In the PBS documentary “The Mormons”, Tal Bachman had perhaps the most memorable line in the entire program. He said that while he was a missionary he was so amped up that if his Mission President had told him to strap a bomb on himself and blow some people up for the Lord, he would have done it. This obviously is a sensational remark and puts the worst sort of fears into people about who Mormons are.
If you are unaware of who Tal is, he is a pop singer who had a big record called “She’s So High”. I believe it came out in 1999. He’s the son of famous Rock and Roller, Randy Bachman, of Bachman Turner Overdrive (Takin’ Care of Business). Several years ago Tal started investigating LDS History and decided that the church wasn’t what it says it is.
Today online, he defended his suicide bomber remarks and didn’t back away from them. He states:
Just a few quick comments if you don’t mind. I hope people will take the time to read and think over my response carefully, though it is long.
First, I should say I haven’t seen the show, and in a way, I don’t even want to. (But that’s another story altogether).
About the suicide bombing.
I suggest with all respect, that any devout believer, if they think about this, will realize that my comments were not meant to be hyperbolic at all; and I even think that to suggest such a thing betrays a lack of thought about Mormon (and religious) claims about faith, “the spirit”, sacrifice, devotion, etc.
Think about it:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church on earth” (D&C 1)
“The prophet cannot lead you astray” (WW’s canonized comments post-manifesto in the D&C)
“I have taken a vow of consecration in the temple, which includes – as James E. Talmage mentioned publicly – consecrating your life, to ‘the church'”, etc.
What else could you possibly get when you add all that up, than that when asked by a voice you deem authoritative – whether from prophet, scripture, or “personal revelation” – you would lay down your life for “the gospel”? Why else, in any believer’s mind, would it be admirable for Abinadi, or Joseph Smith, or Stephen, or Jesus, or Isaac (who some prophets have suggested participated willingly), or any other scriptural character (or for others, David Koresh, or Jim Jones, etc.), to have laid down their lives? A bomb being the means of death is no different in principle from a bullet, bonfire, or poison. When master commands us to die, we die, if we are faithful to him. So, in Mormonism as in other religions, laying down our lives for the faith is explicitly taught as something we should be willing to do if necessary (that is, if asked by master [whoever or whatever we believe to be “master”]).
So that takes care of the first half of suicide bombing, the actual suicide part.
And what is suicide, but the killing of ourselves (or at least, the permitting of others to kill us)? The line between allowing someone else to kill us (for master), and killing ourselves for master, and killing others, for master, cannot be imagined to be that wide. Once we have committed to allow our own blood to be shed for master, we are already through the door and into a whole new world where, the truth is –
anything has become possible for us. When master speaks, we will obey. If we would shed our own blood for master, when we already believe that we ourselves were created by God, in the image of God, and that our bodies are the temple of God are sacred, then shedding of another’s blood cannot be much different at all. Bsix, of course, is exactly right.
But if there were any doubt that Bsix was right, Mormons (again, like so many other devout believers) have their own scriptures, and their own sacred histories, to confirm it.
The Book of Mormon’s Nephi, for example, is praised – not suspected, or criticized – for his murder of a supine, defenceless, intoxicated man. And he is praised because…
he obeyed the voice in his head…
which he says was God’s voice.
And we believe him. We believe him (or the words attributed to him) even though we believe that God also prohibited murder in the sixth commandment. And we don’t think there is anything to give us reason to ponder more deeply there – even though, if our home teacher told us that God had just told him to commit adultery, we wouldn’t believe him – even though murder is much worse than adultery. Hmmm…
And as Mormons, we praise the faithful Israelites for doing whatever Joshua told them to do, which included slaughtering entire villages which had done absolutely nothing against the Israelites at all – and which also included taking the women as sexual slaves. Yes, God – to hear Joshua (a mortal) tell it, anyway – ordered that. At least, that is what the Holy Spirit told the Israelites. After all, God wouldn’t let Joshua – a man subject to all the vain delusions that every other man is vulnerable to – lead the Israelites astray. Would he?
And when southern Utahn priesthood were told (accurately or inaccurately is entirely irrelevant to my point here) that the prophet wanted them to participate in the murder of the Fancher party, they did the exact same thing that Nephi, the Mormon hero, and the ancient Israelites, other Mormon heroes, did: they murdered. They obeyed what they thought was their master – just like we swear to do, every one of us as members.
On this point, I further suggest that were it not for the United States government – if Mormon leaders had been free to tell the story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre however they wished afterward, with no interference from forensics researchers or diary readers, etc. – that we as Mormons would most likely openly regard Brothers Lee, and Haight, and Dame now, in the same way we do Nephi and Joshua: as HEROES. After all, they performed exactly the same act, for exactly the same reaons. Didn’t they? Yes, they did.
I want to suggest to everyone reading this, that if they really take the time to think about things, they will find that the psycho-social dynamics which permitted the Mountain Meadows Massacre to occur – which in effect disabled the murderers from coming up with a rationale to disobey what they thought were prophetic orders – are still every bit as in place now within Mormonism. It cannot be any other way when church leaders continue to exist, just as they did then, that
1.) only the LDS church has God’s authority;
2.) that the prophet is God’s highest authority on earth;
3) that God will not permit that prophet to lead church members astray; and
4.) as per our temple covenants, we must (like the song says) “follow the prophet”.
