad things happen to those who do pay, they blame the member. They peddle guilt, shame, and self hatred. They replace time spent with children and family with time wasted in empty ritual, endless meetings, and the study of a fraudulent book.

    Mormonism reeks of cult control and cult behaviour. “Cult” needs to be shouted from the rooftops. 

  31. Elder Vader Reply

    I haven’t really had time to make another comment, but I did say that I would comment on my thoughts of why the church is ‘culty’.  I did say in my other comment that I’m a huge fan of mormons.  And most of my extended family is LDS and I don’t want to give the impression that I think they are bad in some way.  So I’m going to go through some experiences from my life that tripped my cult meter, even when I was a believer.  Here goes: 

    When I was in high school a friend of mine was taking the discussions.  A mutual friend gave her a book talking about how mormons were a cult.  I read through that and got angrier and angrier.  When I got to the part about the book of Abraham my cult-meter tripped.  Oh no!  All of this is a lie!  — A huge problem for a junior in high school.  I ended up subverting that problem, and putting it on the shelf by saying “The Book of Mormon is true, and Joseph Smith brought forth the Book of Mormon.  So he must be a prophet, so whatever the deal is with the Book of Abraham, I don’t have to worry about it.”  Problem averted.  Trouble spot shelved. 

    When I first went to the temple I was there with my dad and it was time to go into the washing and annointing ceremony.  I had to get naked and wear the shield.  Cult meter went off.  But I was there with my Dad, and my parents had been attending the temple for years.  And I trust my parents…  — Shelved. 

    Then we got into the endowment room.  They said that line about how if you aren’t ready to make sacred covenants you can leave.  Nobody had told me what those covenants were.  I wanted to get up and leave.  But my parents were there.  My aunt and uncle were there.  We were going out to eat after this was all over.  — Shelved

    Before going to the MTC my uncle who works for the CES drove me around to pick up mission supplies.  A bunch of the misionaries in my home ward had told me not to bother buying half of the stuff on the list (like flip flops for the shower?… what is that?) just to bring an extra couple of hundred bucks along and if I needed anything I could buy it in the misssion (I went to Phoenix).  My uncle took the opportunity to tell me that I needed to be 100% obedient in everything, and that included getting everything on the list.  He and I went to the temple together and he told me that everything in the temple has meaning, and if I had the spirit with me and kept going back eventually I would understand.  — All of this stuff seemed surreal to me at the time.  And it tripped my cult meter.  But nothing up to this point in my life had given me a reason to not trust this uncle of mine.  So I got over it. 

    In the MTC, I ran into a lot of my friends from BYU.  They all pretty much didn’t like the MTC for one reason or another, and along the spectrum.  Some hated it a little, some a lot.  One thing that made me laugh is how there was a definite vibe that getting up early was more spiritual than getting enough sleep.  On p-day if you woke up at 5AM and went to do your laundry there weren’t any washers free in the laundry room.  If you went to do your laundry at 9AM, there was hardly a soul in sight. 

    In the MTC I remember an MTC teacher talking about how you can safely ignore the commandment about not working on Sunday, if you’re doing the lord’s work.  At the time it tripped a hypocrisy vibe in me.  — But I was in the MTC.  I had taken Randy Bott’s sharing the gospel class.  I was going to be 100% obedient!  Yes leader!  Yes leader! 

  32. Elder Vader Reply

    In the MTC I ran into one of my BYU buddies in the temple.  We kind of gave each other a knowing look.  He commented “It’s all coming together.”  Riiight.  Its all coming together.  I remember being so intent on trying to understand everything in the temple.  It wasn’t until I learned about masonry and nauvoo era polygamy that it really came together for me. 

    One time a missionary and I were on splits in central phoneix.  A guy comes up to us in his car.  “You guys know that Joseph Smith was married to like 20 women right?”  “Yeah.  We know.”  “And you’re okay with that?”  We looked at each other.  “Yeah.  We’re okay with that.”  The driver looks at us.  Shakes his head in bewilderment.  Drives away. 

