Inhuman Swill : Religion
            

Tarring and feathering of Joseph Smith
The term "anti-Mormon" is tossed around too lightly.

A few months back, I linked to a video in which Lewis Black read an angry rant submitted by an 18-year-old Mormon apostate named Trevor Sepulvida. A week after the video appeared online, Jana Riess of Religion News Service casually called it "anti-Mormon."

One of my old mission companions emailed me recently to share his impressions of The Accidental Terrorist, which he wanted to read because I wrote about our time serving together. He generally enjoyed the book and had only minor quibbles with what I'd written about him. But, he told me, he skipped the chapters about LDS Church history because they were "anti-Mormon."

My own sister is one of many church members I've heard call the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon "anti-Mormon," sight unseen.

Full entry
            

The Acolyte by Nancy Hightower
On Friday, January 29, I'm very excited to be reading with the amazing writer, poet, and critic Nancy Hightower at Bluestockings on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Admission is free! Please come out and join us, bring your friends, buy some books, get them signed, and tag along with us afterward for libations nearby! All the details are below.


REBEL PILGRIMAGES
A Reading with William Shunn & Nancy Hightower

Full entry
            

lds-acknowledgment.jpg
On November 10 (the same day The Accidental Terrorist was released), I mailed my resignation letter to the LDS Church via USPS Priority Express with delivery confirmation.

You see, unlike in many Christian churches, having your name and records removed from the rolls of Mormonism is not as simple as refraining from church attendance. Mormons are sticklers for records, and unless you do something drastic, they continue to count you as a member whether you want to be counted or not. If you move, your church records will often follow you, whether you want them to or not, and the leaders in your new city will send people out to your house to make sure you get involved in the local congregation. I've heard from former members whose repeated requests to be left alone were completely ignored, to the point where it could be called harassment.

I had not attended a Mormon church in nearly twenty years, and my address had changed eight times, but on May 29, 2014, I nonetheless received an email out of the blue from the local Mormon ward in Astoria, Queens, asking for volunteers to help out with a weekend service project. I still don't know how they knew where I lived, never mind what my email address was.

The point is, the LDS Church (both as an institution and as individual members) is terrible at respecting the boundaries of people who would prefer to be left alone. Because of this, it took at least one lawsuit to establish that people in the United States have the right to easily resign from the church and thereafter be left alone. That's how it should work in theory, anyway. In practice things are often messier.

Full entry
            

Wired.com's Geek's Guide to the Galaxy Podcast
Though it doesn't officially come out until tomorrow, my interview with the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast is now live and available through iTunes and elsewhere.

I really enjoyed doing this interview. Host David Barr Kirtley asked great questions, and we chatted not just about the writing of The Accidental Terrorist, but also how charismatic religious leaders manage to get away with so much and why there are so many Mormon science fiction writers.

Dave does a heroic job with this podcast in general, and if you're not listening to it regularly, you should. In fact, you should listen to a few of the many great past episodes and then help support the show.

Listen below now!

Full entry
            

After years of work, The Accidental Terrorist, my memoir of Mormon missionary life, is out today! And what better way to celebrate than to mail a letter that, honestly, is years if not decades overdue...


10 November 2015

Member Records Division, LDS Church
50 E North Temple Rm 1372
Salt Lake City, UT 84150-5310

Full entry
            

I've been playing around quite a bit with the new Vine app, which lets you post six-second looping videos to your Twitter stream or other social media service. You can create animations or employ other goofy effects, but everything must be shot in order. No after-the-fact editing is possible.

Something else that doesn't seem to be possible, as many disgruntled users are discovering, is reuploading a Vine that fails to upload in the first place. If your upload fails, it looks like you're shit out of luck. I found this out on Saturday morning when a Vine I'd been planning in my head for days failed to upload. If I could have taken the Vine app out of my iPhone and smashed the code on the sidewalk, that's just what I would have done.

Rather than trying to reshoot my video, though, I found a workaround. Vine does save your little square video to your phone, and from there it can of course be uploaded to other video-sharing services. YouTube doesn't seem to allow embedded videos to loop, but Vimeo does, so that's where my lost Vine now lives:

Full entry
            

To follow up on my post from Friday, the latest issue of Rolling Stone features an article by Mikal Gilmore called "Mitt Romney and the Ghosts of Mormon History." It provides an excellent overview of how the Mormon Church has drifted away and distanced itself from its founding philosophical ideals, and how Romney has done the same with his own family's legacy. Here's a great passage:

When Romney veers from liberal to conservative to moderate stands, what he makes plain is that the world he is in, but not truly part of, is the political world. The shifting is a sleight of hand, like Joseph Smith's magic, a means to an end. That end is higher attainment in the big payoff, the eternal world. As a result, expecting Romney to be accountable to a secular morality is to misunderstand him. That's part of the Mormon hubris, and it's what grants him the right to withhold specifics about both his political vision and his deeper beliefs. But if you hold yourself apart from the world, how can you understand those who do not? And how can they ever understand you?
Gilmore was born into a troubled Mormon famly, and his grasp of the church's history is incisive. I'll link to the article if it ever appears online, which I hope it will in the next couple of weeks.

