censorship

Thoughts On Daniel Peterson

Recently there has been a bit of a kerfuffle regarding the abrupt dismissal of Daniel Peterson as editor of the Mormon Studies Review (formerly FARMS Review).  This event, and some of the responses I’ve heard since, have gotten under my skin.  Its an itch I haven’t been able to scratch, so I decided to write this blog post.  Normally I keep my distance from apologetic discussion boards and the bloggernacle, preferring to do things to improve my life for real, rather than debate someone on the internet.  But like I said, the majority of the responses to Daniel Peterson’s dismissal have been unsatisfying to me.  

One of the responses I’ve heard can be summed up with this handy visual:  Image

What’s Wrong With The Mormon Church?

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Introduction:
Today is October 31st, “Reformation Day”.  It was on this day 494 years ago that Martin Luther nailed “The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (commonly known as “The Ninety-Five Theses”) unto the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. “The Ninety-Five Theses” is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

And while readily acknowledging that I’m no Martin Luther, it is with a hopeful spirit for reformation in our lifetime that I offer these Ninety-Five Theses to a modern church that, in my opinion (as well as in the opinion of many others) is badly in need of it. More

Can A Mind Control Cult Reform Itself?

Q: Can a Mind Control Cult reform itself?
It seems that just below the surface of every discussion of Mind Control Cults this question burns, simmers, and smokes like the proverbial ember seeking to spark into flame.

But can they?
Will they?

Thankfully, the answer (at least occasionally) is yes. Here are two case studies for your consideration.

THE SHEPHERDING MOVEMENT
The Shepherding Movement (the mind control cult that I was in) is one such group. Ron Enroth described how this happened in his classic book, “Churches that Abuse”:

"Churches That Abuse" by Ronald M. Enroth

"Churches That Abuse" by Ronald M. Enroth

“It is possible for authoritarian churches to change direction? There several fairly recent examples of leaders who have announced changes and confessed to error. One of the leaders of the discipleship/shepherding movement officially known as Christian Growth Ministries, Bob Mumford, made a dramatic about-face after issuing a public statement of repentance in November of 1989. Mumford, one of the “Ft. Lauderdale Five” (so named because of the five founders of Christian Growth Ministries of Ft. Lauderdale Don Basham, Ern Baxter, Bob Mumford, and Charles Simpson), acknowledged abuses that had occurred because of his teaching on submission. This emphasis resulted in ‘perverse and unbiblical odedience’ to leaders. He publicly repented with ‘with sorrow’ and asked for forgiveness. He also admitted that families had been severely disrupted and lives turned upside down. More

Mind Control 101: The Basics

I have always found Luna Flesher’s work on Mind Control to be particularly good. She has written many fine articles on the subject but I thought that one in particular might be a good preface for the next installment of “My Life As A Mind Control Cultist” series.  It has been only slightly edited for this context. Bon appetit!

Mind Control - ur doing it rong

Mind catrol – ur doing it rong akshully

Mind Control 101: The Basics
by Luna Flesher

Cult Conversion Walkthrough (Storytime!)
No one is immune from mind control. And contrariwise, mind control doesn’t always work. It takes the right combination of factors; specifically trust, common ideals, and receptivity.

Cults are a good place to study mind control because the changes they effect on people’s lives are extremely obvious.

Pretend for a moment you are having a difficult time in your life: a recent tragedy or major transition. Maybe you’ve just gone through divorce, lost a loved one, you’ve moved to a new town, or have recently been fired. You’re feeling alone, scared, depressed, ashamed, or desperate. More

My Life as a Mind Control Cultist Part 1

My Life as a Mind Control Cultist Part 1

Since none of you have never been in a Mind Control Cult, and I have been, I thought it might be instructive to help you all understand what it’s like.

Now I know what some of you may be thinking so let me set the record straight right now:
Contrary to popular rumor, I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More

The Problem of The Mormon Tank (Revisited)

A funny thing happened on the way to this blog. I was actually planning to publish – and was working on – brand new, original material when several of the Mormon Expression Podcast and Blog discussion boards “lit up” with interesting dialog. I feel that that the content of this previously published article is relevant to several of them. So with no further adieu – and with a nod, a wink, and a grin to Eric’s last blog – I offer for your consideration, “The Problem of The Mormon Tank (Revisited)”.

Artist's depiction of the crew in a Sherman Tank.

Artist's depiction of the crew in a Sherman Tank.

