Wednesday, August 31, 2016

More Thoughts on Polygamy, Pt. 1

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve become more interested lately in learning about polygamist groups that trace their heritage to Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of Mormonism. Over the summer, Melanie and I watched several reality TV shows about polygamy, and I can’t help but find the culture fascinating. Some of these shows are more sensationalistic than others—“reality” is a loose term when you’re talking about reality TV—but the presentation isn’t what grips me. Instead, I find myself completely captivated by the ways in which these polygamist groups mirror the culture in which I myself grew up as a member of the mainstream LDS Church. If you have no connection to the LDS Church and know little about Mormons other than their historical affiliation with polygamy, it may seem absurd that I could find the similarities between the groups that still practice polygamy and the LDS Church startling. But mainstream Mormons today are about as anti-polygamy as anyone, and the majority of them would be appalled to think their culture bears any resemblance to the “depraved” and “apostate” sects that still adhere to the doctrine of plural marriage. That’s the mentality I grew up with. But now, I continually find myself shaking my head in amazement at the similarities. It can be truly stunning.

I listed several of the similarities between mainstream LDS culture and polygamist cultures in my previous post, but I didn’t really elaborate on them. I was simply reporting some of the things I’d heard at Sunstone from former members of polygamist groups. In this post, I will elaborate on those points but also raise some new ones. I will also explain why I find lacking some of the typical responses LDS folk often given for why polygamy was ever practiced in the first place.

Let’s begin with the similarities.

Similarity #1: Suffering persecution is evidence that you belong to God’s true church
I don’t know how much actual persecution the average polygamist faces, nor the average Mormon. But Mormons are notorious for having a persecution complex. Often, they will equate anything in the world that doesn’t cohere with their values, beliefs, and/or desires as a kind of persecution. At the risk of exaggerating—though not by much—a Mormon might see the fact that the corner grocery store remains open on Sunday as a form of persecution. Less controversially, Mormons being the brunt of a joke on TV could be seen as persecution. Almost certainly, non-Mormon Utahans griping about the LDS Church’s stronghold on state politics, about the obnoxiousness of LDS neighbors, or other general complaining about the surrounding culture is regarded as persecution. Sure, most Mormons aren’t being tarred and feathered nowadays, but they are persistently mocked and ridiculed by outsiders, at least from their own perspective. And why is that? Because the LDS Church is Satan’s enemy #1. And why is that, you might ask? Simple: because the LDS Church is God’s true church on the face of the earth. Thus, it is the only religious institution that truly threatens Beelzebub’s plan of dragging as many souls as possible down to Hell to be his partners in misery. The Devil has a vested interest in making the LDS Church as laughable to outsiders as possible, so as to prevent converts and encourage apostasy. From what I’ve heard out of the mouths of ex-polygamists themselves, polygamists say the exact same thing about why they face persecution—because Satan is working so very hard, and so very specifically, against them. After all, why would he bother stirring up trouble for those who already belong to false churches and who are therefore already in his grasp? (What’s that? Religious groups other than Mormons and polygamists face persecution? Hush, hush, now! It’s time to move on! Go!)

Similarity #2: Doubting or questioning what you’ve been taught is the result of Satan planting those thoughts in your head
It’s more of the same logic here. Satan’s out to destroy God’s work, so of course he tries to confuse you by making you cock an eyebrow whenever a religious leader tells you something like God can make a square circle. Don’t question it! Don’t try to make sense of it! The more you linger on a doubt, the more chains Satan is able to wrap around your neck! Don’t be that guy! It’s amazing how much peace and tranquility comes from turning off your critical thinking skills!

Similarity #3: When laws are passed that stand in the way of the religion’s wishes or moral dictates, Satan is to blame
This probably counts as a subset of similarity #1, but I’ve heard it from polygamists and LDS Mormons alike. Polygamists point to the example of child labor laws that stand in the way of their building up the Kingdom of God on earth, as they are striving to do. Mormons point to things like the legalization of same-sex marriage, which stands in the way of their building up the Kingdom of God on earth, as they are striving to do. When will people learn that God does not want happiness for children or the gays! C’mon, already! No matter which religious group you belong to, make no mistake that when it comes to the nation’s law books, Satan is head ghost writer.

Similarity #4: Ugly stories about the church, its history, or its leaders are lies concocted by those who seek to destroy God’s work
Who are in turn inspired by Satan, of course. It’s infuriating to me when Mormons refuse to believe anything that opposes their belief system because all such things are automatically dismissed as lies. Critically evaluate my position and dismiss it. That is fine. But that’s not how it usually works. Knowing something contradicts the narrative they were raised with is enough for most Mormons to stop listening altogether. Well, I consider it a giant red flag whenever a religious institution uses its beliefs as a Litmus test for determining truth rather than the other way around. I’m sure this is a problem in many religious cultures and not just among Mormons and polygamists. Even so, I have learned that “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” is indeed a common retort for the latter two. One woman who spoke at Sunstone is a lawyer who worked on some of the legal cases connected to Warren Jeffs. She spoke of two polygamist women who were made to testify and who had to listen to the recording of Jeffs having sex with a 12-year-old girl in the FLDS temple. After refusing to answer the lawyer’s questions about it, the judge finally forced them to answer. “The God and the prophet never do wrong!” was all one of them would say. The other simply reported that she didn’t trust the audio recording one iota, considering it a fabrication of those determined to harm the prophet and the church. Sigh. Unshakeable faith is not a virtue, my friends. If your faith won’t shake even when reality hits it smack over the head, that’s not a matter of standing firm. That’s just having one hell of a stiff neck.

Similarity #5: Extreme reverence for church leaders
Maybe this one doesn’t seem so bad on the surface, but hear me out. On one episode of Escaping Polygamy, a woman was fleeing her FLDS community. In the midst of collecting her belongings and whatnot, she had to sneak into an FLDS school. As she darted through the school, you could see photos of Warren Jeffs hanging on the wall. Knowing who Jeffs is, this turned my stomach. These people are quite literally victims of Jeffs, and yet their buildings and homes are pockmarked with visual shrines to the man. I found myself thinking, “Shouldn’t it be paintings of Jesus on the wall? Isn’t that who they’re supposed to look to? Isn’t that who they claim to worship?” And it immediately hit me that Mormons do the exact same thing with pictures of their leaders. The last time I attended the LDS temple, I found myself disturbed by the photos of church leaders hanging in the chapel where one waits for a temple session to begin. It just didn’t seem right. And it isn’t. I guess it’s okay to have images of people you admire in your house, but in LDS culture, it’s something of a duty to have at least one photo of the prophet on prominent display in your home. Why??? Mormons rise whenever the president of the church walks into a room, hold public celebrations in honor of their leaders, swap stories about when they had the honor of touching or even being in the same room as one of these men, etc. It’s all a bit disturbing. We do this with celebrities, yes, but that’s my point—are these men celebrities? Should they be???

Ay, carumba. I don’t have time to finish this post now, and I’m not even sure if it’s structured the way I wanted it to be. I feel like it’s a rough draft at best, but with the limited time I have nowadays, I don’t really have time to second guess it. I’m officially calling it “Part 1” and hoping that “Part 2” will be something coherent whenever I get around to it. I don’t feel like this post added much of anything. Like I said, it was a rough draft with me gathering thoughts. I wasn’t sure I’d hand them over like this without reorganizing and restructuring, etc., but oh well. Sue me.  Can you tell I’m ending this rather abruptly?

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