During the most recent LDS General Conference, Apostle David A. Bednar delivered a talk that promised to “hush” members’ fear. But in a highly manipulative series of twists and turns, he instead amps up fear, channels it down routes that benefit the Church, reframes the source of fear, and then in an exciting backflip into double-think, loads language to conflate fear with love.
This talk is spiritually abusive.
As I point out in Recovering Agency, high-demand groups instill phobias. This is not some random, baseless claim. Cult researchers have studied this at length. In my book, I spend a whole chapter describing instilled phobias within Mormonism: how it’s done, which phobias the Church instills, and why. The main purpose, of course, is to make you afraid to leave the Church, and also to make you afraid of disobeying God (with the Brethren in proxy as the voice of God).
This process is not simple and happens over a long period of time. It’s rare to see a talk that covers so much ground all by itself. Yet if any single talk is perfect for demonstrating how this process works, “Therefore They Hushed Their Fears” is the one.
Elder Bednar begins with a story of how scared he felt as a boy after breaking a window. (I’m sure if you were to run a statistical analysis of LDS Conference talks, you’d find that every general authority broke at least one window.)
Stories like this are persuasive because they put us in the speaker’s shoes. We are invited to relate to him and feel the emotions he conveys. All children have accidentally broken something, so this story conjures up strong, personal childhood emotions. It regresses the listener to an earlier time, when we were at the mercy of our parents. When we were afraid of punishment from an ultimate authority.
Elder Bednar survives the encounter, of course. He had loving parents who handled it well. As he expresses relief in his story, we are relieved along with him.
Thus we’ve begun the emotional ride he’s about to take us on.
Keep in mind that most viewers of this talk are already conditioned to trust Elder Bednar. He presents himself well and speaks in the usual soft tones of a general authority. Mormons recognize him as an apostle, a righteous and spiritual leader, chosen by God, and blessed with spiritual gifts. Few Mormons would question his motives. They have already suspended disbelief and are willing to hear all of his words uncritically, hopefully through “the Spirit,” an emotional, meditative state that leaves them open-minded and willing to accept whatever message he delivers.
Most LDS listeners are hoping to feel the emotions Elder Bednar is about to convey.
Immediately after providing relief at the end of the window-breaking story, Elder Bednar lists some seriously scary situations:
“You undoubtedly have experienced much greater feelings of dread after learning about a personal health challenge, discovering a family member in difficulty or danger, or observing disturbing world events. In such instances, the distressing emotion of fear arises because of impending danger, uncertainty, or pain and through experiences that are unexpected, sometimes sudden, and likely to produce a negative outcome.”
This first half of the list is in second person: You. Again, you’re being welcomed along on his emotional journey. These are the things you are probably afraid of, and may be experiencing right now.
Then he widens the scope:
“In our daily lives, endless reports of criminal violence, famine, wars, corruption, terrorism, declining values, disease, and the destructive forces of nature can engender fear and apprehension. Surely we live in the season foretold by the Lord: ‘And in that day…the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them’ (D&C 45:26).”
When we hear emotionally-charged words, we tend to feel those things. And as we imagine the situations he describes, we bring to mind similar times when we’ve been afraid. Through this, Bednar evokes fear, brings it to the forefront of the momentary experience.
Then as he brings up other concepts, our brains actually connect these emotions to the thoughts. Neurons that fire together, wire together.
For instance, when he next offers relief. But there’s a catch: “My purpose is to describe how fear is dispelled through a correct knowledge of and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The feeling of relief is held hostage for the ransom of one simple thing: Our minds. We are asked to give up our minds to a correct knowledge and faith, as defined, of course, by the LDS Church.
For several more minutes, Elder Bednar hammers home that we can only be comforted by God himself, with phrases like: “…deliverance only he could bestow,” and “…Jesus Christ is the only source of enduring peace.”
What Bednar fails to mention is that Mormons don’t have a monopoly on emotional peace. (Christians don’t either.) Faith is just one way to calm fear. Many Buddhists find peace in meditation and a philosophy of letting go of attachments. Psychologists teach that we can find peace through various therapies, like cognitive behavior therapy. Peace can be found through many philosophies and techniques, like “don’t sweat the small stuff,” “keep calm and cary on,” finding time to take care of yourself, getting involved in charitable acts, taking medication, spending time in the forest, and running marathons. There are as many right ways to find enduring peace as there are people on earth. And nothing will give you peace unless it fits your unique needs.
But by creating a monopoly on spiritual peace, the Church creates emotional dependency. The message is: You need us. Your vast world of choices is whittled down to just two: Stay and have a chance at serenity, or live in fear for the rest of your life.
These are your only choices. Pick one:
Bednar wants us to know that faith in Christ alone isn’t enough. He raises the stakes and demands purity (another mind control technique) by quoting the Doctrine and Covenants:
“He who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.”
This is a very important caveat in this process, because his suggestions might fail. They will probably fail. In other words, you might do all that he has said, and still feel afraid or worried. By making serenity contingent upon “works of righteousness,” any failure of this promise is your fault, not a failure of the promise itself. I call this “blame reversal.” Through this requirement, these doctrinal claims can never be proven wrong.
