Note: The following
article originally appeared in the Fall 1997 issue of the Harvard University
quarterly magazine, Nieman Reports. The issue was devoted to an
examination of the kind of effects journalism has had on the religious views
of members of the media who had been invited by the publication's editors to
contribute their personal accounts.
Good-bye to God
An Editorial Cartoonist's Journey From Jesus to Journalism--and Beyond
by Steve Benson
How does one go from being a born-in-the-bed Mormon to a born-in-the-brain atheist?
From a Latter-day Saint to a Latter-day Ain't? From a believer drowning in
faith to a skeptic saved by the facts? Point me to the confessional. I've
come to journalism, not Jesus.
Today I can be found among the congregation of secular humanists. It's a
significant change of scenery for someone who is the oldest grandchild of the
Mormon Church's late Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, and who, for most of his
life, was a ramrod straight believer.
Going from defender to debunker was a baptism of fire. Luckily, treading the
hot coals was made more bearable by my experiences in journalism, which
helped burn away the entanglements of illusion, error and fear, leaving me
with a clear view of the horizon ahead.
I came from a Mormon tradition that is sometimes referred to, for lack of a
better term, as a cult. Even the coach of the Chicago Bulls called it that
recently, in response to the National Basketball Association's slapping of
Dennis Rodman with a big fine for making unkind remarks about his Mormon hosts
during the playoffs.
Having been a Mormon for some 30 years before seeing the light and leaving
the lunacy four years ago, I can appreciate that perspective. Look at an
average group of Mormon followers, and what does one find? People who dress
the same way down to the same underwear, follow the same leader, think the
same thoughts, believe the same things, read the same books, obey the same
commandments, vote the same way, fear the same enemies, oppose the same
ideas, condemn the same people who don't think the same way, pay the same
Church, avoid the same movies, eat the same food, associate with the same
people, marry the same kind and give the same reasons for believing that God
and Mormonism are one-in-the same.
Cult or not, if these folks worked for the same newspaper, it would be a
pretty stale read. If for no other reason, I should have left because it was
To understand why I jumped from the Mormon wagon train requires an
understanding of what Mormons are and how they think.
While Mormons have some quaint, quirky and fanatical ideas, they really
aren't much different from millions of poor, guilt-ridden souls who,
throughout the march of human history, have hitched their hopes to mass
movements of one sort or another. Eric Hoffer, in his brilliant treatise, The
True Believer, explains the attraction of joining a cause:
"A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following 'by the refuge
it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual
existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated by freeing them from their
ineffectual selves-- and it does this by enfolding and absorbing them into a
closely knit and exultant corporate whole'. Of all the cults and philosophies
that competed in the Graeco-Roman world, Christianity alone developed from
its inception a compact organization."
Once I realized this, it wasn't much of a leap out of religion
altogether--[that is,] once I flew the Mormon coop. I simply wanted to be
free from organizational groupthink. I escaped from the stuffy attic of
religion's "pray, pay and obey" mentality into journalism's open
laboratory of "who, what, where, when and why."
Even as this is written, Mormonism's bicycle battalions of fresh-faced,
uniformly-dressed and highly-organized missionaries are pedaling furiously
through the neighborhoods of the world, peddling the notion that back in the
1800's God descended through the treetops and appeared to a 14-year-old New
York farm boy/grade-school dropout named Joseph Smith, informing him that the
end was near and no one on earth had a clue as to what was really going on.
Not to fear, however.
An angel was standing by to lead young Smith to a nearby treasure trove of
buried scripture, engraved on golden plates, containing the long-lost word of
God to the world.
Besides, it was a great story and Smith was a great story-teller.
He claimed the "Book of Mormon" got its name from an ancient
warrior whose ancestors set sail from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., using a special
compass that only worked when they did what God told them to. Other groups
embarked even earlier, only in submarines. Long before Columbus, these
transplanted Hebrews hit the shores of the Americas, from where they
proceeded to civilize the place then destroy it all in a huge family feud. The
story climaxes with a spectacular battle, in which tens of thousands of
white-skinned true believers are slaughtered by godless Indians in what is
today New York state.
