The object of this post is to outline what I see as a very large problem among believers in the LDS church. I have a couple of relatives that I know first hand have engaged in (or attempted to engage in) illegal and dishonest practices. Both of these relatives are staunch LDS and both have told me that they feel I have chosen the wrong path by denouncing belief in the LDS church. The really sad thing is that the wife of one these relatives even made a comment to me on Facebook that her husband said to her, regarding some statements that might indicate I had a hard time with some things about the church, "Which commandment was I not able to keep?" (The obvious implication being that I had a hard time, not with what the church taught or did, but with some commandment I had a hard time keeping). This question came from the person who actually asked me, about two years earlier, if I would be willing to help them break the law to save some money on vehicle registration fees in their state (since vehicle registration fees are cheaper in my state, he asked me if I would be willing to register his vehicle with my address while he kept the vehicle in his state so he could save on the high cost of registering his vehicle).
This is really bothering me right now. How can people who claim to be so devout actually be so willing to compromise in areas that, according to most law abiding, god-fearing people, are dishonest practices? I kind of understand the thinking, I guess. As I think back to the kind of person I was when I believed in the church, I found myself thinking along those same lines in many things. For some reason I was not able to make the connection that proclaiming to be honest in all my dealings with my fellow men in a temple recommend interview every 2 years meant that I was "actually" living that ideal. I'm really not sure how I did it, but I rationalized a lot of dishonest things in my business dealings (and life in general) even while firmly believing that I was doing well in being able to say I was on my way to the Celestial Kingdom. (Not that I was guilty of any "major" sin, of course, Joseph Smith and I could only be accused of levity, nothing more (◕‿-) The thing I also find interesting is, believing members of the church will read this and say that this double standard is really what led me out of the church and that the church can't be blamed for my hypocrisy. Of course, I don't think this is true, but what I think doesn't seem to matter to those who want to label me with contempt. When one realizes that these arguments are coming from people who have knowingly engaged in dishonest acts themselves, it becomes so ironic.
The problem with that thinking is that, after coming to a place of non-belief in what the church teaches, now is when I have been able to come to terms with this issue and be honest about it. I don't see how anything would have changed were I still a believing member of the church. Somehow I would have felt justified in thinking that it was OK to do things I knew were dishonest and still answer the recommend interview question about being honest in the affirmative...every 2 years like clockwork.
I know all the rhetoric that faithful LDS will cite in response to what I am saying here. They will say, oh, those are just a few examples of people doing things that are wrong and it surely doesn't reflect what the majority in the church do. Or they would just point out how screwed up I am and chalk it up to a demented individual (with demented relatives) drawing wild conclusions about most people in the church based on my screwed up morality and warped sense of right and wrong. Both of which could very well be true. However, I know that I value honesty and integrity more now than I did when I believed in the church and I really wonder why this is.
If I had to try and explain the source of this phenomenon I can only think of two possible explanations. 1. Maybe because people do so much stuff in (and for) the church, they feel like they are entitled to be able to do a few things wrong here and there. This doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but I think if people are suppressed in a lot of things, a natural tendency is to rebel occasionally. Feeling justified comes from just being so pent up with a need to satisfy the "natural man" from suppression for so long in so many things. I know that when I rationalized engaging in a behavior that I knew was wrong, I felt entitled because I told myself that I had done so much that was good and I felt I just needed to be able to "enjoy" something worldly. When it got to this point, I simply did not care about what the church taught me because I just had to act out. I felt that the consequences would be well offset by everything I was doing that I was told was good and righteous, so I just didn't worry about it so much.
2. The only other possible reason I can think of to explain why people act contrary to what the church teaches (while pronouncing they maintain strict belief in the church) is that they suspect deep down that the church engages in the very same behavior. The reality is that this IS the case. One example of this is Joseph Smith saying, "...What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers." (History of the Church, vol 6, p. 411) Joseph Smith made this statement preaching from the stand to the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo on Sunday May 26, 1844. At the time he had secretly taken at least 25 plural wives. Perhaps people know this hypocrisy exists in the church and know that it can be found throughout its history. When people realize this they then just feel justified in lying or engaging in dishonest acts themselves saying, "If the church does it, and past leaders have done it, then it is surely OK for me."
One thing I realize when I think back on the possible reasons for my justification of immoral behavior when I was a believer is that I was aware of teachings in the church that seemed to make punishment for wrongdoing relative. I knew that "eternal" punishment was explained in the D&C to not really mean "lasting forever" but that it is just a title meaning "of God" since God is eternal. I was also aware of Joseph Smith's attitude towards the laws of the land at his time and that he felt justified breaking the law if he believed that he was acting while directed by the mandate of a higher power. I was aware of the difficulty presented in the story of Nephi killing Laban in the Book of Mormon and how a moral dilemma was created by two conflicting commandments given by God that Nephi was expected to keep and yet had to choose one. (i.e. break the commandment to not kill or not fulfill the request of his righteous father to obtain the brass plates - as an aside, I wonder how heavy the brass plates were?)
One other possible reason I see for people engaging in dishonest and immoral acts is the simple fact that the church never stops talking about the things people are not supposed to do. The fact is general authorities in the church bring up pornography at least a few times a year at general conference time. Guess who leads the country in porn consumption?...Utah. The church says, don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal. What is the white collar, mortgage fraud capitol of the country?...Utah. Could it really be that LDS just do what they are told to do...and what they are told not to do? I don't know. As for my personal experience, I am certainly less enticed by porn than I used to be as a believing member of the church (when I was reminded that I shouldn't look at porn at nearly every boring meeting I sat through where I only had my imagination to entertain me...). I think it is just like if I tell you to not think of the color blue. What color are you thinking about right now? We think about the concept of what is presented and even if we are told to not do something, we have just thought about it to some degree or another and thinking about things eventually leads to action.
Again, I understand that my tendency here has been to grossly state a problem as a large one which may not be that large, really. I am just trying to work through what I see as a problem among some LDS that I realized I was guilty of myself. The other thing I am wondering about this idea is whether or not there is something inherent in the teachings of the church that make this sort of behavior inevitable. I wonder if the church is really the best vehicle for overcoming this tendency? These are questions I certainly do not have enough data to be able to answer qualitatively, but I do believe that for me (and, I think possibly, many others) maintaining belief in the church did not allow me to come to terms with this problem. It took a discovery of fallibility in the church and a realization that I am my own best prophet and spiritual authority to be able to recognize and deal with this tendency in myself. Being honest with oneself is a very important step in being able to weed out conflicting ideals in a belief structure and achieve total integrity. I am still not to a point where I feel I am 100% capable of this, but at least I am willing to acknowledge that and deal with it openly. I think this makes all the difference.