So this morning I stumbled on a talk recently given by M Russell Ballard to CES employees. In an effort to ‘not leave it alone’ so that current members can still look at me with disdain I decided to read it.
The first thing that stood out to me was something I totally agreed with.
“Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it!’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.”
The time is surely past when a church leader can just tell people with doubts that they are reading unfounded anti-Mormon lies. There is far too much information available that can be fact checked and verified to sweep a doubters questions under the rug. Heck even the LDS church has published a bunch of essays1 in the last couple of years confirming the essential truth of stuff like Joseph Smith marrying 14 year old girls and other men’s wives. Things that naturally bother us because it makes the founding prophet look more like Warren Jeffs of the FLDS than the men at the helm these days. Things like the fact the Book of Abraham and the translations of the hieroglyphics in it are completely bogus according to Egyptologists. Things like how the most perfect book on the earth Book of Mormon was totally wrong about changing skin color as the sign of a curse. Not to mention all the prophets after that proclaimed it wide and far were just old codgers that were just as racists and homophobic as the people of their generations. Oh wait, those old leaders were just racist, its today’s leaders that are homophobic! My Bad!
The time is past for obscuring the history of the church, the time is past for hiding from its past. So now what? What is the prophetic counsel for the future Church Education System who’s directors can’t even be bothered to answer a simple letter?
To sum it up, it’s inoculation. Or in Elder Ballard’s words:
“Religious instructors should be among the first — outside a student’s family — to introduce authoritative sources on topics that may be less well-known or controversial.
“We give medical inoculations to our precious missionaries before sending them into the mission field so they will be protected against diseases that can harm or even kill them,” he said. “In a similar fashion, please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful and accurate interpretation of gospel doctrine, the scriptures, our history and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.”
“Church leaders today are fully conscious of the unlimited access to information and we are making extraordinary efforts to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration,”
“know the content in these essays like you know the back of your hand.” 2
The idea of religious ‘inoculation’ is not new. It is what all church apologists have been doing since the existence of religious apologists. The principle is basically this. If you got some bit of information that is gonna get out there, rather than lie to people and pretend it doesn’t exist, teach them about it and give them a way to look at it so when they find out, they aren’t surprised by the fact they had never even known about it. It’s also not new to the LDS faith either. Polygamy is an example. It is one of the more well known historical facts among the members of the church. I personally knew about it but had been taught the ‘context’ in a way that it didn’t bother me at all. But here is the rub. In the context I was taught, there was no mention of things like 14 year old brides that were coerced into it by using her family as leverage. I ran into that bit of information and rebelled at the thought. So now what? It seems like looking at the essays referenced by Elder Ballard that the church is going to go even further down this path. You can actually find out about the 14 year old brides on the churches website. 3 It means the ‘milk before meat’ policy of education in the church is gonna be followed up by some actual ‘meat’ so long as it’s presented in a faith affirming context.
Does this approach work? It does. You see humans are subject to something called sunk cost bias.4 Basically the more time and resources we put into something, the harder it is to walk away from it. If a person stays in the church long enough this tends to happen. The LDS faith is one that demands a lot of sacrifice from its members. From 2 years of voluntary salesman service to 10% of your income there is a lot of personal investment in the faith. So the way you ‘inoculate’ someone is by slowly revealing the stuff that would otherwise damage their faith and belief that their’s is the one true religion. When you reveal it slowly people aren’t surprised when they discover it so they don’t walk away when they do. The fact they have grown accustomed and comfortable makes it even harder to leave. Hmmm the more I think about it, this process seems awfully familiar…
I know, it’s like boiling a frog:
Elder Faust talked about this concept in general conference right before I left on my mission. He said:
“The point that Mr. Muggeridge was making was not about frogs but about us and how we tend to accept evil as long as it is not a shock that is thrust on us abruptly. We are inclined to accept something morally wrong if it is only a shade more wrong than something we are already accepting.” (National Press Club Forum.)
This gradual process was foretold by ancient prophets. Nephi tells us that the hearts of the children of men would be stirred up “to anger against that which is good.
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Ne. 28:20–21.)”
So I guess the message to CES teachers is that they need to boil the young LDS frogs before the bad guys boil them. After all the leaders know best right?
Why is it the faith I once held dear seems to me to be acting more and more like the The Party in 1984 first needing to control information and now needing to ‘present it in the proper context’? Maybe it was always about control and the availability of information to this generation has forced its hand.
Call me an idealist. But I think information and truth can stand on its own. It doesn’t need to be presented just so for people to realize it is ok. Given human psychology however, it is possible for us humans to be fooled by our own emotions and desires. Our biases trick us and sometimes we get boiled. I took this problem to the Fridge today and pondered it over a cold one. As usual when I quieted my mind, inspiration flowed and the Fridge revealed a deep truth. Thus saith the tall cool one when it comes to trusting a flow of information that seems to be constantly changing:
“Ask yourself if you are the frog.”
- bonus if you can find the unlisted polygamy essay link buried the middle of the other one. Seriously, why do that if not to be less than straightforward in telling the truth to the LDS membership? ↩
- Do you think this includes following up on all the footnotes? Should regular members study them as well? ↩
- But you still have to dig through the footnotes and look up the references to find out about the way Joseph put all of her families salvation on Helen Mar Kimball’s 14 year old shoulders depending on her willingness to marry a him at age 38. ↩
- This is the same reason it is hard to stop playing clash of clans ↩