“The Scientology Rule”; Or, Don’t Be Cultish!

Some time ago I introduced the “Larry King Rule,” which states that the normative value of any given Mormon doctrine can be determined by imagining how President Hinckley would respond to it on Larry King.

Now for a new rule!

Some reading to get you started. This Rolling Stone article about Scientology contains some really insane stuff. When I read it a few months ago, I found myself horrified by the cultish behaviour of the Church of Scientology. What crazy people! How can they believe that stuff! They do what?!

But here’s the problem. Anyone googling “Mormon” and “Scientology” might conceivably end up at this page. Their reaction: “Mormons calling Scientologists cultish, LOL!” In the words of Bill Maher, “Mormons should just be glad that Scientology came along and made them the second weirdest religion.” As I read the article, I realised that a similar description of Mormonism could make us seem cultish. Not wishing to be a member of a cult, this gave me pause.

Much of the problem here is the definition of “cult,” which often seems to mean not much more than “small religion, weird beliefs, strict rules.” If you are a large religion, your beliefs become less weird, and if you practice them strictly you are a “monk,” or “deeply religious,” not a brainwashed cultist. So, much of it has to do with scale.

Still, there can be cultish elements in religion. As I read about them in relation to Scientology they struck me as things to be avoided by sensible people, even dangerous. So I formulated the Scientology Rule, also know as “Don’t Be Cultish!” Briefly it is:

If your religious behaviours are such that if practised by a Scientologist and observed by you would seem cultish, re-evaluate them pronto! The best way to imagine this is to place our behaviours in the context of Scientology. Here are some examples:

  • Scientologist pays 10% of his income to the church because he sincerely believes his church worthy of support. (Not cultish.)
  • Scientologist pays 10% of his income to the church because he sincerely believes that is what the immortal L. Ron Hubbard expects of him. (Pretty weird, but not too cultish, at least if you substitute L. Ron Hubbard for God.)
  • Scientologist pays 10% of his income to the church because he sincerely believes if he doesn’t he is going to join Brooke Shields in hell. (Cult alert! Cult alert!)
  • Scientologist pays 10% of his income to the church because if he doesn’t he cannot enter the Inner Sanctum of the Thetan Temple. (Ah, um, er…)

Tricky, eh? In other words, there are things we do that would appear very cultish from the outside. Are they only OK because we do them, because we’re right and they’re wrong? (Quite cultish if coming from the lips of a Scientologist.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Scientology Rule. Judge not Tom lest ye be judged.


Are there cultish aspects to Mormonism?

If so, how do we avoid them? Should they be avoided? If not, how can we justify them?

Oh, and before it comes up: I do not believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be a cult, but like all religions, we can be prone to excessive devotion. I am very happy to be a member of our rich and edifying spiritual community. I also believe anti-depressants to be the work of the devil….Wait!


  1. P.S. In line with my last post, I would like someone to find me a T-shirt with “Cultist” written on it for me to wear on the Vienna U-Bahn.

  2. I read this article awhile back too, Ronan, and let’s face it, they are weirder (from the journalism I’ve read — never read a pro-scientology tract before). I think there are a couple of things that could be perceived as cultish in our church: temple attendance that is closed to the public and not talked about; some have a fanatical reverence for Joseph Smith and GBH (I think we should be very reverent towards our prophets, but not to the extent that we deify them); and of course there’s the tithing = ability to attend the temple thing, which I’ve heard some naysayers bring up before.

    My husband went to this weird cultish thing 2 weeks ago on the invitation of his sitar teacher who belongs, and we were joking about being brainwashed. He put a glazed lok on his face before he left and said in a mechanical robot voice, “If I come back all: ‘I will obey,’ then you know it was a cult. I replied, “No, you’ll come back all excited and say, ‘wow, these people were so nice and they made me feel so welcome, and they invited me back next week!” And he said, “Like your church?” And I said, Yeah!!!” :-)

  3. Funny story, meems. As HP/JDC and I used to say about a non-Mormon colleague of ours whose conversion we half-heartedly planned, “let’s love bomb him.”

    For sure, Bill Maher is right. Scientology is weirder. Still, I think one thing that hinders growth is our utter ignorance as to how we look from the outside. From time to time we should consider this.

  4. If by cultish one means unconventional, then let me offer what I consider to be a cultish aspect of Mormonism.

    I submit that the juxtaposition of white shirt and tie/business suit/FBI coat (depending on the season) and a backpack, whether of the type issued by the MTC or one you’d expect to find on the shoulders of a Swiss mountaineer, creates dissonance in the outside observer regarding appropriate dress.

    On the one hand, missionaries sort of dress like professionals, but what serious banker/lawyer/insurance salesman slings a Jansport on in the morning? Better yet is the proliferation of hydration backpacks complete with tubes sticking out over the shoulder.