Here’s the problem
If you’re in an Army Tank and pull out a compass the needle will point toward magnetic north. However, the compass is only validated if when you get outside that Tank and it’s still pointing in the exact same direction.Then, it’s only truly validated if it’s compared to yet another “known good” compass while outside the tank and they both point in the same direction. That is, the one point of internal reference and two points of external reference are all calibrated. The reason for this is simple: The magnetic field created by the iron armor of the Tank interferes with the compass’s operating integrity. You could consult a thousand compasses inside the Tank, and still get the same compromised and errant result every time. More

The Parable of The Box

I was first exposed to this parable via Chad Spjut’s Exmormon Foundation 2010 Conference Presidential Greeting.  I offer it to you now  in the hope that this powerful, articulate, and poignant expression of the life experience of so many resonates as deeply for you as it did for me.

"Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality."

"Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality."

The Parable of The Box
by Anonymous Utahan
There once was a boy who lived all his life with a cardboard box over his head. His parents taught him that he should never take the box off, for doing so was dangerous and foolish. The box protected him from the scary world outside of it.

On the inside of the box, he could make out some letters, and he could see the outlines of the box around him. His world was brown cardboard. His parents taught him to study the inside of the box carefully, for in it was all the wisdom he needed to navigate life. Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality.

Some of his friends told him that they had taken off the box and life was much better, but he didn’t believe them. His parents made sure he stayed away from these people, who clearly wanted only to hurt their boy. More

If I were “Mope” (Mormon Pope) Revisited

If I were “Mope” (Mormon Pope) Revisited

You know . . . “It’s good to be the Mope!”

Near the end of my last blog I made some pretty bold statements:

“…I see some good things in the LdS Church and I see even more in Mormon Culture. There’s also much – particularly in the former – that, in my opinion, is really, really bad and needs to change. Never-the-less I’m just crazy enough to believe that there must be a way to keep the good and jettison the bad…

However, to get there from here the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from my perspective, must reform. And THAT, at least for me, is still a work in progress. That’s to say, it’s a work in progress for me because while I think I have an idea as to what end state might look like, I know that I’m not alone in this vision and I find the ideas and thoughts of others often more interesting than my own – hence the need for ongoing dialog.”

At this point you’re probably wondering, “Sounds interesting but exactly what kind of  ‘reform’ are we talking about? And what kind of ‘end state’ do you have in mind Mr. Smarty Pants?”

Fair enough. More

Lying for the Lord: A Grassroots Tale

"If someone claims to have the truth . . . " It’s been said that, “Sex and crime seem to be the perfect recipe for broadcast success in the 21st century!” So it’s no wonder that a recent Mormon Expression podcast appears to be so popular. It features a “Top 10 Count Down” of famous Mormon criminals and sure enough, despite the occassional “downer” moment (some of the criminal behavior is truly apalling) it’s fascinating, thought provoking stuff!

On several occassions the panel tangents from the central topic into the meta-question of “Why?” as in, “Why does there seem to be something in Mormonism that disportionally contributes to these behaviors?”; and as in, “Why do Mormons – including some ‘golden’ Mormons – demonstrate a propensity toward these extreme behaviors?”, etc. And while I thought that several good theories are offered in the podcast, an analysis on the discussion board is, to my way of thinking, particularly insightful:

“Mormonism has a very real problem in this regard: its central book of scripture opens with a story of justification of murder [that is, a divine directive to Nephi commanding him to behead Laban] and the rest of the book is so bland that it doesn’t overcome that message or it reinforces that message with the continual battles between the Nephites and Lamanites. The problem is that if God can justify murder he can justify any lesser sin as well. And that’s where Mormonism fundamentally departs from traditional Protestantism (and perhaps Catholicism as well) where God must be a moral God.

In Protestantism … God must conform to all the standards of morality that we hold or else He/She is not God.”[1]

That said, in addition to the Book of Mormon example, I would propose that the following passage from The Pearl of Great Price be considered in regard to the “lesser sin” of lying:

Book of Abraham 2:22-25
“And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon;

Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say — She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise:

Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.

And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me — Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee.”

