Monday, January 28, 2013

Attacking the foundations, part 2 - Defense Mechanisms

This is part two of my post that talks about the foundations of the LDS church.  Here, I am focusing on the defense mechanisms of the church.  According to an article by Daniel Dennett called "The Social Cell," many organizations can be seen in the same light as a cell (like those you learned about in your biology class), part of that is a defense mechanism.  Daniel Dennett mentions in his article "Biologists know that you can infer much about the dangers in an organism's environment by studying its defences, which have been crafted to protect it from the most salient challenges."  I want to discuss the things that are "dangers" to faith in the Mormon church and what that says about the tenets of the LDS faith.

Information Hiding
One big defense mechanism is information hiding.  The church likes to hide information all the time, I already discussed this in more detail in my last post.  However, the church discourages people from seeking out any information from any source other than "church approved" sources.  The obvious danger is that if people hear the real truth they won't want to stay in the church, this is an obvious danger to the organism.

Ritualistic Behaviors
One big defense is to keep a certain set of behaviors, a behavioral programming, up.  This boils down to daily prayer and scripture study, and down to weekly temple and church meeting attendance.  Somehow, God will withhold blessings from you if you are not perfect in this regard.  For whatever reason, you must have regular religious rituals.  This is couched in terms of "you are missing blessings" or some such in order to make it more palatable.  In actuality, this is to keep people immersed in the religious experience.  They even tell you the exact reason why.  Because if you are not completely immersed, daily, you will fall away from the church.  This is a real danger.  A lack of immersion will work you out of the church.  I have also talked about this in detail, previously.

Top Shelfing
This is a big defense mechanism, most, if not all, church members engage in this.  If there is ever a problem, some question, that attacks their faith, the last possible resolution for their cognitive dissonance is to put things on the "top shelf" for later "revelation" or insight.  For many who exit the church, their top shelf had become so over loaded that it simply collapsed.  They realized that there was simply to much to of a load to bear.  Obviously, things that are a problem to the church need to be ignored (if it were true, they could be confronted, but they can't).

Persecution Complex
Most, if not all, cults engage in a "persecution complex."  They see others as persecuting them, especially if anyone is coming close to saying anything bad about them.  They get chased away an yelled at for their anti-social and aberrational behavior, and they think that it is all a sign of being God's "chosen" people.  Just like the Israelites in the old testament, God's chosen people chased from promised land to promised land.  This is a defense mechanism to counter the fact that people hate the cult, because otherwise they would need to accept that their behavior is wrong.

 Service/Family Focus
The church focuses on service and family.  Perhaps this isn't so much of a defense mechanism, it might be in order to show that the church is good based on the "by their fruits ye shall know them" thing.  I see it more as (as Dennett mentions) a mechanism to perpetuate the organism, a method of replication.  It is like a peacock showing off its beautiful feathers in order to attract a mate.  Good people will be drawn to the goodness, and will not have the time to consider or look into what the church is really about.

False Dichotomies
Everything is cast into terms of black and white.  Either this or that.  All or nothing.  There is never anything in between.  This is a defense mechanism to keep people from operating in the gray-shade regions that the world actually works in.  People are not all good or all bad, and yet the church represents the believers as all good and the unbelievers as all bad.  If you are outside the church you are misguided, stupid, or evil.  If you are in the church, you are one of the few blessed and chosen in the world.  Another example is the fact that the church is either all true or a complete hoax.  Joseph Smith was either a prophet of God or a complete liar.  None of these things are true, there are plenty of shades of grayscale in between the two extremes.  This helps people to reject the obvious bad answer, but then they must in turn accept the somewhat implausible alternative.  The dichotomy is a defense/replication mechanism that works extremely well.

Social Focus
There is a big social focus in the church.  You incorporate a person into the church socially.  This gets them deeply ingrained into the workings of the church.  Once they have friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and family members in the church there are serious repercussions to leaving the church.  This keeps many people in who would otherwise leave.

