Exposure Anxiety

By: hawkgrrrl
February 26, 2013

North Korea wants to show its strength despite its small size by launching missiles to intimidate China.  Napolean was said to suffer from “short man” inferiority complex, resulting in his military invasions all over Europe.  Some sources say Hitler felt inferior because his absent father was a Jew, not Aryan.  In the Wizard of Oz, the “wizard” knows he is not really a wizard, just a balloonist who hides behind a giant puppet head using scary sound effects to keep his subjects in line and to scare off the Wicked Witch of the West who has superior power.

Exposure anxiety is more than just a fear.  It is a belief that the failure to act in a manner perceived as firm will result in the weakening of one’s position. . . The tragic part of exposure anxiety is that it usually drives its victims to commit excessive force in order to appear extra tough.*

Examples in the church

There have been a few times in church history when leaders (or members) have used excessive force or hyperbole to bolster their authority or a weak position.  Use of excessive force intimidates others into complying through the implied threat of action against any who dare to oppose.  Hyperbole frightens people with overstated (natural) consequences if they don’t take the action they are told to take.

  • Pro-polygamy rhetoric.  Some were told they would be damned if they didn’t participate.  Brigham Young said monogamy led to prostitution and the fall of the Roman Empire (leaving me to question the quality of history books in the mid 1800s).
  • Pretending our leaders are infallible:  “When the prophet speaks, the thinking is done,” implying that anyone ever disagreeing is always in the wrong.
  • Opposition of ERA.  Some were excommunicated for supporting equal rights for women.  It was claimed that this action would result in the downfall of the family.
  • The 14 Fundamentals.  The 14th states:  “The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed—reject them and suffer.”  Again, this implies infallibility that we don’t actually espouse.
  • September Six.  Six intellectuals were very visibly excommunicated and members were discouraged from participating in symposia.  It was implied that those who participated might also be cut off.
  • Declaring feminists, intellectuals and homosexuals as “enemies.” Using rhetoric like “enemies” to label others as a threat is one way to silence diverse voices or to ensure their views are dismissed by members.
  • Prop 8.  Some who opposed for political reasons were threatened with excommunication if they did not take down websites and get in line.  These threats only stopped when higher level church leaders intervened.
  • Using words like “know” and “beyond a shadow of a doubt” instead of “believe” to sound more certain than we are.  When we are trading in spiritual currency, the certainty of testimony adds authority.

What are the risks of Exposure Anxiety?

When we don’t realize we are operating from fear of exposure and we use hyperbole and excessive force to bolster ourselves, either as an organization or as individuals, we become more vulnerable to the following side effects:

  • Others can manipulate someone’s fear to spur them to take ill-advised actions.
  • Excessive force demoralizes adherents (e.g. soldiers who have to carry the actions out).
  • Public opinion can turn against those who use excessive force.
  • Others sometimes rally around the “weak” leader to avoid the shame of organizational exposure.  They  justify the unjustifiable actions.  And we know from psychology that when you treat someone badly, your mind has to justify your treatment of that person.

As an example of the 4th risk, we all know the story of the Emporer’s New Clothes.  Swindlers convince the vain Emporer that his new “clothes” are so beautiful and fine that they can only be seen by those who are truly special, people of taste and style.  All the courtiers agree the clothes are fine and beautiful because they don’t want to admit they aren’t special enough to see the fabric.  The Emporer heads a public parade to show off his finery, and a small boy  in the crowd cries out “Why is the king naked?”  The illusion is broken, and everyone must admit that they too don’t see the clothing.  Their king’s weakness and vanity made them all vulnerable to the swindlers’ manipulation and only enriched the swindlers.  Although we often focus on the king’s folly, it would have only taken one brave courtier speaking the truth to prevent the naked parade.  The real story is about how individuals don’t want to be exposed as different or weaker, so they agree to pretend something is true that they know is not.

What exposure anxiety victims never grasp is that admitting errors and correcting them is not a sign of weakness; it is a clear sign of strength.  It demonstrates that the person who erred is honest, responsible, and wise.  That kind of leader, whether parent or president, is worthy of being followed.

Weakness is Good

We are told in the Book of Mormon that acknowledging weakness is essential to humility, and it implies that humble followers won’t be fooled by false displays of strength or judge the weaknesses of others too harshly.

25 Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we acannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our bweakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall cmock at our words.

26 And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: aFools bmock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their aweakness. I bgive unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my cgrace is sufficient for all men that dhumble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make eweak things become strong unto them.

Weakness Deceives the Proud

Yoda says size doesn’t matter before he upends Luke Skywalker in a swamp using his superior mastery of The Force. We often say “good things come in small packages,” usually when we give a gift that looks small in its wrapping but is in reality very expensive, like jewelry.  Weakness lowers expectations, which lets us surpass expectations or surprise others with our unforeseen abilities, like the stone cut from the mountain that fills the earth.

One evidence often cited of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling is that he didn’t finish even a high school level education and yet accomplished so much.  Some say that he could not have accomplished so much without divine intervention.  His weakness is cited as proof of his strength (or the strength of his claim).

