Monday, November 04, 2013

Communicating with Mormon Loved Ones: A Five Step Method

It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or 'How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.' That doesn't make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are - just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's not a conversation anymore; it's a pitch. And you're not a human being; you're a marketing rep” ~ From the movie, The Big Kahuna (1999).

Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still
~ Dale Carnegie

If you want to gather honey don’t kick over the beehive; a drop of honey catches more flies then a gallon and gall” ~ Abraham Lincoln.

I should begin with a word of caution ... 

Many former Mormons who speak out about why they reject Mormonism have lost their job, or if they ran a business they lost LDS customers which affected their business. Many marriages and relationships have been challenged or ruined because of Mormonism. I think it is important that the person understand the risks of voicing their opinions about Mormonism. It might be wise to select carefully those who you can trust to confide in about your doubts. It is probably wise to prepare to make new friends, business contacts, and customers who are not LDS if you plan to openly declare you are no longer a Mormon.

The following is some advice on communicating with a Mormon about why you are questioning the Mormon religion. Even if you have already concluded it is false, it is best to keep an open mind during your conversations. First, let me begin with how this blog post came to be.

I began my journey out of Mormonism with a chip on my shoulder. Since I was expecting to be rejected by Mormons who knew I rejected their religion, I projected my fears and insecurities outward and became very angry and aggressive in my speech with some Mormons. I also tried to debate with every Mormon I could because deep down I wanted to be proved wrong. I didn't like knowing what I did and I wanted someone to show me where my logic was in error. The more LDS members didn't want to discuss it the more agitated I became thinking they didn't care about me. I knew I needed to make a decision about Mormonism. So in order to wake them up to my dilemma I would fire off facts and details about the man-made origins of Mormonism in hopes of eliciting a desire from them to correct me where I might be wrong.

Sometimes I feared things and reacted preemptively. For example, since the LDS religion rejected me, labeling me an "apostate" and other derogatory names, then I would "weed out" those who weren't going to accept me -- because I didn't profess the correct articles of faith -- by very aggressively arguing about why I reject Mormonism with them nearly every time I saw them. The problem was that I was engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy, for by sometimes being rude and insensitive, arguing and ridiculing rather than listening, sharing, and caring, I was generating the negative responses I feared.

If you are reading this it is probably because you are interested in getting along with someone who doesn't share your views about Mormonism. Many former Mormons who have been “burned” by the LDS religion are often ready on the trigger to fire round after round of arguments and facts at their loved ones trying to convince them that Mormonism is man-made and harmful. I had to learn from experience that this is the wrong way to go about it. Instead, when it comes to family and friends (and acquaintances) your main goal should be to earn their trust and respect because only then will they be willing to hear you out.

After many conversations with Mormons I have learned that argument rarely works for it most often just arouses resentment. I also learned that throwing information at them is not good either. I learned the hard way that  Mormons are trained to avoid anti-Mormon literature (which is anything critical of Mormonism). This conditioning they receive causes them to be literally phobic of anything deemed “anti-Mormon,” thus if you spring facts on them they will experience an amygdalahijack and may associate you with those negative emotions for years to come. So below I have devised a simple step by step communication method, which starts with trying to understand the Mormon’s psychology.

This blog post thus grew out of trial and error when communicating with LDS members. What follows is what I believe to be the best course of action when communicating with LDS members about why you reject Mormonism.

Before you begin any conversation with an LDS member, take some time to understand the psychology of a Mormon:

• First, take some time to understand the amygdalahijack that Mormons often experience when they're confronted with evidence and data that calls into question their worldview. In short, this means that whenever we are faced with life threatening decisions, like whether or not to run or somehow confront the grizzly bear in front of us, the natural instinct and brain mechanism of “fight or flight” kicks in and takes over our nervous system. When a Mormon is confronted with a grizzly bear of facts disproving their dogma they will usually respond with a natural fight or flight response.

• Understand the concept of "cathexis": this is the act of a person attaching one’s ego onto another person, place, or thing. For example, a father might become so attached to his son’s performance at a baseball game that when his son strikes out, he will become very angry. Mormons tend to form a cathexis around LDS dogma.

