From the Merriam-Webster website, the Word of the Year 2022 is “gaslighting,” defined as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” By that broad definition, gaslighting has been around for maybe a hundred thousand years (since the advent of anatomically modern humans). But common usage of the term “gaslighting” is fairly new. It’s one of those things where putting a name on it suddenly makes it more noticeable. The Age of Trump demands a variety of new terms. The linked post lists a few of these, noting that “the word is at home with other terms relating to modern forms of deception and manipulation, such as fake news, deepfake, and artificial intelligence.” I’m afraid the Internet and social media and video manipulation technologies have contributed to the popularity of these “modern forms of deception.” More than ever, we all need to tune up our baloney detection kits.
And who, pray tell, would employ these suddenly fashionable gaslighting tactics? Maybe everyone. I notice it watching commercials during sports events (one of the few remaining channels for advertisers to reach a mass audience). Advertising beer, a group of good-looking young adults are having a great time and drinking beer. If you drink beer, that will be you (they suggest). Advertising pickup trucks, a guy with a scrawny beard who has probably never touched a chainsaw in his life is shown driving up the side of a mountain with a smiling gal in the passenger seat. Buy our pickup truck and you, too, can be a (pretend) cowboy. Most revealing are the “buy our new drug” commercials, which, after showing the possible benefits in lowering your blood pressure or clearing up your skin condition, are apparently required to disclose a long list of very unappealing possible side effects — which usually flash across the screen in very small print for about two seconds. In radio commercials, the required disclosures are usually given at the tail end of the spot, read by a speed talker in a burst of strung together words.
Politics has always featured exaggerations and glaring omissions in candidate speeches and television ads. Pretty much nothing said by a candidate can be relied upon. Recent US elections have moved even further away from truth and honesty. It’s like a performance contest where contestants are simply expected to spew a string of falsehoods, and the majority of the electorate judges candidates on how fluently and convincingly the candidates can lie. Best liar wins. The surest way to lose a primary or an election is to be an honest candidate. Once upon a time, if the media caught a candidate telling a flat-out lie, that hurt and possibly doomed a candidate’s chances of being elected. We call that “the good old days.”
Governments, of course, have always done this sort of thing. The Korean War wasn’t a war, it was a “police action.” The Ukraine War isn’t a war, it’s a “special military operation.” No government ever acknowledges that its war of aggression is a war of aggression, it’s always a defensive war against some serious threat (almost always entirely fabricated). Examples abound. Corporations and individuals are theoretically liable for fraud or defamation if they tell outright falsehoods and extract some sort of gain thereby. But governments are fairly unaccountable, so government falsehoods flourish. The word “propaganda” generally applies to false government claims, which most of us think applies to communist and authoritarian regimes that practice top-down propaganda themes and campaigns. But Western governments have done the same thing over the years, if not quite so blatantly, and now it’s fair to say there is a lot of grass-roots propaganda being produced in the West. Thanks, Internet. Twitter now seems to be embracing it as a business model.
The Internet tells me that the term “propaganda” was an early-20th century adaptation from the Catholic “congregation for the propagation of the faith,” which reminds us there is another civil institution that is rarely or never held accountable for its false statements: religion and churches.
As the term has become popular over the last year or two, I have seen it pop up in a lot of LDS discussions. In these discussions, the term “gaslighting” means not just misleading someone for personal or institutional gain, but going further and really messing with someone’s mind. Figuratively rearranging the furniture while you are asleep, so to speak. Think of the visionary writer George Orwell. Ministry of Truth. Thought police. We have always been at war with Eastasia.
It’s easy to make some LDS parallels. The Strengthening Church Members Committee. Correlation. We have always been forthcoming about seerstones and polygamy. It’s like shooting ducks in a barrel. But we need to think a little harder about the issue.
On the positive side, one could claim that all religions, all denominations, do this sort of thing, so it’s only to be expected that the LDS Church does it. They all put forth a carefully edited version of their own history and suppress bad events and episodes. They all tell tall tales about miracles and divine acts at their founding and periodically thereafter. They all claim God’s endorsement and support. They all marginalize and sometimes hound critics and apostates. Defending a church one could also say that no adult is naive enough to actually take a church’s own presentation of its history at face value, although I’m inclined to think that yes, you really can fool some of the people all of the time. Are Mormons more naive in this respect than adherents of other denominations and religions? Here are a few examples of positive actions by the Church:
- Opening up the LDS archives under Leonard Arrington and making most (but not all) documents available to most researchers.
- The Joseph Smith Papers project, making just about every document having a connection to Joseph Smith easily available and supported by scholarly editing and commentary.