Why Don’t We Admit Mistakes?

I had a mission companion who said she never wrote anything unflattering in her journal because she figured then her progeny would think less of her and that might undermine her authority.  This is Exposure Anxiety.  In pretending we are perfect, we reveal our insecurity.

Joseph Smith talked about his own mistakes in his history:

I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God.

Or so it seems.  Then he dials back on how much weakness he is admitting, until he basically boils it down to telling jokes.  He confesses to having a sense of humor.

In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament.

This “confession” reminds me a lot of how people answer the interview question about a weakness the candidate is working to overcome.  Most of them use this question as a way to sneak in another strength, saying something like “I work too hard,” or “I’m just too dedicated to my job.”

If I were to write a confession for Joseph Smith, I think I could come up with a few more things than that.  He seemed to have a lot of ambition, elevating himself to a general, and he also ran for president.  He lived in a mansion built with the donations of his followers (based on his charisma) despite being a poor tenant farmer by trade until he began the church.  He sometimes used guilt to manipulate other people (“If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of no value to me”).  He was not honest with Emma about polygamy.  He destroyed a printing press for publishing criticisms of him, even though the criticisms were factual.  Some of the revelations in Doctrine & Covenants seem to suit his own purposes (admittedly, others take him to task).  He allowed the murderous Danites to exist (frontier times I guess).  He trusted John C. Bennett who was a flattering con man (although not forever).


  • What types of errors have you admitted?  When you don’t come clean, why don’t you?  If you keep a journal, are you honest about your failings?
  • Have you felt intimidated by someone’s use of hyperbole or excessive force?  How did you feel about that person afterward?
  • Do you have an example of a parent or teacher who admitted a grave error in judgment?
  • Would you think more or less of church leaders who admitted they were wrong?  Why?
  • What examples of Exposure Anxiety have you seen in politics, work, family, or the church?


*Exposure Anxiety is discussed in depth in Blunder:  When Smart People Make Bad Decisions.

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37 Responses to Exposure Anxiety

  1. ji on February 26, 2013 at 8:59 AM

    I think Joseph Smith was an honest man.

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  2. Ziff on February 26, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    This “confession” reminds me a lot of how people answer the interview question about a weakness the candidate is working to overcome.

    Ha! Great description, Hawkgrrrl!

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  3. European Saint on February 26, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    (Posted on behalf of Ralph Hancock; words/thoughts are his–re President Packer quote and Prop 8 bullet):

    “Is there no such thing as an actual enemy? And if there is such a thing, then would it not make sense to encourage members to “dismiss” such an enemy – i.e., not to trust them, but to look elsewhere for guidance?
    Re. Prop 8: I assume your point is to celebrate the wisdom of “higher level church leaders”?”

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  4. Howard on February 26, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    Enemy? All that isn’t love is fear.

    Did Christ have enemies? What did he do about them?

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  5. European Saint on February 26, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    Howard, with that mindset, Christianity equals liberalism, basically. The second someone embraces only mercy without justice, only “love” without discernment, one sells one’s birthright for a mess of pottage. And what a mess it is!

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  6. Howard on February 26, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    Did Christ speak of justice? Justice is an unenlightened necessity because society is immature unenlightened and uncreative. Inherent in the concept of justice is a belief that punishing (not helping, teaching treating or fixing) one person somehow helps other(s). With the exception of the deterrent benefit (to the extent it actually works) this is false math unless you consider revenge healthy two wrongs simply don’t make a right. Justice substitutes for potent treatment and cures for cravings, fetishes, compulsions and mental illness all of which was once conflated into a single title; evil. Justice is about the law and the law is about our selfishness (our fear) not about our love. Justice is something to be transcended that is what atonement is about; balancing our selfish childish balance sheets so that we can finally become one with God. If you are of the Spirit you are not under the law.

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  7. Ben on February 26, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    I quibble with some of your examples, e.g

    “Some were excommunicated for supporting equal rights for women.” Simple opposition didn’t get anyone excommunicated. Arranging for a plane with a banner to fly overhead during General Conference, though…

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  8. hawkgrrrl on February 26, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    Ben, that’s a valid point about ERA. I was pretty young at the time. But the language used to combat ERA was riddled with hyperbole. Whether the excommunications were warranted I can’t say. The language used to describe what ERA would cause to happen is laughable in retrospect.

    I do remember the September Six vividly as I had just graduated from BYU, and it was frightening. I would call it excessive.

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  9. hawkgrrrl on February 26, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    Boyd K. Packer spoke on the ERA in 1977: http://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/03/the-equal-rights-amendment?lang=eng&query=equal+rights+amendment

    His comments are not pulpit pounding. He sounds very rational. He is even-handed in assuming positive intent of those involved. He is a proponent of more equality for women. His reasons for the church not agreeing with the movement are five things:
    1 – it will stifle feminine instincts.
    2 – It would strike at the family, humankind’s basic institution.
    3 – ERA would bring ambiguity and possibly invite extensive litigation.
    4 – it could nullify many accumulated benefits to women in present statutes.
    5 – it doesn’t recognize the biological and emotional differences of men and women.