    Missionaries have the appearance of neither man nor beast. With those backpacks, no one can take them seriously, with those suits, they’re not putting anyone at ease. The first and last time I showed up to work with a backpack on they asked me where Everest was. This is called getting off on the wrong foot, not building relationships of trust.

    I realize that a backpack is an efficient solution to a missionary’s logistical problems and that the practice is variously condemned by mission presidents and others.

    Still, it looks a little freaky.

  5. Is Scientology weirder? Or just more recent? A perfectly fair comparison might require us to situate ourselves in the Brigham Young years.

    These kinds of comparisons are, of course, impossible to make fairly. But I think it’s really useful to read about Scientology; that’s exactly what we look like from the outside. How does our many-tiered heaven look to traditional Christians? Probably a lot like the hierarchy of numbered OT levels in Scientology looks to us. How about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, polyandry, marriages to teenagers, etc.? Probably a lot like L. Ron Hubbard’s rumored sexual liaisons with teenagers on his cruise ship. And the hymn “Praise to the Man,” with its lyrics about how Joseph Smith is now planning mortal events from beyond the tomb? Probably looks a lot, from the outside, like Scientology’s attitude toward Hubbard.

    Of course each of the things about Mormonism that I just mentioned look different, and comprehensible or even vital, to us from inside the religion. But the same is almost certainly true of Scientology stuff. That doesn’t make either us or the Scientologists a cult. On the other hand, I think that looking at the world as if we were Scientologists can help us have a bit of empathy for the folks who sincerely believe we are a dangerous cult.

  6. Aliens buried in the earth = gold plates buried in the earth? Maybe not, but I’m sure people would do a double take after hearing, for example, that the Garden of Eden is in actuality just outside St. Louis, Missouri (among other interesting tidbits of Mormon doctrine).

    #5 – how _do_ we define a “cult”? The Branch Davidians, Jonestown kool aid people, etc. seem to qualify – but where do “we” draw the line? Another question – do we want someone else (governments, our own religious leaders) to draw the line for us?

  7. ECS #6, I think it’s always best to err on the side of not calling anyone a cult…

  8. JNS – unless of course you’re Ian Astbury or Billy Duffy.

  9. I found a variety of appropriate t-shirts for sale:

    Cult Member

    I know where I stand (I wear my shirt quite often).

  10. ECS #8, too true.

    When I was a kid, an Evangelical friend of mine used to claim that a wide range of popular bands were actually designed to attack Mormonism. So, The Cult was named as a critique of Mormonism, and (my personal favorite) The Cure was in fact the “cure for Mormonism.”

    Ironic that Utah seems stuck in a perpetual haze of ’80s musical nostalgia, given that such a wide range of ’80s bands are evidently anti-Mormon….

  11. LOL – funny! But, yeah, even _I’m_ getting sick of the ’80s. Just in case anyone cares, my favorite song these days is “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor. (you have to bleep out a few of the lyrics, though :)

  12. “Still, I think one thing that hinders growth is our utter ignorance as to how we look from the outside. From time to time we should consider this.”

    You mean I’m the only one who is always aware of how weird we are?

    I don’t think it’s the idea of us being a cult that people think is weird. Our *beliefs* are just weird. So are Scientologist’s—and JW’s, and 7th Day Adentist’s, etc. If Christianity wasn’t so widespread, everyone would think it’s bizarre, too. But not as bizarre as us.

    One of my favorite scriptures:

    Isaiah 28:21
    For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim,
    he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon,
    that he may do his work, his strange work;
    and bring to pass his act, his strange act.

  13. Susan – Is that why your website is “Strange Pulse“? It’s awesome.

  14. ECS,

    You have been caught by the Midwesterner Corrections Police. If you are thinking of Adam-Ondi_Ahman it is outside Kansas City, not St. Louis.


    I think true devotion to the gospel is almost certain to have aspects which are observationally equivalent to cultist behavior. The only difference being the unobservable (to the outsider) fact that one is true and one is not. Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac is beyond even the best Scientology cult story. Jesus calling himself the Bread of Life is only saved from being deeply weird and cultish by the fact that it is completely true.

  15. Frank,
    I agree with you. Of course, it’s exactly what Scientologists would say about Xenu.

  16. Does anyone know how Scientologists officially regard the Bible? I have the impression that they don’t care about it one way or the other.
    It seems to me that our acceptance of the Bible as scripture is one of our strongest assets in claiming to not be a cult. We don’t disbelieve the Bible, nor do we ignore it, We accept it as doctrine and expect members to know what it says. While we don’t accept it as fully, and unconditionally as other denominations we do at least claim it as scripture and declare belief in it’s major tenets.

  17. Haha, thanks Elizabeth! I actually took that from two Psychedelic Furs songs (“Susan’s Strange” and “Pulse”), at the suggestion of my brother.

  18. “Of course, it’s exactly what Scientologists would say about Xenu.”

    You say Great Spirit, I say Xenu, Let’s call the whole thing off.

