Life as a Mormon
Excerpts of Ex-Mormon newsgroup Part 4

A continuing series of short topics from our discussion groups on Mormon life.

Memetics and Mormonism
More on Memes
Women and Early Mormon Priesthood
Answering you no longer believe in Mormonism
Sources of Smith's Beliefs
Learning to Trust Ourselves

Memetics and Mormonism

Message: Richard Dawkins, in his work "The Selfish Gene" coined the phrase "meme" (rhymes with cream) to describe a unit of cultural or intellectual information that pass from mind to mind in a process analagous to genes. Examples he gave in that book include tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, fashions, etc.

Meme is a term to describe an idea (or "unit of information") that uses our complex, communicating brains to reproduce itself. If you hear a tune on the radio and later find yourself whistling it, you've picked up a meme. If you invent a clever phrase and find other people using it, you've transmitted a meme. Whoever first described a euphemism as "politically correct" invented a very potent meme. And so on. Dawkins meme idea has become a meme in itself, and given rise to the nascent science of memetics. Much work in memetics has focused on "viruses of the mind", virulent memes that infect individuals and reproduce rapidly. Two excellent books on the topic (both of which discuss Mormonism) are "Virus of the Mind" by Richard Brodie and "Thought Contagion" by Aaron Lynch.

In a later paper, Dawkins said the following:

"Like computer viruses, successful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect. If you are the victim of one, the chances are you won't know it, and may even vigorously deny it. Accepting that a virus might be difficult to detect in your own mind, what tell-tale signs might you look out for?

1. The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing.
2. Patients typically make a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based on evidence."

I submit that Mormons are the victims of engineered memetic viruses that form the very basis of the religion. I have thought of several: "The Church is true" (the biggie). "Lengthen your stride". "No success can compensate for failure in the home". "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become." "Follow the brethren". "The prophet will never lead the church astray". Other memes cannot so be so easily capsulized, but are just as powerful. A good example is the implicit subjugation of women through "priesthood" authority, reinforced in countless ways throughout Mormon culture.

Recognizing what is being done to our minds is the first step to taking back control. For more information on memetics, try this link. I suggest linking to Dawkins "Viruses of the Mind" paper from this site as a first step. (

More on Memes

When the church was new, it prided itself in its separation from other sects and indeed the public at large. Because it's beliefs were unusual, it separated itself to protect its belief system from outside influence. Thus the reason for the existence of the branch at Colesville, settlements at Kirtland and Far West, Nauvoo and of course ultimately Salt Lake. Early converts were taught to waste no time in making an exodus to Salt Lake or outlying LDS communities in order to reduce the number of converts who would have second thoughts before being engulfed by the meme society. Persecution and events such as the battle of Crooked River, or the invasion of Johnston's Army into Salt Lake, only height that separation and protection of the meme system.

Meme science dictates that the more unusual or extreme a belief system, that the more there is a barrier or separation to protect the "hosts" of the meme. This has occured not only with Mormonism, but essentially every other extreme (as compared to the public at large) belief host system (e.g. Jimmy Jones colony in Guiana, Bogwan colony in Oregon). This is actually a necessary evolvement to protect the meme.

However, much of the growth of the church recently has been as a result of a continuous moderating stance of beliefs. Temple ordinances have been changed, scriptures modified to be less offensive in a racial sense, racial rules have been dropped, sectarian separation has been downplayed (the Catholic church is no longer considered the church of the devil) etc. In essence, the church is actively painting a picture that its members are not "weird" as Gordon B. Hinckley stated in his "60 Minutes" interview. Whereas before, in the 19th century, the church was in almost every way trying to separate itself from the public norm.

There is no question that many early church members sacrificed everything they had and in some cases their lives for the cause. The high separation of the belief system from other more normative belief systems both inspired them and protected their belief. The radical difference of the Mormon belief system (take polygamy for example), was in essence the difference that made that sacrifice possible.

However, meme science also dicates that as a meme system becomes less distinguishable from other memes, that the protection of the meme "hosts" or members is less necessary, but that the self preservation aspects of the meme also decrease. The hosts of the meme become less willing to make the same sacrifices or have the same protective diligence as before.

