Sev­er­al years back, I was dis­cussing some of these mat­ters with one of my daugh­ters, and she posed this ques­tion to me: Let’s just say you’re right, and that the Church’s claims aren’t true. What is the harm in stay­ing in it, and being involved with it? We’re hap­py, we’re liv­ing good lives. What is the harm?

I think that is an excel­lent ques­tion, but at that time, I wasn’t pre­pared or able to give her an ade­quate reply. But I’ve thought a lot about it since then, and want to con­clude by pro­vid­ing a bet­ter answer to that ques­tion.

1. Because mem­bers are active­ly dis­cour­aged from crit­i­cal exam­i­na­tion of the Church’s claims, effec­tive­ly cre­at­ing an inde­pen­dent ‘island’ of real­i­ty, or a men­tal ‘blind spot,’ where the reg­u­lar rules of evi­dence don’t apply, I think this results in harm to a person’s thought process­es and crit­i­cal think­ing skills.

In turn, I think this can result in a person’s being more vul­ner­a­ble, or gullible, to oth­er claims being made with­out evi­dence, which appeal to their emo­tions or oth­er non-ratio­nal mind­sets. It can also make a per­son more like­ly to dis­trust sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly estab­lished facts and con­clu­sions, since they are taught not to ‘trust in the arm of flesh,’ and that the only absolute­ly reli­able indi­ca­tion of truth is their tes­ti­monies, their indi­vid­ual, sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ences.

This also tends to cre­ate a ‘mag­i­cal’ world view, where they live in a ‘cocoon,’ see­ing the world as they want it to be, rather than as it real­ly is. It can lead to poor deci­sion mak­ing, plac­ing too much impor­tance on sub­jec­tive emo­tion­al states and expe­ri­ences.

Tak­en to the extreme, the results can be trag­ic. The case of the Laf­fer­ty Broth­ers is espe­cial­ly poignant here. Dan and Ron Laf­fer­ty mur­dered their sis­ter-in-law Bren­da Laf­fer­ty, and her 15 month old baby Eri­ca, because they trust­ed the ‘rev­e­la­tions’ they received, and were con­vinced that this is what God want­ed them to do. The scrip­tur­al prece­dent is right there in the Book of Mor­mon, where Nephi kills Laban, in cold blood, because he was con­vinced that this action was com­mand­ed by God.

Last­ly, the Church effec­tive­ly treats the mem­bers as per­pet­u­al chil­dren, and makes them depen­dent on the Church for approval on vir­tu­al­ly all aspects of their lives (even down to how many ear­rings it is ‘accept­able’ for a woman to wear). They are taught to trust in the Church, and its lead­ers, even more than trust­ing their own under­stand­ing and insights. N. Eldon Tan­ner, of the First Pres­i­den­cy con­firmed this when he said:

When the Prophet speaks… the debate is over.”
Ensign, August 1979

2. Very real prob­lems are often cre­at­ed in fam­i­lies where one or more indi­vid­u­als don’t fit the ‘mold’ of the tra­di­tion­al Church mem­ber. This is espe­cial­ly the case with Gay and Les­bian chil­dren (or adults), whose very iden­ti­ties and deep­est desires are seen as unac­cept­able before God, if not overt­ly evil. The tragedy of so many teen sui­cides speaks elo­quent­ly to this very real dan­ger.

And even if indi­vid­u­als or fam­i­lies adopt a more tol­er­ant and open per­son­al atti­tude, the Church they sup­port with their mon­ey, activ­i­ty, and devo­tion, has been active­ly work­ing to deny these indi­vid­u­als the right to the same rela­tion­ships that the rest of soci­ety enjoys. The Church’s efforts in sup­port of Propo­si­tion 8 in Cal­i­for­nia is a pow­er­ful case in point. This has to at least cre­ate some inter­nal con­flict and stress, or ‘cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance,’ which is unhealthy for anyone’s well-being.

3. There is a very real, very sub­stan­tial finan­cial cost to full Church par­tic­i­pa­tion. This is espe­cial­ly true for mem­bers on the low­er side of the income scale, as dis­cussed above. Their finan­cial future and sta­bil­i­ty are very much jeop­ar­dized as a result of this enor­mous drain on their resources.

