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Be Not Afraid

They left. They had all utterly disappeared. Surely it couldn’t be that simple. Surely I hadn’t been imagining these things all of my life. Yet with the flip of a switch, the darkness they had cast over my life was banished.

At the time that I was searching for new a understanding of Mormonism, I read The Now Habit by Dr. Neil Fiore. The book offers a cure for procrastination. It discusses how guilt and fear have a negative effect on our motivation. We may avoid a task that we feel guilty about or one that causes us some conscious or unconscious fear. By putting it off however, we don’t resolve our fear and we feel even more guilty about the task. This vicious cycle paralyzes us into inaction.

Like the yoga class before, this book deepened my understanding of myself and why I chose to act the way I did. I began to apply its truth to my life and my eyes were opened. While some of the motivation that the Christian gospel uses is positive, it draws on fear and guilt extensively.

For example, I had thought that the Mormon teachings were pretty even-keeled regarding sexuality. As I dug beneath the surface appearances of my attitudes toward sexuality, I found that I had a deeply embedded, counterproductive shame about my sexuality. It caused me to put undue focus on what should have been a smaller part of my life.

From what I could tell from rumors, confessions in Elders Quorum, and the topics of General Conference addresses, there was an epidemic of sexual addiction in the church fed by the increased availability of pornography via the internet. Church leaders spoke more and more frequently and openly on the subject. I got the feeling that desperation to curb the problem had driven them to such frankness. Young men were delayed on their departure into the mission field, and stake presidents and bishops were disgraced for their involvement in pornography. I began to see why this was such a problem in the Church as I reflected on the role of guilt.

Moral teachings throughout the history of the Mormon church seemed to have followed the trend of mainstream, conservative thought, only lagging behind it by a few decades. Teachings about race, styles of dress, family size, birth control, and sexual behavior had all followed this pattern. Leaders of the Church sometimes parroted the popular, false opinions of the time. For example, in 1871 Daniel H. Wells, Second Counselor to Brigham Young, repeated the common, fallacious belief that masturbation would cause insanity and a premature death. (D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power)

It became apparent to me that leaders of the Church had been preaching their personal beliefs mixed in with God’s divine inspiration. This led to dangerous, uninspired ideas being preached and accepted as God’s infallible word. These ideas created a fertile breeding ground for sexual addiction by mingling fear, guilt, and sexual pleasure in the minds of their followers.

I began to reëxamine my own feelings of guilt, whether they arose naturally because I truly regretted what I had done, or whether false teachings were their source. More and more, I saw that Mormonism and Christianity had inflicted my wounds (or enlarged them) in order to offer a cure. The Christian gospel relied on my guilt to motivate me to apply the balm of Christ to the wound. “The whole have no need of the physician” (Mark 2:17) so I must be sick so that I will need Christ. If I wasn’t truly sick, I would be made ill to convince me of the necessity of Christ’s atonement.

At about this time, I learned about the history of the idea of Satan as an evil entity working against God and his children. I found that much of the Mormon concept of Satan is a pretty modern one, borrowed from contemporary Christianity. The ancient Israelites, on the other hand, believed that Satan was one of God’s angels, sent to test men in God’s behalf; Satan was God’s angelic agent to determine who was worthy. That the Israelites believed Satan worked for God is apparent in the story of Book of Job.

It was hard to square Isaiah’s words with the Mormon concept of Satan: “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5–7) Isaiah says that Jehovah is sovereign over the universe; that He alone creates good and evil. Beside Him there is “none else”.

The Israelites didn’t believe in an evil, fallen angel who reigns over a demonic host trying to counter God’s work. That concept was added to the Judeo-Christian tradition later. The concept of Satan evolved over time and was adopted by the Mormon church.

At this point, I began to let go of my belief in Satan as yet another human element in the Mormon faith. I began to take full responsibility for my actions into my own hands. I no longer perceived my negative thoughts as originating from a powerful, supernatural entity bent on my destruction. Temptations weren’t evidence of a world beyond sight, but motivations arising from within my own mind and appetites. Suddenly, the demonic influence in my life was silenced—completely, utterly silenced. I was alone with my own thoughts, both good and bad. I could only conclude that Satan and his demons were a figment of my imagination.