In other words, even though the church is growing by leaps and bounds by becoming more mainstream, its downside is that it is less able to hold and deeply dedicate its 'hosts' or members as it was in the early more closely held days.

Personally, I think this is evident in the abysmal temple attendance that I've seen at a number of temples as well as an overall drop in activity in wards where the church has been established for many years (more overall indifference in traditional Mormon areas). Thus we have memberships where there is a significant number of untraceable and indifferent one I investigated that the phone number turned out to be from a worker at a United Airlines baggage desk.. who knew nothing of Mormonism or what in the hell I was talking about...(actually we found out later that he did...but couldn't remember it had been so long). There is a significant number and growing log of these in each ward of the church.

The church is growing very rapidly in some foreign areas, but the membership in general is quite non-informed and soon becomes indifferent as well. (I've seen this very much first hand). The members are merely members on paper only. Many, many have gone back to their original faiths, but are still members of record.

So, amid all the feeling of betrayal that many of us have with the church doing a "changie pooh" on all of the things that we lived with, but now have found out are not important (e.g. women not getting an education but only marriage), there is a downside to this long term in the church. It will grow, but it will grow in a very shallow sense, not able to strongly hold its members as it once did. Events such as the 2002 Olympics may give the church a lot of publicity, but it will be a publicity that will paint the church in a more mainstream light, where ultimately, people will be less willing to make the strong demands that the church requires. The church will then morph its message again to be even more other ways we can only imagine. Thus more numbers initially, considering that membership records stick for life in the LDS church but usually only for a year in others (then you're dropped from the mailing list) , but less commitment overall in the long term.



Aaron Lynch, "Thought Contagion", Basic Books, 1996 Moritz, Elan, 1990. "Memetic Science I. General Introduction". Journal of Ideas.
Hostetler, John A. 1993, Amish Society, 4th Ed. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.

Women and Early Mormon Priesthood

The experience of questioning the woman and priesthood issue sounds a lot like mine. In the book, Woman and Authority, Michael Quinn makes a strong historical case for the fact that Joseph gave women the priesthood in 1843, but no one wants to admit it.

I was frustrated by the fact that the early women of the church had the right to lay on hands to heal others, to speak in tongues and prophecy, to have their own organization headed by a priestess and prophetess, raise their own money and determine what relief would be given without ANY male priesthood permission! No matter what you may think of the temple ceremony, the fact that women were invited at all was quite radical, (did Jews let women in the temple--or Masons? NOT!) and women were allowed at the highest level of ordinances.

The LDS church was radical in the way women were allowed these privileges for their day, and here we were today unable to blow our nose without "priesthood permission." There was never any good reason given by the church for these reversal of policies. I didn't buy it. I, too, longed to be able to discuss it. My hubby was severely threatened by it at the time, altho he later came around.

I did get to a Sunstone conference in 1990, where I was able to connect with other women, and the Mormon Women's Forum. They published several well researched papers on this topic, as well as heavenly mother issues. ( One of these woman recently removed her name from the church when child abusers in her local area were protected by priesthood leaders and no care given to the victims.)

The church used to let nonmember or nonpriesthood holding fathers hold their babies in the circle when being given a name and a blessing. Women began to ask, if the priesthood wasn't required to hold the baby, why couldn't the mother do it? The church responded by changing the policy so that now, only a priesthood holder can hold the baby during the blessing. Better to deny a few fathers their rights than to give the idea that women had any!

While I'm venting, another unscriptural and undoctrinal practice is only allowing men to be witnesses for baptism, weddings, etc. Nowhere is this supported by any Mormon doctrine or scripture. How about the fact that it was a woman who was the first witness at the most important event in Christianity--Christ's resurrection? In regards to the wording of turning the key of the priesthood TO women, I believe it was George Albert Smith who is responsible for changing the wording to "on your behalf." Mormon women in the nineteenth century had MANY more rights in the church than they do today, and women who point this out are -- well you know...

How do you answer you no longer believe in Mormonism?

There is no [single] good reply [to someone who asks why you no longer believe].

