Deconstructing Mormonism

Part of a series about My Faith Journey.

At a young age, I was thoroughly converted to Mormonism and devoted no small amount of my time and money serving the church. I wasn't going to leave it behind until I was thoroughly convinced that it was erroneous. Here are some of the sources I turned to in order to satisfy myself.

Podcasts

I discovered a number of (post-)Mormon-themed podcasts. In earlier years, I enjoyed listening to talk radio shows, so podcasts felt like an old friend. Best part: they were available 24x7, on demand, and I could download them to my smartphone and listen to them whenever I wanted. I could even listen to them at work at my desk. Here are some of my favorites:

Mormon Expression: This was the single most useful podcast I listened to. The host (John Larsen) artfully deconstructed and examined Mormonism from a critical/skeptical angle. I was amazed at how many (ludicrous) Mormon teachings I had simply accepted without giving them any critical thought. Something I appreciated is that he wasn't 100% negative. (That would've been a turn-off for me.) Instead, he took apart Mormonism piece-by-piece and examined all the pieces, exposing them as any of: healthy, negative, disturbing, funny, fanciful, useful, and weird. He really helped me to gain the perspective that I needed and helped me to mentally break my ties to the church.

Mormon Stories: The purpose of this podcast is to give members an opportunity to tell their own, authentic, stories. In church, people are encouraged to only tell "faith-promoting" stories, but not all stories are "faith-promoting" -- and that's okay. As John Dehlin interviewed people, he didn't demonize the critics or lionize the faithful, he just humanized everyone. This was so refreshing to hear.

Infants on Thrones: A panel of post-mormons discuss a variety of topics, most of them religious or philosophical. It's nice to hear a group of intelligent, articulate folks who have experienced faith crises, have fully recovered & reconstructed themselves, and are now comfortable in their own skin.

My Book of Mormon Podcast: A well-read, well-educated, atheist does exactly what the church asks people to do: he reads the Book of Mormon (cover to cover) and ponders on what it has to say. He makes numerous insightful comments along the way. I had been raised all my life believing that the Book of Mormon was an amazing volume of scripture (nay, "the most correct book on the whole earth") so I uncritically accepted everything it said. It was rewarding to hear someone read it without bias goggles. He calls attention to all of the silliness, anachronisms, illogic, and ludicrousness that pervades the Book of Mormon. He also helped me to appreciate the book in a very different way: as a compilation of early American frontier folklore that has great comedy value.

Exmormon Foundation: They have a number of recordings from previous conferences that are available in podcast form. The content of these presentations were very substantive; the presenters clearly did their homework.

Naked Mormonism: The host (Bryce Blankenagel) does an in-depth study and retelling of Mormon history. Turns out it's not at all what you heard at church. It's much weirder and much more fascinating.

A Thoughtful Faith: Kiwi Mormon and non-orthodox member Gina Colvin interviews ordinary members about their experiences in the LDS church. Something I appreciate about her is that she encourages people to express their own, authentic, beliefs and hopes. She believes that Mormonism will be stronger, better, and more flavorful if thoughtful discourse is encouraged, rather than sticking to the correlated stuff.

Mormon Discussion Podcast: Host Bill Reel, a faithful member, openly discusses difficult issues of the church and gives his views on how he remains faithful. His conclusions don't resonate with me, but I appreciate his openness in addressing the problems. The "Radio Free Mormon" guest episodes are especially good.

Essays

There have been a number of attempts to spell out the problems with Mormonism.

Essays on LDS.org: These are official publications from the church, hosted on LDS.org. Reading these validated my concerns and made me aware that the church knows about all of the problems with their history, doctrines, and practices, and that they've been doing their best to hide them. Also useful is Mormon Essays which provides commentary on the LDS.org essays.

CES Letter: A letter of questions written by a Jeremy Runnells (a return missionary, and at the time of writing, believing member) to the Director of the CES (Church Education System). For three years his questions remained unanswered, until he was called in to a disciplinary court. He repeatedly asked for priesthood leaders to correct him where he was wrong. They gave him no answers or corrections, but threatened him with excommunication instead. (His questions remain unanswered by any official church sources.) The section where he addresses apologetics is especially informative and very in-depth.

Gentle Awakening: A summary of major concerns about the LDS church. Intended to help gently introduce believing or doubting members to "the rest of the story".

