January 27, 2010

Coerced Faith

Probably the most fundamental problem I have with organized religions in general is their basic premise. Many of the religions with which I am familiar carry the underlying message of "If you do not accept and follow what I say, without any shred of evidence, then you will be punished." Sometimes the preachers carry out the punishment here in life (take a look at radical Islam), and sometimes the punishment lingers until the afterlife (see pp. 52-53 of Preach My Gospel). Of course, the LDS church veils this threat as an "invitation to obtain salvation" but the result is the same. You must believe without any compelling reason other than because you were told so (e.g., D&C 46:9).

By the way, anybody else who tells you to accept what they preach without a shred of evidence or you will be punished is a liar, has been deceived, or is working for the devil (Matt. 24:4-5, 11). But not the LDS church. No, they're the one and only sincere threat.

Why is it that some people find favor in the sources of threats? Why is it that some people remain attracted to the very source of punishment? A similar phenomenon occurs with victims of domestic abuse. Compare some of these reasons the abused stays with the abuser with why believers may stay with the threatening source of eternal damnation. Week after week believers are told they are not yet good enough; that their wants and desires are sinful; that they must remain loyal no matter the odds; that they will only suffer if they attempt to leave; that they are bad if they question the doctrine or those in authority. For the same reasons that a bright woman may stay with an abusive spouse, believers are similarly molded to "want" to stay with the threatening Church.

In contrast, the message I get from science, reason, logic, and common sense is "Here's all the evidence I can possibly find. Here's what I conclude, but sort it out for yourself too, correct me if I'm wrong. If you don't believe it, no problem; you'll be just fine."

Which message sounds more honest?

January 14, 2010

Effort Justification

Social psychologists have studied a theory called “cognitive dissonance” for decades. One of the more interesting facets of this theory is a phenomenon they have come to call “effort justification.” In brief, the theory states that people tend to like things more as the cost to them increases (see study). For example, the theory essentially states that if you were to fill up a theater with 100 people who came to see a sneak peek of some movie, and were to randomly charge some $50 and allow some in for free, that the people who paid the most would enjoy it significantly more than the people who got in for free. Or if you charged them all the same amount, the people who drove the farthest to get to the theater would like the movie more than those who came from a few minutes away.

The explanation is that we keep the effort and cost in our minds and build up what we experience in order for our efforts to be worth the cost. We say subconsciously, “Well of course I love what I’m doing. I wouldn’t have paid all that money and made all that effort if I wasn’t going to love the consequences!”

While the theory applies to dozens of areas of everyday life, I have noticed it also applies to the LDS church as well. If one considers all the effort being a member of the Church requires, one can see why, according to effort justification, the believers are so terrified to think they might be wrong about the Church.

  • Think of the countless hours given to the Church, in callings, preparation for callings, talks, attendance of several meetings per week, beginning seminary at 5:45am (as I did for 3.5 years), cleaning the building, sometimes driving for hours to attend the temples, etc.
  • Consider the thousands of dollars in tithing money the Church requires to be “donated” from average members.
  • Remember the two years of 60+ hours weekly spent being rejected in the name of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, Jr. while being denied phone calls to family, relationships with the opposite sex, television, casual dress, a decent haircut, etc., and also paying for the experience out of own and family’s own pockets.

After all of this, it is only natural that members of the Church would insist that they do not want to know if it is a lie. One of the greatest ways to create a testimony of the Church is to instill the deepest fear of learning that it is a fraud. After all of the cost to be a believer, members insist to themselves (and others) that they do it all because they know they are right. In reality, these are all just another reason to want so badly to believe. The alternative is that all of that time, money, and heartache were for much less than eternal salvation. And they say to themselves, "I wouldn't pay it if I wasn't absolutely sure."

And so, it appears that the crippling fear of having wasted time, money, and effort is often the foundation for loving a bad movie, or having an unquestioning testimony in the LDS faith.

