This article is excerpted from a letter I wrote to a member of my Mormon family, after he accused me of lack of "integrity" because I maintain my website critical of Mormonism. He challenged me, promising that he would leave the church if I could show "one thing" about Mormonism that did not tend to make him a "better person." This was my answer to that challenge.You accuse me of not having integrity, accusing me (and the Tanners) of lies and misstatements. And yet you make that accusation of falsity without ever having read anything I have written (or that the Tanners have written). You might consider whether such an attitude (judging without reading, accusing without hearing) is an indication of your own integrity.
And that is the first thing with which I will respond to your challenge. You challenged me to show you "one thing that the LDS church asks me to do that isn't geared toward making me a better person..." "...find something wrong with the temporal side..." Even though you covenanted to "leave" the church if I could meet your challenge, I am not asking you to do that. All I am asking you to do is to realize that your church does not make the best person out of you that you could be. Here is the first item of evidence: It leads you to condemn me without hearing my defense. It leads you to reject something without even reading it. That seems to me to be a grave wrong.
And that is not all. You asked for only one thing. There is a long list:
Your church asks you to accept the advice and teaching of one man as God's word, and to follow it without question. That does not make you a better person, but rather makes you into a robot, a blind follower of someone else. It exposes you to charlatanry. It robs you of your ability to think for yourself. It makes you gullible. Mormons are so gullible that Utah is known among law enforcement agencies as the "scam capital" of the nation.
Your church teaches you that if you doubt or are skeptical about whatever it tells you, you are being sinful and subjecting yourself to the power of Satan. That seems to me to be the road to intellectual and moral ignorance. It is the doubters and the skeptics who have led us forward, not the conformists and the yea-sayers. Such a teaching is not the teaching of an honest organization, but it is the teaching of a cult which fears exposure.
Your church teaches you also to raise your children to be the same obedient, unquestioning followers of the prophet, and that to doubt or to ask the wrong questions is a sin.
Your church teaches you to raise your children to believe that if they have sexual thoughts, or explore their own bodies for pleasure, they are sinful and unworthy. It says you should teach them that if they are not baptized, God will punish them for their sins. It says you should teach your daughters that they have lost their chastity forever if they are the victims of rape, and that they would be better off dead (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 196). It says you should teach your sons that they must never masturbate, and if they do, they are unworthy to serve a mission or to advance in the priesthood. It says you should teach your daughters that their goal in life should be to marry a Mormon man in the temple and have children, whether that is something they want to do or not.
Your church teaches you that you Mormons are the "elect," the "chosen people," and that you are so fortunate to be Mormons because you were more valiant in a pre-existent life. Thus it teaches you arrogance and bigotry.
It teaches you to look down on people with dark skins, because a dark skin is God's mark of unrighteousness (yes, I know that blacks can now hold the priesthood, since 1978, but the Book of Mormon still contains this doctrine - look up "skin", "black," "dark," and "white" in your Book of Mormon index).
It teaches you to suppress your common sense and your reasoning ability, so that contradictions, lies, and absurdities in its doctrines and teachings become "mysteries" or "unanswerable questions, unnecessary for our salvation."
It teaches you that it is more important for you to give ten percent of your income to the church (which is rolling in wealth) than to spend it on yourself or your family, even though you may be in debt or even unable to provide the necessities of life (see Hinckley's sermon to the starving African Mormons, telling them that they could get themselves out of poverty if they gave ten percent of their income to the church).
Shall I go on? Shall I continue to list the teachings of your church which prevent its members from fulfilling their potential, and causing many of them harm?
Of course many Mormons are happy. I agree with you wholeheartedly that there are some - maybe many - people who have been helped and whose lives have improved by becoming Mormon. They are happy as Mormons. Some of our own family are much better off emotionally as Mormons than they would be if they were to leave the church. For them to conclude that Mormonism is not what it claims to be would be a disaster. It would upset their lives. I would not wish that for them, or for anyone who is happy in Mormonism. Some people need it, just as some people need certain medications in order to lead normal lives (e.g. diabetics or heart patients). Perhaps you are in that group.
But if Mormonism were a drug, subject to regulation by the FDA, it would be banned. Any drug used by ten million people, which has serious psychological side effects in a large percentage of users, causing depression, obesity, feelings of guilt and despair, and which has been a major factor in many deaths - usually by suicide - would be banned. Why is Utah's teen-age suicide rate the highest in the nation? Why is the use of anti-depressant medication in Utah among the highest in the nation? (See the article "Mormon Women, Prozac, and Therapy" by a Mormon Ph.D.)
Yes, it is certainly a fact that Mormonism has been the means by which many people's lives have been helped and enriched. However, the same could be said for almost any organized belief system such as Scientology, the Moonies, the JWs, the Christian Scientists, the Buddhists, Eckankar, etc. But, like all of those belief systems and life-managing patterns, there is a heavy and devastating price to pay for many other people. (And one can also enrich one's life by simply getting a good secular (non-religious) education.)
But I call that argument (Mormonism does a lot of good) the "Hitler's Autobahn" argument, or the "Mussolini made the trains run on time!" argument. When I lived in Germany in the '60s, I occasionally heard old Germans say, "Well, Hitler made a lot of mistakes, but he pulled us out of the Depression, he made jobs for the unemployed, he got rid of the petty crooks, he built the Autobahns, he promoted family values, he did a lot of good! ....."
I am certainly not saying that Mormon leaders are comparable to Hitler, or that Mormonism is comparable to National Socialism. But one cannot praise the good and overlook or forgive the evil. I read the stories of the people who are leaving the church, who write to me, sometimes a dozen in a week. There are days I sit looking at the computer screen, reading what some of these people have suffered and endured at the hands of the Mormons, and I can hardly see the screen for the tears. When I first got involved, a few years ago, I didn't have any special anger or bitterness toward the church or its leaders; sure, they had messed me up many years ago, but I had recovered. I saw the church and its claims as an intellectual problem, and I assumed that others did, too. I didn't know any other exmormons. I had no idea of the emotional devastation that Mormonism can cause in the lives of good people who are simply wanting to find the truth and obey God. In those years since, I have come to the realization that - in spite of whatever good it may do - Mormonism is, on balance, evil.
Mormons will say, of course, that naturally those people say bad things about the church, to excuse their "real" reason for leaving: sin, or something - "one cannot expect to hear anything good about the church from its critics." I think of them not as critics of the church, but rather its victims. Until the internet, they were isolated, alone, and generally silent. Probably you - and the average tithe-paying Mormons - are even unaware of their existence and of what the church did to their lives. But then, the average patriotic German was unaware of the gas chambers, too.
And there is another answer to your challenge: your church tells you that anybody who leaves the church does so only because they are weak, they cannot keep the commandments, they want to be free to sin, they are offended by some minor slight by some Mormon. That is a lie (one of many which your church tells you). In other words, your church teaches you not to be compassionate and understanding to those who have suffered at its hands, but to condemn them out-of-hand, without even hearing their side.
You do not need the Mormon church, or any church, to make you a better person. How ironic - the church actually holds you back from becoming the person you might be. Because you can do better.
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© 2001 Richard Packham Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included
TO RICHARD PACKHAM'S HOME PAGE
"Someone remarked to me that even though Mormonism was not true, that it probably helped me to be a better mother. Actually, it didn't. I tried to mold my son into an impossible ideal. He wasn't good enough for me the way he was. He needed to be better for me so that I wouldn't feel guilty about not being a good mother. No, I didn't become a better mother."
- a former Mormon mother