Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What is the best way to deprogram or un-brainwash a Mormon? —Geoff B

Maybe for starters you could find a better way of stating your position. "Brainwashed" is a loaded word. Who's to say YOU are not brainwashed? Isn't it the whole point of brainwashing that the subject does not know they've been brainwashed? When it comes to religious ideas, it's helpful to remember that there are thousands of mutually contradictory beliefs out there, nearly all of which must necessarily be false in order for another to be true.

So if you're serious about wanting to help people out of Mormonism, my first advice is that you be equally willing to look at the evidence supporting any other beliefs you may have, like Christianity for instance. Of course I don't know whether you're religious or not, but if questioning Christianity makes you defensive, then you're beginning to see how your deconversion attempts will be viewed by a Mormon.

I'm not trying to dissuade you. I'm an ex-Mormon myself and I frankly think most people (though perhaps not all) would be better off leaving the faith behind. However, I think the church provides a strong social network, solidarity, a feeling of belonging and all that. Plus of course the beliefs themselves are important to a Mormon's perceived happiness. And ultimately they stay because they believe it's literally true, that the LDS church is all that it claims to be.

Those are some pretty big hurdles for you to overcome. And actually, the last one about the church's truth claims may be the easiest of all to get past. Most people stay in the church not because they find the story of Moroni and the plates so convincing, but because they've bought into Moroni's promise. That may sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but I think they're very different. Moroni's promise says that if you ask God (i.e., pray), he will manifest the truth to you. Yes, you can investigate, look at evidence, but ultimately that feeling, that revelation from God, trumps all else.

The point is, no amount of evidence will convince someone Mormonism is untrue if their testimony wasn't based on evidence to begin with. It's like sleight of hand: the investigator is so focused on getting that answer from God that they never question the means. ("Is this how I get answers to other questions?" "How would I know if Mormonism wasn't true but still feels good?")

And again, behind that testimony is a whole lot of social support and perhaps a fear of the unknown. When people first begin to question their beliefs it's common for them to ask what else is out there that's better. Now suddenly the question has changed in their minds from one of ultimate truth to one of utility: "maybe the church isn't perfect, but it suits me."

So all of this is a really long way of saying, I don't know the best way to help someone see their way out of Mormonism--or any religion for that matter. Religion is endemic to our species. I think the person has to either want out, or truly be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. I think you can help in small ways. You can live your life authentically and not support them in their delusions (strong word again, but I don't know what other word to use). You can help alleviate their fear by showing that people can live happy, productive lives outside of the faith. Beyond that, I don't have a clue.

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