I recently talked with a returned missionary who said that one of the hardest parts of his mission was not being able to listen to the music he wanted to listen to. He’s a talented musician and music is a big part of who he is, so I can only imagine what a trial it must have been to avoid any “non-approved” music on his mission. Similarly, I know someone who just entered the MTC, and has requested that his family send him instrumental versions of songs that he can listen to, because apparently words will corrupt a missionary’s brain, or something.
Considering humans evolved to the top of the food chain because of their brains, the LDS version of God doesn’t seem very interested in us using them. He is seemingly irked by everything from scientific discoveries to so-called “anti-Mormon literature”, and would prefer us to remain willfully ignorant than test our faith with increased knowledge and alternate viewpoints. (I have zero faith in the LDS Church, but I’m trying to write from within that paradigm for the purposes of this article.) Unless new information we learn supports one’s existing LDS beliefs, they should be viewed with caution, cynicism, and ultimately, rejection. Because that’s how the God of everything needs to keep people faithful to him, right?
How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
I always want to ask Mormons, “If your church wasn’t “true”, how would you know?” But of course, I rarely get the opportunity, and the few times I’ve been able to posit the question to the devout have been followed by textbook answers about feelings, the most valid form of truth determination, don’t you know?
I have a hard time believing in a god who wants us to adopt a highly specific, US-centric worldview — one that believes “three hours in a chapel on Sundays” and “two years regurgitating manuals to those vulnerable enough to listen” is at the heart of human beings living their best lives. I only have to look at my own life since leaving the LDS Church to feel confident that Mormonism is not the best path in terms of experiencing the range of wonderful things life has to offer, and I’m not talking about alcohol, Mormons, because I HATE IT.
“You can eat pork because why the f*** would I give a sh**? I created the universe, you think I’m drawing the line in the deli aisle?” – God, played by Bo Burnham
There are endless cultures around the world that deserve to be celebrated and respected, and since leaving the LDS Church, I’ve found its attitude toward those different cultures very belittling. You only have to look at depression rates in heavily Mormon populated areas to know that the church’s ideas about “a happy life” are pretty useless, especially when you compare them to parts of the world where people report being the most joyful and fulfilled.
Why isn’t God’s prophet telling us to eat a plant-based diet? (The Word of Wisdom recommends it, yet the LDS Church sure doesn’t!) Why aren’t we hearing about the benefits of yoga, or the importance of moving around in nature, or the positive effects of moderate alcohol consumption, or the harmful effects of deforestation and fossil fuel consumption? Does He really have nothing better to reveal than a policy banning the children of gay parents from baptism or a proclamation labeling the 1950’s American family the Best Thing In The Universe? Is he genuinely more concerned with conformity than critical thinking? More obsessed with obedience and object lessons than overfishing? (Alright, I’m trying a bit hard with the alliteration here, but I hear that’s what you have to do to make strong points.) You only have to look at LDS general authorities, both male and female, to know that God seems to really value sameness in His followers.
There are so many things wrong in the world, and it seems to me that God’s doing nothing to help us fix them. According to Mormonism, He’s way more interested in whether or not we had a cup of coffee this morning, or paid 10% to an organization that spent more on a mall than it did it 20 years of humanitarian aid.
Let’s go back to my example of music-deprived missionaries. It’s pretty undisputed at this point that music can boost our mood, and I’m sure most of you have seen that in your own lives. On top of that, those who play an instrument or sing experience reduced stress when they engage in those activities, which is why I find it so concerning that missionaries are so severely limited in that respect. And that’s just one of many, many arbitrary rules that condition a missionary to think about nothing but the church they’re supposed to be recruiting people into. A mission is very tough, psychologically and physically, and it’s no surprise that LDS missionary depression rates are, you guessed it — high. Unfortunately, I have to rely on mostly anecdotal evidence for that statement, as the church isn’t exactly jumping at the bit to publish data on it.
Missionaries are incredibly controlled — everything from the time they wake up to the type of ties they’re allowed to wear to how often they’re allowed to talk to their parents is dictated by LDS Church leaders, and if they get a bad mission president, they’re pretty much screwed. According to LDS beliefs, these extreme control measures are the will of God, who requires total obedience from young men and women who are “representing Christ”, right after graduating high school, in many cases. These missionaries are allegedly living the most holy life possible, as dictated by the White Handbook, yet all I see is control, coercion, and reduced critical thinking. Oh, and in classic cult style, and they even have their names stripped from them.
(As if the missionary program wasn’t brainwashing enough, the church is now requiring them to sign post-service “contracts”, to try and stop the flow of young people leaving the LDS Church. Jesus just loves paperwork!)
Things aren’t much better outside of missionary life. Your average church member is taught to “avoid anti-Mormon literature”, which basically means anything that is critical of the LDS church. The number of times I’ve been told I’m “spouting anti nonsense” when I’m literally quoting the Journal of Discourses is pretty astounding, but we don’t need to go into that right now.
If you’ve watched Going Clear, the HBO documentary about Scientology, you’ll know how similar the control mechanisms of different high-demand religions are. (You don’t have to have seen Going Clear to understand that, it’s just a really great example.) Deity’s desire for human righteousness seems to always extend to the leaders in “His” churches exerting maximum control over people — for their own good, of course! Heaven forbid members of a church determine for themselves what makes them their best, most fulfilled selves. Nope, there’s one set course God wants you to live life by, and deviation from it in unrighteousness!
We see this in LDS bishop’s interviews, which deem it perfectly acceptable for a 50-something-year-old man to ask teenage girls about their sexual activities. (Many men have told me they didn’t even know what masturbation was until their bishop bought it up in an interview with their 12-year-old selves. Classic.) Parents who resist this gross practice have, according to accounts I’ve read on the ex-Mormon subreddit, had their resistance belittled by church leadership and members, who refuse to accept that something IN THE HANDBOOK could be wrong, either for one youth or all of them. Some bishops have even gone behind parents backs in the way they deal with youth, moving forward with things that have been expressly forbidden by those who birthed the human being they’re trying to control.
Religions have controlled people throughout history, and while their grip on the common man is slowly weakening, it’s still fierce in the LDS Church. I’m happy to see that people are leaving — often the most devout people, as they’re the ones who care enough to research the truth claims of their church, but I wish it could happen a bit faster. Mormons, if you’re reading this — it’s not a sin to think, or to research, or to question, or to consider that the tiny American religion you were most likely raised in might not be the best way to live your lives. Now, here are some great quotes that sum up what I’d like to convey better than I can:
“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte
“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.”
― Jon Stewart
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
“I have as much authority as the Pope. I just don’t have as many people who believe it.”
― George Carlin
“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”