Monday, July 31, 2006

How Could I Have Been Taken In?

It is now so obvious to me that the Mormon church is false that I really wonder how I could have ever taken it so seriously. As JLO once put it, you'd have to be dumber than a sack of hammers to believe it. Yet many intelligent people continue to believe and practice Mormonism and donate considerable time and resources to promoting the scam.

I don't know if I've put the story of my awakening on here before, but curiosity about Scientology led me to a moment of clarity when a switch was flipped, everything fell into place, and I saw Mormonism for what it is. Sometimes it's easier to recognize someone else's insanity than your own.

Now, a couple of years later I'm finding that anti-Scientology articles are useful in understanding Mormonism since there are remarkable parallels. In spare moments I've been reading the Scientology InfoPack, What Scientology Won't Tell You.

For example, the techniques used for thought control (brainwashing) are the same. I used to chafe when people claimed that Mormons brainwashed. What others see as mind control I considered valid teaching methods. After all, memorization requires repetition so there's nothing wrong with having young men and young women regularly repeat their creeds as a means of helping them remember their path in life. And it's not really brainwashing if what you are teaching is true, right? I considered them to be good pedagological techniques.

Here are the brainwashing techniques used by Scientology and other cults and how they are used in Mormonism. I've quoted the linked article and then explained how those techniques are found in Mormonism.
  • Miracle, Mystery, Authority: The foundations of Mormonism are replete with miraculous events such as the first vision, visitations by Moroni, golden plates, translation of the Book of Mormon, angelic ordinations, etc. The temple is a mystery that can't be discussed anywhere that serves to bind members unquestioningly and absolutely to the church. Anything that can't be explained or that doesn't make sense becomes miraculous. Joseph Smith used these miracles and mysteries to claim divine authority which his successors inherited and continue to use. Church leaders claim divine authority and powers such as discernment, inspiration, and even direct revelation from God.
  • Attributing all individual suffering to misapplication, misunderstanding or even casual doubting of the group’s unfailing teaching. I think that "all" overstates the case for Mormons, but I know many members that immediately wonder what a person has done wrong when bad things happen. They also tend to attribute everything good to obedience to the church. A core doctrine of the church is that all blessings are predicated on obeying commandments. This is very fluid in a way that always benefits the church; good things are attributed to living church teachings and bad things are the result of either lack of worthiness or a test of faith. Members have difficulty even considering life without the church because they believe that without the church they won't know right from wrong, that they will suffer temporally, that they will lose their eternal families, etc. They have difficulty imagining life without the church.
  • Inducing "sensory deprivation and sensory overload, guided imagery and visualization, trance induction through repetition of words or slogans...". The ultimate way for a Mormon to receive knowledge is fasting and prayer. When confronted with a difficult problem or question they are encouraged to repeatedly fast and pray about it. This is usually accompanied by reading scriptures and counseling with church leaders. The answer comes as a "still small voice" that is usually described as feelings or thoughts that seem to come from outside your own mind. The church encourages members to fast on the first Sunday of each month and hold Fast and Testimony meeting on that Sunday where members stand and bear their "Testimony" of the truthfulness of the church. During this meeting you can hear the same stock phrases repeated over and over, often with exactly the same words. For example, you will hear the phrase, "I know the church is true." The statement doesn't even make any sense, yet it holds a special meaning for long-time church members. You will hear this and many similar statement.
  • Controlling the environment, i.e., the group member "is deprived of the combination of external information and inner reflection which anyone requires to test the realities of his environment and to maintain a measure of identity separate from it." Not only do Mormons have a uniquely flawed method for discovering truth, they also teach members to reject all sources of information that might challenge church orthodoxy. Only church published books are to be trusted. Other sources are automatically suspect since the truth of the church can only perceived by members who have the gifts of the Spirit required to correctly interpret information. Most members cannot even bring themselves to read anything that might challenge the church because they have taught that to doubt will cause a loss of the Spirit and everything that they cherish. The ultimate implementation of this in the church is the missionary program where young men are separated and isolated from friends and family, paired with strangers, saddled with a grueling schedule that allows no spare time for self, and controls all aspects of their lives for two years. This is preceded by requiring temple attendance where they pledge, literally, their lives and everything they can give to the building up of the church. This is a very important way to establish control over male members at a critical age.
  • Creating a mystique of importance around the group and its leader, so that the group and its goals are seen as more important than anything else. Ask a Mormon what differentiates their church from all others and they will almost certainly respond that it is led by living prophets. They believe that God reveals his will through these men and that they are the only people on the face of the earth who can do so. The church promotes itself as "the one true church on the face of the earth." Go to any Mormon church on the first Sunday of the month and sit through a testimony meeting. I guarantee that almost every testimony will claim to know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that he restored the one true church, and that Gordon B. Hinckley is the living prophet of God. You'll hear this from children that can barely talk all the way up to the members that have one foot in the grave. Most members believe that the church's apostles literally talk to God and have literally seen him. Most cannot imagine life without the church. They see belief in and activity in the church as being absolutely vital to themselves, their family, and all of humanity both living and dead. This is cemented by the temple ordinances which are the most important events in the lives as members where they formally swear unending, absolute consecration of everything to furthering the work of the church. The church is central to everything in their life.
  • Requiring a level of perfection that is unattainable, with consequent guilt and shame serving as powerful control devices. If you make a list of everything that the church requires then it quickly becomes obvious that you can never live up to the standard. Furthermore, many of the standards are arbitrary and place undo importance on trivial things. For example, consider the mental energy spent by some Mormons on weighty moral matters such as whether it is a sin to drink coke. Another pet peeve is useless activity such as home teaching which is rarely useful and seems to be busy work to keep the troops occupied. The requirements are a source of constant instruction during all church meetings where all of the various requirements are repeatedly restated throughout life leaving a constant state of apprehension due to never being able to do it all. It's as if each Sunday's meetings are intended to create a renewed sense of inadequacy and dependence on the church to remind you of your shortcomings.
