In our modern, busy world there’s always a need for a guide to this or that. Hence we see guides for coin collecting, guides for fitness, guides for video games, guides for travel, and guides for sports. Since, by some accounts, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is teetering on the brink of oblivion (even though, you know, it isn’t), and its (especially younger) members are leaving “in droves” (even though, you know, they aren’t), it seemed only appropriate that I craft a quick and easy guide for how to be a successful millennial ex-Mormon in the 21st century.
This guide isn’t necessarily for denizens of the ex-Mormon subreddit (although said denizens may still find my guide useful) or other equally lovely Internet cesspools. Rather, it is for beginners. It is for those who, after an intense week of “careful research” (read: browsing Wikipedia, the CES Letter, and Zelph on the Shelf), are ready to abandon their covenants and the faith of their fathers for the trendy, hipster pop-atheism that’s all the rage these days. (By the way, did you hear that Neil deGrasse Tyson has a new stand-up routine called Religion? LOL! alongside Seth MacFarlane? You should totally check it out on Netflix.)
So, dear neophyte, follow along as I take you through the first five steps towards becoming a successful millennial ex-Mormon.
1. Remember, all of your ideological opponents are acting in bad faith
Rule number one of any ideological warfare is the delegitimization of your opponent. For your new purposes, that means delegitimizing faithful Mormons (or, as you’re hereby required to pejoratively call them, “TBM”s or “true believing Mormons”) as insincere, conniving, avarice-soaked, unscrupulous, brainwashed, emotionally-stunted idiots who only continue to believe in the face of the CES Letter because of social or monetary reward.
Case in point: the apologist. As you’ll quickly discover, those filthy apologists at such dens of irrationality as FairMormon and the Interpreter Foundation are the embodiment of everything that’s wrong and loathsome about TBMs. They know full well that the Church is false and that their preposterous nonsense is rubbish. (If you have any doubt that the peer reviewed academic work of such PhDs as Hugh Nibley, John Gee, Stephen Ricks, Royal Skousen, Steven Harper, and John Welch is nothing but pseudo-scholarship, be sure you read the non-peer reviewed, self-published work of the non-PhD Jeremy Runnells.) But Midway, Utah villas don’t pay for themselves, and so they collect weekly cheques from TSCC (another helpful acronym you’re going to need to learn: “the so-called Church”). As such, the apologists are more than happy to feign faithfulness for the sake of piling up those fat stacks. Ergo, they are acting in bad faith. They don’t really believe this stuff. And if they do, well, it’s because they’re deluded morons.
“But Stephen,” you may interject, “what about people like Richard Bushman or Terryl Givens? They aren’t apologists with FairMormon. They’re university professors. And smart ones, to boot. They’ve published in highly respectable academic venues. And they’re totally faithful. What do we do about them?” A very good point. You’re catching on quickly. In cases like this, you have to remember all of the emotional and social benefit these (supposedly intelligent and thoughtful, as if it were possible) TBM scholars receive by remaining members. Sure, they may not get money from TSCC (so far as we know; see #4 below), but they’re so emotionally attached to their subject that, bless their hearts, they just can’t help themselves.
(An important caveat: only TBMs derive social or monetary benefit from their activity. I mean, sure. John Dehlin makes his money counseling people out of their Mormon faith, and Jeremy Runnells has set up a way for you to donate to his campaign so he can work full-time on the CES Letter, and both of these men enjoy considerable social clout in various ex-Mormon circles, and both of them are highly emotional and partisan about championing their work, but it’s definitely not at all the same thing. Don’t let any TBM trick you into thinking otherwise.)
Likewise, as an ex-Mormon, you’re now uniquely qualified to evaluate the psyche of your ideological opponents. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never met your opponent in real life, or if you don’t know a thing about them. They are TBM apologists, so have at it! Make sure you liberally throw out such phrases as “confirmation bias” and “cognitive dissonance,” even if you don’t actually know what they mean, in your online encounters with anyone who defends the LDS Church.
You got that? Basically, all apologists are either paid liars or intellectually dishonest hypocrites.
Because remember, they’re all acting in bad faith.
