I KNOW the Church is True!
“I KNOW the Church is True” is an extremely familiar statement within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, AKA: The LDS or Mormon Church. Every first Sunday of the month Latter-day Saints around the world, or “Mormons” gather together in local “fast and testimony” meetings. This is a time when members fast from food and drink for at least two meals, give the monetary savings from fasting to the poor and testify! The giving spirit that is part of this practice truly is a beautiful part of LDS culture!
“Open Mic” Sunday
Fast Sunday each month is literally “open mic” time for LDS congregations. Any who feel so moved by the Spirit, young or old, 2 to 102, may go (and do go) to the front of the chapel to testify to ALL present about their testimony as borne by the Holy Ghost. Members testify of the truthfulness of the LDS Church, the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ, etc. A Mormon Bishop presides near the pulpit of each meeting so that any false doctrine shared can be corrected if needed or if someone says something deliberately at odds with orthodox Mormon beliefs, that person can be escorted off of the podium. This latter situation is extremely rare.
Small children are sometimes seen racing from scrambling (and blushing) parents to get to the podium to LOUDLY have their say. Conversely, some toddlers are carried up by other parents to publicly testify, only to then freeze and have their parents whisper everything in their ears to say: “I know the Church is True, I know Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God…” etc. Mormons usually get over fears of public speaking at a VERY early age!
Profound Social Cohesion
Fast Sunday is a time of profound social cohesion, acceptance and warmth within LDS congregations. This is particularly often the case for those deemed by congregation members to have offered the most heartfelt and genuine testimonies of the truth claims pretty much everyone in attendance agrees upon.
But it is not just the sharing of testimonies in this manner that builds cohesion. All local LDS positions are volunteer only. Nearly EVERY active Mormon is given a calling or an assignment to do within the LDS Church. In the words of the late and beloved President Gordon B. Hinckley:
Every [member] needs three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with “the good word of God.”President Gordon B. Hinckley, 1997
Invitations for church responsibilities or callings are believed to be literally inspired by God. Local LDS priesthood leaders are sustained as having the power and authority to literally act on behalf of God for that local congregation. To say no to a priesthood leader when a calling or request for service is extended is STRONGLY frowned upon within the Mormon Church. After all, one is then saying no to God!
Latter-day Saints Covenant to Give Everything to the Mormon Church.
Within LDS temples, Mormons ritualistically covenant to give ALL of their time, talents and all that the Lord has blessed them with to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In return, Mormons are promised that they and their families will be together in heaven someday and that they will become gods. This is commonly referred to as the “covenant path” within LDS circles. A truly transactional relationship with God!
What all this is to say is that Mormons serve. A LOT! It is not just a 10% tithing of their income (typically gross income) they donate to the Church. (Tithing all goes to Salt Lake City, a small portion is remitted back to local congregations help cover local operating expenses). Mormons also donate to missionary funds, education support efforts and give hours upon hours of time to the Mormon Church to build up the Kingdom of God. People with full time jobs not uncommonly give 20+ hours a week of volunteer service to the LDS Church. There are no paid local lay members. Full time missionaries commonly volunteer around 70 hours a week of proselytizing time, PAYING financially as well for the opportunity to do so. The very salvation and exaltation of them and their families is contingent upon doing so!
Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith 6:5
Self Actualization in Service
This is not to say all Mormons serve to earn salvation. The hope and desire is eventually one self-actualizes to the point that serving others will just be because one loves serving and helping others with no thought of reward. Many Latter-day Saints have grown into this category. In my view, these Mormons are “Saints” in every sense of the word.
Any degree of perceived selfishness of individual Mormon members is often profoundly frowned upon within LDS circles. Mormons are often expected to put the needs of the institution or the needs of others within the institution ahead of their own. The promise is often given by priesthood leaders, who speak for God, that by doing so, the serving member will be blessed in ways often unseen or if seen, often unexpected. Many Latter-day Saints who serve testify this is the case (similar to the way people serving within other high-demand religious organizations also testify that their own lives have been blessed).
Social Support Within the Mormon Church
Most of this service and sacrifice benefits mostly those within the active LDS membership roles as well as the central religious institution. Mormons are EXCELLENT at taking care of their own (especially their actively participating own)! This is all viewed as part of building up the Kingdom of God. People love those they serve for and with. What this all means is there is usually TREMENDOUS social cohesion and in-group loyalty within LDS circles!