Mormons are effectively taught to view all things through the lens of Mormon teachings. Here, Bednar bluntly spells it out:
“The peace Christ gives allows us to view mortality through the precious perspective of eternity and supplies a spiritual settledness that helps us maintain a consistent focus on our heavenly destination. Thus, we can be blessed to hush our fears because His doctrine provides purpose and direction in all aspects of our lives.”
We must do all things via the frame of the gospel. We must interpret all things in light of Church doctrine. The teachings will direct us, not just in some things, but in “all aspects of our lives.” This type of ideological system is called “totalism.”
It’s not a knitting circle where you go to knit, and you’re free to live the rest of your life as you see fit. It’s not even a psychologist who helps you untangle your childhood or your current relationship and lets you move on when you’re done. No, the living gospel applies to Every. Single. Thing. You. Do.
It applies to every single thought you think.
And if it doesn’t? Well, be afraid. Be very afraid.
How afraid? Well, Bednar touches on the dispensing of existence technique, the threat that life itself (or eternal life, or identity) is at stake. Yep, he goes there. Of course he would, in a talk about fear. What is the price of failure? He quotes Alma 37:47, “…see that ye look to god and live.” He doesn’t spend much time on it, but a reminder is enough, especially when previous and later talks reiterate it in greater detail.
Our established commitment to the gospel is what will keep us safe. Bednar quotes Helaman:
“Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”
The threat is strongly implied: You have nothing to fear, you know, as long as you withstand all the mighty shafts of whirlwind and stuff. Oh, and those mighty storms… those are coming, which are scary in and of themselves. And if you fail to withstand them, it’s probably your fault because you didn’t build on a firm foundation. And then you can look forward to a gulf of misery and wo.
Easy stuff. No fear here. You’ve literally got nothing to worry about, right?
Quotes like these create the very same problem they address. Even if you showed up to Conference feeling calm, by now you’re going to be a bit frightened. His talk is self-fulfilling and generates a lot of unnecessary fear.
But again, relief from all this drummed up fear is possible! Bednar is very specific about how to avoid the misery and wo:
“Ordinances and covenants are the building blocks we use to construct our lives upon the foundation of Christ and His Atonement. We are connected securely to and with the Savior as we worthily receive ordinances and enter into covenants, faithfully remember and honor those sacred commitments, and do our best to live in accordance with the obligations we have accepted.”
So, basically, everything. Do everything, plus some, and you’ll be just fine. By “covenant” he means “promise to keep the commandments.” The list of LDS commandments is incredibly long and impossible for any one person to fulfill. There are dozens of express commandments; dozens more are implied. Nothing to fear at all, just so long as you comply.
Many members praised another talk, given by Elder Uchtdorf, “The Gift of Grace“, because it emphasized grace over works. He said:
“Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God. Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline.”
As you can see, Bednar’s talk directly contradicts Uchtdorf’s otherwise-comforting words. And this sets up a manipulative predicament for members.
Both doctrines are promoted (within the same conference!), which gives the Church plausible deniability for every problematic interpretation. And they can claim a source for either doctrine, based on convenience. If you want to claim Mormonism promotes grace just like mainstream Christianity does, you quote Uchtdorf. If a member is failing to find peace through grace alone, you can quote Bednar, who says you’re not working hard enough. If you work yourself to death in a cycle of toxic perfectionism, leaders can just quote Uchtdorf and claim you misunderstood the doctrine. Never mind that Bednar has literally put the fear of God in you.
Rather that disproving the validity of LDS doctrines, contradictions like these give the Church a perpetual “out” for any situation, which will make the Church look right, and the member look defective.
Next, Bednar starts loading the language. Turns out, there are two kinds of fear: regular fear, and “godly fear”, which means, fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord of course isn’t real fear. So if you felt a twinge of horror at the idea of “misery and wo” above, don’t worry! That’s not the bad kind of fear. It’s good fear! You can simply replace bad fear with good fear, and now that pounding you feel in your chest is comfort. Not fear at all.
“Different from but related to the fears we often experience is what the scriptures describe as ‘godly fear’ (Hebrews 12:28) or ‘the fear of the Lord’ (Job 28:28; Proverbs 16:6; Isaiah 11:2–3). Unlike worldly fear that creates alarm and anxiety, godly fear is a source of peace, assurance, and confidence.”
Alert: There is absolutely no difference between a fear of spiders, fear of terrorists, and fear of God. They are all the same emotion. They cause the same measurable physiological reaction.
But by reframing one type of fear as “godly fear,” they get you to open your mind and willingly let that fear into your heart, ironically, in the hopes of inoculating yourself against those other “bad” fears. You become an accomplice in instilling your own phobia.
Watch how he does it:
“But how can anything associated with fear be edifying or spiritually helpful?
“The righteous fear I am attempting to describe encompasses a deep feeling of reverence, respect, and awe for the Lord Jesus Christ, obedience to His commandments, and anticipation of the Final Judgment and justice at His hand. Thus, godly fear grows out of a correct understanding of the divine nature and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ, a willingness to submit our will to His will, and a knowledge that every man and woman will be accountable for his or her own sins in the Day of Judgment.”
