Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mindless 'Murica Mormonism

You may have been one of the half dozen people who read my July 4 tweet (follow me!) scratching my head over the mindless 'Murica patriotism my fellow Latter-day Saints exhibited earlier this month. Anyone with a Facebook feed and even a handful of Mormon friends probably noticed the same thing I did--posts dripping with patriotism, nationalism, red-white-and-blue zealotry, U.S. flags, quotes from Republican politicians, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, indignation towards anything Obama (though he's merely carrying on the policies of Bush), and images of bald eagles breathing fire on terrorists and spraying bullets out of AK-47s (seriously).

After all, this is what it requires to be a true patriot these days, right? I mean, combine your online "I heart America" odes with a day of barbecues, wearing your American flag shirts, and watching fireworks at the lake, and you've done your civic duty this Independence Day.

You'd think our prophet was Sean Hannity.

Long ago, in the Times We're Not Allowed To Speak Of Lest Someone Point Out An Inconsistency In Church History And Risk Getting Excommunicated, Mormons despised America.

Let's remember, the Mormons were repeatedly chased out of place after place in a nation that supposedly protected religious liberty. Our leader even went so far as to advocate the death penalty for those in government who allowed such injustice to occur.

"The Constitution," said Joseph Smith, "should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment; and then the president of the United States would not say, 'Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.'"

Let's remember, the Mormons suffered the assassination of their prophet and patriarch, Joseph and Hyrum, bereft of any reasonable response from the American government.

"You and each of you do covenant and promise," went the LDS Oath of Vengeance, recited in temples until the 1930s, "that you will pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and to your children's children unto the third and fourth generation."

Let's remember, the Mormons literally left the country to settle in Utah Territory.

"It is with the greatest joy that I forsake this republic," wrote Orson Pratt in 1845. "If our Heavenly Father will deliver us out of the hands of the blood-thirsty Christians of these United States and not suffer any more of us to be martyred to gratify their holy piety, I for one shall be very thankful."

Let's remember, the Mormons believed that plural marriage was an eternal principle well beyond the jurisdiction of some worldly government.

"Wo unto that Nation or house or people who seek to hinder my People from obeying the Patriarchal Law of Abraham [polygamy] which leadeth to a Celestial Glory… for whosoever doeth those things shall be damned Saith the Lord," wrote Wilford Woodruff in 1880.

Then, magically, ten years later, the Manifesto was revealed to Brother Woodruff. Six years after that, Utah became a state, and Mormons and America lived happily ever after.

Well, what's wrong with that? We shouldn't hold grudges, you might say. All that stuff happened a long time ago, separated by generations, you might argue. It was right to get rid of the Oath of Vengeance and abolish polygamy, you might point out. And you'd probably be right about those things.

But the problem is that our current mindset has put us in a position that could hardly be deemed a higher moral ground. We've gone from espousing violent retribution towards Americans to espousing violent retribution towards foreigners whom the American government opposes. Can you think of a single demographic group in the United States today that is more accepting of the state's usurpation of our domestic freedoms than the Mormons? That is more willing to "serve" as pawns of some Middle Eastern war? That is more accepting of the military interventions abroad the past century? That is more proud of their country, right or wrong? That is more submissive to authority?

I would like to point out five reasons why I believe that Mormon culture has turned many of its adherents into such patriotic prigs:

1. We are taught to submit.
Mosiah 3:19, one of the most quoted Book of Mormon verses in the Church, reads:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
The doctrine of submission is well-known in the world of the Latter-day Saints. But it is extremely important not to fall into the trap of transferring that submissive nature towards that which is not of the Lord. We submit to God because God is love. And I can't think of anything less like God than the state, even though many of us tend to treat it like a God substitute.

"There is one thing in the world more wicked than the desire to command, and that is the will to obey," said mathematician and philosopher W. K. Clifford.

As a believing Latter-day Saint, there are some caveats to that quote of course. There are times in which obedience is a necessary and sensible thing to do. I don't have to be a parent to know that adequate child-rearing, for example, will involve the instillation of some sort of obedience.

The real point of this quote, however, is how evil blind obedience can be. And nothing is capable of inflicting more evil than a government gone awry. Therefore it is essential to question everything. Instead of the follow the herd mentality we've adopted, we must be true to our principles as Christians, and never obey anything that is contrary to those principles, whether it is taught by our government or our church leaders.

