Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
This post is different from what I typically write. A reader has shared his life experience and given permission for it to be shared. Applying my last post you may be trying to identify reasons for belief in people you meet—which factor is most dominant, for example. The writer below overcame the sheer strength of both childhood indoctrination and cultural pressure.
This combination is plaintive because it can deprive a person not only from living in reality, but from desiring or being capable of seeking reality. This is a form of psychological harm, whether intended or not. Luckily he prevailed so have so fear of reading on. Note that this is not just an LDS situation. The psychological model is the same with any organized religion, though perhaps less extreme.
(not his real name)
“Belief is an interesting thing, especially where it pertains to things of a spiritual or mystical nature which cannot be proven. I grew up in the LDS faith. From earliest childhood children are indoctrinated. The first Sunday of the month is Fast and Testimony Meeting. Members fast for two meals and donate the money which would have been used for those meals as “fast offerings.” Then at church they take turns standing and “bearing their testimonies” or sharing their faith in their beliefs. People even bring up tiny tots, hold them up to the podium microphone, and whisper in their ear what they should say. It irritated me no end to hear a 2 year old being prompted to say that “I know that this church is true”…”I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet” or “I know that Jesus lives.” The child clearly knows no such matters but is indoctrinated through a program of repetition to believe that he believes.
Also in the LDS faith a child is baptized and confirmed a member of the faith at age 8, which the Mormons deem to be the age of accountability in knowing and understanding right from wrong. I see this as only slightly better than the thought of Catholic babies being baptized shortly after birth. I would prefer to see children allowed to wait until they are 18, and fully capable of truly researching the claims of that faith before taking on baptism and confirmation as members. The way it stands boys are trained from early childhood that it is their duty to serve a two year mission for their church. Girls are trained that they should marry returned missionaries and have babies, but it’s also allowable for them to serve a two year mission. The minimum age used to be 19 for males and 21 for females, but the LDS church has just recently lowered the age to 18 for males and 19 or 20 for females. Most of these young men never question the policy, and as it stands with the lowered age, these youths are practically being dropped off at the mission training center straight after they receive their high school diplomas. Belief is a powerful thing. These kids spend two years in earnest effort toward converting as many people to their faith as they can and most of them know very little about their own faith or the true history of the faith and the deeper doctrinal teachings, other than what’s in the missionary handbook and what they’ve been taught to memorize of the missionary lessons. Yet their belief is usually rock solid because of an entire childhood and adolescence of having been indoctrinated.
I did leave that faith about 10 years ago, because that I had been studying the religions of the world, with emphasis on my own faith at the time. The leaders of the LDS church strongly caution Mormons not to read what they believe to be anti Mormon literature. That boils down to any book about the church or its beliefs not written by an LDS prophet or apostle, or not overviewed and sanctioned by the First Presidency of that faith. I’ve learned that the claims made in their book of scriptures, The Book Of Mormon, are not true. Particularly their claim that the Native Americans in North, Central and South America were descendants of a Hebrew named Lehi, who with his wife, his sons and their wives, allegedly fashioned a ship and sailed to these continents to escape the coming enslavement of the Hebrew people, and because God had appeared in a dream to Lehi and told him what to do. The LDS church stood by that claim for decades, even in light of DNA testing which proved that the Native Americans don’t bear Semite DNA. Church apologists have sometimes stated that the testing was inaccurate and have clung steadfastly to the teachings in the BOM. I also found a great many contradictory teachings between the Bible, the Book of Mormon and another LDS book of scriptures, The Doctrine and Covenants. In learning the truth about these doctrinal teachings and the true and unwhitewashed history of the faith and behavior of its leaders, I determined that the LDS faith was little more than a cult. The clincher is that they sing hymns of praise to their human leaders, which they deem to be prophets.
The general attitude of a Mormon apologist appears to be that even when you can point out many reversals of earlier ‘prophets’ edicts, they wave it away with ‘that was then…this is now’. They’ve justified the murder of American families who were emigrating to California through Utah. I would reference the Mountain Meadows Massacre and suggest reading about it. When I was a teen and taking the compulsory before school doctrine classes, the claim was that the Fancher party in that wagon train was comprised of people who had participated in the Hauns Mill Massacre (a Mormon settlement) or in the execution of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, or in burning out Mormon homes and crops, and that they boasted about it and told the Mormon settlement in Cedar City that they were going to round up some more Missouri Wildcats and return from California to finish the job they had started in Missouri. This is what we were taught, that the Mormons in the settlement decided to kill them because they felt threatened. This was not the case. Mormon apologists continue to attempt to justify the murder of every man, woman and child age 8 and above with lies.
Indoctrination is a very powerful tool when used to create and reinforce a belief system.
Part of the difficulty in leaving a denomination such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientology is that the individual who leaves often finds himself shunned by family and friends who are of those faiths. If one considers Mormonism in Utah, one realizes that an ex Mormon is pretty much surrounded by people who believe in their heart of hearts that this individual will be restricted from entering into the highest level of God’s kingdom (The Celestial Kingdom) where only the most faithful who have performed all the rites and rituals deemed necessary to earn that right. They believe that they’ll be excluded from their eternal family units as they believe that families will be together forever, under God’s plan according to Mormonism. Many who have left the faith have also lost employment, as their employers were also Mormons, and a family who leaves as a family might find that their children are shunned as well and not included in former friend’s activities. This isn’t the case in 100% of cases, but it does happen a lot. Also families who are not Mormon who have moved into close knit smaller Mormon communities in Utah, and in Idaho are often approached numerous times in attempts to convert them, and if they continue to refuse they’ll often be treated as pariahs.
The same happens in many cases to Mormons who are LGBTQ. Many a gay or lesbian youth or young adult have found themselves booted to the curb by parents who are active in the faith. Some are given a choice. Either stop being gay, or you’re on your own. The suicide rates of LGBTQ teens and young adults are extremely high in these communities.”
In the most fundamentalist LDS cults (Mark was not in a fundamentalist church), youths are never taught life skills, to say nothing of how the outside world varies and works. This is psychological and practical entrapment. The above experience is not just an LDS situation. Many who have escaped religion say they had no idea what they were missing—concepts of physics, astronomy, even personal autonomy. They were living in a very small world, unable to hear a Who.
If they have the strength, will, intellect to overcome their early teachings they are often shunned by their friends and family, their only “sin” being that they realized the real world made more sense than the one historically taught. This is sadder yet because belief is not a choice; it is a conclusion. One can attempt to keep it at bay—try not to think about bothersome stories, avoid contact with and knowledge of alternate viewpoints, seek out information to support a desired position, hold contrary information without attempting to explain it—but there are differing degrees of this ability, the strength of one’s believence. Punishing a family member for coming to a particular conclusion would seem to have more to do with the punisher’s believence (perhaps an attempt to keep away temptations of doubt, in themselves and their believing circle of family and friends) than that of the errant family member. Certainly most believers are deeply concerned for their unbelieving kin, heaven or hell being the stake to them, but is cutting off a family member from their kin really a good way to maintain hope?