Official Mormon Story of a hot, barely dressed dude (Joseph Smith History 1: 31-32) visiting him in the night and making him promise not to tell.

Official Mormon Story of a hot, barely dressed dude (Joseph Smith History 1: 31-32- naked, exquisite and glorious are used to describe this “angel” of a man) visiting him in the night and making him promise not to tell anyone. Not shady at all, why would you think that was shady??

There was an article in the Atlantic this weekend about an evangelical offshoot with a charismatic leader whose wife committed suicide, which then led into the seven identifiable elements that make a cult.

Naturally I flashed back to my Mormon upbringing. I think the most telling thing I could share is that until I seriously began looking into the church’s history on my own–using outside sources, something that is key that we’ll get into–a lot of what is actually common historical knowledge was an absolute shock to me and to my close LDS friends. Well, we knew some of it, but we “knew” it wasn’t true. Because our church did a preemptive strike to tell us we’d hear things, but that it was Satan at work at to harden our hearts to those lies.

That’s…not healthy. That is exactly how I was raised, however.


Now, with the benefit of hindsight and the lack of a huge chip on my shoulder (something all Mormons have, whether they acknowledge it or not. We are conditioned to be apologists from the start), I can see truth. Or I can at least see my way to free thought, something I didn’t have growing up. I have friends who weren’t raised to be religious who just can’t understand how I could believe the things I did. I’m a fairly intelligent person, after all.

Well, the kid who grows up with a father who knocks the hell out of him with a belt for spilling milk doesn’t know that’s not right until they get out of the house and see how other people live, do they? And yes, I just compared growing up Mormon to being abused. I don’t make that claim lightly. The highlighted sentences are some of the agreed-upon psychological elements that make up a cult. These are just a few of the seven.

Opposing critical thinking

The Book of Mormon, the “scripture” the entire religion is based on–yes, they believe in the Bible, but only in the Joseph Smith translated Bible, the one that mentions him, and no, I am not making that up–talks about some crazy stuff. There are torpedo boats with giant cork stoppers that people from the Middle East made in far East Asia and sailed to South America in. Absorb that for a moment. Let’s just talk about the cork. Quercus suber is indigenous to places like Spain, Portugal, Morocco. But those are pesky facts. Maybe those Middle Eastern folks (specifically from Jerusalem) carried the cork? From Portugal to…Far East Asia?

Anytime I questioned this–from a purely historical standpoint–or any of the anachronisms in the BoM like the presence of horses in Pre-Columbian America, my faith was brought into question, a fear tactic to shut me up. See, if you’re questioning things that you’ve been told are fact, you’re being influenced by darkness.

(But if you believe in a God, He made your brain, right? Why would He give me a brain that wants to think if I’m not supposed to use it?)

I could write an entire chapter on these things. Hey, I have! Let’s see if I can get that book published and then one day you can laugh about the Bee-Filled Corked-Torpedo boats with me.

Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture

Aside from direct missionary work (the most important aspect of the church), there is “spiritual” missionary work. This is the stuff Mormons do in the temples: baptising dead people by proxy, Endowing them, and then Marrying them to their spouse for Time and All Eternity. Now, this doesn’t mean they’re digging up bodies, it means a Mormon–like I once was–would go to the temple if found “worthy” and would be baptized by proxy for someone who had died. The Endowment ceremony is when Mormons get their funny underwear, the silky modest britches that go to the knee and over the shoulder with Masonic symbols sewn in. Marriage in the LDS church is for ever and ever, none of that weak salt “’til death do us part” pussy shit. IN IT TO WIN IT, YO.

Fun fact: some couple did all of these rituals for Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun in Jordan, Utah’s Temple in 1993, and yet another couple performed this series of ritual in LA’s Temple in 1994, just to make sure it really stuck. What the hell is up with Mormons wanting those names on the roster? Like, is that a huge “get?” (The Official Church Stance is that they cannot control the names members bring to the temple. Okay.) I swear, Anne Frank has been posthumously baptized Mormon. And Simon Wisenthal. No, that’s not enraging, why would you say that??

The temple work, polygamy, how the organization of the church is set up, the Word of Wisdom (why Mormons can’t drink tea, coffee, or booze, smoke, or be shiftless layabouts), and the entire concept of Eternal Progression–a core tenant to the church that leads from spirits before you’re born to becoming an actual God with your own planet/world one day–NONE of this is in the BoM. In fact, the BoM condemns polygamy. Flat out says that’s a sin and a huge no no. Huh. This is interesting because the church has stated since Day One that the BoM is “the most correct book on earth.”

I would also like to drop in the tidbit that there have been over 3000 corrections made to the BoM over the past 150 years. Just… just for fun, I want to mention that.

Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders

How dare I look into Joseph Smith’s past. He was a man, okay? He was imperfect. He made mistakes. Ye who is without sin, yadda yadda. Yeah, but… the guy preached that we shouldn’t drink alcohol but he had a BAR in his house. A bar! With a beer tap! The BoM specifically condemns polygamy, but he had, at a low-ball estimate, thirty-two women sealed in “spiritual marriage” to him. Official (sealed) documents have that well over a hundred. And some men were sealed to him, too, hey hey! I dare you to argue that point with me, it is in the church’s history. A fact they never want to talk about.

For crying out loud, the man had canonized into scripture his death threats (spiritual death threats, but for Mormons, that’s the same thing) to his wife if she didn’t let him sleep around. (D&C 132, 51-56, with the special addendum that she was not allowed to sleep around. Just him.) That is actual-fact scripture in the church. I sat in a Sunday school class and learned this, and wrote in my own scriptures: “Gosh, the wives of prophets have lots expected of them.” Like all, “Come on, Emma. The man has been called of God to do this!” I was… naive. I was also taught to revere Joseph Smith above all other men. He was Jesus’ equal. Well, just sliiiightly behind Jesus. (But not really.)

