Return and Report

January 8, 2022

Hey Internet.

In yesterday's blog post I mentioned about a podcast that I was going to be interviewed by about my experiences with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (otherwise known as the Mormon church or LDS church). At the time, I didn't know how much information I should share and I wanted to check with them before saying too much. After getting the green light, I decided I wanted to share a little more.

There's always a fine line I have to walk whenever I talk about my experiences with the church. On the one hand, I feel very strongly that people need to have the right to believe whatever they believe (so long as those beliefs don't infringe upon the rights and/or safety of others). As such, I'm very much against the idea of telling others what to believe. On the other hand, I feel very strongly that I, and many others, have been manipulated by this church. I was taught half-truths and straight-up falsehoods. I had things deliberately withheld from me. I can't just allow that deception to go uncontested.

It's important to note here that I do not blame the missionaries, or generally anyone in the church with whom I had direct contact. I've no reason to believe that any of them were being intentionally deceitful, and I actually believe that the majority were genuinely trying to help me. It is not the rank-and-file member of the church with whom my grievances lie. It's the top leadership.

With all that out of the way, I want to get back to the subject of the podcast. It's called The Cult Vault, a sensational name to be sure. I generally avoid using the term "cult" for a number of reasons. For starters, most people don't really understand what a cult is. I prefer to use the term high-demand religion (or sometimes high-control religion). I feel this does a better job of getting across the idea I'm trying to convey. Secondly, the minute you use the word "cult" in reference to a group, members of that group have a tendency of getting defensive and not listening to what you're actually saying. I used to do exactly that myself. I understand the mentality well.

I'd like to take a moment to peel back the curtain and explore what the process of preparing for this interview has been like so far. As I mentioned before, I've been very impressed with their level of professionalism. They started by sending me an email with Stephen Hassan's BITE Model and asking me to describe any experiences that fit with it. (Spoiler alert: there are a lot.) For those who don't know, the BITE Model is used to identify high control groups. Like so many other things, it's not a binary yes/no thing; it's more of a spectrum. Some groups are more controlling than others, and there are definitely religions that are more controlling than Mormonism. The BITE Model is a fantastic resource that I encourage everyone to check out. It's surprising the number of red flags it'll raise with a number of groups and movements when you know what to look for, but I digress.

Anyhow, despite having been previously aware of the BITE Model, I had never before really gone over it in detail and done a full breakdown of my former faith. The process of doing so was rather enlightening (and alarming). I wanted, rather than just talking about my experiences, to provide as much supporting documentation as I could. In an attempt to keep the information as accurate as possible, I cited the church's own website wherever possible. I don't want to be accused of spreading "anti-Mormon lies", although I suspect I will be anyways.

An interesting result of this is that I ended up citing a bunch of church materials that I would have previously considered edifying and uplifting in and of themselves. It isn't until you start putting all the pieces together that things start to become worrying. There were questions I previously didn't allow myself to entertain because they were "not essential to my salvation". It really laid bare how hard I was working to try to maintain my faith... because I was taught that my eternal salvation depended on it. I'd been taught over and over again that "even the very elect shall be deceived" (a concept that quite honestly terrified me). The process has brought up a lot of baggage that I thought I'd dealt with, although fortunately not as intensely as when my shelf first broke.

Leaving a high-control group is a rather odd experience. It's not really something that you can fully understand until you've experienced it for yourself. My world is mostly filled with two kinds of people: those who are still in the church, and those who've never been a part of it. The former have been taught that I've been deceived by Satan, and that if they follow me it could well cost them their salvation as well. The latter would understandably have a hard time understanding why I was ever involved at all, and honestly, I can't blame them for that. A YouTuber who goes by the name TheraminTrees released a video a while ago that does a really good job of explaining this phenomena. He explains it far better than I ever could.

What's really interesting is that I've now experienced a faith crisis from both sides. I've been the one on the inside watching a friend lose their faith and being terrified for them, fully convinced that if they'd only studied a little harder, or experienced what I'd experienced that they'd never have fallen away. I always felt guilty about it, as though maybe if I'd just been able to find the right thing to say or the right General Conference address to refer them to that they might have been spared. I also now know what it's like on the other side of that. I know what it's like to dedicate years of your life to a cause without reservation only to find out later that it's not what you thought it was. I know what my friends in the church have been taught about people with doubts and those who leave the church. I know that in their minds those teachings now apply to me. Now I'm the one who didn't study enough. I'm the one who was led astray. I'm the one who never really had a strong testimony in the first place. What's worse, I fully understand why they would think that way. In short, it sucks.

I'm doing this interview for two reasons: firstly, because I think it's important to share these stories. It's important to understand that there are real people who get caught up in all of this, and that those people aren't necessarily just foolish or stupid. When you don't understand how these manipulative tactics work, it can be really hard to spot them until after it's too late (if you spot them at all). The second reason is perhaps a more selfish one; it's helpful for me to just talk this stuff out. It's almost like therapy (something I've often thought that I should seek out formally). It's a way for me to process and work through that trauma. Hopefully in the process of doing that it might help someone else to do the same.

So yeah, this blog post ended up being a lot heavier than I intended, nevertheless there it is.

Have a good one.