December 27, 2009

Pigs Among Men

Orwell, one of my favorite writers, spent his life examining and exposing the methods used by those in power to manipulate, use, and control others. He concentrated on tyrannical governments, but these same principles apply to many religious practices. In his classic work Animal Farm, he creates a microcosm of this power struggle on a small farm. The animals run the farmer off the land, and establish a government of their own. The pigs assume the position of leadership, making promises that the animals' lives have changed and that a new era has begun. At the end of the story, however, the rest of the animals are repulsed to find the pigs have become the very thing they claimed to abhor; they had turned out to be no different from the farmers. The final line of the book explains, as the animals peered through the farmhouse window to see the pigs sitting with men,
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. (read entire book here)
The phenomenon of the revolutionaries repeating the behavior of those they fought against was certainly present in the LDS church as well. For example, Joseph Smith preached against adultery and other lustful acts (e.g., Jacob 2). He founded his church promising purity and chastity to those who would follow him. Of course, once he had established his power, he became the very thing he preached against; he took a large number of wives, often from their first husbands, several of them teenagers (source). He and his early elite became the adulterers they professed to condemn (those who disagree are first directed to this post, then feel free to respond).

Another common theme throughout Orwell's writings is that the leaders allow themselves special privileges that are strictly forbidden to the followers. For example, in 1984 (full text here), the high members of the Party have control over the devices monitoring their movements and speech, may have quality chocolate and other such comforts not permitted to the rest of the society. The elite members of the Party may make exceptions to their own rules as they see fit. They are somehow above their own laws: requiring the followers to practice restraint, but not themselves.

This is also true of Joseph Smith, Jr.; his own conditions for the practice of polygamy were that (a) it be only for the purpose of producing children (Jacob 2:30), (b) plural wives must be virgins (D&C 132:61), (c) the plural wives may not belong to another man (also D&C 132:61), and (d) the first wife must give her consent (also D&C 132:61).

Smith followed not one of these conditions: (a) he produced, at most, 3 children from extramonogamous marriages (Compton, 2001; Embry, 2007); (b) he married at least 15 women who were not virgins; (c) at least 11 of whom belonged to their living husbands (Compton, 2001); and (d) Emma did not give consent until 1843 - years and wives after Smith started the practice (Brodie, 1945; Embry, 2007). Thus, Smith felt that he was somehow above the conditions of polygamy he set forth. Somehow his rules did not apply to himself. So we see that the LDS church is no exception to the corruption that comes with power.

Thus, while Orwell demonstrated how pigs, when given ultimate power, become the men they despise, Smith showed us how men, when given ultimate power, become the pigs they despise.

Brodie, F. M. (1945). No man knows my history: The life of Joseph Smith. New York: Vintage Books.

Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

Embry, J. L. (2007). Setting the record straight: Mormons and polygamy. Orem, UT: Millennial Press, Inc.

December 20, 2009

The Message

In the Orwellian-themed fictional world of Equilibrium, a new doctrine has been introduced in an attempt to rid the world of hatred and injustice. The hero of the film eventually concludes that the doctrine is contradictory in nature, and that the very thing the doctrine is meant to fight is actually what it perpetuates. He brings these concerns to his superior, who tells him "It is not the message that is important, but our obedience to it."

I have found this to be a similar response in the LDS church. Discussion of things in Preach My Gospel and other Church-approved manuals is fine, but anything beyond should be left unexplored. At that point, we must stop concerning ourselves with the message/doctrine/practices of the Church and instead concern ourselves with obedience. Consider the following selections from a talk by Robert C. Oaks:
For us, to 'believe all things' means to believe the doctrine of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the words of the Latter-day prophets. It means to successfully erase our doubts and reservations. It means that in making spiritual commitments, we are prepared to hold nothing back. It means we are ready to consecrate our lives to the work of the kingdom... If we have spent any time considering the nature of faith, we must realize that 'believing all things' is the equivalent of full faith, not full knowledge... At some point in our quest for perfection and eternal life, we may come to have perfect faith and eventually perfect knowledge. But between now and then, there will certainly arise intriguing questions with answers reaching beyond our capacity to comprehend. Such questions can drive the prideful person to conclusions such as 'Given the constraints of Christian doctrine, there is no possible answer to this question; therefore, a thinking person cannot be a Christian.' Such pride and arrogance must greatly offend the heavens... One day there will be answers to all our questions, and they will be based on divine fairness and love... Let us believe all things. Let us have unquestioning faith in all of the doctrines and truths of the restored gospel.
In other words, if the message of the Church seems contradictory, problematic, incomplete, or just plain wrong, that is where we "prideful" people (who believe that the truth should make sense) need to give up our desire for a clear message, and clutch onto obedience to the message. At that point, the Church desists stressing its message and instead stresses obedience thereto. Again, "It is not the message that is important, but our obedience to it."

This is a classic step in destroying clarity of thinking. Adolf Hitler, for example, made his officers and soldiers swear obedience to him - not to the laws or to the German constitution (source). That is, whatever message Hitler gave was irrelevant. It was the obedience that mattered (Please do not misunderstand the comparison; members of the Church are not Nazis! The principles used to control their thoughts and behavior are the similarity). One of the most basic steps of a force that wishes to have ultimate power over others is to indoctrinate its followers with "Don't think about it too much: just obey it."

I'm sure that's why so many of the believers who attempt to contend with me fail to address any of the concerns I've raised, and instead concentrate on the simple fact that I have deviated from the path beaten in front of me. For some of us, the message matters. And I will not, cannot, abandon my deepest values for the sake of obedience to a flawed message.

December 13, 2009

Wizards and Men

Near the end of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions are shocked to discover that the person they had revered and admired as the "all powerful" wizard was nothing more than a mere man, hiding behind a curtain, pushing buttons and turning dials that put on the appearance of superhuman abilities. He was just a simple man from Omaha who had gotten lost in the land of Oz, and was hailed as a mighty wizard by its inhabitants as they witnessed things they did not understand. The man proceeded to live out his role as a leader, slowly building up new ways to impress and awe his followers until he had perfected the deception. By the time Dorothy and the others had arrived to call on him, his reputation preceded him; everyone knew he was a wizard, because he had all the deception in place, structurally and socially.

While he may have brought order to the Land of Oz, and perhaps his reputation kept the wicked witches at bay, he was a fraud, in far over his head, and eventually was discovered.

I often wonder if this simple man from Omaha was in a position similar to that of the so-called modern day prophets. I doubt he had a malicious and power-hungry motive in taking the seat of power that was set in front of him. More likely, he did what everyone expected of him, and fit the role that he felt was needed. Similarly, I find it noteworthy to read some of the things past presidents and apostles of the church have stated regarding their personal experiences which separate them from other members (click here).

It seems to me that the leaders of the Church today are not that different from the little man from Omaha, putting on the show that the followers expect, pushing buttons and turning dials that keep up the deception that they have superhuman abilities. Whether the man is hiding behind a curtain, or claiming to see beyond the "veil", the principle is very much the same. And just like the trusting people of Oz, believing members of the LDS church trust that Thomas Monson is exactly what he is built up to be, paying no attention to the mysterious curtain (i.e., problematic history) that would expose him as a mere man.