Mormons are Directioners, Evangelicals are Beliebers

Being around teenage girl culture I have seen up-close a phenomena that took me completely by surprise– Directionerism – the blind devotion to the boy-band One Direction.   I have seen more than one girl stricken with this frenzy.  A close corollary to this strange new sub-religion is  Belieberism- the blind devotion to Justin Bieber.    The devotion inspired by these two forces is truly staggering to me. I saw several girls close to me swept up in the frenzy of these two fandoms.  It was very much like a disease, and also very much like religion.

This made me think about how Evangelicals compare to Mormons, and about how religion works nowadays, and maybe where it will go. My resulting almost-fully-tongue-in-cheek thesis: Evangelicals are Beliebers, and Mormons are Directioners.

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Explaining Jesus to a child: the witness of the spirit.

I put my six-year-old son to bed the other night and reminded him to say his prayers.  ten or fifteen minutes later he came down with a huge smile on his face, he wanted to call his mom and tell her something (his mother and I are not married anymore). It was too late so he went back to bed. First thing the next morning he came directly downstairs and called his mother to tell her about the feeling he had when he was praying.  He explained to her, and later me, that he had this amazing feeling when he was praying and could not stop smiling about it.  Watching this experience–like so many I have had as a parent– was like looking into a mirror reflecting myself at his age.

Of course this experience raises so many questions for me, and for perhaps should raise this questions for all Christians: How do we explain the witness of the Spirit to a child.

I actually do not have a good answer– a satisfactory explanation of spiritual experience like this is perhaps the biggest question I have in life. I know there are all kinds, including those that do not involve belief in God, but my son deserves one.  And he deserves one in language he can understand.  I reject many aspects of the explanation he is routinely given at LDS church, and I am not satisfied with what I did tell them.  So I put it to anyone who reads this–how would you explain this experience to my son, if he was yours?

Explaining Jesus to a child – How should I indoctrinate my children?

indoctrinate_xlarge_xlargeWhen children are taught religion, they are indoctrinated. As parents we can’t explain how the world really works to them–they won’t understand and nobody has the patience–so we happily give them simple skeletons which they can build on, that they can organize the necessarily limited experience and information they stumble across.  We hope that the skeletons are elegant and strong enough to gird all the good information our children come across and allow them to create a robust, useful picture of how things are. Of course the problem with indoctrination is that it shuts of lines if inquiry, creating intellectual bias.  If the process of education moves people from cocksure confidence to thoughtful uncertainty, indoctrination attempts to stall or abort this process–on a few important areas of thought at least.

Indoctrination is a big issue in our multi-cultural, increasingly divisive, political and ideological climate. At least one writer – David French– contends that Evangelicals’ failure to properly indoctrinate their children is part of the reason they fall short in church growth compared to moromons.   Citing the Barna Group’s conclusion that of the 84 million Americans who claim to be Evangelical, only about 19 million actually hold orthodox beliefs, French advocates that Evangelicals must follow the LDS lead in teaching their distinctive beliefs and culture early and well.

But indoctrination is an extremely inflammatory concept. It is almost universally condemned by those who don’t want children to be indoctrinated against their positions. But I don’t think indoctrination can or should have the bad rap given it by fervent opponents of religious indoctrination such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Arguably most childhood education in areas of history and even many areas of science smacks of indoctrination in one form or another.

Given its unavoidable necessity, I have started to take indoctrination of my own children more seriously. My kids are indoctrinated Mormons, their skeletons come from church.   They have a surface-level, Sunday-school understanding of the church, salvation, and the righteous life. But because I am no longer what can be fairly called a believing Mormon, I want to temper this indoctrination with indoctrination of my own–one that reflects the understanding I have developed in my spiritual life and education.  I am trying to find a way to explain Christianity differently without closing the lines of inquiry that I find critical.  I want to add a few limbs to my kids’ conceptual skeletons without making their existing frameworks useless.

So, my project is to develop simple, short, easy-to-understand narratives of important historical events and religious principles- sort of like the Gospel Principles Manual in the LDS Church. Something that can give my children a place to start inquiry based roughly on what I think are proper conclusions about history and the world; a different narrative to expand and allow critical evaluation of the narrative they receive in church.

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Mormons & Evangelicals: What can I learn from you?