See? That doesn’t seem so bad. Fear is just reverence and awe. And it’s a correct understanding, so you want to accept it. And while you’re at it, you want to submit to His will. This is a request to literally subsume your autonomy to God… and by “God,” they mean Church leadership standing in proxy.
The final cherry on top: you’ll be held accountable for your sins someday. Just in case you weren’t already scared.
But, you may protest, Elder Bednar says we shouldn’t be afraid of Judgement. Yes, he says that, but it’s all very confusing doublespeak:
“Please note that godly fear is linked inextricably to an understanding of the Final Judgment and our individual accountability for our desires, thoughts, words, and acts. The fear of the Lord is not a reluctant apprehension about coming into His presence to be judged. I do not believe we will be afraid of Him at all. Rather, it is the prospect in His presence of facing things as they really are about ourselves and having ‘a perfect knowledge’ of all our rationalizations, pretenses, and self-deceptions. Ultimately, we will be left without excuse.”
You’re told you shouldn’t be afraid, but the events he describes would still sound pretty scary to most people. You’ll have to confront all the ways you’re bad, sinful, and wrong, and you’ll have no excuse. Anyone who is still afraid after being told they shouldn’t be? They’re going to blame themselves for not understanding, rather than resting the blame where it belongs–this is Bednar’s talk, after all.
He persists in talking about this “perfect knowledge” stuff, and this instills a constant feeling of spiritual surveillance:
“Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)
He reminds us again of the demand for purity. The fear this demand causes can only be relieved via the Church: “My beloved brothers and sisters, godly fear dispels mortal fears. It even subdues the haunting concern that we never can be good enough spiritually and never will measure up to the Lord’s requirements and expectations. In truth, we cannot be good enough or measure up relying solely upon our own capacity and performance. Our works and desires alone do not and cannot save us… Certainly, ‘we believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.'”
No, Elder Bednar. The haunting concern that “we can never be good enough” has a single source: The Church. Sunday school lessons. General conference. Your talk. So there is one simple, very effective solution for your listeners: Stop taking all of this so seriously. Stop listening to talks like these that fill your head with persistent demands, horrible images of fear, and frightening, imaginary consequences for failure.
Life really is not as scary as LDS leaders make it out to be. Honestly, it’s not. I’ve been out of the Church for fourteen years. I even suffer from chronic social anxiety. So I know all about fear. And I know that the world is not nearly as scary a picture as Elder Bednar paints.
Elder Bednar throws in one final emotional manipulation; he conflates love with fear: “Godly fear is loving and trusting in Him. As we fear God more completely, we love Him more perfectly. And ‘perfect love casteth out all fear.'”
Yep. He really said that. Fear = Love. (Freedom is slavery. War is peace. Ignorance is strength.)
This doublethink is not without real-world consequences. Heartbreaking, damaging, severe consequences. Faithful members who heed this talk will be more susceptible to family abuse. Young women seeking their eternal companions; new wives experiencing their first taste of verbal abuse; older wives who regularly endure beatings; children who look to their fathers as a godly leaders even as they are hit and screamed at.
Abuse victims will take this message to heart. It will confuse them. It will lead them right into the hands of their abusers and keep them there.
Because fear is love. Love is fear.
The Church has robbed these victims of one of the few tools they might have had available to them: trust in their own feelings. The Church itself is complicate in this unending cycle. And there is no excuse for it. If there really is a God and a Judgement Bar, these leaders will be accountable for using God’s word to make the weak weaker.
But since there probably will be no Judgement Bar, it is up to us to hold the Church accountable. I call on the Church to end spiritual abuse.
May there never again be a Conference talk as damaging, coercive, manipulative, or fear-inducing as this.
Totally NAILED IT.
It’s like the GAs have been assigned/agreed to appeal (?) to certain ideas, certain fears, wants/needs.
this is Bednar (see youtube of him humiliating a youngster).
Bednar has no love, no Kindness, and very little Honesty about himself or the LDS (they’re acknowledged – admitted to be gullible, from very early in the church!)
He’s a psychological fear monster, nothing more, nothing less:
Empty suits do not make gentlemen.
Fake smiles express no kindness.
Cheesy stories aren’t wisdom.
And, power is no substitute for class and competence
Wow, I went and looked up that video. Is this the one? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Zk2uMQ9TTw
Thanks for pointing that out. This is multiple layers of manipulation. Black and white thinking, milieu control, emotional manipulation, instilling phobias.
I’m going to keep my eye on Bednar. He might be the new Oaks or Packer. I was kind of hoping their sort was a dying breed.
Brilliant and powerful! Thank you so much for breaking this down.
I stumbled upon your article from some post on facebook. Wow!!! You articulate the reality of Mormonism so well. I loved your writing. This is the first time I have visited your website but I plan to look it over more closely.
Again… super skills in observing and articulating the real issues!!!
Thanks so much, Dave! I’ve been studying this a long time.
Me pregunto que esperabas de un discurso de la conferencia general?
La psicologia…..mmmm, como manipulan las palabras, pero levantar calumnias en contra de los ungidos del señor?
20 Y también, si no hubiese ninguna ley contra el pecado, los hombres no tendrían miedo de pecar.
21 Y si no se hubiese dado ninguna ley, ¿qué podría hacer la justicia si los hombres pecasen? ¿o la misericordia? Pues no tendrían derecho a reclamar al hombre.