But wait. There's more.
Included are a few extra chapters that more than justify the admission price
of a lifetime pledge to pay 10 percent of one's income, wages and tips to the
Amid some earthquakes, general mass destruction and special effects that
would rival the studios of Steven Spielberg, Jesus himself appears, stopping
en route to heaven after his resurrection. To the astonishment of his
audience, he gives a preview of his not-yet-compiled Biblical teachings
(delivered, coincidentally, in King James English.) Before leaving, he
organizes a tax-free Church and chooses a handful of goodly men to run it
until he gets back.
Unfortunately, within a few years, things go to hell.
Thanks to the Devil (Jesus's cantankerous brother, according to Mormon
doctrine), the Church falls apart in America, the Dark Ages envelop Europe
and it's time to phone home. That's where God calls in the youngster Smith to
pick up the pieces, dig up the gold plates and restore the truth to the
One hundred and sixty-seven years and 10 million members later, Mormonism is
a remarkably successful, multi-billion dollar empire. If Joseph Smith were
alive today, he'd probably be amazed at the number of folks who've actually
bought into it and be grateful that the press hasn't kept on it more than it
has. After all, Smith knew his own record better than anyone else. Judging
from the way the Church has doctored its past, it's not hard to see why most
Mormons, along with much of the media, really don't know the history.
Among other things, Smith was convicted in court for being a money-digging charlatan,
was accused by his followers of swindling their cash in a clumsy bank fraud
scheme, and was exposed by a group of skeptics that tricked him into
"translating" a set of supposedly ancient brass plates that had
actually been manufactured in a local blacksmith's shop.
Add to this the documented fact that he rolled in the hay with a 14-year-old
girl and was both a believer in astrology and a dabbler in the occult, and
what you have is a somewhat different picture from the one the Church paints
of its inventor.
As fate would have it, Smith didn't hang around long to explain the details.
He was shot to death by an angry mob while in jail for ordering the
destruction of a newspaper printing press that published embarrassing
revelations about his secret polygamous affairs. While he didn't survive, the
Church he founded has survived both him and his exploits.
Most people still don't know that Mormon prophets have actually preached as
gospel truth that:
--People of African or Native American lineage are born with dark skin
because God cursed them and their progenitors.
--God lives on a planet surrounded by multitudes of faithful Mormon men and
their harems, who are destined to eventually become gods and goddesses,
lording over their own worlds populated with countless millions of their own
procreated spirit children.
--Jesus was literally fathered by God through sexual intercourse with the
--Adam was Jesus's father, who, along with one of his wives, Eve, was
transported to the Garden of Eden from another planet.
--The saving blood of Jesus can't rescue murderers unless their blood has
been spilled on earth first. (That's one reason why Utah is the only state in
the union that gives the condemned the option of dying by firing squad. It makes
their getting out of hell that much easier).
For Mormons who are conversant with actual Church history, doctrine and
practice and are tempted to challenge the Church bosses about any of it, a
remedy has been developed to snuff out dissent. "The Brethren," as
they are called, constantly remind the faithful to do and think as they are
commanded. They are admonished that, for their own good, "when the
Prophet speaks, the debate is over." Obedience is trumpeted as the first
law of heaven.
Those who insist on playing a different tune are publicly denounced as
arrogant apostates, suffer false accusations, are tagged for expulsion and
end up being ostracized. Such has been the fate in recent years for several
Mormon intellectuals, scholars and feminists who dared speak out. I
eventually had my fill of it, too, and, as a self-respecting journalist and
human being, left Mormonism with my wife and children.
Sure as shootin', word soon hit the Internet that my real reason for getting
out was because I had fathered an illegitimate child by a young woman in Utah
and was running from excommunication. (Actually, I was a virgin on our
wedding night and my bride was the first and only woman I have ever kissed,
not to mention made babies with. It sounds almost as unbelievable as
Mormonism itself, I know, but I swear on a stack of Thomas Paine pamphlets
that it's true).
