This last 72 hours I feel I have had an epiphany, ideas that have been circulating around in my head have finally congealed into a whole and a new understanding has burst forth. Not at all unlike what I would have called in the past a revelatory experience or gaining a new flash of insight. If I still believed in the holy ghost, he would certainly get credit for this because it feels very much the same as times on my mission when I would pray for a new road to go down or a new door to knock and seemingly run into that golden contact that was totally prepared for the message I was about to bring.
Joseph Smith was brilliant, a genius if you will. Because when it comes to human psychology he was far, far ahead of his time. It seems as though he understood intuitively the way the mind works and was able to tap into that as he gave the world the Book of Mormon and America its first corporate religion.1 The peak of his brilliance was the temple and its rituals. Let me explain why I feel this way. 2 The temple ceremony is a hazing ritual. It is a rite of passage. Some say Joseph copied it from the masons, primarily because it was instigated shortly after he gained the highest level of freemasonry himself and because of similarities to things such as the Masonic five points of fellowship that have since been removed from the experience. Some say he was restoring lost ceremonies that date clear back to Solomon.3 I personally do not think he copied the masonic rituals outright, because if you look over the works he produced he never copied whole heartily, he amalgamated things, taking a section from here and there and putting them together to make something new. He was great at merging popular ideas in a way to create new philosophies, he took chapters of Isaiah, combined them with a dream his father had and some cool war scenes from the book the late war that was used to teach school children about the war of 1812 when he was a kid and voila! You have the Book of Mormon.4 Researching the Book of Abraham shows similar signs of amalgamation. So given the idea that just possibly the self-proclaimed prophet was very good at pulling different content together and making something new it would make sense that the temple rituals were a combination of washing and anointing rituals that were being practiced by other religions in that day and age and a version of the masonic rites that he had just learned.
How much truly divine inspiration 5 went into the beginnings of these rituals and how much was just a copy we may never really know. For Joseph was right about one thing, his name is surely had for both good and evil in the world.6
My point today has nothing to do with how the temple and its rituals came to be; instead it has to do with its effects on those that enter it. You see I really do think the original prophet of the LDS church was a natural genius when it comes to human psychology, so good at it that I wonder if he didn’t even realize it. It comes out in things he said like this:
A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation…
This quote is from the Lectures on Faith that Joseph gave at the school of the prophets way back in the day. The lectures on faith have the distinguished honor of being removed from LDS canon and taken out of the original publishings of the Doctrine and Covenants of the church. This is most likely because these teaches from the prophet then don’t line up with the teachings of what the godhead is today. I learned about the lectures on faith from a leader in the MTC when he told us that the Missionary Training Center was in fact the school of the prophets 7 from way back then and suggested we read them.8 The lectures make it pretty evident that Joe 9 was good at motivating people. It is also readily apparent that he intuitively understood how to form an immediate bond with people and ask them to do something for him. I think this is evident in his well documented arrival in Kirkland after which he stayed in the home of the Whiteny’s for several weeks. Whether prophetic or an affinity con, the reader will have to decide on her own. What is important to this discussion is the psychology involved.
We now understand the Benjamin Franklin Effect. This is a trick of the mind which in essence it means you grow to like people for whom you do nice things. It is a lot like the Sunk Cost Fallacy where our decisions are tainted by the emotional investments we accumulate, and the more we invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it. 10
They both can be summed up in the idea, you love what you sacrifice for, and the larger the sacrifice the deeper the love. This is not that farfetched if you think about it from a personal perspective. Consider your family, your children, how much do you love them? I’d bet quite a bit for the most part. These days the average investment to raise a child from birth to 18 years old is well over a million dollars and that is just the monetary investment. As any parent will attest to the effort goes much further than that. When it comes to personal time, worry and anguish we put a lot in more in the Bank of Kids than money alone. Our investment in our children is likely the biggest one we make in our lives, and how much do we love them? Yep, now you get my point.
So Joseph Smith knew this concept that sacrifice creates love (or at least intuitively understood it), but I think his genius 11 for understanding human nature went a whole step further. This is evident in the Book of Mormon as well as the temple and its rituals. First the Book of Mormon, in this book there is a story of a group called the Gadianton Robbers who formed secret combinations, just what is a secret combination? It is a group where you take on an oath of death that you will always support the goals of the group. In Ether 8:22 we find out that secret combinations are all about getting power and gain. Sounds a bit like the illuminati doesn’t it? Or maybe the stone cutters.
The fact is these are all fraternal organizations, secret societies if you will. But what is secret about them that are so bad? It’s the oaths. The oaths gives these groups power. This is because as we now know that initiation ceremonies such as these oaths psychologically affect our view of the group we become part of. Tests showed that people who suffered disturbing initiation rites to become part of a group found the group to be extremely interesting, the people that didn’t go through those rites found the group to be worthless once they joined. Doing things that are strange or uncomfortable don’t ultimately make you want to leave the group, they make you want to stay more because you passed the test.