Over several months so I have had a born-again sort of experience of sorts– one of those times in life where perspective shifts dramatically and you feel like you are seeing the world for the first time.  One of the biggest difficulties in experience was recognizing that I had lost faith in the LDS Church. It has been coming for quite a while, and it feels like the core meaning of my life was yanked from me. Losing faith has been very difficult for me even to acknowledge. But for complex reasons, I can’t now honestly claim to believe in the Mormon Church and this reality has stung me hard.  My participation in this blog has been a big part of the process of figuring out where I am and what to do next.

Over the years the blog has been a place for me to vent a lot of the deep thoughts and patent nonsense that bubbled up during this process. (Regulars here will recognize I write far more of the latter than the former.)  But lately I have been thinking about what attracted me to this blog– and how it might help me in the new spiritual life that I face.

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Why Mormonism is only for those who desire it, and why it matters.

In our discussion about the LDS temple ritual.  I mentioned that I do not believe the endowment is for everyone, nor was it meant to be.  It is only for those who desire it.

While this seems to be a somewhat technical/semantic point. I think it is important in the context of the “Mormonism-seems-to-be-a-cult-because-it-has-secret-Rituals” discussion. By saying that endowment is ONLY for those that really want it, I underscore how different this position is from any sort of cult-like view of the ritual. Mormons are not forcing people to do weird things against their will. This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them. It makes no sense in context of Mormon thought and doctrine. It seems that among the pervasive misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations regarding the religion are that Mormons are a cult that pushes people or brainwashes them into making crazy commitments and weird secret rituals against their will.  This is unsupportable by the doctrine or the scriptures.

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You are FORGIVEN! – What Evangelicals have that Mormons don’t. (Part 1)

Universal sin is, perhaps, the fundamental building block of the Christian Religion.  Without sin, there is no need for the atonement of Jesus, the central focus of both Mormons and Evangelicals.

C.S. Lewis, in accord with other heavy hitters of Christian apologetics, contend that the most incontrovertible tenant of Christianity is original sin.  (However, my favorite exposition of this doctrine is, of course, found here.) Indeed, most all people have an internal moral compass, a conscience, that tells them that they fall short of perfection.  Those people incapable of feeling guilt are considered the most dangerous and potentially monstrous of all humans.  While I am not convinced that universal sin is “proven” by the facts, it is clear that most of the people we call good or conscientious would agree that falling short of internal and external aspirations is a common part of life.  Falling short is part of life not simply because we are defective, it seems to be an ingrained part of being a human to recognize that we do not live up to what our consciences aspire to.  Even those that are often completely blind to their own faults can usually point out the faults of others.   This brings guilt, perhaps one of the most important defenses against barbarism, yet it also one of those things that invariably saps happiness and joy from life.

What Christianity brings to the table is forgiveness. Evangelists tells us: “In Christ you will be saved and forgiven, white as snow.”  Where Evangelicalism and Mormonism diverge is how they dish up the meaty meal of forgiveness to the believer. (To be specific: I am talking about how the forgiveness of is felt and experienced, not about whether or not either approach is justified by scripture, revelation or theology.)

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Top 10 Anti-Mormon Comments of 2011?

I spotted this article in the Deseret news which referenced Mormonvoices.org’s article naming 2011′s “Top” Anti-Mormon statements.   I will quote the entire list and explanation here because the original does not allow for comments.

1. “By any standard, Mormonism is more ridiculous than any other religion.” Bill Maher, October 15, 2011, George Washington University, as reported by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, October 18, 2011.

2. “[Mormonism is] one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.” Christopher Hitchens, Slate, October 17, 2011.

3. “The theology comes across as totally barmy. We can become gods with our own planets! And the practices strike me as creepy. No coffee and tea is bad enough. But the underwear!” Michael Ruse, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 30, 2011.

4. “The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as ‘prophet, seer and revelator,’ is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy…” Harold Bloom, The New York Times, November 12, 2011.

5. “That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult…Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” Robert Jeffress, Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011.

6. “I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve. Mitt Romney has said it is not his intent to promote Mormonism. Yet there can be little doubt that the effect of his candidacy—whether or not this is his intent—will be to promote Mormonism.” Warren Cole Smith, Patheos.com, May 24, 2011.

7. “Yes, it is my opinion that an indoctrinated Mormon should never be elected as President of the United States of America.” Tricia Erickson, CNN.com, July 7, 2011.

8. “Mormonism is not an orthodox Christian faith. It just is not…it’s very clear that the founding fathers did not intend to preserve automatically religious liberty for non-Christian faiths.” Bryan Fischer, Focal Point radio show, September 2011.