Prior to bowing out, I was ostensibly an ideal Mormon-- going to Church,
paying my tithing and doing my duty. In the eyes of my family and
ecclesiastical leaders, I was a golden boy. Everything I was encouraged to
touch (or, for that matter, to avoid) was designed to turn me into a better
Mormon. And eventually into a god.
Through the years, I served in many Church capacities, from Boy Scout leader
and Sunday School teacher to bishop's executive secretary and Church high
councilman. I devoted myself to being a scripture-reading, special
underwear-wearing, Church-attending, hymn-singing, prayer-offering,
faith-promoting, tithe-paying member of the flock.
I was on track to eternal Mormon stardom, reserved especially for faithful
men in a Church run by men. At eight, I was officially baptized a Mormon. I
remember going under the water in my white baptismal clothes as my dad
immersed me in the font. All I could see was a murky light above me. I wasn't
too fond of water and prayed it wasn't a near-death experience.
It turned out to be, figuratively speaking, a spotlight that was to follow me
throughout my youth, shined on me by an ever-watchful Church and family,
making sure I didn't wander too far afield, where I might wind up befriending
Democrats or going to the high school Sadie Hawkins dance with a non-Mormon.
At 16, I became the first Eagle Scout in my Mormon troop. At about the same
time, I earned my special Mormon scout "Duty to God" award,
depicted by a cow skull that, when hung on my uniform, was (not surprisingly)
bigger than the eagle.
At 17, together with my parents and four younger sisters and brother, I
marched off into the mission field, where my father oversaw the proselytizing
efforts of a 100-plus army of elders and sisters, who fanned out over the
Midwest, combing for converts who might be hiding in the cornfields.
At 19, I was ordained by my grandfather as a "minister of the
gospel" and dispatched to Japan to serve a full-time mission. Two years
later, only 11 Japanese had taken me up on the offer.
At 21, I met my wife-to-be, Mary Ann, while we both were attending what
Mormons refer to as "the Lord's University" (known to the outside
world as "Breed 'em Young"). We were eventually married in the Salt
Lake temple. Barely nine months into our union, having thrown birth control
to the wind on the orders of our leaders, we did our part in providing
physical "tabernacles" for God's spirit children by bringing forth
our first baby, followed in quick succession by three more.
Like the obedient Mormon helpmate she had been conditioned to be, my wife
stayed home, Like the stalwart Mormon breadwinner I had been raised to be, I
continued to work and go to school. Our marriage was the usual secret Mormon
temple rite, in which the bride and groom wore bizarre costumes made out of
bulky white material, complete with fig leaf aprons, a puffy hat for me and a
veil for my wife. Typical of such rituals, it was off-limits to anyone except
Mormons in good standing who had passed a "worthiness interview"
prior to being admitted. My grandfather officiated as the high priest. The
ceremony was the celebrated high point of a series of secret temple
initiations that included whispered code names, handshakes and symbols
borrowed from the Masons and figurative blood oaths pledging unflagging
obedience to God's Church in return for the Lord's promise not to kill us but
to allow us, instead, to take a seat in heaven next to Joseph Smith.
I remember how nervous I was a few years later when word leaked to the press
that Mormons had removed the bloody oaths from their temple ceremony. I
myself had, with other temple Mormons, vowed to let my throat be slit from
ear to ear, my heart yanked out of my chest and my intestines spilled on the
ground if I ever revealed the secret signs and tokens given me in the temple.
I just hoped God didn't mean it literally.
Now I was afraid a reporter would call and ask me what was really going on in
there. Sure enough, one did. With palms sweating, I refused to go on the
record. I didn't want a big hand reaching down from the sky some night while
I was snoring and pulling out the only tongue I had.
While still in the shadow of the Salt Lake City temple and well within
monitoring distance by prophets and parents, I kept up the Church/family
tradition of drawing cartoons for the BYU newspaper, defending what I was
told to defend.