Independent thought, and its corollary, moral courage through action, are the antidotes to many poisons--propaganda, preemptive war, groupthink, and justification, to name a few.

2. We have a twisted interpretation of the 12th article of faith.
I have written previously on the 12th article of faith, which reads: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

Taken from Joseph Smith's Wentworth Letter, an attempt to pin down a list of LDS creeds for a Chicago newspaper in 1842, the 12th article of faith is not revelation and does not purport to be. It is an effort to portray Mormon belief on the topic of law and government. I have a feeling that if Joseph would have foreseen the confusion that would arise from its vagueness and the Mormon militarism it would spawn in future generations, he would have changed the wording considerably. Or maybe he would have just told us to sit down and read Section 134, a declaration of belief similar to the articles of faith, written seven years prior.

After all, in that section we learn that all men are bound to "sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments" (D&C 134:5).

Given the track record of virtually every government that has ever existed on this planet, there will likely always be reasons for men to engage in civil disobedience, as most throughout time have been denied their inherent and inalienable rights. Even here in the "Land of the Free."

We also learn in that section that governments can only exist in peace if they secure our rights to free conscience, liberty, and property, that we should only uphold magistrates (police) who administer the law in equity and justice, that governments may not use laws to engage in sedition or conspiracy, and that we have the right to self-defense against anyone who encroaches upon our rights, just to name a few.

It all boils down to this question--would God condone, much less expect, us to commit evil in the name of the state? Of course not.

The great Libertarian writer Lawrence M. Vance addresses this paradox in one of his many scathing rebuttals of the state worship prevalent not only in Mormonism but throughout Christianity. Many Christians use Romans 13 as their basis for "obeying the powers that be" in a similar way the Mormons use AofF 12. He writes:
Only a madman would say that obeying the government in Romans 13 is absolute. Even the most diehard Christian apologist for the state, its military, and its wars would never think of saying such a thing. Although the way some Christians repeat the "obey the powers that be" mantra may make one think they would slit their own mothers’ throats if the state told them to do so, they wouldn’t do it no matter how they were threatened by the state. If government agents came to them and said, "Here, put on this uniform, take this gun, and go shoot your neighbor," they would likewise refuse and suffer the consequences. No Christian is going to make his wife get an abortion because the government says he has too many children. No Christian is going to accept every government pronouncement, support every government program, or blindly follow whatever the president or the government says–even when the Republicans are in control. Any admonition in Scripture to obey the government is tempered by command to "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) and the sixth commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13) which is repeated in Romans 13:9.
3. We believe the Book of Mormon advocates war and nationalism.
When the topic of war comes up at church (which is rare, in my ward at least--it seems to be an issue most would rather avoid), it usually involves these kinds of arguments:
  • War is bad, but sometimes it's necessary
  • Because we believe in patriotism, we should serve in the military if called to do so
  • War is noble, remember Captain Moroni's title of liberty? Let me quote Alma 46:12-14
  • God commanded Israel to fight wars of aggression in the Old Testament; therefore, since the United States is the home place of the restoration, God is on our side in wartime
  • God doesn't hold us accountable for actions taken while wearing a military uniform
Sadly, if I were to just do a cursory skim through the Book of Mormon, yet learn all the Seminary, Institute, and Sunday School curriculum, and attend my twenty hours of general conference meetings per year, I would probably feel the same way about war as Brother Bullet Point above.

And the real message of the restoration would have gone over my head completely.

The Book of Mormon may be perhaps the most monumental anti-war work of the 19th century, whether interpreted as a factual account or a fictional one. It is the story of a civilization, once chosen of God, that not only falls, but is completely obliterated because of its unquenchable bloodlust and its obsession with war. The critical message of the restoration--that the Lord loves us all unconditionally and asks us to do likewise with our brethren--is played out on a stage of not only individuals, but entire societies. War is the opposite of that message.

As I mentioned, it is common for Latter-day Saints to quote Alma 46 to support the idea of war being necessary. Verses 12-14 read:
And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole. And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land—For thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the church of God, called by those who did not belong to the church.
There is an important distinction here that rarely comes up in Mormon circles--Captain Moroni was making preparations for defensive war. Amalickiah and his ilk were fighting the cause of liberty in the Land of Nephi. This makes Alma 46:12-14 actually mean something. It is a beautiful tribute to the protection of freedom, a sacred duty that also encompasses the protection of religion, family, and, interestingly, peace. Captain Moroni was actually protecting these things in the war against Amalickiah.