- The Gospel Topics Essays, which were a good faith attempt to honestly identify and defend some troubling LDS doctrines and historical claims. They aren’t perfect, but they are more forthcoming than other LDS publications.
On the negative side, the Church sure tries very hard (1) to get members to voluntarily limit their sources of information about the Church to LDS-approved sources, and (2) to constantly reinforce through what can only be termed indoctrination the standard LDS narrative of a divinely directed founding and a personal “I know” testimony. Here are a few examples of negative actions by the Church:
- Calling the Nephite interpreters Joseph Smith claimed to dig up with the golden plates the “Urim and Thummim” (biblical instruments in the Old Testament that had nothing to do with the LDS story), then later conflating Joseph’s seerstone(s) with both Nephite interpreters and the Urim and Thummim.
- Excommunicating Fawn Brodie for writing an unflattering but well researched biography of Joseph Smith. Recall that she tried to get access to documents in the LDS archives but was denied access.
- The unacknowledged activities of the Strengthening Church Members Committee, which after being publicly outed was then described by an LDS leader as a “clipping service.”
- The unacknowledged accumulation of the Hundred Billion Dollar Fund, which after being publicly outed was sort of downplayed as just saving for a rainy day. Most of the membership seems okay with that explanation, ignoring the obvious fact that if saving for a rainy day to the tune of a hundred billion dollars is a perfectly acceptable institutional activity for a religious institution, why keep it secret?
So mull over these examples and, if you like, add some of your own, either positive or negative. Here are a few prompts:
- As suggested earlier, do you think Mormons are more naive than the average citizen or believer when it comes to being misled and gaslit? This isn’t a rhetorical question. The Church does encourage its members to pursue higher education when available.
- If so, is that confined to LDS claims or does it extend to financial schemes and political claims as well? Is the average LDS just a sucker waiting to be bamboozled?
- When some LDS read up on LDS history and doctrine and then come to think they were deceived or misled, is that a credible response? Or is it like someone who complains about what a used car salesman told them about the used car they bought (because any adult should know better than to accept such claims at face value)?
- Have you ever tried to get an LDS teenager or young adult to read LDS history? Good luck. This relates to the prior bullet point.
- What do you know about Carl Sagan’s baloney detection kit? Would you like to know more?
Dave C., Are you conflating all deception (even beer commercial advertising) as gas lighting? I tend to think of that term having a much narrower definition.
Why go to the trouble of admitting personal (or institutional) failing, weakness, or sin when you can simply blame it all on the work of Satan?
Best. Strawman. Ever.
Gas lighting does have a more narrow definition than you are using here. Unfortunately, as the term has become more common, it has also become more vague and broad to cover all deception. Gaslighting is when a person tells a false story about the past, making the victim doubt their own perception of reality. This idea of making the victim doubt their own memory is important because that is the crazy making element. An example is the church clearly insisted that the idea that blacks were less valiant in the preexistence and therefore could not have the priesthood was doctrine and could never change until all the people who were supposed to be born in Able’s line we’re given priesthood. Since they couldn’t be born, well there is a problem saying this isn’t going to happen until Able is resurrected and has children and they can be given priesthood. That was doctrine. Now, it is folklore never actually endorsed by the church. The church not just lied, they changed history. This makes people wonder, “wait a minute, didn’t I hear president Benson say this was doctrine?” They begins to doubt what they clearly remember hearing.
Years of this kind of treatment where you constantly have to doubt what you saw or heard makes people doubt everything they even think and gives the abuser more power over them. The abuser becomes the only person who knows reality.
Mormon gaslighting is a sinister condition. Using old men and tired apologists who allegedly speak for God to induce guilt and cause family divisions is evil. I have found there exists a growing segment of recommend carrying Mormons who harbor growing doubts. In the early stages, this group craves any information (accuracy be damned) that bolsters their faltering belief systems. Such adherents are highly susceptible to Mormon gaslighting.
Fortunately for many, the light of truth eventually prevails. Although it may be a bumpy road and take some time, life without dominance from LDS, Inc can be spiritually and intellectually fulfilling. The existence of W&T and similar websites represents a critically important element in making this transition. The topics and dialogue here are a safe space that allows our intellects to grow. For that, I am grateful.
The I’m a Mormon campaign to me is the most classic example of gaslighting. In one moment it was a badge of honor, something to be proud of. Then it was the work of Satan. I had a conversation recently with a co-worker who was asking about the history of Mormonism and where the various sects come from. After I pointed out some scholars refer to Utah Mormons as Brighamites another co-worker said that we aren’t Mormons. It took some unpacking to sort out.