That passage is troubling because it portrays the Mormon God giving a divine directive to Abraham that he lie to Pharoah in a manner that’s quite similar to the way he instructed Nephi to murder Laban.[2] This is in direct violation of the moral criteria that the Jewish God established in the Bible via the 10 Commandments[3] and the Mormon God reinforced via The Book of Mormon.[4] Further, and as a practical matter, it’s vexing because I’ve found that some Mormons use it as a divine justification for lying. In other words, Book of Mormon “Blood Atonement” meet Book of Abraham “Lying for the Lord”.[5]

On the Delicate Matter of “Lying for the Lord”
A Mormon Wiki describes the Mormon practice of “Lying for the Lord” as follows:

“Lying for the Lord refers to the practice of lying to protect the image of and belief in the Mormon religion, a practice which Mormonism itself fosters in various ways. From Joseph Smith’s denial of having more than one wife, to polygamous Mormon missionaries telling European investigators that reports about polygamy in Utah were lies put out by “anti-Mormons” and disgruntled ex-members, to Gordon B. Hinckley’s dishonest equivocation on national television over Mormon doctrine, Mormonism’s history seems replete with examples of lying. Common members see such examples as situations where lying is justified. For the Mormon, loyalty and the welfare of the church are more important than the principle of honesty, and plausible denials and deception by omission are warranted by an opportunity to have the Mormon organization seen in the best possible light.
(Link to Source; bolding and underlining added for emphasis)

Now I’m not here to rehash the aforementioned historical record of Mormon Leaders engaging in “Lying for the Lord” – that’s been done well enough by others and I have no interest in reinventing the wheel.[6] My interest is far more immediate, practical, and close to home – more “grass roots” if you will.

And I know that modern Mormons typically bristle when critics accuse the members of the LdS Church of “Lying for the Lord”. The typical response involves citing The Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Article Thirteen which states:

“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men…”
(Link to Source; bolding added for emphasis)

And I will readily admit that most of the members I know personally would consider deviating from the Article Thirteen standard unthinkably unethical and integrity compromising. Never-the-less just as soon as the “Enemy of the eternal gospel and only true Church” label is slapped on someone or something, somewhere out there from the deep, dark lunatic fringes of the Mormon Church a “Liar for the Lord” will quickly emerge.

A recent firsthand experience served as a painful reminder.

The Blue Devil and Dr. Jones: A Grassroots Tale
For some reason the Internet tends to bring out the worst in people. As a result of that sad fact one of the Mormon-centric websites that I frequent eventually tired of the constant, seemingly endless, often childish bickering that goes on between Mormon Defenders and Mormon Critics. So, being predisposed to the critical stance (which is in fact implied by the site’s purpose statement), the web site owner decided to bring peace to the proceedings by making the discussion board exclusive to critics. The announcement was made, the user accounts of the Mormon defenders were revoked, a banner explaining the new policy was posted on the main page of the website and life went on for all. We remaining members were then left to continue in our misguided efforts to critique and discuss the history, doctrine, and practices of the only “perfect” church on earth in peace and harmony.[7]

But apparently, the stress and anxiety of seeing the LdS Church publicly analyzed, criticized, deconstructed, reconstructed – and in some cases even denounced – without challenge was just too much for some members so a solution had to be found – and that fix was (of course) “Lying for the Lord”.

In the latest such case a new board member “BlueDevil” (from the great state of North Carolina of course) registered and posted on the board. He came roaring in with both guns blazing – clearly a “Porter Rockwell” Mormon who was “ready to rumble” with these despicable eternal darkness bound “Children of the Devil” and “Enemies of the only true Church!” In his wake, a “DrJones0” (from the great state of Texas) arrived with a quieter, gentler, more tempered and reasoned approach with the members.

The regular members first reminded BlueDevil that Mormons apologists weren’t allowed on this particular board and encouraged him to comply with the rules by not posting. These requests were met with number of angry and hostile posts calling down judgment on high on these blind deceivers. He then disappeared. Poof! Gone! Just like that!

Well, that was easy!

Oddly Dr. Jones’ posts then slowly began to drift into a more decidedly pro-Mormon, apologetic stance. He eventually began using stock and standard Latter-day clichés and language. He then was asked directly if he was a Mormon. At first he demurred and then flatly denied it – not once, not twice, but three times. Yet, at the same time, his posts were simultaneously becoming more and more fanatical. By the day three they had collapsed into a shard pile of stock word-for-word LdS Apologist pabulum. Finally, he simply spammed the discussion board with the same copy and paste “REPENT and be baptized ye apostates destined for outer darkness!” post (well over 100-times in fact) before the board SysAdmin could stop the bleeding via a well-deserved ban.

Given the gawd awful mess that he’d been left with the (solo) SysAdmin enlisted my help (I’m an IT guy in my day job) in scrubbing the site of the spam that Dr. Jones had left behind. The SysAdmin duly “Deputized” me and gave me full administrative privileges on the board. We then got to the hard work of purging the “faith promoting graffiti” off of the site one virtual urban scrawl at a time.

