October 23, 2018

Comment Approval - ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In case you were wondering, here is a snapshot of the comments I've marked as spam (you can click on it to zoom in if you really want to read them). There are a few nonsensical spam comments, a comment saying this is the dumbest shit they ever read (from anonymous), and another anonymous being mean to Bryan... Come on, at least use your real name if you're going to be mean to Bryan.

I think there are some missing because I might have deleted a few before I realized I could mark them as spam, but most comments get approved when I get around to it. Unsurprisingly, most people who bother to take the time to read and comment on my posts are very supportive. I'm happy to have their comments on the blog, I just prefer to filter them all first.

August 04, 2018

Milk before Meat

I made a post about the concept of milk before meat on the the r/cults subreddit. I thought I'd post it here too. 

This is the content of my post:
"I was raised Mormon. You might have seen Mormon buildings before. Mormon temples are separate from Mormon chapels. Chapels are for Sunday worship. Temples are for performing baptisms for the dead, endowments, sealings, etc. during the week. They encourage you to ask questions about it at their visitors centers.

If you're curious, go to the YouTube channel NewNameNoah to see videos of what happens in Mormon temples and you can see the things that they won't tell you when you visit the visitors center: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cGi_tP_YjU

What they won't tell you about in the visitors center is that secret handshakes are a part of Mormonism and the temple. I didn't know this until after I graduated college and resigned from the church. I felt betrayed and horrified when I looked up the YouTube videos of the Mormon temple endowment.

Not because they do anything illegal, to be clear.

Betrayed because some of it was contradictory to what I was taught (for example, I was told that everyone wears all white in the temple. I had no idea that they wore green aprons) and horrified just because there was so much that was kept a secret.

I don't think they should have held back so much information from a young person like me who was being taught that the temple was the most important thing in my religion. As a child, I was taught songs with lyrics like "I love to see the temple/I'm going there some day", I was taught to pay tithing to the church (paying tithing, or 10% of your income for life, is a requirement to enter the temple), and I was always taught to listen to my priesthood leaders (there are other songs like "Follow the Prophet" that still get stuck in my head), who have control over whether or not members receive a temple recommend and are allowed to go into the temples. It makes me feel very manipulated, like they were trying to control me, now that I know how much they weren't telling me.

It was very much a "milk before meat" situation. We are taught that some things about the temple have to be a secret because they are too, I don't know, sacred? Special? Too important? to know about until you are actually going through the temple for yourself.

The more I read about cults, the more culty this aspect of Mormonism seem. It seems it's a common aspect of cults to have "special" doctrines, the "meat", that you don't talk about with recruits or children. The "milk" I was given in temple prep class was hardly sufficient to explain the actual temple experience. In the temple prep class, I was taught that the temple was about making sacred covenants. That made sense. Mormons consider weekly partaking of the sacrament to be a sacred covenant. But it's a covenant that you know about before hand. You can read about it. You can talk about it.

In the temple, the covenants you make include promising to give everything to the church, and for women, it includes promising to "hearken" to their husband. These are much bigger and scarier promises that you don't know are going to happen and you aren't allowed to talk about afterward (it's too sacred to talk about what happens in the temple in Mormon culture). It's like a bait and switch. They try to get you to think that temple covenants are as tame as taking the sacrament, but it's not! Even the rituals surrounding the covenants (like the handshakes, and some of the chanting that is done), are much more extreme than any of the other rituals that take place in Mormonism, and again, no one tells you what it's going to be like before you are already committed to going through for yourself.

That leads me to the most important point. There is no legitimate way to say no to the promises you are required to make in the temple. It's like once they offer you the meat, you have to eat it or face huge consequences. Usually, people are going through the temple in their late teens or early twenties as they prepare to leave on a mission or are getting ready to be married. Both of these events are huge milestones in a young persons life, and choosing to not go through with the temple is like cancelling the whole event. It brings so much shame and guilt if you don't go through with it, no matter how uncomfortable you feel about the promises you are required to make.

Have any of you ever been in a group like that? A group where the "meat" of the organization is not presented in an upfront way to new or young members, but instead they are given "milk" that is easier to swallow?

For me, one of the things that I think the Mormon church could do to make itself much less culty would be to start being open about the temple ceremonies. I think this would lead to a lot of people choosing not to be a part of the religion, but that's the whole point! If there is an aspect of a group that has to be kept a secret in order for people to want to join the group, then the answer is not for that group to hide the unsavory parts. That's what a cult would do. An honest group would be upfront and let people make a decision based on all the information, not just the handpicked information fed to them by the group."