9. “Can you name the candidate that’s running for president that believes that if he’s a good person in his religion he will receive his own planet?…Would you vote for someone for president who believes in their religion, if he’s a good person, he’ll get his own planet?…Do you want to get your own planet?” Ben Ferguson, Fox 13 News, Memphis TN, July 6, 2011.

10. “The Christian coalition, I think [another candidate] could get a lot of money from that, because Romney, obviously, not being a Christian…” Ainsley Earhart, Fox and Friends, July 17, 2011.

Mormonvoices explains:

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Helping Mormon Missionaries Call Home

In my previous post, I suggested that Evangelicals should offer the use of their phones and their internet access to Mormon missionaries that visit their homes.  I suggested this not as a means of offering temptation to break the rules.  Instead, I suggested it as a means of showing kindness to someone who may desperately need the offer.

I recognize that Mormons are generally happy with their missionary program and see the rules and regulations associated with it to be appropriate and instituted with the best of intentions.  I’m not denying or questioning the sincere motivations that the LDS church may be operating under.  But I want to point out from an outsiders point of view what is happening in the daily life of a Mormon missionary.

Missionaries are:

  1. told that they must wear a standard uniform at all times that includes what type of underwear they must wear
  2. stripped of their first names
  3. told who they must live with
  4. responsible to observe and report any infractions they witness their companions commit
  5. required to be with their companions at all times
  6. limited to a small set of reading materials which only include religious text
  7. prohibited from television, newspapers and movies
  8. offered limited contact with family and friends and are told exactly when they can call their families
  9. typically eating a diet based mostly on cheap carbohydrates
  10. experiencing various levels of culture shock and may be almost completely removed from their native tongue
  11. in an enviornment where blessings and successes are often taught to be in direct proportion to personal worthiness
  12. not given control over their own passports
  13. committed to Church related activities nearly every waking hour of the day

I know that many feel there are perfectly good reasons for each of these items.  I’m not arguing the specifics, I am looking at the entire picture. I want to be clear;  I am NOT saying that the LDS church is a cult.   But in any other religious context, the sum of this checklist starts raising some flags of concern for me.   When you study real life cultic groups, this is the exact set of circumstances manipulative religious leaders put their followers into. It’s a breeding ground for emotional and spiritual abuse.

I am NOT saying that LDS Mission Presidents are committing emotional or spiritual abuse.  Nor do I think the LDS church is knowingly and willing setting up this situation so that spiritual and emotional abuse can happen.  But if just one Mission President is inclined to be abusive, the playing field has already been set perfectly for him to have a heyday on the hearts and minds of young men and women.

I heard Steve Hassan say that if you encounter people that you know are in a mind-controlling environment, such as Moonies or Hare Krishnas, you should offer your cell phone to them in case they’d like to call their families.  Their ability to use a phone may be severely limited and you may be giving them a lifeline out of an abusive situation.

I have no idea how the Mission President may be behaving in my area.  He’s most likely a kind and decent man who has no desire to harm the missionaries in his care.  But on the off-chance that he’s not kind and decent, I think it’s appropriate to offer LDS missionaries the knowledge that they have somewhere safe to come if they need to contact family or friends for any reason.

I am well aware that most Mormons enjoyed their missions quite a bit.  I am well aware that many feel nothing abusive ever happened in their experience.  I am not at all suggesting that Mormon missions are even frequently abusive.  I expect the vast majority of missionaries to turn down my offer.  I have no plans to push it on them or encourage them to call their families as a subtle way to undermine the LDS church.  But given the context the missionaries are living in, I think it’s appropriate for a non-Mormon to offer sanctuary to someone who may need it even if that chance is remote.

How God Makes Mormons

Today I heard the first missionary discussion taught to a new investigator to the Mormon church, and it made me  suprised how effective the approach is, considering how un-compelling it felt to me. Perhaps I was just too familiar with the subject matter, too jaded, critical or skeptical (or all of the above) but when I tried to see the discussion through the eyes of the investigator (a 25 year old presbyterian from Cameroon) the content and delivery just didn’t grab me.

For those who don’t know. Mormon missionaries teach others about the church through teaching a series of core principles and leading people through a series of commitments. For those Evangelicals who want to become completely familiar with our subtle brainwashing techniques they can download their own copy of the complete missionary handbook “Preach my Gospel” here.  This manual probably provides as close as you can get to the “official doctrines” of the church because these are the elementary doctrines that the leadership has decided to have taught to all missionaries and every new member of the church.