But I was soon to start another life. And it wasn't to go in the direction
the Church or my family expected or wanted. In 1980, I joined the Arizona
Republic as its editorial cartoonist. There I earned a reputation as a
question-raising, justice-seeking, icon-smashing, authority-bashing, status
quo-attacking, myth-debunking, doubt-encouraging bomb-thrower. I liked to say
that I didn't aim to please; I just aimed.
The split identity arose, in large measure, as a reaction to what became the
suffocating control attempted by Mormonism on my intellectual growth and individual
freedom. For years I struggled to live in both worlds. It became obvious to
me, however, that they were worlds in collision. I decided I could not serve
two masters. I had to either follow my head and my conscience, or surrender
both to the dictates of little minds who relied on fear-mongering in their
claim to speak for God.
Like an asteroid sucked into an encounter with Jupiter, I hurtled toward what
I knew would be the final encounter between reason and religion. I was
picking up speed and leaving behind an ever-increasing trail of
disintegrating pieces of my faith. But unlike the asteroid that vaporized on
impact, I emerged out the other side, relatively intact, suffering from some
religious road rash, to be sure, but nothing fatal. I found myself loosed
from the gravity of the gods, free to roam the universe in search of new
adventures, new beginnings and my real self. For years, my true identity had
been smothered by a Church which held its stone commandments over my head
like a swatter over a fly, warning me that if I took off, I risked being
flattened from above. I had tried hard to resuscitate the dying faith that
had for so long ruled my life and defined my destiny, but it proved to be a
At work I drew the obligatory "He Has Risen" Easter cartoons, along
with the ones bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas. As a holiday
gift, my editor--a kindly and deeply religious man--gave me a tree ornament
depicting St. Nick kneeling at the side of the baby Jesus, cap worshipfully
in hand. Later, after I left Mormonism, he invited me to participate in
personal chats with his priest, where the three of us prayed and discussed
godly things. After a few sessions, I gave up. My heart--and head--just
weren't in it.
I found little value in searching for meaning in what believers joyfully
described as the unfathomable mysteries of God. What good was God if his
purposes couldn't be understood? How was I supposed to understand his
"plan" if the processes by which he supposedly brought all things
into being were incomprehensible?
What meaning was I supposed to attach to my existence if the pain and death
of life's cycle could be no better explained than with the pious platitude,
"It is God's will"?
I found that scientific explanations based on observable laws of nature made
infinitely more sense than the scriptural fairy tales invented around
campfires by superstitious shepherds.
I concluded it made no more sense to believe in Christ than it did in Santa
Claus or the Tooth Fairy. God, I decided, was nothing more than an imaginary
playmate for older people. As astronomer Carl Sagan observed in what proved
to be his last book, Billions and Billions, shortly before dying of
"The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that
there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's
little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, to look death in the eye
and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that
My dissatisfaction with religion grew as I saw the Mormon Blue Suits attempt
to manipulate the facts and hoodwink the public at the expense of truth. My
cartoons lampooning and criticizing those efforts were met with fierce
resistance from Church members and leaders alike.
When Mormons tried to get away with a slippery change in the wording of Book
of Mormon scripture prophesying the future of Indians who converted, I
drew a cartoon lambasting the Mormon God as the bigot he really was. The
traditional scripture read that Indians who accepted Jesus would become
"white and delightsome." The scripture was altered to instead read
"pure and delightsome." The change was made despite the fact that
racist Mormon prophets had, from the early days of the Church, predicted that
a change in the red man's heart would result in a change in the red man's
(The cartoon showed a bonneted Native American chieftain tossing away a
bottle of "Book of Mormon Eye Drops" designated "to get
the red out," while muttering, "Nice try, white man." Shortly
thereafter, I received a letter from a Mormon editor in another state,
accusing me of being "anti-Mormon.")
I learned quickly that Mormons don't take kindly to criticism, no matter how
well-deserved. They think because they have the corner on truth, they can put
people making fun of them in the corner. In a series of cartoons on a Mormon
Arizona legislator with a habit of introducing anti-evolution bills, I drew
him as a monkey, either swooping through the legislative chambers on a tire
or attempting to type up a bill that made sense. He wrote me an indignant
missive, huffing that it was my family, not his, that descended from apes.