In retrospect, I see that I worshiped my demons. I gave power to the things I feared and hated. I was never free of demonic temptations until I accepted and embraced the demon within human nature. The demon is in me. It is me.

I know that some will see this as the point where my seduction was complete, that Satan took control of me when I let down my guard by ceasing to believe in him. “And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” (2 Nephi 28:22) Life is largely a matter of interpretation. How we perceive our world says perhaps more about us than it does about the world.

From my experience, this change of belief made me more motivated and empowered to do good. Rather than wasting energy fighting against enemies I couldn’t see, I began to take a good, hard look at myself. I had more confidence that I could be good than before when I was plagued by demons of my own construction. It was a tremendous relief to let go of that burden. I will not take it back up. I had finally kicked the devils out of my internal audience. Now, it was just me and God.



  1. Jonathan Blake said,

    February 6, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

    In a wonderful bit of synchronicity, Meridian Magazine ran an article on pornography which lends credibility to my impression that pornography is epidemic in the Church. The article highlighted six messages that they had received in response to an earlier article.

    “1. A woman wrote: ‘President Hinckley’s words are right on. My husband became involved with porn as a teenager and never gave it up. It was through prayer that I came to find out why there was a big hole in my marriage. I confronted my husband, he confessed, and I have filed for divorce. He refuses to recognize the damage he has caused.’ (The email indicated that this man and woman had been married for many years, and that he had remained active in the Church.)”

    Granted that I don’t know the circumstances, but “I confronted my husband, he confessed, and I have filed for divorce.” makes it seem like the woman threw away years of marriage without much of a fight. I hope it isn’t the way it seems.

    “2. A bishop wrote: ‘I cannot keep up with the counseling and disciplinary action of those in my ward. The percentage of elders involved in pornography is too high.’ ”

    That’s really the quote that I want to share which shows that this bishop is overwhelmed counseling the men who have come forward.

    “3. A man wrote: ‘I know first-hand the heartbreak of pornography addiction. After years of battling in darkness, I finally began to emerge a few years ago with the help of a group therapy program and a lot of prayer. I am still fighting the battle.’ ”

    This warlike mentality is part of the problem. It escalates the emotional level of the situation and focuses inordinate negative attention on these people’s sexual appetite. It leads to addiction and is an example of worshiping a demon rather than embracing and accepting it.

    I also take issue with most twelve-step programs’ custom of greeting each other (if movies are to be believed) by saying “Hello, my name is _____ and I’m an alcoholic.” This self-labeling guarantees that the addict will never move beyond addiction. They are defining themselves by their problem. They are forming lasting friendships centered around a dysfunction. Their addiction becomes enshrined in how they live their lives and who the associate with. Another form of demon worship.

    “4. Another man: ‘I am fighting the addiction you wrote about. You’re right — there are many, many of us out there.’ ”

    Another voice of confirmation about pornography’s epidemic proportions.

    “5. A woman shared: ’My life, my marriage are casualties of pornography. I was in an abusive marriage for seven years before I learned of my husband’s lifelong addiction. We had been in anger management and counseling for years, with no success in my husband’s ability to control his anger. When I discovered the truth about his addiction, I was devastated. No wonder his temper was out of control.’ (Studies link physical violence to pornography addiction in many cases.)”

    Good for this woman for ending an abusive relationship! I would note, however that it is just an assumption that pornography alone caused her partner’s violent behavior. I would also note that the author of the article failed to cite her studies. I believe that for pornography to be most devastating, it must be coupled with shame. Without shame, it is still a problem, but not at the same proportions and not to the same effect.

    I also assert that the Church teaches this shame and compounds the problem. Telling people to have more self-discipline or to hum their favorite hymn is woefully, tragically naïve. It portrays an fundamental lack of understanding of the problem. If prayer and scripture study were the answer, I’m sure this wouldn’t be such an epidemic.

