The Mormons don't like "The Mormons"

The new PBS documentary, The Mormons, is getting some interesting reaction in both the ex-Mormon and Mormon camps. I’m not sure anyone else is watching, quite honestly. But the formers and the currents are watching with GREAT interest. I only watched half, so am holding off on a complete critique, but I thought it was an honest, open and fair look at a controversial religion.

That, of course, will be argued vocifierously by people on both sides of the fence. I have heard from some ex-Mormons who called it a “fluff” piece because it was not more hard-hitting, and some Mormons, who are angry because a lot of time was spent on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and on polygamy. The active Mormons who are angry feel vilifed. Why? PBS and filmmaker Whitney didn’t have anything to do with either. It’s a very important part of Mormon history. They are angry because both ex- anti- and current-but-not-believing Mormons were featured.

What kind of a documentary would it have been without a balance? A Mormon one. You can see those at Temple Square. But they are not open and honest. They are public relations films.

And the ex-Mormons who are angry? What did you expect? It wasn’t ever aimed at being a hatchet job on the Mormon religion. No documentary filmmaker would last long without being fair and balanced.

Overall, from what I am hearing, Whitney did a fair and decent job.

I think to those who say only the Mormon side should have been represented, or vice versa, haven’t you ever heard the saying, “There are two sides to every story?”

Each side is going to tell a story biased to their slant. Only by garnering all the stories together, can you piece together what happened. There is good and bad about Mormonism. The Mormons was honest about that. What more can you ask?

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About Natalie R. Collins

Natalie has more than 30 years writing, editing, proofreading and design experience. She has written 20 books (and counting), has worked for the Sundance Film Festival, and as an investigative journalist, editor, and proofreader. She embraces her gypsy-heart and is following her new free-thinking journey through life. Follow her as she starts over and learns a bunch of life's lessons--some the hard way.
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20 Responses to The Mormons don't like "The Mormons"

  1. Renee says:

    I thought it was pretty fair. It was a look at the church as a whole, which in a lot of ways is really different (growing up in So. Idaho) than what I find to be the case living here. It’s a LOT more in your face and a lot more controlling. I find that often folk who grew up elsewhere LDS and move here are a lot different than those who grew up here LDS. But maybe that’s because I am in Utah County. Haha.

    I think my 15 year old said it best (and it’s similar to what Natalie says). I don’t dislike Mormons (we have some awesome neighbors and co-workers). I don’t like the CHURCH. Because it doesn’t seem to be able to separate from the STATE here. But there are a whole lot of things I like about their philsophies of family and being involved in the world. Not a whole lot different than I think in some respects….

    IMHO.

    Like

  2. Wayne says:

    Natalie:
    I want you to know from the bottom my heart how much I appreciated your comments about the PBS documentary. I have to admit I was very emotionally touched. My thoughts were very much inline with yours. Thank you so much.

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  3. David Stoker says:

    I consider myself an objective and analytical person. I was disappointed in the quality of journalism displayed in “The Mormons” documentary. It really made me question the objectivity in other programs backed by Frontline and American Experience. I do not think the filmmakers were actively trying to push an agenda but I do feel they fell into the same pitfalls and stereotypical biased reporting of the Church on the most controversial topics. Evidence of perpetuating stereotypes and poor journalism:

    Perpetuating Stereotypes:

    Mormons worship Joseph Smith: The narrator, who should be most objective, says Joseph Smith is the “Alpha and Omega” of the Latter-day Saints. No Latter-day Saint would agree with such a statement. Taking Biblical language used for Christ and applying it to Joseph Smith has clear connotations of old, false notions that Mormons worship Joseph Smith or are not Biblical Christians.

    Mormons practice polygamy: Even after showing a clip of the leader of the Mormon church saying categorically that Mormons do not practice polygamy the filmmakers proceed to show a long segment on the lifestyles of “fundamentalist” Mormons. I believe that modern day practicing polygamists are newsworthy and interesting but not clearly separating such practitioners from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints only perpetuates the stereotypes.

    Mormonism contains witchcraft:
    The translation of Book of Mormon is portrayed as mystical with a strong focus on use of a seer stone with repeated ‘looming’ images. They do not mention elements of the translation that are perhaps most remarkable: the speed in which a 500 page book was produced, accounts of witnesses of the translation process, or showing of the original manuscripts showing no editing, no breakage in dictation yet remarkable internal consistency and external consistency to things not known in Joseph’s day about Near Eastern or Mesoamerican culture and language.

    Missionaries are annoying: showing outward stereotype of missionaries ‘harassing people on the streets and not showing the “inside” view that missionaries do not like street contacting, are taught it is the least effective way of finding people to teach, nor do they show missionaries inside a person’s home who actually enjoy and welcomed them.