Another defense mechanism is to dehumanize or depersonalize any opposition.  They become "the mob," "the world," "non-members," "gentiles," or "the wicked" or any other label that removes the humanity from detractors.  It is so much easier to disagree with something that has no humanity than it is to disagree with your friends and family.  This is a defense mechanism to prevent people from agreeing with those that disagree with you, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

False Appeals
These are false appeals to authority or to the masses.  "14 million people can't be wrong!"  "The church is the fastest growing religion in America, they can't be wrong!"  "So-and-so is a professor and really smart, he is a member, he can't be wrong."  "Elder x is a Doctor/Lawyer/Successful businessman, that shows that even smart and thinking people like myself are members, that must make it okay."  "A smart person like Mr. x is a Mormon, that must mean its true, he usually knows better than I do."  These kind of logical fallacies are pervasive in church thinking.  They, again, keep people from considering that the church isn't true, it keeps them believing by trusting others.  Another is an appeal to Pascal's wager (which goes back also to a false dichotomy), which states that you can either believe or not, and God either exists or not.  The only way to lose is to not believe and have God exist, which implies that there is safety in believing, you miss out on nothing if you are wrong, if you are right you win big.  This isn't to mention that there are many things in between.  Don't forget the large opportunity cost to believing in a lie, the behavioral control, and the misery caused by all of the conditioning and lies.

Holding Family Hostage
The church holds your family hostage.  Not in a literal sense, but in a spiritual sense.  You need to do everything the church asks of you, or you will lose your family.  Not just for this life, but forever.  People naturally love their family and they want to keep their family forever.  This is a natural human desire that the church abuses by teaching people they can HAVE the forever family that they so desire, if only the cow to the demands of "God" and toe the line for their whole life.  This keeps people "top shelfing" in order to stay in the church, it keeps the people from accepting anything when doubts are brought up (and even can cause them to become violent).  This one makes me angry because it has caused so much misery for so many people, all across the church.  So many people worried that, even though they have been faithful their entire lives that they might still lose their forever family.

In order to keep members strong and active, what better way to do so other than classic conditioning?  The church has many teachings that depict this.  You do good things, good things will happen.  You did a good thing, and so something good happened.  You do bad things, and bad things will happen.  You did a bad thing, that is why this bad thing happened.  You are taught to see things in terms of this Good/Bad conditioning.  Teach people, control their behavior, ensure they act the way they want you to.  An especially insidious defense mechanism.  One thing I noticed during the last time I read any of the Book of Mormon is how pervasive this type of teaching is in the Book of Mormon itself, and even highly intelligent people don't notice it while they are still inside of the religion.

Fear, Obligation, Guilt
The church has an interesting mixture of fear, obligation, and guilt.  You are afraid of everything.  You are afraid (and guilty) of everything thought, action, desire, lack of thought, action, and desire.  Everything you do or don't do causes amazing amounts of fear and guilt.  There is a great deal of obligation to perform so many obligations in so many ways.  This is an interesting behavioral control mechanism.  It causes an interesting mixture of co-dependent tendencies in people that experience these kind of cognitive patterns.  This is similar to the conditioning, keep people afraid of disobeying, keep people doing what you want them to, and they can't escape.  A defense mechanism intended to keep the organism intact.

Emotional Appeals
Rationale is bad.  The church tries to keep you appealing to your emotions, which are not completely reliable, instead of your intellect, which is a bit more reliable.  People construct emotions constantly.  If you see and reason things out, it can be reconstructed and proven or disproven.  Emotions cannot be tested, and thus are much more fallible.  The church teaches that they are (paradoxically) more reliable.  To cement this, they teach that it is the way God speaks to you.  If God speaks to you through emotions you cannot ignore emotions, ever.  Those become more important than anything else in the world.  This is why the members of the LDS church become very disagreeable when emotions are cast into doubt.  This defense mechanism prevents people from applying their critical thinking skills to the church, which would make the whole system crumble.

Prophets are always right, except when they aren't
Prophets are the gold standard of the Mormon church, but their is one solid defense whenever they say something wrong or conflicting.  They were simply speaking "as a man."  There is no consistency to when a prophet is speaking as a man of god or a mere mortal.  There is no gold standard to determine when it is okay to believe what he says as prophecy or revelation.  This, however, is a great way to defend against any mistakes the prophets make.

