Monday, May 11, 2015


"The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted."
--Christopher Hitchens, god is Not Great

Few things seem to offer as much comedic fodder as religion. Brian Dawson, a Mormon Sunday School teacher (until recently, that is...), in an attempt to answer a difficult question asked by one of his students, found himself in ecclesiastical hot water after he taught a group of Mormon teens facts about the church discriminating against black members--an area of history the church has long minimized.

This sort of thing has happened before. Several instructors from the church's education system (if you can call it that) have been reprimanded, and in a few cases left the church entirely, due to issues brought on by teaching people less flattering facts about the church. High profile cases, such as the famed "September Six" of the 90s (six historians were kicked out of the church for exposing historical documents confirming Mormonism's polygamist past), and the more recent excommunication of the founder of the podcast "Mormon Stories," John Dehlin, have received national attention.

What makes this particular instance ironic and even funny is that the teacher used sources provided by the church itself. That's right. He was reprimanded by church leaders for using church sources to talk about church history. You can't make up this crap.

The Mormon Church has been spinning the truth about their history since it first had a history. Before Mormonism became a recognized religion, Joseph Smith laced his life with controversy.

Most people nowadays are aware of Joseph's polygamist relationships, for instance. But many people do not know about the truly messed up tactics he used to manipulate people into those relationships. Horrible things such as telling 14 year old girls that if they don't marry Joseph or if they tell anyone about it, their whole family will be damned. Or Joseph sending men on missions to the other side of the world, and then marrying their wives while they are gone. Or Joseph telling his first wife, Emma, that if she objects to his philandering behavior then god will destroy her (this one is actually in canonized Mormon scripture: D&C 132).

Even fewer people are aware of Joseph's treasure hunting enterprises with his father. They were so bad at finding treasure via magic rocks that on more than one occasion Joseph was sued and convicted of fraud. By the way, these magic rocks used by Joseph to swindle poor farmers out of their money are the same rocks he used to "translate" the gold plates in to the Book of Mormon. This is no different than divining rods or psychic mediums--nothing more than parlor tricks and gullible sorcery.

The only "treasure" Joseph ever found was the gold plates, which no one without a vested interest in the Book of Mormon's success ever saw without a cloth over it. No one with anything close to a real academic credential ever saw--much less examined--the purportedly ancient gold plates to determine their authenticity. No one thought it suspicious that these mysterious and elusive gold plates were found by a convicted fraudulent treasure hunter with magic rocks?

Over the last few years (starting around the time of Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, curiously enough) the Mormon Church has quietly released a series of essays clarifying controversial historical issues. The Church finally admitted in these essays, which are available for all to read on the Church's official website (, that Joseph was a polygamist and that he married over 30 women, some of which were well under the age of eighteen (he was twice their age), and some were married to other men.

They also admitted that Joseph used his treasure-hunting magic rocks (in a hat!) to "translate" the Book of Mormon, contrary to the traditionally more-palatable (i.e. "whitewashed") version of Joseph using in tandum the gold plates and the biblically-referenced Urim and Thummim (according to some accounts, Joseph didn't even have the plates in the same room during the "translation" process).

They admitted--finally--that the policies started by the Church's second president, Brigham Young, which until 1978 were used to exclude black people from being able to receive the priesthood, were inspired by Brigham's own racism, rather than revelation from god.

The admissions made in these essays were ground-breaking in one way or another. The remarkable thing to me is that the Church is finally admitting to things over which they have excommunicated historians in the past. These essays, although clearly not enough to undo the Church's wrongs, is something of an apology.

There are still many things to which the Church has yet to come clean, and they still whitewash much of their history in an effort to make it more faith-promoting. But perhaps we have seen the last of the Church's efforts to buy up historical documents with embarrassing information in order to control their public image, such as the "Salamander Letter," even if those documents turn out to be fraudulent.

All of this public relations management dished out by Mormon HQ has me thinking: Why the sudden admission of issues long covered up?

The hypothesis circulating around some Mormon circles, that the Church is attempting to help Mitt Romney's next campaign, is intriguing. There may even be some truth to it. But I see a much deeper motive than seating the most powerful man in the world (which, surprisingly, is not the Mormon prophet who claims to talk directly to, and for, god). In a covert and never-to-be-admitted way, the Mormon Church seems to have stumbled upon one of modern society's great truths: The internet is where religions go to die.

For centuries religions have relied on a monopoly of information to control their public image and divert doubters and naysayers. Mormonism, being no different from any other fundamentalist religion, teaches its members to only read from Church-approved sources--especially on matters of the Church's history. Anything which challenges the Church's official story is deemed "anti-Mormon" and should be avoided at all costs.

This monopoly of information, however, has become increasingly difficult for the Church to maintain, due in large part to the Information Age. The internet provides questioning Mormons a means to discreetly research controversial issues of the church. Open forums give doubters a voice among other doubters. Historical documents cannot be purchased and hidden as easily as in days passed.

The members are finding this information and because the facts seem to contradict the Church's storybook version of their own history, the Mormon Church is being forced to face their historical problems in a public way in order to "get ahead" of the flood of people stumbling on this information and leaving the Church. And they are leaving. The Church is seeing its greatest era of apostasy ever and no amount of contraception bashing and over-breeding will stop this flood from surging now that the dam holding back their true history has been cracked.


YouTuber, Thunderf00t on religion and the internet:

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