    The Amount of Airtime given to topics:

    Airtime given to ex-mormons or historical critics vs. practicing believers. Why do journalists covering the Mormons continually go to ex-mormons or historical critics for the final say in Mormon doctrine and Mormon living. Why would you ask a Quaker to define Islam? Or a Catholic priest to be the expert on Buddhist philosophy?

    The amount of airtime given to widespread systematized persecution, murder, and rape of the Mormons vs. the amount given to a one-time incident of a isolated small group of Mormons.

    Airtime given to the sexual overtones of polygamy with added commentary vs. brief statement by narrator that many (if not most) plural marriages were not sexual at all.

    Not allowing believing LDS commentaries on the most controversial topics:

    No LDS commentary allowed after claim of “no archaeological evidence” of the Book of Mormon
    No LDS commentary allowed after claim that the Book of Mormon has no ancient elements, a “nineteenth century creation”.
    No LDS commentary about Joseph Smith and ‘golddigging’ claims only that of an ex-mormon.
    No LDS commentary in regards to a strong statement of a scholar saying Joseph was “faking it” in relation to the creation of the Book of Mormon.
    No LDS commentary allowed on the issue of the blacks and the priesthood. Why not interview someone like Jessie Embry who is well known researcher on the topic.
    No examples of believing LDS intellectuals. How about a Truman Madsen, Havard trained philosopher yet believing Mormon?
    No active LDS perspective on the excommunication process. No story from the perspective of someone who had a positive experience and eventually returned to the church. All of this coupled with a completely false image of a lone chair in front of a wall of judges.
    No active LDS commentary allowed to an ex-mormon’s strong claim that “his (Joseph’s) sexual desire drove his practice (of polygamy)”
    No active LDS commentary allowed to claims that Joseph had an “affair” with a nineteen year old girl.
    No LDS opinion allowed in regards to the decision to end polygamy.

    It’s right and proper to allow differing opinions but to not give voice, particularly, to the accused is poor documentation.

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  4. Shawn Heisey says:

    I haven’t seen the show, mostly because when we pulled the plug on DirecTV a year ago, we never hooked up the antenna. We’ve been without broadcast TV of any kind since then.

    But at lunch today, I did see a small headline in one of the local papers or another, upside down while someone else was reading it, that said its ratings beat the Jazz game. I think that says a fair amount about who was watching.

    Like

  5. Renee says:

    As far as being unfair and unbalanced goes, I could mention the non-nice people that my kids and myself have run into, not to mention the amount of INTERFERENCE that the church seems to have in my personal life whether or not I’ve chosen to have it!

    If you wanted to paint a really unflattering portrait, much more could have been said than what was.

    Like

  6. David Stoker says:

    I can understand your feelings, I completely agree that individual mormons can do or say not- nice things, I even think some elements that have become part of mormon culture lend themselves to exclusivity and ultimately pride. I see them as common human flaws and simply separate individual behavior from the core doctrine of the church. Same thing goes for church leadership, particularly at the local level. All it takes is one time when you are put in a position of leadership and realize how challenging it is and how many mistakes you make yourself and you suddenly are a little more forgiving to leaders that make wild comments or accidently offend people. There are many elements of church culture that I wish were different and try to change or at least bring attention to in my own sphere of influence and I empathize with individuals of other faiths or of no faith that find themselves surrounded by mormons because mormonism is truly an all-encompassing religion in that it effects every element of life and society. It is a common situation for any minority in a strong cultural context, be it Islam, ethnic groups or whatever the situation may be.

    But no matter what individual cases may be, and no matter the intensity of the extremes, from an academic perspective when you are claiming to portray objectivity and balance yet you make classic blunders in poor journalism I think it is bad form.

    Like

  7. Elaine says:

    I think one thing said it all in the program, and sums up one of the big, but ultimately only one of many, reasons that I left the church. And that was the person (I assume it was a GA, but I’ve been away from the church long enough that I don’t know who most of those guys are by sight and they didn’t flash his identification during that segment that I saw) who said, in reverent tones, that it is wrong to criticize the leaders of the church, even if the criticism is correct.

    I’m not interested in being involved in any organization or institution that holds some people above critique or criticism based on who they are or what position they hold. That sort of lack of accountability is just wrong.

    Like

  8. Renee says:

    Amen Elaine.