• Realize that your loved one is experiencing Groupthink, i.e. constant social reinforcement/peer pressure and so try not to take it personally when they seem to not act like themselves but as a product of the "Mormon Machine."

• Take a moment to consider their personality type. A lot has been written on this subject, which you can read up on via Google. But for now consider whether they are highly rational or more emotional, assertive or passive, outgoing or more shy; are they more prone to anxiety, or are they easy to anger or slow to anger, etc. All of this can help you understand how and why they became so deeply involved in Mormonism and how best to communicate with them. Several books offer advice on how to deal with each personality type.

• Consider how much fear, guilt, and other emotions they are experiencing as a Mormon and be compassionate.

• Understand that a lot of the information you will share will cause severe cognitive dissonance and they will seek to avoid the anxiety this will cause through various methods of dissonance reduction and avoidance.

• Realize that some very intelligent people are Mormon which is best explained by a concept called mental compartmentalizing: this is where a person will ignore a thought or idea if it challenges their beliefs, by putting it on the metaphorical “shelf” in their mind; or deal with it using the non-rational part of the brain and appeal to emotions. For example, a person may use their frontal lobe (the rational part of the brain) and be skeptical when buying a car to make sure it does not have problems. Yet this same person may see another car they instantly like and start to compartmentalize all the problems with the car by ignoring their frontal lobe analysis and instead focusing on its pretty color becoming influenced by their emotions. The person will then place all the problems with the car on a shelf, in a hidden compartment of their mind, while focusing on its pretty color.

A Simple 5 Step Strategy for Approaching Communication with Mormons:

The following Five Step Method is based on the idea that it is better to have an open minded dialogue than come at the person with an “I’m right you’re wrong attitude.” Thus the frame of mind is one of questioning. Even if you've concluded Mormonism is false, you are coming to them with only your questions. You are giving them a chance to search the truth WITH you, rather than you coming to them and trying to PERSUADE them. This lowers the person’s guard and sets you up as team members rather than rivals. However, I am not suggesting deception; you need to be genuinely sincere about being open to letting the truth unfold in your discussions even if that means you go back to the Mormon Church. Hence you are not coming to them with, “I’ve left here’s why,” but “I have questions, will you explore them with me?”

Here is the simple method:

Step 1: Set a friendly mood and avoid argument
Step 2: Set the frame as teammates and engage in Socratic dialogue
Step 3: Set the frame as co-detectives and/or two jurors looking at both sides of the case in an objective and impartial manner
Step 4: Share your de-conversion story if/when steps 3-4 run stale
Step 5: Invite them to have six Post-Mormon discussions

The underlying intention of your interactions is to inspire critical thinking and taking an objective look at the evidence for and against Mormonism. This is the heart of your approach. For once you get them to change their epistemology (the study of how we know things) from emotion-driven rationalizing to reason-driven scientific methodology; the rest is downhill from there. In other words, once they are convinced that a rational science-based method of inquiry is superior to appeals to emotion, and have their own desire for truth and doing their own research, the rest will fall into place naturally. Meaning they will naturally discover the truths out there to discover once they have a healthy curiosity and open mindset. At that point your work is done, for they will voluntarily read the books, search the web, and critically think their way independently to the truth and freedom.

Step 1: Set a friendly mood and avoid argument

Start with the frame of mind presented in the book How to Win Friends & Influence Peopleby Dale Carnegie. Your attitude should be one of humility not pride, sharing ideas not winning a debate, and caring more about their feelings than you being right. You need to approach each communication in a friendly way. Your attitude should be, as Carnegie puts it (paraphrasing) “I could be wrong, I often am, so let’s examine the facts.” It is not about you, but the truth. Let the facts of reality speak for themselves. Here are just a few examples of the principles in Carnegie’s book and how they can be applied to conversations with a Mormon:

Begin in a friendly way: instead of starting a conversation with your agenda to disprove Mormonism. Begin with asking how they are doing and engage them in a conversation about themselves, their interests, and uplifting topics.

Be genuinely interested in them as a person: when they feel that you are curious about them and care about their well-being, and that you like them irregardless of their beliefs, they will be more receptive to you.

Don’t criticize and avoid argument: try to avoid criticizing the LDS church and its leaders which will only arouse resentment.

