Sunday Devotional #3: Oh Say, What Is Truth?

The dislocation of America’s right wing into cult fascism is having the predictable social effects. One of those effects, long a subject of this column, is hastening the emergence of a two-party LDS Church. It is about time.

And yet, LDS church members still have much to learn about navigating the reality of a church that isn’t simply a chapter of the John Birch Society. For example, Mrs. Brain1What are we going to do tonight, Mrs. Brain? Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world. reported that during today’s online Relief Society2I again apologize to my non-LDS readers, but these are the issues as I see them right now. There’s only so many ways to write “Donald Trump is a fascist and he must lose or America will collapse.” In any event, Relief Society is a women’s meeting of the Church. session, it was asserted that “If we think we are right it is almost always pride.”

Where to begin? To start, the entire premise of the LDS Church is that of restoration of God’s only true church on the Earth. We believe that all other churches are lacking truth by definition. Is that pride? Or is it even true? If the assertion of truth is pride, then the LDS Church is a very odd and expensive social club.

But follow the assertion all the way through, and the consequences become even worse. If a person finds any sort of meaning, truth, or value, the immediate reaction is to consider whether one’s discovery is a sin. This begs the question of why one would learn or do anything at all, if the result is ever to discover that truth is unknowable and the pursuit of it is, in fact, dangerous. The hard work of study, experience, and reason must be rejected because anything that might at some point emerge as truth is a threat to one’s salvation. And at its most virulent, the premise suggests that truth is knowable only to a select few–perhaps even the select few most demographically similar to Trump’s white, male, authoritarian base. Hallelujah.

From where does this line of thinking emerge? It may be that this is the LDS version of the war on truth Republicans have been waging on behalf of Donald Trump since he began his campaign in 2015. As 2020 lays Trump and his followers bare, they are forced to divorce farther and farther from reality—from “truth”—hence, the gaslighting and alternative-fact universe in which they permanently ensconce. In this uncharitable interpretation, the LDS Church itself threatens Donald Trump, because the LDS Church asserts that “truth” exists. This is the nuclear option, wherein the Trump cult sublimates and undermines the LDS Church itself, just as it has done to most right-wing “Christian” religion. As with a church that fails to decry menacing citizens with assault rifles, this would not be a church worth joining.

Whether reflective of malice, or just another version of passive-aggressive conflict avoidance, it is dangerous at a time when there is little room for error. At some point, LDS Church members must confront, yes, the truth: Love does not equate to niceness, non-confrontation, and naïveté. Love is defending truth, and that means walking the paths of truth, making the arguments on truth’s behalf, and clearing the path for others to do the same. Love means protecting our children from dangerous ideas and psychological abusers. Love means helping amplify voices that get drowned out by the self-righteous and, yes, mentally deranged. Love means telling people that they are part of a death cult, and that they need to change if they want access to you or your family. If this is not your understanding of love, you need a paradigm change.3Or, as Sondheim put it, “nice is different than good.”

By way of constructive criticism, much of the LDS Church’s lingering problem in this regard stems from its habit of turning every problem into a spiritual one which, in turn, only feeds the beast. The reclamation of America is not a spiritual project, it is a secular one, governed by reason and secular law. In 2020, just getting involved in politics at all requires a sophisticated understanding not just of political ideologies, but of cult dynamics, propaganda, symbolism, brainwashing, and psychology. To the extent Christianity has any role at all, it is a rancid and destructive one. The Sunday School manuals don’t cover this, and we should be grateful. We should stop pretending that they do, as it merely sends the wrong signals to the wrong people.

In sum, dragging the political debate into church meetings under cover of “unity” and “love” helps nobody. The best case result is a a performative band-aid. The worst case result is to reinforce by association the errant tie between Christianity and Trumpian authoritarianism in the first place. What’s the alternative? Well, I could tell you, but that would just be my pride showing.

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