Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” – Voltaire

A common phrase I hear from the religious or agnostic is that “religion is beautiful”, often paired with, “there’s truth in many religions” when coming from Mormons. I’m surprised by how many ex-Mormons seem to think there’s some inherent beauty in the beliefs of Mormonism, even when they’re well aware that Joseph Smith was a conman, hebephile, and all-round sucky guy.

I received a message from a Christian family member recently (who rarely talks to anyone in our family unless he’s trying to save our souls), calling me to repentance. Bear in mind that his idea of being a “sinner” is not believing in Christianity like he does. His ideas about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior have, over the years, caused a lot of heartache in our family. When my elderly uncle (one of the most loving people ever) died, he sent a passive aggressive card to his sons, “praying” that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes as their now-dead father and be lead down to hell. In the mind of the hyper-religious, this is the kind of behavior that’s acceptable. It’s what God wants, so it’s ok! Never mind the additional grief it inflicts on the already mourning.

It doesn’t end there. Because our upbringing plays a huge role in the type of people we become, said hyper-religious douchey family member’s grandchildren are growing up in an abusive home. They are homeschooled, socially inept, denied basic education if their chores aren’t up to scratch, and other things I don’t care to mention in this post. These children are being raised in the most “Christian” home you can imagine, and social services have been called multiple times as a result. (Getting locked in a bathroom because you aren’t spiritual enough at FOUR? Jesus has a weird agenda.)

Some religious people would argue that in the situation I just described, the parents weren’t exhibiting Christian love and kindness. But there are thousands of different types of Christianity, each one claiming to have some more accurate idea of what the Bible ACTUALLY means, or what God ACTUALLY wants (illegal polygamous marriages to teenagers, anyone?), or how some obscure scripture should change others’ entire approach to Christianity. The Old Testament would be considered hate speech if it came out today, and even the gentler New Testament does a poor job making things right.

None of these religions have any exclusive claim to truth, unless we’re throwing all logic out of the window and deciding that a religion can be true just because we want it to be and it MIGHT be in some bizarre universe. (Tim Minchin did a good job highlighting how insane the arguments of the religious usually are.)

When children growing up in an abusive home can’t even be kept safe by those trained to protect children from abuse because of “religious freedom”, there’s a problem. I’m fine with allowing people to believe whatever insane ideas they want to believe — you can’t make ignorance illegal — but children shouldn’t suffer. That’s not freedom, that’s coercing the young and vulnerable. (Something Joseph Smith was very adept at doing, as evidenced by his marriage to 14-year-old Helen Marr Kimball and others.)

I’m currently reading, “I Am Malala“, the story of a girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban. In it, she describes her father, who grew up devoutly Muslim. Despite being an amazing guy who encouraged his daughter to stand up for her rights to education, Malala’s father admitted that he would have become a terrorist had it been a strong religious teaching in his youth. He says he just wanted to do what’s right and please God.

We’re all just the product of our genetics and experiences, and if we’re taught that something is right by everyone we love and trust, we tend to believe it. I think we’d be surprised how well-intentioned (though completely deluded) many terrorists, and others who commit terrible acts in the name of religion, are.

It’s hard to believe that in privileged 21st-century America, where information is readily available to us all, a son was beaten to death by his parents for wanting to leave their church, but it’s still happening.

To the religious reading this, I want to ask you: if your beliefs were wrong, how would you know? How would you expect those like the parents who killed their own son in the name of religion to figure it out? If we are taught by our parents (who we love) from a young age what it means to be moral, what’s going to stop us from accepting that? Now add the weight of all of your friends, and all of your friends’ parents, and all of your ecclesiastical leaders, and the religious materials you’re given to study, and every lesson you’ve ever heard about right and wrong, and everyone you ever interact with, if you’re from a small Utah town. Do you think it would be obvious what’s right and wrong, or do you think it might be kind of tricky to discern conditioning and other psychological factors from what’s actually right? Oh, the “Holy Ghost” your specific religion believes in can tell is what’s true, you say? He only takes the day off when a prophet decides to teach blood atonement or something “unimportant to my salvation”? 