His family, he declared, was made in the image of God. Maybe so, but I hated
to think God busied himself around the Universe dressed like Bozo the Clown.
A local right-wing Mormon activist sent a letter of protest to my
grandfather, complaining that my pro-evolution cartoons were a roadblock to
God's plan for returning constitutional control of the schools to his people.
Unable to bring me to my senses, she implored him to silence me.
My grandfather gave me a call, asking for an explanation. I told him that
so-called "scientific creationism" was nothing more than religion
masquerading as science and that if Mormons or anyone else wanted to teach it
in the public schools, they should confine it to a course on comparative
religions. By way of information, I added that the official Mormon position
on evolution had historically been neutral. He asked me to provide him with
proof of that in writing, saying he would consider not only sending a reply
to the Mormon complainer, but also think about making it available to
inquiring Church members in the form of an official public declaration. I did
as he requested, but never heard back from him. Months later, I asked him
about the status on the matter. He said the Church had decided to do nothing
since publishing the facts would only cause more controversy.
The same local political extremist, in cahoots with other like-minded
Mormons, was later involved in a noisy effort to kill a holiday honoring
Martin Luther King, Jr., in Mesa, Arizona, a city founded by Mormons that
remains essentially under their political control. Quoting the anti-King
sermons of my John Birch-loving grandfather, they swarmed city council
meetings, denouncing the civil rights leader as a moral reprobate and a tool
of the Communist conspiracy to overthrow America. I drew a cartoon showing
these goofs sitting on the porch of a country store labeled M.L.K.
("Mormons Lynch King"), selling ax handles, Lester Maddox-style. I
was subsequently grilled by a local Church leader who called demanding an
In an episode that caused considerable consternation among the Mormon
hierarchy, a skilled forgerer and document collector named Mark Hofmann
attempted to alter the official version of the Church's beginnings by
fabricating documents in which early Church leaders claimed a white
salamander, not an angel, delivered the gold plates to Joseph Smith.
Before the forgery was unmasked, Mormon leaders, fearful the documents might
actually be genuine, desperately attempted to buy them from Hofmann for tens
of thousands of dollars, intending to hide them from the prying eyes of
historians, the press and other perceived critics--not to mention Church
members. Only when Hofmann, in a botched attempt to cover his tracks, blew up
some Mormons, along with some of his own fingers, was the scheme discovered.
I drew a cartoon showing a stereotypical Mormon P.R. man, sporting a flat top
and conservative business suit, on the phone to his secretary, wailing,
"Mad bombers, white salamanders, forgeries, con men! Golly darn, Sister
Jones, that does it! Get me a cup of coffee!"
My grandfather called, telling me somberly he had a cartoon in front of him
that he wished to read aloud to me. After repeating the punch line, he paused
dramatically and asked, "Why?" I was tempted to respond with a
"Why not?" but thought better of it. Instead, I tried to explain
that one of the best defenses in the face of criticism is an ability to laugh
at oneself. My grandfather replied, "I still love you. Just go easy on
I really began feeling the heat from the Mormons when, in a fluke election
won with less than 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race, a fellow
Mormon and used car salesman, Evan Mecham, was picked to be Arizona's
governor. He lasted barely a year before being thrown out of office.
Mecham was a small-minded, loose-lipped, vicious little man, with a
thinly-disguised racist streak under an ill-fitting toupee.
His first official act as governor was to cancel the state's Martin Luther
King, Jr. Day, declaring that Blacks didn't need holidays, they needed jobs.
He defended the use of the term "pickaninny," saying he saw nothing
wrong with it and couldn't understand why Blacks would be offended. He
assured dumb-founded Arizonans that he hired Blacks at his car dealership,
not because they were black, but because they were the best for "the
He didn't stop there.
When asked by a reporter what he planned to say to the Pope when the Holy
Father visited Phoenix, he replied that he didn't think the fellow spoke
English. He caused another stir in a visit to a local synagogue, where he
declared to the Jews in attendance that Jesus Christ was their lord and
As embarrassment over the governor's burblings grew, I spoke with Mormon
Church leaders, including my grandfather, about what they had in mind to do,
if anything. They privately expressed the hope that Mecham would shut up,
step down or do both, but were unwilling to say so publicly.
