Mormonism, secularism cited as sin within USA by late 19th century Protestant America

(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) At last month’s Mormon History Association in Layton, Utah, there was a discourse delivered by Leigh Eric Schmidt, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Schmidt, who is not a member of the Mormon Church, delivered a fascinating address titled, “Mormons, freethinkers and the limits of toleration.” It primarily dealt with how Mormonism, as well as atheism and proponents of secularism, were received by a late-19th century America that was dominated by Protestantism.

In that era, Schmidt explained, freethinkers and Mormons were, of course, miles apart in ideas. The coalition of freethinkers included atheists, agnostics, critics of organized religion, and critics of the era’s rigid sexual mores. Mormons, on the other hand, followed a rigid ecclesiastical authority and professed to follow strong morals. But there was that polygamy thing, which in an era of Protestantism and Republicanism, was considered as libertine and immoral. An example — in 1887, Schmidt said, Mormonism, secularism and atheism were proclaimed as “sin within (the) land” by Presbyterian leaders.

To sum up, 113-plus years ago, atheists and Mormons were both outcasts, oddities to be gawked at by most, and pursued and prosecuted by the more zealous advocates of a approved religious-state.  As Schmidt noted, two separate pieces of legislation, the Edmunds-Tucker Act and the Comstock Act, were in essence “religious tests” for both public comportment as well as “fitness” tests to run for public office. The former was directed at Mormons, the latter politically active freethinkers. Both fell outside of boundaries of American Christianity drawn by Protestants.

In his discourse, Schmidt included an overview of two prominent secularists of that era — Robert Ingersoll and D.M. Bennett — and recapped their visits to Utah as well as their viewpoints on Mormonism. For Ingersoll, who regarded secularism as the best religion — Ingersoll idealized the moral, secular family spending time together in the home on Sundays — Mormonism was an abomination. As Schmidt noted, the conservative freethinker regarded the Utah religion as “horrible” and founded on ignorant superstition.  Ingersoll, Schmidt added, was a monogamist and was not sympathetic to the LDS Church’s persecution by the government.

Schmidt related an interesting 1877 account in which Ingersoll, a frequent traveling lecturer, spoke at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. During the lecture, Ingersoll praised the virtues of families and the proper raising of children. In an interesting contrast, notes Schmidt, the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune proclaimed the lecture as an attack on polygamy. However, the Mormon Church-owned Deseret News “loved the speech,” said Schmidt, and wondered in its coverage why Schmidt often referred to domestic life in Utah as prostitution. The remarks were probably ironic, since the editors were certainly aware of Ingersoll’s harsh views on polygamy.

As for D.M. Bennett, the founder of the periodical “The Truth Seeker,” he was a far more radical secularist than Ingersoll. Bennett was also an advocate of free love. His efforts led to his arrest and conviction under the Comstock law. He served 13 months in prison.  As the masthead of “The Truth Seeker” noted, it was “Devoted to: science, morals, free thought, free discussions, liberalism, sexual equality, labor reform, progression, free education and whatever tends to elevate and emancipate the human race.” Conversely, the masthead also noted that religion tended to produce the opposite.

Schmidt noted that Bennett, also a traveling lecturer, visited Salt Lake City often. He also spoke in Ogden. Utah charmed him, and he wrote about his visits in a travel guide he published. He spoke warmly of its Mormon inhabitants, even publicly expressing his opinion that Protestants had no right to criticize Mormons, adding that the residents of Utah were more moral than their critics. However, Bennett was careful to remind his readers that his comments should not be interpreted as approval for Mormon theology. In my opinion, Bennett may have felt empathy for Mormon men jailed for polygamy, as he had experienced the same for his advocacy of morals that were criminally prosecuted.

Schmidt also talked more about the secular publication, “The Truth Seeker,” and its off and on empathy with the Utah Mormons. The famous secular cartoonist, Watson Heston, drew cartoons that included Mormons as being persecuted by mainstream Christianity of that era. In fact, one of his “Truth Seeker” cartoons, “An Example of Christian Consistency,” was reprinted in an 1896 Mormon missionary magazine in Tennessee, Schmidt told the audience. (Although I can’t find a copy of the cartoon “An Example of Christian Consistency,” below is another cartoon from Heston, “The Amusement of the Saints in Heaven,” that offers readers a look at his style.)