Give honest and sincere appreciation: frequently point out what you do appreciate about them and their values as a Mormon which you can both agree on.

Give them a fine reputation to live up to: instead of pointing out how silly their beliefs are or how erroneous their ideas are; point out how smart you think they are and how you understand to a degree why they chose Mormonism. Point out how you think they are very rational if this applies, doing so sincerely. Thus hopefully they will seek to be rational in your dialogue.

There are more principles in the book which I highly recommend implementing during your discussions. If you apply these principles you will be less likely to create adomosity or hurt feelings and will create greater receptivity to the truth.

Step 2: Set the frame as joint investigators, fellow team members, seeking the objective truth through the universal laws of logic and shareable evidence

Avoid any dialogue that leads to an argument and the two of you seeing each other as adversarial rivals. The goal is to work together as if you were two investigators working the same crime scene. That is the frame of mind you want the two of you to have at all times.

As Dale Carnegie teaches, don't tell people they're wrong or try to argue with them; which will only arouse resentment. Instead do what Socrates did. Ask a series of questions aimed at helping the person reach a logical conclusion on their own through their own critical thinking skills; that was induced by your thought provoking, non-threatening, and friendly questioning. For more information, see

I have found that it sometimes helps to follow a method/model during conversation so that when you are tempted to be obnoxious, rude, sarcastic, or ridicule; you can go back to the method. So I put together what I shall call The Friendly Socratic Method which implements both the Socratic Method and the friendly approach of Dale Carnegie; with some reflective listening I picked up from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits book and his habit Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. So the method goes like this:

Click on image to enlarge

You simply repeat this process over and over again during conversation. The content of the conversation should be around 70-80% non-Mormon related; unless of course they are being very receptive and comfortable with the Mormon questions. So it goes like this. You start a conversation with non-Mormon related subject matter, and then midway through you begin the cycle:

  • You ask a Socratic question
  • As they are talking you read their body language for signs of discomfort (e.g. are they agitated, threatened, or fearful? Or curious, engaged, analytical?)
  • Listen and reflect their thoughts and feelings back to them in your own words (paraphrasing); so they know you are truly listening and understand their perspective, which validates their feelings.
  • After the questions and their responses make sure you leave on a positive emotional high note by raising their self-esteem (their confidence and emotional well-being) with anything from a sincere compliment (e.g. about their intelligence, open mindedness, their character, etc); and/or show gratitude for their willingness to discuss the topic with you.
  • Release any tension that may have developed through anything from a friendly hug (if appropriate) to the use of humor, etc.
If you were successful they will leave the exchange feeling good not worse; and any tension will have been released by you listening and building their self-esteem and then quickly changing the subject and offering some levity; so any anxiety your questions may have caused don’t fester and transform into anger, defensiveness, and/or phobias.

Make sure you have these Socratic dialogues in private. Pick the proper time and place to be having a discussion about Mormonism. Sometimes the LDS person is not in the mood, or they are surrounded by LDS friends or family members who might gang up on you like a mob for even asking questions. Timing is everything and by choosing the right times and places to have a friendly discussion you avoid problems.

Avoid the urge to turn the dialogue into an argument. Although you may feel a strong urge to de-convert them in one day and convince them to see things exactly as you do. Realize that's unrealistic and instead of trying to change their mind all at once, just try to help them to want to understand the perspective of others, and think about things objectively. You goal is to get them thinking on their own so that once they start down the road of courageous and honest truth seeking they will find the truths of reality along the path on their own.

Arguing will likely only make matters worse for you, for it will stir up “contention” and set off an amygdala hijack in them; and the Mormon will likely interpret this as proof Mormonism is true and you are the enemy.

Remove from your psychology the need to de-convert them with the power of your arguments and persuasive skills. It is not your job to persuade them. Your goal is to spur within them a desire to investigate the true roots of Mormonism on their own voluntarily. All you can do is nudge them toward the process of learning for themselves. You cannot make them read history or examine the facts. They have to want to do that. Your goal is to generate that want. But it is ultimately up to them to develop their own curiosity and desire to know the facts beyond the white-washed sugar-coated propaganda the Mormon Church feeds its members.

