A long post about deception...

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jmb275
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A long post about deception...

Post by jmb275 » 04 May 2009, 11:01

So I think I may have stumbled on one of the things that makes me most upset with regard to the church. I have read John Dehlin's view on this and he seems to disagree. And whenever I bring it up to anyone else they disagree, but no one will tell me why. I, for one, cannot reconcile it in my mind. I hope you all will be able to help me a bit. Let me explain.

I am a very strong proponent of openness, honesty, and transparency. When I started to learn about real church history it was all a shock for me, even though I've been a member my entire life. I started to become upset as to why I didn't know any of this information. And it's not like I have been ignorant my whole life. Thanks to words in my patriarchal blessing I have read several Joseph Smith biographies. Yet I still had no clue about the treasure seeking, polygamy, stone in hat, etc. etc. I began to see what I felt was a pattern of non-disclosure, or deception, or hiding, or not forthrightness etc. Some of my TBM friends have accused me of being paranoid and needlessly suspicious. Yet, I look around me and people all over are becoming shocked, and disaffected when they dive into real church history.

A few other scenarios that really bother me: the church doesn't disclose its financial information to us, the contributors. Why? Not only do I think it morally reprehensible to keep secret this kind of thing when it is donated in this way, but it gives the appearance of being less than honest and forthcoming. Why does God's one true church need to keep its financial information from its donors?

Also, missionary work, for me, is really the ultimate in, what I feel, is deception. We send out 19 year old guys who almost certainly know nothing about real church history. We then teach them a first discussion, bear testimony that we "know" it's true, and challenge them to read a few passages in the BoM, pray and receive a witness. We tell them that in this way they can "know" the truth of all things (which is another discussion altogether). We told them a very brief story of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the First Vision. And in actuality, that is the last stop at the church history station on the express train to basptism. We encourage them to come to church during which they will have it reaffirmed to them that the church is true, and these people "know" this in the same way - a spiritual confirmation. It's a beautiful self-fulfilling prophesy. An important question I've often asked is: in the TBMs eyes is there any other acceptable answer to the pray, spirit, truth method of determining if the church is "true"? In the second discussion we've moved to more Christian themes, and then we try to commit them to baptism.

Now, I recognize that this is the old way. They have Preach my Gospel now (which I haven't read), but from what I understand there is still no in depth discussion of church history. And the basics are the same, if just a bit less structured.

So here comes my question. If investigators, and even church members, knew the "truth" about church history - Joseph and peepstone, polygamy, black and priesthood, origins of temple ceremony etc. - would it change their mind or otherwise impact their decision? If so, then it seems to me that we are deceptive in our recruiting tactics, and in our lessons to church members. During the entire process we never encourage our investigators, or members to do the normally wise things when making important decisions, i.e. seek out third party opinions, other sources, use skeptical reasoning, etc. We hope they will come to church, pray, and receive a witness, and commit. And the "milk before meat" argument is approximately the worst argument I've ever heard in my life. That argument works for teaching addition before algebra, but it does not take some basic foundation of half-truths to prepare one for the full truth. To me, that argument is insulting to people's intelligence. In fact, this is what has led to many of us getting in our various situations here.

Any thoughts? I really want to see other points of view on this, as it is currently the main source of my anger.
I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women--all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there.
- Joseph Smith, (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304)

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asha
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Re: A long post about deception...

Post by asha » 04 May 2009, 12:20

I can't offer any useful information here except to say that I share many of your concerns jmb, and I too would like to hear the thoughts of some of the other forum members here on this subject. I have four daughters and one son who is 12 years old. He is one of the main reasons I am struggling to make the church work in my life somehow. He has very poor social skills (some of you might have heard of Aspergers syndrome, he has a very high-functioning form of it) and therefore finds it difficult to make new friends. He has very few friends at school except those who are somewhat socially awkward like him (he is basically like a brilliant little professor who gets very high marks, is obsessed with star wars and finds it hard to relate to people). The deacons at church have been so wonderful to him, they accepted him right away, and he absolutely lives for scouts on Wednesday nights... I just can't take that away from him. However, I must be honest that the thought of him going on a mission for the church one day leaves me with a pit in my stomach... mainly for the reasons that jmb has just listed. I just don't think it is worth my boy giving up two years of his life for. I know I am being hypocritical about how I want him to be involved in the church, I'll admit it... I want my cake and to not have it go on a mission too!