Mikal Gilmore also wrote the excellent memoir Shot in the Heart, about his relationship with his brother Gary, the executed murderer, and their relationship with the church and its murky doctrine of blood atonement. Dark, dark, dark, but highly recommended.

Full entry
            

romney-cross.jpg
Referring to his fluid political positions, a number of commentators of late have been making statements to the effect that the only thing Mitt Romney seems to believe in is that he should be president. That got me thinking about how such a belief might have arisen, and how it might explain all the shifty flip-flopping we've seen over the course of the presidential campaign—and, in fact, the whole of Romney's political career.

Mormons believe that God has an individual plan for every one of us. This is not to say that they believe in predestination, an idea that would play havoc with their crucial belief in free will. Mormons instead believe in the doctrine of foreordination, in which God has specific tasks in mind for each of us to accomplish in this life, but with the actual accomplishment of them being dependent upon our own faith and diligence.

Another thing Mormons believe in is personal revelation. This means that if we have a problem or a question or a goal, we can turn to God in prayer after sincere consideration and ask for direction. God, we are told, will answer either by causing a confusion to come upon us that makes us forget the thing that is wrong or by affirming through a burning in the bosom that the thing is right. (See Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-9.) No good Latter-day Saint should undertake any major pursuit without having gone through this process of spiritual confirmation.

But this is a tricky doctrine. When I was growing up, I myself was able to convince myself that God approved of many different courses of action that probably weren't so good for me, simply by praying about them persistently and feverishly enough. And this is where Romney's belief that he should be president comes in. I have no doubt that, being a faithful Mormon and in fact a Mormon leader, he prayed long and hard about whether or not to pursue this office. The fact that he threw his hat so firmly into the ring is proof that he received his spiritual confirmation.

Full entry
            

mitt-romney.jpg
As the Republican National Convention gets into full swing today, one of the topics that probably won't be talked about very much is Mitt Romney's religion. It's odd that this has become such a non-issue during the campaign, given that a) Romney is the first Mormon ever to receive a major-party presidential nomination, and b) the Mormon Church is the fourth largest church in America.

Wait, what? The fourth largest?

Yes, I too was startled by that statistic, which I've been hearing time and again from various outlets—for instance, in an "On the Media" story from late last year about the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign. I was catching up on that episode via podcast when this statement from LDS Internet and Advertising Senior Manager Ron Wilson caught my ear:

"Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest church, fifty percent of the population didn't really know who we were."
The fourth largest church. I was raised Mormon, which means I was raised with the Mormon inferiority complex. Somehow that assertion didn't strike me as quite right. It sounded like a small man reporting his height in inches, not feet. I decided to do some digging.
Full entry
            

book_of_mormon_poster.jpg
It used to be that when people would find out I'm a former Mormon, they'd ask me whether or not I watch Big Love and how closely it matches my experience of growing up in Utah. (Answers: "Yes" and "Not much.") Over the past year, though, that has changed. Now they ask whether or not I've seen The Book of Mormon.

The answer to that is yes. In fact, as soon as the Broadway production was announced, Laura and I started making plans to visit New York and see it. With my background, how could we not? We put together a group of friends that included my agent and got tickets for April 9th, about two weeks after the show's official opening. I bought our tickets early enough that it wasn't hard to get seats for a group of eight on our preferred date. But by the time we actually saw it, the hype had revved up to such a wild extent that people were asking us how on earth we'd managed to score tickets.

The Book of Mormon—from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez—was the most celebrated new musical of the 2011 Broadway season, and it's easy to see why. It has everything an audience in search of some dangerous New York City titillation could ask for—dirty words, blasphemy, violence, Mormons, sexual innuendo, frequently all crammed together into catchy production numbers—all consumable from the relative safety of a plush theater seat. It's been a giant hit with crowds and critics alike, landing nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical), five Drama Desk Awards (including Outstanding Musical), and who knows how many best-stuff-of-the-year lists. It kicks off a national tour this August, and a Chicago production will take up residence in the Bank of America Theatre this December. People are falling all over themselves to tell you how good it is.

Is it really that good? I don't think so. Did I enjoy it? Yes, to an extent. Was it funny? Yes, to an extent. Was it anything like my experience as a missionary? Yes—but to a very small, almost irrelevant extent.

Full entry
The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

About This Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Religion category.

Relatives is the previous category.

Remembrances is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Archives