Don't try and just shove facts down their throat; allow the Mormon to go at their own pace by asking them questions that ignite their own curiosity. Allow them room to form their own conclusions without you pressuring them. As the saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”

You are essentially seeking to move their epistemology (the study of how we know things) from subjective emotion to objective evidence through investigation and logical analysis. In step three you will examine the evidence, here in step two you’re simply reasoning together.

During the dialogue you might introduce how logic works and discuss fallacies. You can then apply a fallacy to a claim unrelated to Mormonism. Then later in the discussion bring up a Mormon issue or claim and ask if that sounds like a fallacy.

When/if you're feeling frustrated that they just won’t follow the logic toward the rational conclusion, try to accept where they’re at and realize we’re all at different stages in life and in regards to Mormonism. Remember that if you're a former Mormon, they are at a stage you used to be at. Maybe wherever they are at is the place they need to be at right now, either as a necessary stepping stone on their path or because that is where perhaps they were meant to be whole and content? Realizing we are all on a journey can help us have compassion and understanding for those with differing metaphysical opinions. Thus I think it should be the journey itself and not convictions that unite us.

Understand that their desire and ability to investigate the true roots of Mormonism is a process just as for you it was a process. By allowing them to go at their own pace, allowing your questions to marinate in their mind; you are allowing them to make their own decisions and think on their own which will eventually lead them to truth much faster than you trying to persuade them; which will likely only create resistance. That is the problem with arguments is that they usually become adversarial exchanges with each other’s ego involved. Feelings inevitably get hurt, and each party retreats to their secluded line drawn in the sand. To be most affective it is very important that your need to be right and score points take a backseat to your desire to make them feel validated/appreciated and listened to, respected, and understood. Your ego must recede and compassion proceed if you want to be effective. Your goals are to maintain mutual respect and build a bridge of understanding between your two points of view with maturity and respect.

The best form of persuasion in these matters is not your arguments anyway; but your love and respect and your display of high character. When you are a pillar of integrity and exemplify noble character it is more difficult to do what the Mormon Church teaches them to do; which is attack your character in various ways for doubting.

Use Inclusive Language

Try to avoid using divisive language like, "YOU guys believe this," instead try to be inclusive by saying something like, "when I was LDS ..." Try to use words like us, we, ours, etc.

Start with example X

I like to start with talking about an example in another organization that uses, for example, mind control tactics and/or distorts the truth, etc. Then when the LDS member agrees that those tactics are wrong, I will then later in conversation return to that example and ask them to ponder the similarities. For example, early in the conversation I might bring up how Hare Krishna's claim that it is through a subjective experience that you can know that their claims are true. If the LDS member agrees that such a method is faulty, later on in conversation I can bring up the Hare Krishna's when the LDS member starts appealing to their own subjective testimony; I can then ask them to explain how their subjective experience is different from the Hare Krishnas’; when they told me earlier the other was flawed. This is in no way manipulative, for all you are doing is encouraging them to be consistent and think logically. The LDS missionaries, the last time I saw them in action, do a similar thing all the time; for example, they might have an investigator read a scripture passage and then they'll ask them what they think it means, then they will teach an LDS doctrine that seems to accord with that scripture and what that investigator just said they think it means.

Keep in mind that having friendly Socratic dialogues while using Dale Carnegie’s principles can go on for months and years. The idea is you are slowly planting seeds of truth in their mind via your honest questions which will ideally sprout into them thinking critically on their own. This is a slow and patient process but the fruits of your cultivation are worth the wait.

If a person is thinking of joining the Mormon Church or is a new member you can ask them questions that get them to think of the seriousness of their commitment with these types of questions:

Note that your tone should be like the TV character Colombo. You are not being sarcastic or critical, you are just asking questions. Here are some sample questions.

Appeal to contradictory testimonies: “You know I heard that there are Mormon factions in Missouri, where they have their own testimony that Utah Mormonism is not true. I don’t understand this. How can you disprove their subjective revelation? Because if you can’t claim they don’t have a testimony based on subjective feelings/experiences, how can your testimony be infallible?”