I drew an angel atop the Salt Lake City temple spires blowing his horn, from
which fluttered the banner, "Resign, Ev." The newspaper was flooded
with letters of protests from Mecham's Mormon minions, some claiming that God
himself had orchestrated Brother Ev's election. My sister-in-law withdrew her
Thanksgiving dinner invitation to our family.
Mecham supporters held special meetings, encouraging a letter-writing campaign
to Salt Lake City, in an effort to stop the cartoon carnage. He was compared
by his loyal followers to Jesus, Isaiah and Joseph Smith. They complained
that, like God's servants of old, he was being hounded mercilessly by the
dogs of Satan. My parents called from Utah and urged me to lighten up on the
guy, reminding me he was one of our own.
Eventually, Mecham was impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. (Maybe
there is a God after all.) Quoting the Biblical scripture at a press
conference, he vowed, "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord," and
promised to return.
I could hardly wait.
True to his word, like a bad rash, he came back, running for re-election.
In a cartoon labeled "The Second Coming," I drew him as Jesus
descending from above, flanked by trumpet-blowing rats dressed in angel
robes, as he held forth a book of scripture entitled, "The Book of
Moron, by Ev Mecham," while intoning, "I warned you sinners."
Letters threatening to have me hauled into ecclesiastical court were fired
off to Salt Lake City, demanding that my grandfather remove me from all
positions of Church service. Phoenix's ecumenical council, under pressure
from a Mecham henchman, released a statement to the press, denouncing my
attack on the Mormons. The local Mormon spokesman compared the cartoon to the
work of evangelical Christians who were exposing Mormonism's secret temple
ceremonies to public ridicule.
My stake president--the Mormon equivalent of a Catholic bishop--called me
into his office and relieved me of my Church duties, declaring that I had
abused my God-given talents in mocking the sacred emblems of the church. (A
Mormon state senator later admitted to me that he had advised the stake
president to lower the boom. The stake president himself acknowledged he had
received a call from Salt Lake's Commandment Central, but insisted it had
nothing to do with his decision).
The stake president later wrote to commend me for having learned my lesson,
saying that since he took his disciplinary action, my cartoons had shown a
marked improvement. I replied by reminding him he was not my editor and that,
given the opportunity, I would do the cartoon again.
Outrage from the religious community has not been confined only to my
cartoons lampooning the antics of Mormon public officials.
Cartoons berating Catholic priests for sexually preying on little children or
the Pope for condemning women who use artificial birth control sparked formal
letters of complaint from the Catholic hierarchy, as well as protest marches
around a newspaper in New York, where my work was also published.
When I poked fun at Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin for attempting to
justify the ill-conceived invasion of Lebanon by citing Hebrew scripture on
the floor of Israel's parliament (the cartoon showed him jetting over the
Golan Heights, waving the scrolls and shouting, "Torah! Torah!
Torah!"), the protests were predictable.
The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith invited me, along with several
other cartoonists, including Jules Feiffer of the Village Voice and
David Levine of the New York Review of Books, to Israel, where we had
a wonderful time. In a return visit a few years later, however, Foreign
Minister Yitzak Shamir reportedly refused me an audience.
In an episode that helped write the final chapter in my escape from
Mormonism's Alcatraz, I went to the press to inform it of my elderly
grandfather's deteriorating physical and mental condition. The Church knew of
his situation but chose to continue misleading its members. In carefully worded
pronouncements, his assistants perpetuated the myth that while he was
physically weak, he was still mentally alert and performing his daily
prophetic duties, receiving God's revelations and making essential
Based on my own direct observations, I knew the opposite was the case. I had
seen my grandfather enough to know that he was fading fast. He was largely
confined to his recliner in his apartment, where he spent his days, wrapped
in a blanket, being spoon-fed by his nurses, unable to speak more than a few
words and frequently incapable of recognizing visitors.