22 Mas se ha dado una ley, y se ha fijado un castigo, y se ha concedido un arrepentimiento, el cual la misericordia reclama; de otro modo, la justicia reclama al ser humano y ejecuta la ley, y la ley impone el castigo; pues de no ser así, las obras de la justicia serían destruidas, y Dios dejaría de ser Dios.
23 Mas Dios no cesa de ser Dios, y la misericordia reclama al que se arrepiente; y la misericordia viene a causa de la expiación; y la expiación lleva a efecto la resurrección de los muertos; y la resurrección de los muertos lleva a los hombres de regreso a la presencia de Dios; y así son restaurados a su presencia, para ser juzgados según sus obras, de acuerdo con la ley y la justicia.
24 Pues he aquí, la justicia ejerce todos sus derechos, y también la misericordia reclama cuanto le pertenece; y así, nadie se salva sino los que verdaderamente se arrepienten.
25 ¿Qué, supones tú que la misericordia puede robar a la justicia? Te digo que no, ni un ápice. Si fuera así, Dios dejaría de ser Dios.
26 Y de este modo realiza Dios sus grandes y eternos propósitos, que fueron preparados desde la fundación del mundo. Y así se realiza la salvación y la redención de los hombres, y también su destrucción y miseria.
I wonder what you expect from a speech by the general conference?
Hmm ….. psychology as manipulate the words, but slandering against the Lord’s anointed?
Alma 42: 20-26
20 And also, if there were no laws against sin men would not be afraid to sin.
21 And if he had not given any law, what it could do justice if men sinned? O mercy? Thus they not entitled to claim the man.
22 But there has been a law, and has set a punishment, and granted repentance, which calls for mercy; otherwise, justice demands the human being and executes the law, and the law imposes punishment; because otherwise, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.
23 But God never ceases to be God, and mercy claims the penitent; and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
24 For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claims is her own; and so, no one is saved but those who truly repent.
25 What, do you suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say no, not one iota. If so, God would cease to be God.
26 And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world. And so salvation and redemption of men, and also their destruction and misery is performed.
Some general conference talks are better than others. And some are worse, like this one. It helps to examine them for those who listen to them to understand how the manipulation works. And saying that you shouldn’t speak ill of the Lord’s anointed puts them above accountability for the things they say and do. It’s yet another way to manipulate people so the leaders can escape criticism.
Reading several of the entries on this site, I was reminded of times in my own life. There was a time where I went through a down turn in spirituality that was distinctly impacting. It was rapid, say, over a 6 month period, and was brought about by my making some very inappropriate choices. One thing I recall most clearly and was completely amazed at, was how beliefs I had prior to my down turn completely changed and I was able to note that I no longer saw spiritual truth, I was seeing a more selfish, sympathetic truth which sided with the “misjudged” and the compromised in society who acted more consistently with my wrong behavior.
One particular document was the Family proclamation, which I consider a deeply inspired document. At this time, it took on meanings that I had never perceived before. I felt like it was an attack on gay lifestyles and was unnecessarily ostracizing and condemnatory. I remember mentioning such in a leadership meeting, as at the time I was in callings that are considered significant in the church. As I said what I said I had a mental epiphany, and while noting the startled looks of those present, men I respected deeply, I realized that this is what it is to be lead carefully down to destruction by flaxen cords.
I am a deeply analytical person and strive to always be honest with my own state of mind. The subtleties of transition, I could still compare to my previous convictions and I realized that though I could not identify any sense of feeling wrong, I knew that by comparison I was wrong and that my entire new line of reasoning was sustained by the challenges and bad behaviors that I was engaged in. In its way, it was almost self- preservation to be able to point at every one else and speak to their delusion when finally I realized I was the deluded one. I was the one operating under the inspiration of a darkness of my own choosing.
It was two or three more years before I could put things back together. However, I had to hold on to my analysis of my state of mind with a steely grip for I had no inclination to accept that the wealth of new, critical, “enlightened” insights was misguided. They seemed so completely right and full of brazen honesty. The illusion of freedom while spiraling into clearly addictive and wrong behavior stood in stark contrast to each other. I wonder that if I had not had the type of mind I had that could see the lie even though it was me as the liar that spoke them, would I have gotten free of my self-declared deceptions? In its way, it was a fascinating dichotomy to know that I was wrong and yet not even have the least amount of the internal inklings that could cause me to feel the wrongness. Intellectually though I could analyze the state of my mind and recognize the deceptions to which I had become party.
Eventually, through repentance and overcoming with divine assistance, I have moved back into a state of non-dissonance. I love the leaders of the church and feel nothing but a profound sense of compassion for the magnitude of the responsibilities they shoulder. Perhaps the church is not perfect and its leaders may on occasion fall short, however, this is a perfectly complete organization when we recognize it is operating within the constraints of a telestial existence. There is no more perfect organization found in the entirety of the world. Nonetheless, it can’t be celestially perfect nor should its leaders ever be expected to be such.
