Tuesday, May 7, 2013


"But both in theory and in practice, religion uses the innocent and the defenseless for the purposes of experiment.... By all means let Abraham offer to commit suicide to prove his devotion to the Lord or his belief in the voices he was hearing in his head. By all means let devout parents deny themselves the succor of medicine when in acute pain and distress. By all means--for all I care--let a priest sworn to celibacy be a promiscuous homosexual.... But the conscription of the unprotected child for these purposes is something that even the most dedicated secularist can safely describe as a sin."
--Christopher Hitchens (author, "god Is Not Great")

Like most religions, Mormonism has some unique cultural traits. Green Jell-o, road shows and knowing someone who was saved from Ted Bundy by the Three Nephites are all common in Mormon culture. Also like other religions, there is a push within Mormonism to have children give talks in church and bear their testimonies of things which they cannot know. Few people seem to have a problem with this; that is, until they see children of another faith engaging in this practice...

This is fairly common, actually. In my home ward it occurred at least once a month during sacrament meeting (the main congregational meeting). Usually it would play out as follows: a young mother or father escorts their 2-6 year old child to the pulpit, holds them up to the mic and whispers into the ears of the child statements of fact, such as "I know the Church is true; I know Joseph Smith was a prophet; I know the Book of Mormon is true" and so on. Very often the parroting child receives praise from the both the parents and members of the congregation, despite the fact that they just lied in front of dozens of people by saying they know things to be true which they do not know, simply because their parents told them to say such things.

Now, I can appreciate the general adorableness of a 3 year old speaking into a microphone over a large crowd as much as the next cold-hearted cynic; but does no one else see the inherent problem of teaching a child through positive reinforcement to lie about their beliefs? What will happen when that child grows older and the social pressure to acquire a "genuine" testimony of the things they have been mindlessly repeating for years increases? How many Mormon teenagers have a real testimony and how many are simply lying or repeating platitudes and assertions from their childhood? How many adults are in the same position?

I can recall one instance when I gave a talk in church at about the age of 8. I was too old to be expected to just repeat the words of my parents, so I had to come up with something to actually talk about. I don't know how much my mother helped me prepare my talk, but I do know that I delivered it by myself--a fact that I was quite proud of at the time. The talk itself was about the "first" time I ever received an answer to a prayer:

My mother's side of the family gets together about every 3-5 years at a campsite out side of Fresno, California. There are two barrack-type buildings (one for the boys, and one for the girls), a kitchen, and a rec hall, all along-side a river just a couple of miles from a large lake. It has been a family tradition for 50+ years. On one side of the camp is a rather steep, rocky hill which goes up about 100 feet or so to the service road.

Well, when I was about 3 years old, my 5 year old brother and I decided to hike up that hill. As we reached a large boulder about half way up the hill, we decided that we were lost, despite the fact that we could still see the barracks. My older and wiser brother decided that we should say a prayer so that we could make it back to the camp safely. He offered the benediction. After a little exploring around the rock, and deciding that we were still lost, we continued up the hill until we reached the road. We turned left.

A little ways down the road (approximately 50 feet), we found a small convenience store (full of candy and ice cream) where one of the employees very quickly figured out that we had wandered away from the nearby camp. They escorted us to the camp down the hill, where our grateful, albeit slightly confused mother was getting out of the shower.

In my 3 year old mind, we had gone on a wild adventure and had received an answer to prayer. In reality, two young adventurous boys had wandered around the outside edge of a campsite for about 15 minutes.


An ex-Mormon expresses her feelings on indoctrinating children:

The Atheist Experience on Indoctrination (part 1):

Part 2:

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