This explains a lot

More on this later. And none of this should be ascribed to any particular religion, because this kind of extremism is potentially part and parcel of any religion. But this is the kind of thing that scares the crap out of me and (probably) my fellow agnostics. Check it out.

I’m reading Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, a book about the admittedly spooky side of the Mormon faith. It makes a careful distinction between ordinary Mormons and the fundamentalist sort, and the distinction should be remembered. I knew Mormons at the University of Wyoming, and they were no more remarkable than the Catholics I met ten years later at the temp assignment I got in St. Paul, Minnesota.

But this is what many agnostics find terrifying about any religious faith, no matter how close or how far or how likely in terms of their acceptance. Well, what this agnostic fears, anyway. I’m so cute when I get all grand about my pronouncements, which may or may not apply to anyone living. But still! This scares the crap out of me!

Okay, the quote in question, which applies to two Mormons who murdered their brother’s wife and 15-month-old daughter for reasons of faith:

“I’ve always been interested in God and the Kingdom of God,” [Dan Lafferty] says. “It’s been the center of my focus since I was a young child.” And he is certain God intended for him to kill Brenda [age 25] and Erica Lafferty [age 15 months]: “It was like someone had taken me by the hand that day and led me comfortably through everything that happened. Ron [Lafferty’s brother] had received a revelation from God that these lives were to be taken. I was the one who was supposed to do it. And if God wants something to be done, it wil be done. You don’t want to offend Him by refusing to do His work.”


There’s more here, that has nothing to do with Mormonism and everything to do with religion everywhere. Why does a force that propels some toward good then propel them toward total and utter evil?

This scares the crap out of me, as someone who stands mostly apart from the religious impulse whether it’s benign or malignant. What happens that makes the difference? What differentiates the nut from the simply devout? How can anyone who isn’t clear on religion – but embraces religion – be sure that he or she isn’t also embracing insanity without realizing it? I’m not saying it’s a given. I’m saying that the prospect freaks me out.


8 Responses to “This explains a lot”

  1. 1 dean November 27, 2007 at 11:03 pm


    The difference between “nut” and “devout” is that one “thinks” it’s God talking when it’s really Satan, and the other “knows” to test what he thinks he hears against the written word of God.

    1 John 4:1
    Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.

    You’re smart enough to tell the difference. If you’re not sure, ask God to show you and then read the bible to confirm it.

  2. 2 hdolezalek November 27, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    Thanks for commenting, Dean. I see what you’re saying, but to me, your suggestion only works so well. The fact is that people do plenty of nutty things after they’ve heard from God and confirmed it in the Bible. How many years did otherwise perfectly good Christians justify slavery by checking the Bible? How often have we heard terrorists justify their attacks on civilians as though Islam demanded it? To the nonreligious eye, plenty of people have done appalling things when they sincerely believed that God approved of them, and that makes religion in general (since it doesn’t seem to be confined to any one religion!) a bit scary.

  3. 3 Ed November 28, 2007 at 2:19 am

    You’re saying, “isn’t religion scary?” A more appropriate question would be, “are people less scary without religion?” Let’s face it: some people are just scary no matter what. People justify all sorts of terrible things with religion, as they do with other things. That really isn’t the fault of religion, unless it has to be fool-proof to be true.

    According to the Bible, the very first murder occurred basically for religious motives. The underlying reasons were probably hatred and jealousy. Those to forces work pretty well both inside of and outside of religion, it seems to me.

    If I kill someone, enslave people, or hate a whole group of folks, I deserve the contempt of others. If I want allies, I can get a few by identifying myself as part of a tightly knit group.

  4. 4 dean November 30, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    The world is full of nut cases, who will use any excuse they can to justify their actions. But the bible doesn’t teach that you should murder people or justify slavery. Yes, you can find murder and slavery in the bible, but you have to read the whole thing to understand that it doesn’t teach people to do those things.

    Islam doesn’t go by the Christian Bible, so I can’t comment on “terrorists justify their attacks on civilians” but that is not what the Christian Bible teaches.

    Jesus tells Christians “Do not judge, or you will be the one judged.” – Matt. 7:1. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. – James 2:13. If you criticize and judge others, then you think you are the judge rather than God. Our job is to obey the law, not to decide how it applies to others. – James 4:11

    Before you let someone tell you what one sentence in the bible means you have to look at who wrote it, what else was happening, when it was written, where it was, and why it was written. For there are many false prophets in the world.

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