    To be fair, not all of the advice that I’ve seen coming out of the Church is this simplistic, but still, none of it has shown a real understanding of the causes of these kinds of psychological addictions.

    “6. Another man: ‘Years ago, I found myself in the throes of this addiction. It just about killed my family relationships and stripped me of the most important things in my life. I have now come back to the Church, have been re-baptized, and will be going with my wife to the temple next month! I am so grateful for repentance and for the Atonement!’&thisp;”

    May this man and all others like him find happiness and peace on their path. May they break the cycle of shame and fear which binds them down. May their loved ones find a way to heal their wounds. May I in humility speak healing, compassionate words in the grace of human empathy.

  2. Anonymous said,

    February 6, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

    I confronted my husband, he confessed, and I have filed for divorce. He refuses to recognize the damage he has caused.’

    With the first comment I don’t think she’ flippantly throwing away
    a marriage. “He refuses to recognize the damage he has caused”. He doesn’t acknowledge that there is anything wrong with pornography- and damages that it causes. It seems that HE is the one who is throwing away years of marrige- not her.

    Porn is a deal breaker. If my husband had a problem with porn and was willing to deal with it and work to change then I would be willing to work with him. But if he wasn’t willing to acknowledge that his actions effect not only him but our relationship and the spirit of our home then I would have to end our relationship as well.

    I believe the reason that the problems with pornography are so high currently in the church is because it’s an effective tool to destroy men and their marriages and pummel their wives self esteem.

    The ‘world’ tells us that pornography isn’t a big deal and what we’re willing to accept as ‘okay’ is getting farther and farther away from okay. Of course this is my LDS view- which you no longer believe is true. So take that for what it’s worth.

    I guess I don’t get what you’re trying to say in this post. That porn is a problem? Of epidemic porportions in the LDS community? It’s true- and it’s not something that the LDS community denies.
    (Pres. Hinckley in the last conference) section on pornography,11666,6629-1-3414-1,00.html
    LDS Family services addiction recovery program- in Las Vegas they have specific groups for pornography addiction

    I’m not sure if you’re saying by this post that you have this problem. But having read your previous posts even before this one I kinda get the feeling that you might struggle with this. If you do then that could be a big reason why you’ve never felt the spirit and why you’re so filled with doubt and shame. Have you ever attended a group recovery meeting? Have you read ‘Clean Hands, Pure Heart?’ These are all good resources. Of course they’re all based on turning to Jesus Christ to aid in your recovery and healing and to overcome Satan and the evil of pornography.

    The ‘hum a hymn’ is no longer what the church suggests to combat pornography. They acknowledge that it’s an addiction- and the earlier the first exposure the greater the addiction generally.

    If this is the sin you’ve repented of before (you alluded to that in a previous post) and gotten the brush off from bishops or counsel that wasn’t adequate then may I suggest going again? You may be surprised.

    I see that you have comment moderation inabled. Feel free to do with this comment what you will. You can publish it or not- it’s up to you.

  3. Jonathan Blake said,

    February 6, 2007 @ 4:29 pm

    “I believe the reason that the problems with pornography are so high currently in the church is because it’s an effective tool to destroy men and their marriages and pummel their wives self esteem.

    “The ‘world’ tells us that pornography isn’t a big deal and what we’re willing to accept as ‘okay’ is getting farther and farther away from okay. Of course this is my LDS view- which you no longer believe is true. So take that for what it’s worth.”

    I agree that pornography represents a real problem and that it’s not okay (recognizing that definitions of pornography will differ, and there are shades of gray). What I’m trying to say in this blog post is that I have found the counsel of Church leaders of all levels of the hierarchy to be uninspired on occasion. In the example of pornography, their lack of inspiration exacerbated the very problem that they are hoping to solve.

    Let me attempt to illustrate what I mean. If a mother catches her son viewing pictures of nude women on the computer, what would be the response that would be most likely to avoid creating psychological problems? Let me give two examples.