However, Heston was no fan of the Utah Mormons, Schmidt said. He was a particularly harsh opponent of polygamy, seeing it as a threat to American womanhood. In fact, Heston’s conservative secularism eventually moved him away from “The Truth Seeker.”

It was an interesting lecture from Schmidt. In fact, I just bought one of his books via Amazon (1). As the secularist movement radicalized and began advocating moral issues at odds with most of America in the late 19th century, its influence waned and adherents moved away, to liberal churches or to the secular Sunday afternoons in the family hearth so treasured by Ingersoll.

Still, as Schmidt noted in his lecture, there were secular activists of that era who saw the potential for a “probable but meaningful alliance” between freethinkers and Mormons. The time frame for this was the latter half of the 19th century, when both were despised by chief opinion-makers.

Ironically, as the 20th century began, Mormonism began a slow but consistent march toward conformity, conservatism and traditionalism while organized freethinker movements became more radical and its organized number declined.

One wonders if events will ever transpire to bring the twain — Mormons and freethinkers — together as allies.

1) The Schmidt book I purchased is “Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr and Madwoman,” Basic Books, 2010. Buy it here.


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36 Responses to Mormonism, secularism cited as sin within USA by late 19th century Protestant America

  1. Bob Becker says:

    Given the history of the LDS church in the US, it is a matter if continuing surprise to me that so many modern Mormons seem not only willing but eager to join fundamentalist Christian groups in trying to tear down Jefferson and Madison’s “wall of separation” between church and state. Talk about an unholy alliance….

    • David McColley says:

      They don’t realize the first book to be burned will be the BOM…

    • Duwayne Anderson says:

      I thought I’d share a bit of anecdotal experience as it relates to Bob’s comments.

      I apostatized from Mormonism decades ago, but my wife and kids decided to stay in the LDS Church. Many years after I left Mormonism my wife developed a close relationship with some associates at work who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. As she came to know these women she was struck by the incredible similarity between her JW friends and her Mormon friends. Both processed information in similar ways (making liberal use of known logical fallacies) and both tended to be Biblical literalists (though for different reasons). And even though her JW friends don’t vote, their *views* on political issues mirrored those of her Mormon friends, almost exactly. Sure — *some* of the doctrinal details were different, but the broad strokes were very similar.

      The experience with the JWs flipped on a little light (Mormons call it doubt) that led her to some Internet sources (John Dehlin, John Larson, Mormon think, etc.). At the end of the experience she had decided that Mormonism is a crock. [The kids all arrived at the same conclusion on their own, and independently left the LDS Church — we’re all a big happy family of ex-Mormon secularists, now, in spite of the best attempts by Mormonism to destroy the family).

      Anyway, the point of this anecdote is that Mormonism really isn’t that different from your run-of-the mill fundamentalism. It’s like two pictures that are both painted by an impressionist — the details of the scene are different (but not that different) but the broad brush strokes and use of light/shadow are the same.

      One reason (I think) that Mormons don’t see the similarity is that they are indoctrinated to think they are special; they focus on inconsequential differences that are inflated in their minds, but not all that significant. If one looks at the similarities between Mormonism and Christian fundamentalists, the list is longer (I think) than the list of difference.

      And that, I think, is why Mormons and Christian Fundamentalists tend to get along so well in the political arena. They share common enemies, and they have a common vision for a theocratic government (though they each think their views in that theocratic government will prevail). Sure — the fundamentalists would burn the Book of Mormon. But the Mormon Church, and Mormon apologists, have been busy watering down the Book of Mormon for years — destroying it themselves, in their own special way.

      • Bob Becker says:

        Without getting into theological matters [about which I am deeply unqualified to speak], I’d also note that groups that were all for keeping government out of the church and vice versa when they were small and persecuted groups in a hostle religious sea, becoming advocates of state-endorsed faith when they become, at least locally, the dominant group are not uncommon. Catholics in New England were all for keeping government out of faith and vice versa while they were a dispised [Irish or Italian] minoirity, but began leading the charge for including faith in government and government supporting faith [theirs] when the balance shifted. The most famous example in the US is the Baptists, who began here loudly embracing a complete separation of church and state. [See Roger Williams, "Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils."] That’s when they were being taxed to support Congregationalist ministers and churches in New England, and Anglican ones in Virginia. Now, dominant locally widely across the bible belt, Souther Baptist Convention congregations are leading campaigners for tearing down Jefferson’s wall, and for soliciting government support for faith. Mostly theirs.