Meaningfulness in randomness
Here is an interesting article about people finding meaning in random events (such as sports, gambling, coin flips, etc.) This guy does a much better job of describing this phenomenon than I could.  Good and bad happens to people as a stochastic process, it is religion that teaches us to find meaning in this random process.  People do this with everything.  If I flip a coin 4 times, and the first 3 come up heads, most people will believe that the fourth is most likely to be a tails.  The reality is that the probability is still 50/50.  Good and bad happen to everyone at random, we just need to accept that and move on.  However, the meaning church members pull out is that everything good comes from God, and everything bad comes from your own mistakes or God is trying to teach you something or the devil is attacking you for being good.  There is no real pattern here.

The only true church
The church engages in an interesting form of gaslighting (invalidating the experiences and perceptions of others).  They are firmly convinced they are the only true church on the face of the church, the source of all light and truth, the only good to be found.  This keeps people from entertaining the notion of any other group being good or okay.  Members will tend to distrust or look down on other groups, especially religious groups that aren't LDS.  The fact that they are the "only" church (ignore the fact that this isn't true) with prophets only enhances this fact.

Look at how bad other churches are, there is an obvious need for a restoration to God's original truth.  So many bad churches are out there, the LDS church MUST be true.  This is the line of reasoning that Mormons go through.  Not to mention the false dichotomy here, why MUST there be a restoration, there is nothing to suggest that it has to happen, this is a Mormon construct to protect their interests and beliefs.

Invasive Parasiting
When the church becomes a part of every aspect of your life it becomes like a parasite.  It becomes the dependent in a co-dependent relationship.  You, the co-dependent, are there to fulfill and anticipate every single need of the dependent.  You become responsible for their well-being.  This, and other examples of a, lack of boundaries makes it much harder to leave the church.  It is a form of enmeshment.

Low Self-Worth
I have talked about this before, but the church transforms people into a group with low self-worth and false humility.  You are worth less than the dust of the earth, you cannot feel good about anything you have done.  That would be pride.  Pride is bad and (see earlier) will make bad things happen to you, it will cause you to lose your forever family.  This low self-worth will keep you coming back for more, because the church provides a "high" to counteract the self imposed low.  This low is counteracted only temporarily, and then you need to come back to the religious experience to keep you going (if you don't believe me, listen to how people talk in sacrament meetings, I have heard this exact language multiple times).  If people don't feel like they are good enough to be on their own, they won't leave.  "You don't SERIOUSLY believe that everything good in your life has been your own doing?"  I was asked that question.  There is no ability to think that you can do good things, that you
can create good in your own life.  It all has to be God's doing.

By their fruits
The church has an interesting and selective application of the phrase "by their fruits ye shall know them."  They use it to show that their own actions are good and therefore they are good, other's actions are bad, therefore everyone else must be bad.  However, look at it this way.  I have explained many of the church's fruits.  The people themselves are the fruits.  There is not all good there, there is a lot of self-destructive behavior and thinking that members engage in because of the church's conditioning and behavioral control.  All good or all bad thinking is a problem here, but to make it easier you can model is like a hidden Markov process.  The goodness or badness is the hidden variable, determining the behavior.  The emission is the behavior itself, determined, perhaps not deterministically, by the hidden variable.  Settings to the hidden variables will determine to what extent good and bad behavior will be emitted.  Each person has a model that determines to what extent good will come, but according to Occam's Razor, we can choose the simplest explanation to explain the data.  This makes it easy to match organizations like the LDS church to be mostly bad, where a lot of people that the church would label as all bad can be easily seen to be mostly good in this light.  This is likely much closer to the truth than the church's version of black and white.

I want to mention something about my usage of the word "they."  I use the they in terms of the church because I perceive the church as a system.  The leadership may have an insight or control over what happens, but ultimately it is a system much bigger than any one person.  It started with Joseph Smith, who, I would argue, is a genius to have built this kind of an institution.  I don't know whether he believed it, but he certainly had a lot of weird behavior that the church is covering up.  One of the biggest methods that is combating these defense mechanisms is information.  The internet and libraries will do the most to help people find themselves and to find true freedom when they are caught inside of a system that would never let them go if it had its way.

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