    #1 and #5 sound like the same thing to me: gender essentialism. I don’t see how women lobbying for more rights for themselves ISN’T a feminine instinct. Is it feminine to wait for them to be given to you by those who have failed to do so thus far? #2 sounds like code for “it will erode male privilege.” #3 I certainly can’t argue with because there should be lawsuits if women are discriminated against, harassed, or assaulted. #4 boils down to “if you women don’t get in line, there will be backlash from men.”

    Looking at these things from 30 years later is a whole different perspective obviously. If any of you remember the 1970s, the movie Tootsie wasn’t out yet. Most women were openly discriminated against in the workplace and the glass ceiling was right over the secretarial pool.

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  10. el oso on February 26, 2013 at 7:10 PM

    Excellent post, Hawk.
    As I look at the ERA 5 points, I see #2 and #3 as the major reasons for the church’s Prop 8 position. They probably did not get quite the same outcome as in ERA. It seems that the church encouraged the anti-gay elements in it much more than the leadership wanted. Exposure anxiety locally, but not as policy. Society as a whole (especially crazy judges) also seems to have hollowed out the victory at the ballot box.

    For the ERA, the next president (Reagan) was famously for the E&R but not the A. His #1 ally had both a female head of state and head of government. Widespread economic improvement opened up career tracks for everyone. This E&R “policy” was effectively implemented within 20 years in most areas of the country.

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  11. Jared on February 26, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    I don’t think many here remember what it was like in Utah during the 1950′s and beyond.

    We didn’t lock our doors in SLC until the late 1960′s. A divorce in the Stake was called a sign of the times.

    Nowadays 3-4% of the population have managed to persuade lawmakers to change the definition of marriage. Many lock their doors and keep a hand gun at the ready.

    I’ve talked with people who remembered when the gift of tongues was often manifest in church meetings. Today, I wonder what state the gifts of the Spirit are really in.

    The basic unit of society, the family, is in decline nationwide and at the rate it has deteriorated in my lifetime I wonder what will happen during my children’s lifetime.

    In the late 1980′s, Elder Benson gave a fireside talk that later was published as a pamphlet and given to members of the church.

    This was a post ERA effort to teach women in the church God’s plan for them. ERA had been a huge part of American politics for many years, during which the traditional role of women was attack in the same way marriage is being attack today.

    A good way to see how much has changed in America is to view TV family programs. Compare Father Know Best with Desperate House Wives.

    I don’t watch much TV these days, so I don’t know what the latest programming offers, but I’m aware from what I read that we’re on the verge of another leap into greater decadence.

    Here is the link to the pamphlet: Mother’s in Zion.


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  12. Jared on February 26, 2013 at 9:52 PM

    hawkgrrrl, et al,

    I have a question: Which era would you prefer your children to be raised in, the 1950′s or today? Why?

    It looks like comments have slowed down, but maybe a few will read this question and respond.

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  13. hawkgrrrl on February 26, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    Jared – definitely today vs. the 1950s. While I enjoyed the TV show Father Knows Best, there was a lot about the 1950s that was scary, too, and not seen in sitcoms. Spouse abuse, sexism in the workplace and in public (even portrayed openly in movies of that era where men would pinch strangers’ behinds), and lots of sexual repression. Doris Day & Rock Hudson may have made an adorable couple, but in reality he was a gay man. It’s just entertainment.

    Not that I think Desperate Housewives is remotely realistic either. I can’t imagine being raised in an era where I had fewer rights and was discriminated against or harassed. My sister was a teen in the 1960s and when she was sexually molested by a member of the bishopric, she was told it was her fault. I had another sister who was sent to the dean’s office for wearing sandals because the heels of her feet were considered “too sexy.” So, the 1950s and early 1960s don’t sound like a very fun era to me.

    Why, would you prefer it?

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  14. KLC on February 27, 2013 at 8:20 AM

    I was a newly returned missionary when the church started its anti ERA push. We wrote letters to our representatives after a rousing sacrament meeting of impassioned anti speeches. We organized public demonstrations against it. We canvassed our neighborhoods, we called neighborhood captains and ward coordinators.

    To anyone living in CA during prop 8 this may sound familiar, it did to me. In the 70s I was an eager, naive RM willing to be a soldier when the church recruited me. Over the years following that I read more about what was going on behind the scenes, I changed some of my political views and I matured into an independent adult capable of making my own decisions about politics. So, when prop 8 began its 70s era rerun in my ward I declined all offers to enlist.

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  15. Jared on February 27, 2013 at 1:26 PM

    #13 hawkgrrrl-

    Interesting response.

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  16. Bin on February 27, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    #15 – Where’s your reply to Hawkgrrrl?? You can’t lob a question like that and not reply yourself.