    1) Son, I’m sorry that you have gotten involved in pornography. Pornography will pollute your mind and you may become addicted. I don’t want to see you ruin your life with such stuff. Your mind is a temple, and you should keep it clean. You should keep yourself worthy by avoiding such filthy stuff. Please fight your urges to view pornography so that someday you can go clean and worthy to the temple to be wed to your beautiful spouse.

    2) Son, those are beautiful women, aren’t they? I can understand why you would enjoy looking at those pictures. It’s only natural that you would be sexually attracted to them. Your desires are God given. Please don’t be embarrassed. I want to let you know that I love you, and you should never worry about that. I have some concerns about the expectations and ideas that these images convey, and how they are trying to manipulate your God given desires. Can I talk to you more about my concerns later?

    Ignore that I write horrible, stilted dialog which reminds me of early mornings role playing from the Missionary Guide. I think it’s easy to recognize that first option is close to the Church’s message. It is riddled with subtle (and some not so subtle) cues that the boy should be ashamed. It is almost engineered to create addiction.

    The second option is perhaps not perfect, but avoids making such an issue out of it. It represents a middle ground where pornography is not okay but it isn’t a matter of eternal damnation. The mother conveys her concerns while trying to avoid making her son ashamed about behavior that in all respects is perfectly understandable.

    Thanks for the links. Here they are all linkified and pretty:

    Rise Up, O Men of God
    Combating Pornography
    Addiction Recovery Program

    I hope you’re right, and that the Church is getting smarter about its approach to this issue.

    To get back to the main point of this blog entry, seeing this and other examples of Church leaders’ lack of inspiration on such vital issues’ led me to question the foundation of the shame that I felt. This in turn led me to let go of my belief in Satan.

    This is the point where I have to bear testimony. I don’t expect anyone to believe me because you must experience it to believe it. Make what you will of my experience.

    I cannot convey how surprised I was at how quickly my world changed when I gave up the idea of Satan. It was as if I had gone to sleep in the middle of a battlefield and woken up to a blissful morning in the middle of paradise. The idea of Satan had kept me in fear even when I was living a blameless life. When I let it go, the panic that I felt when I thought that I was being tempted by otherworldly forces vanished—instantly, utterly, completely, shockingly vanished. Satan is not now and never has tempted me to do anything. All of those temptations were creations of the workings of an overwrought mind. Satan has set out no machinations to destroy me or anyone else. The hands behind the evils of the human world are our hands. We create, distribute, and consume pornography. We live our lives in ways that create inequity and injustice. We have the power to change that. When I stopped fearing and blaming this bogeyman for the bad things that I did, I felt a surge of strength to do good in the world. That strength has allowed me to come forward in this way, exposing myself to the potential ridicule of those who wouldn’t understand. I want us to understand each other. That’s why I write.

    You asked whether I struggled with pornography. Thank you for your concern and suggestions. To be clear, I am not now “filled with shame” but rather feel much closer to having a “conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men”. (D&C 135:4) Out of respect for the feelings of my family, I will avoid divulging the exact nature of the various and diverse ways that I have fallen into transgression of the Mormon doctrines. The details are largely immaterial anyway. Does it matter to this story whether I was ashamed because of pornography, drugs, fornication, alcohol, dishonesty, swearing, coveting, sabbath breaking, sloth, and so on? Pornography is my example of how far astray Church leaders’ counsel can go. I selected this example in large part because the information was easy to find. I think it’s enough to know that there are many ways to become entangled with shame in Mormonism.

    Leaving behind my old ways has empowered me to do good. By embracing my personal demons, I have found peace in a place where former temptations do not exist.

    Were my follies the reason that I never had a Holy Spirit experience? Possibly. I wonder, though, about all the long stretches of time that I lived largely free of any significant transgressions. God never reached out to me in those times. It seemed to make no difference how I was behaving; I never received a witness in good times or bad. Sin didn’t seem to prevent Nephi (2 Nephi 4:18–21), Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith History 1:29, or Alma the Younger (Alma 36:6–24) from receiving the Spirit. Just how righteous do I need to be to receive a witness? For how long?