        And the beat goes on…..

        • Erick says:

          Mormonism, in particular is a non-elected government. True, participation is “voluntary”, at least beyond the threat of damnation, but that is simply because it doesn’t actually have the power to do more. In practice, the Mormon Church doesn’t grant agency, they give rules and provide institutional consequences coupled with threats of eternal consequences. The actual “agency of Man” is secured by the Constitution of the United States, and other free societies. Given the opportunity, the Church would be the Government, and I am of the opinion that we would find ourselves with a lot less “agency”.

      • trytoseeitmyway says:

        Dehlin has restored his connection to the Church so maybe your wife and children will follow him again.

        But I agree that Mormons and evangelicals have much in common. Mormons are more likely to see that than evangelicals. As time goes on, the latter are more likely to see themselves as outcasts and to be treated as such. The reason is that society is becoming increasingly more secular and increasingly hostile to religious belief. Your momomania is an example of the phenomenon. Of course, there has never been a time when it was socially unacceptable to attack Mormon religious belief. So your favorite target – not to say whipping boy – has always been one in “open season.” But the same has not always been true of more conventional Christian belief, which I think is illustrated in Doug Gibson’s column. It is only in very recent years that aggressively polemical atheists like yourself have become emboldened socially to sneer at any manner of religious belief and practice.

        • Bob Becker says:

          I don’t think your treating “more secular”as synonymous with ” hostile to religion” is valid.

        • Duwayne Anderson says:

          You missed the point entirely about the two Johns. The principal thing they do with their podcasts is to provide information that invalidates Mormonism. It never was about follow the leader — though, as a Mormon, it’s easy to understand how you jump to that conclusion.

          Your comment about “aggressively polemical atheists” is both laughable and hypocritical. Mormons have always been unable to afford others the rights they demand for themselves, so they naturally assume they are god’s little darlings when they go pounding on doors, but that atheists are “aggressively polemical” when they challenge Mormon doctrinal absurdities in public.

        • Erick says:

          This is a strange comment? Is it your belief that society should not tolerate criticism against Mormonism?? Unlike race, or gender, which are biological factors, religious affiliation is social and ideological…these are precisely the things that should always be subject to scrutiny. There hopefully will never be another time when it isn’t acceptable to speak critically of any ideological viewpoint, be it political, religious (even atheism or secularism, etc), social, etc.

      • Trent says:

        Thanks for the story, it’s an interesting one. I doubt though, that Mormonism ever tried or wanted to destroy your family, or that apologists tried or wanted to water down or destroy the Book of Mormon. Do you really think those things? It’s good to have a spectrum of voices discussing religions, and especially good when all are willing to think of each other as of themselves and stay level.

  2. Michael Trujillo says:

    Douglas, :(

    Every time you buy a book from Amazon, you pound another nail in the coffin of book stores. Please, let’s keep book stores in business.


    (Sorry. This has nothing to do with the subject of your blog. It’s just that comment about ordering Schmidt’s book on-line jumped out at me. Allow me to rectify that…………… GREAT BLOG. THANKS FOR SHARING.

  3. Bob Becker says:

    Or you can buy on line from Barnes and Noble which keeps its bookstores open. That’s why I got a Nook not a Kindle. And visit the Layton B&N every few weeks. Still can’t believe there’s no large general purpose bookstore, chain or indie, in Ogden. Layton the closest, then Sam Wellers or Kings English in SLC, neither convenient to get to by public transit any more.

  4. Pingback: 8 July 2013 | MormonVoices

  5. ScottH says:

    Is today’s evangelical culture any more friendly toward secularism and Mormonism today than was the case a century ago? Are secularists and Mormons any more tolerant of Protestants than was the case a century ago? Has much changed?

    • E B says:

      This article has a decent overview of public perceptions of Mormons through the decades.

      Also Pew’s Jan 12 study all about Mormonism may have some of the info you want.

      • Duwayne Anderson says:

        The author’s overblown use of the phrase “anti-Mormon” raises some interesting questions.

        As other posters have pointed out, the Mormon Church is the preeminent “anti” religion. After all, the church is founded on the message that all other religions are wrong — that Mormonism, alone, has god’s authority. Official Mormon scriptures scathingly describe other churches as “abominations” and as the great “church of the devil.”

        Mormonism is just as “anti” when it comes to non-religious groups like atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists. With broad strokes leaders of the Mormon Church lambaste such groups as being part of the source of evil that is driving society off the cliff.