Compare that to the Bush Doctrine (which is just another term for the philosophy of virtually every president since FDR) of pre-emptive warfare and aggression being taken to the shores of other lands, all done in the name of "defense." Any modern American war rally would be a pathetic ersatz to the hallowed, humble way Moroni approached his battle, which was completely justified.

A better parallel to American warfare would be to look at the Nephites post-Christ. The Book of Mormon (as in the 13th book of the BoM chronicling the events of 321-421 A.D.) provides a tragic look at just how embedded hatred and violence had become among the Nephites. The suffering of war after war after war led not to repentance, but to merely a "sorrowing of the damned" (Mormon 2:13). Mormon saw thousands of his countrymen "hewn down in open rebellion against their God, and heaped up as dung upon the face of the land" (Mor. 2:15).

Mormon led the Nephites to battle against the Lamanites in battle a few years later, but then did "utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people, because of their wickedness and abomination" (Mor. 3:11). Why then? Because the Nephites went from a defensive position, holding off Lamanite invasions (Mor. 3:7-8) to angrily desiring the opportunity to "avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies" (Mor. 3:9).

Mormon 3:10 gives the last straw of Nephite wickedness: "And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land."

Sound familiar? It should. In Section 98 of the Doctrine & Covenants, the Lord reminds us, "this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them" (D&C 98:33).

The United States hasn't fought a war on its own shores since 1865 (1924 if you count aggression against Indians). Every single armed conflict in the lifetime of every single living American has involved the United States "going out to battle" against foreign enemies. How we, as members of the "true church" who have presumably read the "most correct book on earth," can condone such inhumane aggression, is beyond me.

4. We "follow the prophet" even if he isn't claiming revelation.
A common theme of this blog is that, whether we're talking about science, religion, or government, the critical thinking of the individual ultimately trumps groupthink. Agency ultimately trumps compulsion. Liberty ultimately trumps bondage. These are fundamental principles of the War in Heaven narrative.

Further, the Spirit is available to all, yet so many in the LDS Church feel a lot more comfortable following men in suits who hover in positions above them.

Instead of taking Section 1 of the Doctrine & Covenants in context, we mindlessly quote verse 38 as the proof that whatever General Authorities speak, it is the equivalent to the Lord himself speaking.
What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.
In reality, this verse refers to the servants of the Lord, a title any Latter-day Saint could rightfully accept upon himself. Further, this Section (known as the preface) is given to elders of the Church, as described in the heading, and even more comprehensively, to the people of the Church, as mentioned in verse 1.

Additionally, Section 1 contains a set of verses earlier on that would probably make most modern Mormons a bit uncomfortable. D&C 1:17-20 reads:
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.
This is the ideal--not only are prophets like Joseph Smith called to speak in the name of the Lord, but that every man might speak in His name. It doesn't require a fancy title or position, just a dedication to be a servant of the Savior. And that trusting in men of a supposed higher echelon is unnecessary, even to receive counsel, as this is grouped with following after the arm of the flesh. Is the Spirit insufficient?

If we can accept Section 1 as it is and not what we've turned it into, we no longer have to look to general authorities as demigods, which should be a relief for all parties involved. It's no secret that leaders of the church are imperfect, and are allowed to hold opinions of their own, which may or may not mesh with gospel principles. We can free ourselves from the yoke of the flesh, and find the truth for ourselves.

What does all this have to do with America? Well, it just so happens that our previous two top dogs, Thomas Monson and Gordon Hinckley, have made it awfully clear that they support the unjust wars fought by United States troops, such opinions having been voiced in newspaper interviews and general conference.

This support, expressed in both explicit and implicit ways, has led to a culture of accepting war, regardless of why it's being fought, who it's being fought against, what kind of collateral damage may come about because of it, or how many American soldiers will become casualties. The Church encourages military service unconditionally, and has even produced kitschy videos (like this one) attempting to mitigate any sort of guilt or second-guessing that could result from supporting or fighting in such wars. Rock Waterman, who wrote a powerful retort to this detestable propaganda piece filled with "useless, hollow opinions," said:
The message of the movie can be distilled in one sentence: War is dirty, nasty work, but it's unavoidable and necessary, so thank goodness we have righteous young priesthood holders like you to handle that dirty, nasty work that is for some reason unavoidable.  Oh, and by the way, thank you for your service.
This is what our church culture has devolved into. No longer are we a people looking to Christ as an example of peace and to the Word of God as an example of what happens when peace departs, but a herd of sheep following retired businessmen who haven't in their entire lives bothered venturing outside the realm of standard American media for their information.