Rather than risk having their duplicity exposed to the faithful who had been
propagandized to believe God was running the show through his modern-day
Moses, Church functionaries continued the deception. In reality, Church
leadership was rudderless on top and characterless at heart. Lieutenants were
filling in for the failing general, all the while claiming that all was well
in Zion. (Only later did the press report that a few years earlier the Church
had secretly transferred authority to run its corporate affairs away from the
prophet to his assistants, in the event that he became incapacitated.)
I hoped in vain that Church leaders would do the right thing by telling the
truth. If nothing more, it would have been the humane and decent thing to
allow an old man who had given so much of his life to the Church to slip away
in quiet dignity, instead of being propped up by his handlers like some store
mannequin for publicity shots, all the while making sure the camera didn't
catch the tube up his nostril.
Even my young son could see what was going on. One Sunday morning over
breakfast, he asked, "Dad, why do they call great-grandpa 'Prophet' when
he can't do anything?" His guileless question prompted me to act. I
called a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune and laid out the facts. He
warned of the repercussions that would follow.
He was right. As they say, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall
make ye mad."
Mormons denounced me as a tool of the Devil and an enemy of righteousness. I
was chastised for lacking faith to believe in miracles. I was reminded that
if God could part the waters for Moses, he could make Ezra Taft Benson rise,
walk and talk.
Counter-claims and rumors began circulating that my grandfather was actually
doing quite well, supposedly ordering Christmas gifts in phone calls to the
Church owned bookstore. My brother accused me of being a publicity seeker.
Even my father called to warn me that the media was the enemy of the Church.
I reminded him that I was a member of the media. Still, he said if I ever
again talked to the press about his father's health, he would see to it that
I would be barred from seeing him in the future. It was his duty, he said, to
protect the Prophet and he was determined to carry it out.
So much for that good ol' Mormon family togetherness.
A few weeks later, my wife and I left the Church with a mixture of disgust,
disappointment, determination and delight. My bishop called, asking if he
could buy our house. To his disappointment, we told him we weren't moving.
A few months later, my grandfather died. Shortly after his passing, I
received an anonymous call from a man in California, claiming to be carrying
a message to me from my grandfather from beyond the grave. He said my
grandfather had appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to tell me he
wanted me back in the Church.
I figured if my grandfather had regained enough of his wits in the afterlife
to communicate with someone in California he didn't even know, he sure as
hell could have contacted me himself. After all, he had done it plenty of
As a newspaper editorial cartoonist, I have worked for several years in the
world of journalism, where lying, hypocrisy, intolerance, bigotry,
self-righteousness, abuse of power, corruption and downright stupidity are
regularly exposed and reported. Sadly, those doing the deeds often wrap
themselves in the vestments of the church.
The honest newsperson's response to such shenanigans has always been to press
forward with the questions; to continue to challenge, probe and identify the
wrong-doers; to inform the public; and to call for reform.
The press--and that includes cartoonists--must never retreat in the face of
threats or punishments dispensed by intolerant theocratic terrorists who are
more interested in protecting their own power and turf than in serving the
needs of humanity or advancing its condition.
Science discovered long ago that carbon is a source of life. The ashes of my
faith have prepared the ground for the planting of seeds that have produced
new forms of truth, morality and meaning on my own terms, not according to
the dogma laid down by religious ruffians or a vengeful God.
If, as believers claim, the word "gospel" means good news, then the
good news for me is that there is no gospel, other than what I can define for
myself, by observation and conscience. As a journalist and free-thinking
human being, I have come not to favor and fear religion, but to face and
fight it as an impediment to civilized advancement. Historically, it has been
the so-called "men of God" who have committed all manner of evil in
The philosopher Bertrand Russell observed:
"You find as you look around the world that every single bit of human
progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step
toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the
colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that
there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized
churches of the world. I say deliberately that the Christian religion, as
organized in its churches, has been and still is, the principal enemy of
moral progress in the world.
"I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for
imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look
to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in,
instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have
To which the cartoonist can only add, "Amen to that."