Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thor's Day: What’s wrong with Mormonism?

Or Scientology?

By Paul Clark 
(aka motomynd)

Moristotle recently published an article on Mormonism that was so well written by an obviously devout and well-informed Mormon, that I emailed the link to several people with whom I regularly discuss various views on religion and philosophy. To my surprise, they responded with feedback that was far more strident and negative than I expected.
    When I offered what mild defense I can muster for any “official” religion, one of my friends asked “What next? Are you going to start defending Scientology?”
    Which made me stop to think: Why is Scientology any worse than any of the other religious contrivances?

To give some background: Most members of my group are “spiritualists” for lack of a better term. To be blunt, we think anyone must be crazy or desperate to follow any modern religion, since all are devoid of factual basis or proven track record. We believe people are born with what they need to find their way in life already inside them, and they should build on that strength throughout life, rather than muddle along by relying on crutches such as booze, drugs, therapists, or religion.
    The notable exceptions to the spiritual believers in my group are a Baptist, a Buddhist, a Catholic, two Lutherans, and two Muslims. Yes, we at times have some lively discussions, and in this case it turned out my somewhat accommodating take on Mormonism had zero support with any member of my group. Most of them dismissed it as a cult.

My reply is that all religions started as cults, and the only reason they are with us today is they caught a couple of lucky breaks along the way and persevered. If the Roman emperor Constantine hadn’t legitimized Christianity more than 300 years after the alleged life of Jesus, would Christianity be a major religion today, or just a forgotten cult? I don’t say alleged life of Jesus to provoke a fight, by the way, but merely to note there is no actual proof he ever existed. He may have lived the history that was written years after his time, or he may be a combining of many stories into one being – not unlike King Arthur, or Beowulf, or Bigfoot. Other than 1,800 years, what is the difference between a 200-year-old cult and a 2,000-year-old religion? So why have a bigger problem with Mormonism, or Scientology, than with Christianity? Or Islam?

Salt Lake Mormon Temple
If one looks at the practical aspects versus the dogma, Mormonism has some very good points for improving one’s life. Mormons at least promote living a healthy lifestyle and doing good deeds here and now, instead of doing whatever you want now and expecting a free pass to the next life because you believe in God, or Allah, or Jesus, or cocaine. If either of my stepchildren wanted to choose Mormonism versus settling down to a typical North Carolina life of watching too much TV and subsisting on soft drinks and pork rinds, I would very strongly encourage them toward Mormonism.
    No religion has proven it actually delivers what it promises – whether that is a happy eternity with old friends and family or 40 virgins or whatever – so I make the case that all official religions should be banned on the same basis as diet pills that assure weight loss without exercise or a change of diet.

To cite a latent example of major religions failing at every level to deliver on any of their promises: The events of September 11, 2001.
    On 9/11 there were many doomed Christians praying on those airplanes; they all died. Since 9/11 there have been many Muslims praying every time they see a predator drone or helicopter gunship; all except the very luckiest among them died. If all the faith and dollars poured into religion doesn’t save lives or prevent conflict, what value is it?
    If you believe in Christianity or Islam, you can argue the case that your fellow believers at least went to a pleasant hereafter when they died. To which I say: Prove it. In fact, prove there is a hereafter and that anyone ever went there. Spouting muddled hand-me-down opinions from murky translations gleaned from cracked clay is not proof; it is opinion. That is why religions are faith-based, not fact-based, and that is why they have shaky standing with anyone who applies logic and science when evaluating them.
    The fact I can prove is that if Christianity and Islam didn’t exist, Christians and Muslims wouldn’t be killing each other over their religions. So from that perspective, any decision about following any religion becomes a choice of lesser evils.
    And as I see it, Mormonism is by far the lesser of several evils. Would we rather a man have a loving, understanding, honest relationship with two wives, or have him married and screwing around behind his wife's back with whoever he can grab at whatever moment? Would we rather people buy into a religion that endorsed the concept of multiple wives, and in some quarters still tacitly allows such, or one that tacitly allows men to molest children? Would we rather a religion strive to align itself politically with fascists, communists, and Nazis in multiple power-grab attempts, or that a religion promote good deeds, social involvement, and a lifestyle that is healthy for mind and body?
    Yes, the Mormon take on the history of the earth is arguably absurd, but what religion offers a more plausible perspective? Depending on who you believe, Joseph Smith was divinely inspired, or he was a con artist of apparently amazing charisma. Well, what was Moses in his day? Within a very few years of allegedly bringing the commandments off the mountain, historical accounts say Moses and his followers were raiding neighboring villages and killing every man, woman, and child they could find. That should tell us all we need to know about the value of the commandments. If Moses couldn’t even be bothered to follow them, why should anyone?