Now, I hope it doesn’t shock or surprise anyone that Internet discussion boards enable administrators to see the IP address of the computer that the users post from. So I did some quick forensics and discovered that not only were “BlueDevil” and “DrJones0” the same person [8], their posts were all generated through the same Internet Service Provider in (drum roll puh-lease) central Salt Lake City.

(Yes, yes, I’m sure that you’re as surprised as we were!)

This was a clear case of not just “Lying for the Lord” but blatantly, repeatedly, and overtly doing so.

“It’s Like Getting Married”
Now, all fairness, given the number of anonymous unregistered hits that this site and other such sites receive each day, this case – and the others like it – are the exception not the norm. Never-the-less this case study demonstrates one way that “Lying for the Lord” is practiced in modern Mormonism.

And, of course the whole issue of using deceit in the name of God, regardless your religious stance, is never a good idea because as one person put it:

“Joining a religious group is much like a marriage, often including a type of “falling in love”. When two people are seriously involved and contemplating marriage, is it really the ethical responsibility of each to, say, hire a private investigator to fully investigate the background of their loved one to make sure there are no ugly surprises after the wedding? Or is it the moral and ethical responsibility of each party to make that disclosure?” [9]

Or put another way, “If someone claims to have the truth you should probably first make sure that they’re not lying to you.”[10]

 

NOTES:
[1] Post by Mike Michaels dated June 23, 2011; retrieved 6/23/2011; the bracketed text summarizes the prior paragraph for clarity. Mr. Michael later explained in another post, “I was/am not responding as a believing Christian for I am not. I am merely trying to explain the difference in mindset that I held as a believing Christian before I converted to Mormonism (subsequently followed by 20 years of active participation).”

[2] It should be noted that it’s generally conceded in the Biblical narratives that parallel this Book of Abraham account the biblical characters took it upon themselves to lie since only did God not mandate the lies but went so far as to expose the attempt at deceit to the unsuspecting victim. (see Genesis 12:10-19, Genesis 20, and Gen 26:1-10) As a result, most expositors exegese these passages as morality plays regarding failures of faith on the part of the humans that did not please God. (see http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0120.htm ; http://www.easyenglish.info/bible-commentary/genesis-mwks3-lbw.htm )

[3] See Exodus 20:16 and Deuteronomy 5:20

[4] See Ether 3:12 and 2 Nephi 9:34

[5] One need go no further than Dallin H. Oaks’ September 12, 1993 BYU address, “Gospel Teachings About Lying” for an example how arguments for lying are exegesed from LdS Scripture. And though it may seem extreme to some “Blood Atonement” p. 93, by Independent Mormon Fundamentalist, Ogden Kraut provides us with an excellent example of how an argument for murder can be developed from the Laban narrative.

[6] Former Church Educational System employee Ken Clark’s list of such case studies is an excellent overview as is the aforementioned MormonWiki.org article.

[7] This, as I’m sure anyone familiar with the Internet knows is not unusual as there are many Latter-day Saint discussion boards where the opposite has been the case. This is no big deal – it’s just life on a planet whose inhabitants would rather bicker than agree to disagree (or so it seems).

[8] Another charge that he had angrily denied.

[9] As cited from “Missionary Sophistry?” at http://www.mormonwiki.org/Lying_for_the_Lord from an original post now scrolled off discussion thread of a blog post at “Latter-day Saint Liberation Front”; Accessed 8/23/2006.

[10] Richard Packham, ExMormon Foundation Conference 2009. Mr. Packham’s full case against Mormonism’s use of lying can be found here.

Failed Censorship (Only The Good Die Young)

I am a huge fan of Billy Joel.  I have every single one of his albums (Okay, I don’t have them all.  I burned most of them from the public library, but whatever.…), and I never get tired of listening to his work.  One of my favorite Billy Joel stories is from an interview he gave when his album The Stranger was re-released as a 30th Anniversary special edition CD.  The album was first released in 1977 at a time when Joel was about to be dropped by his record label due to lack of success from previous releases.  The first two singles from The Stranger were huge successes, “Just the Way You Are,” and “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).”  However, the third single, “Only the Good Die Young” did not climb up the charts like the previous two hits. 

All that changed when a Catholic university got wind of the song lyrics to “Only the Good Die Young” and decided to ban the record from its college radio station.  As many of you probably know, the lyrics of this song are about trying to seduce a good, virtuous, Catholic girl, and it takes a good number of jabs at Billy Joel’s childhood faith.  Eventually, the Catholic  leadership across the country were banning the song.  From the Song Stories website:

Billy Joel recalls the incident himself, “The minute the kids found out it was banned, they ran out in droves and it became a huge hit. If you tell kids they can’t have something, that’s what they want.”