This is how fraternities have worked for eons, the hazing rituals, often very demeaning and bothersome bonds the brotherhood together, it is simply human nature, part of the cognitive dissonance that occurs when you go through the initiation doesn’t make you run from it, but causes your brain to resolve the difference by deciding it is a good thing you went through that. Ironically this effect just might be the secret to happiness if you realize how to use it.
Now given the loads of information on secret societies in the Book of Mormon we can be assured that Joseph Smith understood them. Flash forward a few years from the publishing of that book and we see that Joseph is introduced to freemasonry by one John Bennet, both scoundrel and friend of the prophet. Not long after rising to the highest most level in masonry, similar ceremonies are introduced into the religion he founded. I think he intuitively realized the power of a bonding people to the cause via these secret oaths. The temple became the core of a sacred society (cause it’s sacred not secret) where oaths were taken to never speak ill of leaders and to give everything you own to the cause; these oaths where much stronger in the early church, in terms of penalties for disobeying them, than they are now. Long ago there was even a 5th oath to avenge the blood of the prophets that was put in place by Brigham young and has been long since removed. Consider the power of these oaths though, John D Lee, infamous leader of the mountain meadows massacre felt it was his duty to do such a horrific act due to the oath that he had made in the temple.
The recent endowment of my niece brought again into stark relief the part the temple plays in deceiving the members of the church. Consider this example, you are not told beforehand what is on a contract you are about to sign. You have no idea what it is about at all. You are given a chance to back out if you want to. You aren’t forced to sign. But you have no for knowledge of what is about to happen or what you are signing up for. You are surrounded by people you love encouraging you to sign it though. People that have gone through the same initiation rite you are now part of. You sign the contract and only then are you allowed to see what you committed to. How is that not deceptive? Can you see the psychological pressure I am talking about?
After you make the commitment to participate in essence signing the contract, you are exposed to things that seem really, really odd. Your initiation begins, once you get through it all you are now part of the clubs inner circle. You passed through the same strange rituals as everyone else has. There is psychology at work on the people that are part of the rituals as well. They feel good about others going through the same thing because it happened to them too. I think that it was an internal realization of this fact that ultimately led me to this blog and me need to warn others about what they are getting into. So we have learned that secret rituals bond people together. Consider the ramifications though, the more difficult the ritual, the stronger the bond. That means the weaker the ceremonies in the temple get in terms of making people uncomfortable, the weaker the psychological hold is on the members that pass through that rite.
This alone might be the biggest reason that the church is seeing women demand to be treated equally and so many members demanding that things like allowing gay marriage and fiscal transparency from the religion they follow. They are not as duty bound to the covenants made as I was because they didn’t promise to die with some fairly gruesome pantomimes if they did otherwise. I can personally feel the hold on my brain even now as I type this I remember making those actions for the first time and how I couldn’t stop thinking of this scripture in Ether 8:19
For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man…
It didn’t make sense to me then, it was very uncomfortable but I plunged forward anyways. I felt the switch flip in my own brain as cognitive dissonance asserted itself and I came to believe in the brotherhood just like every other initiate has in similar situations since the beginning of time. For decades I loved going to the temple, even when the ceremonies changed, I welcomed that as well. Ultimately though I came to understand the deceptive psychology of it and now I am the worst of all offenders. The reason being, because I talk about the secrets and the combinations of oaths that are taken inside the club, nothing is worse to someone in the inside circle than that. That is how deep this psychology runs. Talk about a way to form a cohesive core of followers! Now do you see why I think Joseph was a genius?
As I write this there is a fraud case in England that both current and post mormon’s are watching, I dare say the outcome of this case hinges on the temple and the fact you have to pay to play when it comes to going there. Already church lawyers have argued that tithing is optional, really? Can someone point me to the doctrine in that says that? because my understanding is if you wanted an eternal family and not didn’t want to be burned at the last days you’d better pay your tithing fire insurance! Now chances are the case will get dismissed, but would it have even gotten to that point if there wasn’t at least an appearance of fraud?
Without the temple and the sacrifices you make to get there, the additional sacrifices you make inside that you do without for knowledge of it all lend to the dissonance in your mind that creates the new belief that it must be right, else why would you have made the commitment. It is this need to believe because of the sacrifices made that is so strong that causes a rational, reasonable, intelligent person to overlook the similarities between Joseph Smith and Warren Jeffs or to invent wild convoluted theories about how the Book of Abraham came to be when the simplest explanation is he made it up. It is the same dissonance that will cause my own relatives to feel sad for my children because their father has left the church.