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Tom Haws
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Re: A long post about deception...

Post by Tom Haws » 04 May 2009, 12:50

jmb, I am not sure why people disagree with you. Deception is a serious problem, and it should be the relentless task of every moral leader to gently and incrementally root it out. Aha! An epihpany? This is the 21st century! Internet. New Discoveries. New history.

Here's the epiphany: All this new knowledge is perhaps in reality new. Perhaps not 10 people in the church in 1975 knew that Brigham Young instituted the priesthood ban in 1852. I may be wrong, but perhaps dramatic change is afoot? Perhaps our grandchildren will grow up with the real portrait of Joseph Smith on the cover of manuals instead of a vague pretty face. Perhaps they will know about polyandry.

On the other hand, there is a fundamental aspect of human nature at play here. Take the case of the Joseph Smith manual. Why, of all the manuals, does Joseph's have a fanciful face on the front instead of the Best Available Information portrait? Maybe nothing will change. Maybe we need a Prophet of mythic and heroic proportions.

I wish I could help. But all I can recommend is that we personally tell the truth even when it isn't quite as pretty as a lie. I believe in keeping my mouth shut if the truth amounts to poking a beehive (debunking as in Santa Claus). But when I have "first rights" of story telling, I believe in telling the homely and interesting and true version.
Tom (aka Justin Martyr/Justin Morning/Jacob Marley/Kupord Maizzed)
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Re: A long post about deception...

Post by trill » 04 May 2009, 14:04

I am on the edge of a much broader social movement. I suppose I feel that it is more my responsibility is more to the others on the edge than it is to those in the center. If I seek to disillusion the mainstay members of the community, then what good does that do?

I guess I don't feel that the church is being deceptive so much as choosing which parts of the story they want to polish. The rest of the story is there, and people are free to access it. If that access was barred somehow, I would be more concerned. Then again, I think that a decent argument could be made that access is barred via social mechanisms... But, that brings us back to whether other socio-religious groups we could join would really be better.

I'll try to think on this some more, and continue to follow the conversation. I agree with a lot of the concerns you've posted on, jmb. I guess I've been keeping quiet because I feel like my brain is fried and so I've temporarily turned my attention on to more immediate or emotional concerns. This could be a good topic to reawaken myself to some of the problems that originally brought me here.
"...I valued what was good... but I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I wished to behold." -Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

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hawkgrrrl
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Re: A long post about deception...

Post by hawkgrrrl » 04 May 2009, 14:09

jmb275 - I'm fairly certain John D. would not disagree that deception is harmful. I think John, Richard Bushman, and I would certainly all agree that inoculation is important so that people don't feel the rug was pulled out from under them when they see that the foundational stories are more controversial than portrayed at church. I did a post on this topic of White-Washing at Mormon Matters last year: http://mormonmatters.org/2008/06/24/white-washing/

There are different degrees of deception. Glossing over sticky points in history is probably not outright deception (implying that those who have done it knowingly created a false version of history), but is more likely white-washing, creating a simplistic, more favorable, faith-promoting version. If it is the former, it's a lie. If the latter, we're in good company with every major religion, most of whom have far thornier pasts than we do (because they've been around longer mostly). Personally, I think this happens for several reasons:
- because the purpose of religion is to edify and inspire, not to inform.
- because the leadership doesn't know the actual history, much of which is either complex (conflicting versions exist) or newly discovered. Most of the hierarchy were raised on what they were taught, and they believe in the church because of its practical value at bringing them closer to Christ, not because of the "truth" of its historical stories. Remember none of the unfavorable stuff constitutes a smoking gun that invalidates the foundational stories - it just casts doubt on some of the versions of those stories that have been put into manuals.
- even when history is discussed, it's only done to glean universal applicable themes, not to determine what actually happened.