Leaving the Church: A Compilation of the Evidence Against the LDS Church

Letter to an Apostle: An open letter to Dieter F. Uchtdorf about church issues. Includes charts, graphs, scans of original documents, apologetic responses, and counter-apologetics.

Letter for my Wife: A husband's impassioned plea to his wife to please investigate the church's truth claims after she threatened to divorce him when he learned the true history of the church and told her that he could no longer believe.

Mormon Primer Bill Reel (faithful/active) addresses some of the most controversial issues of the church from four perspectives: mainstream (faithful, unaware), critical (secular, aware), apologetic (faithful, aware), and reconciled (faithful 2.0, synthesized).

The Mormon Challenge: This one uses only quotes / material approved by official church sources.

95 LDS Theses Analogous to Martin Luther's theses to the Catholic church.

My Letter Exchanges with Jeffry R. Holland by Tom Phillips, a former Stake President in the U.K.

"Literally": Very well-written, articulate essay that explains how the church teaches it's members that they need to accept scripture stories as literal events, but they just don't hold up.

Why We Left the LDS Church: Well-written exit story from a young family.

Latter-day Perspective Subtitle: Recognizing Patterns in Mormonism.

Open Letter to Elder Holland: Written by Bob McCue, a former bishop / former member of the church. He very intelligently articulates the problems with the "reality gap" that has been created between the "faith promoting" narrative of the church and its true history. He also examines the need for a mature, questioning, spirituality rather than an unquestioning, infantile, literal view.

Articles of Doubt: A rebuttal to the LDS Articles of Faith.

(Couple other good ones on this page)

Websites

MormonThink: This site lays out member beliefs, critical observations, apologetic responses, and rebuttals. It presents all sides of controversial issues and allow the reader to decide for themselves what to believe. It is very objective and thorough. It was the single most useful website for me when I was going through my faith crisis.

Mormon Bandwagon: A collection of essays and articles questioning Mormonism submitted by folks around the web.

Exmormon Reddit: The best exmormon forum on the Internet. Here you will find an online support group for people in all stages of recovery. You will find a mix of anger, irreverent humor, and commiseration here, all of which are necessary parts of the healing process.

Thoughts on Things and Stuff: A blogger analyzes and ponders (in written & video form) on Mormon doctrines, history, and practices. Thinker of Thoughts is his YouTube channel. He's very good at explaining cult tactics and showing how various high-control organizations (including Mormonism) use those tactics.

Zelph on the Shelf: A post-mormon website hosted by some funny & articulate millennials. They also have a number of videos on their YouTube channel.

Real Book of Mormon: A site dedicated to finding out the truth of the Book of Mormon and Mormonism in general. I especially enjoyed reading the article on Historical empathy and the burned-over district.

Pros and Cons of Mormonism: A repository of perspectives on the good and bad that Mormonism has to offer. Related: See Helps and Harms of Mormonism.

Mormon Ads Social media targeted ads. They run ads that link to the Gospel Topics Essays on LDS.org. They also accept names of people to whom they will try to target these ads. (I have never used this service, but I find it interesting.)

20 Truths about Mormonism Twenty broad categories which outline various problems with Mormonism, complete with supporting sources and apologetic responses.

Exploring Mormonism: A website devoted to the study of all religions that have sprung from Joseph Smith Jr.

Book of Mormon Origins: A site that takes the 1830 text of the Book of Mormon and traces it, verse by verse, to contemporary books that Joseph Smith plagiarized from.

Stuff You Missed in Sunday School: "An unfiltered look into the Mormon narrative". Features quotes by LDS leaders and facts about science, history, Bible scholarship, and Book of Mormon authorship.

Mormon Infographics: A collection of compact yet highly informative captioned images.

Follow the Prophets

(More good links here)

Videos

Top 10 Mormon Problems Explained: A great place to start if you are looking for a primer on the difficult issues with the Mormon church.

Brother Jake: YouTube channel where a guy uses satirical, rapid-fire, apologetics to call attention to some of the crazy things about Mormonism.

FlackerMan: A YouTube channel with an impressive set of videos that lay out and critically analyze the truth claims of the LDS church. Check the playlists for an organized collection of related videos.