  • Demanding extraordinary levels of confession, including confession to crimes that one has not committed, making it "virtually impossible to maintain a reasonable balance between worth and humility." The annual (now bi-annual) temple recommend interviews with the bishopric and stake presidency are a regular opportunity for members to be queried about their worthiness. Faithful members are controlled by the knowledge that if they stray they will either have to confess or lie at their next interview. Members who lie must live with the guilt of both the sin and also the lie. Most members are good, honest people so they confess. Confession can result in very public and embarrassing actions against the sinner such as witholding the sacrament, disfellowship, or excommunication. Despite assurances of privacy, confessions are often discussed or speculated on by church leaders and members. Once confession is made many members must submit to embarrasingly probing questions about the sin that require them to reveal all of the details of the sin in lurid detail. It isn't sufficient for a teenager to confess to petting. The bishop may ask details about when, how often, what body parts were touched, how they were touched, level of arousal, thoughts, etc. A man may not only confess an affair, but may have to give graphic details of the affair and assuming he is being excommunicated may have to do this in front of a room of over 16 men who are his peers in the church and the community. The church claims that this is necessary to weed out sin in the church and to help the member repent and change, but it seems more geared to break down the member's self-worth and make them subservient and controllable by the church.
  • Claiming absolute infallibility of the group’s leader and doctrine. This one is a little tricky. The Mormon's do not claim infallibility of the prophet. In fact they explicitly deny it and claim that all members are free to pray about the church's teachings and reject anything that they feel is wrong. But there is a gulf between the church's words and actions in this regard. It's president has recently stated that members are free to believe anything they want, but when they publicly espouse those beliefs they cross a line and must be punished. So, while the church doesn't claim it's leaders are infallible, it expects the members to act as though they were. Disagreement must be silent. Doctrine is assumed to be infallible and unchangeable. Despite the fact that some of the doctrines have been quite fluid over time and that there is no authoritative definition of church doctrines, the church holds its scriptures to be the absolute truth and incontrovertible. Even in cases such as the Book of Abraham where the scripture has been convincingly shown to be a fraud and incorrect, the church continues to stand by it.
  • Creating a unique language, often non-understandable to outsiders, the effect of which "can be summed up in one word: constriction.... [The group member] is, so to speak, linguistically deprived; and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed." This isn't as pronounced as in Scientology, but most lifelong members can attest that Mormons seem to speak a language of their own. The key words that they redefine for their own use are "know" and "truth/true." As in, "I know the church is true," or "I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God," or "I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God." They claim to have a unique, better way of discovering truth. They have many other words that they use such as a testimony, and many phrases that have special meaning for them.
  • Giving the member a new identity by bringing his or her thinking into alignment with the group’s, prompting a redefinition of the self and a reinterpretation of the past in terms of the new present. The individual "switches worlds...and through socialization, discovers the ‘plausibility structures’ that make the new world coherent, fully tangible and fully believable...The formula for reinterpretation of the past is, ‘Then I I know.’ No where is this made more clear than when someone joins or leaves the church. Those that join often begin to make decisions that previously would have been unimaginable such as choosing to exclude non-members from their marriage ceremony or dropping out of school to serve a mission. Those leaving often face tremendous battles with family over their loss of faith that often results in the destruction of marriages, the separation of families, and shunning by family and former friends and associates. A Mormon is defined, first and foremost, as a member of the church with everything else being secondary.
  • Relegating outsiders to the status of reduced value or non-person. Mormons believe that after baptism and confirmation they become literal descendants of Abraham and heirs to his blessings. Everyone else is a gentile. People who do not join the Mormon church lack the spirit of truth and are therefore inferior and to be pitied. This, in fact, has been a major source of conflict between the Mormon church and the rest of the world throughout its relatively short history. From the beginning the Mormons have claimed to have all the truth, to be the only "true" church of God, that all other churches are false and an abomination to God, and that all other churches and governments would eventually fall and be replaced by the Mormon church. The Mormons believe that at Christ's second coming, he will assume the head of the Mormon church, burn the wicked, resurrect the worthy Mormons and stand at their head to rule the earth for 1000 years of peace. At the end of the 1000 years, the rest of the people will be resurrected and judged and assigned their final places in inferior kingdoms of heaven separate from God and Jesus Christ. I'm not sure how much more separate a church can make itself than to condemn all non-members to its version of hell.
I have no doubt that Scientology was a pre-meditated fraud that was consciously designed to exploit modern knowledge of human psychology and thought control. But it seems like the Mormons have adopted and refined similar techniques.

For any Mormons that happen to read this and take offense I have a couple of simple questions.

1) If the Mormon church isn't true, then would you want to know?

2) What evidence would be able to convince you that it isn't true?

If you cannot easily answer those two questions then you are thoroughly brainwashed and should seek help.


Cynthia E. Bagley said...

I really enjoy your essays because they are so articulate. :-)

Got my big words out for the day. Thank you

Anonymous said...

Your article totally describes conversion from sinner to Christianity. How could you have missed it?

Bull said...

Missed what?

Do you mean that evangelical Christians use the same brain-washing techniques? Of course they do. Where do you think that Joseph Smith learned them?

BTW, I love that term: conversion from sinner to Christianity. So Christians aren't sinners? I thought that Christians taught that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Conversion is from non-Christian sinner to Christian sinner.