Essay: Man’s Greatest Gift is the Ability to Think

Note from Nancy:

John R. Llewellyn, author of Polygamy’s Rape of Rachael Strong and several other books, was a polygamist at one time.  He came out of polygamy and has contributed so very much knowledge to the world.  He is not only a writer and advocate but a wonderful contributor to the Stop Polygamy in Canada campaign.

Man’s Greatest Gift is the Ability to Think

An iconoclasm of contradicting religious beliefs and the practice of Mormon polygamy

By John R. Llewellyn

Copyright February 2009

You don’t have to be a lawyer, college graduate, politician or religious leader to form an opinion or make use of common sense.  Distorting common sense, which is sound thinking, is what some lawyers, religious moguls, politicians and intellectuals are good at, and this adeptness at twisting and renovating established rational beliefs and biological instincts is most evident in matters of religion.

If there is a God –as portrayed by the Bible – what He gave the human species is not religion but a developed brain from which emanates a mind, the phenomenon of consciousness, and the ability to think.  From a secular point of view, because of the multiple diverse concepts of God and the contradictions found in the Bible, it is hard to conceive of the Bible as being “spiritually pure.” Therefore it can be argued that the only logical gift from God is the ability to think, assuming there is a God.

The thumb and brain are our most valuable biological assets.  The brain evolved into a thinking machine and from it emanated invisible, formless thoughts that took form in the shape of artifacts, progressing from stone tools to computers and supersonic airplanes.  Thinking results in concepts, ideas, notions and feelings, or states of mind.  These thoughts and sensations are expressed by language, artifacts and acts.  One such thought and feeling, which seems to be ubiquitous, is the notion that there exists a force or power greater than ourselves.  This phenomenon is a feeling because of the emotional sensations that often accompany the thoughts.

Thoughts of a greater power have been labeled by neurologists as “spirituality.”  Scientific experiments have shown that “spirituality” is a tendency to believe in an invisible, formless power and is not an endorsement of a particular religious belief or God.  Neurologists have also been able to artificially stimulate the brain causing mystical experiences theologians have called revelation or spiritual enlightenment.  (See Did Man Create God?  Is Your Spiritual Brain at Peace with Your Thinking Brain? By David E. Cummings, M.D.)

With that preface in mind, the God of the Bible can only be conceived as an idea or thought.  Theologians speak of the biblical God as if He were a reality and an entity separate from human consciousness.  In spite of the historical evolution of God, the biblical theologians would have us believe that the God of the Bible is the one and only God that we should be indebted too.  And chief among the thoughts that emanate from a biblical God is the notion that God has appointed popes, prophets, priests, oracles and mullahs to instruct us as to how we should grovel.  The problem is that none of these self appointed theologians and oracles can agree on how God should be revered and experienced.

The gross diversity of thought concerning the biblical god is brought to bear by Karen Armstrong’s, A History of God. Her book accentuates the diversity of thought in each of the great religions emanating from the Bible – Judaism, Christianity and Islam; and her research supports the assertion that god is just an idea.  In Islam as well as Judaism and Christianity there is a potpourri of ideas of how god should be valued and experienced which explains the many sects in each religion.  With such diversity rational thinkers can’t help but form the opinion that God is a creation of man used to manipulate the people.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution reflects the brilliance of its founders.  It is the Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech that is what is really sacrosanct, not belief in a biblical god.  The Constitution is very careful not to dictate how we should believe but is designed to allow us to think and express our opinions.  That is why we have “separation of church and state.” We are forbidden to have a state imposed religion or state tolerated belief because history has shown that such beliefs are usually oppressive, harmful and are used to persecute non believers.