I agree with ji and Anna that gaslighting has a very narrow definition, but people throw the term around anytime someone makes them feel bad. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the term used correctly I could quit my day job. Anna’s example is very helpful.
Rich Brown wins; great comment!
I think the covid situation showed me that basically everyone is pretty naïve (including myself sometimes). I don’t think Mormons are inherently more naïve. That being said, our foundation story means we believe in mysticism which means that anything goes. History can be re-written, promised blessings (or buried treasure) not received are your fault, and God can change his mind. Great fodder for being deceived and yes for being gaslit.
come on baby lite my fire
so what religion if any are you?
i’m a [slurred] moron
you’re a mormon?
try to set the nite on fire
now someone’s supposed to say
what a gas
Are Mormons more gullible/naive than the average person? Some quick googling tells me UT has the highest rate of Ponzi schemes in the US. However, UT doesn’t rank very high in terms of fraud overall per capita (Nevada takes the cake on that one). So…make of that what you will, I guess.
The natural existence of homosexuality is a very tough one for the Church. Where, exactly, does homosexuality fit in the Grand Plan? It doesn’t! So maybe homosexuality is indeed “a selfish choice” as the Brethren insisted for decades, or maybe (gasp) the Grand Plan is more grandiose than grand.
I prefer the phrase “those aren’t the droids you are looking for”. Shout-out to John Dehlin for making that one famous among progressive / X – Mormons
At the suggestion of a family member who left the church, I recently read a book about “Mormon Mind Control”. It was super fascinating and chock full of examples of ways that the church influences, controls, manipulates, and gaslights people. After reading the book, I read it a second time and categorized all of the examples as:
A-influences that will be present even if someone leaves the church (e.g. cognitive dissonance, social pressure to conform to the group you associate with, etc…).
B- Influences that are more specific to the church but are also part of normal human development and lead to being a good human being (e.g. learning the values of the group, making good choices, etc…- of course this is subjective).
And C-Influences that are specific to the church that are harmful (e.g. controlling through fear such as “If you choose to sin you’ll be in Satan’s power” “If you don’t keep the commandments you’ll be separated from your spouse and kids in the next life” and “If you leave the church you’ll lose EVERYTHING!” -thank you Brad Wilcox).
(The basis of the book is that once you leave the church you’ll be free to make your own choices and won’t be influenced or controlled. Overall, I came to the conclusion that if I leave the church I’ll just be substituting one set of influences for another. We’re always being controlled and influenced, what we get to choose is the sources that influence us.)
All this to say- That I believe gaslighting fits within category C-church tactics that are harmful. I don’t know if it exactly fits the definition of gaslighting, but I believe telling people not to trust their feelings is harmful. “If you receive a personal revelation that differs from what the Brethren have said- that’s not the Holy Ghost, that’s Satan deceiving you.” I think it is important that we trust ourselves.
I think the church unwittingly groomed members so they were willing to accept trump. They said to trust your emotions v science. Plus conservative culture.
The consequences of these lies, Yes mormons are more gullible.
There was a time when there were articles in Ensigns about how much healthier mormons were than others, because of the WofW. Now it appears mormons are less healthy and have lower life expectancy because of conservative policies/politics. No articles in church about how we are no longer healthiest because we are so conservative.
“substantial disparities in life expectancy as a function of geographic location are well documented within the U.S., and growing evidence highlights the relationship between conservative state policies and reductions in life expectancy”
Utah is now 9th at 78.6 and Idaho 10th at 78.4.
Australia is 84.3 (universal healthcare?) 6 years difference 7.25%.
Interesting that political policies are more powerful than the word of wisdom. The studies do not explain how this works, whether its attitude to life? I think this study was before covid so could be even worse now. Do Democrat states have better healthcare?
One of my biggest pet peeves – and I think this qualifies – is that the church now goes to great lengths to say, “Give Joseph a break,” and many other dismissals of him as only human and having made mistakes.
But when you ask for an example, when you wish that *someone*, *anyone* would stand up in conference with just one unvarnished truth, you get nothing. Saying he wasn’t perfect is all you’re allowed. Our minds and talk can never go to how.
It makes me crazy, so I’ll call it gaslighting.
For me, the hardest example of gaslighting has to do with women and the priesthood. Growing up we were taught absolutely that only men had the priesthood, our job was to support the ph. Then women started agitating for the ph, we were told “wait, no! When you go to the temple you receive ph power, you use ph power in your callings.” That is opposite of what was drilled into me for 50 years.. it is hard to take the rhetoric seriously now.
