Sunday, November 29, 2009

Magical Thinking

Aaron commented on last week's post on Personalities of the Deeply Religious and suggested that perhaps the common thread among the deeply religious is magical thinking. He hadn't experienced the violence that I have seen and that was integral to the upbringing of the Lafferty brothers and that seemed to be part and parcel of religious culture of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and 19th century Mormonism. But with or without the violence and spirit of coercion, devoted religiosity does seem to rely on a willing suspension of disbelief and a desire to believe in supernatural powers that can only be invoked through obedience to the practices of the religion. So, I can't help but agree with him, but I think it is a short stroll from magical thinking to violence, especially for people who are naturally inclined in that direction.

Reading more about the Lafferty brothers today I was struck by what a short path it was for Ron Lafferty to go from a devoted, model Mormon, first counselor in the bishopric and pillar of the community to an abusive, fundamentalist Mormon receiving revelations from God that ultimately led him to murder a young mother and her infant child in cold blood for the sin or opposing him and his brothers and their divinely appointed mission to restore the Mormon church to its true practices and doctrines including polygamy.

In the early 80s he was publicly a role model for the members of his ward, but privately he was consumed by the huge recession and on the verge of going bankrupt. At this critical time he met with his brothers who had already independently discovered and retreated into religious and political extremism to try to correct their ways. Instead he found himself convinced and soon started to require his wife to be subservient to him and started to talk of marrying off his teenage daughters in polygamous marriages to other men. When his wife and children left him and he lost his home he fell under the sway of another fundamentalist prophet who taught him to receive revelations. Unsurprisingly he received a revelation reminiscent of D&C 132 that called his wife to repentance and commanded her to return to him or be destroyed. Then he received a revelation commanding him to kill the people who had supported his wife and helped her leave him. The rest is history.

I'm still left wondering whether extreme religious belief is a fertile ground in which coercive and violent behavior can easily find roots. When you are convinced that God has revealed the truth to you and that ultimately truth will prevail in apocalyptic fashion and consume everyone who doesn't believe, it isn't a huge stretch to believe that you are the instrument for fulfilling God's will to cleanse the earth and help the truth roll forward.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post and the blog.