Everything in a telestial state has, as an intrinsic aspect of its existence, a neon light that points, as it were, in a brilliant highlighting capacity to the clearly evident reality that all that we know falls short of complete perfection except for one being, who condescended to abide celestial in a telestial existence – Christ alone. And because there is no comparison to any other individual or organization that can confuse a perfected telestial state with a perfected celestial being there can never be any confusion as to where salvation is found. The contrast too stark, the comparison too incongruous that all who truly seek and understand Jesus Christ also understand the imperfections of all those in this state who are yet striving with all their might, mind and strength to be like and yet must inevitably fall short of His profound glory. This of necessity must be, that his profound glory must ever be the beacon that shines above all other lessor lights so that all may know where to turn for hope and salvation.
It is a common practice amongst individuals that when someone special comes into our lives we naturally, without any thought, behave in ways that are complimentary and conducive to strengthening our association with that individual. If the relationship is entertained by two generally mature individuals we should find ourselves over time changing to strengthen the bonds that unite us because we recognize that greater fulfillment in our lives by making those changes. In many ways, it is the same with Christ. When one welcomes Him into their life they should naturally want to do those things that will strengthen that relationship.
For some people, quite contrary to our normal realities, we feel like we can act in ways that totally alienate Christ and outright oppose the message he delivers through the mediums he has chosen – the scriptures, his chosen servants, which aligned with the spirit create a standard of expectations that should be understand as in agreement.
Instead we seek to impose a corrupt social standard and it’s strictures of individual excess and unfettered self-indulgence as the foundation of our spiritual commitment which in its contrariness is no commitment at all. It is a cake and eat it too expectation that only serves to, for a time, dull our own sense of right and wrong.
What is amazing to me is that we can deceive ourselves and not see that this line of reasoning is simply the attitudes informed by a strong societal indoctrination. We are allowing our birth in a window of time be the overriding definer of our moral structure without considering that the societal structures of the various ages must all be on equal footing for standards of correctness. Though the standards of many eras are confoundingly different, are they not equally as compelling for those that reside in any given era, as are the societal standards for this generation?
For instance, does that mean that an individual who lived during an era when LGBT rights were not even a blip on the radar of the society of their day, for a perceived vileness associated with the behavior, are wrong for subscribing to the same overriding sense of order that their societal expectations imposed on them? Are they wrong simply because their societal standard differs from that of our day and age? Or is it more reasonable to expect that we are equally as probable to have erred in setting so fickle and fluctuating a standard by which we are defined ourselves as the changing whims of evolving standards that flux and change with the fads, fashion and formulations of men. Must the whimsical ill-informed societal standards of the past be denied for the preference that only birth and association of the era of our birth can validate? …seems a shortsighted view.
Another common, burgeoning choice becoming more common to the educated of our current era is the belief that there is no God. In a recent Devotional for young adults, Lynn G. Robbins gave a wonderful talk on Tasting the Light. One element I particularly enjoyed was when he referenced Pascal’s Wager and the logical process of accepting or denying the existence of God. Better read in its entirety yet, after a graceful development of the wager and its conditions of measurement he sums it up so:
Pascal’s Wager argues that the optimal decision is to believe in God’s existence and that only a fool would bet against the existence of God because he has everything to lose and nothing to gain. (Elder Lynn G. Robbins, Of the Presidency of the Seventy, Tasting the Light, retrieved June 23, 2015 from https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-devotionals/2015/01/tasting-the-light?lang=eng )
It is folly for one who denies the existence of God, to even attempt to evaluate His works or His servants for the fact that in their denial they have already defined the only parameters by which they can evaluate his reality. He, in their paradigm, does not exist and thus all who claim His privilege of direction must clearly be deceived and mistaken – a point they go to great lengths to rationalize and share with those “less” enlightened.
Isn’t it much more logical to think that there must be a standard that can transcend the bias of any era and all era’s. A standard that is unchanging regardless of the window of time in which one is born. That makes so much more sense to me and it is the way of Jesus Christ to have such a standard. We still must contend with the efforts of men to try to manipulate the message of the scriptures across those era’s for self-serving needs. However, that is the nature of man unguided. Still, the words of the message were available for all to consider upon and find appropriate direction.
We delude ourselves by saying we don’t need to be anything different than what we are to strengthen that relationship with the Savior. If this were true, what purpose the concept of repentance? Intrinsic in its expectations is a movement more in line with the expectations of Christ. For some reason it has become a popular notion that he will accept us just as we are and we need make no relationship strengthening efforts. In fact the priority appears to be a rationalized expectation that we are right in our various analyses as it filters through our imperfect bias and have absolutely no need to repent and move towards his perfected example.
Per chance it was the rapidity of my own fall into wrong that made the contrast so stark that I could still perceive the differences of a not too distant better frame of mind. I have seen many who appear to be lulled so quietly and carefully down the path of error that they don’t make the distinctions. Some following some incongruous sense of a need for religion never really get far enough away from error to draw the distinctions and so their conformation to a societal bias is as good a standard as any while they pursue that undefined need for something that seeks for goodness just outside their comprehension-and never find it.
