Each chapter of my new book, “Mormons Believe … What?! Fact and Fiction About a Rising Religion,” addresses one of 24 rumors or criticisms about Mormonism. I call them pies – pies as in a food fight. Here is how I set up the structure of the book:
Reading about someone else’s religion is like attending a stranger’s family reunion.
People are talking about Aunt Matilda or Uncle Fred, and telling stories so familiar that some cousin mutters a phrase and the place erupts in laughter or begins weeping. And you feel like a hamburger at a Hindu wedding.
The reunion is complicated because there’s another group nearby and those people want a food fight.
My goal with this book is to explain to you, the observer on the sidelines, what the family reunion is all about and why others are lobbing pies at us.
“Mormons Are a Cult”
When that word enters the room, civil Christian debate disappears.
Pie a la mode.
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As one observer explained why people use the term: “Because it’s a neat, shorthand and rather lazy way of putting a whole group into a box.”
Or it could be intentional polemics. Sun Tzu, a famous Chinese general who lived 500 years before Christ, advised heaping scorn and ridicule on an enemy’s cherished traditions and institutions as a tactic to undermine the strength of an opponent.
Today, similar denigration is recognizable in the use of the trendy label “cult” – a harsh, cold, four-letter word used to summarily dismiss religious competitors and avoid civil discourse. If a group is a cult, as 26% actually believe about Mormons, then obviously an open-minded investigation of such inferiors is out of the question.
What Exactly Is A Cult?
Dictionary definitions of a cult have these elements in common:
- Relatively small group
- Excessive devotion to a person or idea
- Unethical techniques
- Control by threats and isolation
- Powerful group pressures
- Fear of consequences of leaving
- Abnormal dependency on the group
- Strange beliefs
To someone who knows Mormonism, these descriptions don’t match up with our characteristics, but let’s consider them one by one.
Small? We have 14 million members in 132 countries. In America, there are more Mormons than there are Presbyterians or Jews.
The average American thinks that most Mormons live in Utah, but over half of all Mormons are not residents of the United States, and only 14% live in Utah, a percentage that is decreasing. For some name-callers, however, size doesn’t matter: they even label Catholics a cult.
- Excessive devotion? We are devoted to the Savior, but in appropriate measure we think He would approve of.
- Unethical techniques? Ask the pie-throwers to name one.
- Control by isolation? Even if we wanted to, this would be impossible with 14 million members in 28,000 congregations throughout the world.
- Control by threats? Again, evidence? Our missionaries may be exuberant, but we do not threaten.
- Dependency on the group? Our goal is just the opposite. We want our members to be self-reliant and independent so they in turn can help others.
- Powerful group pressure? Only if that’s the way our critics prefer to define love.
- Strange? There they’ve got us. We plead guilty to all the strange things that were done by Christians in New Testament times that were lost during the great falling away in the aptly named Dark Ages, among them temple worship, vicarious baptism for the dead, prophets and apostles, unpaid clergy, and continual revelation from God to guide His church.
Let others call us a cult if they feel such tactics will, more effectively than doctrine, attract followers. When Mormons hear that word spit at us, we can only wonder whether our accusers are all that confident in their own positions and legitimacy.
Ridicule Comes With the Territory
Calling us a cult today cannot be the first time in history that a religion has been ridiculed with that word or an equivalent pejorative.
If Adam and Eve had had contemporary critics, our first parents surely would have been mocked as members of a nudist cult. And can you imagine the fun mockers must have had when Noah built a boat and gathered animals?
The Savior Himself did not escape it. He was mocked, scourged, spit upon, and put to death by the most cruel method devised by man because He dared to form what the elite, powerful, and supposedly wise of His day undoubtedly considered a cult.
Not every person who is smeared with ridicule is a prophet of God, but every prophet of God has been and will be smeared.
Real Cults Don’t Laugh at Themselves
There’s no law that says a cult can’t have a sense of humor, but honestly, have you ever heard of one that did? Under controlling conditions and a leader claiming to be infallible and beyond criticism, there’s no room in cult thinking for levity pointed at that leader or themselves. It would presage a loss of control.
As one thinks of such groups as the Jonestown bunch or the Waco Branch Davidians, it is hard to imagine in such groups the gentle, self-deprecating humor that is abundantly found in Mormondom.
We are respectful and reverent toward sacred things, but it’s open season on our own culture. A few of my favorites:
- Why do Mormon women stop having babies at 35? Because 36 is just too many.
- What do you get when you cross a kleptomaniac and a Mormon? A year’s supply of stolen food.
- Who is the pushiest person in the world? A Mormon missionary with an Amway distributorship on the side.
- The last thing Satan wants is for Mormons to go to hell. With our irrigation expertise we’d ruin the place for him.
- By the way, heard about Jewish mothers? Let me tell you about Mormon fathers.
And that doesn’t touch on our inside jokes, many of which deal with food – Cheerios, green Jell-o, funeral potatoes – which is understandable if you’re not allowed to get a kick from coffee, tobacco, or booze.
Mormons a cult? Don’t make me laugh.
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Gary Lawrence’s book “Mormons Believe … What?! Fact and Fiction About a Rising Religion” is now available at … mormonsbelievewhat.com, Amazon, Deseret Book, Seagull Book, Ensign Books, fairlds.org, as well as other LDS-oriented bookstores. For volume discounts: 714 667 0850.
Comments are welcome: [email protected]