    As for me, I look at a LOT of the changes as advancements, even while the Church and most Church members claim it’s a sign of a societal degeneration towards some dark abyss. After all, what good is salvation if there’s no boogieman we’re afraid of??

    For me, I’d take today over any other time in recent history. The 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, whatever, have nothing on today.

    Divorce was a sign of “the times” at one point? Who cares. Honestly. Gobs and gobs of people – mostly women – lived through horrendous marriages simply because of the social stigma attached with divorce. Even today many, many couples stick together simply because the whole “divorced” label is an ugly one, but mostly that’s only in religious circles and especially among LDS congregations.

    Are we really looking to the pre-ERA society as a bastion of what we want society to be like?? Women having rights is a bad thing? Women exercising their own free agency to do what they want to do is a bad thing? As a guy, I honestly don’t get how we can look at women and use men to tell them how they should live, what they should/shouldn’t do with their lives/bodies/minds/careers/etc. Getting pinched on the “behinds” was the least of their worries back then… the sheer repression versus today is astounding.

    And, as a passing comment, I loathe the attitude that the “past” generations/eras/decades are always better. I’m exhausted with people saying how “good” things used to be, how we’re degenerating as a society, nation, etc. People – especially Mormons – have such a hard time living in the present and enjoying the world around them. I, for one, think the world is made up, by and large, of great people who are generally trying to do what is best for themselves and those around them. I’m not interested in accusing people of living in sin, of labeling their actions as sinful or in decrying the way they live their life. It’s time to grow up.

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  17. Mike S on February 27, 2013 at 4:45 PM

    Well, if nothing else, the ERA “battle” DID accomplish one thing, Packer’s 1977 talk notwithstanding. In 1978, the Church issued the following statement:

    “The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve have determined that there is no scriptural prohibition against sisters offering prayers in sacrament meetings. It was therefore decided that it is permissible for sisters to offer prayers in any meetings they attend, including sacrament meetings, Sunday School meetings, and stake conferences.”

    So while the Church didn’t specifically support ERA, societal pressures did at least make it so women could pray in Sacrament meeting.

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  18. Mike S on February 27, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Would I want to raise my kids in the 1950′s:


    I grew up in the South. There was still segregation in the 1950′s and 1960′s. In our Church, we didn’t let blacks hold the priesthood or go to the temple. People were killed for the color of their skin. That was worse than now.

    If you look at any survey on percentages of premarital sex, etc., the rates were equally as high in the 1950′s and 1960′s as now. In fact, over the past decade, teen age rates of having sex and getting pregnant are actually DECREASING. So, if anything, things are better now than before.

    As mentioned above, women couldn’t rise above a certain level in jobs; women couldn’t apply for credit cards without their husband’s permission; women couldn’t even pray in Sacrament meeting. I am certainly glad my daughters are being raised today than in the past.

    Through the formation of Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP and other programs, many people have more access to healthcare in the US than they have had than ever before. So healthcare, while imperfect, is more accessible to my children than ever before.

    In the 1950′s and 1960′s, the top marginal tax rate ranged between 70-90%. Even with recent changes, the top marginal tax rate is 39.6%. So taxes are lower now than then. Capital gain tax rates in the 1950′s and 1960′s were around 25%. They are now below 20%. So taxes are lower now than then. We keep more of our money now than we have for decades and decades (the pundits shouting voices notwithstanding…)

    On my mission in the 1980′s, even, we had to wait weeks for General Conference to get to Europe on tapes. Now we can watch it online. The resources are amazing. Spirituality is increasing.

    So, yea, it’s a great time to be alive.

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  19. alice on February 27, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    Re: Father Knows Best, Robert Young, who played the lead role was, himself, an alcoholic and frequently abusive to the children actors.

    Meanwhile, seems to me if your loyalty is to HF, the gospels and the enduring truth there’s no real obligation to defending the unsavory aspects of the institutional church or the many ways it can put first the corporation or trying to make the members more tractable than holy. Fact is, to the extent that we apologize for or defend the abuses, we position the institutional church to go further off the rails.

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  20. alice on February 27, 2013 at 6:26 PM

    Re my reply #19, I should have used the personal “I” rather than the editorial “you” so it didn’t sound like I was suggesting how anyone else needs to behave or form an opinion.

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  21. Jared on February 27, 2013 at 7:21 PM

    #16 Bin-

    You presented your point well. However, I didn’t see any reasoning based on scripture.

    I agree, there are many wonderful things about the day we live in. The point I want to make is that we are in the last days. By definition, the last days are not going to end well for many-dreadful in fact. For others it will be a great day. Since the end of WWII it appears we have been moving closer, decade by decade, to the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

    Those with faith have been given warning signs to help them measure the day they live in. I’ll mention a few:

    1. When the voice of the people choose iniquity (Mosiah 29:27).

    2. Violence (Moses 8:28-30).

    3. The judgments of the last day will first be visited on LDS church members who profess to know the Lord but don’t as evidenced by not fulfilling their baptism covenant, never receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (Matt 25:1-13, D&C 112:23-26).