I can’t count the number of casseroles my mother made growing up for fellow members in need within whatever ward (the name for a local Mormon congregation) my parents were a part of.
I can’t count the number of callings both my father and mother were involved in, or the way they blessed local church congregations and groups with their musical talents in the many musical callings they served in and continue to serve in.
I can’t count the number of Mormon families I have seen receive free moving crews to help them move in or out of their homes in the various LDS wards I participated in for over four decades. (Translation, I have helped move MANY families during my time in the Church… lots of squats and dead lifts and social cohesion!).
I can’t count the number of service activities I have been to in the LDS Church where all members participate.
Growing up, over and over again young men in local LDS wards shoveled the walks of widows in the ward, helped care for single mothers, etc.
The Church often IS the Community.
In small Mormon communities throughout Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada and Wyoming, the LDS Church isn’t just within the community, it largely IS the community. Dutch oven cookouts, campouts, etc. ALL part of social cohesion, support, bonding and love. In many ways, I truly miss these aspects of being integrally involved with Mormon community. Of serving and helping opportunities in these ways.
Strong Social Cohesion, a Gift With a Shadow
Many factors mentioned above are ingredients for POWERFUL social cohesion within LDS group. Historically, this type of cohesion has often been very important for the advancement of humanity.
Similar strength of cohesion was seen in ancient Egypt or the ancient Americas. Pyramids of these ancient civilizations are still standing today as testament to this! These cultures also had high-demand, autocratic religions acting as the glue for this cohesion.
In more modern times, a group of poorly understood or tolerated religious individuals, AKA Mormons, fled/were driven to the intermountain west and there established a very prominent presence, “blossoming like a rose in the desert” (to borrow a phrase from Isaiah)! Brutal winters and harsh summers with pests and other challenges were endured. And the Mormon people came together and successfully overcame all of these challenges in a very hostile new environment. Groups with lesser social cohesion (e.g. some early American colonists) often failed… and died!
Even in the 21st century, beautiful fruits of this strong social cohesion can be seen the world over within LDS circles and beyond. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (now known as The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square) is a prime example of this.
Just listen to this rendition of “O Divine Redeemer” sung to a crowd of over 20,000 members, (not to mention millions more listening via internet and satellite connection to this live event)! It is absolutely Gorgeous! And Moving!
The Foundation and Glue of Strong Social Cohesion
The foundation of this type of human interaction within the Mormon culture is the strong social cohesion found within the LDS Church. And this is largely fueled by the testimonies, the absolute conviction members have that the Church is true! That the existential narrative that they all believe in, and that binds them all together under a single umbrella is from God.
At local levels, there is much more than just binding to a powerful existential narrative bringing Mormons together. Genuine human connection and interactions that fuel the social cohesion often happen within wards as people serve and help together. Ward sizes stay rather small. Usually no larger than about 150 adults in a ward (Dunbar’s number).
Divinity and Goodness
Is there Divinity and goodness in this strong social cohesion that religious certainty, purpose and vision can bring? I will let you be the judge. But this type of social cohesion is both a gift and a shadow. It strikes right at the heart of differences in world-view between many “collectivist” and “individualist” mindsets and paradigms.
As mentioned, factors that can promote very strong social cohesion are not without shadows. During my faith transition, I came to believe many factors within the Mormon Church (some described above) very clearly fit within the BITE Model developed by Steven Hassan, often considered America’s foremost cult expert.
Hassan’s experience with cults began as he escaped the Moonie cult in the late 70’s. He is now a licensed health care practitioner, and has studied and written extensively about groups that use various mind control or “spiritual manipulation” techniques (often subconsciously) to unduly influence members towards group missions or goals.
The BITE model was developed by Hassan to help identify groups which may be using manipulative and coercive (ofen subtle) undue influence to shape Behavior, Information, Thoughts and even Emotions of members.
