I read this the other day and was blown away by it. In his presentation to the FAIRMormon Convention, Patrick Mason reaches out to the disaffected, not just in a cliched “we love you and would love to see you at church” kind of way, but really, truly reaches out, recognizing genuine problems and flaws with church leadership, acknowledging the failures of the church culture to respond to legitimate grievances, and firmly agreeing that serious changes need to occur.
But the attitude of those he’s reaching out to reminds me of a similar dynamic in the villain of Chris Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Now, Bane in this scene is being disingenuous. He doesn’t believe in his own message. He knows the speech he’s delivering is not worthy of the revolution he inspires with it, but he does so anyway for ulterior reasons. He’s serving as a rabble-rouser, one who wants to stir up chaos and anarchy and hatred in the city so that when his terrorist organization ultimately nukes it, it will have been well and truly deserved.
Lucifer is very much like Bane in this situation. To parallel (and I mean this all figuratively), Satan loudly recites Jim Gordon’s speech / the famed “CES letter,” (a document consisting of quite a few questions an ex-Mormon infamously wrote up in a public letter that he believed poked serious holes in Mormon theology), both to the prisoners of Gotham and all those who are frustrated with the system as it is. Hearing that they are victims of a rigged or dishonest system, they, instead of trying to reform Gotham/church culture, instead of trying to build bridges where once were walls, they decide to tear the city/institution to pieces.
Bane also has a likeness in today’s political world that is all too relevant.
Bane is Donald Trump. Just as Bane read Gordon’s speech to the prisoners of Blackgate and the allegedly oppressed citizens of Gotham, so does Trump recite the failures of the so-called political establishment to his followers, the alleged silencing of voices of middle America. The people heed his voice and get angry, even when their misery is a delusion and their lives are in reality pretty darn good, especially compared to the rest of the world. So they heed his call to revolution and decide, instead of reforming the system, to burn it all down by electing Trump.
Anyway, the point is, instead of outreach, reformation, progress, and building up of the kingdom (a constant effort, by the way), the prime philosophy of the evangelical ex-Mormons is, let’s burn it all to the ground, because if one apple is rotten, the whole tree must be.
The sad part is, this perspective isn’t entirely unearned. In the address linked above, Patrick Mason writes that the church has some significant culpability in this attitude. This whole section—let alone the whole thing—is worth reading. And it can go a long way toward better understanding why our friends and family members are indeed leaving the church.
Part of our baptismal covenant to “mourn with those who mourn” is to try to understand, empathetically and charitably, what those with sincere doubts and questions are going through. Most people who become disaffected from the church—many of whom are returned missionaries, endowed in the temple, and have served faithfully in major callings—fall into one of two very broad and overlapping categories: what Richard Bushman refers to those who feel either “switched off” or “squeezed out.”
The switched-off group includes those who encounter troubling information online or somewhere else, usually regarding our history or doctrine. This new knowledge doesn’t square with what they had previously learned in all their years in the church—sometimes by way of direct contradiction, but usually by revealing parts of the story that we don’t typically share in our three-hour block on Sunday. There is a standard list of problematic subjects, most of which are now discussed at some length in the church’s excellent Gospel Topics essays on lds.org, and which for a half century have been the subject of intelligent analysis in print sources like Dialogue, the Journal of Mormon History, and numerous academic books. But most people are not consulting the peer-reviewed scholarship, and far too many church members are still unaware that the Gospel Topics essays even exist. In recent years many thousands have found their way to the previously mentioned “Letter to a CES Director,” a slick but in my opinion intellectually amateurish document that has midwifed countless people out of the church. Unfortunately, for many who land there, the “Letter” is the culmination of their quest for knowledge rather than being just one data point among many.
In any case, once they discover these new facts and realize they are not just the inventions of malicious anti-Mormon propaganda, many people start to wonder what else they haven’t been told. They begin to see duplicity rather than sincerity in the church’s presentation of its doctrine and history. Skepticism and doubt begin to overcome trust and faith. One of the ironies we haven’t fully appreciated in our discussions of doubt is that to some degree our church culture is responsible for many people’s reactions to troubling information. Whether consciously or not, they are simply applying what they learned in well-intentioned but ultimately damaging Primary and youth lessons, such as when the teacher offers the class a bowl of ice cream, then dumps a small amount of dirt on it and asks if anyone wants it now. Of course they say no, and the teacher points out that this is what just a little bit of sin does—it ruins everything. So those who see a little bit of dirt in church history are acting in ways that seem entirely commensurate with what they have been taught their whole lives—God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, so we turn away from sin and touch not the unclean thing. Unable to manage the cognitive dissonance, these people’s relationship to the church becomes tenuous, and often breaks. Many feel that they cannot participate with integrity in church meetings where certain details are either neglected, covered up, or denied. In short, they have become switched off. Some of these people not only leave the church, but also abandon Christianity and even theism, since God, Jesus, and Mormonism had always come as a package deal in their minds.