Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hard to Watch

I spent some time with my family during Thanksgiving, which meant that, for a few hours a day for three straight days, I was graced with the wonderful opportunity to be the only non-believer in a room full of ardent Mormons.  It also meant that I had to sit through a few of my little nephew's mini-brainwashing sessions.

Apparently my sister and my brother-in-law, like many Mormon parents, make it a priority to read the scriptures with their children every night.  As they read from the Book of Mormon, my four-year-old nephew was understandably confused.

"Why do the Lamanites want to fight the Nephites?" he asked.

"Because they don't like them very much," my brother-in-law answered wisely.

Talk about an oversimplification.  Even though I consider the majority of the Book of Mormon's stories to be bordering on the absurd, there's always some kind of explanation provided for why any group goes to war against any other group.  They can range from the simple ("because they're wicked and greedy") to the complex ("the Nephites converted too many of their brethren and then helped them escape from their lands, so when the Lamanites came to conquer them, the Nephites stepped up to defend their new friends"), but there's always an explanation with a little more nuance to it than "they don't like them very much."

The question and the answer both indicate that my nephew has almost zero understanding of what's going on in the story.  The question demonstrates an absence of knowledge of the most fundamental, most repetitive conflict in the entire book.  And the uninformative, oversimplified answer speaks to my brother-in-law's confidence in how much of the real answer the little boy is capable of comprehending.  If the kid doesn't understand the basic plots, how can he be expected to understand the spiritual knowledge framed within the context of these narratives?  And if he can understand neither the story nor the doctrine, why is anyone even bothering to read this stuff to him?

The only answer that makes sense is that my sister and her husband are trying to instill in him at a young age the importance of reading the scriptures.  Or, more accurately, to instill in him at a young age that habitually reading the Book of Mormon on a daily basis is a normal part of family life.  He doesn't understand what's going on, but when he gets older, he'll feel more pressured to read the scriptures himself because that's what you do in his family.
Except that my nephew won't win an Oscar for this.

When I was discussing my feelings on the church in a series of emails with my dad a while back, he seemed particularly offended when I used the word "brainwashing."  But then he sits happily by while his daughter does this.  Once I was over there for a family home evening in which my dad played a recording of a primary song from his phone for the opening hymn and helped my nephew remember the words as he cheerily mumbled his way through it with innocent enthusiasm.  My dad is offended by the use of the term "brainwashing" but he's intricately involved in perpetrating the exact thing he finds so offensive on his own grandchildren.

I remember what it was like to be in the church, and I know that it doesn't seem like brainwashing from the inside.  But from the outside, brainwashing is all that it does look like.  After all this hymn-singing and Book-of-Mormon-reading and programming and conditioning, ten years down the road, my nephew is going to be racked with guilt every time he lets his eyes linger a second too long over a pretty girl.  He's going to have expectations and goals and standards and requirements foisted upon him and he might feel as though there's nothing he could do to ever measure up.   He might go through high school feeling like he's just barely staying afloat and that the best he can do is tread water and stave off drowning for just a little longer.  And all of that turmoil and guilt and desperation can be traced back to the intense brainwashing of his upbringing.

I don't want him to go through the kinds of things I went through.  I don't want him to go through the kinds of things that are far worse than what I went through but still possible from Mormonism.  But it's also not my job to raise him.  It's not my place to step in.  So I'll continue to watch him grow up in a loving, unified, well-off, but relentlessly pressuring family.  And I'll have to strive to be the cool uncle so that one day I could be the only person he's comfortable talking to about the heavy stuff.  And maybe I'll eventually be able to help him.

But until then, I'll just have to do my best not to vomit when I'm unfortunate enough to be in attendance for my sister's family home evenings.


  1. Mormons have been taught to be such strong believers that they just naturally pass it on to their kids? It is brainwashing and indoctrination. Many Mormon children have been conditioned to tie their belief in the church to their own self worth and these children believe their parent's love for them is conditional on their own testimonies.

    Why do I say that? Well, what is the testimony we hear from several children every fast Sunday? "I like to bury my testimony. I know the church is true, I love my family..." Notice how testimony is tied to love of family by these little kids. Several times a year, someone will get up and lament "losing" a child, because they don't believe in the church anymore. They go on about how sad and horrible that is, how they won't be happy now, how their family isn't complete and won't be in the next life, etc.

    What about the indoctrinating primary songs like Follow the Prophet, Nephi's Courage, I Love to See The Temple, etc?

    How about the fact that they force their teens to serve missions? How about the fact that Mormon parents feel like they have failed if their kids marry outside the temple?

    I think this Proverb is firmly followed by Mormons.

    6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Old Testament, Proverbs, Proverbs 22)

    But it could go on and say, "and will pass it on to his children."

  2. I hate that proverb. I can understand it being followed in moderation...you know, teach your kid not to be a selfish jerk. But training up a child to be Mormon before he's anything else is, frankly, disgusting.

    And you make an excellent point about the church being equated with family among children. It's crazy how far that can persist into adulthood. At BYU, we used to joke about people getting up on fast Sunday and saying, "I know my roommates are true." The church and the things people love become one and the same so that challenging one equates to challenging the other.

  3. Merry Smithmas!

    Sorry, this is a day late. He was born on the 23rd of December.

    That term sure sums up how I felt after sitting through a sacrament meeting just a few days ago, in December, that was completely about Joseph Smith including songs like Praise to the Man and talks on the First Vision and the visits of Moroni. They didn't even sing a Christmas song!

    And people in the church deny that there is leader worship and indoctrination going on!

    1. Wow. That's really lame. My home ward always sang Christmas hymns this time of year. I think even as a TBM kid I'd have felt cheated if we celebrated Smithmas instead.

    2. Very lame indeed. In thinking about this, I realized the High Counselor spoke that day along with a recently returned missionary from another ward in our stake. The topic came down from the Stake President. That would mean the entire stake was stuck celebrating Smithmas.

    3. Ew. At this rate, pretty soon they're going to have people start putting up sacred grove scenes in their homes instead of nativity scenes.

    4. Ha! But what good Mormon doesn't have a sacred grove painting or photograph in their home already? Actually, with all the crap they sell at LDS Bookstores like Deseret Book and Seagull Book (both owned by the church), I'm surprised they don't already sell sacred grove models or children's play sets.

  4. It's the essence of fundamentalist religion: don't think, don't probe, just memorize and repeat the rote explanations that people in authority give you. It saddens me to see children being indoctrinated, but we can hope that they question these beliefs someday.

  5. At least this pro-Mormon blogger is willing to admit it's brainwashing.


    1. Oh man. That article started off pretty well, but I lost a little hope when she compared Mormon brainwashing to learning the alphabet. And then I gave up completely when she linked to Al Fox's blog.