2. Don’t think too hard about this stuff. After all, homework is for squares
One trick the TBM apologist typically tries to pull is to encourage you to do some reading and research beyond the CES Letter and Mormon Stories podcasts. The ruse typically goes something like this:
“You know, the factors surrounding Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage are complex, and the historical evidence is often ambiguous and contradictory. I would recommend reading the work of such scholars as Todd Compton and Brian Hales to get some different perspectives on this highly nuanced, intricate issue.”
Or it may go something like this:
“I can understand why someone would be bothered by a lack of DNA evidence for Semitic people in ancient America. But have you considered that the way you read the Book of Mormon may in large part determine how you evaluate the DNA evidence? In other words, there are issues of paradigm and interpretation that must be accounted for in order to come to a solid conclusion. Have you looked at the work of John Sorenson and Ugo Perego that discusses this?”
Dear reader, don’t be misled by such deception! As is invariably the case, the simplest, quickest, easiest explanation is always the right one. (I mean, that’s just science. Ockham’s razor, amiright?) You might suppose that the TBM apologist is trying to get you to “think critically” or “carefully reconsider your views” about the issue, but this is not the case. No, this is a diversionary tactic. I mean, really. Who in their right mind is going to read John Sorenson’s 800-paged, heavily-footnoted opus Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book? That stuff is boring, hard to read, uses lots of scholarly jargon, and will ultimately just draw you away from precious Reddit time.
If you think about it, it’s understandable why the TBM apologist would have you waste time reading stuff. After all, the Mormon God (whose glory is “intelligence” [D&C 93:36]) requires his disciples to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom,” and to “seek learning” (D&C 88:118). Therefore, if an apologist asks you to look at stuff beyond what’s being featured on Reddit’s front page, you can safely conclude that he or she is trying to confuse you or bog you down with stupid things like “nuance,” “thoughtfulness,” “critical thinking,” and “evidence.”
Furthermore, if anything an apologists says or argues confuses you, or otherwise challenges your beliefs, simply deflect the unwanted new information by deeming whatever he or she said “mental gymnastics,” dismissing the published work as “unofficial,” and moving along. You don’t want your confidence in the CES Letter shaken, do you? Best not to think too hard about these things.
But fear not, dear reader. Thanks to the Internet (that infallible spring of truth), there’s a way you can appear both sophisticated and trendy at the same time!
3. Memes are your friends
Say what you want about Richard Dawkins. He may be a cranky racist on Twitter, but he gave us the Internet meme. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.)
Memes are an absolute pleasure and allow you to look hip, cool, well-informed, intelligent, deep-thinking, and Internet-savvy all at the same time.
Here’s an illustration. Joseph Smith, as TSCC was forced to admit by the Internet back in the 1980s and 90s, gave different accounts of his First Vision. Normally, a trained historian would look at these documents and provide careful commentary that takes into account such things as composition, transmission, chronological context, the purpose of the account, how the accounts compare to each other, how memory works, etc. Screw that noise! As an impatient millennial you’ve earned the right to get instant, simple answers to everything. Enter the meme:
Voilà! Now you have a nice little image for your Facebook page (just watch the “likes” stack up) without having had to do any of the heavy lifting.
If an apologist counters by pointing out that a meme is highly misleading, factually inaccurate, or downright deceptive, or if he or she counters by encouraging you to “read some books” on the subject written by “actual historians,” just refer to #2 above. What matters isn’t whether the meme is “true” or not. What matters is the emotional response it’ll evoke in the people who see it, and that it gives you, dear reader, the sense of sophistication and erudition that you so desperately need in the presence of a phalanx of history PhDs at the Joseph Smith Papers and the BYU Church History Department.
Of course, though, being factually correct and totally unbiased all the time and in all things (which is totally what you are) isn’t enough. No, you have a moral duty to rid the earth of TSCC filth. As such, you now have a very important job.
4. Root out conspiracy (even where it doesn’t exist)
We live in a dangerous world where dangerous forces are lurking in every corner. No institution, however, is more dangerous than TSCC. You must, therefore, quickly learn to implicitly trust those authorities who, out of their sense of moral duty to the good of humanity, have infiltrated the nefarious cabal of TSCC and have returned to Reddit to (anonymously, of course) report their findings. No time to waste seeing if the person’s claimed identity as President Monson’s personal assistant’s cousin is legit. You have those poor wretches in the pews to save from the clutches of The Brethren.