4. I am a male, and do not feel com­fort­able or qual­i­fied to effec­tive­ly address this next area, but because it is so impor­tant, and affects so many females, of all ages, I felt I at least need to refer to it. In many ways, women occu­py a ‘sec­ond class’ sta­tus in the Church, in that any of their actions and deci­sions are always sub­ject to being approved, or over-ruled by the men who pre­side in posi­tions of author­i­ty over them. When women in the Church are asked about this, they’ll very often state that they feel equal to men, and don’t see any prob­lem in this regard. But the fact of the mat­ter is that they aren’t equal. Equal­i­ty isn’t a mat­ter of ‘feel­ing’ equal; it’s a mat­ter of being equal.

Many women in the Church may not feel dis­crim­i­na­tion or inequal­i­ty, and accept and love their Church-defined pri­ma­ry role as wives and moth­ers. But even here, cir­cum­stances and even biol­o­gy may pre­vent these women from ful­fill­ing even these roles, result­ing in sad­ness and dis­cour­age­ment. And some women sim­ply don’t feel the same ‘call’ to be wives and moth­ers, and find them­selves mar­gin­al­ized, and more affect­ed by the lim­i­ta­tions cre­at­ed by the Church’s nar­row­ly defined gen­der roles for women.

But it is much bet­ter to have this addressed by the women them­selves, and for this, please see online forums such as Fem­i­nist Mor­mon House­wives, Young Mor­mon Fem­i­nists, Ask Mor­mon Girl, The Expo­nent, and many oth­ers.

5. The Church’s extreme, over-empha­sis on mod­esty and chasti­ty, rank­ing infrac­tions here next to mur­der in terms of seri­ous­ness, can make it dif­fi­cult for women, and men, to incor­po­rate sex­u­al­i­ty into their lives and rela­tion­ships in a healthy man­ner as they mature. And the Church’s pro­hi­bi­tion on mas­tur­ba­tion, see­ing it as a major offense against God, con­tributes to this dis­tor­tion of sex­u­al func­tion and iden­ti­ty, caus­ing unnec­es­sary guilt and suf­fer­ing for many peo­ple. Con­sid­er these quotes from recent Church Lead­ers:

Bet­ter dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faith­ful Lat­ter-day Saint par­ent who has sent a son or daugh­ter on a mis­sion or oth­er­wise out into the world with the direc­tion, ‘I would rather have you come back home in a pine box with your virtue than return alive with­out it’ ”
Bruce R. McConkie, Mor­mon Doc­trine, Sec­ond Edi­tion, Page 124

Also far-reach­ing is the effect of loss of chasti­ty. Once giv­en or tak­en or stolen it can nev­er be regained. Even in forced con­tact such as rape or incest, the injured one is great­ly out­raged. If she has not coop­er­at­ed and con­tributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favor­able posi­tion. There is no con­dem­na­tion where there is absolute­ly no vol­un­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion. It is bet­ter to die in defend­ing one’s virtue than to live hav­ing lost it with­out a strug­gle.”
Spencer W. Kim­ball, The Mir­a­cle of For­give­ness

So while the Church ‘works’ in many respects, for many of its mem­bers, cre­at­ing com­mu­ni­ties, pro­vid­ing a sense of pur­pose, and oppor­tu­ni­ties for ser­vice, there are clear and present dan­gers, some more obvi­ous than oth­ers, affect­ing both gen­ders, and all age groups.

And when these dan­gers are seen in the con­text of crit­i­cal exam­i­na­tion of the actu­al claims of the Church, where the evi­dence is com­pelling­ly stacked against the truth­ful­ness of those claims, the need for mem­bers to very care­ful­ly exam­ine their minds, their hearts, their beliefs, their actions, and their com­mit­ments, becomes cru­cial.

Series Nav­i­ga­tion: Exam­in­ing Church Claims — Don Cohen« Exam­i­na­tion Sum­ma­ryAbout The Author »

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