Thursday, April 30, 2015

Definition of a cult...

A few days ago I was reading an article by a Mormon blogger.  The gist of the post was about how she is treated by members of the LDS church for being 38 years old, unmarried, and childless.  Her Facebook feed is constantly flooded with pictures of babies and happy couples.  In a world where family is king, she sticks out like a sore thumb.  I empathized with her, though I'm not LDS.  I got married at 30 and don't have kids.  I'm sure the pressure was much worse for her, though.

After I read the article, I checked out the comments.  Someone wrote:

"It's a cult bent on breeding followers."

Another poster, obviously a devout Mormon, wrote this:

"Can you expound on why it is a cult?

The Church believes that the family is central to God's plan. We are encouraged to get married in the temple and have children, but if you can't it's okay. My young women leader is in her 50's and is unmarried. No one judges her or feels sorry for her; we love her and look up to her.

We're not "bent on breeding followers" like you say. I am not a follower of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am a member. Not because my parents are, but because I believe in this gospel. I wasn't born a member. I chose to be. If I didn't believe with all my heart that it was true, I would not be a member.

I apologize to anyone who has ever been judged by members of my church. We are taught to love everyone and not to judge. However, we are not perfect; in fact, far from it. Everyone has flaws, including our leaders.
Everyone is constantly trying to put the Mormon Church down and prove that its doctrine is false. When have we ever done that to anyone else? Our missionaries' opening statement is "Hello, we have a message from Jesus Christ." Not "Your church is false because of this ...........".

I'm sorry that we come across to you as a cult. If you want more information about cults, look up radical Islam."

To that poster, I'd like to explain exactly what constitutes a cult and why so many people think Mormons are cult members.  First off, here's the definition of a cult according to

1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.

2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.

3. the object of such devotion.

4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.

5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.

7. the members of such a religion or sect.

8. any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.

Based on the first definition alone, the LDS church and most other religious organizations fall under the definition of "cult".  However, when most people think of cults, they think of harmful organizations with extreme "fringe" beliefs.  Mormons are offended by being referred to as "cult members".  They believe their church is "true", after all.  

Let's take a look at what a harmful cult does and we'll see how closely the LDS church follows the cult model.  According to Rick Ross's Cult Education Institute, the following are ten warning signs of a cult.  

1.  Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.  

In this video, a man speaks out about Proposition 8 during a church meeting.  Watch what happens.

3.  No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.  

4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.  If you leave the church, bad things will happen to you.  Conversely, there are many stories of how temple garments have saved lives.
5.  There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.  You just want to sin, are offended, or didn't pray enough.

6.  Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.

7.  There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.

8.  Followers feel they can never be "good enough".  

A special song for young women...

9.  The group/leader is always right.  "I don't know where I'd be without the church..."

10.  The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.  Except for when the prophet is "speaking as a man".  I suspect that happens only when the prophet does what all humans do and says something stupid or unflattering.

What happens when you ask a devout Mormon about the church?  They tell you to visit a Mormon authorized Web site or speak to a missionary.  They tell you to avoid so-called "anti" sources of information.  Anything that puts the church in a negative light must be wrong or the context of the information must be twisted.  If you say anything critical about the church, you are accused of being offended or "confused".    

Rick Ross goes on to list the warning signs of people involved in a toxic group.

1.  Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.

2.  Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower's mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused--as that person's involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.

3.  Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as "persecution".  See above Facebook comment.

4.  Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.  There is an unofficial Mormon dress code.  No immodest clothing.  White shirts and black suits for the men.  No spaghetti straps or hemlines above the knees.  There's also an unofficial Mormon lingo.  I refer to it as "Mormonese".    

5.  Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.  If you have a problem, see your bishop.  

6.  Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.  How many young people interrupt their educations to go on a mission and get married?

7.  A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.

8.  Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.

9.  Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.

10.  Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.
I can personally attest from Bill's experiences leaving the LDS church that 7, 8, and 10 were true in his situation.  I will admit that had his ex wife and kids not converted, he still would have been ostracized; but the church made it much easier to alienate the children.  His younger daughter in particular completely lost her sense of humor and critical thinking skills.  She called my husband "prideful" for turning away from Mormonism.  

The LDS church keeps its members very busy with church activities.  Members are in church three hours every Sunday.  Mondays are for family home evening.  They make time for home and visiting teaching.  Teenagers go to "seminary" in the early mornings, then many of them serve missions.  Saturdays are generally a free day, except when members are asked to clean the church.  Members allow the leaders to dictate what they wear, what substances they ingest (No coffee, tea, or alcohol.  No smoking.), and with whom and how they have sex (only with members of the opposite gender after marriage).  Mormons are expected to refrain from masturbation and to confess to their bishop if they indulge.  

In an excellent article from The Atlantic, there's yet another list of warning signs of a cult.  

1. Opposing critical thinking.  How many members with questions are told to stop trying to think their way out of the church?  How many are told to put their concerns on the proverbial shelf?

2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving.  How many exMormons no longer have relations with their family and church friends?  How many people have been disowned for leaving the church?  Check out this passage from the book Suddenly Strangers.

Brad Morin quotes a brother as saying the following when he found out about Morin's decision to leave the LDS church:

I am going to be honest with you. I don't ever want to talk to you again. I don't want to see you again. I don't want any letters or e-mail from you. If you write a letter for the family newsletter, I will not send it out. I don't want you coming to visit on the nineteenth. I still love you, but I don't ever want to see you again.

More from the same book:

A brother wrote the following to both Brad and Chris:

The thing that scares me most is your current beliefs. Those beliefs have the capability to destroy me and my family, and anyone who subscribes to those beliefs... You must not say anything to my wife or children about Joseph Smith or any prophet of the church, or any church leader or any church writings, or any church history... We read scriptures in our house. We say prayers in our house. If you visit us you will observe at least one of those maybe both. If we visit your houses we expect to be able to give thanks for the food and to read scriptures even if in our bedroom... If you cannot make this promise to me or if you make this promise to me and break it, my family will not associate (Face to face) with yours... Is this drastic? You bet it is. I have everything I have ever wanted, to loose [lose], if I am deceived. (139)

3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture.  Book of Mormon anyone?  Not to mention all the other supporting works.

4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders.  See the recent stir at General Conference when a few people dared to voice opposition to the leadership.  It made national news.  

5. Dishonoring the family unit.  People who leave the church are frequently ostracized.  

6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership).  Not sure how to interpret this one.

7. Separation from the Church.  Or this one.

In fairness, many religious organizations are cult-like and certainly there are some that are even more restrictive and intrusive than the LDS church is.  Personally, while I strongly dislike Mormonism because it has negatively affected my life, I have no problems with those who love the church and want to stay in it.  I think people should do what works for them and makes them happy, as long as it doesn't infringe on other peoples' rights.  But yes, I do think the LDS church is a cult.  That doesn't mean there aren't good things or good people within the church.  Indeed, exMormons are some of my favorite people.     

Maybe the church is not as extreme as this video depicts... but...

"Milk before meat"
"Fast and testimony" (emotional public talks given while hungry)
"Special messages"
"Secret ceremonies"

Yes...  it's a cult.


  1. I'm so caught up on the video that I can't really focus on anything else. Did the man know the microphone had been turned off? What might have happened had he spoken in a voice loud enough to be heard even without amplification, as some people are able to do? Who do you think was the man who followed him out? there's so much I'd like to know.

    1. I'm actually surprised he was allowed to finish speaking. That was obviously a very awkward meeting.


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