        Given their abundant and persistent over-the-top criticism of other groups and religions, you’d think that Mormon apologists would be a little less anxious to use the phrase “anti-Mormon.” But that’s obviously not the case. Perhaps it’s just a case of social blindness? Mormons see any criticism of their religion as “hate” and “anti” but their overblown sense of self righteousness prevents them from seeing Mormonism as “anti” when it comes to others.

  6. Erick says:

    I suppose it should be worth mentioning also, that Mormonism was founded by attacking the prevailing Christianity with what they call, “The Great Apostasy”. As a side note, this is one reason I have trouble taking the “are Mormon’s Christian” debate serious. Questioning whether Mormonism ought to be considered a Christian faith, is really peripheral to mission and purpose of what might be called “mainstream Christianity”, whereas challenging the authority and literal Christ endorsement of “mainstream Christianity” paramount and intrinsic to the purpose and identity of Mormonism. In other words, it’s hard to take serious the concerns that “gee, everybody thinks it’s okay to attack Mormonism”, when Mormonism is inherently, on the attack. Mormonism is without purpose if it isn’t on attack.

    • Dwight Rogers says:

      President of the Church John Taylor said, “There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world . . . There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness.” (John Taylor, in Brigham Young et al., Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., reported by G. D. Watt et al. (Liverpool: F. D. and S. W. Richards, et al., 1851–86; repr., Salt Lake City: n.p., 1974), 16:197–98.)

    • Dwight Rogers says:

      Joseph didn’t believe the Christian Church died either. He was very particular about his wording when he stated specifically that God was bringing the Church back out of the wilderness, where it had been nurtured of the Lord during a period when priesthood ordinances were no longer performed to bind on earth and in heaven. Precious morsels of truth had lain scattered throughout time, place, religion, and culture, and Joseph saw his mission as that of bringing it all into one coherent whole, not reintroducing the gospel ex nihilo.

    • Dwight Rogers says:

      Joseph Smith said that many individuals described in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were “honest, devoted followers of Christ,” (Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet (Salt Lake City: the author, 1893),)
      And in recent years LDS general conference has seen a swelling in laudatory references to figures like Wycliffe and Tyndale, specifically emphasizing their sincerity and Christianity. (See, for example, Boyd K. Packer, “On Zion’s Hill,”at; Robert D. Hales, “Preparation for the Restoration and the Second Coming: ‘My Hand Shall Be Over Thee,’” at

    • Dwight Rogers says:

      As BYU professors Robert L. Millet and Lloyd D. Newell explain: “It would be blatant arrogance to suppose that the Latter-day Saints are the only people on earth with whom our Heavenly Father is concerned or to whom he seeks to make known his mind and will. God loves all of his children on earth and seeks to teach all that people are prepared to receive (Alma 29:8).” (Robert L. Millet and Lloyd D. Newell, Draw Near unto Me (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 9)

      LDS doctrine teaches God’s universal effort with the whole human family (see D&C 88:7; Moroni 7:16).

      President Packer explains: “Every man, woman, and child of every nation, creed, or color—everyone, no matter where they live or what they believe or what they do—has within them the imperishable Light of Christ. In this respect, all men are created equally. The Light of Christ in everyone is a testimony that God is no respecter of persons (see D&C 1:35)…. Wherever there is human life, there is the Spirit of Christ. Every living soul is possessed of it. It is the sponsor of everything that is good. It is the inspirer of everything that will bless and benefit mankind….It should not be difficult, therefore, to understand how revelation from God to His children on earth can come to all mankind through both the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Ghost.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Light of Christ,” Ensign, April 2005, 8.)
      Furthermore, presently and throughout history, God has blessed many nations through those not of the Church who are given a portion of truth “that he seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8).

    • Dwight Rogers says:

      In 1978 the First Presidency stated:
      “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals. The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel. Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come. We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to His Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fullness of joy forever. . . . Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.” (Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind, 15 February 1978.)

    • Dwight Rogers says:

      Teachings of other religious leaders past and present help many people become more righteous, civil, and ethical. (See Preach My Gospel (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004), 46.)

      President Ezra Taft Benson said, “God, the Father of us all, uses the men of the earth, especially good men, to accomplish his purposes. It has been true in the past, it is true today, it will be true in the future.” (See Ezra Taft Benson, “Civic Standard for the Faithful Saints,” Ensign, July 1972, 59.)

