So with all the news press about the latest essays from the Mormon church1 around polygamy I have been noticing a backfire effect from believers all over social media to recent blogs posted on the topic.
What is the backfire effect you ask? It is a well known psychological response to severe cognitive dissonance. When a person is faced with a serious affront to their deeply held belief they don't admit they were wrong and move on. Instead they dig in even deeper. A really famous example of this was when Ellen White, prophetess of the Seventh Day Adventists confirmed William Millers prediction of the end of the world and the return of Jesus in 1843. There was a great build up to the day of reckoning where thousands of followers gathered, sang hymns and got ready to meet their Lord. Some were so sure that this was the end that they gave away all their stuff in preparation for the great event. But the day came and went without incident. It was even termed the great disappointment. Some left the religion after this colossal failure of its prophetic leaders, but the majority stayed. You see after the day came and went a slew of apologetic writings cropped up explaining why this prediction was wrong. Some pushed the date back some said the whole incident was interpreted wrongly. In general the followers of adventism didn't simply realize their leader was totally wrong, they continued to believe despite the fact their leader in his own words admitted as much.
"To Second Advent Believers," writing, "I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment; yet I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door." 2
So here you have in the past a blatantly huge miss by founding prophets and leaders of the Seventh Day Adventist church. And yet, people still convert and still hold to that religion, about 18 million of them by their count. You see people don't let things shake their faith, not because their faith is all that amazingly strong but because is it a psychological quirk amongst our species that creates this backfire effect.
This is not an uncommon story, on the contrary it is repeated over and over again on small and large scales especially in religious settings. Waco Texas, Heavens Gate and James Town are tragic examples of this natural tendency causing people to go to their deaths rather than consider they might be mistaken about their deeply held beliefs.
About a month ago I made a profetic prediction that this essay in particular would polarize church members becuase of the history and the media attention it would get. Now it has hit many major news outlets and apologetic blogs like this one are popping up.
These are examples of the backfire effect. Just consider his lines of justification.
It was normal for the time. Only it wasn't (go ahead and google that one for yourself) and even if it was normal, how does that justify it. Don't members and leaders declare gay marriage is whack no matter how normal for the time it is?
We don't really know what went down… Umm yeah we do. It's in the church's own history books. The same ones all the anti Mormons were pulling from when they pointed out all this sordid history.
He goes on and on with justification for an act that he likely considers heinous himself. How would you know this? Ask him about what Warren Jeffs did and listen to his response. Every single Mormon I know readily condemns Warren as a really bad man and no way possible could such an evil vile person be a prophet of God. Yet Warren continues to have followers that think he is a mouthpiece of the Lord telling them God's words for the here and now. Even though he admits he is not a prophet in this video you can hear the believer saying he is a prophet. Talk about an extreme example of the backfire effect. This psychological effect is so strong you can be having a discussion with a devout Mormon believer about Warren Jeffs and literally segue right into a discussion about Joseph Smith and he will slip from condemnation to veneration in a heart beat claiming that Joe Smith was just doing what God required of him.
At least thats the way my un-favorite MLM blogger puts it. To quote the gospel according to Trimble: "Why do people make Joseph Smith into some kind of a monster but omit the fact that Jesus commanded those Old Testament prophets and that those prophets lived that principle fully?
Joseph Smith, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Moses. These men are the same. Joseph Smith happens to hit much closer to home because the time period in which he lived. Polygamy seems so weird to us because of the time period that we ourselves live in. But time periods mean nothing when it comes to defining righteousness.