Appeal to logic: “I was curious, why do you have to learn secret handshakes in the temple to present to the angels that stand guard at the entrance of heaven? I mean if the handshakes are already on the internet couldn’t anyone learn them? I am confused by that, can you explain that to me.”

Appeal to the person’s vanity: “Wow, I am really impressed with your commitment to Mormonism. To think that you are brave enough to be willing to wear those long john LDS underwear night and day for the rest of your life. That takes a lot of dedication; to say no more tank tops or certain dresses that expose the arms or legs; to change how you dress, that takes dedication. How did you come to that decision?”  

Appeal to their freedom of food choices: “To think that just last year you were drinking (fill in the blank: coffee, tea) and now you have sworn it off because of a feeling you got. That’s fascinating. Does it ever feel restrictive to be an adult and being told what you can and can’t drink in order to be a member in good standing and to be able to go to the temple and get into heaven?”

Step 3: Introduce content into your discussions as fair and objective jurors on the same team examining both sides

After you have exhausted the Socratic dialogue approach it may be time to introduce some research material to enhance their learning of the truth. Be very careful here though, for as I mention above, Mormons are trained to avoid anti-Mormon literature which they are often literally phobic of; thus if you spring it on them they will likely experience an amygdala hijack and may associate you with those negative emotions for years to come. It is important that they are willing to learn both sides before sharing information.

The best way to introduce content is to stay on the frame of you two as joint investigators on the same team. To accomplish this I'd first recommend sitting down with them to watch the the following internet video created by Mormon apologists; this should relieve all fears for the video was produced by Mormons. What I like about the video is that it portrays LDS members dealing with a doubting member in a respectful manner. In the video the Mormon parent even willingly investigates both sides with his son. I think this video can create compassion and open mindedness in LDS members while watching it; for it gives them what Dale Carnigie would call "a fine reputation to live up to." The video is called Alone by (available on YouTube). The video description reads, "Feeling alone, Justin shares with his father and wife his concerns about his church and comes to a new understanding of his faith and those he loves."

After watching the video with them and asking what they thought of it and discussing the themes of the video. At this point I would invite them to also look at both sides with you so that they can understand where you are coming from.

You can mention how in a court of law jurors are presented with both sides. To be accepted a juror must show that they can be fair and impartial. You can ask them if they would be willing to be a juror with you and examine both sides. You can even mention to them that this what LDS missionaries do, that is they ask investigators to read a part of the Book of Mormon and then return to discuss what they read.

They can start by recommending a video the two of you can watch together that is pro-Mormon. Like a video by a Mormon apologist and then investigate the contents together. Then you can suggest watching a video by a critic. I use to recommend asking the LDS member to listen/watch a certain video produced by John Dehlin. This video is completely pro-Mormon while also explaining why many people leave the LDS Church or go inactive; the link to that video is here. However, the video is flawed in that the ending is meant to help LDS members understand their former Mormon loved ones better so that they can better help them come back to the Mormon Church. I have since seen a better video called "Top 10 Mormon Problems Explained" by MormonHistoryBuff, linked here. Another video that does a great job of presenting the former Mormon view in a slow and non-confrontational process is the YouTube video series Ask Reality by Chris, here. Rather than listing ten reasons why Mormonism is false, Chris explains how learning that other religions do what Mormonism does, he was able to see the errors. I’d recommend the Ask Reality series be watched first, followed up by the Top 10 Mormon Problems Explained.

I next recommend the following two books that are critical of Mormon claims yet written with a friendly tone:

An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins by Grant Palmer

Note: On I saw this book listed in the used and new book section for hundreds of dollars, which is insane. The book is only worth $5 to $10. Don’t pay more than that. Last I checked it was available for purchase at a reasonable price at as well. 

I selected these two books because they are very comprehensive in nature and have a very friendly tone. Thus they cannot be accused of being “anti-Mormon” books. In fact, Palmer’s book was sold by Deseret for a time. Now there are many other books but I think these are the best introductory books that are friendly in tone. 

Step 4: When all else fails, or the time is right, share your story

After your Socratic dialogues have gone on enough and you've introduced them to a book and video, you can later write them something along the lines of, “I have greatly enjoyed our open and honest conversations. I have felt greater compassion for you and your point of view. Our joint studies as objective jurors in search of the objective truth has been very rewarding and I appreciate your team spirit. I have continued my own studies after you seem to have lost interest in investigating things further. Here are some things that I have learned ….” In the letter you can move to step five and invite them to have further discussions or you can choose to do so in person.