    I mentioned that the priesthood works like magic, in a joking way to one of the ward mission leaders.  He sternly told me that the priesthood is NOT magic. 

    I met a handful of people who were active members of the church who made a point of informing me that they thought Joseph Smith’s polygamy was motivated by lust, and it wasn’t of God.  This was downright blasphemous to the ears of me as a missionary. 

    After my mission they sent me home with all the letters I had mailed to the mission president.  I read through them.  It was so obvious from reading through those letters that the first half of my mission I was just obsessed with climbing the ladder, and giving a good impression.  It was awful to look at myself that way.  I haven’t ever gone back and read through those letters.   I remember thinking to myself:  “It was like I was brainwashed or something.” 

    One time at BYU I offhandedly mentioned to one of my classmates that the Joseph Smith Translation was obviously not bringing the bible back to the original writings, because it doesn’t match up with the old transcripts.  But instead it was Joseph Smith riffing on theology.  It made my friend’s head nearly explode.  My roommate commented after the friend left “What you just witnessed… that’s called cognitive dissonance.” 

    I was doing an internship within a church employee setting.  One employee remarked that they were really looking forward to the blessings they were going to get while paying for their son’s mission.  Another person replied:  “That’s not how it worked for me.  I just went into debt while I was paying for my kid’s mission.” 

    I was working in the BYU computer lab and I ran across exmormon.org.  I read about Helen Mar Kimball.  My head nearly exploded.  “Why isn’t this website blocked?” I asked myself.  I had a mini-panic attack right there in the computer lab for about a half hour.  Why haven’t I heard about this before.  Didn’t make the connection at the time that the Helen Mar episode followed closely on the heels of the well publicized story of Joseph telling Heber C. Kimball to hand over his wife Vilate.  “Never mind, the lord was just testing you with your wife Vilate.  You passed.  He really only requires you to hand over your 14 year old daughter.”  — I didn’t put 2 and 2 together at this point.  But my head nearly exploded all the same. 

    I mistakenly took a course at BYU about seminary teaching.  I attended early morning seminary in high school and figured I might do it in the future.  The class was actually the first in a series of interviews to be employed by the CES.  I got cult vibes throughout the class.  It totally rubbed me the wrong way.  I talked to my uncle who works in the CES.  He unintentionally confirmed all of my fears.  Nope… the CES is not for me. 

    • Farmdog47 Reply

      So you would recommend that those wanting to stay TBMs should maybe not think too much about some of  this “troubling information” or they could suffer from  exploding head.

      • Elder Vader Reply

        My recommendation is to seek for the truth, and the truth will set you free.  Most TBM’s are good people and very devoted to the church, and they believe the church to be true.  Which is fine with me.  If/when an individual church member in my orbit freaks out about one of the uncomfortable true facts… That’s a good thing in the long run.  