It cannot be overemphasized that Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech grants the people of the United States the right to “think.” However, these freedoms do not necessarily grant the right to commit a capricious act one might label religious.  For example, a middle-age man cannot claim the religious right to sexually force himself on a fifteen-year-old girl because of an alleged religious scripture. Of course I am referring to Warren Jeffs and his Mormon fundamentalist church (FLDS).  If it is unconstitutional for him to force himself upon a fifteen year-old girl, it should be equally unconstitutional to force himself on a twenty-five year old woman.  Force in this instance means the use of physical or mental coercion against a female’s will, even if the coercion is alleged to be a commandment from God.  To say that it is the religious duty of a female to give her husband sex and he has the right to obtain sex against her will, is in essence saying that his God is a rapist.  There is no way it can be argued that our Founding Fathers intended for such despicable acts to be protected under the First Amendment.  Yet, this is what Mormon fundamentalists believe is their religious right – that is, to use Mormon scripture that threatens to damn or destroy women if they will not become plural wives.  This religious dogma runs counter to the Constitutional provision that a woman should have the right to decide whose genes shall mingle with her own in giving birth to her offspring.

Freedom of Religion means the right to worship and worship is restricted to honor, reverence and expression and does not include just any act labeled religious expression.  If a religious expression or act is benign it is condoned and even protected.  But basically, religious freedom refers to how we can think and express our beliefs.  For example the Eucharist and Sacrament are expressions that are protected.  The Mormon Temple endowment is an act that does not coerce but is framed around the acquisition of “knowledge.” Men may dress in flashy robes, wear odd shaped hats and drop to their knees and bump their forehead on the ground.  These are forms of religious expression that apparently enhances their devotion and knowledge of God. But if a religious act results in oppression, or in any way harms a devotee emotionally or physically, or harms a third party, it should not be protected by the First Amendment.

There is an Islamic belief among radical Muslims that Allah wants them to kill non believers (infidels).  That is not an act protected by the First Amendment.  Mormon fundamentalist still revere the so called religious belief of “Blood Atonement,” which means killing an apostate or non believer.  This doctrine of death was preached by Brigham Young.

Reynolds vs. United States is a good example where specific acts called religious are not protected by the Constitution. Reynolds believed “Mormon” polygamy was his religious right. However, the United States Supreme Court said that Mormons could believe that God wanted them to practice polygamy but that is as far as the Constitution would allow, and justly so.  The Court said that the “people” could decide what marriage should be, and the traditional marriage of the people is monogamy. The Court did not take into consideration that Reynolds’ religion threatened to damn or destroy women if they did not accept Joseph Smith’s plural marriage revelation and become plural wives.

The Reynolds decision is consistent with the wisdom and intent of our Founding Fathers.  They did not intend for men to come up with some capricious, pernicious idea, call it religion and put it to practice.  For example, a man comes up with the idea that God said destroy all brown dogs because it is the mark of the Devil.  That man is free to think that all brown dogs are possessed by the Devil but if he starts killing them off he will be arrested.

There was once in the United States a Christian belief that black skinned humans were preordained to become the slaves of white men.  ( See American Fascists, The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges)  We know now that this biblical notion was an idea only and used to justify slavery for economic reasons.  Logic tells us it was a false idea but then, all religious ideas – because they contradict each other – could be reasonably labeled as false.

It can therefore be said that Freedom of Religion is meant to be a way of thinking about god and methods of expressing reverence without oppression, persecution, harm or violating the rights of a devotee or third party.

In February 2009, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Utah polygamists are gathering to lobby the Utah Legislature, demonstrating that they are “benign,” god-fearing, consensual families practicing the Mormon brand of polygamy.  Actually the Mormon brand of plural marriage is “polygyny,” one man with two or more wives at the same time.

The Utah Attorney General apparently accepts Mormon polygyny as a “sacred religious belief,” and has said at a Town Meeting that he will not prosecute a religious belief.  He has demonstrated in the case of Rachel Strong that even when there is coercion and the evidence is overwhelming, he will not prosecute the crime of bigamy if the woman is age eighteen or older.  This would appear to be a case where a religious belief takes precedence over the law of the land and the Utah State Constitution which stipulates, “polygamy shall be forever forbidden.”  This reasoning indicates that the Attorney General probably thinks Mormon polygyny should be respected and protected by the First Amendment.