Step 5: invite them to have six discussions

After steps 1-4 are completed, I recommend moving on to having Six Post-Mormon Discussions. There are risks with this approach however. For once you get them to commit their fellow Mormons will see this as an attack and it is likely they will withdraw before you get through all the planned discussions. It also puts them on the defensive a bit due to the formal nature of the meetings. They have to be very courageous and open minded to do this. They also have to really trust and respect you to be willing to do this. The person has to decide what they think is the best way to proceed.

What if they refuse to even have a Socratic dialogue; refuse to read or watch anything; and ignore or disregard my letter and refuse to have the six discussions? What if they have no interest in trying to understand my perspective? What if they flat out refuse to read or listen to you and do not want to hear you out?

Well, be glad you got that out of the way! Be thankful you did not waste hours, days, months, or years trying to convince someone to understand you and learn the facts, when they simply DO NOT want to! I spent years trying to get a Mormon I was close to, to think critically and investigate Mormonism objectively, and one day I just asked them, “Do you want to understand my perspective? Would you even want to know the truth if that meant making you uncomfortable?” They simply said “no,” and explained in so many words that it was more important to them to feel good and feel secure with their current worldview than learn anything that would make them uncomfortable. Here I was bending over backwards trying to have conversations with someone who was not open minded and simply did not want to know the truth if it would make them uncomfortable. When they finally said what they really felt I felt relief. I had wrongly assumed that they were like me, where truth was more important to me than my comfort zone. I then knew where they stood; I didn't understand it because for me the truth is worth some discomfort, but I accepted their position.

Why confront them with your new perspective anyway? As long as they are not trying to convert your children behind your back without your consent and aren't slandering you why bother confronting them at all?

Also, understand they're not you. Are you trying to create a clone of yourself? Try to accept that they might not think and feel the same way you do. If you had their exact genes, upbringing, neurochemistry, personality type, social pressures, and personal experiences you’d probably think and believe and behave the same way they do (did); since you’d essentially be them and would have had their experiences. Think about that.

Allow them time to come around on their own and perhaps in time they might seek to investigate Mormonism objectively; and discover the truths waiting for them to discover at the touch of a computer keypad or just a book away. At the same time accept that they may never try to fully understand where you are coming from nor seek the truth for personal reasons (e.g. fear, phobias, or feeling secure where they're at, etc.) that has nothing to do with you, and that time will also help you to accept that.

Seek professional help if needed:

If leaving Mormonism or going inactive is affecting your self-esteem and/or causing friction in your marriage or relationships consider seeing a non-Mormon counselor either alone or together that can be neutral.

For more advice, see the video online titled, The Strategic Interaction Approach by Steven Alan Hassan. Below is a summary of the lecture by Hassan:

• Do not make your goal getting them to leave the religion. Make them truly feel that your goal is to empower them to think for themselves and thrive as an individual.

• Treat them with respect and build rapport and trust.

• Use other fanatical-religions and cults as examples. Do not directly attack their religious beliefs. Instead, critique a religious idea they have indirectly by bringing up another religion and hopefully they will see the connection that their religion does the same thing.

• Gather information about other cults and share that information.

• I also recommend Daniel J. Simonsbasketball video. Tell the Mormon “When viewing the video, try to count the total number of times that the people wearing white pass the basketball. Do not count the passes made by the people wearing black.” After they are done ask how many passes they counted? Then have them watch the video again without counting and see if they spot the person in the guerrilla outfit. Point out that this is how so many Mormons are unable to see what is often before their eyes.

• Plant seeds of curiosity by asking questions and pausing for them to think about the question, e.g. “so did you ever find out why your friend left the church?” Then pause for a response.

• Ask what would it take to convince them the religion was not what it claims to be? Then use that information to reveal the truth to them.

A Current Change of Heart and Mind about Mormonism

I am writing to let my readers know that I will most likely, very soon, be dismantling this blog and taking it offline. So I felt like infor...