January 8, 2010

Revolving Intolerance

I think it's interesting to look back over the history of humankind in terms of hatred and intolerance, especially over things such as race and religion. There seems to be a recurring pattern in human beings where we oppress others who are different from us. What I find most interesting is how many of the groups who are victims of the oppression eventually end up becoming the oppressors, and very often for the same reasons.

For example, the historian Tacitus reported that Romans were intensely cruel to early Christians. Many were crucified, fed to wild animals, and killed in other horrible ways for the simple fact that they were Christians. Yet Christians killed people in similarly horrible ways, believing they were witches.

The Hebrews believe they were enslaved by Egypt for centuries, yet many Jews were involved in trading slaves (source).

I bet if one were to look at any race or religion in history, one could find a time when that race or religion was hated and oppressed by some other group. What's more, I bet one could find a time when that same group became the oppressor to another group different than they.

Similarly, the early LDS suffered great hardships as a consequence of following their beliefs. They were forced to leave county after county, were robbed, tarred and feathered, and even killed for no reason other than being LDS. Those who stuck to their convictions regardless of the consequences are admired and revered in LDS culture. And yet, if a person sticks to his convictions, and they are somehow in conflict with the LDS faith, he is quickly attacked, hated, shunned, and often oppressed.

Why is it that people are so bad at remembering when they were on the receiving end? They gasp in horror at the stories of Joseph Smith, Jr. being chastized for reporting visions, and the early LDS being driven out of their homes. Yet these same people harshly attacked and some ostracized me when I announced that I was following my conscience. We all want to be allowed to follow conscience: to walk to the beat of the drummer we hear.

LDS know the horrors of being oppressed for belonging to something they felt they could not deny, yet the LDS sure were intolerant of anyone with Black skin, even when they shared the exact same religious beliefs! Once again, the oppressed became the oppressors.

Even more recently, the Church retains a disdain for homosexuality (here is one example, here is a response). I was told by a stake president a few months ago that he was "born a believer." I don't think he could stop believing in the LDS church if he tried. Yet he expects a person who is born with same-sex attraction to give up what is at his or her core. He would be furious if I told him he had a flaw that needed to be fixed. Yet he expects that individuals who feel they were born homosexual must deny it, or be fixed.

Why does this double standard persist throughout history? Our own predecessors knew exactly how wrong and horrible it was to oppress others for reasons such as skin color and religious beliefs - because they were on the receiving end! Why then do we, who have finally been accepted for who we are and what we believe, still not accept others for who they are and what they believe?

January 5, 2010


A thought occurred to me in the library the other day; does God make progress? Does He evolve, so to say? Does He adapt to His environment? The LDS church teaches that progress is an eternal principle, so does it apply to God?

The LDS scriptures appear to be contradictory in answering this question. They state in dozens of places that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (e. g., Mormon 9:9; D&C 20:12, 17; 2 Nephi 27:23; Alma 31:17; etc.), and that He does not change (e. g., Mormon 9:10, 19; Moroni 8:18; etc.).

And yet, the evidence presented in the scriptures suggests otherwise: that God has softened a great deal, and changed His mind about several key doctrines:
  • For example, He apparently has lost His taste for blood over the centuries (see Exodus 32:27-28; Ezekiel 9; Ezekiel 26; Amos 9:1-10; etc. compared with Matt. 5:39, 44).
  • He also seems to have really come to look upon women with more appreciation (1 Cor. 11:3, 9; 14:34; Numbers 5:30-31; 1 Timothy 2:11; compare to Luke 7; John 8; this article; contrast with complaints in this blog; note that women were not permitted to speak at general conference until 1988; etc.). Oh, but then really changed His mind about other things regarding women.
  • No one can argue that He has significantly changed His mind about skin color and righteousness (compare these statements with this and this).
  • He's become less direct in His communication (compare Moses 7:4 with "impressions come... I think...").
Of course, I could go on and on. My point is that, when one really looks at it, it appears that either God progresses at about the same rate as the rest of society, or that maybe He wasn't in charge of the policies of the LDS church in the first place.