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Analysis of FLDS Debacle: Intolerance Plays Role In Development of Dangerous Cults

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I think there’s an angle of this big news story and tragic mess, the recent raid and ongoing processing of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints compound and its inhabitants, which hasn’t been addressed, at least not that I’ve seen. The stage for the events which took place in this compound was set by a legal and social system in the United States which does not demonstrate true religious freedom and tolerance.

This is the kind of shocking news story which induces a powerful reaction in the people who follow it. It can be difficult to analyze these events with a cool head because of the emotional reaction provoked. What is happening now and what has been happening in this isolated community is extremely disturbing. Texas social services are now attempting to untangle multiple generations of people cut off from society and robbed of an identity, trying to sort out who is psychologically capable of raising their children when it is unclear which parents gave birth to which children, who they are, how old they are, and lacking any documentation.

Given the fact that just under half of the teenaged women taken under state custody are either pregnant or have had children, it is obvious that there was a system of indoctrination and at least statutory raping of these children, in what almost resembles an organized breeding program. In this type of situation, separating the victims from the authors and accomplices of these crimes can be extremely difficult, because the crime involves the systematic indoctrination of the victims, until if the attempt at indoctrination is fully successful, they in turn breed, condition, and indoctrinate others.

People want to spread their ideals, their morals and their values to their children. The problem is that when a community is completely isolated from the rest of the world, their collective psychological development can become distorted compared to that of a community which is in touch with the rest of the world. This isn’t to say that the rest of the world can’t go crazy on its own, on the contrary I think society as a whole produces and nourishes its own massive collective psychological problems, but an isolated community can really diverge from society in negative and unhealthy ways. This can happen naturally without any interference, but it’s infinitely worse when a leader emerges who drives this closed community in a negative direction and accelerates its degredation or manipulates them to fulfill their own unhealthy psychological needs, or their worldly desires or hidden motives.

I don’t claim to know what motivation Warren Jeffs or his predecessors have for doing this, be they genuine believers or profiteers, but they depend on heavy-handed manipulation to meet their goals. In addition to this, various reports suggest that fundamentalist Mormon groups fund their armies of stay-at-home wives and multitudinous children through welfare fraud and shady construction projects, using their male children as child labor before selecting a small group to be groomed to carry on the faith and casting out the rest.

Warren Jeffs addresses FLDS children.

It would be far too easy to react in one of two ways on this matter. I would be inclined, as an agnostic, to take a militant atheist perspective and shun this as the inherent danger in any fundamentalist religion. Some atheist groups see all religions as the same kind of psychological child abuse that we take for granted in the situation of the FLDS Church, a system of indoctrination, telling children to believe in things that don’t exist under pain of hellfire and brimstone.

While they do have a point, and there are people who suffer psychologically when they lose their faith, I think this is a counterproductive approach. I strongly believe that people should be able to worship or not as they choose under basic guidelines, specifically, respecting the rights of others to worship or not as they choose. This is where I part with the Christopher Hitchens type of atheist. Religion is only a problem and a psychologically damaging practice if it is a prerequisite to being accepted into society or a community. And if we had to vote between a society where everyone had to be religious or atheist, atheists would be in trouble. I think they of all people should promote religious tolerance and plurality rather than a single, impossible, overriding solution.

On the other side of the coin, we as a society are generally tolerant of a few fairly similar styles of worship. Christianity has always been the first accepted religion in the U.S., although there has been conflict in the past as to which particular brand of Christianity was acceptable. Judaism is more accepted now than ever. Even Islam, despite setbacks stemming from widespread fear of the partially true association between extreme fundamentalist Islam and terrorism, is generally respected, as is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, because these religions, in the United States, have tended to conform to the local cultural values associated with monogamy, be it strict monogamy or the seeing of any side relationships as secondary, lesser, or dirty, using terms such as “cheating” and “mistress”.

An uncomfortable conversation between a group of Mormons and an Evangelist.

The fact is that our religious tolerance, both in our culture and in legal terms, does not fully include alternative cultures and religions. Polygamy is illegal in many states, to such a point where not only can polygamists not request that their marriages be legally recognized, but that an unofficial spiritual polygamist marriage can be a prosecutable offense. This is far out of the realm of law and steps undeniably on the basic freedoms of religion, no matter what popular opinion may be of these practices. As long as they are consenting adults, they can do as they choose.

This lack of religious tolerance is a direct cause for the schism in the Mormon church which led to the formation of the FLDS Church. When Utah was requesting statehood, the Mormon church was still practicing polygamy (specifically polygyny) and this being frowned upon, they were forced to change the official standpoint of their religion to “suspend” the practice of polygamy indefinitely. After a period in which many church members were excommunicated for continuing this practice, the Mormon church was divided into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Because their religion and the practice of polygamy were not tolerated, the FLDS became completely isolated from society, and thus degraded into the problem it has become today, falling pray to leaders who, for their own religious fanaticism or lust for power, or some combination thereof, I’ll let the psychologists speculate on this one, have shaped their followers into an isolated, uncontrolled, massively psychologically impaired community spreading an inarguably abusive indoctrination of arranged marriages between underaged women and adults, statutory rape, negligence in education and development, and the abandonment of young boys.

This could not have happened were it not for the religious intolerance leading to the marginalization of these people. Being marginalized and isolated with no outside contact or supervision is a recipe for abuse within a community. Every once in a while, stories of incest and sexual abuse also appear within Amish communities, though their isolation is more of their own choosing, and this happens because of permissive and isolationist community leadership rather than systematically as part of the structure of the community.

The fact that our society does and for a long time has respected the religious freedom of only a few religions, rather than protecting universal religious freedom when it really counts, played a significant part in allowing these events to happen, and can serve as a lesson to us. If the Mormon church hadn’t been pressured to its breaking point in the 1890s, and their right to practice polygamy under certain legal guidelines had been respected, they would have continued to evolve and adapt along with the rest of society and as polygamist practices adapted to normal society, normal society would also learn to accept and respect the rights of polygamists without forcing them to isolate themselves in fortified compounds and live under strict, oppressive mini-regimes of so-called “prophets”.

This is a time in which we need to examine some very difficult and underaddressed themes. Are we really allowing freedom of religion, or freedom of a choice among a few specific religions? Are we doing all we can to protect people from the negative effects of a religion gone awry, without imposing the marginalization of smaller religious groups and thereby causing them harm and making them vulnerable to manipulative leaders?

Trailer for the documentary “Banking On Heaven”.

The children of this community are not only suffering terrifying indoctrination and physical abuse, but because they were born into a community which is so isolated and secretive, they are undocumented and may therefore suffer further marginalization if the situation is not corrected. The right to an identity is a basic human right which is not talked about much in the United States, as it’s generally not an issue, but in this case, many of these children don’t know who their parents are or understand their origins and do not have the proper documentation they will need their entire lives. With their exact ages uncertain, it is currently unclear in some cases if some of the young mothers are of legal age of consent or not. Texas social services have an unenviable task in sorting out this mess.














Written by Alex (Capitalocracy)

May 14, 2008 at 6:47 am

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