Well, most of them, at least.

5. We serve Mammon rather than God.
Spencer W. Kimball's bicentennial First Presidency Message published in the June 1976 Ensign is one of the most profound writings to be found on lds.org. Though it does not claim to be revelation, it is one of the few mainstream pieces put forth by the Church I've come across that really hit at the heart of dysfunctional Mormon culture. The opinion he expresses here indeed meshes with core principles of the gospel of Christ.

Naturally, its message has been largely ignored for almost 40 years now.

"The False Gods We Worship" focuses on exactly that, the idols we (not the infidels outside the Church or the "less actives" within we're so busy condemning) turn into gods. The general message is that mammon (an Aramaic word meaning the personification of riches) has been the choice of worship for all too many Latter-day Saints, over the worship of God. And, if Jesus is to be believed, the two are mutually exclusive. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24).

Though mammon is typically associated with wealth and riches (which Kimball's essay spends a large portion denouncing), I believe that in a broader sense, it is an attitude--an attitude of materialism. Those who trust in mammon trust in their own possessions, their own prowess, their own power, to save them. Those who trust in God know such trust is foolish.

Americans are a proud people, and "The False Gods We Worship" hits close to home for many of us. In it, he writes:
In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.
I believe one of the reasons we don't really take the message of the Book of Mormon seriously is because we consider ourselves above them. Theirs was a strange, savage civilization, while ours is sophisticated and humane. When America flaunts her power, she knows what she is doing, and what she's doing is always for the good of the world. Truth be told, the horrors of war are no different today than they were in Mormon's time; in fact, they're worse, considering how far technology has evolved in the field of weaponry.
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:44–45)
Kimball's words speak for themselves here. Can we be honest with our warlike natures and admit that we may have a problem that goes well beyond apathy towards tithe-paying and pornography addiction?

We don't hear these kinds of talks in conference anymore for this very reason. It's much more comfortable for us to attack sins that others are committing. But to look within, and understand that we are all worshiping false gods, even while passing temple recommend interviews--that takes courage.

The United States of America is only a country. It had a beginning and it will have an end. It has no special place above other nations in Mormon doctrine. It is not being led by God as though it were Ancient Israel. The evil acts it has committed deserve no excuse, just as the acts committed in the names of Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany or Red China deserve no excuse. Just as the acts of the Nephites deserve no excuse.

From firebombing and nuking cities in Japan to using Agent Orange in Vietnam to shooting down a passenger jet in Iran, the U.S. has blood on its hands, a lot of it. Its meddling presence across the globe is unmatched and unnecessary. Acknowledging this doesn't mean we have to hate our homeland; it simply means that if we truly love it, we need to start changing it. And that means rejecting the "counterfeit of true patriotism" and truly accepting the gospel of Christ in our lives. Said Kimball:
What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
The mindless 'Muricanism of Mormons needs to end. Flag worship, soldier worship, military worship, money worship, weapon worship, state worship, all are just more forms of idolatry. There should only be one object of our worship, and that is our God, father of all mankind.


  1. What would the U.S. have been justified in doing after Pearl Harbor? Was no response the correct answer?

    1. If Americans had stayed true to the founding fathers' principles of peaceful non-intervention and open trading from the beginning, they would have not been choosing sides in the China-Japan affair, which resulted in severe embargoes which inspired the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor. Not to say that what the Japanese did was right, but it didn't happen just cuz. American meddling in other nations' affairs led, predictably, to blowback, as it always has and always will.

      Taking World War II as a whole, it wouldn't have happened if there was no World War I. America had no business getting into that war, and its effects were not peace, but basically a 25-year truce.

      Now if we are to zoom into December 7, 1941, having no ability to change the past up to that point, the attack on Pearl Harbor (a military target on a set of islands that wasn't even one of the states yet) still did not justify our brutal response, especially towards Japanese civilians. From firebombing of Tokyo to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what the United States did in the name of revenge (not self-defense--Japan had no way of overtaking America) was absolutely inexcusable.