    From what I’ve learned, the health and well-being of the church is a major indicator of the advent of the last days. Based on that, I find cause for concern.

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  22. Bin on February 27, 2013 at 8:15 PM


    You’re proof texting, plain and simple. Today’s world, by all statistical measures and in spite of the wars going on, is vastly safer than it was were we living in medieval times or at any other point in history. Violence is something we’re simply more exposed to through the media, video games and the like… but the truth is you were much more likely to die, or be assaulted, or or be the recipient of any kind of physical violence at any other point in history other than today.

    The voice of the people choosing iniquity? Again, another proof text. That said, what are you referring to? Obama getting elected? The Supreme Court ruling on international wire tapping? The Republican obsession with controlling women’s bodies? People castigating the unemployed for accepting welfare where/when needed? What exactly are we talking about here? Vague replies simply aren’t much help.

    Again, I choose to embrace the good in this world and see the good in this world. Many, many other people choose to see the bad, focus on the bad and invite more of the same into their lives – that which you focus on is that which you focus on. If you’re going to focus on all that is dark or dreadful or judgmental, and prooftext your way through verses of scripture that confirm that bias, run with it…but I’m not jumping on that bandwagon any time soon.

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  23. Jared on February 27, 2013 at 9:05 PM

    #22 Bin-

    Interesting approach to distance the scriptures from being part of the discussion. Proof-texting is in the eye of the beholder.

    Everything I mentioned is commonly used by the apostles and prophets. I’m on the bandwagon with them.

    Spiritual literacy only enhances ones view of the good in this world.

    I work with the poor and needy. I do what I can to help them see the opportunities before them. I do this as a service missionary. I own a business and can pretty much break away when I’m needed.

    For the last few days I’ve been helping a young lady deal with some tough challenges. She has a three year old who was born premature. Suffers with seizures, and all kinds of related health problems.

    She recently had another child. Fortunately, born healthy and strong. The father, decided he wanted out so he is gone. She is on food stamps and SSI totaling about a $1000 a month. Her rent is due in a few days, and with her boy friend out of the picture she doesn’t have enough money.

    She was raised LDS but left the church in her teens.

    I bring this up because you’re proof texting my comments, using your skill with words to produce a distorted image.

    I think I will leave off with this kind of unkindness.

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  24. Mike S on February 27, 2013 at 11:14 PM

    Jared: the health and well-being of the church is a major indicator of the advent of the last days. Based on that, I find cause for concern.

    Me too. When the most expensive shopping mall in the country (and potentially the world) is built by a religious organization, I have major concerns.

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  25. MH on February 27, 2013 at 11:36 PM

    Jared, crime and war statistics show that this is not the end times. See http://www.wheatandtares.org/2012/12/17/holiday-violence/

    We seem to forget that previous generations were much more violent than we are.

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  26. Bin on February 28, 2013 at 9:27 AM


    You seem to be placing motives/intentions on my words that simply aren’t warranted. And, for that matter, neither is a running away from the discussion simply because I disagree with your words and the way you cherry picked a couple of scriptures to make your point.

    “There are all kinds of stupid people that annoy me but what annoys me most is a lazy argument.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

    Religious fundamentalists – including and especially most Mormons in the 1800s – all had a very bleak outlook of the future and all claimed that we were “living in the last days.” Wilford Woodruff is perhaps the poster child of this. Pour through any of his journals and writings and you’ll note that he was certain that the end was nigh – every single year. And every single year he would predict bloodshed and horrors and cataclysms based on his belief that the “end days” were here. And every year, at the end of each year, he’d write in his journals about how surprised he was that the end didn’t come.

    Susan Stake, who compiled many of his journal entries into his biography Waiting the World’s End, shared a poignant piece that should make people think a little more than we do about our penchant for viewing things we come across as simply a “sign of the times” and the end of the world:

    Waiting for the end of the latter days, hoped for at first as a cosmic event but increasingly imagined as a welcome personal release, Wilford began feeling himself a man living “out of due time.” His life story had played out on the concrete stage of life the tensions and ironies implicit in Joseph Smith’s candid description of the dialectic between ordinary and extraordinary which crucially animates religious experience.

    As I think of Wilford Woodruff waiting for world’s end, I cannot keep from my mind the echoing experience of Estragon and Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s 20th century play Waiting for Godot. Each day the pair return to the same tree in hopes of keeping their appointment with Godot, who each evening sends a message that he will come tomorrow. As the waiting extends and recapitulates itself, they find it increasingly difficult to remember who Godot is, how or why they made the appointment, where they are supposed to meet him, whether they actually made an appointment with someone named Godot, whether there ever was someone named Godot, whether any of this seems like a good idea after all. … there is evoked as well the virtue of waiting: keeping one’s appointment, waiting for Godot or waiting for the sunset [each evening]. This uncertainty advertises an existentially troubling dilemma. Can the waiting end or is there only the promise of return, here figured as the daily loss of the sun? Embedded in the uncertainties lie central questions which bedevil religious aspiration. Can existence ultimately support the conviction that time is in some sense teleological – goal oriented, progressive, meaningful? Or does time exist itself as a matter of chance and repetition with no possibility for escape, radical transformation, closure? Can God bring his own ends, transform earthly history into the eternity of heaven, or must humanity endure the indifferent returns of nature?

