2a: Is Mormonism a Cult – The Fearsome Follow-up

(part a) Matt, Jared, Brandt, and Greg peruse the academic attributes of cults and make apropos comparisons to Mormonism. Complete with rankings and ranklings.

Cults and New Religions: A Brief History

Cults 101:Checklist of Cult Characteristics

Eight Criteria for Thought Reform

Watch out for tell-tale signs


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  1. Matthew Crowley

    Part one can be found here:


    Reply Aug 15, 2012 @ 16:16:27
  2. Derek

    I absolutely loved this podcast! I loved the bit on missions. I could have turned my papers in over a month ago; needless to say, I’m eating this up.

    I also loved the part concerning purity. Can’t tell you how many cautionary tales I’ve heard in my Mormon life that discourage contradictory thinking, especially now that I’m publicly expressing my concerns with the church. I mean, they’re written in scripture. Look at Korihor :). Nobody wants to be trampled to death.

    Great stuff. Keep it up.

    Reply Aug 15, 2012 @ 18:38:22
  3. Meagan

    I really enjoyed this podcast. And I love the varying opinions–very useful to see it from so many different sides. I want to echo how disturbing it is for a man to be in a room alone with my daughters (who are only 5 and 1, so I have some time to figure out how we will be handling this) and to be asking them questions about their sexuality. Highly inappropriate and shaming. I know from experience how shaming it can be. But having said that, I also want to make a case for confession’s potential catharsis and how I see it could be an enriching experience if we were to utilize it in a different way.

    From the 12 steps of AA or any of its sister organizations, the 5th step is admitting (or confessing) to God and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. This is after step 4 of doing a brutally honest inventory of yourself. The idea behind it being that in order to grow and move through the transformation of self, we need to break through the lie that if someone else really knew about us, knew the things that we hide in the deep recesses of our souls, they would not like what they saw. Thus we keep perpetuating the pretense acting ‘as if’ everything is wonderful; but behind closed doors it’s a big ol’ mess.

    I personally think that is one of the biggest problems in our Mormon culture. Pretense. We are afraid to admit when we don’t measure up 100%, and when people DO admit it, there is an uncomfortable shift in the room and we quickly move on. I know this kind of confession is not really what was being adressed in the podcast but there IS good that can come from confession. It isn’t “what color were your panties” (I think I threw up a little when Jared said that), but more of the exact nature of the ‘wrong’. So the raw/root emotion behind the action–pride, anger, guilt, shame, resentment, etc. The things that keep us from growing, accessing the energy of whatever it is that heals us (for some the Atonement, for others something that is bigger than themselves but not God perse).

    As a therapist I deal with a lot of people struggling with a variety of things, and when they hold back, when there are parts of themselves that they are afraid of sharing, their growth is inhibited. They can’t move through the experience because they won’t allow those things to come to light. But when they feel safe, when they don’t feel judged, they trust that the process can have a very profound impact, they are then able to move through the other aspects of healing. There has to be that trust, unconditional positive regard, and safety in order for it to really have the intended effect. I think that is where we sometimes fail as a community (and then of course the non-healing effects of punishment based on confession to ‘proper authority’ is a whole other issue)

    Sorry for the wordiness of this comment but I hope I was able to convey my meaning. Thanks again for a great podcast. Can’t wait to hear more.

    Reply Aug 15, 2012 @ 19:09:09
    • brandt

      Awesome comment. You rock, Meagan.

      Reply Aug 15, 2012 @ 19:18:38
    • Jared Anderson

      Meagan, thank you for sharing what you did. I agree that confession can be cathartic and effective; I just think the Mormon Church does it wrong more often than right. And needing to confess only to middle aged men is part of the problem. I like the idea of women confessing to a Relief Society President as an example. And your comments are wise about focusing on root causes of our problems.

      And I don’t remember if I mentioned this but the panty color comment was a quote from a friend.

      Reply Aug 24, 2012 @ 20:54:29
  4. Matthew Crowley

    Terrific comment Meagan. I have to admit I don’t totally understand what is happening in step 5. It sounds like it is important to get validation that even though you are flawed, it is okay with other people. But isn’t the reality that it will be okay with some and not others, and might not be okay with anyone? Isn’t there something to the idea (and I think this is SO germane to Mormonism) that it is important to be at peace with one’s self regardless of whether the group or even intimates are still “okay” with you? Help me understand why the external piece is necessary.