In dealing with the question of what constitutes gaslighting in the church I think it’s important that we broaden the context of our inquiry enough to include the possibility of a Living God. Otherwise, when the Book of Mormon says (in so many words) that there is no other name given under heaven except Christ by which we can be saved–either we’ve got some nasty gaslighting going on or it’s a straightforward declaration of truth from an all wise and loving God.
And that’s one of the things the Book of Mormon — and the restored gospel in general — does at times. It’s not merely a passive exposition of nice ideas–but it calls the reader to action with rather blunt language (at times). And so, IMO, it is only in the face of a Living God that the restored gospel makes any sense at all–especially when we’re talking about something like the BoM. It goes from being completely preposterous to being completely honest.
On my mission in the mid-1960s , I served a lot of baloney. Our memorized discussions started with the first vision. Now the version we presented is in dispute. The BoM was presented as a history of the American Indians. And was translated using the U&T from reformed Egyptian. The WoW was a health code. We improperly proof-texted scriptures. At the same time as the Civil Rights movement was going on in America, we were justifying the church’s discrimination against blacks. And we had some ahistorical justifications for polygamy. For the most part, we were unwitting gaslighters. Luckily few Belge and French were interested.
My issues not already mentioned in the comments here:
-When Mme Wendy said RMN was unleashed, to me it was a bit disingenuous based on his prior 1990 dustup with GBH over the word “Mormon.”
-BOM geography and those who peddle vacation tours etc
-asking a Q70 to record his talk again from the ironic year of 1984
-downplaying temple connections with masonry
-passing off pilot programs, adjustments, and recommendations from lawyers as the divine will of God
Ah yes, gaslighting. Such a great term that for some weird reason all of sudden became really popular again. It refers to the old 1944 movie Gas Lights wherein an abusive husband tries to make her wife feel like she has lost her mind by playing tricks on her, such as by making the gas lights flicker and then telling her that they’re not flickering. And the word is completely apt for all kinds of situations where someone tries to make you look crazy and uninformed for seeing obvious things. Obvious things such as pretty much all non-Mormon scholars in all fields not subscribing to the idea that the Book of Mormon is even remotely historical beyond the early 19th century. I have brought up this basic fact to several Mormon apologists and they routinely dismiss it by claiming that their propositions about the Book of Mormon are indeed gaining acceptance by non-Mormon scholars, it is just that they are mostly unaware of the Book of Mormon. They do anything and everything to make it seem like I am the one who is unaware and crazy to think that non-Mormon scholars wouldn’t and don’t accept what apologists have to say about the Book of Mormon. Complete and utter nonsense. The non-Mormon scholars who have accepted the Book of Mormon as historical are extreme outliers and are all low-ranking scholars. Plus, many of the non-Mormon scholars apologists are claiming are validating their “research” they won’t even name or have passed. Many times the apologists actually misrepresent what the non-Mormon scholar has said. They love to claim that Ann Taves is sympathetic to their position, when in fact Taves has stated that she agrees with Dan Vogel’s “pious fraud” hypothesis (although she claims that Joseph Smith still wouldn’t fit the category of “fraud”). And the idea that non-Mormon scholars are unaware, well, then why not make them more aware? I mean, if there were Christians in the pre-Columbian Americas, that is a once-in-a-century groundbreaking finding that would drastically change and revolutionize how we saw the pre-Columbian Americas. I don’t see why apologists aren’t shouting this from the rooftops and going to the press and before large audiences to claim that they have incontrovertible evidence of ancient American Christians. My best guess is because they know darn well that if they actually tried to make a bigger deal of the Book of Mormon that they would be laughed out of court and even worse, it would spur the rise of more articulate counternarratives against the Book of Mormon, and they wouldn’t want that. Best to just stick to a non-academic already believing audience who doesn’t have the skills or experience to refute complex webs of mental gymnastics and stay mum about the topic before non-Mormon scholarly peers, trying only to pass off research that isn’t so zany. Such as the idea that early migrants to the Americas could have come in boats across the Pacific. OK, there is evidence for that. Migrants came from Japan by boat hugging the northern coast line. Now let’s take it a little further. Early migrants to the Americas could have come in boats from the Arabian Peninsula across two oceans. Plausible, but a larger stretch. Now further. Early migrants could have come in 600 BCE starting from Jerusalem. OK, an even further stretch. Now further. They retained a Jewish belief system. An even further stretch. Now the furthest extent. They talked of Jesus Christ before he was born and recorded a visit from Jesus Christ. You get the point.
Religious freedom. Means the freedom to practice your religion.
It does not mean the right to discriminate against gays and women.
It does not mean your freedom is infringed if you can’t force it on others.
It applies to others beliefs not just your own.
It should apply to BYU employees who can hold a TR but still get sacked without explanation.