You also raised two other questions as related to lack of transparency. I can only offer some opinions on each:

Financial Disclosure - the church complies with the legal regulations in what it discloses. There are times when I've thought it would be good to have more disclosure, but I can also think of a few good reasons not to disclose more: 1) humanitarian aid to some countries (where there is political unrest) can put the church at risk from those governments, and 2) NPOs are frequent targets of fraud - increasing disclosure increases exposure to fraud risk, which already exists due to a lay clergy, but more public disclosure would make us an easier target for external fraudsters. Are these good enough reasons? Maybe, maybe not. Just some thoughts.

Missionary Work - Church history somehow developed its role in missionary work over time. The first missionary efforts were to sell someone a BOM and then encourage them to gather with the saints. There was no mention of the FV or JS initially. The BOM either got a person excited to follow Christ and gather with the Saints or not. Is the point of religion to find the one true, authoritative church (ordinance focus) or is it to get people to have a spiritual epiphany that makes them want to be more Christlike? If the former (which is pretty much what you get a lot of at GC and from TBMs), then the program should be a "proof-based" historical review to demonstrate that we have the authority. If it's the latter, then the BOM promise seems like a good starting point - you join because you were kind of ho-hum until this message resonated with you, and now you are excited to go down this path. The real problem, IMO, is that we've applied the "excitement / epiphany" model to a "proof" approach, as if the epiphany is the proof. A spiritual experience isn't really proof of something - it's an impetus to action. I like to think that the church has practical value for many people - it makes them better spouses, parents, children, citizens, etc. Those are the people I found joined the church and had staying power. The people who wanted a proof that it was the only one were just as likely to join the JWs who had similar truth claims and arguments that people found persuasive. I think that missions provide two things of great value to the missionary:
1 - their very own hero myth with them as the hero
2 - the ability to meet diverse people in a diverse array of circumstances and to try to help them live up to their potential

So, those are a few ways I look at transparency in the church.

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Re: A long post about deception...

Post by Brian Johnston » 04 May 2009, 21:26

Religion is about myth-making. Once we enter the stage in our life where we start de-mystifying everything, it all looks sinister or ridiculous (or a combination of the two). I don't see our Church as really any different than others. The vast majority of people just live the myth. They aren't tricking people. They just aren't all that interested in tearing their lives apart to find out "real" story (which I am no longer sure there is an ultimate, absolute truth to figure out anyway). People want something simple, dependable, and they don't like uncertainty. Religion works for a LOT of people just fine as it is, and it gets passed down from one generation to the next, as each new group in the tribe re-interprets the mythology for their age.

Mormonism has changed. We all know that. It's one reason we got here to this site. Mormonism will continue to change. The old missionary work is no longer producing results, and the administrator-style leadership will be motivated to change at some point to get results. That is my personal belief. The white-washing, over-simple version is facing a lot of challenge from the open information age.
"It's strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone." -John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, speaking of experiencing life.

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jmb275
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Re: A long post about deception...

Post by jmb275 » 05 May 2009, 00:48

Thank you all for the thoughts so far, please keep them coming. A few things I wanted to point out real quick:
trill wrote:I guess I don't feel that the church is being deceptive so much as choosing which parts of the story they want to polish. The rest of the story is there, and people are free to access it. If that access was barred somehow, I would be more concerned.
I'm sorry trill, I don't want to argue but I take great issue with this. Where is the "rest of the story"? It has taken us over 150 years to get Richard Bushman's book here, and even that is not from "the church" officially. I mean I guess I could have read Brodie, but that type of book has been highly discouraged. Most of the issues aren't discussed in the Church History Institute manual. I mean apostles have said some things from time to time, in various venues (Ensign) but as you pointed out, there are definitely social barriers to getting this information. Especially in my own case, I wasn't a church historian, but I read a number of Joseph Smith biographies, and otherwise thought I knew church history pretty well. Of course I only sought out "faith-promoting" books, that's what I was conditioned to believe. As for barred access, what's the point of all the vaults we can't get into? How come Brodie had to dishonestly sneak into the archives to get information? What else is in the vaults? We don't know, because no one will tell us.

@hawkgrrrl
Well, I listened to John's personal story on the podcasts just recently. In the last one he mentions that some people claim the church is deceptive with missionary work, and history, and that he disagrees with that. That's what I was referring to, I know he would not agree that deception is okay.