The core of the church hinges on the temple, the big promise the church makes an eternal family, and you only get that by going to the temple, the only way we can do that is to pay up and give 10% of all you make and believe that the church is the one true one restored by God in these latter days. The temple movie really is the highest grossing film of all time when you think about it. Once you go there, you pass the initiation rites, you become part of the sacred combination, you do promise to some good things, but you also promise to give everything you have to the church and never ever to speak badly of the leaders. That is a promise I felt I had to break, because it is secret, not sacred. It is a psychological trick and a false promise that is simply made up no different than the way essential oils will heal all your ills and make you rich at the same time. If only I had looked at this with the simple common sense approach my father taught me years and years ago. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Read up on what a corporate sole is, basically it means one man owns and directs all the property and wealth of the corporation. The LDS church is a corporate sole even today ↩
- Warning, what you are about to read might bother you, I will try to tread lightly, but it is nigh impossible to discuss this topic with a valiant Mormon because of the sacredness the temple hold for them. Oh wait, did I put that warning in a foot note you only read after you read the article? Does it bother you that a person would withhold pertinent information until after you were committed to that course of action? If it does then you just might be seeing my point. ↩
- Which with a little research you can find simply wasn’t the case because the masons and their ceremonies only date back to about the 15th century, but don’t take my word for it go find out on your own. ↩
- The biblical style of the late war was a bonus! ↩
- Here is a question; if it was all divine inspiration, then why did it need to change so much over the years? ↩
- Given some of the debates I have had recently I am beginning to wonder if I am destined for the same thing, such is the nature of being a profet I suppose :/ ↩
- Ironic isn’t it? :), maybe they should have called it the school of the profets! ↩
- I obtained a copy and to be honest I never really picked up on the 3 in 1 trinity teaching about God in them back then, but they are surely there. Looking back I was pretty enamored by the power of faith concepts and focused mostly on that. Well some things never change, I am still a believer in the power of faith even after all that has passed, but that is another topic for another post. ↩
- Have you ever noticed how believers bristle if you shorten the prophets name to Joe? It’s like it makes him less honorable. I know in my youth it was looked down on to do this, and to this day I still have a hard time not writing his name full length. I suppose Mormonism will never fully let go of me. ↩
- These are both specific counterintuitive tricks your brain does without you even realizing it. They are part of a bigger picture of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Once you understand them, it helps you see how con men, MLMs, and even world leaders can use things like the big lie to gain your trust and support. The prevalence of this psychology being used in the doctrine of the LDS church can surely explain why Utah is the MLM capital of the world, and maybe even why the game bunko is so popular. I personally think the most successful snake oil salesman is the one that believes his own lie. ↩
- Some may read this and say how could Joseph be a genius, he hardly even had an education! Well Einstein failed math, and rumors of Joe’s education or lack thereof have been a bit exaggerated, his father was a school teacher by trade and home schooled his family. Besides, geniuses often understand things that others don’t without even knowing why. Bill Cosby was a genius and comedy ushering in a whole new style that had never been seen before his time. ↩
I as well connected with your article in a way I never considered before.I thought my first trip down the rabbit hole was very odd indeed,however I accepted it lock stock and two smoking barrels.Now I look back and think and actually laugh at how naive and accepting I was(as a convert I had no other references to help me )except members so I figured if they were ok with it perhaps I could be as well.Glad I have grown beyond that point.
So many things you wrote connected with me. Thank you so much!! I really appreciate your article. And thank you so much for mentioning MLM- even just briefly. I was heavily involved in one and it was the similarities to church (I was still in) that made me realized it was about getting my to stay, pay, recruit, and check up on others for someone else’s benefit. I saw that the time, emotion and money I pour into it, kept me even more invested with both organizations.
I loved this article. So many things you said connected with me. Thank YOU!!
Loved the post! Great insight on why it is SO hard to leave when you’ve been integrated into something that caused you to do strange things you wouldnt do otherwise. Leaving and actually saying “this isn’t true” is more than an admission the church isn’t what it seems to be, but more an admission that you did a whole bunch of weird things and sacrificed a lot all for no reason at all–which is a much harder admission. Obviously, whether the church is true or not, we all can grow from sacrifice and giving to others… but we’re pretty much lost on the rites and initiation practices.
for further light and knowledge
I had a few ephinanies while reading your post. It was like you reached out and touched one of my brain loops or nobs or whatever those thingys are called. Weird.
I first went through the temple on the day of my wedding. There was no way that I was going to back out. I would have kissed a monkey if I was asked to. I think the ramifications of the changes made in 1990 are being made manifest now. And there is more pressure to change it even more to make it be more palatable. It is clear that the current leaders don’t have what Joe did. But then, they believe and Joe knew. That is the difference.
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We learned about this Sunk Cost phenom back when I was studying psychology in the 1990s. At the time, it was a part of Behavioral Psych and it was introduced as:
“Do you eat peanut butter sandwiches because you like them?
Do you like peanut butter sandwiches because you eat them?”
It had a lot of material to support the second position.
So what you’re saying is I may yet learn to like beer?