This question has been handled more exhaustively by other bloggers, but I want to take a stab at it. The question is personal to me, because I have occasionally been accused of anti-Mormonism (with this blog being cited as evidence).
In a recent Facebook discussion about racial insensitivity in the Book of Mormon, one of my cousins called me a “confused” and “angry” apostate. He said this site is “one-sided”, and full of “half-truths” and “war room spin.” My immediate family and several LDS friends came to my defense, saying that they’ve always found me sincere, well-meaning, and respectful. But I suspect that many others who read that Facebook thread quietly agreed with my cousin. So in this post, I hope to explain why I blog about and criticize Mormonism. Then we’ll discuss whether I satisfy the definition (or rather, definitions) of anti-Mormon.
My first project at this blog was the “Why I Don’t Believe” series. I anticipated people dismissing it as anti-Mormon, so I began the series with an explanation of my motives. I’ll quote them here, because they also apply to why I blog about Mormonism more generally.
The basest motivation behind my “Why I Don’t Believe” series is simply an interest in Mormonism. It’s said that you can leave Mormonism, but Mormonism can’t leave you. In Utah, at least, that’s pretty true. Mormonism is all around you and you can’t escape it even if you want to. Most days, though, I don’t want to escape it. I enjoy studying and discussing Mormonism; it’s a fascinating religion.
Perhaps the primary reason for this project is to get people to reevaluate their religious beliefs. While I disagree with several teachings of the LDS Church (the emphasis on obedience, the rhetoric against homosexuality, etc.), I don’t think Mormonism is a uniquely harmful religion. So my opposition to the LDS Church has less to do with any one particular doctrine, and is instead about the very nature of faith.
Our culture is wrong to venerate faith as a virtue. Believing in something for which there is no or little evidence—or worse, believing in something despite contrary evidence—is not admirable. In fact, beliefs untethered to reality are often dangerous (case in point: September 11th). To be sure, not all faith manifests itself as violence. The real danger with faith is that, by faith, anything can be justified.
In every other facet of life except religion, we demand evidence of people for their beliefs. Were I to tell you that I walked on water the other day, you would rightly be incredulous. Yet Christians—and I include Mormons here—profess that a man did just that (walk on water) nearly two millennia ago in the backwater of the Middle East and the only reports we have (the gospels) were written several decades after the alleged event by anonymous authors who were not themselves eyewitnesses. Why the double standard? Religious beliefs ought to receive the same scrutiny that other beliefs do. No, religious beliefs actually merit more scrutiny, because, as Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
I oppose any false belief and all dogmatic thinking. The reason I target religion is not that it’s necessarily the most dangerous dogma. The political dogmas of Nazism, Stalinism, and Maoism claimed more lives during the 20th century than did religion. It’s just that religion, unlike other belief systems, remains largely unscrutinized. That’s why opening a frank and civil dialogue about religion is so important.
Also, that I give particular attention to the Mormonism in this series does not betray an animosity toward that religion. Mormonism is just more relevant for my group of friends and I’m in a better position from which to critique it given my familiarity with it.
If I don’t dissuade anyone from Mormonism, I hope that at least this conversation increases Mormons’ understanding of why people leave their church. Offensive misconceptions abound about ‘apostates.’ The LDS Church tends to divide ex-Mormons into two camps: those who were offended by a church member and those who leave to pursue a life of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. These descriptions may aptly describe why some leave, but, in my experience, countless more leave over legitimate concerns about Mormon history and doctrine—the very issues I will explore in later posts.
Later in the post, I explained how my challenging Mormons about their beliefs is actually a sign of respect.
Criticism is not a sign of hate. The opposite, in fact, is true. “The way you respect a person,” to quote secular philosopher Austin Dacey, “is not by agreeing with everything he or she says, but by holding that person to the same intellectual/moral standards to which you hold yourself. Anything less is not respect, it’s indifference. So sometimes in order to respect religion’s peoples, we must critique people’s religions.”
This point should not be lost on my LDS friends. Some Mormons spend two years of their lives proselytizing. And why? Because they sincerely want to share with people “the good news.” The truth is a gift; it would be selfish to keep it to oneself. Likewise, I don’t try to disabuse my friends of their faith in order to win debates or rob them of happiness. As a matter of principle, I just believe that people deserve the truth.
At times the truth may be difficult, like discovering that one’s faith is unfounded. Leaving the LDS church is a painful experience for many. Still, there is something liberating about the truth—about seeing the world as it really is.
And because I would be challenging others’ beliefs, I invited people to return the favor and challenge mine.
I make no pretenses at being objective. I’m an ex-Mormon and atheist; my thoughts about the LDS Church are doubtless filtered through those lenses. But in recognizing my biases, I hope to temper them. To that end I could use your help. I want to hear your thoughts, questions, and (especially!) criticisms. Because absent your input, my “Why I Don’t Believe” series won’t be a dialogue, but a monologue. So hold me to the highest standard of fairness and accuracy. And where my arguments fall short of that standard, let me know and I will make the necessary revisions.
I don’t like being proved wrong (who does?), but I prefer it to holding erroneous beliefs. As such, I try to be amenable to criticism. I substantially revised a post about the First Vision(s) after a Mormon friend disabused me of a bad argument, for example. So while I wouldn’t deny my cousin’s point about my being biased (we all are), I nonetheless try to be fair and accurate.
Now that you have a better idea of why I write about Mormonism, I’d like to address the accusation that I am anti-Mormon. Because this term means different things to different people, I asked my Mormon friends on Facebook to define ‘anti-Mormon.’ Below are a few responses that I feel typify the various definitions.
An anti-Mormon is someone who not only disagrees with the teachings (doctrine, history, or whatever) of the Mormon church, but also makes a conscious effort to attack Mormons and pull members away from the church.
Similar to an anti-Semite. This applies when a person treats Mormons differently based solely upon their religion. This person may also actively seek to destroy the LDS church through lies, distortions, and government policy.
An anti-Mormon is someone who harbors hate for the church, or individual members solely on the basis of their being a member of the Church.
If all it takes to be an anti-Mormon is to make a conscious effort to pull members away from the church, as the first definition suggests, then I’m guilty as charged. I don’t think this definition is adequate, though. I mean, are LDS missionaries who make a conscious effort to pull people away from, say, Catholicism necessarily anti-Catholic? I don’t think so.
I agree with the last two definitions that anti-Mormonism entails a degree of animosity toward Mormons. That’s precisely why the term ‘anti-Mormon’ stings; it invites the unflattering comparison to historically violent prejudices like anti-Semitism.
Mormonism may be among the least popular religions in America, but I don’t think it is hated. So save for Christian counter-cultists, secular anti-theists, and some gay rights activists, I think the moniker ‘anti-Mormon’ is overused and largely undeserved. I for one do not hate Mormons, as anyone who knows me can attest. I have even written several posts quite favorable to Mormonism.
Could I be fairer to Mormonism at this blog? Probably. Again, despite my honest efforts, I make mistakes and my biases can get in the way of thoughtful analysis. But instead of dismissing this blog with convenient labels like ‘anti-Mormon’, I would ask that LDS readers help make it better by critically engaging my arguments.