Given all this, if someone needs a crutch to get through life, at least Mormonism seems a better choice than many other crutches. And so does Scientology. Yes, the latter was founded by someone who was at best a wild idealist, and very possibly an outright con artist, but Scientology really seems to work for some people. So what is the harm? Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts work for some people, as does the Order of Masons, Shriners, etc. I wish they would all be required to pay their fair share of taxes like any for-profit social or business club, but as long as they are doing some form of good for people, and as long as their members are consenting adults rather than exploited children, how much harm are they really causing? At least they aren’t spawning terrorism.
    If you mention Scientology today, all most people can think of is Tom Cruise. Ask what they really know about Mormonism and they probably get as far as Mitt Romney and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Meanwhile, if you say Catholic, they immediately bring up child molestation, and some may even recall the church’s affiliation with Nazis and fascists before and well after WWII. Here in the Southeast we still mentally link Baptists and the Ku Klux Klan. Make your own choice, but I know who I would rather have living next door.

There is no way to legislate curbs on stupidity, and only so much can be done about curbing gullibility, so all religions will probably continue to prosper. And new cults will pop up every time a Jim Jones or David Koresh or Sun Myung Moon works up a new shtick. It is what it is.
    If we can't legally stop people from falling prey to fast food, soft drinks and obesity, can we even hope to stop them from falling prey to the next new cult? Or to cults who have gained societal acceptance as official religions over hundreds or thousands of years?
    We spiritualists know the answer to those questions, but we are hopelessly outnumbered by people who don’t live their religion yet still claim to believe in it. So all we can do is hope the next tragedy created by religious belief ends better for all involved than it has for helpless children in Catholic schools and orphanages, or the victims on either side of the Christian/Islam divide from 9/11 all the way back to the Crusades, or the Branch Davidians, or the Peoples Temple members in Jonestown, or the ancient villagers who saw Moses and his murderous band descending upon them.
Copyright © 2014 by Paul Clark (aka motomynd)

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  1. Thank you for your kind words. I was the one who wrote the article about Mormons. I am curious why people think we are a cult. I have heard this from time to time but it has never made sense. Mormons live amongst everyone else and do normal things. Though we have higher standards for living, we still choose to live that way. We aren't forced. One correction, if I may. Mormons are monogamous people. Only in the very early days of the church was polygamy practiced by some. You may be thinking of the FLDS church which broke off from my church when the practice of polygamy ended. If I can answer any questions, I am delighted to do so.

    1. . To give you more background about why my church ever practiced it, you can read If you would like a comparison piece about early polygamy in my church and modern-day polygamy in the FLDS church, you can read I don't know much about the FLDS church, but this is what Wikipedia says: s_Christ_of_Latter_Day_Saints.

  2. For the cult mindset, it might be helpful to visit

  3. I definitely want to comment on this later; right now I'm in the midst of a school day. I tend to be too verbose, but I'd want to contribute just one thought that your post brings to mind, Paul: modern epistemology and its involvement with pragmatism.

    For now, I can give you the words of C.S. Lewis that serve as a good placeholder for what I'd like to bring up later: "The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort..."

    1. Kyle, I will be eager to read your later comment. It comes from a Scot, and I am of Scottish ancestry, yet I struggle to fully grasp the concept of epistemology. As I struggle with the concept that people come to believe so many of the "facts" of various religions, where there often are none. "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." (Daniel Patrick Moynihan)

    2. Paul, I meant to respond to you tonight, but in the midst of writing it, I found that what I was writing was more suitable for Mandy's post from earlier in February. My "introductory statement" ended up taking me in a different direction. I think it will still be helpful in helping you understand where I am coming from in what I will dialogue with you on though. I will get back to you soon!

  4. From the feedback I received when I sent the link to your article to several of my contacts, the main reason they saw it as a "cult" seemed to be its newness. The fact that it was founded by a man with a documented history, versus the older religions with no proven basis, somehow works against Mormonism's standing as a "real" religion, in their view. For the record, that seems totally counterintuitive to me. A sidebar to that: My great-great grandfather and his family were immigrants from Scotland who settled in western New York State in the 1800s, and many of my family members reportedly knew Joseph Smith and his family. Maybe that is a subliminal reason I'm inclined to give Mormonism more instead of less credence than some of the older religions: At least I know Joseph Smith actually existed.

    About polygamy: Yes, I am aware of the difference between FLDS and LDS, and I'm also aware of the church's official position that any LDS member found to be practicing polygamy is subject to excommunication. As with the Catholic church and abusive priests, however, I'm also aware of the difference between official and tacit. I personally know very few Mormons, but of those I know about a third live a lifestyle that would quickly earn most of us a divorce, and they do so with the full knowledge of all involved. And since I know of it, I assume others in their church know of it, and no one seems to be bothered. It may be I just happen to know an unusual group of Mormons, and I may have made too much of a leap in assuming my small sample group was relevant to the larger group, but that is why I thought the church might still say one thing officially on the matter of polygamy, but act differently. Either way, their lifestyle seems to work great for them, and everyone seems much happier than in romantic triangles among those I've known who weren't Mormons. Which seems to be typical of most things Mormon: life seems to work very well for most of them, and most Mormons seem to live with a well above average level of energy and optimism. The intended point of my comment about polygamy was simply to say that if it did work well for those involved, why should those on the outside have an issue with it?