Therefore, no matter how outlandish or (almost criminally) absurd a conspiracy may seem, your duty is to support those intrepid whistleblowers at all costs. If the TBM apologists are crooks, you can only imagine what their white, cisgendered, patriarchal, bigoted, homophobic, heteronormative, geriatric (those are the only adjectives you’re allowed to use in describing them) overlords are like. They have no decency, morality, or sincerity whatsoever, and so you’re perfectly free to openly postulate grand schemes, “factions,” “power vacuums,” and the like amidst their ranks on even the most tenuous evidence. If it helps, make sure you bring up any possible private mental health problems that some of the Brethren may be suffering to bolster your case (even if you’re a mental health practitioner). If anyone asks you for evidence, just remind them that they have the burden of proof to prove you wrong. (Because that’s how it works. Always is the burden of proof on the defender. Again, that’s just science.)
Speaking of, as with any good conspiracy, always keep in mind that the less evidence there is for a conspiracy, the deeper the conspiracy undoubtedly runs. So when volunteers with FairMormon provide firsthand testimony assuring everyone that they’re not being paid by TSCC, obviously that’s just a lie; they are being paid by TSCC (see #1 above). The same absolutely goes for actual Church officials (duh). So when Michael R. Otterson gets up and says, “There are no factions among the Twelve. I have been in those meetings enough to see the diversity of opinions and different perspectives aired and thoroughly talked through. My experience is that unless the Brethren are united on something, the issue just doesn’t move forward. They always go for unity, complete unity, which is what you’d expect in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” that’s just a lie. Likewise, when Elder Cook insists, “Some have asserted that more members are leaving the Church today and that there is more doubt and unbelief than in the past. This is simply not true. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never been stronger. The number of members removing their names from the records of the Church has always been very small and is significantly less in recent years than in the past,” you can absolutely bet that’s a lie. (What would he know about Church membership retention and numbers anyway, right?)
Basically, if it in some way undermines the conspiracy, it’s a lie. Plain and simple.
As an added bonus, if you want to be really edgy as an anti-capitalist, atheist whistleblower who’s saving the world from religious fanaticism and capitalism, make sure you set as your profile pic a mask mass-produced in China of a 16th century homicidal religious fanatic.
Oh, and whatever you do, make sure you compare TSCC to Orwell (you know, that guy you once kinda read in high school). Because the Internet totally hasn’t made comparing something you don’t like with Orwell into a meaningless cliché.
But it’s okay if you use clichés or anything else as a newly minted ex-Mormon, because . . .
5. The ends always justify the means
Don’t forget: you are right, they are wrong. You have the truth, they have lies. You’re an unbiased, rational thinker, they are deluded, brainwashed sheeple. You have a moral imperative to save those people from their superstition and bigotry, they have the moral imperative to simply accept whatever you say and whatever methods you employ. That means you’re free to vandalize, cyberbully, lie, provoke, obfuscate, mislead, deceive, spin, or do anything else you need to do to get the job done.
This is especially true in your efforts to obediently proselytize for Jeremy Runnells. So go right on ahead and make deceptive pass along cards, vandalize Church property, leave the CES Letter behind for people to “unsuspectingly” encounter, or, if you’re especially enterprising, exploit a mistake and spread the word with a spam email.
But be careful. You need careful branding, otherwise the TBMs will see right through you. This guy on r/exmormon, talking about the idea of a CES Letter app, gets it.
Filming people in the privacy of the temple without their consent and posting it online? Lying through your teeth in order to placate bishops and family (only to then turn around and mock them behind their backs for not catching the lie)? Leaking private or sensitive information and documents? Targeting youth through deceptive hashtags on social media? It’s all good. So long as your intentions are pure, don’t worry about whether what you’re doing is the most ethical thing or not. It’s all for the greater good.
I hope, dear reader, that you’ll find these suggestions helpful as you begin your exciting new life in the world of ex-Mormonism. Now that you’re free from being blindly obedient to a cult that asked for your time, money, and unfailing ideological loyalty, I hope you find joy and goodness in being blindly supportive of an online cause (but definitely not a cult) that asks for your time, money, and unfailing ideological loyalty.
Wherever your road may take you as you venture away from Mormonism and into the brave new world of (probably) atheistic nihilism, just remember: if anything bad ever happens to you, or if your feelings are ever hurt in any way, it’s probably somehow Dan Peterson’s fault.