None of that–the spiritual death, polygamy, temple rites–is in the Book of Mormon. Not one bit of it. This is all off-the-cuff stuff that happened over a period of a decade and change in church meetings, things that were added to the list of beliefs long after the BoM had been in print. But remember: the BoM is the most correct book on earth. I mean, why am I even questioning anything, right?

I stood on the place where Joseph Smith died, crying at the injustice of this good man being murdered in cold blood. Except that’s not true, not at all. He was attacked by a mob for a multitude of reasons, and the biggest one was that he, a thirty-eight year old man, had been sleeping with young women, some of the unripe age of fourteen. Oh, and threatening eternal damnation to their fathers if the girls weren’t given to him. NO, REALLY.

Not to mention the seriously anti-American crime of destroying a printing press a few years earlier, sedition and treason against the state of Missouri (he started a WAR with them for crying out loud), and had a rap sheet as long as your arm for all kinds of chicanery back before he became a “prophet.”

I knew none of that. Because I didn’t have that information available to me, and to seek it out was traitorous. To go looking into potential flaws of our prophet? Why, Laura? What darkness is in your heart to make you not love your prophet? Well, that sort of thing terrified me, so I stopped looking for a long time. Until the round pegs just refused to fit into those square holes for me, I just stopped looking, too afraid of the consequences to my eternal soul. Those consequences were as tangible to me as physical death.

That’s… not healthy. Also, basic reasoning should have told me that if he had nothing to hide, what was the harm in looking? Ah, but this was a tangled web I was trapped in, woven around me from birth. You don’t know your dad bringing out the belt for spilled milk is wrong until you get out of your house and see how the majority of families don’t behave that way. And when you’re not really allowed out of the house, how do you learn?

And the best thing (by which I mean the worst) is that the Church has set up websites all over the place that sound reasonable, sound like they’re doing critical thinking about these “hard issues” but are meticulously crafted by the church to bring the topic around to “and these allegations are false. Hooray!” See: Fair Mormon–although, if you look at the tag line, it’s pretty clear you’re not going to end up with a fair and balanced answer: “Critical questions, Faithful answers.” FARMS [Foundation For Ancient Research and Mormon Studies] is my favorite, because they spend their time telling you wheels are square, you just think they’re round. They’ve recently changed their name and are under the Neal A. Maxwell Institute umbrella, which means it’s essentially owned by BYU (aka The Church) now.

This is basically a circle of people who all believe the same thing pretending that they’re critically questioning a topic when they all know they’re going to say the same thing in agreement in the end. Which is precisely how academia works, right? Cough.

Separation from the Church

If you break any of the rules, depending on the severity and your level of repentance, you can be excommunicated from the church, which also means your family. You pray multiple times with your family, you go to the temple as a family, you go to church activities as a family. If you’ve been excommunicated, you cannot participate. This may not seem like a hardship for some of us with wackadoo families, but when it’s all you’ve ever known, when it is your social circle (as it is for many Mormon families), it’s like you’ve been dropped off in the desert.

Fun fact: the FLDS church (the publicly polygamous sect) takes young men whom they’ve deemed “unworthy” (read: young ladies are noticing them and not the elderly male leaders they’ll eventually be forced to marry), they excommunicate them and toss them out in the literal desert. Watch the documentary “Lost Boys” and have your heart broken.

Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving

I was without question taught that I should be with other Mormons. Ask anyone who isn’t a Mormon who moves to Utah how they felt, and they’ll all tell you they felt like an outsider. Especially if they don’t convert, because at first, you’ll be greeted with kindness and open arms. You reject that, and it’s outright hostility. Your kids won’t be playing with the Mormon kids on the block when they’re little, they won’t be in their same Boy Scout troop (Mormons have their own troops), they won’t go to the same teen dances and activities.

There are rare exceptions; there always are. LDS kids who want to rebel or try really hard to convert the others. (That last one was me.) But we were taught from the pulpit to do business with other Mormons, to associate with other Mormons, to allow our children only to be with other Mormons. We were encouraged to read Mormon literature, Mormon magazines, watch Mormon movies and listen to Mormon music. We dressed similarly, we all had similar values, we all moved in lockstep together. Ex-Mormons call this stuff being a Mor-bot.

My dad has been punished by his children leaving the church. This isn’t uncommon. He won’t be given any higher “callings” in the church, won’t progress spiritually in their ledgers until he brings his family to heel. My best friend’s brother wasn’t allowed to receive the priesthood until she came back to the church, even though her brother was a wonderful and dedicated young man to the church at the time.

You either get the herd under control, or you cull it. You cut off that bad member of your family, and do so with a “sad and contrite spirit,” hoping that your god can take it from there. It is a public acknowledgement that is required in order for you to move up the spiritual ladder. Otherwise, you’re in as much limbo as your wandering sheep.

Leaving the church was like being kicked out of a family celebration and the locks changed. So much of your life as a Mormon revolves around church activities, and when you cannot participate in them, you just… get left out. When all of your friends and business associates and neighbors are also Mormon, well, you can imagine the isolation.

It takes time to heal, it takes time not to feel angry and bitter (and I don’t! Truly!), it takes time to unlearn the knee-jerk instinct to apologize for Mormons when you hear something incorrect or unflattering. It takes time to learn how to think for yourself because you’ve never had to before.

But you do. And it’s freaking glorious. Who knew truth could set you free? Oh, everyone else? Fine. You’ll have to forgive me for not knowing: I was raised Mormon. 🙂

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