    It is the burden of the latter possibility which structures the final moments of Beckett’s play. Vladimir and Estragon [the two main characters] consider the possibility of wresting the responsibility for ending from Godot – or perhaps from the sun. “Why don’t we hang ourselves?” Vladimir asks. But they have no rope.

    Estragon: You say we have to come back tomorrow?
    Vladimir: Yes
    Estragon: Then we can bring a good bit of rope.
    Vladimir: Yes.
    Estragon: Didi.
    Vladimir: Yes.
    Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
    Vladimir: That’s what you think.
    Estragon: If we parted? That might be better for us.
    Vladimir: We’ll hang ourselves to-morrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.
    Estragon: And if he comes?
    Vladimir: We’ll be saved…

    Despite the absurdity of their situation, Estragon and Vladimir exhibit moments of energy and grace evoked through small events … It is something like the way I respond to Vladimir and Estragon that I find myself reacting ultimately with sympathy to Wilford Woodruff. I feel such a gulf between myself and the violent and vengeful images which animate the religious energy of Wilford’s journal. So much of what is painful to me in the 19th century legacy of the LDS church can be found in the lure of this language of excess and violence, the structuring energy of largely male rituals of war and armies and blood. But waiting enforces on Wilford a different register of existence, the dailiness of “habit” and “proceedings.” And it is finally Wilford’s capacity for human time not God’s promised world on the other side of human history which moves me. His talent for waiting made of him the leader who could teach the church to change and compromise and thus to live in the 20th century … and thus to go on waiting for the supernatural, for God’s promises and God’s ends, sometime in the distant latter days.

    Hawkgrrl is right in that historical measurements are incredibly hard to ascertain, but by all measures (as MH pointed out), our society, today, is far safer and far less violent than past generations.

    Calling you out on your proof texting isn’t “unkind” – by any stretch. We should all be more careful in how we use scriptures to prove our points, especially when we remove them from time and space and use them to browbeat people into believing our point of view. That is the essence of proof texting – it’s not in the “eye of the beholder.” It is exactly what it is – you removed several scriptures from their context (time, space, environment) and applied them indiscriminately to today, without any regard for their context.

    And, when that didn’t work, you turned to the tried and tested “I’m on the bandwagon with [the prophets and apostles].” In other words, we can’t have an honest dialogue without you challenging my faithfulness (or lack thereof) and writing off my comments as simply being skillful with words.

    “Just as a well is of little use when the whole countryside is flooded, scripture is of little use to those who see the divine everywhere.”
    -Bhagavad Gita 2.46

    … that last bit is thoroughly offered tongue in cheek, though I agree entirely with it.

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  27. Jared on February 28, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    Mike S.-

    I know this hasn’t been on your list of the best things about the church. I haven’t been troubled by it. To me it was wise use of non-tithing funds. The mall energized downtown Salt Lake and helped keep the headquarters of the church attractive.

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  28. Jared on February 28, 2013 at 10:37 AM


    I find your style of communication to be less than friendly. I don’t mind having an exchange with you, but I’m not interesting in being bullied and brow-beat.

    I disagree with your proof texting approach to the scriptures I used.

    I asked hawkgrrrl(#12)which era would you prefer your children to be raised in, the 1950′s or today? I lived in the 1950′s so I have some knowledge about that era.

    She provided an answer and I responded. You took issue with my response and began your particular style of confrontation.

    Now to my use of the scriptures #21.

    I stared by saying, since the end of WWII it appears we have been moving closer, decade by decade, to the great and dreadful day of the Lord. I provided three points that I feel our useful indicators to measure the times we live in.

    1. When the voice of the people choose iniquity (Mosiah 29:27).

    During my life time I’ve observed a steady loss of faith in God in America. This is evident by the kinds of legislation voters have allowed government to make. It is also evident by the break down of the family.

    I provided a link to a pamphlet To the Mothers in Zion (#11).

    2. Violence (Moses 8:28–30).

    Follow the link for stats on crime from 1960 to the present (I couldn’t find stats for the 1950′s). http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm

    In 1960 there were 160.9 violent crimes per 100K. There was a steady increase until 1991 when it peaked at 758.1. That is nearly a 5 fold increase in 30 years. The good news is that there is a substantial decrease thereafter. I don’t think the decrease is due to a spiritual awakening. I heard one the news that America has more people per 1000 locked up in prison than any other country. I haven’t proof checked this info.

    The Book of Mormon details the kind of violence that preceding the Saviors arrival that resulted in the terrible destruction the Lord brought on the Nephites. Here is one scripture that may be repeated in the days ahead in our country 3 Nephi 6:20-24.

