Before the Elections, a Primer on Mormonism

Wesley Holland grew up in a Mormon family (he left the faith when he was 17) and he’s bothered by how much misinformation about Mormonism is floating around now that Mitt Romney is running for president:

Since Mitt Romney became the Republican presidential hopeful, I’ve seen a lot of confusion in the media, online, and at the water cooler about what Mormons really believe. People of most faiths and non-faiths have been wondering if they should be concerned about the possibility of having a Mormon in the White House. I have written this post to address the confusion. It ended up a lot longer than I wanted, but I tried to paint a factual and unbiased picture, even as I recounted my personal experience with the Church.

It’s a really easy-to-read primer. If other ex-Mormons can verify the information and add on to it, that would help a lot, too!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • DeclivityEnmity88
  • scipio1

    Glossed over Kolob.  Our Southern Baptists friends need to know more about Mormon “Godhood” before the election.

  • Jake

    If other ex-Mormons can verify the information and add on to it, that would help a lot, too!

    Why only ex-Mormons? Why not just Mormons?

  • advancedatheist

    Ironically Mormons and secular skeptics stood on the same ground about exoplanets before the 1990′s. Until the evidence started to come in, we had no reason to believe in the existence of exoplanets according to skeptics’ own criteria, yet that didn’t stop skeptics in good standing like Carl Sagan  from wasting time on speculating about ET’s and where we might find the exoplanets they had evolved on by catching their broadcasts with our radio telescopes. Yet at the same time these guys mocked Mormons, Scientologists and UFO cultists for promoting similar beliefs. 

    In other words, secular skeptics defended their evidence-free belief in inhabited exoplanets as “rational” and “scientific,” while dismissing Mormon doctrines about inhabited exoplanets as woo-woo, even though both groups imagined their respective exoplanet mythologies. 

  • krell95

    Jake, I agree that having both current and ex-Mormons would give the most balanced perspective of the religion, it’s probably a safe bet that readers of this blog are mostly atheists and so ex-Mormons are more likely to be reading this than a current one. 

  • Brian Pansky


    There were already hypotheses about how our own solar system was formed.  Much of these ideas were based on evidence in our own solar system.  Looking for exo planets is the natural way to try to support this. So is a lot of astronomy, actually.

    Go google “nebular hypothesis”

    “Scientologists and UFO cultists for promoting similar beliefs. ”  No.

  • C Peterson

    You are wrong. We had excellent reasons to believe in exoplanets before any were found, and you would have been hard pressed to find many astronomers who doubted they existed.

    Of course, the question of inhabited exoplanets is more complex; opinions vary, but no scientist is likely to disagree that any of them remain pretty speculative.

  • C Peterson

    The summary is excellent, but I think the history section should be more clear in separating true history (like dates and places) from Mormon dogma (like Smith’s visions and his golden tablets).

    An unbiased history would qualify much of the story with “Smith claimed”, “according to Smith”, and the like.

  • Tom

    I am an ex-mormon for two years now.  I lived as a devoted mormon for 30 years, went on a mormon mission to Brazil, served in leadership capacities such as ward mission leader, elders quorum presidency, young mens president, and many, many ,many other roles in the mormon church.  I was intimately involved in the leadership council in many different congregations. I recieved my undergraduate degree from BYU. I lived in and have been to the mormon temple many hundreds of times. I’ve attended church services all over the world from ghana, africa, to italy to mexico.  I lived most of my life in California. I am an agnostic and I don’t believe an ounce of the church dogma is correct.

    I think much of the historical information in this post is accurate.  That being said, I think that the modern mormon church has been portrayed as much more sexist and racist than the current membership represents.  I’m sure you’ll find many examples of racisim and sexism on both sides of the isle, but with younger more accepting generations, the culture of the membership of the church has changed dramatically, even in the last decade.  I think that mormons are generally good people who want to be kind and “love their neighbor”.  I would even say that these days the vast majority of american mormon women wear the pants in their homes. I think the biggest concern that people voting for a mormon should consider areanti- abortion and nti-gay marriage, which are clearly strong views for the LDS church (Though I know quite a few people in the church feel differently inside, maybe even Mitt Romney) .  Along with the general sense that people should work for what they get which may have an impact on Romney’s welfare program decisions. That being said, the Mormon church has an amazing welfare program of its own that cares for many of it’s members who are temporarily down and out. 

    Best of Luck in your decision.  I’m an independant voter and haven’t made my final decision, but I would not count Romney out because of his mormonism any more than I would count Obama or Bush out for their religeous views.

