UPDATE: I've recently written a book entitled Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control. The new website, at Recovering Agency contains all of these articles, some of them updated, plus new resources. This older site is not being maintained, but will remain online as an archive.
Loading the Language
A cultic group often uses its own complex vocabulary. Words carry with them entire packages of implications, emotions, metaphors, and even past experiences. Cults invent new words and phrases that carry with them much more complicated understandings, or they manipulate existing words to change their meanings subtly or dramatically.
Loaded language serves several purposes:
1. Relabels or redefines meanings
2. Shuts down critical thinking ability
3. Further isolates the group, making it difficult to communicate with outsiders
Concepts can be relabeled with emotionally charged words which carry preconceived notions. These can be used to make something seem automatically positive and impossible to argue against, or inherently negative -- impossible to argue for.
The Church often talks about "gifts". Sometimes these are talents and skills, but it also refers to types of blessings received. Being a member of the Church in and of itself is a "gift", so someone feeling unhappy about their experiences in the Church may find it difficult to consider the Church a source of their grief. After all, it's a gift!
"Dissent" merely means to "differ in opinion or feeling; disagree", or "to withhold assent or approval". Yet to Mormons, this is a harsh word, implying outright rebellion and hatred against God and the Church.
It's the "Word of Wisdom"... To go against it is automatically to be acting unwisely. The Prophet "loves you" and "cares about you" -- if you reject this, you reject love, which implies hate.
You have been given a "calling", from God. To refuse is to refuse God's will. It was "ordained", it is sacred, it was meant to be, it is fate. So you'd better accept it. Saying "no" is not an option.
Those who criticize the Church are "persecuting", which implies hatred and an enemy status, even when this is not so. The dictionary says persecution is to "oppress or harass with ill-treatment" or to "annoy persistent; bother". Yet Mormons consider all manner of criticism to be persecution, even if it is passive, such as writing a book, putting up a website, or organizing a support group.
Like the fictional "newspeak" in Orwell's 1984, our language is not only a communication tool, but also a thinking tool. Newspeak takes this concept to an extreme, where the authoritarian government sought to eliminate as many words from the language as possible while still allowing people to function in their jobs. If there was no word for "freedom" or "truth", no one could think about these things, much less fight for them. People would be imprisoned without any means of escape, or even understanding that there was anything to escape from.
This is of course an extreme example, but it shows how words shape our thinking. Loaded language changes meanings slightly, so to think about one thing is to think about all the things that our beliefs imply.
Some words and phrases carry with them the weight of judgment. It is impossible to use them without passing moral evaluation on a person or activity. People who are "righteous", "spiritual", or "returned missionary" are automatically good. Those who are "stiff-necked", "in-active/less-active", or "immodest" are automatically bad.
Members believe that God has given us free agency. God has designed his commandments to maximize our free agency. If we "rebel" (choose differently) against "God's commandments" (through the voice of his servants), we become captive. The ultimate freedom is through (total and blind) obedience to Church leaders. But that's ok, because the word "obey" has been cast in a positive light, too.
Mormons believe totalitarianism is evil, but through loaded language, they are tricked into accepting their own dictators as benevolent. As Orwell's dictators said, "Freedom is Slavery".
With all this talk of Nephites, endowments, wards, and garments, outsiders may have difficulty relating to Mormons. Likewise, Mormons will tend to better enjoy the company of other people who understand their unique language.
Here are a just a few more examples of loaded Mormon language:
To everyone else, "eternal life" means to live forever. To Mormons, it specifically means exalted life with Heavenly Father in the hearafter. This is the ultimate goal. Everyone else gets to live forever, too, but it's not as good. The implication is that non-exalted people have "non-eternal life". Since "eternal" still means forever to Mormons, this sort of implies the imperfect people aren't actually immortal. This is an excellent example of how loaded language works to confuse thinking. If you ask a Mormon if unrighteous people will still live forever, they will say yes. Is immortal life like heaven, even for the unrighteous? Yes. Yet Mormons are still terrified of missing the mark. It implies non-eternal life, and some scriptures back up this implications by explicitly stating to choose unrighteousness is to choose death.
"Immorality" is a Church euphemism for sexual impurity. Normally it means the act of being immoral, whatever the morals may be. In the outside world, an immoral act can involve lying, cheating, stealing, killing, and abusing, as well as various levels of sexual activity. The immorality of the act depends on the value system of the person you're talking to, and some value systems think most forms of sex are perfectly moral. In the Church this word has been specifically limited to sexual acts, limiting discussion on the morality of other actions.
"Perfection". To be perfect is to be like God, and is a commandment. Anything less and you "fall short" (failure). To be like God you have to obey every single one of the commandments without complaint. Since some are open-ended commandments of commission (feed the poor, do you genealogy), every Mormon is always falling short.
"Uplifting" is a term that refers to experiences, books, movies, and music support faith, happiness, and denial, but that are devoid of actual excitement and challenging ideas. Uplifting experiences include Church meetings and temple attendance, and sometimes the occasional family camping trip. Uplifting books include scriptures, Deseret publications, the Ensign/NewEra/Friend, The Work and the Glory, Storm Testament, Ann of Green Gables, some of the old classics, like Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte, and any self-help book as long as it is written by Steven Covey. Uplifting movies include anything from the ward library, and most anything rated G or PG, especially if it involves horses. Uplifting music is severely limited to classical, hymns, and the Janice Kapp Perry genre. Uplifting media is said to bring the Spirit into the home. All other media are considered the opposite, that they are "unclean", which may "desensitize" the mind and chase the Spirit away.
"Your body is a temple" contains a couple of loaded words. First, "temple" is loaded up as a beautiful, sacred, holy, white place. It is the House of the Lord, a dwelling place of the spirit. Anyone stepping foot into a Temple is sure to feel the undeniable power of the Holy Ghost, or, if they're lucky, see a vision! No impure thing is allowed in the temple. Now we apply that one word (with a the sea of concepts and images and emotions) to "your body". No unclean thing can enter there. It should be clean and sacred and pure all the time. The Holy Ghost belongs there all the time. The pressure and guilt this implies! If you don't feel the Spirit right this very minute... Well, it's not the temple's fault... it must something unclean you did or read or thought.
A "Court of Love" seems like a warm, caring place... and for some it is. Others have found harsh judgment, attacks of character, accusations without evidence, and intimidation.
Many speak of "tests" and "trials". A "trial of your faith" is something bad that happens to you through no apparent fault of your own. During these times, God is testing you to see if you continue to endure and choose the right. Don't worry, you'll "never be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear".
"Endure to the end" is something all Mormons must do. This implies that life is constant suffering and temptation. I always envisioned a torture rack, and that all I had to do was hold out till I finally died. In addition to suffering, it also implies a passive acceptance rather than something proactive. It seems to imply things are being done to you by outside forces, and the goal was to resist. It seemed the best response was to deaden emotions and awareness to defend against attacks. It never seemed to imply positive, active, conscious participation in life.
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