If only we would understand that we must completely embrace the highest standard before we can possibly evaluate lower standards. However to attempt to evaluate higher standards while embracing lower standards is only a futile effort and simply attempts to reduce a standard we cannot grasp for our non-commitment to a level equal to the standard in which we are comfortable. Piece by piece we reduce it to the level of inadequacy of our existence and since we have proven we will not be lifted up, we choose instead to tear it down. Once reduced in our minds and graced in trapping of failure and incompetency we now have the emblems of the higher standard just where we need them so that we are not inclined to see them as anything worthwhile to guide us…and arm in arm those so defined by a societal standard blithely skip merrily down the wide and spacious path singing and dancing to the happy tunes that conceal a path of destruction.
I can tell you are an analytical and self-aware person, and that you love integrity as a value. We have much in common there.
Even though my reasoning may seem familiar to you, my path getting here is quite different from yours. I was living the gospel, an active member in good standing, when, over a period of several years, I had many small counter-verifications that told me something wasn’t right about my belief system. I put some questions on the shelf and for those I couldn’t, I made minor corrections that ran counter to the Church to make my experiences fit what I’d been taught without completely abandoning the faith.
Then, while writing an essay about artificial intelligence, I had an epiphany. It was like the lightning bolt experience that some people describe when they gain a testimony. Only for me, I lost whatever was left of my testimony in that sudden moment.
My epiphany is difficult to describe to another person, and it was a personal experience that I know won’t convince anyone else, but in short, I came to believe that if there is a God, he/she/it/they cannot be understood or described by any human prophet. And that such a God is smart enough to realize this and not put humans through what the prophets of all faiths put people through. (I don’t expect this to convince you, but it convinced me beyond a shadow of doubt.)
I continued to live the gospel for another three months, “just in case” I was wrong. I gave God a chance to correct me. He never did.
So I wasn’t sinning and looking for reasons to excuse my lifestyle. I didn’t start “sinning” until months after I’d irretrievably lost any hope of having a testimony. Then for the next year after that, I continued to have a series of unexplainable “spiritual” experiences (for lack of a better word) that constantly sent the message to me that leaving the Church was the right thing for me to do.
I still felt afraid, though. You talked about Pascal’s Wager, and tho at the time I’d never heard of Pascal’s Wager, I was pondering that very question. What if it’s true? What am I throwing away? Should I live the gospel anyway, just in case?
Six months into this phase, I had another revelation. I was filled with a spirit of peace, and the thought, “If Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father are real, they know my heart. They know that leaving the Church is what I must do, and they know why I cannot believe in them. If they are truly loving and interested in my eternal progression, they know that I must walk my own path. I will not be barred from the Celestial Kingdom for following what I sincerely believe to be true.”
I never told this to my mom, but two years later, when she was grappling with the pain over me leaving, she had a similar revelation. She told me that Jesus whispered to her that, “Luna has to walk her own path. And she will be okay.” After that, she was at peace. It struck me that my mom used that same choice of words that had come to me… That I had to walk my own path.
It’s been 15 years, and the more I learn, the less I can believe that Mormonism is 100% objectively or literally true. Or even 50% objectively true. Even setting aside all the science I’ve learned about human beings, I’ve had too many spiritual experiences wherein the messages I got contradict Church teachings. Like above, I can tell them to you with all the same conviction as anyone bearing their testimony of the gospel. That is because the experiences are just as real to me as yours are to you, and my feelings about them are exactly the same, and just as strong.
Quoting you: “I love the leaders of the church and feel nothing but a profound sense of compassion for the magnitude of the responsibilities they shoulder. Perhaps the church is not perfect and its leaders may on occasion fall short, however, this is a perfectly complete organization when we recognize it is operating within the constraints of a telestial existence. There is no more perfect organization found in the entirety of the world.”
And I feel nothing but a profound sense of compassion for all the members who are harmed by some of those leaders. (Including leaders who are harmed by other leaders.) In any organization, the leaders bear far more responsibility than the followers. The leaders have far more capacity to cause harm, or to heal. The leaders bear real, tangible power which is a double-edged tool that can devastate or build.
If I have to choose who I will feel compassion for, it will be for those who are least powerful, those who suffer, those who are in need of comfort, those who have been abused. Christ did not speak of compassion for the Pharisees. He spoke of compassion for the downtrodden and for those whom the Pharisees judged and abused.
It’s not that I hate the leaders. Of course they are human and are deserving of compassion, too. But because they are in a position of responsibility, they are in a position to be criticized, so that those who follow them can best be protected. There are many better organizations than the LDS Church… organizations which practice transparency and have systems of checks and balances to ensure that if power gets too imbalanced, it can be quickly set aright. So that if a leader is abusive, or negligent, she can be corrected or replaced.
The LDS system pretends to provide for these things, but it does NOT. It’s not about which organization is the most perfect. It’s about how all organizations are prone to corruption, and it can only be prevented or ended through oversight, flexibility, ability to correct, and two-way communication between the leaders and followers.
When an organization defends against oversight and demonizes constructive criticism, when it dismisses the cries of those who suffer and vilifies those who have been hurt, it allows infection to fester and spread. The Church has many mechanisms for stifling free speech, for reversing blame back onto those “least of these” who are harmed, and for protecting leaders who fail the the sheep in their flock.
This is, by the standards of any time or place, wrong. It is not compassionate to anyone, not to leaders or followers, to ignore this state of affairs.