The polygamists demonstrating before the Utah Legislature want Mormon polygyny decriminalized.  It is implied by the lobbyists and many, many others in Utah, that Mormon polygyny is a consensual relationship. They want the freedom to practice Mormon plural marriage which they say is a commandment from Jesus Christ.  They also want exclusive (priesthood) control over the who and how of plural marriage. The problem is, the commandment which has been canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants, is clearly, inherently coercive.  The doctrine threatens to damn and destroy women who will not accept the commandment.  (See Verses 4, 6, 12, 14, 26, 47, 51, 54, 64, and 65)

If the Utah Legislature were to decriminalize Mormon polygyny on the basis that it is a “sacred religious belief,” it would be tantamount to giving credence to a coercive religious act that the rest of Christianity finds repugnant.  The pro polygamists attempt to approach the practice of polygamy as if it was a secular, ideological undertaking, but they are not fooling anyone.  They want Section 132, a religious tenet, protected by the First Amendment.  This, in my opinion, would be unconstitutional because it would be showing favoritism to one religious belief and religious act over others.  If it is the religious right of a sixty year-old man to coerce a naive twenty year-old girl into becoming a plural wife for sex, why shouldn’t it be alright for Osama bin Laden to kill Americans?  They both claim religious right.  Is it the religious duty of a young woman coerced into becoming a plural wife to give her husband sex?  Some Utah politicians seem to think so. (See Polygamy’s Rape of Rachael Strong)  This mode of religious thinking tends to correspond with the political correct trend towards giving precedence to private and erotic practices over orderly social coherence?

We have psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, neurologists, politicians and theologians analyzing human behavior and telling us how we should get along with each other, yet our divorce rate hovers around 50%.  It can be argued that due to our new, liberal morality monogamy is not working.  For example there is a whole new social class of single moms and homosexuals, children being raised without fathers or mothers. There have been civil court decisions that seem to convey the thinking that children raised in alleged congruent, polygamist families are better off than raised by single moms.  What makes these self-appointed experts think that polygamous families will be any more stable and nurturing (raising mentally balanced, creative, productive children) than monogamy?

When a woman in polygyny finds herself in an intolerable situation she doesn’t divorce, she defects.  In the FLDS women are systematically oppressed to discourage defection.  In Apostolic United Brethren, AUB, the most open and liberal polygamist group, studies will show that the defection rate of both men and women are much higher than the monogamous divorce rate. In the FLDS surplus boys are tossed out to fend for themselves.  In AUB there is an exodus of both boys and girls because of priesthood hypocrisy, elitism and inequality.

Pro polygamists would like Mormon plural marriage to be accepted under the heading of “political correct” morality where selfish desires of individuals trump social stability. We have dropped the crime of “adultery” from our statutes because it is politically archaic. Promiscuity has become fashionable as our legal system gives more and more weight to our selfish instincts. As a result the sanctity of the monogamous family unit is disintegrating.  Instead of gathering around the dining table for meals we gather around the television and escape reality by watching fantastically crafted super heroes.

In my opinion it is the psychiatrists and neurologists who explore the biology of the brain (genes and mind) and the historical study of the evolution of civilization that have the most accurate grasp of human behavior.  Alzheimer’s disease tends to dispel the idea that the mind and brain are two separate entities as Plato thought and Joseph Smith preached . Plato thought the “self” was an unembodied “spiritual” entity in heaven and entered the temporal body at birth.  (A History of God) One can’t help but wonder if Joseph was influenced by Plato.  Nevertheless, a more scientific response is tabula rasa, an epistemological thesis that infants are born with “blank” mental content.  Consciousness and personality are thereafter formed by how the mind internalizes sensory perceptions as they weigh in with biological instincts. (The Decline of Males, The First Look At An Unexpected New World For Men and Women, Lionel Tiger)

Modern politics and religion have not made life any more bearable or safe.  Immorality, deception and dishonesty are at an all time high.  In contrast to “the new liberal psychology,” neurologists are discovering that there is more knowledge of human behavior in the DNA of a human embryo than in a stack of Bibles ten feet high.  The Gnostic sages use to teach that the way to find God was to look inside our inner selves.  Maybe someday the enlightenment found in the gene will replace religion.