If polygamy was commanded by God in the Bible…then there is no reason polygamy can’t be commanded in our day"
Well Greg before you assure us it was commanded in the Bible, please for Fridges sake quote a bible scripture that says as much. Oh wait,,, you can't? That's right because there isn't one. In fact the only one that even comes close is when David is condemned for wanting another guys wife. So what this means is because God didn't wipe them out (like he was prone to do with people that displeased him back then) you are saying that God implicitly approved of polygamy. Ok even if we give you the implicit assumption win, then why was David condemned? Because he sent off her husband on a mission to war and then took her to himself. Is this really that different from the polyandrous marriages that Joe instituted after sending husbands on missions? 3
Greg is suffering from the backfire effect (assuming his isn't outright lying) because he goes on thusly:
"Polygamy was not a cultural norm in Joseph Smith’s day. It wasn’t cool at the time and it wasn’t acceptable either. It wasn’t in Joseph Smith’s best interest to put it into place. If he was a bad guy…then there were plenty of other ways he could have found to gratify any convoluted sexual pleasures he had. He knew polygamy might cost him his life so why would he make it so public? He could have secretly used his power and influence to have sex with various women while staying under the radar. One has to ask themselves why he didn’t just head to the local bar or brothel like so many men in his day were doing and continue to do now.
It doesn’t make sense that someone would concoct an entire religion from the days of their youth and place their life on the line just so that they could be with multiple women when there were so many easier ways to go about that."
Kudos to Greg for admitting that it wasn't normal then anymore so than Warren Jeffs actions are today. But then comes the lie buried in the half truth. Joe Smith wasn't public about it at all. In fact he went to great efforts to keep it all secret using temple covenants to bind people to silence and even to the point of ordering the Nauvoo Expositor to be destroyed. Why destroy a printing press? Because it exposed his polygamy and polyandry. Old Joe is on record lying to 300 of his followers in the churches own history books for chills sake!
You see Greg knows about the Expositor because he mentions it in his article as proof that the terrible media is giving you such a skewed version of reality so badly wrong that you should trust his blog more right? So why did Greg write an article filled with half truths? My money is on the backfire effect. You see lots of people use the stuff he writes to feel good about their belief, he connects with people in a way they like so when USA today points out the teen brides of the prophet Joe, they feel that cognitive dissonance and reach out to him. Like any good marketer, he puts together an article that does exactly what they want, creates a warm thread of justification for them to wrap their beliefs in. You see when you get the backfire effect, the only way to deal with it is by believing half truths. Other wise you have to face the fact you might have been wrong about this church you dedicated your life too. Otherwise you have to face the fact your deeply held beliefs might be wrong. You have to consider the possibility of choosing to openly express your doubts and risk the social consequences of being cast out of the clique of believers that is your ward and stake. You see the social benefits of staying in the church for the most part outweigh what happens when you leave it (especially if you have an entire business built up on a blog that is super popular amongst mormons). It is that risk that creates the backfire effect. Do you want to fall prey to the backfire effect? Ask yourself this. If you were one of Warren Jeffs followers … would you want to know it? If the answer is yes then make truth a priority over belief, question everything, even your own assumptions. For thus saith the Fridge:
-If you really want to know the truth, you won't stop looking once you think you've found it.
- These essays can be a bit hard to locate using normal searches and browsing on LDS org. Those church web developers must have some pretty stout shelfs to make this info so hard to get to.
"First Vision Accounts" http://www.lds.org/topics/first-vision-accounts
"Are Mormons Christian?" http://www.lds.org/topics/christians
"Book of Mormon Translation" http://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-translation
"Race and the Priesthood" http://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood
"Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah" http://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-and-families-in-early-utah
"Book of Mormon and DNA studies" https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies
"Becoming like God" https://www.lds.org/topics/becoming-like-god
"Peace & Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints" - https://www.lds.org/topics/peace-and-violence-among-19th-century-latter-day-saints
"Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham" - https://www.lds.org/topics/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham
"Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo" - https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng
"The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage" - https://www.lds.org/topics/the-manifesto-and-the-end-of-plural-marriage?lang=eng ↩
- Memoirs of William Miller, Page 256 ↩
- One more bit of careful wording is avoiding using the word polyandry in the essays, thats when you marry another guy's wife like David did. ↩