  19. endlessnegotiation says:

    Adam-Ondi-Ahman is closer to Des Moines than either KC or STL– it just happens to be in Missouri.

    I think the only truly definitive characteristic of a cult is required social isolation. The article explicitly describes a social order that requires the individual to cut themselves off from the rest of the “world.” This isolation is used to coerce existing members to remain “faithful” and eliminate any dissent. My experience is that as an organization the LDS Church does not advocate or require such strict social isolation. We’re encourage to be in the world but not of the world. In most instances those who leave or are excommunicated are invited back into the fold. In my own family I have an uncle who has been excommunicated for engaging in homosexual sex. He and his partner still attend Church on a regular basis and we still involve him and his partner in family activities despite the fact that we all (in general) believe that he is committing a grievious sin. A cult would not be so inviting.

  20. Frank – thanks! There go my chances at the Geography Bee.

  21. Rosalynde says:

    As JNS suggests, the more recent the vintage, the more cultish the Kool-Aid.

    I actually don’t think we look or act very weird. (A few doctrines do.) I hear far more kvetching members complain about “cultish” aspects of the Church than non-members. Case in point: I’ve heard the weekly recitation of the YW theme cited as “cultish” on the naccle many times since I’ve been participating. Rubbish. The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts recite their “Laws” aloud in unison every week, too; it’s no evidence of cultishness.

  22. Starfoxy #16, Scientologists regard the Bible and Christianity as harmful delusions implanted in our minds by an evil space emperor thousands of years ago. Actually true.

    On the other hand, many leading Mormons have historically considered the Catholics to be “the great and abominable church,” mother of whoredoms, etc. So, well, there you are.

  23. I disagree, Rosalynde. A Boy Scout is reciting an oath to do pretty inocuous things: to do his best, to do his duty to God and country, etc. Barely an eyebrow would be raised.

    On the other hand, the AP recitation has stuff that ostensibly commits the boy (as young as 12) to serve a mission (something with very “cultish” elements), and to marry in the temple (that has its own “cultish” requirements). Now, this is all good stuff, but I think on the outside it looks far more cultish than a Boy Scout promising to be good lad.

  24. There’s another group I’ve come across here in New York City that calls itself theophysicists … and from what little I know about them, they seem strange or cultish too. Not because they believe in aliens or buried plates or anything like that, but because of their literature. I looked over one of thier tracts and basically it appeared to be a rather nonsensical combination of eastern religious and scientific jargon, just thrown together. Mystical sounding, intellectual sounding … but devoid of real meaning.

    Anyone come across this group anywhere else?

  25. JNS (22) We’re hardly alone in having called the Catholics ‘great and abominable’ so I’m not sure that is a fair comparison. We will at least concede that the Catholic church’s roots had genuine authority even if we maintain our belief in the apostacy.

    I’m mostly saying that we’re willing to build off of and accept parts of generally recognized non-cult religions in a way that Scientology is not. There is a vast body of common beliefs and similar practices and that surely counts for something.

  26. This reminds me of something that happened last week. Steve and I were in an elevator in a dowtown highrise that was full of urban professionals. He says in an audible conversational tone:

    “You know, Ronan and I have been talking and we think that you are going start your own cult.”

    People look around not quite sure how to take it. “My cult of personality is impressive, no?”

    “No, just a plain cult.” And we walk off the elevator to enjoy our cafateria lunch. The people that remained very confused.

  27. endless and starfoxy,
    I think you’re on to something.

    Ah, the Cult of Stapley. Where dead Mormon women (preferably polygamists who anointed other women) are prayed to as Saints.

  28. Steve Evans says:

    We decided that Stapley’s cult would just be kinda boring. With 15% tithing.

  29. any mouse says:

    nothing is a cultish as the cute primary kids singing in their bored, monotone voices, “follow the prophet, don’t go astray… he knows the way.”

  30. Okay, here’s something very un-cultish about the LDS Church: it allows, even encourages, self-criticism. And it encourages (despite claims to the contrary by hosts of the uninformed) familiarity and study of its own history. A good chunk of the Bloggernacle is a Mormon exercise in self-reflection, self-examination, and self-criticism.

    You see none of this in cults. In fact, you see very little self-criticism in so-called mainstream Christian sects and denominations, whether Evangelical or traditional. I think refusal to engage in self-criticism is rooted in insecurity, which (below the bluster they display) is certainly a feature of cultishness.

  31. Brent Hartman says:

    I think it’s rather cultish to believe that following a man can get you closer to God. It also directly contradicts the teaching in 2 Nephi 4:34, yet that is the doctrine of the church today.

  32. Starfoxy, I think there’s an element of time-shifting in your framing of the comparison. When Mormonism was as new as Scientology is, we had a tendency to refuse to build off of anything related with outside religions. Joseph Smith, as we all know, actually rewrote the Bible, and Brigham Young famously called important parts of the Bible children’s stories. These days, we have reduced the degree of difference between ourselves and the rest of our society a lot since then; that’s why we can now build off of shared beliefs and practices to a significant extent. But when we were new, we didn’t.