Soon after the New Jersey incident, a number of other church officials across the country openly condemned the song and persuaded a good number of radio stations to ban it as well. The sudden controversy that the song found itself in the middle of,was nothing more than terrific exposure for the track. A song that few people had heard at the time was now making headlines in newspapers and on the evening news, “Only the Good Die Young” obviously shot up the charts and was suddenly a Top 40 hit.

Thirty years later, the song seems nearly harmless in retrospect. It’s played on “soft rock” radio stations, and the lyrics that once caused a major fracas generally don’t even garner a seconds thought.

Recently Joel himself expounded on the lyrics he penned, “I don’t understand the problem with the song. It’s about a guy trying to seduce a girl but, at the end of the song, she’s still chaste and pure and he hasn’t got anything. So I never understood what the furor was about. But I did write a letter to the Archdiocese who’d banned it, asking them to ban my next record.”

It is probably very arguable that without this failed action by the Catholic Church leaders, Billy Joel may have never become the star that he is today.  From the bottom of my heart I say “Thank you, Catholics.”   

I thought of this story as I was reading the introduction to the second edition of “Mormon Enigma,” and although this information may be mentioned next month in the podcast, I thought it was worth noting here.  The authors (Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery) record that after the biography was released and enjoyed some success that the LDS church leadership was offended by the book, and in 1985 responded by restricting any address either of them may be invited to make in relation to the topic of religious or church history within the church.  The ban made national headlines.  And even though they successfully petitioned the church to lift the ban after 10 months, the church did not make the change public knowledge.  Therefore, the book still remained stimatized by the faithful of the church. 

A couple of points stick out to me: first, that the leadership of the church made their initial decision to restrict speaking by the authors without actually reading the book in its entirety.  Second, that after the ban gained publicity, sales of the book tripled.  And third, that it seems the church leaders felt no shame in causing emotional distress for these sisters and their families, just because it did not like a book they published.   

Why haven’t the church leadership figured out the simple idea expressed by Billy Joel – that trying to censor something ultimately just leads to even more exposure – yet?  Is it arrogance?  Or are the testimonies of the few, precious, obedient ones that much more valuable than the effects of negative press? 

These questions are of huge import, at least for me personally.  I had always heard of the difficult doctrinal questions – polygamy, Book of Mormon historicity, blacks and the priesthood, and others.  None of these issues really caused much concern for me.  But eventually for some reason curiosity got the better of me.  For example, I knew that the church had excommunicated Fawn Brodie for writing a history of Joseph Smith.  Eventually my fear of what might be contained in that volume transformed into a question – what could be so bad that they would have to kick Brodie out of the church?   

Subsequently I learned about the September Six.  As with Brodie, I wondered what things that group could have been teaching that would cause the church to have to deny them their membership?  Ditto with Sonia Johnson.  The list goes on.  Needless to say, I didn’t find the things these folks were saying as really threatening at all.  In the case of  Michael Quinn, for instance, it just seemed to me that he was just trying to tell the history the way it was recorded, for good or for ill.  And I always thought seeking out truth was an important part of our theology.

Eventually, the church’s actions in response to these ‘heretics’ became much more of a stumbling block for my testimony than what any of these individuals said or wrote ever could have been. 

Finally, this thought came to me again as I was listening to the Big Love podcast.  I believe it was Melissa who pointed out how the fact that the church PR people came out so forcefully against the HBO program made her curious to find out what was so bad about it.  I admit that my curiosity has been piqued as well, as I have not seen any Big Love shows as of yet.

You would think that the church would have learned these lessons a little better by now, just through experience.  Sometimes I think they are softening because so many of these issues have blown up in their faces.  But it seems like as soon as I start to relax, there’s the next Boyd Packer talk, or the Big Love denouncement.

I guess maybe it is just simple ignorance.  When you’re right, you’re right, no questions asked.  Returning to my affection for Billy Joel music, I know that there was a lot of music that I enjoyed listening to that my parents did not approve of.  Sure, a lot of that music talked about sex and drugs.  But so does Billy.  I never even really paid attention to the words when I was young, but when I got older, I was often suprised that my folks didn’t have a problem with Billy Joel.  But in the end it was a simple as my parents didn’t like Metallica, but they did like Billy Joel.  And I guess that was all that mattered. 

Whatever the reasoning, I think it would be extremely wise for the church to take a closer look at its attempts to censor different voices and information, because in my experience, those actions have done more to hurt than to help.  Even though it may be better late than never, I am afraid at least in my personal case, that the church (just like Catholic girls) will have started much too late.