You bring up some very good points. One thing I noticed though is that you say there are different types of deception (varying degrees), you then lay them out, and then seem to imply that because we're in good company and it is just "white-washing" that it makes it less terrible. I agree it is not as terrible as outright fraud, but the question is if an investigator would potentially make a different decision based on the knowledge that say, Joseph used a peepstone in a hat to translate the BoM, is that deceptive? Another way to phrase the question is, is there a goal, so important, so worthy, that it is okay to withhold information, mislead, or otherwise falsify a story for the good of that individual? To me this strikes at the very heart of Nietzsche's "pious lie," and Plato's "philosopher king" concepts.

At some level I am with you that the church does good for many people. But to me, this strikes at the heart of what Lucifer's plan was in the Mormon myth of the pre-existence. His idea was that it was okay to use coercive tactics, even to force people to choose good. The goal was just, salvation would be had by all, but the price was the very thing most valuable to us as individuals - personal freedom. Heavenly Father, on the other hand, knew that many would not return to him, many would fall by the wayside, nevertheless personal freedom was more important than salvation! If we, in the church, are using any tactics that can even remotely be considered anything other than open, and honest, then it seems to me we are hypocrites of the worst kind! To me, what I take away from this is that personal freedom transcends organizations, religions, countries, society, churches, salvation, and virtually everything else. (waxing a bit political here)

For me, the most important lesson in this life, and the most important of Mormon doctrines that I take with me is that we are on earth to learn how to become more like God (whatever that means). To me, it is the process of choosing that helps us progress on this route, not the choice itself. Current LDS efforts, IMHO, emphasize (what they consider to be) the (right) choice, and ignore the process of making the choice. Deception, to me, is any means of less than open and honest tactics to persuade someone to make a choice. A more righteous, holy method, where the individual is the thing that matters, can be applied by helping the person, amidst best of knowledge, learn to make decisions. My favorite phrase from Joseph Smith comes to mind "I teach people correct principles, and let them govern themselves."

Now let me be clear here. I don't fault missionaries. They are innocent, and they are not being coercive, or deceptive. But it seems to me that leaders could do a lot to be more open and honest in missionary work.

@Valoel
I agree with what you're getting at, and my pragmatic mind wants to accept that. I am just very sensitive to the post-modern view of religion. That is, "we can't know anything for certain, so anything is as good as anything else as long as it helps someone." This makes it seem like there is no sense of right and wrong, only utility. Joseph Campbell seems to take this view as well. I'm not sure though that I'm on board. I am not prepared to say that I know what is right and wrong for everybody, and I'm prepared to admit that there are always extenuating circumstances for any perceived "truth." But nonetheless, in our everyday lives, in our society, we have ideals to which we try to live up. Personal freedom, honesty, integrity, clean living are some of our ideals. Should we not honor them? How many TBMs would try to disclose every potential flaw in an automobile they were selling in order to be completely honest? I know I have had this great debate over this exact scenario. Yet in missionary work, we leave out information that would otherwise change people's minds.

Sorry everybody to get so anxious over this. I know I come across very strong. This is something about which I am very passionate. I live in CA and part of what sparked my journey was the Prop 8 thing. I'm sure you can guess where I stood on that issue!!
I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women--all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there.
- Joseph Smith, (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304)

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Re: A long post about deception...

Post by hawkgrrrl » 05 May 2009, 16:10

@jmb275 -
I agree it is not as terrible as outright fraud, but the question is if an investigator would potentially make a different decision based on the knowledge that say, Joseph used a peepstone in a hat to translate the BoM, is that deceptive? Another way to phrase the question is, is there a goal, so important, so worthy, that it is okay to withhold information, mislead, or otherwise falsify a story for the good of that individual? To me this strikes at the very heart of Nietzsche's "pious lie," and Plato's "philosopher king" concepts.
I guess there are two points on which we disagree (and I do agree with John on this one based on what you are saying): 1) I don't believe the church deliberately deceives anyone. They are selling what they themselves buy. That's not deception. Also, many members and leaders don't know the history as well as you might think they do or they consider it irrelevant because a testimony experience trumps historical issues. 2) There may be individuals in the church (the correlation committee comes to mind) who do feel that withholding information (or avoiding the controversy) is better for the individual. If they do so because what they are withholding is complex and difficult to understand, that's different than withholding it because a known, verified truth is damaging to the product they are selling. I believe it is the former, and not the latter reason at play. That's not being a "pious fraud," that's just being a "true believer" and on some level a "wishful thinker."