    Reply Aug 15, 2012 @ 19:49:41
    • Meagan

      Matt, you are definitely right that it’s more important to be at peace with yourself than it is to be concerned with how the group views you. It’s not so much about validation as it is about a sort of cleansing process. It brings all the hidden “stuff” out into the light so that you can acknowledge it, examine it, and move through it. Admitting certain parts of yourself face to face to someone else is incredibly humbling, painful, and also growth-promoting.

      I think the idea of confessing our sins and going through the repentance process leaves a bad taste in our mouths because it feels like the punishment for sin. When I look at it that way, I don’t really want any part of it. But, for example, when I look at my inventory and see that pride/resentment/whatever is behind the majority of my issues and it manifests itself in lots of different ways in my life, I can see how it’s hurting not only myself but those closest to me; I want to stop in my tracks, turn away from that and change–which is all that repentance is. The confession piece is the acknowledgement that it’s a problem and it’s harder to lie to myself when I know I have been 100% honest with someone else. It’s really hard to do. And it makes us squirm. But it can also be really helpful.

      I’m starting to see a wonderful parallel between this step of confession and perhaps what would help the Church in dealing with it’s own thorny past. :)

      (I also just want to reiterate that I know this isn’t the kind of confession that was discussed on the podcast and how problematic that can be)

      Reply Aug 18, 2012 @ 03:43:11
  5. Blorg Jorgensson

    While discussing the POTENTIAL for sex abuse (during the discussion about confessions), you guys might have overlooked or downplayed the fact that the mere asking of sex-related questions IS a form of abuse. You all acknowledged that the questions are inappropriate; however, you seemed to focus more on the slim but significant potential for actual, physical sex abuse, which is obviously more serious.

    But the questions themselves are inexcusably intrusive. In other words, any church leader that asks those questions has ALREADY crossed the line. Physical sex abuse is a concern IN ADDITION TO the abusive questioning that has already occurred. The sex-related confession is not just setting up a potentially dangerous situation; it IS one.

    All that said, I assume that most priesthood leaders asking those questions are doing so because that’s just part of the program (though I don’t doubt that there are some that get off on it.) They are unwitting predators; in a way, they themselves are victims of the system.

    And ANOTHER thing: Can we use italics on here or what? I feel like a madman with all my CAPS.

    Reply Aug 15, 2012 @ 20:26:10
    • Greg Rockwell

      Absolutely agree. Thank you for pointing out that disparity. We did gloss over that too much.

      Reply Aug 16, 2012 @ 02:34:07
    • Jared Anderson

      Thought I mentioned that; thanks for emphasizing it. I too agree.

      Reply Aug 24, 2012 @ 20:57:53
  6. Michael Fife

    Nicely done on this podcast, brethren and sisters! Keep up the marvelous works and their wonders.

    Reply Aug 15, 2012 @ 21:38:48
  7. Joe Geisner

    Thank you M-Expositor crew for the enlightening and informative podcast. I am quite excited about this new adventure and appreciate all the hard work all of you are doing.

    In this episode, part a, about the 17 minute mark, someone says (Matt?) that the Oliver Cowdery diaries are an example of suppressed records. This is probably not accurate. The only known/extant Cowdery diary was published in BYU Studies https://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=5032. Some people also suggest that Cowdery’s Messenger and Advocate articles where he details the early history of the Church is a “diary” of some sorts. But it really is not.

    Where this story comes from is a rumor that Mark Hofmann created by telling a LA Times reporter that he had seen a suppressed Cowdery diary in the 1st Prez. vault and it contained an account with Alvin Smith being the real founder of Mormonism, but Alvin died, so Joseph was made his successor. This is all a lie by Hofmann. (this is a shortened version of the story, see “Salamander” for all the details)

    Why this story has legs is because in the John Whitmer history, Whitmer writes:
    “Oliver Cowdery has written the commencement of the Church history, commencing at the time of the finding of the plates, up to June 12th, 1831. From this date I have written the things that I have written, and they are a mere sketch of the things that have transpired, they are however all that seemed to me wisdom to write many things happened that are to be lamented, because of the weakness and instability of man.”

