May 11, 2010


Early on in my LDS experience I noticed an intricate, albeit subtle, pattern in the Church's methods of conversion and retention. It may be one of the simplest methods in principle, yet also one of the most invasive. The method to which I refer is often called "doublespeak." It is language characterized by deliberate attempts to mislead or distort reality (more). The reader may be surprised to learn that doublespeak is used daily, in almost every setting imaginable (Chomsky has addressed it as well). However, for the purposes of this blog, this post will focus on the LDS church's use of doublespeak in its attempts to convert, retain, and control. The following are a few main examples:
  • "Knowledge" in place of "Belief"/"Hope"/even "Want." Consider the statement, "I know the Church is true." As I have addressed before, no one really knows if the Church's doctrines are accurate. Every single time a general authority, bishop, nursery leader, or seminary teacher says, "I know it's true," he or she is using doublespeak. The accurate statement would be "I believe it's true," "I hope it's true," or even "I want it to be true." In reality, when LDS use "knowledge," they refer to anything short of knowledge. The Church practice propagates the distortion of reality with the misuse of the word.
  • "Volunteer" in place of "Submit." The most obvious example of this form of doublespeak is in the Church's claim that full-time missionary work is voluntary. In reality, male members are all but forced to go (see some interviews here; a talk by Hinckley). While no one holds a gun to a young man's head, and many are excited at the chance to go, to call it "voluntary" ignores the negative consequences one may suffer by not going. One fears he will never be desirable to young LDS women, will suffer humiliation, will be socially ostracized, members will question what horrible things he must have done to not have "volunteered." Although the word may apply to some young men and women, it is neither fair nor accurate to apply it to all missionaries.
  • "Truth" in place of "Church's teachings." Similar to "knowledge," when leaders speak of "the truth," they usually refer simply to the doctrine taught by the LDS church (example). Of course, if they were to refer to it accurately, it would not have the powerful but deceptive emotional impact on those who hear. Contrast the statement, "If you follow these truths, you will know they are of God," with "If you follow the Church's teachings, you will come to believe they are of God." The latter statement corresponds with reality more than the former, but if one's goal is to create an anchor based on emotion, the first statement is the better choice.
  • "Donations" in place of "Membership fees." Again, while no one holds a gun to members' heads, Church doctrine and policy contain several threats against its members should they fail to pay the required funds. For example, members who pay tithing are guaranteed not to be burned at the last day (D&C 64:23). Of course, the other side of this is that not "donating" carries the threat of being burned alive. Additionally, if one cannot or will not pay the full 10% of his or her income, that person cannot have full membership (i.e., hold a temple recommend). Thus, tithing is absolutely required to be a full member of the LDS church. To require a donation is contradictory at its essence, and thus another use of doublespeak to mislead and distort reality. Members believe they are willingly writing their checks, when they are actually just paying their dues so that they may attend sealings, be involved in ward temple day, etc (examples and discussion).
  • "Faith" in place of "Gullibility"/"Ignorance"/"Vulnerability"/"Rejecting Conscience." Although not misused every time, the word "faith" is often wrongfully applied. Whenever I have spoken to members about my concerns with Church history and doctrine, they inevitably say that they take it on "faith" that these disturbing things have explanations that they are incapable of knowing now. In other words, they are leaving themselves endlessly vulnerable to the deceptions of men (Eph. 4:14) by not paying attention to the warning signs. When one has natural moral objections to the actions of Joseph Smith, but rejects his or her conscience to overcome the cognitive or spiritual dissonance, one becomes the definition of gullible, ignorant, and vulnerable (more discussion). The Church suggests that if one objects to something horrible that Smith did, the task is to become more vulnerable and reject the objections (i.e., have more faith), rather than for the leaders to give an explanation. While faith should refer to the hope and belief in something we cannot know, I argue that it should not discount what we can and do know. Yet that is precisely how the Church uses it.
  • "Service" in place of "Required labor." Again, "service" is required in the Church. To not accept a "calling" is to reject the will of God (source). No one holds a gun to members' heads, but would one dare to question the being who grants him or her breath (Isaiah 42:5)? Thus, to call it "service" is another distortion of reality.
  • "The Holy Ghost" in place of "A good feeling." The majority of missionary work is accomplished by attributing good feelings to a supernatural being called "the Holy Ghost" (source). If one feels good about joining the LDS church, that feeling is called a manifestation of this supernatural being. If one has similar feelings about selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon, then it is from another supernatural being called "Satan" (source). If one has a similar feeling about chocolate ice cream, then it is just a good feeling. In other words, the Church calls a good feeling by several other terms according to how it serves the purposes of its alleged divinity. The feeling is what it is, but the Church uses doublespeak to present it as whatever else it likes.
  • "Satan" in place of "Bad luck"/"Second thoughts"/"Reason." When I began to logically sort out my concerns, I was told by members that "Satan" had a hold on me. Satan was apparently working very hard to help me in the process of finding reasonable answers to my questions. Members often speak of how hard "Satan" works just before someone gets baptized. In reality, the potential convert is having natural concerns (i.e., "second thoughts") about making a life commitment to an organization about which he or she knows relatively little. But missionaries call those reasonable concerns the work of Satan.
These are just a few small examples of terminology the LDS church uses to distort reality. When one begins to uncover this elaborate code, the illusion can begin to fade. These things and more can be seen for what they are. The seeker of real, unadulterated truth will see reality without the lenses and filters of deceptive language. The shaky frame of dogma will collapse, to reveal the potential for real growth.