Undue influence occurs when the overall effect of the methods to control Behavior, Information, Thoughts and Emotions promotes dependency and obedience to some cause, leader or group. Members of pseudo-religious groups and cults subjected to undue influence can live in their own homes, have 9-to-5 jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently. (emphasis added)Freedom of Mind BITE Model Handout
Here are Examples of the BITE model in action as cited from Freedom of Mind BITE Model Handout, (an organization Steve Hassan is integrally involved with):
- Regulate individual’s physical reality
- Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
- When, how and with whom the member has sex
- Control types of clothing and hairstyles
- Regulate diet – food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
- Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
- Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
- Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
- Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the Internet
- Permission required for major decisions
- Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
- Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
- Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
- Impose rigid rules and regulations
- Punish disobedience by beating, torture, burning, cutting, rape, or tattooing/branding
- Threaten harm to family and friends
- Force individual to rape or be raped
- Instill dependency and obedience
- Encourage and engage in corporal punishment
a. Deliberately withhold information
b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
c. Systematically lie to the cult member
- Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
b. Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking
- Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
b. Control information at different levels and missions within group
c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
- Encourage spying on other members
a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
b. Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
- Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
b. Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources
- Unethical use of confession
a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories.
- Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
a. Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as reality
b. Instill black and white thinking
c. Decide between good vs. evil
d. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
- Change person’s name and identity
- Use of loaded language and clichés which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
- Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
- Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member
- Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
- Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
e. Speaking in tongues
f. Singing or humming
- Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
- Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy allowed
- Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful
- Instill new “map of reality”
- Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish
- Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt
- Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
- Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as
a. Identity guilt
b. You are not living up to your potential
c. Your family is deficient
d. Your past is suspect
e. Your affiliations are unwise
f. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
g. Social guilt
h. Historical guilt
- Instill fear, such as fear of:
a. Thinking independently
b. The outside world
d. Losing one’s salvation
e. Leaving or being shunned by the group
f. Other’s disapproval
- Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner
- Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
- Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
a. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
b. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
c. Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends and family
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
e. Threats of harm to ex-member and family
Groups that Display Various Aspects of the BITE Model
The Mormon Church, Jehova’s Witnesses, Scientology, the Unification Church and many high-demand Evangelical Christian Groups clearly display various aspects of the BITE model at play. Some of these groups more than others. At the most extreme end of the BITE model, violence is used to unduly influence others.
As an Institution, The Mormon Church Has Evolved Beyond Using Physical Violence.
Thankfully in the current day and age, the Mormon Church has evolved beyond deliberately using physical violence or physical intimidation to influence behavior. However, in the early days of the LDS Church, violent means were sometimes used to help the cause of the Lord. These pieces of historical fact are pretty much never shared in Sunday School classes (they aren’t usually openly published in Sunday School manuals printed by the Church that volunteer teachers teach from.) The Danites, an early Mormon group LDS historians acknowledge Joseph Smith endorsed and supported are a classic example of early violence used within the LDS Church for coercive means.
We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to cleanse the Church of very great evils which hath hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings & persuasions.Joseph Smith’s Diary, July 27, 1838
Clearly Joseph Smith knew the Danites were using forcible and violent means to achieve their ends, though he may not have known all of the intricate details of what they did.
My Own Testimony
In my own case, I was exposed to and gave countless testimonies and gave a good deal of volunteer service as well, to include two years as a volunteer full-time missionary in the Philippines from 1995-1997. Like so many before me, I knew the Church was true! In fact, I knew that I knew! I participated in serving others, but also benefited richly from the selfless service so many other Mormons gave to me. Youth leaders, teachers, ecclesiastical leaders, etc. All on a volunteer basis! For the love and care so many demonstrated to me, I will forever be grateful.
I now believe my testimony of the truthfulness of the literal truth claims of the Mormon Church was mistaken. Coming to this conclusion was incredibly painful (covered more in some of my other posts on this site).
I No Longer Believe the Mormon Church is Literally What it Claims to Be.
As I have mentioned in other posts on this site, (for example HERE and HERE) I no longer believe the LDS Church is literally what it claims to be. I just don’t believe the evidence supports the literal claims, and in fact believe the evidence strongly contradicts the literal truth claims in many instances and on multiple fronts.
Objective evidence which challenges literal beliefs is not typically taught in LDS Sunday School classes or printed in Mormon Sunday School manuals because it is not considered faith promoting. That said, the Mormon Church HAS more recently made positive steps forward in being more open and transparent. Information previously deemed to be anti-Mormon lies is now published as historical Mormon fact in the LDS Gospel Topics Essays. These still often aren’t taught very openly though within LDS circles.
For me personally at this point, I would have to embrace the notion of a lying, deceitful God to embrace most of the core literal claims of the Mormon Church. I just can’t do that!