The prosecution of Warren Jeffs clearly shows how Mormon plural marriage is harmful.  Jeffs did not violate Section 132, he violated the law of the land.  To suggest that freedom of religion gives a Mormon man the right to threaten a woman with damnation or death if she refuses to become a plural wife is ludicrous.  And what is even more horrific is that this so-called religious prerogative is written into Section 132.

Section 132 is an idea or belief that instructs adherents to act in ways that are harmful, oppressive and in violation of the agency of women.  When Brian David Mitchell kidnapped Elizabeth Smart he was complying with Section 132, which states you must live polygyny and leaves it up to the individual how he goes about obtaining plural wives.  Section 132 has but one rule and that is you “must” live plural marriage.  It does not prohibit you from trickery, seduction, lying, kidnapping or raping your plural wife.  Brigham Young said the purpose of plural marriage was to “raise up a righteous seed.” Therefore it is incumbent upon the man to have sex with his wives, and the duty of the wives to give him sex.  When Brigham Young canonized Section 132, the Y-chromosome jumped with joy.

There are criminal prosecutions of … polygamists …which are the results of their performing specific acts in accordance to specific religious instructions.  These instructions are nothing more than beliefs, idioms or ideas inculcated by Section 132 – Joseph Smith’s plural marriage revelation.  There are women in the Mormon fundamentalist culture who believe that Section 132 is a valid revelation.  These women mentally and emotionally consent to plural marriage and willingly have sex with their polygamist husbands.  Just because some women may consent does not invalidate the fact that there are many coerced marriages and coerced sexual acts committed by Mormon men.  Nor does it invalidate the so-called religious instructions (Section 132) that have been proven in court to be mentally and physically harmful to young women. (Utah v. Warren Jeffs)

(FLDS Polygamists) epitomize a God that demands women sacrifice themselves to an arbitrary and capricious priesthood.  The Mormon priesthood claims to be God’s surrogate authority on earth.  The Mormon priesthood’s God is none other than the God of the Bible.  But when we study the history of the biblical God, He is viewed and experienced in many different ways, at different times, by different cultures.  The Mormon God is an uncompromising God demanding sacrifice and “decorous liturgy.”  He has little or no compassion for women.  He is patterned after the “Old Testament” God that allowed the early Christian Church to blame Eve for bringing sin upon mankind, resulting in female oppression.  The Mormon God like the God of the Christian right is intolerant and quick to condemn those that do not conform to their ideas about God.

Contrary to belief in an intolerant God, there are many Christians who see God as charitable, compassionate and merciful.  Church for these Christians is a place of refuge from worldly corruption and immorality.  Their God detests polygamy and the oppression of women.

It is no wonder the courts have shied away from anything religious.  The Biblical God can be manipulated into anything we want him to be.

By decriminalizing polygyny the pro polygamists want to impose their beliefs on society.  They want polygyny to be an acceptable alternative form of marriage the same as homosexuals want same-sex marriages to be an acceptable alternative form of both marriage and human behavior.  The polygamists are using the “privacy” argument of the homosexuals as well as the religious argument.  Some jurists and intellectuals are predicting that if the homosexuals are granted same sex marriages by the courts, the Mormon fundamentalists will ultimately be granted legal polygamous marriages.  But I know of no scripture, revelation or religious idea that demands that men and women become homosexuals.

It is an observable fact that in order for Mormon polygyny to work a woman must be perpetually bombarded with the belief that unless she practices polygamy she will be damned, destroyed or left in the grave awaiting resurrection.  It is Section 132 and feigned priesthood authority that is the bonding agent in plural marriages.  What the prophet and priesthood arbitrarily give can be arbitrarily taken away and often is as exampled by Warren Jeffs. Love and respect are not necessary elements of a plural marriage.  That is why so many plural marriages are so chaotic and dysfunctional.  That is also why plural marriages are primarily confined to Mormonism and Islam where they are part of the religion and passed off as acts of faith.