I also think that she feels hurt and rejected. For some reason TBMs [true believing Mormons] seem to take it very personally when someone drops the church--as if you've made a negative judgment about them. And, in a way you have. When you, in essence, say that the Mormon church defies belief, you are saying that the adherents are duped, gullible, closing their eyes. And I agree with Richard that the reason TBMs often read all of this into your apostasy is that there is an unspoken general insecurity among the flock--like white noise, that becomes such a part of the LDS environment, that the members stop hearing it--but it still registers as free-floating anxiety.

This is why so many faith-promoting rumors float around. This is why Mormons hold testimony meeting once a month. This is why topics of controversy (temple, polygamy, JS's banking schemes) are either forbidden or discouraged.

As I've written before, the reaction that I got from my parents was...nothing. This has made for some pretty boring telephone conversations, since my parents really have nothing to discuss besides the church--and they feel that they cannot discuss that with me. Actually, they could, but I think that they imagine that I will be hostile--or maybe I'll say something controversial--which they will have to defend. The small amount of defensiveness I've seen from my mother indicates that she feels that I am more well versed in Mormon history than she is (true)--and she fears that she will not be able to "defend" the church. I'm actually not interested in getting into a proseltyzing match with my parents, but that's the only model that they know: i.e. We have the truth, you must agree with us or else you are no better than a mother-raping, shoplifting, candy-stealing, sheep-shagging, Satan-loving junkie. In other words, it's either the iron rod, or the great and spacious building. Anyone who's not holding the rod might pull you to the building.

This has been a long-winded way of saying that I suspect that your visiting teacher is a little afraid of you. On the one hand, she has a duty to pull you back into the church. On the other hand, you might infect her. I mean, you seem so damn sure of yourself in your reply to her--Mormons play the "I know this is true" card to prove their truth, so I think that it unsettles them when someone says, "I know that this is not true."

Also, to point out the obvious: look at how canned her message to you is. I get stressed out just reading it and imagining her keeping her Mormon sweetness going.:

"Did you get the chance to watch the 1st Presidency Christmas Broadcast yesterday? It was really good! I especially liked singing the Christmas songs between the speakers! I also liked how all the speakers focused on Christ and the importance of service and expressing love during this special season!

Special, special, special! It is hard to keep your brain in PR mode all the time. Just once I'd like to hear a TBM say that they watched some church performance and they found some parts inspirational, but frankly the singing sucked and the old men seemed to drone on too long. Unfortunately, even if your visiting teacher felt that way, she couldn't admit it even to herself.


I find the current discussion about Eliza Snow interesting. Wouldn't it clear the air if this were discussed without fear in priesthood meeting/relief society. As an apostate, I certainly would love to believe that Emma pushed Eliza down the stairs. I'd been lead to believe that this was true by some account or another. But, unlike a TBM's faith in Joe Smith, my disbelief in the Mormons church does not rest on a series of questionable stories. When I first left the church, I lapped up every nasty story ever told about Joe Smith and Company. Because I was so pissed (at the church, at my parents, at myself for believing), I wanted to believe anything nasty that I could about it. But, clearly, many of the accounts of 19th century (and 20th century--can you say "Godmakers"?) were based on hyperbole.

My dislike of the Mormon church has not dissipated, but I am now more willing to adjust my understanding of events to match historical evidence. Whether or not Emma actually pushed Eliza down the stairs, Joe Smith was still a horny bastard. We also know that Emma thought that polygamy was a crock of shit--and was probably pissed off enough to push a couple of Joe's mistresses off a cliff. Whether or not TBMs say that the golden plates weighed 200 lbs. or 20 oz., we all know that they weighed zero, because fictional objects do not have any mass. Just one fiction unravels the entire Mormon church (which is why Mormons guard their brains so well from anything but the sanitized version)--whereas it doesn't change my disbelief one bit when I get a clearer picture of Mormon history. (Bennett was a scoundrel?--so what, Joe Smith seemed to surround himself with scoundrels--what does that say about his prophetic abilities--water seeks its own level.)