      • Erick says:

        This is simple Dwight – Are we then to conclude, that Nephi had it all wrong, ie, that the gentiles didn’t corrupt the plain and precious parts of the Bible? That there was no Apostasy? Was God having a bad day when he criticized the “corrupt and designing Priests”?

        Also, I’m curious…what portion of “God’s light” did Mohamed receive? It certainly wasn’t the Atonement of Jesus Christ as taught in Mormonism.

        There is a contradiction in all of this, so I suppose you are welcome to choose those arguments that you prefer.

  7. Ordell Mindrum says:

    I think it is funny that a Blog called “Political Surf” can be stretched to have blog about Mormonism. Maybe that makes some sense in Utah, but with all our real political problems, who cares if Mormonism is sin or not. That said, I do disagree with Mormons spending millions to support the failed California Prop 8 and maybe that could be a sin. Mormon political attitudes and doctrines have changed a great deal over the years. Too much of any religion is a bad thing in our government. Too much discussion about religion is a bad thing in a “Political Surf” blog.

    • Bob Becker says:

      Well, I think “Political” in the title is meant to be defined expansively, as in “Political Culture,” which definitely includes things like religion and politics, faith-based public issues, public perceptions of such matters, etc.

      But I agree, that’s not the most common reading of “political.” Perhaps if the SE ever gets off the dime and updates its blog list, the various blogs might be re-titled more narrowly. They need to do something. They still have a Trentelman column he wrote in March highlited as a “Latest Blog” on the website. I’m sure we all miss Charlie [I do anyway], but it’s long past time to take him off the SE blog list.

      I hesitate to complain about Mr. Gibson’s entries are titled, since at the moment he’s all but singlehandedly keeping the SE blog list going, seems to me. A column from the Hers section is imported as a blog post once a month, but very little else gets posted, ever. So if defining “political” expansively provides Mr. Gibson with more opportunities to post, I’m all for it.

      The SE needs to expand it’s blogger list with people who are interested in posting on whatever broad topic they’re asked to deal with, with some regularity. If any besides Mr. Gibson on the paper’s long and largely inactive blog roll are posting, the SE needs to tweek its software so their posts come up in the “Latest Blogs” stack on the website. I’m pretty sure the Retired Rambler won’t be too upset by having his March blog post bumped form the list. But right now, except for Mr. Gibson’s pieces, the blog list at the paper seems largely moribund. Odd, since we’re being told constantly that web hits and page views now matter more than do dead-tree edition readers.

  8. Trent says:

    Mormons do believe that God views their organization differently from other churches, and that He accepts their rites/ordinances exclusively. Mormons don’t, though, criticize other religious groups. Go look at Mormon conference speeches, the archives are online, and look at how often a leader criticizes another faith (or even mentions one). The Mormon view is that Muhammad, Confucius, Luther, and others were inspired of God and taught their followers some valuable things, and far from hating, Mormons LIKE these religious leaders, but believe that they didn’t have the fulness of truth or authorization given to Joseph Smith. Furthermore, most religions claim special standing with their God or a superior understanding of Him; it’s hardly unique to Mormonism.

    I have never heard a Mormon leader attack another faith from the pulpit, and my search of LDS websites resulted in zero pamplets, tracts, or articles attacking or warning of another religious organization. I am, though, aware of several faiths that speak of Mormons by name and misconstrue, attack, or warn of Mormon beliefs (sometimes with good intentions and an attempt at honesty, sometimes without). I think the biggest reason for this is that Mormons are a minority religion.

    In any case, though, Mormons and Mormon leaders respect and see good and don’t condemn other faiths. And the church isn’t founded on the message that all others are wrong, it’s founded on Jesus Christ redeeming all people regardless of faith, and on His using the LDS Church as the authorized tool for spreading that message since 1830.

    Just because I don’t use the name brand of a product, doesn’t mean the product can’t do me any good – many religions do alot of good, and Mormon Elders are quick to acknowledge that.

    • Erick says:
      Jeffrey R. Holland – MTC, Missionary Work and the Atonement (2000)

      Start the video at about 40:40
      “Now we’re not the Church that has people run to the front of a football stadium, throw their hands in the air, and say “I’m saved!”. It’s not that easy!”.

      This was a popular talk that was used after 2000 to inspire missionaries in the MTC.