    People have figured this must allude to a diary/history that Cowdery wrote and we do not have, nor has anyone see. When this story broke in the LA Times, the Church claimed that the Secretary to the 1st Prez went through the vault and could not find any history/diary by Cowdery. Unless it was some how over looked, I don’t think the history/diary is in the possession of the Church.

    This does not mean that the 1st Prez vault does not contain unknown records that are mind blowing. No one in the historical community knew about the Book of Commandments and Revelations that was published in 2009. This is the most significant publication by the JSPP since they started, and it may continue to be their most significant. This record was kept secret so well that even historian and General Authority, B.H. Roberts, did not know of its existence.

    Reply Aug 17, 2012 @ 19:02:57
  8. Matthew Crowley


    Thanks for your comment. I had to refresh my memory about why I think that and in doing so I realize that what I really think is that they have it (though they deny it) whereas what I think I insinuated is that they acknowledge having it and won’t let anyone see it.

    I’m not relying on Hoffman for my thoughts. I just can’t get past the combination of (1) Whitmer’s comment that Oliver kept a history until (June/July?) 1831 at which point he took over and (2) church historian Joseph Fielding Smith’s comment in 1925 that Oliver was keeping a history of the church and that it was on file. I am aware of the explanations given in the December 1986 Ensign but I believe that each of the arguments made have holes in them (we can get into specifics). To me, things make the most sense when I give JSF’s comments their plain meaning. It is certainly true that the church denies having it, and I don’t think I could make a case beyond a reasonable doubt that they do, but I think the evidence is suggestive of it. I’m afraid that a claim to have looked for it doesn’t move me much given (1) the fact that they have claimed this about other things and only recanted when it was plainly shown they did and knew they did and (2) the fact that the church uses words with lawyerly precision, so for example, one of them could own it and have it at their house, or in a safe deposit box or in some private collection and they could still legitimately claim “all we said was that we looked for it in the archives and that the church does not own it, both of which are true.”

    Now it sounds like you know a lot about this, and perhaps more than I do, so I’m more than happy for you to convince me I’m wrong. Thanks again for listening and commenting!


    Reply Aug 17, 2012 @ 21:11:31
  9. Joe Geisner

    WOW, I guessed it was you speaking. I am not as deaf as my wife claims! :-)

    Thanks Matt for your clarification. Though my intent is not to convince you if you are right or wrong. I decided that was not something I liked doing long ago. But I am more than happy to share with you any information I have, and I hope you are willing to do the same with me.

    I understand your feelings about the Cowdery history and the possibility the 1st Prez is lying. I recognize their track record is not good on this front and Hinckley was caught red-handed with the Stowell letter. But it is that reason that I believe they did look for the Cowdery history and the knew they could not lie about it if they in fact had it, they could not risk the bad publicity they had over the Stowell letter.

    For them to have come clean over the McLellin papers is also evidence for me that they had been burned very bad with the Stowell letter and they were in a mood to come clean on this stuff.

    As for Joseph Fielding Smith’s comments, it seems to me that he was most likely talking about the manuscript copy that Dean Jesse published in his Joseph Smith papers history volume. This is Cowdery’s hand-written copies of his letters that were published in the Messenger and Advocate. These are in with another record (Patriarchal Blessings?) and it seems Smith could have easily thought this was what John Whitmer was alluding to when he said they have the Cowdery history. Please remember Smith was not a trained historian and his explanations on records are quite terse. It seems this reflected his manner of speaking.

    Reply Aug 18, 2012 @ 06:56:28
  10. Joe Geisner

    I felt it inappropriate to post a response I did and posted on facebook. It is a response to Devery Anderson’s investigation into the accessibility of records in the Church History Library. But if you have facebook and if the subject interests you, here is my long response to archival access.