Sources for Joseph Smith's ideas

I've been meaning to post some very interesting info I've found for several weeks on the sources of JS' ideas and doctrines he put into his religion. I find that some people have difficulty breaking away from Mormonism because the doctrines, in their minds, sound cohesive or inspired, and people can't see how an "ignorant farmboy" could have made it up. To begin with, JS was NOT ignorant, that is a false image put forth by the church to make his story more impressive. He was a member of his local debating club, and his brother Hyrum was the local schoolteacher. He was well read, as his many journal references to current publications attest.

We've all heard that the Word of Wisdom came about when Emma grew tired of cleaning the tobacco off the floor, prompting a "revelation". All our lives we've heard about the inspired "United Order", but Fawn Brodie and others report that Sidney Rigdon actually had his Campbellite congregation living in a communal society before he ever met JS, and JS incorporated it into his church. Incidentally, the United Order never worked worth a hoot. It was a failure from beginning to end, yet many early "revelations" dealt with it.

David Whitmer claims that many other doctrines added into the church by SR's influence included the hierarchial priesthood and the three degrees of glory. I also learned recently that the "Articles of Faith" weren't even JS', but were written by Orson Pratt, and edited by JS. The "God is an exalted man" idea apparently originated with Lorenzo Snow, as there is no mention of the doctrine before Snow posited it to JS in 1840, and JS responded with "Brother Snow, that is a true doctrine."

But the main part of my post comes from the "Ensign", January 1989, in an article called "Preparing The Way--the rise of religious freedom in New England," pp. 18-19. The article details the various sects that had arisen just before the time of JS, and some of their beliefs. I can't copy the whole article, but here is the most important portion verbatim, interspersed with some comments of mine in parentheses:

In 1734, there were only six Baptist churches in New England; and in 1750, 28. Yet in 1795, 285 Baptist churches existed in New England. (That sect was America's first convert religion). Accompanying the tremendous growth of the Baptists was the formation of other religious communities. Universalists organized in Gloucester, Mass, in 1779; Unitarians in Boston in 1785; Jemima Wilkinson's Jerusalem Community in Rhode Island in the 1780s; Freewill Baptists in New Hampshire in 1780; and Restorationists in Vermont in 1801. During this American reformation, MANY BELIEFS WERE BROUGHT INTO HARMONY WITH THE TEACHINGS OF THE STILL-FUTURE RESTORED CHURCH. (Emphasis mine in case you didn't notice how silly that sentence was). These changes in belief would later make it easier for many to receive the fullness of the gospel. ( !!!???!!! )

For example, the Unitarians, Eastern Christians, and some Universalists replaced the traditional view that God was three persons of one essence with a belief that the Father and Son were two separate and distinct entities. (Funny, I thought that idea was lost to the world until the "first vision", and here the Ensign says that others were already teaching it before JS came along! And why did these sects not flock to Joseph Smith?) In addition, Unitarians joined Quakers in proclaiming a belief that the Bible has not always been translated correctly. (Oh well, another supposed idea of JS' previously taught by others). Unitarians, liberal Congregationalists, Eastern Christians, Freewill Baptists, and other groups rejected the traditional Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity. Instead, they felt that individuals would be judged according to their actions and they would not be held accountable for Adam's transgression. (That one almost verbatim to the Articles of Faith). Unitarians, Universalists, Freewill Baptists, and Restorationists proclaimed with the newly organized Methodist church that man played a role in the process of salvation and that man could fall from grace.

Baptists and Eastern Christians popularized the doctrines of baptism by immersion for believers and of the Lord's supper as a memorial. Restorationists added the belief that mankind needed to return to the pure practices and doctrines of ancient Christianity. (Apostasy). Meanwhile, Universalists taught that after death men went into either a state of happiness or a state of misery. Christ, they added, preached to the spirits in prison to convert others, so that eventually every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ. All in the spirit world would eventually be converted and lifted up into a heavenly paradise. While others criticized Universalists for encouraging unrighteousness (the result, the critics felt, of saying that the punishment of hell was not everlasting), the Universalists replied that the foundation of unhappiness was wickedness. (Remember Alma 41:10--"wickedness never was happiness"--Randy). In addition to arguing that some created a hell on earth through unrighteousness, they preached that living the laws of God had an intrinsic value. Some of Joseph Smith's relatives were Universalists--his father, his grandfather, Asael, and and uncle, Jesse.