June 12, 2018


Churches are always scary, unwelcoming places in my nightmares now. I had a dream last night that I was at my home ward. It was testimony meeting and I wanted to get up and say some things about how even though I resigned and I'm never coming back, I still love and respect the Mormons in my life. In the dream, I'm surrounded by family and my community. People I grew up with. It's a situation where I used to feel safe and loved and welcomed. And that's when it becomes a nightmare. When I try to bear my "testimony" of how I feel about everyone, they shut the mic off. I'm not even allowed up on the stand because they don't want to hear anything from someone who has left the church. Now I'm suddenly a criminal. An outcast. A heretic. An apostate. People are glaring at me. I'm alone in a crowd. It hurts. I've woken up crying from nightmares like this before. In some nightmares, I try to talk about why I left the church in a Sunday school class and I get shouted out of the room (sometimes I shout back and it just makes me feel worse), and other times I'm trying to have a heart to heart with someone close to me about how my beliefs have changed and they leave the room in disgust without even looking at me. It's been two years now since I resigned and even longer since I stopped going to church. The pain is easing up a little, but it's still there. Last night's nightmare didn't make me cry, but it still left me with feelings of hopeless grief. I heard an analogy the other day that I think explains this hopeless grief. The comparison goes like this: when I was leaving the church it felt like people were picking sides. Like they either had to pick me or the church. If this were a railroad problem, it felt like I was tied to one set of railroad tracks and Joseph Smith was tied to a different set of tracks, and if Mormons had to flip a switch to decide which one of us to save from being hit by a train, they would save Joseph Smith. Every time. I think that's why I keep having nightmares like this. It's been traumatic in real life to feel unwelcome in places where I used to feel safe, and to feel like people really don't care about me as much as they care about not rocking the boat when it comes to Mormonism. I think that trauma of losing community and feeling "thrown under the bus" (or train) is what keeps leaking into my dreams and making them nightmares. And who knows... Maybe someday I'll stop having these nightmares. Maybe someday I'll get to have those heart to heart conversations without always feeling like Joseph Smith is more important to Mormons than I am. Maybe someday being around Mormons won't make me feel like a heretic, alone in a crowd. But until there are significant changes made to Mormon culture, it doesn't feel like that day is ever going to come...

April 15, 2018

Shen Yun Part 2: Threat(s) From a Falun Dafa Follower

I think this is the first time I've ever received what appears to be a death threat, or at least a "take this article down or else!" kind of message.
About a month ago I made a post about how I bought tickets to a show called Shen Yun and felt scammed because the show is advertised as cultural dancing when it's really just propaganda for a cult called Falun Dafa.

I woke up to this email today from someone who read my blog post (I added the emphasis):

"I am Sarah, a loyal Falun Dafa practitioner for almost 10 years. Falun Dafa always gives me peace and safety while other religions cannot. Shen Yun show you just watched and wrote about is organized and directed by Master Li and Falun Dafa.

So you can imagine how annoyed even furious I felt when I read your article “I kind of feel like I just got scammed. We bought Shen Yun tickets...” (http://www.unpackingmormonism.com/2018/03/i-kind-of-feel-like-i-just-got-scammed.html)

First, let me give you more details about Shen Yun.Shen Yun show, whose title translates to “the beauty of divine beings dancing” and organized by Falun Gong group, is an elaborate showcase of Chinese folk tales.Lots of miracles happened while watching Shen Yun. For example, an 86-year-old lady developed a lump on her buttock. It was about the size of an egg and very hard. It is getting big and affecting her comfort, especially when sitting. One day she happened to watch the DVD of Shen Yun performances at home. After a while, she was startled by a sudden noise, as if something had dropped. She got up and looked around, but didn't see anything out of place. When she touched her bottom, she realized that her lump was gone! Her skin was intact, and nothing had fallen onto the sofa.

Her daughter then clarified the facts about Falun Gong further to her mother. She said that the artists in Shen Yun Performing Arts were almost all Falun Gong practitioners. They tour over 100 cities each year, and many audience members have felt the positive energy from a Shen Yun performance.

Now this elderly woman has become happier and she smiles more. She frequently enjoys watching the Shen Yun DVD and listening to the Falun Gong lectures. (Please see http://en.minghui.org/html/articles/2014/2/6/145258.html for details). This is a true story, written by a Falun Gong practitioner.

So Shen Yun is not only a beautiful show which provides divine enlightenment, but also it helps people out of misery, if you just believe it with all your heart and soul. 

Second, let me give you more information about Master Li, the founder of Falun Dafa.