  33. No coffee? No tea? Why? There has even been talk that the Word of Wisdom is less about health and more a form of obedience. That’s quite cultish.

  34. Obedience to commandments? Listening to a prophet?? GASP!! CALL THE COPS!

  35. Brent Hartman says:

    Adam-ondi-Ahman is closer to Kansas City than Des Moines or St. Louis. This is my home turf. :)

  36. Imagine if we couldn’t mix dairy and meat. No Bacon! I would trade coffee for a bacon cheese burger anyday.

  37. #36, But doesn’t the bacon cheese burger violates the “eat meat sparingly” rule? Maybe just the double.

  38. Ah, but Steve, you’re not OBEYING my RULE, you APOSTATE. You have to turn your statements into Scientologese:

    Obedience to (utterly arbitrary?) commandments (e.g. no anti-depressants). Listen to a (false?) prophet (e.g. L. Ron Hubbard). Sounds cultish.

  39. Ronan,
    Building on J. Stapely, what about secular cultish behaviors? Vegans leap to mind and, beyond vegans, raw-foodists (who eat nothing that’s been heated above, I believe, 118 degrees F). There’s all sorts of internal consistency (humans were healthier before fire was discovered, cooking destroys essential enzymes in vegetables), but it’s all crazy-talk to an outsider.

  40. Ronan, full Scientologese of “obedience to commandments” might actually be something closer to “strict adherence to technology.” For more fun lingo (and they have A LOT more than we do), see the official Scientology Glossary.

  41. “humans were healthier before fire was discovered”

    …except for that pesky “life expectancy of 17” part.

  42. RT breaks out the tech! Hear, hear!

  43. I’ve been informed that I am a member of a cult many times but I didn’t realize how widespread that belief is or how ingrained it is until I started reading blogs related to Mitt Romney’s candidacy. In many comments on those blogs Mormonism and Scientology and seen as virtually the same.

    Despite accepting the Bible as scripture and believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we will not be considered anything more than a gnostic cult by members of traditional Christianity because we do not follow the Bible as interpreted by the 7 Ecumenical Councils. Some Christians consider us good but deluded people. Still I get the feeling that the overriding consideration is something between disdain and disregard.

    To change this will take time and numbers. We need time to establish ourselves as a viable credible Christian institution and to increase our legitmacy. I think that we will need to get a better grasp as a people as to where we really differ doctrinally and then demonstrate where we fit within Christianity, though we will invariably be outside of the ecumenical Christian tradition. Even then we will be rejected as heretics until our numbers are sufficient to give us legitimacy. Maybe in a few hundred years our numbers will be large enough. I probably sound overly pessimistic but really I’m not too concerned by the cult label because it is handed out so freely these days. Anyway, go China!

  44. Sorry Steve, just sayin’ that’s their take (as filtered through admiring reports I’ve read). I like raw food well enough (especially when it’s fish, only I like the raw fish on top of cooked rice) but, like I said, if you don’t buy into their premises, it’s all crazy talk.

  45. ..and for the record, been generally percieved as an oddity is waaaay better than being viewed as a candidate for extermination. Things do get better.

  46. Ronan,

    I agree with you that just about any system of belief has aspects that most people would describe as weird. Roman Catholics count beads as they pray and have statues in their houses and yards, all pretty strange if you think about it. I think that the word “cult” has almost no descriptive value, and is used mostly as an epithet when people want to cut off serious discussion.

    With all that in mind, I propose Godwin’s Corollary to the Scientology Rule: The first one to bust out the word “cult” automatically loses the argument.

  47. cooking destroys essential enzymes in vegetables

    So do the acid and proteases in your stomach. The real enemy isn’t heat, it’s that darned digestive system.

  48. Aren’t Christians as a whole just less weird because they’ve been around so long? To an outsider wouldn’t worshiping a flying man in the sky, believing you can come back to life after you die, ghosts are inside our body that float away when we die, etc sound weird if it was introduced for the first time tomorrow? I have an athiest friend that doesn’t think Mormons or Scientologists are any weirder than Catholics or Evangelicals. To him it all sounds like it’s as real as Harry Potter or The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  49. a random John says:

    I want a t-shirt that says “I’m a cult member” on the front and “and so are you!” on the back. Or maybe two t-shirts, and the other says “and so are you!” on the front…

  50. Mark,
    My black-panther mechanism is on full-zetan-zero in the face of your high-toned idea, old boy.

  51. Steve Evans says:

    100 points for mention of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! jjohnsen has clearly been touched by His Noodly Appendage.

  52. Our approach to JS and GBH is surely less cultish than the Catholic approach to saints. Don’t they believe the deceased are now influencing mortal affairs as we believe JS may be? At least we don’t actually pray to JS. Of course this seems less cultish because a billion people believe it.