    Reply Aug 18, 2012 @ 14:41:11
  11. Matthew Crowley

    Everyone should go read the linked article by Devery Anderson and Joe’s comment to it. They both added to my understanding immensely. Joe, thanks very much indeed for sharing those. Upon reflection, it seems to me that there are many clearer and less controversial examples I could have used than Cowdery’s journal (and will in the future). I think the information Joe provided makes a much stronger case for point I was trying to make, which is that the church controls the information it still can.

    Joe, I make the comment on the podcast that I think the JSPP is at least somewhat a smoke screen to create the appearance of openness when they know that most members will never read them. The last sentence of your comment inside the link seems to say that the issues surrounding the First Prez vault a also a misdirection. Can you elaborate? Who is creating that diversion? How is the church perpetuating that? Also, do you think my speculation about the JSPP has any merit?

    Reply Aug 18, 2012 @ 15:33:18
  12. Joe Geisner

    I think the JSPP is a wonderful advancement. If we get nothing else from the papers than the Book of Commandments and Revelations, it has been well worth their time and effort. They have served the historical community well by making this essential record available.

    That being said, I think you are correct when it comes to the average member and their feeling secure about the records. It reminds me of what Richard Poll, former BYU professor, said about Hugh Nibley and his writings:

    “[Nibley] has been a security blanket for Latter-day Saints to whom dissonance is intolerable.His contribution to dissonance management is not so much what he has written, but that he has written. After knowing Hugh Nibley for forty years, I am of the opinion that he has been playing games with his readers all along.Relatively few Latter-day Saints read the Nibley books that they give to one another, or the copiously annotated articles that he has contributed to church publications. It is enough for most of us that they are there.” in “Brigham Young University: A House of Faith,” Gary J. Bergera and Ronald Priddis, SLC, 1985, p. 362

    Though I want to make clear, that I do not think the JSPP are being duplicitous in their making records available. They are the good guys in this situation. I believe they are working very hard to make records available. Putting them on line is a wonderful move in this direction. For me personally, this has been a wonderful development. I can now sit in California and look at the Far West Record that was restricted and unavailable to researchers six months ago. This is a huge development. Not only can I have a great transcription of the record, I can look at the original document in high resolution scans and see Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, John Whitmer, Fredrick G. Williams or Oliver Cowdery’s markings. This is what a researcher lives for.

    I also should add that the CHL staff also have a desire to make our records available. From my experience, they do not like to keep records from people. They have as much love and respect for these records as anyone and they work in a very restrictive environment doing the best they can. They are doing a magnificent job in this situation. They have my highest respect and appreciation.

    My particular complaints are specific and really goes to the issue Devery brings out. There is a still a game happening. If you are on the inside (BYU professor or Church employee) then you get access to records that the rest of the historical community is denied access. The George Q. Cannon journals are a perfect example. When BYU professor’s write articles on the Hawaiian mission, they get access, any one else who is doing research on the mission gets the door slammed in their face. This is wrong. There is no excuse for this and they should be made available. The other example is even more disturbing. In the JSPP volumes the Joseph Fielding Smith vault inventory list is cited in the source notes. The CHL has refused scholars access to this inventory list after repeated requests. This goes against all scholarly standards to deny access to scholars when a document has been cited. And the Book of the Law of the Lord is a mess for the CHL. This is a record that needs to be made accessible now. The scans and transcriptions need to be uploaded on the website now.

    Keeping the idea that the 1st Prez vault holds all the good stuff that the Church does not want us to see is in every ones best interest. It keeps people looking at pie-in-the-sky instead of where most of the real history lies. (this is way to long, sorry)

    Reply Aug 18, 2012 @ 18:03:52
  13. JWow

    I couldn’t remember which part of the podcast included the confession discussion, so I posted my long-winded experience in part b’s comments. It looks like it would have been more appropriate to the discussion here.

    Reply Aug 21, 2012 @ 23:50:17
  14. David

    I had a similar experience in the MTC to what Brandt described. I never felt like I had a strong testimony or had received revelation but a major emphasis in the MTC was how to teach your investigators to interpret any emotions as being revelation from the spirit. This was combined with lessons on how to build your own testimony the same way. By the time I left I had no problem going around saying “I know the church is true.”

    Reply Oct 01, 2012 @ 22:56:05

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