    Like

  9. Wayne says:

    David:
    Thank you for your ‘in-depth’ and ‘analytic’ response. It was very well written and thought provoking.
    My feelings of emotion about Natalie’s article, was brought on by her comments such as:

    “I think to those who say only the Mormon side should have been represented, or vice versa, haven’t you ever heard the saying, “There are two sides to every story?”
    “Each side is going to tell a story biased to their slant. Only by garnering all the stories together, can you piece together what happened. There is good and bad about Mormonism. The Mormons was honest about that. What more can you ask?”

    In my communication with Natalie, I had tried to encourage her to make an effort to see both sides of the issues. Not that she wasn’t trying to do that already, but it was good (for me) to see that side of her. (Sorry Natalie for talking about you behind your back).

    Like

  10. Mitchell says:

    I was waiting for this post 🙂 I put in the four hours and I really enjoyed the program. I think David Stoker has made some great comments and I appreciate those. I’m LDS and thought the program had its strengths and weaknesses. Overall, I liked it.

    I really enjoyed Terryl Givens and his very articulate and intelligent comments. I wasn’t sure if he was LDS or not until the second night when he mentioned “we” for the first time. I’m guessing they edited that way to slowly reveal his “loyalties”. I think many of the stories unfolded in similar ways which made it compelling to see “who” was LDS, is LDS, and not LDS.

    Elaine mentioned one of the “many reasons” she left the church was summed up by what Dallen H. Oaks (I believe) said about criticizing church leaders. I understood him very differently. In fact, I think the way he said it had an almost humorous tone. That’s not the exact word I’m looking for, but if you felt it, then you know what I mean. It was like he was saying, they are wrong sometimes, but no one’s perfect. We agree to sustain our leaders as members, and they are human and not perfect.

    I guess I’ve seen him and heard him enough to know he has a wit about him and is pretty funny. I’m not saying I’m right in my interpretation, but it goes to show you how differently people perceive things.

    Now Tal Bachman (something like that) was an interesting fellow. I don’t know why he chose the “suicide bomber” analogy, but man that was weird.

    In all of this, I keep coming back to the difference between the church of Jesus Christ, and the people that make up the church. Too often, they are treated as one in the same. If you chose to leave the church, then you don’t have a testimony of the church, but rather a testimony built on man. Man will fail you every time.

    One thing I didn’t like about the program was the depiction that you can’t question things in the church. Well, I guess I’m doomed to get excommunicated because I question everything. I seek out the answers and I’ve never received a warning or been told to quiet down. I’ve brought in books, (Born in Blood was very controversial) and subjects (amazing how many Mormons have never heard of the white salamander), and films. Nothing. So I don’t know where some of these church members go, but they should join my ward!! We love to discuss things that grow our minds.

    Like

  11. INTJ_Mom says:

    I think a reason the show spent a lot of time on polygamy is because that’s what a lot of people outside of Utah know about Utah – Mormons and polygamy. Whenever my husband and I travel, and we tell people we’re from Utah the first 2 questions we get are whether we are Mormon and what’s the deal with polygamy? I’ve run into a lot of people, especially from the East coast who think of Utah more like Montana – a bunch of smaller towns separated by vast areas of open wilderness. They imagine a bunch of Mormons living in these little isolated towns practicing polygamy. I don’t think the show did a disservice to the church in regards to polygamy. It was very clear that the LDS church no longer practices polygamy. However, there are splinter groups broken off from the LDS church who do practice polygamy and those are the people who get featured in the national news. I think now for anyone outside of Utah and unfamiliar with Utah that the distinctions should now be more clear – because of the PBS show.

    Also, David, the missionaries can be very annoying and pains in the neck to people. I asked them several times to not come back to my house. Every 6 weeks or so, a new set would still show up on my doorstep. I finally resorted to not answering the door. Did they ring my doorbell once, wait a minute or so and walk away? Heck no. They leaned on my doorbell and knocked incessantly without stopping for 5 minutes. 5 minutes!! Then they finally left only to go around to my back yard where my husband was up on a ladder adjusting the satellite dish. My husband again told them we aren’t interested, we don’t know anyone to sic them on and to please not come back. Not until I made a sign for my front door saying Please no proselyting or soliciting – violators will be prosecuted did they finally stop harassing us (so far).

    I’ve met more than a few others who have had similar experiences with the missionaries. It’s just ridiculous and wrong for the missionaries to act that way. I understand they are desperate for people to teach and they are under a lot of pressure from the church to up those numbers, but they go too far. If they ever show up on my property again I’m calling the police and pressing charges for trespassing.

    I liked how the show used the church leaders and members own words to show what hypocrits they are. All the talk about how family is so important,..ah, but it’s not as important as “the church”. The church is supposed to come first, not your family. Else why would a young missionary be told so callously with a note on the door that his mother had died and not be sent home to attend the funeral and grieve with and support his family. Oh no, the missionary work was way more important. That’s messed up and sick and very sad that Mormons are so brainwashed that they think that kind of attitude is ok. I’m glad intelligent people of the world can now see the twisted hypocrisy of Mormonism.