In the Shadow of the Temple: A documentary film about the plight of people who lose their faith in a high-demand / high-expectation religion. The film was produced by non-mormon filmmakers, so they have the perspective of people "on the outside looking in". They allow the interviewees to tell their own, authentic, stories, many of which are painful.

Awake My Soul - A Faith Journey: A four-minute video that describes the thrill of exiting from Plato's Cave. It uses clips from The Matrix, The Truman Show, Pleasantville, and Tangled all set to the tune of "Awake My Soul" by Mumford & Sons. I really like this video.

Books

An Insider's View of Mormon Origins by Grant Palmer, former CES employee who discovered that the current, correlated, version of LDS history is far removed from the original, truthful, narrative. Very significant is his research into how Joseph Smith's foundational visions were embellished over time.

Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control: An exmormon author lists 31 tactics used by cults and gives a detailed description of how the Mormon church uses all 31 of these. This book helped me to understand the shady manipulative tactics that were used against me by the church.

An American Fraud: One Lawyer's Case against Mormonism A lawyer examines Mormon truth claims and makes the case against it. She shows that if the church was held to the same standards as a normal corporation, it would be found guilty of fraud. She cites laws on the books and legal precedent to support her claims.

The Changing World of Mormonism (full 593 page book): Describes the various ways Mormonism has changed over the years, which raises the question of why the truth restored to Joseph Smith would need so many "edits" made to it.

No Man Knows my History by Fawn Brodie. The first "uncorrelated" biography of Joseph Smith, giving a historically accurate account of his life and times. Since its first publication in 1945, it has never gone out of print. It can be read online or downloaded in many popular formats (PDF, E-book, Kindle, plain text, and more).

Cult Practices & Tactics

All my life growing up in the church, I often heard the charge levied that the Mormon church is a cult. Faithful members would usually hand-wave that accusation away and I trusted in their dismissal. Now that I was on the other side, I was more willing to investigate why people described the Mormon church as a cult. I found some very startling answers.

Warning signs of a cult: By Rick Ross, expert consultant and intervention specialist on cult-related matters. Nothing in here is Mormon-specific, it is all generic warning signs. The Mormon church checks all the boxes here.

The Methods of Thought Reform: Luna Lindsey, a former member of the LDS church, has done extensive cultic studies. She lists 31 tactics used by cults to control their members and describes how the Mormon church uses all 31 of them. See also this glossary of undue influence on ThoughtsOnThingsAndStuff.com.

The BITE Model: A former member of the Unification Church ("Moonies") named Steven Hassan escaped from the Moonies and came up with a generic model for defining / identifying cults. The acronym stands for for Behavior / Information / Thought / Emotional controls. It is startling just how perfectly the Mormon church fits the BITE model. (See also Luna Lindsey's excellent writeup of The BITE Model and Mormon Control.)

Cults 101: Checklist of Cult Characteristics The list on this page was the topic of this Mormon Expression podcast and this Mormon Expositor podcast (part 2 here).

Characteristics of Cults

The Seven Signs You're in a Cult: This one is written from a Protestant Christian perspective.

4 Danger Signs of Cult-Like Behavior, and 4 Antidotes: This one is written from a Catholic perspective.

What Is A Cult? Recognizing And Avoiding Unhealthy Groups The Mormon church scores 10/10 on this list.

Undue Influence in General Conference: A playlist of videos where Jonathan Streeter ("Thinker of Thoughts") and Luna Lindsey ("Recovering Agency") analyze General Conference talks, pointing out mind control tactics used by General Authorities.

Have a look at the Locating Members page on lds.org and tell me that doesn't look more than a little creepy.

I also found a number of one-liners that answer whether an organization is a cult:

Most believers / defenders will continue to insist that the Mormon church isn't a cult. There's an old saying: "If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, it's probably a duck." Well, the Mormon church recruits like a cult, extracts money like a cult, controls its members like a cult, and fawns over its leaders like a cult, so ya know what? It's probably a cult.

Comparable Cultic Religions

One other thing that greatly helped me with my faith transition was to see how Mormonism compares to other new religious movements that originated in 19th-century New England. There are three others that are strikingly similar to Mormonism, notably in their use of cult practices & tactics.

The LDS church teaches that all of the above religions are false. Well, the Mormon church is about the same size and shape and color and texture as all of those, so what does that say about Mormonism?

Other churches that are strikingly similar:

It's worth noting that all these religions seem to want their believers to stay away from the internet.