I was taught to stand up for what I know is right. I was taught that when there is a bully picking on someone smaller and weaker that I should step in to defend and protect. Even if it means getting a broken nose. That is what I am doing here. And will continue to use my strengths and talents in this manner until the bully backs down. This is not a “dulled” sense of right and wrong. This is standing up for the right person. Again, Christ’s words, “The least of these,” not “the most powerful of these.”
I sense in some of your questions an attempt at finding a moral yardstick that can apply through all times, that is not based on societal standards. Given that we are both logically-driven people, I relate to that attempt to find underlying axioms that apply in every (or at least most) situations.
When I left the Church and suddenly had no God or no rudder, when I suddenly had the carpet of my entire reality yanked out from under me, I was lost and confused for about a year. I had to start from scratch and ask, “What is real?” about everything I encountered. I went through each of my former morals and examined them. I renamed them to “values” so I could own them as mine (qualities I valued). I came up with a reason for each. If I could not find an actual reason for following them, I threw them out. I kept values like honesty, fairness, equality, freedom, kindness, and treating others with respect. I threw out morals like chastity and faith and fasting. I did find a common thread, and that is similar to the Wiccan Rede: “An’ it harm none, do as ye will.” (My logic for this is that if I accept that I can harm others for my own personal gain, then I am also accepting that they can harm me for their personal gain. Which means whoever is strongest gets to do whatever they want, and I don’t want to live in that world.)
This standard can be applied to any era and any situation. Did it cause harm to throw gay people into mental institutions and castrate them as we did just 50 years ago? Yes, it did. Therefore, it was morally wrong. It doesn’t matter that at the time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness.
Are there things I’m doing today that are causing harm and I don’t even realize it? Probably. And it’s still wrong. And as soon as I realize it, and if I can help it, I will stop. And there ARE parts of society that I participate in right now that I know are causing harm, but I know I can’t help. (I buy meat from the grocery store which probably came from a farm which tortured animals, but since my body doesn’t do well on a vegetarian diet (I tried it) and since I don’t have the budget to buy free-range meat, I’m stuck. Same with aspects of capitalism and other systems I must participate in because I belong to them.) Nevertheless, I’ve evaluated many of these things and an conscious of what I can and cannot do, and make whatever efforts are within my power to make the world a better place. Overall I try to do more good than harm, using the light I’ve been given (scripture reference there) and the talents I possess, and that has to be good enough.
Back to Pascal. Even before I heard of Pascal’s Wager, I had come up to my own answer to it: The conditions God allegedly has laid out for Salvation are abusive and cruel and it is an unfair test. It is like putting a two-year old in a classroom full of textbooks filled with random, incorrect data. You tell the child that only one of the books is true, and he must locate it (based only on his feelings and a room full of teachers shouting at him and pointing to different books) and memorize it. Inside the true book is the phrase, “Do not play on the freeway.” After given the child a year in the room, you set him at the nearest freeway exit to “test” him on his knowledge. When he gets hit by a car, you tell him he should have listened because it was only for his own good.
This is not how you teach children, and this is not how you test children. And yes, I’m going to question God’s wisdom because he gave me a mind and expects me to use it. And I doubt an all-powerful God is going to get too upset about me using the gifts he gave me, nor is he going to be hung up on me asking difficult questions. (What kind of parent gets upset when their kids ask difficult questions? I’m a mom and I’ll tell you – only abusive parents do.)
That’s my answer to the Wager. I can give up my mind and my life to something I don’t believe, for a God that acts immorally? No thanks. If that really is God, I’ll take my chances in the afterlife. Meanwhile, his system of rules and standards seem a little bit more like something that men came up with to extort and abuse others. (Not saying ALL LDS leaders abuse and extort, or that it’s conscious on their part – it may be unconscious, and I think most believe they’re doing the right thing. As you’ve pointed out, believing you’re doing what’s right and actually doing what’s right are two different things.)
To accept that God’s standards are higher standards, you must first accept that those men who speak for God are actually speaking for God. You believe they ARE higher standards. I do not believe this. I believe they are fictional standards used to reinforce man-made power structures. This is done exactly the same way in other organizations that I’m sure you believe are less inspired: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies, Scientologists, Heaven’s Gate, People’s Temple, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholicism, FLDS, Southern Baptists, Evangelicals… they all use the exact same systems of control. If you were reading in this blog only posts about the corruption of Moonies, would you have the same opinion? Or would you be agreeing with me? Only the doctrines vary slightly in detail from group to group, and the extremes of control vary in degree, but the control mechanisms and group dynamics (and damage done) are identical.
You will probably never see this reply given yours was some time ago, but maybe this will provide another perspective for future readers. I feel compassion for you that you were not able to get the support you needed to complete your transition out of the church. Unfortunately, you confused your new thinking patterns with a deception caused by your “unrighteousness”.
You don’t reveal what your inappropriate choices were, but your severe lurch back to piety tells me it was most likely some porn watching and masturbation. In reality, it doesn’t much matter what it was, but I do know the church leaders particularly demonize these practices on a regular basis.