Coercion is built into the doctrine of Mormon plural marriage.  It may not be necessary to coerce some women, but it is well documented that many women are coerced.  Joseph Smith and Brigham Young obviously knew that coercion would have to be included in the revelation in order for most women to accept plural marriage as a commandment from Jesus Christ.

If polygyny is such a sacred undertaking then why is it not practiced by all believers in Jesus Christ?  If all of Christianity were to practice polygyny there would be a vast unequal distribution of women.  The rich and powerful would have their pick and many worthy men would go without.  This is the exact situation in the organized polygamist cults.

Our knowledge of the Y-chromosome tells us that genetically, men are polygynous by nature.  Why then don’t all men, secular and religious, pursue and practice polygyny?  It is because of our brains.  By thinking, we can see that to “give full reign to our sexual instincts,” as Will Durant so poignantly pointed out, it results in chaos and disintegration of the family unit.  Monogamy is the most desirable form of marriage for a stable civilized society.  And even then we have trouble bridling promiscuity.  How many politicians and religious leaders over the last three decades have had their careers and reputations destroyed by irresistible, sexual indiscretions?  The only one I know of that survived and came out smelling like a rose is Bill Clinton.

The greatest gift to man has been the ability to think; and to our shame, we tend to allow a few to do the thinking for many.  The thinking of our Founding Fathers was sound, but to allow prophets and popes to do our thinking is dangerous.  Irrational religious thinking resulted in the Crusades, the Inquisition, Blood Atonement and plural marriage.  It is the root cause behind our being in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Look what happened to the Germans and Jews when Adolf Hitler was allowed to do all the thinking.  According to historians, Hitler actually thought it was his religious calling to destroy the Jews.

The vast diversity of religious thinking makes a mockery of the concept of worship.  Am I wrong or isn’t it the role of religion to civilize and uplift humanity by giving us hope and safe rules of conduct?  Religion is suppose to be a good thing, a way of reinforcing secular laws by convincing us God wants us to treat each other with respect and compassion.

I guess it all depends upon who is in charge.

Mormon polygyny by its very nature is a vice.  If Mormon polygyny is decriminalized then so should prostitution.  A prostitute is very much like professional athletes who use their bodies to make money.  A pimp is a man who sells the sexual use of women’s bodies.  Isn’t that what Warren Jeffs, … LaMoine Jenson, James D. Harmston and many other Mormon fundamentalist leaders do, is barter the sexual use of women’s bodies in exchange for money, in the form of tithes and donations?  Of course it is.  A prostitute goes along with the wishes of her pimp.  Plural wives go along with the wishes of their prophet.  There is arguably no difference.  It’s both about sex, power and money.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Faye Kemmis on January 24, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Hi John,
    Fascinating piece of literature; I applaud you and must say enjoyed the read.

    My simple take on mormonism, having been married to one for twenty years, and railed constantly against it/not knowing at the time that was actually the case~~even as mild as it seemed to be at the time, is that one is slaved.
    the legal terminology means that legally you have no rights; you have no say; you are owned by your owner, in this case your co-husband. (As in co-housing). In the case of polygamy, (which was not my case), the mormon cult knows that they are slave-owners. They are not unintelligent. They are foolish, but not stupid. They are arrogant but very very sneaky to the point of actually bending and twisting all federal and state, and provincial and municipal laws. They frighten their slaves so badly that the slaves will do their bidding, any time.

    The fact that the deadly fumarase deficiency disease is prevalent in Hildale and Colorado City is because of constant incest. The proliferation of rape of children is not only done by the leader, the major sperm source, but by many. The leader has the pick however and since his law is complete within the mormonism/cult boundaries, the “outside” usually, never knows about the dead babies with this disease. Except an occasional one brought to Dr. Tarby. That was a beginning. He states this disease is on the rise. Of course it would have to be. The continuous birth is “necessary…” in the eyes of the leader; for him “…to get to Heaven…”.
    I did ask Wally Oppall to have the RCMP check on the Birthing Cottage/house at “Bountiful” but he said there was “…no evidence to do that..” and no one has the fortitude to try to investigate. If I lived closer I would not hesitate.
    Anyway I enjoyed your article, thanks.




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