End quote.

So there you have it, from the church's own official magazine, a layout of many major Mormon doctrines, which were actually a hodge-podge of existing teachings of which he was very familiar. Of course, the church's spin is that "the Lord" was influencing these restorationists to change their sect's teachings to fall in line with Mormonism--which, amusingly, wasn't even invented yet. Which blows a hole in JS' claim that God told him not to join any church for they were all wrong---yet supposedly it was GOD HIMSELF who was influencing these groups to include these teachings. What a tangled mess of illogic.

The article didn't mention one word about the Campbellites, which is the main sect many of JS' followers came from, including Rigdon. Church defenders want to run away from any connection between JS and Campbell because they know that the link is devastating to the "official story" of how Mormonism began. Alexander Campbell began preaching against the fraud of Mormonism almost as soon as it appeared. To quote Campbell from February 1831: "This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his Book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decided all the great controversies: infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transsubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government and the rights of man....But he is better skilled in the controversies in New York than in the geography or history of Judea."

Learning to trust ourselves

I also went through these same kinds of in and outs of trusting my own mind. When I remarried it was for "knowing", that of feeling, not because it was wise, or thought out necessarily. It was a chance I took that has brought me more joy, pleasure, happiness and real security than any other choice in my life. The doubting, the authoritarian way of many religions destroy our ability to think and act in our own best interest. We truly forget who we are meant to become.

I wrote this several days ago, and believe me, it has been a long time coming to even think this way.

Deep inside us, we know that we know, it is only the shadows of the monsters of childhood, religions, families of origin and others who attempt to take away our freedom that causes us to doubt ourselves. Peace, love and gratitude, Maralyn


Trust yourself and the spirit within and start where you are now to believe and know you are on track. We have the nature of absolute good, go into the silence and be open to receive. Open your mind to that which is powerful. Become teachable to the ideas waiting to come. Believe the good that already is there waiting for you. Speak words of relaxation to your body, and know you can do whatever you need to face and can create a good life for yourself.

The I CAN attitude creates a knowing that you are as good as the best. There is nothing in all the world for you to fear. Know that there is no one just like you. Trust the Spirit within, that what you speak about comes about. Something happens while it is on the way back to you from Spirit. Gather energy and experience, knowing that all good comes back multiplied, and if negative is given it also returns multiplied. Multiply and empower ourselves and we help ourselves and those we encounter.

Forgive yourself--not an abuser whose actions were hurtful, but know you are ok, feel the pain and go forward and beyond, to enjoy your success.

A dandelion flower is a performance when we look at how all people see it. A gardener sees a nuisance, an herbalist sees the healing value, a little boy a sweet taste, a little girl a flower braid for her hair or a necklace for her doll. So we can choose to see our lives, when we learn to trust in ourselves and our ability to use the good that is all around us.

When we have a desire to trust our own selves, to learn, discover, live, grow and to give and behave to all with respect to all that is, life is good to us. Intention is: whatever we vividly imagine ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon and what inevitably comes to pass.

Inner quiet creates awareness, attitude and gratitude, being thankful and conscious of living in this moment in time. No matter how difficult things appear on the outer we can overcome and have an abundant life. The Spirit with which we meet our daily challenges and discouragements determines their final direction in our lives.

When we cultivate a hypercritical spirit we discover lots to find fault with. When we cultivate a spirit of appreciation we will find good happenings everywhere. Happiness can be achieved and maintained even during what seems a wreck. Life becomes the kind of adventure we choose to make it.

Trained thought energy is powerful. Just as the butterflies in our tummy when we feel fear can be trained, that energy is there for us to use. We can choose not to sabotage our lives, and live to love, laugh and express our best selves. We experience the thoughts we think, spoken words become our reality. We control our destiny, what we expect we find, what we wish we believe. There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so. We CAN if we THINK WE CAN. It is possible to move past the negative. Be flexible, see the old stuff as just that, old stuff. We can say every day, thank you God for another day. What are we going to do with our life today? Look at an apple, it came from one little seed--we came from a seed also, we are PRECIOUS, we are here together cooperating--one life--one mind. We are here to serve one another any way we can.

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