    Thank you for your heartfelt thoughts and concern for me. Your concern reminds me of my mother. That’s a high compliment in my book. :)

    By the way, comment moderation is turned on to prevent comment spam, not to silence honest dialog.

  4. Anonymous said,

    February 6, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

    “This self-labeling guarantees that the addict will never move beyond addiction. They are defining themselves by their problem. They are forming lasting friendships centered around a dysfunction. Their addiction becomes enshrined in how they live their lives and who the associate with. Another form of demon worship.” Let me just tell you how upset this comment made me. My father was an Alcoholic, and by going to those Twelve step programs, he was able to overcome his addiction and get help and counsel from those with similar problems. Had it not been for those programs, my father would have continues to drink and would not have been part of our lives. And, being an addict you have to live your life around your disease, otherwise you could fall off the waggon. If you don’t acknowledge the problem and define yourself by it, how will you ever overcome it? And lastly, making lifelong friendships with other people with similar problems, helps that person beyond anything you could ever imagine. I am thankful for the friends that my father made while at AA. If not for them, he would have probably not made it!

  5. Jonathan Blake said,

    February 6, 2007 @ 6:16 pm

    Let me add to my previous comment that I feel that the Church is demonizing pornography (and other behaviors) above and beyond what is justified by its evident effects. I hesitate to say this because it trivializes the issue too far, but the Church is making mountains out of molehills. Maybe mountains out of foothills would be more appropriate.

    It might help some people to understand my concerns if I say that I was dismayed to learn exactly who wanted to teach me the philosophies of men all mixed up with the word of God.

  6. Jonathan Blake said,

    February 6, 2007 @ 6:42 pm

    Anonymous Child of Recovering Alcoholic:

    I regret that my words have upset you. I am happy that your family found healing through AA. I do not mean to say that there is no value in twelve-step programs. As your father’s story shows, the programs and the friends to be found there can be life saving. What I want to say is that there may be a better way, a way to get beyond addiction rather than being forever a recovering addict.

    We have heard the addict for life mantra long enough and often enough that we accept it uncritically. Please allow me to make a comparison. When a smoker quits the habit, they go on with their life as a non-smoker. They don’t spend their life in recovery programs introducing themselves as a smoker. They seem to do this successfully for the most part without defining themselves as lifelong addicts. To be sure, they would be wise to avoid spending time around people when they smoke, and smoking doesn’t have the same debilitating, mood altering, life changing effects. But smoking is widely considered to be among the most addictive substances. So why are smokers successful without twelve-step programs while alcoholics must go to AA and forever brand themselves as alcoholics?

    Twelve-step programs resemble religions in many ways. Their core beliefs are matters of faith more than evidence. I’m suggesting that they could be improved with more scrutiny of their methods. Or perhaps I’m taking on too many cherished institutions for one day?

    I’m not the only critic of twelve-step programs. There’s a very active mailing list and a mailing list to debate the issue.

  7. Jonathan Blake said,

    February 6, 2007 @ 9:33 pm

    I always have second thoughts about what I should have said in my comments. Here’s my second thought.

    The reason that I brought up twelve-step programs in the first place is to use some of their practices as an example of worshiping our demons. If we constantly remind ourselves about our past weaknesses, we give our weaknesses energy and life. We sustain their influence in our lives instead of letting them fade into our past—as much as that’s possible—and finding forgiveness for ourselves.

    Having said that, I didn’t really mean to turn this into a rant about AA. Again, I am happy that your father’s life was turned around by what he found in AA. Alcoholism is a devastating problem. We should be grateful for anything that helps.

  8. Jonathan Blake said,

    February 7, 2007 @ 9:15 am

    The pornography news keeps coming! :) It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall at the conference advertised in today’s Meridian Magazine—A More Excellent Hope—if only to hear what people in the Church are saying on this issue. I hope good things comes out of this.

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