Murder isn’t ok in our species and society, most religious people in developed nations realize that. But if you want to be a critical thinker, you have to think about the implications of things like the religion-induced murder of a child. You have to think about why those things occur, and where your own line is. In Mormonism, you are taught that following the prophet is the most noble, moral thing you can do. Never mind the fact that LDS prophets have taught things like blood atonement, polygamy, polyandry, “lying for the Lord“, blacks being an inferior race, interracial marriage being an eternal sin, and so on and so forth. You need to realize that the same unquestioning spirit your church considers a virtue is used by many, many religions to control membership and encourage people to do awful things they wouldn’t have done otherwise. 

Religion helped our species evolve, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s now a poison to our society. We no longer need tribe leaders claiming they have a divine connection to deity in order to keep their people controlled and united. We don’t need useless priesthood blessings to access the placebo effect anymore. (Learn how to feed yourselves, Mormons. It’ll work way better than your fake magical powers and illogical Word of Wisdom rules, I promise.)

It’s 2016. Most people aren’t killed for refusing to believe in their culture’s religion anymore, but they are still shunned by their families, bullied into silence, and ridiculed by those who can’t escape the chains their upbringing put around their own brains.

Religion isn’t beautiful to me, it’s terrifying. Like Voltaire emphasized, when you have to believe in something without evidence (or in the face of a LOT of evidence to the contrary, in the case of newer religions like Mormonism), you can do terrible things without legitimate justification. You can justify anything when you slap “God told me to” on it. Joseph Smith did it to marry young girls. So did Warren Jeffs. Time is the only real difference between the two, and if you think the difference between beauty and evil is a couple of hundred years, you’re a fool. Hold yourself to the same standard you hold other religions to, and see if your mind opens up.

The Earth is beautiful. The unconditional love of a mother is beautiful. Blake Lively’s hair is beautiful. All of those things are also, conveniently, real! (Maybe not Blake’s hair, who knows.) You don’t have to justify loving your child, but I imagine a fair amount of justification went into priesthood holders offering their children to Joseph Smith as illegal polygamous brides, just like my mother-in-law probably has to justify her detachment from her own son.

You can love people without Mormonism. You can have a happy (often happier) family without Mormonism. You can do charity work without Mormonism (and have 10% more to give to actual causes rather than the building of opulent temples and malls that cost $1.5 billion.) You can have all the benefits of prayer and more through meditation. And guess what?! You don’t have to shun anyone or believe any dogma or justify any disgusting practices!

That which is unique about the LDS church is not good, and that which is good is definitely not unique. It’s an ethnocentric little religion founded on lies and polygamy, that grew because it escaped the rest of society and taught people to have a bunch of children. Logically, scientifically, archeologically, historically, and Egyptologically (that’s not a word, I just needed to highlight that it’s not compatible with Egyptology), and in most other “-allys” I can think of, it’s a joke. And a terrible one at that.

Read more about the LDS church’s dishonesty and inconsistencies:

Watch this for laughs:


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.
  • Red


  • Free Yourself

    I have read this article and I certainly understand your concern. I think it’s important to make a distinction between beauty in religion and ugliness in religious extremism. Beauty is often in the poetry, teachings of good values, insightful stories and parables, and inspiring messages. These things resonate with goodness in the soul and can come from many traditions. Some religions have more truth and beauty than others, just like some religions have more truly humble and righteous people than others. But ultimately the ugliness often boils down to the “othering” of those who don’t believe as they do, and the fear and hate inspired by this process of violence and intolerance.

    Believing there is beauty in most religions does not mean that there’s not a lot of ugliness as well. The idea is that religion is rarely a black & white deal. That kind of binary thinking is at the heart of where the ugliness comes in.

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      Of course there are a LOT of wonderful religious people in the world. A lot. I guess my opinion is that delusion isn’t healthy, and all religions can potentially result in unhealthy fundamentalism – we learned that the hard way.

