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Mormons love little social media campaigns, whether it’s encouraging people to #DiscoverTheBook or changing their profile pictures to say, “I’m a Mormon”. The latest Mormon social media missionary effort is the hashtag, #MormonByChoice, started by LDS photographer, Jill Thomas. (Who, according to someone on Ex-Mormon Reddit, is a really awesome person who has gone through a lot of hard things. She’s also super cute!)

The hashtag apparently came in response to a number of Jill’s friends leaving the LDS church and posting about it publicly (something many of us are familiar with.) She claims that some of her “non-member” friends were affected by these ex-Mormon voices, so she decided to let others know that she chooses her faith.

While I totally understand’s Jill’s motives (I would have been all-aboard this campaign a year ago!) I think there are some interesting insights to be made from #MormonByChoice.

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1. Faith is a choice until it’s not.

The church has been heavily pushing the “faith is a choice/doubt your doubts” rhetoric lately, as it’s seen members resigning left and right. I’ve written before about faith being a choice, but not in the way that we think.  I recommend you go and read it, because I don’t want to write my thoughts out again. 😉

Essentially, I believe faith is a choice up to a certain point, and part of the choice is choosing what you expose yourself to. A scientologist who never exposes himself to truths about the Church of Scientology can go their entire life believing L. Ron Hubbard was the most noble man to ever walk the planet. If, however, they decide to conduct some unbiased research into his character, they’ll soon discover a very different story, which they can (perhaps) choose to accept or dismiss. (Cognitive dissonance, you know?)

However, for many people, myself included, faith stops becoming a choice at a certain point. When evidence is so overwhelming and legitimate that nothing short of Olympic-level mental gymnastics can make it fit together anymore in one’s mind, it’s almost impossible (for me, impossible) to continue believing. I would personally call it “delusion”, not faith, at that point.

It frustrates me that this campaign could propagate the idea that we can just choose to stay even when we have doubts or don’t believe. It isn’t really a choice when you realize it’s not true anymore. My life would be easier if I stayed Mormon but I personally, I can never go back knowing what I know now.” – Reddit user

 

2. Some are Mormon by choice, most are Mormon by birth.

As much as this campaign tries to push the narrative that being Mormon is a choice . . . it’s not exactly true. Not for most members, anyway. For any Mormons reading this — if you were born in a heavily Muslim country, do you think you’d choose to be Mormon? I’m guessing you can recognize that the answer is “no”, because it’s unlikely you’d even be given that choice!

Mormons may choose whether or not to stay in the church they were raised in — hence the “choice’ element of their faith — but they typically make that choice based on a lifetime of bias, family and social pressures, a whitewashed narrative given by the church, and other factors that make their choice semi-determined before they even make it. Kind of like an 8-year-old getting baptized.

 

3. A social media campaign emphasizing that it’s by CHOICE doesn’t exactly scream “not a cult”.

I get where this campaign is coming from, as I’ve said. But as someone on Reddit perfectly pointed out, Mormons wouldn’t need to emphasize that they weren’t forced into their religion if that wasn’t a common perception. #MormonByChoice simply highlights the fact that many people in the world view Mormonism as a high-demand religious cult. And for good reasons — here are some of the most basic characteristics of a cult:

  • The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader (whether he is alive or dead).
  • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
  • Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
  • The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
  • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
  • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality.
  • The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
  • The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
  • The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
  • Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
  • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
  • Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
  • The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

If you teach a child all its life that pizza is the best food in the world, only feed it pizza, and regularly describe all other foods as being bad for you and disgusting, what would the child say its favorite food is? This is a very over-simplified analogy, of course, but I believe choices are heavily influenced long before we make them. (If we even ever really do.)

I suppose the relevant questions have to do with what Mormon beliefs can be ‘chosen’—and why must they be chosen? What does it say about a belief that it must be chosen? Should one choose to believe something that can be demonstrated as propositionally incorrect? In what instances can a chosen belief be said to have higher benefit than an unchosen belief? Can a chosen belief ever be said to have epistemic value?” – Reddit user

 

 

 

 

 



Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young would have been a millennial blogger, but she died in 1901. The wife of Brigham Young, and prior to that Joseph Smith, and prior to that Henry Jacobs, who was sent on a mission by Brigham before he married her, Zina loves writing, long walks on the beach, and playing the field.

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