    3. The judgments of the last day will first be visited on LDS church members who profess to know the Lord but don’t as evidenced by not fulfilling their baptism covenant, never receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (Matt 25:1–13, D&C 112:23–26).

    I’m running out of time. I need to be in a meeting soon. I’ll leave a link for you to read. I wrote this piece a couple of years ago. http://www.ldsaliveinchrist.com/2011/02/are-we-living-in-the-day-prophesied-by-heber-c-kimball-2/

    Lastly, I think you made some valid points. Those who appeal to the scripture need to be careful how they use them. I do my best and I believe what I’ve written is in harmony with those who are called to lead the Lord’s work in these last days. We know their not infallible, but they are the Lord’s anointed.

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  29. Jared on February 28, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    # 25 MH-

    I hope you will check out the link below and let me know what you think.

    In 1960 there were 160.9 violent crimes per 100K. There was a steady increase until 1991 when it peaked at 758.1. That is nearly a 5 fold increase in 30 years. The good news is that there is a substantial decrease thereafter. I don’t think the decrease is due to a spiritual awakening. I heard one the news that America has more people per 1000 locked up in prison than any other country. I haven’t proof checked this info.


    Be sure to see per 100,000 listing. There are two of them on this link.

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  30. Hedgehog on February 28, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    Just last year I was reading ‘A History of the End of Time Apocalypse’. It changed my perspective somewhat to read that since Christianity began there have frequently been groups (many more than I had known) describing their times as the last days, and anticipating a second coming any moment. And whilst the 1960s may be marginally less violent – though I might argue about the extent to which crimes against the person were reported then and now, I certainly think the middle ages, with real pestilence, famine, and which were brutal were considerably worse than anything in first world this century, though there are places where those struggles continue.

    Jared, I enjoyed the link you left, I can see that the Kimball quote could apply to the internet age, as one of those ‘close places through which [the church] will have to pass’.

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  31. Mike S on February 28, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    A few long term trends – for what they’re worth:

    - Fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now almost 100.

    - Murder rate in Europe in 1500s around 100 / 100,000 people – now around 1 / 100,000 (100 TIMES LOWER)

    - Rape in US down 80 since 1973.

    - Lynchings based on race from 150/year to essentially 0/year.

    - Before modern countries, the world was violent. On average, over 500 / 100,000 people died in a battle. In 1800s France, it was down to 70. In 1900s, including WWI, WWII, genocides, and everything else, it averaged 60. Now down to 0.3

    - There are always peaks and valleys, but in colonial times, the American homicide rate was around 35 (per 100,000). By 1800 (when Joseph Smith was born) it was just under 20. It’s now around 5. Current rates are around the lowest in US history (matching the rates in the 1950′s)

    There is MUCH LESS VIOLENCE now than at any time in the historical past – whether in the US or worldwide. There will always be pockets of violence, or up and down fluctuations in long-term trends, but overall trends are steadily downward.

    We life in the safest society in the recorded history of the world. We have fewer restrictions based on race or sex or anything else than at anytime in the recorded history of the world. Even the poorest person in the US has things that would have been considered luxuries in the fairly recent past. Our US tax rates are lower than they have been for almost the entire last century.

    So, why all the doom and gloom?

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  32. Howard on February 28, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    I would like to add the world no longer faces the possibility of nuclear winter! Today the larger potentials for war are regional not global; Middle East, Pakistan/India and Korea.

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  33. Jared on February 28, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    Hedgehog & Mike S-

    I agree with the thoughts both of you are putting forward: people have been looking for the last days for centuries and since WWII the world has risen to unparalleled attainments in a vast number of areas. It is a great day to live in for many.

    The main reason this day and age is so grand is due to the coming forth of the US Constitution. Many believe it is the spark plug that created freedom in America and around the world that unleashed the talents within mankind. Freedom and liberty are on display because the Lord brought for the US Constitution.

    But we can’t ignore the warnings found in the Book of Mormon regarding the Gentiles. We have been given the signs of the last days and we need to ever be aware of those things that will be our undoing if we’re not vigilant.

    I included violence on my short list because of the emphasis the Lord puts on secret combinations (Ether 8:18-26).

    In hindsight, it would have been more clear to put secret combinations in the place of violence.

    The point I am attempting to make is that secret combination and violence go hand in hand. I not talking about just street violence, but the kind of violence that comes from the secret combinations. The Book of Mormon exposes this brand of violence.

    So, why all the doom and gloom? Discussion about the last days is both dreadful and great.

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  34. FireTag on February 28, 2013 at 7:07 PM


    The nuclear winter scenario never required global war. That was Sagan’s whole point in his arguments against Kissenger: even a small fraction of the USSR/NATO arsenals would produce so much climatic damage that they were self-deterring to sane leaders.

    Kissenger’s counter-argument, which Hawkgrrrl (intentionally or unintentionally?) demonstrates in the North Korea and other examples is that leaders are not always sane in the terms of people not dealing with the personal demons of those leaders. The number of leaders quite willing to see everything around them collapse in order to hold power is, unfortunately, hardly rare in our times or any other.