      • Free Yourself

        I’m going beyond saying “religious people” but actually saying RELIGION itself has beauty as well. While I agree that unhealthy religious teachings can create unhealthy attitudes and drive a lot of ugliness. However, when implemented properly, religion can also inspire and impart good values and create a healthy community of people working together for good. Just as humanist organizations like Oasis can as well. I will agree that we should challenge the messages of fundamental and evangelical religions that push singular worldviews and do not encourage pluarity.

      • JJ Feinauer

        Viewing religion as little more than a delusion is a pretty unfortunate way to understand a system of beliefs. And all worldviews – regardless of religious affiliation – can result in unhealthy fundamentalism.

        • Free Yourself

          I agree completely.

  • Nathan R. Kitchen

    Dear Different Person,

    I have to hate you because I love you.

    The One True Religion

  • Hebephile! Where did you find that? It’s perfect! Some folks want to call Joseph Smith a pedophile, but I think pedophile connotes little kids and it’s just not very accurate in his case. Hebaphile is a much better fit.

    I grew up with the phrase, “I admire your faith,” or “I admire their faith,” as in “I don’t believe as they do, but I admire their faith.” Huh? How is faith admirable? It’s tantamount to saying, “I admire your gullibility,” or “I admire your lack of courage to think for yourself.”

    I’ve also noticed that you can “see” beauty in religions right up until you read their founding scriptures. If you ever actually do read them, their Bronze Age / Iron Age sensibilities just don’t make sense these days. Maybe they never did. And no, we cannot scrunch up our current civilization and fit it into 3,000 BCE Palestine so that it will make sense. Palestine doesn’t fit in Palestine anymore.

  • Kinglamoni

    I have to agree with Free Yourself’s comments. I think this article portrays a lot of black and white thinking. Religion, like most things in life are nether all good or all evil. That goes for my self and Joseph Smith. And if we are honest with ones self it probably goes for any one reading my comment. Cheers. 🙂

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      I think I’m guilty as charged on the whole black and white thinking about religion thing. I value truth above all, which can certainly be ugly! As I said, I believe we’re all the products of our genetics and experiences, and I don’t necessarily even believe in “good or bad”.

  • There is beauty and ugliness everywhere, in the world, in churches, in ourselves, in each of us. We all can be ugly to each other for a variety of reasons, we can be beautiful to each other. If we expunged the world of religion, would we really rid the world of terrorism too? Hardly. We have extremism for a variety of reasons, religion is one actor in a complicated world.

    But I think religion is beautiful, it does matter. And we all worship.

    I love Adam Miller’s work, he wrote an interesting book, “The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace”, he says this in the preface:

    “What’s to be done? Even if you disavow religion (or television) altogether, you can’t avoid worship. The impulse to worship is a human problem, not a religious problem. ‘In the day to day trenches of adult life,’ Wallace reminds us, ‘there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships’. Try as you might, there’s no place to hide from your yen for transcendence.. And, more, there’s no place to hide from the consequences of its failure. Choose your gods wisely but pretty much anything you worship ‘will eat you alive’. Getting eaten alive by your idols is part of what it means to be human.”

    The sub-quotes come from David Foster Wallace, “This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.

    Just because religion has failed us doesn’t mean it also hasn’t saved us. It’s a human endeavor and you’ll see a lot of both. I look back and I see Martin Luther King, Martin Luther, Buddha, Ghandi, Christ, and yes Joseph Smith. Some with flaws and you can focus on the flaws, the bad teachings, the bad fruits, or you can enjoy what we have now because of their efforts.

    And what do we have now? A lot of problems, but so much goodness and beauty.

    We’re all at the end of the day, just trying to figure it out. Feel free to point out the problems you see, but the only problem I have with this post is that you’re dismissing all of it.

    By the way, I am an active Mormon, but last Sunday I attended a Presbyterian church, very liberal, a woman reverend. I loved it, I felt the spirit there. I communed with Christ. But there were no young people there. The congregation was very grey. I’m not sure why. It was a church in San Francisco and there are plenty of young people in this city. Maybe the young people are attending a different church. I’m not sure but I doubt it.