    Like

  12. Jason says:

    INTJ_Mom, I’m not calling you a liar, but your stories sound more like urban legends.

    I was one of those missionaries once, and never did I participate in, hear about, or receive council to behave in that manner. Of course there are going to be deviants in every group, but I would call your experiences exceptions rather than rules. You are in utah, however, and everything seems to be backwards there.

    I am not longer a practicing member, but I still have a great deal of respect for the missionaries. Probably because I went through it myself. Knocking on doors all day every day for two straight years of your young life is NOT a walk in the park. It takes a lot of discipline to put yourself through that same strict regimen from 6 AM to 10 PM every single day. You have to admire their dedication and sacrifice even if the premise of their message is less than solid.

    I stumbled on this blog today and had a bit of a chuckle here and there in the hour or so that I’ve perused it. “Trapped by the Mormons”? Sheesh, Natalie, maybe its time for you to stop making a martyr of yourself and get the HELL out of utah? Our lives are so short and then they’re over, why spend it in a place where you can’t be happy? Either that or learn to be happy where you are. Seething in mormon hate every day isn’t going generate happyness for you or anyone. You seem to be making a career out of it (with your books and all) at least, so maybe being unhappy is working out for you after all.

    Yes mormonism has a sordid past, what religion doesn’t? I totally support the idea of more education before adhering to religion. But then if real education occurred before allowing a person to attach himself to a religion, there WOULDNT BE any religion.

    The mormon church isn’t that bad (at least not any more). The church does lots of good things, and makes lots of people feel peace and purpose during their short lives on this rock. Are mormons brainwashed? Of course, but thats the nature of all religion. If you’re going to disparage one why not disparage all? Rhetorical question.

    “Opiate for the masses”, indeed. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever known have been mormons. We could use alot more of this type of brainwashing in this day and age.

    Just though I’d share some musings! Thanks.

    Like

  13. Alicia says:

    Jason, I suggest you read this: http://www.nataliercollins.com/trapped.php – if only people would actually take time to look at what Natalie says, maybe half the comments wouldn’t be about telling Natalie to leave -.-

    Like

  14. Andrea Nist says:

    I watched the documentary wanting to learn some “real” facts about Mormonism and thought PBS would have a quality show. How dissappointed I was, when not only did we only see a few historical timeline facts, but there was no journalistic investigation of the actual basis of the religion. The fact that Mormonism changes with what they want you to believe. The fact that their belief that a non-mormon has no eternal salvation so they don’t deserve wealth on earth. Their beliefs are so intertwined into their daily activities and business dealings that they are basically racist against anyone who isn’t Mormon. I am from the Midwest and moved to Idaho 6 years ago. The first couple years of being around mormons you see the great family values, but when push comes to shove they will turn on you in a heart beat. Homecoming King and Queens are Mormons, captains of football teams are Mormons. They need to rule everything for when they become God of their own heaven. Why was there absolutely no investigation into the bizarre nature of the day to day effects of this religion on society today. Mitt Romney took and oath to his Mormon church that would override an oath to the oval office. People in the majority of the US have no idea what Mormons really believe and this Frontline report did absolutely very little in explaining real Mormonism. Where were the facts from the Bible and their Book of Mormon. There are so many contradictions why were they never exposed. The lack of respect of women that has just recently been changed was hardly discussed at all, and was only changed because if they didn’t they would have a revolt on their hands. Their utter lack of respect regarding African Americans is another example of what is wrong with this cult. I could go on and on, but I am hoping this PBS special might spark someone to actually do a real investigative report on this religion and expose their secret beliefs.

    Like

  15. Allen says:

    Jason:

    April 19th, of this year, @ 3:14pm I began a discussion (titled, “Would you like your hate with a side order of superiority?”) with a person that referred himself as Jason.

    Would you be that person?

    Like

  16. Wayne says:

    Andrea:
    You rufflled my Mormon feathers a little.
    I am trying to pick up on what you believe. So far you have told me everything you have been told about the Mormons and what you find wrong. One time in your blog you mentioned the Bible. Do you believe it to be the word of God? What do you know about it? Are you aware that just about everything that was troublesome for you about the Mormon Church and its history, have the same types of things going on in the Bible? Some things are a lot worse.
    I suggest you read your own Biblical history and then see if you can then discuss the fallacies of the Mormon Church with a straight face and a clear conscience. If I have guessed wrong that you are a Christian, I apologize, as sometimes it is hard to tell. If you are a Bible believing Christian, it would be fun to discuss what you believe and how well you are following your leader and His teachings.