I would also add (only because it was your example) that the peepstone story is not so far off from the story that is more commonly shared about the Urim & Thummim. People seem to prefer the U&T version because of the link to the OT, but essentially, in both cases, someone is looking into a rock and getting words in their head. Both versions have eyewitness accounts. The peepstone version has been published in the Ensign. It is also fairly commonly known around church sites in NY & PA, and I heard it growing up. I don't think it would make a difference if it were presented with the U&T version in terms of conversion, but it does seem to make a difference in de-conversion to some folks who hadn't heard it before. To me, that's the real danger of white-washing. When you avoid controversy, you make the controversy bigger through suppression.

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jmb275
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Re: A long post about deception...

Post by jmb275 » 05 May 2009, 16:49

hawkgrrrl wrote:@jmb275 - I guess there are two points on which we disagree (and I do agree with John on this one based on what you are saying): 1) I don't believe the church deliberately deceives anyone. They are selling what they themselves buy. That's not deception.
That's true, I do agree that they buy what they're selling. This idea scares me though as it can lead to a very Machiavellian approach. Modern democracies (although not our current one arguably) seek desperately to avoid this. After all, that's why we don't agree with torture (at least I don't). I guess in my mind it is the means that are important, at least as important as the end. If only the end was important Lucifer's plan would have worked nicely.
hawkgrrrl wrote:Also, many members and leaders don't know the history as well as you might think they do or they consider it irrelevant because a testimony experience trumps historical issues.
This is very true, and it may be that these guys are at the top. And this is exactly what I'm complaining about.
hawkgrrrl wrote: 2) There may be individuals in the church (the correlation committee comes to mind) who do feel that withholding information (or avoiding the controversy) is better for the individual. If they do so because what they are withholding is complex and difficult to understand, that's different than withholding it because a known, verified truth is damaging to the product they are selling. I believe it is the former, and not the latter reason at play. That's not being a "pious fraud," that's just being a "true believer" and on some level a "wishful thinker."
Yes, this can be boiled down to what I was saying above. Is there a cause so noble that it is worth not being totally open in order to persuade people to do that noble thing? According to some, the answer is yes. I say no, but that is a difference of opinion. But I am concerned about your comment about information being complex and difficult to understand. It is not up to the leaders to decide what we can and cannot handle. We are adults. That makes it seem like there is some amount of spirituality I have to achieve before I can get the "good stuff."
hawkgrrrl wrote:Both versions have eyewitness accounts. The peepstone version has been published in the Ensign. It is also fairly commonly known around church sites in NY & PA, and I heard it growing up.
Yes, I imagine this could be a cultural thing. I had no idea having grown up in SLC.
hawkgrrrl wrote:To me, that's the real danger of white-washing. When you avoid controversy, you make the controversy bigger through suppression.
Absolutely!! Thanks for the thoughts. I know I sound like I'm arguing, but it helps me just to have someone with whom I can discuss it.

Another way to think about this is the following: could the church be more open and forthright? If yes, what would be the downside of being more open? The follow up might be, does the downside of being more open have higher consequences of "white-washing"? And to whom would those consequences be greater? To the church, or an individual?
I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women--all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there.
- Joseph Smith, (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304)

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Re: A long post about deception...

Post by Tom Haws » 05 May 2009, 17:55

I wrote a longer reply and lost it, but basically wanted to say, thanks, jmb, for helping us avoid cynicism. And let's all remember a lot of this information truly is new. Pres. Kimball had to sincerely ask toward 1978 for research into whether the priesthood ban originated with Joseph Smith.
Tom (aka Justin Martyr/Justin Morning/Jacob Marley/Kupord Maizzed)
Higley and Guadalupe
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Sure, any religion would do. But I'm LDS.
"There are no academic issues. Everything is emotional to somebody." Ray Degraw at www.StayLDS.com

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