I also believe several aspects of LDS theology and culture as currently understood are or can be very harmful to LGBTQ populations, women, minorities, children, those not holding to a literal belief paradigm, and others. I can’t bring myself to believe God commands harm be done or perpetuated to others, especially “the least of these.”
How Do I Now Understand My Prior Testimony?
For myself, I now believe my prior testimony of what I KNEW to be true was likely based upon a number of psychological (and other) factors, many of them systemic within the religious institution I was raised in.
The Illusory Truth Effect
First, I had recited and heard the words, “I know the Church is true” literally thousands of times since I was a toddler. I believe the illusory truth effect likely played a large part in me later coming to KNOW the LDS Church was true. We tend to believe as true that to which we are repeatedly exposed.
The Elevation Emotion
Second, I had felt enlightened and uplifted on numerous occasions while reading LDS Scriptures and while praying. I had been taught hundreds of times that these feelings and this sensation of enlightenment was the Spirit of God testifying of the literal truthfulness of what I believed.
I have since learned that moral psychologists describe this uplifting, expansive and enlightening experience as the elevation emotion. It is common across many cultures and DOES reinforce noble traits and behaviors such as courage, compassion, etc. However, the elevation emotion is NOT a reliable marker of literal truth.
Believing such to be a literal witness of truth is an example of emotional based reasoning, a well described cognitive distortion/fallacy. In the words of the ancient Jewish prophet Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Confirmation Bias, Motivated Reasoning and Avoidance of Cognitive Dissonance
Third, I also had many other experiences in life that strengthened my beliefs further. Prayers answered, etc. I now view many of these experiences as a potent combination of confirmation bias, motivated reasoning and avoidance of cognitive dissonance.
People within every religious and non-religious paradigm are prone to utilizing these measures to reinforce pre-existing belief structures. It is a natural part of how we are wired that lets us more quickly make sense of the data around us. An entire post could be spent discussing just these three principles (or even each one individually). But this isn’t that post.
The Source of Powerful Certainty
All of these factors (and I believe others as well) I now believe combined to help me develop a powerful certainty of the truthfulness of the Mormon Church. This is not unlike the absolute certainty many from other religions or high-demand faiths experience that THEIR path is the absolute truth as well.
I Still Believe there is Much Good in the Mormon Church
All of the above said, I STILL believe there is MUCH good within the Mormon Church and am thankful for the growth I received as a member of the Mormon Church.
From my Home Page:
I still believe much of what I learned in Mormonism is true, but no longer in the same way. And certainly not from a literal paradigm in most cases. I now view Mormonism as a small part of a much larger and richer tapestry. I believe all religions and scripture are man-made and believe there is Divinity in all of them.
What then is “The Truth” of the Mormon Church?
I believe the truth of the church is primarily found in the lives of service and compassion that many church members lead.Comment shared with a family member on FB, July 2018
There is a common saying advocated repeatedly within the Mormon Church:
The Church is Perfect, But it’s Members Aren’t!
I believe it’s actually the opposite. The source of goodness and perfection (part of which is the beauty of human imperfection) IS the Mormon Members themselves. The Divinity that resides within each of them.
I believe there are major flaws within the Church as an institution. It is NOT perfect. I don’t believe it is what it claims to be. But Mormons themselves are salt of the earth type of people. They often literally sacrifice everything to serve and love those around them.
These “salt of the earth” types of people are not found only in the Mormon Church! I believe the biological moral foundations that make this type of behavior possible exist in almost all other people as well (sociopaths may be an exception in some regards).
Intrinsic Biological Moral Foundations: The Source of Religious “Perfection”
I believe these intrinsic, even Divine, biological moral foundations are capitalized upon by the institutional Mormon Church. It benefits greatly from the goodness of the hearts of its members. And it even helps provide opportunities for that goodness to be manifest. But that doesn’t necessarily make the LDS institution true… or “perfect.”
This said, I believe there IS truth and Divinity within the existential narratives that are so important to the LDS religion and that the Mormon Church helps promote. These narratives have helped bind and continue to help bind Mormons tightly together. But I don’t believe most of this truth is literal. I don’t believe in most of these truths in the manner taught in Mormon Sunday School classes.
In fact, I believe there is truth and Divinity within every religious narrative across the globe. I believe God is everywhere.
This is an opinion I plan to post about some other time.
Jason Harris is a Neurologist/Neuro-Ophthalmologist, Dad and Husband who shares his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made and believes there is Divinity in all of them.