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January 31, 2007



The fear tactic is probably a remnant of Joseph Smith's limitations. He started a religion with limited intellectual resources, which required him to demonize those who were smarter and better educated.

Jordan F.

Equality: are you saying that we who choose to stay do so because we are afraid? I don't feel like I'm afraid- am I just cloaking my fear?



I'm saying that the church attempts to instill fear in its members in the ways I describe. How successful the church is in accomplishing its purpose, of course, varies from person to person. No, I don't think that members of the church are all quivering gobs of fearful goo. But I do think these fears play a major role in keeping people from embracing some of the doubts they might have about church policies and doctrines. And I think these fears do keep people from talking openly and hoenstly with one another in the church generally. And I think that many people with serious doubts about the church fear one or more of the consequences that I mention in my post. As I said, some of those fears might be justified (will my spouse leave me or my parents disown me?); others might be completely phantom (will Satan drag me carefully down to hell if I stop wearing my garments?) I can tell you that I have experienced some of these fears but not others. I really can't speak to your own experience. If you are immune to the church's fear inculcation, more power to you!

Lunar Quaker

Could it be that the degree of the church's use of fear tactics is directly correlated with the availability of information? When I read about church history, I see fear-mongering as a cyclical phenomenon. In the earliest days of the church, people had first-hand experience and a high degree of familiarity with church leaders. Thus fear was required to exert control over the members. During the mid-20th century, though, the church was growing and prospering, and people were more removed from the leadership. The internet did not exist. In this environment, perhaps fear tactics were not needed. Now, as books are published and the internet makes information freely available, the fear tactics have returned.

Floating in the Milk

The pragmatic fears are my demons. I've known that Joseph Smith was not a prophet for a long time now, but fear of the consequences of leaving the church have kept me silent. My mother has stated explicitly that she would disown any child that left the church. I have minimal about the strength of my marriage at this point, but I do fear the strain I know it will put on my husband, who I love very much and don't want to hurt.

Sister Mary Lisa

I'm just very glad that I didn't have that particular fear (the one of marital ramifications) since I'm married to a non-member already. It is amazing how many fears you accrue as a member of the church. It's entirely true. Your list here is great, Equality. Very well written. My fear now is that my discovery that I really have a voice, and a valid say in what happens in my life and what I want my life to be will be too big of a change from who I was before. The husband and kids are already hating it so far.

My fear that my TBM dad would come at me with scriptures ready and hellfire and damnation speeches once he knew about me not believing it was true anymore has not been realized. I've actually e-mailed him twice to see if he'd like to discuss it, but he ignores me.

mayan elephant

well done equality. very well done.

i liked your response to jordan. i agree that not every member is fearful, but certainly its part of the doctrine, culture, PR and curriculum.

just as there are some that are not fearful, there are others that compound their fears by "fearing for the salvation" of their children and others that may have escaped the faith. its just my untrained observation, that this is very common among mothers in the church. but, what do i know? really? damn devil messes me up so bad i fear i no longer know anything at all.



Excellent post.

I liked the typology you gave for different doubts. The one that plagued me the most was "pragmatic." I was told through a blessing or whatever that if I didn't stay absolutely faithful I would never find a spouse and never be happy. This kept me in line for a long time. However, the funny thing was that when I got married there was nothing left to keep me from questioning and the doubts poured out of me. Thanks for the post, it was enlightening.


No not all members are fearful. It may be that the fear has just rolled off their backs or they had exceptional parents or whatever. But it could also be that many of them have never felt fear because they have never gotten close enough to the line to challenge all the "certainties" and thus threatened to violate the boundary where fear begins.

Juggler Vain

I think belaja has touched on an important element of the way fear seems to work--people who are motivated by fear don't necessarily spend their days twitching in terror. In my experience, it's more common for people to create a protective boundary around the scary thing and then avoid it. As a believer, I did not live in constant fear, but fear constantly influenced my life by keeping me from thinking certain thoughts, and being with certain people, and doing certain things that I understood to be "dangerous" or some sort of threat to me. I wasn't freaked out, but I did respect more boundaries than I do now.


Thanks for posting this equality.

I agree with your assessment of why the LDS church continues to use fear. Many thinking people reject that faith for that very reason - they don't want to be manipulated into thinking or living a certain way.

I disagree with belaja. I distinctly remember countless lessons and stories about not associating with people who drink, dating only mormons, etc.

There was a real impression that a believing mormon should be frightened of dating non mormons and people who drink.


Oh, I remember all those stories and lessons too. I guess in my case, I had a grandfather who drank coffee, chewed tobacco and cussed up a storm. And the rest of the family seemed quite safe from his vices. I also grew up with almost all non-Mormons and I knew from experience they weren't scary or would drag me into evil. So I suppose the fear-mongering didn't get to me on that level. I got the same message that I should be frightened of non-Mormons but I just never took it seriously. I did, however, stray far too close in those years to certain "thought crime" boundaries and that was when the really terrifying stuff--Satan will deceive you, you will be under his power, you'll never prosper, you won't be with God again, you won't be with your family, etc., etc., etc.--came roaring up at me. And there really was no balm for that fear. There were a couple of serious moments in my younger years where I really faced my doubts and issues with the church and the fear was just overwhelming. And everything and everyone around me was contributing to and affirming to me that sense of some kind of evil inside my own brain (which was much more frightening to me than the phantom of any beer-swilling non-Mormon ever could be) which would destroy me if I kept thinking and feeling along those lines. It made my eventual enlightenment take far, far longer than it otherwise would have. I suppose there are different lines of fear that activate for different people.

Also, I really wasn't saying that those messages weren't there, so much as if you keep a far distance away from the lines they demarcate, then your fear doesn't get activated. You know--as long as you stay in the center of Zion's camp, as it were, you have no cause to fear. So the fear itself is what keeps you far, far away from any line of questioning. I totally agree that fear is used as a tactic just as you described. But what happens, it seems to me, is a lot of times Mormons will, quite truthfully, deny they feel any fear--but that's because they stay far away from the lines they are told they are supposed to fear. It's still a fear-based tactic, but as JV says, they may not spend their time twitching in terror at the approach of non-Mormons or whatever.


In my case fear has influenced my reaction, or lack thereof. Fear of divorce, fear of "disappointing" parents who are in their twilight years, fear of loss of family associations, etc. If I could have cared less about those things and other similar things, I would have just walked away about four years ago. My path has been to gradually influence the people with whom I feel the most at stake to understand that my probable eventual "walking away" is not such a big deal. The church uses the combination carrot/stick of eternal families to influence my loved ones to fear my potential walking away. The church uses the notion that if children go astray, it is the parents fault to influence not only me but my parents. I don't want my parents to feel that they have failed with me. Nor do my parents want to feel like they have failed.

The eternal family is a big draw for many people, but it is a double edged sword within the church because you can only have an eternal family if you are obedient and worthy. I can shatter my wife's perception of her eternal life simply by calling a spade a spade and noting that the church's foundational truth claims are,... well, not true.


In my own experiences, fear most prominently affects parent-child relationships, and I am not immune from it.

Otherwise, I'd have to say that fear takes a back seat to guilt in terms of prevalence within the Church.


Excellent post. I think you're spot on with much/most of your analysis, and you've given me some things to think about.

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