    But I worry that we’re throwing away all of our traditions, as if there’s nothing to be learned from our past, as if we can start all over, and figure it all out from scratch.

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      We love David Foster Wallace! Thank you for this comment. 🙂

  • Rachel McBride

    I think maybe a better title for this would be “Religion has beauty in it but it is not beautiful.” There are some things Mormonism teaches that are beautiful but when you look deeper you can see who the church truly is. I think it’s a beautiful teaching that families can be together after this life. Sometimes I still find myself wishing that I could be with my husband and children after this life. But when you really think about it you can see ugliness, like how in order for us to be the happiest and most fulfilled my husband would have to marry several wives. Some other beautiful teachings are love, service, forgiveness, not judging, kindness, etc… but when you really think about it the church doesn’t do nearly as much service as they could and they are expert judges. There are also so many people in the church that are nice, caring people that go out of their way to serve others because “God told them to do it”. Now when you really analyze that you can see that they might not be all that genuine since they are doing it because they are told to. But seeing people happy is beautiful. When you look on the surface of the church you can see that (most) of the teachings are beautiful. When you analyze the church at it’s core and foundation you can see that it’s true self is ugly and full of lies.

    Also I’m not sure exactly what you were trying to say when you mentioned your family member’s children were homeschooled, but being homeschooled does not automatically make people awkward and socially inept. I know plenty of people who were homeschooled and they are bright, happy, successful, intelligent, social people. It depends on what’s best for the kid. They might not be able to sit still in such a rigid environment for a long time or the more introverted ones might have a hard time being around so many people all day long. It also depends on the parents. If the parents censor what they teach them and don’t bring them out into the world then they could end up socially awkward. I am planning on homeschooling my kids or at least sending them to a Montessori school. The school system in the USA is terrible. I don’t agree with how every kid is supposed to be taught the same way and there is so much emphasis on math, science, and sports but hardly any emphasis on art and music (not that it’s bad that they emphasize math and science I’m just saying there should be a balance). Also they are taking play completely out of the classroom even though study after study shows that young children learn best through play. It is possible to go to school and come out socially inept and awkward if you are subjected to bullying at school. Sometimes homeschooling is the best option for a child. Again not exactly sure what your intention was there but just thought I’d give my two cents.

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      Perhaps I should have clarified that better, ha. I am not against homeschooling as a practice, I just resent when religious parents use their beliefs as an excuse to give their kids a subpar education. Of course many people are great are homeschooling there children, and I can totally understand why they opt for it!

      • Rachel McBride

        Ok Maybe I overreacted a bit here. I guess I got a little defensive when I thought that homeschooling was being mocked. But I get what you’re saying, sometimes very religious people want to homeschool their kids to so they can teach them how on the third day god invented the remington rifle to fight the dinosaurs and the homosexuals. They don’t want their kids hearing things that contradict their religious beliefs. That is a subpar education and I resent that too. 🙂

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      I personally don’t consider a delusion “beautiful”, but I understand the appeal of thinking you can be with your family after this life. I suppose my experiences have shown how it limits relationships in THIS life.

      • JJ Feinauer

        I dare you to discuss religion without using the words “delusion” or “delusional”

  • JJ Feinauer

    It’s true, religious belief can negatively influence people by providing rationale for harsh world views that promote extremist black/white, good/evil terms for the sake of moral superiority. Kind of like this post.

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      Do you think an opinion post by one person is comparable to the effect religion can have on a person? Were there any harsh or extremist views promoted here?

      • JJ Feinauer

        I certainly think viewing religion as uniquely and wholly evil is extreme, if that’s what you’re asking. I don’t think a blog post can achieve the same evils as some religious institutions, but I do think this blog exemplifies what you seem to hate about religion.

  • Shem

    How come on the front page it’s not showing the date when the blogs were written anymore?

  • Kiwiland

    Religion is a brick wall on the path towards human evolution

  • Nancy

    The vast majority of religions in the last few millennia have been patriarchal. That means those religions have made 51% of humans second class citizens. How is anything beautiful that does that? Most of the comments defending religion reek of male privilege.

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      Great point.

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