  53. Sorry, that last comment was directed to JNS in reference to #5.

  54. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 30

    On the contrary. Grant Palmer got disfellowshipped for publishing a book that took a realistic look at Church history. And what about the September Six?

    To me, the most cultish aspect of the Church is the way it treats dissident scholars. That’s really creepy.

    But in terms of the day-to-day lives of ordinary members, the LDS are no more cultish these days than the Evangelicals. I think even the Church’s critics in Christendom realize this and have toned down the Mormons-as-cult rhetoric a little bit.

    I live very near Scientology HQ, and believe me the Church will never win back the Most Weird title. The Sea Org people (core Scientology shock troops) run around in quasi-naval garb with little epaulettes on their shirts. I have no idea what they’re doing, but they have caused me to think the LDS missionary uniform could use a makeover. Why not khakis and matching solid-color polo shirts for them? Can you imagine??

  55. MikeInWeHo, I think Palmer got disfellowshipped because he was a CES employee. It’s a high-risk profession. I do think the September Six episode was a big mistake. Note that Palmer didn’t get exed — they’re learning.

  56. Agreed, Dave. And I think your previous point about self refleciton in Mormonism is extremely important.

  57. gomez #52, you raise a good point. Many “counter-cult” ministries do indeed consider the Catholic church to be a cult; further evidence, I guess, that the term really isn’t useful.

    But, really, I’m not sure the comparison comes off as cleanly as you’d like to make it. Catholics certainly don’t worship saints; rather, they honor them. The essential distinction is that saints aren’t divine. (See this helpful explanation.) Furthermore, Catholic prayers to saints are different in kind from prayers to God; Catholics in effect ask saints to pray to God for them — at least in principle, although in practice these things always get more complicated. (See this informative discussion of the Catholic doctrine regarding praying to saints.)

    Joseph Smith, by contrast, is typically regarded by Mormons as being at least well on the road to divinity. Furthermore, our hymns picture him acting directly in ways that affect the mortal world — not just conveying our prayers to God. So, we don’t pray to Joseph, but it’s far from clear to me that the Catholic approach to saints is more worshipful than our approach to Joseph.

  58. Kevin Barney says:

    The word cult has been so abused that it is almost completely worthless any more, except in purely neutral contexts, such as speaking of the ancient Jewish temple cult. It is just a four-lettered word for the other guy’s religion (which you despise).

  59. Steve Evans says:

    What Kevin said.

  60. Well, since now “cult”, “feminism”, and “patriarchy” are words without meaning in the Mormon lexicon, we obviously need to make up a new language.

  61. Steve Evans says:

    ECS, there are plenty of words without meaning in the mormon lexicon — why associate those three?

  62. LOL – which of these words is not like the other? Well, considering that the themes these words represent are about 90% of what we talk about here on the blogs (gender issues, Mormons as peculiar people, etc), I’d say we should have more of a concrete definition of these words – no? If nothing else than for ease of communication/shorthand.

  63. ECS, the sociology of the groups that popular discourse calls “cults” has provided us with a new, less-normatively-weighted term: new religious movements. NRMs are typically defined only in terms of their age, yet, surprisingly, the set of cases pretty much overlaps with the religions that seem “cultish.” So the age-related terminology is basically just as effective but a bit less judgmental.

    Mormonism is routinely studied under the NRM rubric.

  64. Steve Evans says:

    ECS, if we agreed on definitions we’d have nothing left to talk about.

  65. Brent #31

    I think it’s rather cultish to believe that following a man can get you closer to God. It also directly contradicts the teaching in 2 Nephi 4:34, yet that is the doctrine of the church today.

    There’s a difference between putting your trust in the arm of flesh instead of trusting in God, and following someone’s example. You’re butting up directly against Paul here. Phil. 3:17 “Brethren, be followers together of me…” 1 Corinthians 4:16 “I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:7 “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us;”

  66. ECS,

    I disagree that the word patriarchy is devoid of meaning. I myself practice a version of it, the so-called third wave patriarchy. That’s the good kind, right? ;-)

  67. Mark IV, “third wave patriarchy” is humor? Or what? A google search of the phrase “third wave patriarchy” returns no results; same for “third-wave patriarchy.” This conversation will eventually change that, after BCC gets crawled again. But, in the meanwhile, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Do forgive me if I’m simply being humor-impaired.

  68. Steve Evans says:

    RT, you are being humor-impaired.

  69. So, do forgive me!

  70. And also, “third-wave patriarchy.” I really want that google entry.

  71. Steve Evans says:

    RT, I can forgive you — it’s like you wanted to buy a humor bicycle, but only had a few pennies. See – if you believe me, I can forgive you and get you that humor bicycle. But only with your faith. or whatever.

  72. Yeah, okay, Steve. I’ll join your humor bicycle cult.

  73. Steve Evans says:

    Achieve the following tech:

    1. Humor bicycle upload
    2. Pennies – Steve Belief
    3. Faith/bicycle/Robinson BAD.

    repeat until clear.