Our Master has learned the essence of Buddhism and obtained supernatural powers, such as control thinking and make himself invisible since the age of 8. He understands the truth of the universe and has insights into life and can see the past and future. Moreover, he has numerous law-bodies so that he can look after the whole human race. In one word, he is the living Budda to save the whole human race, for example, he has averted a global comet catastrophe and the Third World War. If you help his cause, he will plant a wheel in your stomach, which protects you from any harm or illness.

He once said:

“I'm the only one in the world who has law-bodies. I have countless law-bodies, who look exactly like me. They are in another space, and can change their sizes limitlessly and freely. I am the main body, but they have the ability to do things independently. They can look after you, protect you, help you to practice, and do other things. They are actually embodiments of me. That is how I can protect you. Most of my law-bodies wear the kasaya and they have curly, blue hair, as blue as a sapphire.”

And I really doubt you were bought by evil Chinese Communist Party to write such articles to blacken Shen Yun and Falun Dafa.

So please make a public apology to Shen Yun and withdraw this article at once.

And if you don’t listen to me and go on to write such articles like this, Master Li will also use his power to punish you. I don’t think you will let that happen.

Please write back to me otherwise I will report to Master Li. You and your family will be punished soon. When the Final Day comes, you and your family will be abandoned and died in misery.

Yours Sincerely

I wrote a quick reply:
"Hi Sarah!

Thanks for the message. I'm sorry to made you feel so much concern.You are right, I was not paid to write that article. I just wrote it because that's how I feel.

Did you read any of my other blog posts? They are about a religion called Mormonism, that claims it can heal people through the power of the priesthood. The followers of Mormonism also believe that their prophet can talk to god and that he has special powers, just like you believe Master Li has special powers.

Followers of Mormonism think I should not write blog posts about them just like you think I should not write blog posts about Shen Yun.So who should I listen to? You or the Mormons? Both of you say the religion you belong to performs miracles, and both of you say bad things will happen to the people who don't believe, and yet most of the people in the world do not believe in Falun Dafa or Mormonism.

Should I listen to the Mormons too? Should I write apologies to the Mormons?


I'll make updates to this post if any blue, curly-haired angels come after me, or if I get a reply from Sarah.

March 19, 2018

I kind of feel like I just got scammed. We bought Shen Yun tickets...

I've never been to a show that generated so many bad vibes for me. The whole thing screamed "CULT!" and reminded me of Mormonism. I imagine this is how people feel when they go to a temple open house and get asked for their contact information. Some "oh, that's nice" mixed with "what the heck was that?" and a lot of "this is not what I signed up for".

The show is marketed as a celebration of Chinese culture, some parts seemed alright. The costumes are bright and colorful. The dancing was fun.

But a large part of the show is propaganda for a cult called Falun Dafa (from what I've read, the group is anti-gay, they believe their religion can heal illnesses, and one leader is on record saying they don't believe mixed-race children will get to heaven... sound familiar?).

Here's just a little taste of the unexpected weirdness. After finishing a dance featuring some long, twirly, Han-dynasty sleeves (pretty cool), the person introducing the next piece talks a bit about persecution in China and you move to a dance with this scene: a man is imprisoned and blinded by the evil prison doctor when he won't renounce his faith in Falun Dafa. The blind man's wife and other clean-cut Falun Dafa friends are still preaching in the park when he returns, tapping away with his cane.  When they realize that he has stayed faithful this whole time, he is suddenly visited by a bunch of angels and receives his sight again! Yay! Falun Dafa is good!

So bizarre.

Quite a few of the dances included spiritual imagery mixed with messages about bringing the divine to earth through art. One piece was a song about how humanity's values are in decline and bad people will get their reward, but all of us want to go to Heaven and you can come to the light if you learn truth. The whole thing was covered in a good heap of persecution complex too, though persecution of certain groups has been a pretty big deal in China, so I'll give them a pass on that. They don't deserve brutality. No one does, no matter how crazy their beliefs.

There are some good reviews of the show out there (I liked this one: http://www.akit.org/2012/01/shen-yun-performing-arts-show-in-sf.html) and I thought this article about it was interesting: http://www.startribune.com/shen-yun-politics-behind-the-performance/290985131/

Overall, I don't recommend it and it definitely made me uncomfortable, but it feels like it worked out for us. The first date my husband and I went on was to a Chinese acrobatics show while we were both going to BYU, and we were going to Shen Yun as a sort of anniversary date. We were part of a cult on that first date, and we got suckered into watching cult propaganda on our anniversary date four years later! Perfect.