And the truth is, this dynamic is no different than is any other group, explicitly religious or otherwise, in which members can be induced to do all sorts of things which they would not normally do.
(Last section here)
Here is how, in a nutshell, I think it works for us as Mormons.
A.) Whether we are born in the church or converts, we at some point are confronted with a belief system/church which makes claims to truth and authority. But we do not know if those claims are true. We wish to find out.
B.) Several ways of investigation present themselves. One way, recommended by those who already believe, is to read, ponder, and pray. If we “feel feelings of peace and assurety”, etc., or perhaps hear a voice, or experience some other positive impression, we are told that that is God’s holy spirit telling us that Mormonism is true. And so, we read, ponder, and pray – and if we have that kind of experience, many of us come to believe that Mormonism is everything it claims to be.
C.) If Mormonism is everything it claims to be, then eventually we will accept points 1-4 above.
D.) At that point, something happens – the “executive control” feature of our minds and souls, that part of us that deals with things like conscience and proper discrimination between ideas, etc., ceases to be the last word for us. We think of that part of ourselves, whenever and wherever it conflicts with something that “the gospel” now teaches us, as at best superfluous, and at worse, evil. We use words like “our flesh” or “our weakness” or “temptation”. When we think, “hm – I’ve always wondered about that”, we know that nothing good can come from that doubting, and so we often do our best to ignore that thought, and push it away. When we hear some new injunction that we find uncongenial (earring regulations), or perhaps devastatingly hurtful (insisting that your daughter give up her illegitimate child, rather than you all raising your flesh and blood together), we crucify our feelings or concerns, keep our mouths (mostly) shut, and get back to the business of abiding by our duties. Our executive control, in other words, we have now made subservient to an external party. We think that external party is our superior to us – we think it is God himself. (It would be magnificent if it were – but what if…it is not? More on that below).
Points 1-4, in other words, serve, for our rational faculties, as a set of contact points with reality. We believe they are just as certain in that regard, as ideas like “gravity would make me fall to my death if I jumped off this building” and “Richard can’t be trusted ever”. They are sort of compass points by which we orient ourselves, according to which we make decisions; and our decisions seem entirely rational then, to us (made according to, and within, those contact points).
But what if…
points 1-4 are not “contact points with reality” at all?
What if, up above in Step B, we made a very serious mistake in our evaluation of this thing to which we have now devoted our lives, and given total sovereignty over every aspect of ourselves, including our consciences? Then, we could potentially all sorts of things, couldn’t we? Even crazy things…or just plain wicked things. And all with the best of motives, using the very best logic we have.
I suggest that our mistake was this:
In the course of trying to critically evaluate X, we uncritically accepted one of X’s claims as to how we can evaluate X; and that claim, recommended as it as by the very thing which wished to be believed, could not but lead us to conclude that X should be believed.
And X was Mormonism. This is what I mean.
X says: “I am true”
We say: “I don’t know that, but I would like to find out”
X says: “You can know that by the power of the spirit, if you do D, E, and F. And the spirit feels like G”
We do D, E, and F, and we believe we feel G – or KNOW we feel G – and so, we say, “now I know it is true”.
What I’m saying is, we have accepted a specific claim, which is so flimsy when examined that it is hard to imagine we could have missed it so entirely:
The church claims to know just how it can most accurately be evaluated; but why should we have believed that in the first place?
The church claims that something called a holy ghost is actually real, and is the source of our good feelings; but why should we have believed that in the first place?
The church claims that the good feelings from this sacred ghost are an a means of knowing historical fact, such as that the founder of Mormonism always told the truth about his unusual experiences; but why should we have believed that in the first place?
What I am suggesting is that in the very act of accepting these claims (almost unconsciously), we have granted to Mormonism the very authority which we are setting about to try to confirm or disconfirm. And after that initial uncritical acceptance of authority, the ultimate conclusion is all but inevitable: “Mormonism really does have the authority it claims! I have never been more sure of anything in my life. I felt the spirit so strongly, that I could never deny it”, etc.
This process is no different than the first psychological trick played by any con man, religious or otherwise. This is not to say that Joseph Smith was a con man necessarily – but certainly, what I am describing here is no different in principle than the tricks played by con men from time immemorial: get the subject to grant you authority first, without him noticing. After that, the rest is easy. And indeed, it is.
And in the end, we wind up just like millions of other human beings, who “know” that they have “the truth”, and know that God wants them to remain celibate, or circumcise, or pray, or preach, or fast, or wear a hair shirt, or take their own lives, or take the lives of others, or tell the truth, or not tell the truth, or whatever their masters now tell them to do. But the truth is, though we can feel as certain as it is possible to feel, we simply…
don’t really know those things at all. We have mistaken absolute certainty, for absolute knowledge; but they are not the same, and never can be.
I guess this post is long enough, so I’ll fall silent now.
P.S. I would sure appreciate any thoughtful, conscientious replies.
This came from http://www.mormonapologetics.org