The missionaries introduce the church with the idea that God lives  and sent his Son to save us and has always spoken through prophets and that he spoke to Joseph Smith in our time and that our church   They then explain the role and mission of Jesus, the pre-earth life, the fall and redemption through the atonement of Christ, and the potential to inherit various kingdoms of glory through making and keeping covenants.   They ask those interested in the church to read the book of mormon,  be baptized, come to church, quite smoking, drinking, having extra-marital sex and to pay 10% of their income in tithing.  This usually happens in the course of 2-3 weeks but times vary greatly.

Central to the entire process is teaching people about the Spirit of God and how to recognize it.  Essentially the missionary process is an attempt to invite people to receive personal revelation to become members of the church.

I didn’t feel the Spirit when they taught the first lesson to the young business student from Africa today,(Maybe I was too concerned with the annoying way the young missionary was bobbing his head when he spoke, not sure).  I have felt the Spirit dozens of times when I taught the same lesson on my mission.

Tens of thousands each year make these commitments and become Mormons, in spite of annoying head bobs or other foibles of the barely-post-teenage missionaries that teach people about the church.

The experience made me think about how Evangelicals would go about converting me or someone unintiated to the faith and the meaning and significance of the different approaches.

How would evangelical missionaries go about converting me  (other than through internet blogs :) ) ?  How much of the approach involves teaching me how Mormonism is heresy vs. presenting a compelling alternative?

A challenge to anybody who believes in the Bible: Does lack of unity make us less Christian?

Are we unified? 

I have thought about what the goal and purpose of the discussions we have on this blog and debates/discussions like Millett v. Johnson.    One goal that Christians could have would be to “become one” as Jesus seems to demand of his followers.  (Of course, one way to avoid the task is simply to deny certain groups the right to be His followers. )    As a critical thinking Mormon, who thinks Jesus’ request may be possible, I have the following questions for those who believe the Bible is the primary and final authority on religion: 

1. Is the Bible obviously trustworthy?  Can reasonable people doubt that the Bible is true and correct? 

Follow up questions: Assuming that the Bible isn’t obviously true, even after diligent reading and study,  what is the process by which we can find out if the Bible is trustworthy? What should we trust other than the text of the Bible to determine its worth? 

2. Is your intepretation of the Bible regarding the nature of God and Jesus the only possible reasonable interpretation? 

Follow up: If it isn’t the only possible reasonable interpretation and it is true that reasonable minds can disagree on the interpretation using the text alone is it possible to resolve these disputes? What are reliable places to look to resolve disputes in interpretation aside from the text of the Bible itself.  

3. Is your intepretation of the Bible completely free of possible undue influence of your own personal history, background, emotional temperment, community, or family? 

follow up: Our contexts and perspectives can often give us insight into things that others don’t have, and often can often lead us to wrong-headed positions.  If you think this may not be true for your clear-headed thinking, you should admit that others may have this problem.  If your own context and perspective may distort your inteprepetation, can we be so certain of our own position or uncertain that somebody may not have a clearer view from their perspective? 

My own conclusion:  

If you cannot answer “yes” to these four questions,and you are a believer in the Bible doesn’t it follow that the God of the Bible created (or allowed) reality where: 

(1) the truth of the “true” religion is not clear and obvious to all observers, and

(2) it is difficult to determine whether we have the capacity to see clearly from our perspectives

(3) the correct interpretation of the inspired writings we have are is not unambiguously clear 

(4) Differing intepretations, even on the most fundemental theological issues amongst even the most devout believers, are unavoidable

Thus, isn’t it unfair and unreasonable to assume that you are in a position to exclude believers in the Bible from fellowship of Christians solely based on your “correct” interpretation of the Bible?  If so, isn’t it unreasonabe (and un-Christian) to exclude similarly believing people from fellowship of believers because of differing interpretations?  

What unity must mean: 

I think John 17:20-21 is a remarkable passage:  

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

To an Evangelicals, it seems that unity among believers in “the message” or “the word” is (should be) a critical part of spreading the Gospel to the world. 

Given the text and the reality of ambiguity and uncertainty of interpretation, must not believers in the Bible seek and aknowledge some degree of unity with other believers in scripture prior to debating intepreptations of the Bible and despite differences in interpretation and belief

Shouldn’t we be one before the debate begins?