  74. And with this comment, Steve and my private conversation on this thread reaches 8 consecutive remarks!

  75. Steve Evans says:

    Coming soon: Project Stevebake.

  76. I’ll lead the way on Project Stevebake: Steve was never an astronaut, all claims to the contrary in his official, faith-promoting biography notwithstanding. And at the HT-9 (humor thetan 9) level, the initiate has to acknowledge that all of reality is merely a pale imitation of skits from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

  77. Steve Evans says:

    ooo! Can I start an Air Org? We can circle the globe in Steve-emblazoned dirigibles.

  78. Speaking of cults, what the hell kind of cultish name is “Roasted Tomatoes”?

  79. Aw, thanks, Ronan. But I now know better than to respond to name-taunting from you in kind!

  80. RT: I don’t get “third wave patriarchy” either, but then I’m still puzzling over Ronan’s TGAB comment on one of the General Conference threads.

  81. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    While I’m skittish when people start calling the church a cult, I also wonder why we care. We are to be a “peculiar” people. If other people are turned off by some aspects then it seems to me that that is their issue and not ours. Not that anyone has advocated this, but I don’t think we should change our practices or beliefs just because some people think they’re weird. I’ve heard about a program that cuts Sunday worship down to just Sacrament meeting. Two of the three years I lived in Japan I had to work on Sunday and had no church at all; the last year I finally got Sunday off and kinda-sorta attended the branch in my area. (It was hard to get to and harder to understand.) It gave me a real apprecation for Sunday School and Relief Society. People’s jaws hit the ground when I mention our three-hour meeting block but I wouldn’t change it.

    Besides, I LIKE being peculiar.

  82. Kevin Barney says:

    FHL #80, I assumed “third wave patriarchy” was meant to be an ironic appropriation of “third wave feminism.”

  83. a random John says:

    Someone needs to register http://www.thirdwavepatriachy.com

    Like, right now.

    Then you could use it as a base for your own New Religious Movement, or you could see t-shirts.

  84. Did I miss the first and second waves?

  85. a random John says:

    or you could see t-shirts.


    or you could sell t-shirts. And coffee cups.

  86. nonamethistime says:

    The Church would perhaps be viewed in a softer light if it allowed non-members (especially relatives) to view their loved ones’ wedding/sealing ceremonies in the temple. This exclusion factor, along with the temple garb, angels threatening murder, magical books that are taken up into heaven (where is heaven, anyway?) so that the “world” can’t see it…

    …You get the drift.

  87. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 55 I think you’re right, things are getting better. A couple of decades ago most of the people blogging in here might well have gotten into trouble for some of the things they write. Can’t imagine that happening now. Still, if you look at how Rome handled Hans Kung…it seems much healthier and more mature.

    re: 86 I’d argue that Catholicism is just as weird, maybe weirder, and not nearly as cool. All religions should have secret–oops, sacred–rituals in incredibly beautiful yet vaguely scary temples.

  88. nonamethistime says:

    Yes, many religions are weird, but in the 21st century, it’s the secret, the (relatively) illogical, the exclusionary and the naive that seem most cultish.

  89. Aaron Brown says:

    This seems as good a place as any to finally come out of the closet and acknowledge that I never really did believe any of this Mormonism-Joe Smith-sex in heaven-life on other planets stuff. Truth be told, Unarius, Uriel and the science of interdimensional physics is much more persuasive. Anyone interested in accompanying me to the 23rd Interplanetary Conclave of Light, just head on over …


    Aaron B

  90. On the FSM forum, we started explaining the observations of physics in terms of noodly appendages weaving their way through multidimensional space, and it like… WORKED. Really well! =) I now believe that God has many noodly aspects.

    Another time, someone on that site mentioned those weird Mormons baptising dead people, and I piped up and asked if that meant he wanted us to take him off the list. I described the scene to him, that after he’s been lounging beside the beer volcano watching strippers (the Pastafarian version of heaven) for a few millennia, someone wanders by and drops an “admit one to Mormon heaven – non-transferable” pass into his lap. That he could come check it out, or else toss it into the volcano. He seemed gratified, then, and decided he would stay on the list after all. Pastafarians are mostly nice people. I think we should send virtual missionaries among them. =)

  91. As for the definition of a cult, each person has to define it for themselves. If a religion makes them more than they were without it, better, stronger, happier, braver, kinder, smarter, etc. etc. then it’s a good thing. If not, then it’s a cult. It’s the same rule I use for boyfriends. The church is very like a boyfriend in many ways. It’s important not to relate to it in a way that is abusive in either direction. =) If you do, then it’s a cult for you.

