Sunday, December 4, 2016

Always in Control: A Response to Joshua Valentine (Part Four)

In his fourth installment about how Mormonism prepares its members for atheism, Joshua Valentine makes his strongest case yet about why those who now accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be lead to eschew religion after leaving. He states :
The realization of being manipulated, being put through so much, and losing so much of their lives for a lie, is understandably infuriating.  The necessary and reasonable thing to do, when ready and rested, is to reevaluate one’s beliefs.  Often this includes a period of studying the LDS Church even more.  Whether before leaving or after, many Mormons feel embarrassed by all the things they did and believed, which they now see as so obviously untrue or even silly.  They understandably never want to be manipulated, or to allow their lives to be controlled by anyone else again.
This last, control, is a strong motivation toward atheism.  While in many ways the atheistic worldview can be bleak, in that there is no longer someone watching out for you, there is also a strong sense of self-determination, of your decisions being wholly your own, under your own control.  Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have relinquished leadership and control of so much of their lives for so long, and upon learning the truth, realized that so much of it was a waste and harmful, that any sense of letting go of their new found control, of submitting themselves to anything — an organization or even a belief — is simply unacceptable.  Ex-Mormon atheists speak of the difficulty of getting atheists to come together and embrace a long-term vision and goal (there is a Mormon Expression podcast, toward the end of his time hosting it, in which John Larsen mentions this issue).  While there may be something about an atheist worldview that inhibits this activity, the victim of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church has all the motivation to keep all control and not relinquish it to anyone or anything, a group, a movement, an ideal, or even the actual God.
This argument is centered on three things: 1) Members feel manipulated by the Church 2) Members have no control while they have Church membership 3) Atheism means complete control

While I have had friends who feel manipulated when they are told additional facts about their faith (seer stones, polygamy, mountain meadows massacre, etc), the fact of the matter is that these things are not new, and have been discussed by Church historians and academics for generations. I, as a convert, was aware prior to my baptism that Joseph Smith was a polygamist and used seer stones to translate the Book of Mormon. None of this led to believe that Joseph Smith was not a prophet, because these facts do not disqualify him from being one. I hate to be blunt, but if you are not aware of Church history and doctrine because of your own intellectual sluggishness, the problem lies with you, not the Church. Nothing in the new Church essays is new information; BYU Studies and Dialogue have covered these issues for decades.

I am a little confused at the idea that Church members feel that they are not free, which is more of a question of metaphysics than anything else. It is true the Church, like any other organization, has standards. But members have freedom just as much as anyone else. No one forces you to pay tithing, attend church meetings, serve a mission, accept callings, or anything else for that matter. As Section 121 makes clear, you are not to lead by compulsory means; even God himself will not do that. It is true that some members thrust their views of certain things upon other members, but you have the freedom to ignore them and go on with your life.

As far as atheism and control, this is a little misleading. Atheism is not about control; it is believing that there is no such thing as God, or believing that statements such as "God exists" are false propositions. If one leaves the Church, you may not be bound to obey the Church's directions, but you cannot escape the consequences of disobeying them either. And while atheists do not submit themselves to Church authority, they probably submit themselves to government or another authority. You will always be subject to some authority, imaginary or otherwise.

For the fourth time, we have seen that Mr. Valentine's arguments are ill-founded. Perhaps he saved the best for last. I doubt it...

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