    Like

  17. Tracy says:

    If you missed the Mormons, you can watch it online.

    http://www.pbs.org/mormons/

    Like

  18. aerin says:

    Natalie, I wholeheartedly agree that it seems like no one watched the documentary except people in either camp or with some interest.

    David – I think Daniel C. Peterson counts as a believing mormon intellectual. I would assume he considers himself a believing mormon intellectual.

    The message I walked away with was an understanding that there are some contraversial topics within mormonism/the LDS church. I appreciated that the scholars/commentators were not identified as pro or anti mormon throughout the documentary, you had to determine that on your own.

    The documentary did not go deeply into these topics (polygamy, history of the Bof M, etc.) and I would assume that it would require another entire documentary to go through those types of issues. I think what she was trying to say was that debate and issues exist. Despite the debate, many people remain faithful mormons because of their deep spiritual faith.

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  19. INTJ_Mom says:

    Unfortunately my stories are not urban legends. They are 100% true. I only repeat things that have either happened to me personally or that happened directly to someone else and I know that person well enough to know whether they are an exaggerator or not. I’m not interested in disseminating misinformation of any kind – pro or con.

    I agree that all religions brainwash to a certain extent and I do think they are all full of crap, but as Christian sects go, the ECs and the Mormons seem to have the most extensive brainwashing. Do both sects do some good things in the world? Sure they do. But it comes at a cost of lying to their members, asking their members to wholeheartedly believe a lie. I can understand somewhat why people believe in Jesus, there is reasonable doubt about him but most claims in regards to him can’t be proven 100% one way or the other.

    But there is plenty of historical and scientific proof to debunk Joseph Smith 100%. That means temple marriage, for example, is a lie. Mormons are no more sealed to their families for eternity than Catholics are. I know Mormons take comfort when a family member dies thinking they will see them again and they are selaed and what not, but bottom line is I think it’s wrong for people to be encouraged to believe in a lie.

    People can have happy lives and happy close families and a life of meaning, service, etc. without believing in a lie. My kids have been raised as Atheists and they are still moral, ethical, kind, thoughtful, intelligent – very happy and well adjusted people. We do service projects as a family. We are a close family and we get along great. In fact, we are happier and closer and have less stress than the vast majority of my Mormon friends and relatives. Mormons come to my home and they don’t want to leave, they tell me my home feels so calm and peaceful and they ask me how we accomplish that when they don’t have that in their own homes.

    Honestly, I think it’s because I left the church and my husband is a never-Mo, we don’t stress about all the (IMO) dumb little things that Mormons stress about. If someone in my family said they were gay, for example, it wouldn’t be painful or a scandal. We’d just go on loving them and accepting them the same as we would any other family member. We live the best we can and try to make every day count so that if it’s our last day, we lived well and honorably. Our family and friends will have good memories of us and won’t be embarrassed to say they knew us. We don’t try to live well and honorably so that we can gain some kind of eternal reward, we do it because we want to try and make this life as good as possible for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. and we don’t want our posterity to be ashamed of us or anything we did.

    One of my closest friends is pretty devout Mormon, she has many Mormon relatives and other friends who are Mormon. I’m her only atheist friend. But she comes to me when she has problems because in her words I’m “the most stable, grounded and rational person she knows.” I’m a bit of an enigma to her. She forgets I’m not Mormon anymore sometimes. She was always taught that if people leave the church their life will suck. Honestly, my life got much much better.

    I thought it was kind of funny that the convert story the PBS show featured was of someone who was a felon and a drug addict. I’ve read that missionaries are taught to try and find the disenfranchised and people who are troubled and target them because the majority of people who are happy and doing well have no interest in Mormonism.

    I’m glad the church was able to help that woman get away from drugs and crime, that’s great. The only problem I have is that with all that good stuff, people are encouraged to believe in lies. The LDS church could still be a successful church and in my opinion, would be more worthwhile if they would stop lying. Admit that Joseph Smith is debunked and divorce themselves from their “we’re the one true church” mantra. Joseph Smith had some interesting ideas and some of them are even pretty “cool.” Just stop saying they are revelations and absolute truth. The LDS church would still be worthwhile as a Christian sect.

    Like

  20. tyler says:

    hilarious – I love all you scorned ex-mormons with no life other than to spend hours trying to publish your bigotry across the internet. Get over yourself and move on and leave the poor mormons alone. Honestly this is the saddest site I have ever seen. Get a clue and move on with your life. I’m sure the Mormons are glad your pessimistic view of life has left.

    Like

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