  • Tom

    Re-read my post. There was a typo.  I did not “Live in” the mormon temple.

  • Lee Miller

    Mormon doctrine is weird and creepy.  So is Christian doctrine, if you step back and look at it objectively.   A Mormon candidate isn’t any more alarming to me than a Christian candidate–or a candidate who believes in any other authoritarian supernatural belief system.

  • M. Elaine

    Has anyone seen the John Sweeney (BBC) documentary on Romney’s Mormonism?  I’m interested in seeing what others think of it, especially what ex- and current Mormons think of it.

  • Rich Wilson

    I would not count Romney out because of his mormonism any more than I would count Obama or Bush out for their religeous views

    Exactly.  Your portrayal of Mormons today matches the two Mormons I know well.  In particular one of them I consider to be not only one of the smartest people I know but must ethical.  I have the utmost respect for the guy.  He’s also such a skeptic about so many things, that I can’t help but think that he doesn’t buy the BS either, but he’s never let on.

  • Sunny Day

    For the same reasons why you don’t ask a congregationalist if their priest molested any children. 

    It’s the same reason I gave to my uncle when he tried to tell me my views of Scientology was all wrong and I should come to one of their meetings or assist them in a therapy session at one of the local retirement homes.

  • umadbra

    Precisely. I’m also an ex-mormon and I am disappointed that the author is still perpetuating the white-washed history that the modern Church teaches. There is much more to the story than what the Church (and this naive ex-mormon) portrays. 

  • Wesley Holland

    Thanks guys. I’ll add some clarification in the history section like you suggested to help people distinguish historic fact from religious fiction.

    I doubt any current Mormons would say I’m perpetuating a “white-washed” history (especially with regards to the discussion of polygamy and power struggles, which are glossed over in Church histories). But it’s true I didn’t focus on debunking. I originally had a lot of that stuff in there, including how witnesses to the plates later recanted and how Smith used “seer stones” for treasure-hunting prior to founding the Mormon religion. But in the end, I cut it all out because it simply made the post way too long and wasn’t the purpose of the article. The history section was really just to give people an idea of where Mormonism came from so they could better understand the Church today.

    Almost all the ex-Mormons on FriendlyAtheist will feel like I treated Mormons too nicely, glossing over a lot. I tend to agree – I toned down the anti-Mormon rhetoric because a lot of that is just as applicable to Christianity and I frankly wanted to reach a larger audience than atheists/agnostics. There are a lot of religious swing-voters out there for whom this could be the deciding issue – I wanted to keep the post accessible to them.

  • Wesley Holland

    It’s true I left out Kolob, though I touched on exaltation. Length was a concern, and I felt like there was enough ammunition without it and decided to focus on basic tenets. I also didn’t want to present a straw man for Mormons to dismiss as flowery language or mysteries of the spirit world.

  • umadbra

    There’s nothing “anti” about being honest. Just for starters, are you aware of the differing accounts of the first vision? That is very important element to the evolving figure of Joseph Smith.

  • Wesley Holland

    I agree completely that doctrine-wise Christianity is just as ridiculous as Mormonism. But I tried to highlight in my “Concerns” section the reasons I DO find a Mormon candidate more alarming than a Christian candidate.

  • Wesley Holland

    I’m aware of them and in fact that information was in my original draft (along with many other pieces of evidence to suggest Smith was a complete fraud). I’m sure that for you, as for me, these played a huge part in rejecting the faith.

    Nonetheless, I didn’t want to get bogged down with a point-by-point rebuttal of Mormonism. This was primarily because of length, but also because I wanted to keep the post palatable to those for whom a debunking of religious beliefs might hit too close to home.

    In short, I wanted to get across what Mormons actually believe and kind of let that stand for itself. It’s left as an exercise to the reader to call bull$%!^ on the truth of those beliefs.

  • umadbra

    That doesn’t make any sense to do that. History is history. This doesn’t have anything to do with rebutting mormonism. You even said that Smith translated with the seer stones when that isn’t even true.

  • Wesley Holland

    I’ve added some statements like “Smith claimed” and “according to Smith” as you guys suggested. I may also do a separate post addressing the evidence against the truth of Smith’s account. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Deanna

    My mom listens to conservative radio.  She heard someone talking about the Republican ticket, saying that with a Mormon and a Catholic running, it’s the first time in US history that no _Christian_ is on the ticket.  