      There is of course a whole lot of discourse in the D&C, Book of Mormon, and early tracts of the Church – Parley P. Pratt era, that are particularly condemning of other Church’s, and yes in more recent times the Church has mellowed that message. Still, Mormonism is fundamentally a rejection of other faiths.

      Neal A. Maxwell paid a little lip service to Islam back in the 90′s, but how can anyone seriously believe in Mormonism and suggest that Islam is in part inspired??? Do you realize that the Quran specifically rejects the Atonement of Jesus Christ?? It states that Jesus was a Prophet, and that his likeness was placed on another man who was wicked, and that is who suffered on the cross. While Islam honors Jesus, it does not honor him as the Son of God. This is the fundamental tenet of Mormonism! And you would argue that this is inspired???????? Islam is an Abrahamic faith that rejects the entire purpose of Christianity. Besides, this inspired argument has no logic, ie, if God is out there inspiring deviations of his only true Church, then how should anyone think that there ought to be any accountability for which Church we belong. Go ahead and tear section 76 right out of your D&C, that one no longer has any relevance.

      You also supposedly have the voice of God to Joseph Smith, telling him that all of those preachers were corrupt. I’ve seen a lot of apologetic straining on that one, but it usually amounts to an apologist telling us what was in the mind of God when he made that statement. We also shouldn’t forget that Nephi taught us about the gentiles who would migrate to America and corrupt the plain and precious parts of “the book that proceedeth from the mouth of the Jews” (the Bible, for those who need clarification), which requires fixing by a “marvelous work and a wonder”.

      The message of Mormonism is that God took his authority away, and the Christians (well intending or not, though in the most prolific statements supposedly coming from God’s mouth, the intentions of these Christians were not well. “Corrupt and designing Priests”, “they preach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form Godliness, but they deny the power thereof” is what comes to my mind) screwed things up! You take this away, you have no apostasy, and therefore no need for a restoration. Package it in whatever polite language you want, it always reduces to this fact.

  9. Dwight Rogers says: is an anti-Mormon website falsely disguised as a neutral website. It claims to be balanced due to supposedly presenting both sides of an argument. This is done by occasionally including a reference to FARMS or FAIR or something like that. But the best and most accurate first hand evidence is usually left out. The information presented by MormonThink resorts to using the typical skewed and out of context cherry-picked version of facts and history which leave out the best and most accurate sources of information. MormonThink heavily promotes and uses Grant palmer’s work “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”. This work has been shown by credible scholars to be inaccurate to say the least.

    MormonThink frequently criticizes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for lack of “transparency” yet MormonThink is operated by people who are not forthright about their own identities or purposes. MormonThink claims to be operated by faithful and active members of the Church when in reality it is operated by people who are not very active and don’t try to be fair or objective about facts.

    For example, the Webmaster of MormonThink anonymously posted his true intent under the name “active-Mormon” on web site “‘I am the webmaster of AMA’,” ex-Mormon reddit, Jan. 2012.

    In this post the webmaster of MormonThink admits under a pseudonym that that he remains in the church for appearance only. Notice that he says retaining membership in the Church “gives me greater credibility when speaking about my own religion.” Here is a person remaining in a church under false pretenses. Furthermore he says that he can work his purposes by “subtly mentioning things in meetings I may raise some doubts.” He says that he does not want to be a member but “I chose to be one” so I “can gently guide someone to further enlightenment about church history” and adds “I play the game to keep membership.” Here is someone who is dishonest and deceiving in his behavior and words. And Mormon-Think complains about the Mormon Church being non-transparent -????

    The webmaster further posted this:
    “I personally am still a member and I think I stay in mainly just to s[t]ay on top of the latest happenings in Moism and it gives me fodder to add to the website seeing the latest craziness the church is spewing out. We also have friends there and don’t want to lose them but we don’t let the church push us around and we take it on our own terms – no tithing, garmies or other things we disagree with.” (SpongeBob SquareGarments, responding to this praise on Recovery from Mormonism, April 20, 2012. )

    The attitude of MormonThink is illustrated by its link to a routine by the late comedian George Carlin called “Religion is BS” in which Carlin claims that all religion is phony. The webmaster of MormonThink posts in a number of online ex-Mormon message boards under names like “SpongeBob SquareGarments,” “mormonthink,” and “LDS Truthseeker.” His own words reveal the true purpose of MormonThink and it’s not to be objective or accurate:

    David Twede is a 47-year-old fifth-generation Mormon and the first managing editor of According to Reuters Twede posted on his blog that he understands that “some of what I wrote in my blog may have treated the church unfairly.” (Jennifer Dobner | Reuters – Sat, Sep 22, 2012)

    David Twede was excommunicated from the Church. A poster commenting on Twede’s excommunication expresses the obvious about MormonThink saying that “Mormonthink is an anti-mormon website.” And added, “If he was really just trying to give LDS a history lesson he wouldn’t have been afraid to share his name. He was purposefully hiding his identity because he knew the consequences of what he was doing.” (jesuscrisco, posted on Recovery from Mormonism, September 26, 2012.)