  33. Donnell Allan Reply

    I would like to add my perspective as a convert.  When I left the church it was a study of cult behavior that enabled me to piece together what had happened to me.  So while I understand that the word is used broadly and that the definition varies, I personally find it very helpful as I transition out of Mormonism.  I have heard John Larsen say that he believes that perhaps the church is a cult to some and not to others.  Maybe it is just the way I am wired, but for me the church was very cult-like.
    I was a young woman just out of high school when Mormonism entered my life.  I was confused and vulnerable, actively searching for the one true church lead by Jesus.  I did not drink coffee or alcohol.  I did not believe in pre-marital sex.  My desire was to be a stay-at-home mother with ten children.  But I was from a family of agnostics and was searching for a church all on my own.  It was the Mormons who stepped in and provided an explanation as to why I was in pursuit of the life I sought.  It was they who suggested that it had been the Holy Spirit directing me to make the choices I had been making.  Now I had finally been lead to the church of the Savior himself, as the culmination of my quest and as a reward for my diligence.I fell hard.  Where I had felt peculiar among my peers before, now my personal standards were admired.  I was special. Only the true sheep were able to hear The Shepherd’s voice, and, lo and behold, I turned out to be one of them.  It was probably the first handstand of the numerous mental gymnastics yet to come, when I felt proud of how very humble I apparently was.  I was one of the chosen few.Within weeks of my baptism, the first challenge came.  This was 1974 and I learned that blacks were not able to hold the Priesthood.  I was appalled.  How could this be?  My Jesus would not hold to such a policy.  But the principles to which I had aligned myself overruled my mind.  As would be the case again and again in the years to come, I hearkened back to the witness I had received that this church to which I was now a member was the true church of Jesus Christ and that its leaders were prophets who received their guidance from Him.  His ways were not my ways.  If I could not understand the policy, it was my fault for not knowing Him well enough.  I was not “in tune.”  I needed to pray and study more until I knew that these things were of Him.What did not occur to me–and this was a critical point that I missed–was that the foundation of my belief, the “witness of the Spirit,”  was introduced to me by the Mormons.  Uneducated as I was in critical thinking skills, I trusted these good and intelligent people to explain to me how to critique what they were telling me.  They provided the story and they provided the interpretation of the story.  And so, in those early days with the church, patterns were established which would endure through the thirty-plus years that followed.  The leaders spoke to and for God, so if I did not agree with them, I was in the wrong and must study and pray more to become “in tune.”  Every doubt I had was explained away for me. For instance, I had embraced the church, initially, on the premise of “by their fruits ye shall know them,”  and believed that Mormons were superior to other members of society.  So when I discovered that some of the members, including local leaders, were racist, superstitious, abusive, rude and unkind, it was explained to me that that was because the Lord used a great fishing net in bringing in his disciples and all kinds of fish were caught in the net.  As a matter of fact, my friends were highly intelligent and had an answer for everything.  I internalized those early explanations and used them again and again in the years to come.

  34. Donnell Allan Reply

    Nearly four decades after my baptism as a lonely, trusting teenager, I feel that a pair of Mormon spectacles fell off from before my eyes on the day I dared to say to myself, “perhaps it isn’t true.”  Before that day, I could not see clearly because everything I observed was viewed through the lense of my belief that I was a member of the one true church.  Back in the seventies, my convert-boyfriend and I were engaged for nine torturous  months so that he would have a year as a member, as required for a temple wedding.  We traveled from Washington State  to Salt Lake City and were married–without our families.  We raised six children on one blue-collar income.  We have contributed thousands of dollars in tithes and offerings.  We never turned down a calling, either one of us.  He has served twice as Elder’s Quorum President, three times in Bishoprics, twice on High Councils and is currently is the Stake Executive Secretary.  I have been a Primary President, seminary teacher and supervisor and a counselor in every woman’s auxiliary at the ward and stake levels. While there was much of family life that was enjoyable, we lived lives of continuous stress.   Cracks appeared in my solid wall of belief when, despite daily family scripture study and weekly Home Evenings, some of our children began to stray.  A  crack became a chasm when, despite my practice of hour-long daily scripture study and prayer, I was unable to get myself “in tune” with the prophets when they admonished members to become involved in Prop 8 in California.  Finally, the entire wall came tumbling down completely the day I simply dared to think that maybe the church was not what it claimed to be.

    My final “revelation”–and I had received many over the faithful years–was the answer I got when I said in my mind:  “Maybe Joseph Smith made it all up and was a fraud.”  The same Spirit I had heard in all my years of faithful service then spoke to me one last time.  It said, “Of course he did.”  

    I was done.  

    In my estimation, I lived the difficult life I did because I was under the influence of the social pressures and narrowed information options of a cult.  It is the best way I can make sense of the strange trajectory of my former life.  I was not myself for many years, and cultism explains why.

  35. Donnell Allan Reply

    Please note that the following two comments I posted are in reverse order.  The narrative  will flow better if you read the second one first.

  36. Scott C Reply

    Where are the links or resources you promised to upload during the podcast?

    • Greg Rockwell Reply

      There has been a lot of talk since the discussion whether we are going to follow it up with a second discussion to go over those materials and discuss examples in the Church. We are planning on doing a follow-up podcast, probably as one of the first Mormon Expositor episodes.

      Stay tuned.

  37. Pingback: Mormonism the Superorganism | JTurnonMormonism

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