  92. Brent Hartman says:

    Ben #65

    If you believe that “trust not in the arm of flesh” is compatible with “follow the prophet and he won’t lead you astray”, then so be it. Hundreds of millions of Catholics subscibe to this same philosophy. My position is that it didn’t work for them, and it doesn’t work for us. Apostasy can’t take place until the people begin to follow man instead of God. “Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men.” (D&C 3:3) A true prophet of God would teach the people to follow the Spirit, knowing that the Spirit would guide them on the same path that he is on.

    “Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man…”

    Gordon B. Hinckley is not God. He is a man.

  93. Gordon B. Hinckley is not God. He is a man.

    So was Noah. So was Moses. So was Joseph Smith, whose words you quote (in doing so aren’t you trusting in the arm of flesh?). So was Paul. So was Nephi. But they were also prophets, as is Gordon B. Hinkley. Following a true prophet is following God. We also follow the Spirit. It’s not either/or. We seek confirmation from the Spirit that these mere men are true prophets and that following their teaching and counsel is what God wants us to do. We also seek personal revelation from the Spirit on how to live our lives.

    In short, saying that we follow the prophet doesn’t mean that we don’t follow the spirit.

  94. Outside of North America, the biggest strike against Mormonism isn’t the cultish aspects, it’s the “MADE IN THE USA” stamped across its forehead.

  95. Brent Hartman says:


    Quoting prophets is a little different than saying, “if you follow this man, he will never lead you astray”.

    I don’t believe any man is infallible. You do. You believe that it’s impossible for Gordon B. Hinckley to lead you astray. He is infallable. You believe the law of agency is suspended in the decisions he makes for the church. It’s impossible for him to error in leading the church. He’s the new pope. :)

    “President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds…”

    Do you think that when people say, “follow the prophet, he won’t lead you astray”, that they are depending on the prophet? What does the 14th chapter of Ezekiel say about this?

  96. re: 94
    Which has gotten much, much worse as the Church has become so closely linked in the public mind with the Republican Party. Can’t imagine anything much worse for missionary work overseas.

  97. Brent Hartman says:


    Maybe the world would think better of us if we rejected capitalism, ended our involvement in world affairs, and cut off support for Israel. What else could we do? I still remember numerous “death to America” chants during the Clinton years, so a democrat in the white house doesn’t seem to help that much.

    We could try to end capitalism like the wicked King Noah and tax one-fifth of all our possessions. Pull all of our troops out of every country other than our own. Most importantly, we could end U.S. involvement in world affairs by eliminating all foreign aid. Let Israel handle any problems that she may face on her own. They can handle it. We’ve given them the tools. Let them build peace.

    Wow, this sounds like a pretty good plan. Can you imagine a 20% tax rate, no military bases to support, no U.N., and no more problems with radical muslims? Sounds all postitive to me, even with the wicked 20% tax.

  98. Texas_tyrant8 says:

    Just came across this site and have enjoyed reading the threads. Seems to be the first site I’ve seen with thoughtful,objective, non-apostate and occasionaly funny posts. Keep it up.

  99. Thank you, Mr. Texas. You will find, however, that commenter handles that are less message board like are even more warmly recieved.

  100. a random John says:


    You think that people overseas in general are linking the LDS Church with the Republican party? I’ve seen no evidence of such a thing. If Mitt Romney is president or even goes deep into the campaign then I could see some more international attention directed towards the fact that the Church is predominately Republican, but even then most people the missionaries come in contact with wouldn’t be aware of this in the least.

  101. I don’t believe any man is infallible. You do. You believe that it’s impossible for Gordon B. Hinckley to lead you astray. He is infallable. You believe the law of agency is suspended in the decisions he makes for the church. It’s impossible for him to error in leading the church.

    Where do you get off telling me what I believe? You’re clueless, man. If I choose to sustain President Hinkley it’s because the Spirit tells me to do so. I’m doing what you say I should do: following the Spirit.

    Quoting prophets is a little different than saying, “if you follow this man, he will never lead you astray”.

    Not really. Using scriptures to guide your life or to tell others how they should live their life is using the words of men as if they were the words of God. That’s a good thing to do as long as the men are true prophets and the words they speak actually represent the will of God. But it’s possible that they don’t represent the will of God and that believing and following these men’s words will lead you astray. It’s no less dangerous to follow Ezekiel or Paul than it is to follow Joseph Smith or President Hinkley. In each case you need to try to discern by the Spirit which words are according to God’s will.

    Follow true prophets, don’t go astray.

  102. Well if you accept the death clause in a very thorough way, then you can still believe that a prophet, for example President Hinkley, is not infallible *and* that he will never lead you astray. It goes like this as long as he’s not leading you astray he doesn’t die and when he starts to lead you astray he dies. He’s still fallible because he *can* lead you astray, but when he does he dies so he never gets a chance to. Of course this leads to other cultish sounding ideas so it might not be best to cling to this notion too closely.

  103. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 102 I never heard that before. Sounds like folk doctrine to me. If the prophet messes up, God kills him??? Yikes.