    Bin, Mike S., and Jared:

    I think your discussions confuse geopolitical “climate” with geopolitical “weather”. The faith is that the long term trend is eternally upward (God wins), but does not preclude pronounced downward trends (moral storms and hardship) when viewed more locally or on any shorter scale than the eternal. Indeed, like weather there are always eddies going on in the basic flow at all scales. My gravatar shows a telescopic view of planets being destroyed in the thousands, for example.

    The Book of Mormon was given to the gentiles of the west in this era for a reason, whether individual LDS regard it as literal scripture or primarily metaphorical scripture. Even in the latter case, we ought to take both the pleasant and unpleasant parts of the metaphor seriously. If we can’t do that, we might as well not have it in the canon, because it would do nothing but reinforce our personal psychological biases.

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  35. Bin on March 1, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    Taking both the unpleasant and pleasant parts of the entire book would require that we look at the book as a narrative, as a complete story from which there is a central lesson or, perhaps, lessons, to be learned.

    Parsing the text the way we do today, removing it from the novel form as it was originally written into one with chapters, chapter headings, verses, footnotes, cross references – and the like – is a recipe that produces a culture born and raised to do exactly the opposite of what you’re asking us to do. Intended or not, our current church culture is one where we prooftext all. of. the. time.

    Take, for instance, Jared’s now familiar verse on “violence,” a verse describing the world at the time of Noah. God then institutes the flood to destroy everyone – violence begetting violence. How one can take that verse from that context and even mildly suggest that it’s meaning is parallel to our day and time is unfathomable to me. To say nothing of the world violence and what was/was not included in its definition thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago. Even a rudimentary search of the original Hebrew for the word “violence” refers to other not-so-synonymous terms: cruelty, unrighteousness, injustice, oppression, etc.

    And, yet, here we are transporting that verse thousands of years into the present future and implying that it means murder, rape and/or “violent crimes.”

    That all said, if we return to the premise of what you seem to be stating, then taking the entire Book of Mormon as a narrative we’d do well to realize just what that story is telling us: violence begets violence or, to put it more plainly, either we emulate Christ or we run the risk of self-destruction.

    The only thing that leads to lasting peace in The Book of Mormon is missionary work or dialogue involving a conversion to Christ, laying down weapons of war, giving up of hatred, and a change of narrative. While violence reinforced hatred and narratives, missionary work or dialogue challenged both Nephite and Lamanite narratives about the other, breaking down barriers of distrust and allowing at-one-ment and peace to occur.

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  36. Mormon Heretic on March 1, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    Jared, Mike answered for me. I don’t know if you read my post on Holiday Violence, but Steven Pinker did say that there was an increase in violence in the 1960s through the 1990s. Then he thanked President Clinton for bringing down crime.

    In reality, Clinton didn’t bring down crime. Steven Levitt of Freakonomics noted that when we gave women the right to stop unwanted pregnancies through abortion in the 1970s, crime dropped in the 1990s due to the fact that the unwanted children weren’t born, so they didn’t end up in jail. Here is a short Youtube clip, but I also talked about it in my post on Abortion and Crime.

    Now you may say that abortion is evidence is a great evil (and in some ways I agree), but it appears that by preventing irresponsible parents from giving birth to juvenile delinquents, this reduces the evil perpetrated by children raised in homes of irresponsible parents. I’d call that progress and a better society to live in. Once we get that under control, then we can start working on helping the people unexposed to crime from doing the unwanted sex in the first place.

    So Jared, I do think society is getting better. We’re not annihilating each other as the Book of Mormon people did (note Mormon and Moroni’s last words.) If Jesus didn’t come in the violent times of Moroni, or during America’s Civil War then, we’ve got a lot of wickedness to do in order to support the end times theory of the scriptures. In 2013, we’re no where close to the violence of the Civil War or the Book of Mormon. Society is much better off (and that’s even if we include the Rwandan genocide or the Jewish holocaust.) See my Holiday Violence post to see violence over the centuries that I posted earlier. If you’re only looking at 1960, your sample size is much too small.

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  37. Jared on March 1, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    I enjoy coming to W&T. I learn something nearly every time (not listed in order of importance):

    1. I learn things about myself.
    2. I learn things about other church members.
    3. I am often required to think more deeply about doctrine, scriptures, church leaders, and reevaluate things I thought I understood.
    4. I’ve learned I need to be more careful about assumptions. Too often I assume those who read my words have a firm grasp on the doctrines of the kingdom.
    5. I appreciated Bin’s thoughtful comments but first I had to get past a few things that clouded his thoughtfulness.
    6. I feel the warmth of brotherly love, though unexpressed explicitly, it is evident. MH,Hedgehog, and FireTag to mention a few.
    7. I feel sorrow that some, who say they have sought diligently, haven’t received the manifestation of the Spirit they would like. I wish I could somehow share what I’ve been given.

    I feel a great deal of gratitude to the Lord for allowing me to be born in this era. It is a great time to be on earth.

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