But It’s a Cult

This post is likely to cause some controversy. Hopefully I’ve earned enough good faith that I can present my ideas respectfully and my readers can take what I have to say with the authentic intention in which it is offered.

I think it’s inappropriate to think of the LDS church as a mind-controlling cult. For theological reasons, mainstream Christians have used the term cult to signify that the LDS church is a heretical sect outside the bounds of orthodoxy. Unfortunately the word “cult” is often also associated with destructive mind-controlling groups. There is a theological definition and a sociological definition of the word “cult” and the distinction is not often well explained. For this reason (and many others) we really need to find a better word to describe groups that we feel are in deep heresy.

Psychologists have developed some methods to discern whether or not a group is a mind-controlling cult. There are many groups that fit these descriptions and they are not limited to religion. There are business networking, martial art and substance abuse cults.

As I stated earlier. I do NOT think that the LDS church is a mind-controlling cult. It’s extremely inappropriate to describe it as such. But there is an aspect of Mormonism that starts raising some flags for me. I find a great many reasons to be alarmed about the missionary program. I am NOT saying that the missionaries are being abused or mistreated. I am NOT saying that the missionaries have been unfairly coerced into being there. I do think that there are some abuses in the system and that from an outside prospective the system is suspect.

Using the B.I.T.E. protocol developed by Steven Alan Hassan, I’ll attempt to make my case. I do not believe that any one of these things is an indictment but rather their collection as a whole.

Behavior Control

  • Missionaries are told where they will be living and with whom they will be living.
  • They are required to wear a white shirt, slacks and a tie in all situations (no less what type of underwear they can wear).
  • They are given very little free time off (only 8.5 hours) every week, the rest of their time is spent either sleeping, proselytizing or studying.
  • Missionaries are financially restrained by a small living allowance each month.
  • Contact with family members is cut off except for 2 phone calls a year and hand delivered letters which must be delivered through church authorities.
  • Permission must be sought for everything.
  • Missionaries must be present with their companions at all times except for a few minutes in the bathroom. Any violation of mission rules is to be reported to authorities.
  • Obedience to church authorities is of utmost importance

Information Control

  • Only church approved reading materials are allowed. All other forms of information are cut off entirely.
  • Missionaries are kept extremely busy

Thought Control

  • Loaded language and jargon is pervasive.
  • Only given titles are to be used (Elder and Sister). Given names are not to be used.
  • Thought stopping techniques are used to block challenging information. All objections which can not be answered are to be met by “bearing one’s testimony”.
  • Missionaries are encouraged to testify that they know the church is true even if they have doubts or have reason to suspect that it may not be the case. Some are told to “fake it until they make it”.
  • No critical questions about leadership or leadership decisions is allowed

Emotional Control

  • Missionaries are told that if they are not “feeling the spirit” it must be the result of some unrighteousness on their part.
  • Guilt is frequently used as a motivator
  • There is a great fear of shunning by not fulfilling one’s missionary responsibilities or by returning home early
  • Any lack of success is the fault of the individual not the message nor the organization

It’s my impression that the top priority of the missionary program is actually to bond the missionary to the church rather than to win converts (a great side benefit). It’s no coincidence that they choose to send missionaries at a time when they are at the most impressionable age and can only think, act, and sleep about the church in an isolated and controlled environment. Some might say that many of these restrictions are a result of the age and maturity level of the missionaries. My response is that if 19 year olds are not mature enough to act as responsible agents of the church without the organization imposing inappropriate boundaries, then perhaps missionaries should be sent out at an older age.

Breaking Free From a Cult — OFF TOPIC

I post this with a great deal of hesitation. Let me be clear, I am NOT calling the LDS church a mind-controlling cult. I by no means wish to offend any LDS readers of this blog. I think the word “cult” has been used with great harm and offense and I understand if LDS are quick to assume that the word is being used against them. So please don’t misunderstand why I post this.

I listened to this video and I think it’s really excellent. It’s off-topic but I’m posting it here just to extend it’s reach. I think everyone should listen to what he says about the devices cults use and how to break free from them. Mind control cults are real and dangerous. I’ve known people who have gotten involved with them and I think if they had had this information beforehand it would have saved them a great deal of heartache.

I’d recommend just letting it play in the background while you work. It’s really a MUST listen.