  • Rich Wilson

    That’s an ‘interesting’ way to put it, but it is the first time there has been a major party ticket with not protestants.  (I think it’s fair to separate Mormonism from Protestantism)

  • The Other Weirdo

     You mean the ancestral homeworld of the Human Race from whence the 13 Tribes journeyed forth into space and established the Twelve Colonies and 1 went its own way and established a colony on Earth?

    Or was that Kobol, thinly-disguised religious propaganda as science-fiction?

  • NewAtheist

    It was fairly concise. I really don’t think that the bulk of church history (the real history, not the stuff taught to mainstream mormons) has much to do with this particular post. Is it important to understanding mormonism? Not really, not if you want to know how mormonism will affect a future president. It’s important for understanding the church as a whole, and why people leave it. But I think Holland’s “primer” was very concise, to the point. My only bone of contention is that he didn’t pay enough attention to the issues of current racism, current sexism, and current homophobia. But then, I’m not the one that wrote and published it, so my opinion only counts for so much.

  • CelticWhisper

    No, you’re thinking of a business-optimized programming language commonly used on mainframes. 

    Oh, no, wait, that’s COBOL.

  • Joseph

    There’s a huge difference between speculating about the possibility of exoplanets, and the mytholgies that provide very elaborate and specific details about the inhabitants of those planets and their spiritual significance to us earthlings. 

  • Sandy Kokch

    Prop 8 = argument over

    I dont care that the whole cult was started by a convicted con man who literally pulled the faith out of a hat. I dont care that they believe laughably stupid stuff like the Garden of Eden was in Missourri and Jeebus did a post resurrection tour of the USA or all the other laughably stupid stuff they adhere to. I dont care that they are conveniently sandwiched on the Crazy Cult Scale between Evangelical Christians below and Scientology, Heavens Gate and the Raelians just above them.

    I care about what they do and where they spend.

    Prop 8 = argument over.

    Mormons remind me of that famous line from Shakespeare’s Richard III

    “I can smile, and murder whilst I smile”

  • Gary

    I would have to agree with everything in the article. However, there were some things about the Temple ceremony (getting your endowments) that was left out. It is important, since it was what chased me out of the Mormon church. I have to admit that I was rather stupid in my youth. And the woman I married was a Mormon, so I was not thinking correctly when I joined the Mormon church, and went to the Temple to get married. There are secret handshakes and names given to you in the Temple, supposedly so that the righteous can be recognized, so you can get into the celestial kingdom. Also, there is a LONG speech that you recite, which will also get you into the celestial kingdom. You recite it in front of a curtain, and if recited correctly, a supposedly angel on the other side pulls you into the celestial kingdom room (all white, walls, furniture, etc). All, a dress rehearsal for the time you are to actual go to heaven. It’s a good scam, because only people with temple recommends can go to the Temple.  Only people that go to the Temple MANY times, can remember the speech (since it is not written down anywhere – the practice-angel recites it, and you repeat it to get in, one line at a time). Only people that pay tithing, and do what the Bishop wants (in terms of callings) get a temple recommend. So the obvious – keep the money and obedience flowing, or you don’t go to the celestial kingdom when you die. Just a note – the multiple wives were important, because they push the idea that, the more offspring you have (spiritual children), the higher your degree of exaltation when you get into heaven. Also, the secrecy of the temple endowment ceremony is based upon their idea that Satan cannot come into the Temple. So Satan is not able to know the secret passwords, names, and handshakes, that get you to the celestial kingdom. OK – the final point that chased me out….during the ceremony about handshakes, names, etc, you stand as a group, and repeat the words spoken by a man at the podium, (not word-for-word, since it was back in 1975, and I don’t remember the exact words), but it was effectively, “draw your right hand across your throat, simulating your throat being cut, if you should speak about the ceremony outside of the temple”. As if that was not enough, then it was “take you right hand, and simulate your tongue being pulled out. Your tongue would be pulled out by its roots, if you speak about the temple ceremony”.  OK – from what I was told, this part of the ceremony was changed since 1975. However, I do not know any legitimate religion in the 20th century, that has such bizarre secrecy ceremonies. That is why I would run as fast I could away from any Mormon missionaries. And the basic lessons the Mormon missionaries give you, are sanitized to sound respectable. BTW, I read the Book of Mormon, and even before the temple fiasco, I thought the BoM was rather childishly written, repeating many stories, just changing names.  If it was inspired by God, that particular God had limited intelligence. But then again, before I got married, my mind was on other things. Love makes people act stupid!