  104. MikeInWeHo, I’ve heard that doctrine a lot of times. Unfortunately, it’s not true — it’s a folk doctrine. Joseph Smith and many other leaders since him have explained that the leader of our church can and does make errors in his calling — just like we all do.

  105. Wilford Woodruff talked about this, it’s in those statements given in the scriptures in connection with OD1. But “lead astray” is not, I think, a synonym for “make errors”. Thus the prophet can and does make errors, but God will not let him lead the Church astray.

    How many errors or how big of an error does it take to lead a Church astray? I have no idea.

  106. #102 was a supposed to be tongue in cheek, I’m not sure how well it came across.

  107. Steve Evans says:

    Starfoxy, Frank doesn’t have a tongue — or a cheek, for that matter. All there is are wheels, gears and tin foil around his robot heart.

  108. “I’ve heard that doctrine a lot of times. Unfortunately, it’s not true”
    Come now, RT. Surely it isn’t that unfortunate :)

  109. Steve Evans says:

    here’s the quote:

    The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.)

  110. HP/JDC, no, really, I’d love to live in a world in which there were clear, unambiguous sources of truth! Other than Battlestar Galactica, I mean.

    Starfoxy, I got the tongue-in-cheek nature of your comment — only I’ve heard the exact same doctrine taught in non-tongue-in-cheek format enough times to know that there are readers out there who hold the position you describe.

    Frank, I agree that “lead astray” and “make errors” are not synonyms. However, the fact that “lead astray” rhetoric is sometimes used to justify things like the current church president’s stand on earrings suggests that folk understandings do not necessarily hold to the fine-grained distinction here.

  111. Right, but there is astray and Astray. By which I mean, there are errors that will hurt God’s children permanently and errors that won’t.

    In any case, the doctrine really has more to do with God’s trust in his prophets than it does with potential prophetic errors equating with speedy prophetic deaths. Prophets are chosen because they are the sort of people who seek God’s will first.

  112. I’ve always wondered how D&C 107:82 applies in discussions like this.

    A straightforward reading says to me that the president of the church can be excommunicated.

  113. Okay, I’m glad you guys caught that. I was worried because the responses were so serious, and I’d hate for you guys to think I imagined God benignly striking down his Prophets.

    However, if such a doctrine were true, then one could occupy themselves trying to figure out which doctrine the Prophet started teaching that got him struck down, if any at all. Imagine the hours of bloggernacle fun that it could lead to!

  114. Correction to 113: benignly = blithely

  115. Yeah, but if it is God, can it done any other way than “benignly”?

  116. There are several interesting things about the “prophet can’t lead us astray” statements. First is that there are variations.

    “I will give you a key that will never rust. If you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.” (From recollection of William G. Nelson, in Young Women’s Journal 17 (December 1906): 543.

    Ezra T. Clark recalled: “I heard the Prophet Joseph say he would give the Saints a key whereby they would never be led away or deceived, and that was: the Lord would never suffer the majority of this people to be led away or deceived by imposters, nor would he allow the records of this Church to fall into the hands of the enemy.” (Improvement Era 5 (January 1902): 202.

    Secondly, statements such as this start appearing after the RLDS split and grow as RLDS missionaries start coming to Utah and accusing JOseph of being a fallen prophet and Brigham and the 12 of leading them astray.

    There’s a distinct historical context for these statements, and it doesn’t have to do with infallibility on a word-by-word basis.

  117. Starfoxy #113, that’s actually not that hard to work out. I don’t have references here at work, but I promise them tonight, or others with better access can provide them. There’s some historical evidence that, in the days immediately before his death, Joseph Smith renounced polygamy, the temple endowment, and the political kingdom of God. In response to this evidence, Brigham Young (in one of the Utah sermons recorded in the Journal of Discourses) explained that Joseph Smith never claimed to have felt the Spirit once during the last few days before his death. If we want to think that Joseph Smith died for teaching something he shouldn’t have taught, the history suggests that the teaching might have been a revocation of the secret doctrines of Nauvoo.

    Other evidence suggests that Joseph himself felt his death was due to rejecting a prompting from the Spirit to flee from Nauvoo, instead returning to the city on the request of his wife and friends. So we could also credit his death to a misdeed, in place of an erroneous teaching.

    Or we could credit his death to the massive political and economic dislocations that the Mormons produced in Illinois society, in conjunction with the rage connected with rumors of polygamy, theocracy, forgery, and so forth.

  118. Pay, pray, obey…Nope. We’re not cultish at all…Those in glass houses should never throw stones…

  119. “Starfoxy, Frank doesn’t have a tongue — or a cheek, for that matter. All there is are wheels, gears and tin foil around his robot heart.”

    Steve has finally figured me out.


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  2. […] In light of Ronan’s helpful rules on cultish behavior and public orthodoxy, my brother and I have developed yet another rule by which to measure our collective worth; especially in light of our place among the religions of the world. Introducing The TK Smoothie Rule. […]

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