    Many people who post at sites like or may are usually the very people who have fallen for a one-sided version of history and facts. There is a plethora of alleged “histories” of Mormonism written by people who quote third hand accounts or simply quote each other but don’t quote much from the primary and more reliable sources. Much of the information is cherry-picked from historic documents and distorted into anti-Mormon propaganda while the most accurate information is ignored. While appearing on the surface to sound good, they are, in fact, just repeating old out-dated arguments that have been debunked by credible historians and researchers.

    Some Mormons fall for this and leave the church.

    I am sure that there are other reasons people leave the church too so I’m not trying to unfairly lump them all into one category. Point is that they are probably not the most objective source to go to, especially if it’s the only source you look at. I would be very hesitant to take a disgruntled former Catholic’s viewpoint as accurately portraying the Catholic Church.

    • Erick says:

      Mormonthink is definitely a negatively slanted website, but the effort to be “fair” in their critical assessment I think stands shoulders above the faith-promoting filter of how the Church represents its message generally. I have personally submitted a revision to Mormonthink on a topic, and my revision was accepted and included on their website. It is worth noting also that my revision essentially weakened an argument that Mormonthink was making against Hugh Nibley.

      Your point on David Tweede was fair, but your sweeping generalization about the “most accurate sources” leaves something to be desired. Mormonthink is actually very well referenced, siting sources quite clearly, so if you had about sources it wouldn’t take much effort to demonstrate a gross abuse of sources…which presumably you are already equipped to do, else how would you be confident making your sweeping generalizations???? Because it’s sources are sited so well, I’m not all that concerned about David Tweede’s influence from his stupidity. His credibility shouldn’t be a sore spot simply because validity of the content on Mormonthink is not dependent on his authority or the trustworthiness of his say so.

  10. Dwight Rogers says:

    The second part of the establishment clause of the first amendment states that the government shall not limit the free exercise of religion. This was intended to allow religious participation in both the public and private sector according to the will of the people, not the will of the government. The idea is that religious people and religious organizations have just as much right to participate in government as do any other group or individual. ALL are supposed to have the right to participate equally regardless of what their beliefs or motivations are.

    Today it seems that everybody can participate in government and are allowed to bring any argument to the table no matter how misguided the intention or motivation, except religious people. For some reason it is not thought that religious people are allowed to bring a religious viewpoint to the table because of separation of Church and State. This is part of what the founders wanted to prevent.

    Our beliefs are eventually reflected in our laws and that is as it should be. Generally, the beliefs of the majority become law and all are allowed to equally participate in the process regardless of whatever their motivation or belief is. That means that everybody can’t have their way. But there must always be certain overriding principles that both protect the majority from an elite minority and at the same time protect the minority from a majority that would oppress them.
    Separation of church and state is not in the Constitution or any of our ruling or founding documents. President Thomas Jefferson used the phrase “separation of church and state” in a private letter to the Danbury Baptists in a letter he wrote on January 1, 1802. Later the same day President Jefferson attended the halls of Congress where a preacher gave a sermon. President Jefferson is the one who made the arrangements for the preacher to come and speak to Congress. Clearly President Jefferson did not think that religion was prohibited from informing government. His letter was to assure the Danbury Baptists that the Federal government would not infringe upon their right to participate equally in government along with everybody else.

  11. Dwight Rogers says:

    Joseph taught, “God hath made a provision that every spirit can be ferreted out in that world” that has not deliberately and definitively chosen to resist a grace that is stronger than the cords of death. (Joseph Smith, Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Orem, UT: Grandin, 1991), 360.)

  12. Pingback: Juvenile Instructor » From the Archives: “Penetrate their logic with science, and they are at once Liberals”: Mormonism and Free Thought in The Truth Seeker, Part 1

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