I think that because you started secretly making these “inappropriate choices”, you wanted to desperately avoid the guilt you had been programmed all your life to feel. So my guess is you started emotionally and intellectually distancing yourself from the regular thought patterns of the church. As luck would have it, this actually allowed you to take a more critical perspective of the words and actions of church leaders, past and present. Because of your emotional block, you could finally begin to see things from the perspective of all those outside the church bubble.
Unfortunately, because this emotional/intellectual block was a coping mechanism rather than a strict enlightenment/epiphany, you were still haunted by your “secret” issues. No doubt you were still living in a family/social structure where you were often reminded of your dissonance and perhaps you felt like a fraud. You clearly had no safe place to go and work through/unpack your issues and conditioning and which would have allowed you to really heal from the emotional and psychological damage the church leaders cause.
Instead, I’m sure at some point you decided to reveal your secret and confess to a church leader. Such a process placed you back into their power and authority as they became your arbiters of forgiveness. The relief you felt in confessing, combined with a defined “path to forgiveness” is what has sent you back to an ultra-orthodox Mormon mindset. You have wrapped yourself again in the warm blanket of familiar doctrines and social practices and I’m sure you never want to feel that kind of dissonance again.
I’m think in writing your story you hoped to appeal to other ex-Mormons to return to the fold; however, I think your account stands as more of a cautionary tale of the emotional and psychological hold that the church has over so many of its members.
Your criticisms of the church’s doctrines and practices were not misguided or wrong. You had just started using your whole brain again. Hopefully in the future you might have more of an epiphany-style awakening, as Luna had, that will allow you to again wake up but without the baggage of supposed “sin” as your travelling companion.
So tell me O WISE ONE. Please reveal the manipulations from the words of Christ in the New Testament.
Well, I don’t know how wise I am. And I generally think Christ had mostly good things to say. He dissented from the Pharisees and criticized their misuse of power, and of that I am a huge fan. He also taught compassion and helping those we might otherwise look down upon.
He did say a couple of problematic things tho. Or at least, the current bible we have now purports that he said these things. (There is no way to truly know.) I’ve not done a full inventory of the New Testament, but here are two I recall off the top of my head:
Luke 14:26, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
In fuller context, he’s telling people they need to abandon all they care about if they want to follow him.
Matthew 7:13-14, “13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
This is a spiritual death threat, if you don’t do everything exactly the way Jesus commands (and in theory, those Christian leaders who now interpret his words).
Sorry I just read this now. I’m trying to purge the Mormonism from my mind but stuff still comes up on my Facebook feed. Also former ward ” friends” who didn’t get the memo I resigned still bother me from time to time. One insight I had after I left the church was this teaching. ” Mormonism will keep you safe and solve your problems. Until it doesn’t and if it doesn’t either God is testing you or you didn’t live then the plan good enough so it’s all your fault that bad stuff is happening to you. ” This circular logic caused me a LOT of anxiety over the years.
Nancy, I can so relate. Every thing, and every thought, every purpose and every person must be bent (and broken) to serve Mormonism, when you’re Mormon. I’m so sorry you’re going through this process. It does and will get better. You spent years in that Church, doing their plan, following their program, and you were injured by that process. Please don’t apologize or feel bad that you still need to process. If you feel a craving to read and study, that’s your mind telling you that there is still work to be done to re-sort your feelings and reality into a new path that makes sense for you.
What you’re describing there is called blame reversal. The Church must always be right, and if it doesn’t seem right, then it’s your fault. We have all experienced it, and it’s abusive. It’s abusive when a parent or spouse does it, and it’s just as abusive when a religious organization or leader does it.
I wish you love and luck, freedom and healing.
It wasn’t until I had an existential break down and the intervention of my LDS parents that I figured out what this article so aptly described. My parents were converts later in life, and I attribute much of their level headedness to that. They didn’t have to grow up hearing the same imperfect messages over and over during their formative years. I laugh now, but during my 30s, I was convinced that the reason I hadn’t been able to enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant was because I hadn’t passed a test that everyone else, who had a temple marriage, had. So naturally, I had to complete “The Quest”. To make a long story short, I began to follow every “prompting” I received, to the demise of my psyche and soul, and an eventual diagnosis of Scrupulosity (religious based OCD – too many stories to relate here….).
Thankfully, after 10 years, in and out of counseling, and a healthy dose of self-discipline, I’ve found a bit of enlightenment regarding life. For the most part, love has replaced fear, and choice has replaced obsession/bondage. I still believe in God and Jesus Christ, but see/approach them differently. They aren’t holding anything over my head; I don’t owe them anything. They give freely, and I want to give freely, as well. No strings attached.
I could go on, but I’ll end by saying, “Thank you!” for speaking out and making people aware that not everything that comes over the general conference pulpit, and/or out of the Bible/Book of Mormon/D&C, is constructive, true, safe or applicable.
So sorry it took so long for me to approve your comment! It got lost in my email.
You’re right, I think that as children of converts, we have had a different experience than our parents had. This is a fact that I am just starting to realize, and it’s changing how I communicate with them. For Mormons, our relationship with our parents is a HUGE part of our recovery, and that journey is very different for each of us.
I’m glad you’ve found some answers and are moving forward. I too am learning what it means to love instead of fear.. that concept is moving from being a cliche to understanding. It’s something you can only learn through experience.
Thanks for your comment. :)