Saturday, February 4, 2012

What Skeptics can learn from the Mormons

Just ran across this interesting article on the Oh No Ross and Carrie! podcast Facebook page posted by fan Mike Thomson.  For the few of you out there who don't already know Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy and their very popular podcast, they visit paranormal venues "so you don't have to" then report back on the adventure to their listening audience.  One two-part story line chronicled their experiences with joining the Mormon church and actually going through the Baptism process, very eye-opening for us voyeurs.

Reading through this article I discovered that the Mormon Church is loosing its members, mainly because people are able to read all about the history of the church and its beliefs on the Internet.  Carrie mentioned that the young men in the missionary stage of their training are not allowed to be distracted by the Internet, they can visit the library for an hour once in awhile, but are not supposed to spend that time looking up doctrines or reading about the Church.

Elder Jensen who is the Official Church Historian is quoted as saying that all the leaders of the Church are aware of the problem of defections, and has a plan to counter the membership loss.  "Among other steps, it has hired an expert in search-engine optimization to raise the profile of the church's own views in a web search."

Humm very interesting.  Something all bloggers and webmasters are interesting in doing.  I'm wondering how is this working out for the Mormons?  So I propose to do a bit of Google searches for some key Mormon words, I want to see what are the top search sites.  I will report the answers as I discover them myself.  My question is ...Where does the Wikipedia page hit in comparison to the official LDS site hit? A follow-up question might be ...How many people are hitting these Wikipedia pages (obviously I don't know how many are hitting the LDS pages).  Then I'm going to take a general look at what the average reader might see on the Wikipedia pages.  

Because of Mitt Romney's bid for the Presidency, I would think that interest in Mormonism would be at a all-time high.  And the Internet would be the place to discover the answer to their questions.  

I'm really curious what we will find, but we are about to discover the answer together.  

Google Search 

-First hit is a paid ad by bi line is "Learn More About the Church of Jesus Christ. Chat with a Mormon!" which leads you to a very inviting page with a slideshow about various members.  The first story I was presented with was from a biker.  (riding without a helmet BTW) - answers general questions about Mormonism (official LDS site)

-Wikipedia page

-(Book of Mormon) Wikipedia page

January 2012 - Mormon was the ranked 2,340 of top hit page on Wikipedia with 78,971 total views.  There was a major hit on one day of 12,479 around January 27, 2012.  Wonder what happened that day? An average day usually is 1,500 hits.  

Wikipedia Content (a general look)

Its a very beautiful page, lots of images and very carefully written prose throughout the article.  There is no criticism of Mormonism anywhere I can find.  But it does seem to lay out the history and doctrines in a readable format.  I see no mention of South Park's parody of the religion, or the Broadway play.  Interesting.  I would not suggest anyone try and edit the page to include those, any change you might want to leave on the page should be written on the "talk" page.  I assume that anyone with little knowledge of Mormonism would be left with a positive feeling of the religion.  

Just noticed the section of the way the Church has treated black people in the past.  Apparently according to the Wikipedia article once the Church allowed ordaining men of African descent in the Priesthood it was met with "joy and relief".

I think it is safe to say that the page on Mormonism on Wikipedia carefully monitored by the Mormon Church.  

Google Search

-First is an ad from asking the question Multiple Wives - Do Mormons Practice Polygamy?

-Wikipedia site (general site discussing polygamy) 

Ranked 3,383 in top hits for January 2012 the page had 111,343 hits in January 2012.  No major spikes, about 3,000 views a day.  

Wikipedia Content (a general look)

Another well-written page that focuses on polygamy in many cultures with lots of history.  There are 4 good sized paragraphs devoted to polygamy in the Mormon church.

Google Search 

-First is the same advertisement we keep seeing from their bi-line is "Discover the facts and myths of Mormonism".  

-Second is which is a pro-Mormon site

-Wikipedia is third

-Images of Joseph Smith

The Stats
January 2012 the page had 81,577 hits

Wikipedia Content (a general look)
Nice looking image of Smith, another really well written page.  Again, nothing I noticed that could be considered critical of Smith, no mention of South Park or the Broadway play about Mormonism.  Another carefully watched page by the Church in my opinon.

The conclusion

Well it looks like the LDS Church has done a great marketing job, the first hit is always a paid advertisement for the church inviting people to visit and ask questions.  When a Wikipedia page is presented the content is neutral but leans to the positive.  I'm not condoning changing the Wikipedia pages as I doubt you would get anything to stick and it would become an edit war.  I'm just saying, these pages are carefully written, and the Mormon Church is doing a great job of appearing to give information and answer the hard questions.  

Looks like the LDS understands the We Got Your Wiki Back! project better than the skeptic community does.  With over 200K hits to these three Wikipedia pages each month I think they understand how important Wikipedia is.  Can we say the same?



  1. Polygamy is not the only "elephant" in the room when it comes to Mormonism. Try looking up "blood atonement". Brigham Young, as the Prophet (whose pronouncements are to be considered the word of God) instituted the concept of "blood atonement" -- which basically meant that it was OK to shed the blood of another human being, Mormon, too, in the name of God in certain cases. Basically "religious revenge". I've read that in one of the secret initiation rites the Mormons literally use a gesture -- taking their hand and swiping it across their own throat -- to symbolize a method for administering blood atonement upon someone. That blacks are "cuirsed" and inferior is right in the Book of Mormon. The Church's attempt to smooth that over -- by allowing blacks to be members and then even priests -- was simply to placate the U.S. government. As was the decision to :"suspend" polygamy. Note, suspend, not outlaw forever -- because they can't actually do that. See joseph Smith specifically stated that polygamy was ordained by God and is not contestable. By the way, Smith was no better then Jeffers and other modern-day polygamists who are being brought up on charges of child rape and child abuse. The man was taking 14 year old girls as his "celestial" wives in the final few years of his life. Smith regularly sent fellow Mormon men on far flung "missions" to other countries and then "took" their wives as celestial wives while they were gone. The poor man would come back from a grueling mission and find out that Smith had been fornicating with his wife and claiming it was a holy act of God. Smith was a despicable person who used his fictitious religion to line his pockets, aspire to political power and, when he realized he could literally do ANYTHING he desired by simply saying it had come to him from God, he decided polygamy was a good way to have intercourse with any women that he fancied. I have little respect for Mormon's who insist that their religion does far more good than bad, and that the little "vagaries" of their beginnings are insignificant. The Book of Mormon, the golden plates, the list goes on and on of easily researched stuff that any sensible person would see is simply fraud and fiction. There are things in the Book of Mormon that are clearly, laughably, the childish ramblings of a religious charlatan. Smith was out "selling" the Book of Mormon even before he was "translating" it from the "golden plates". Why? Because he wanted to build up some interest before he went to all the trouble of having to actually write and make up all the stupid stories and "it came to pass..." silliness that is the Book of Mormon. Once he saw that people were enamored of the whole tall tale, he had to actually figure out how to get the story onto paper. To do that, he borrowed liberally from a couple previous (equally fictitious) books. Another subject that the LDS would like it's fine young scholars to not look too closely at. The whole saga of how the plates were "translated" is just too ridiculous to accept -- unless your entire lifestyle -- family, work, career -- is so dependent on it that you couldn't possibly criticize it without having your very definition in life rendered meaningless. And it's that mentality that keeps the Mormon's going. Denial, denial, denial. It's not hard to imagine Mitt Romney -- being the obsequious turd we've all seen during the primary run --being an excellent Mormon. Can't wait for someone to finally ask High Priest Romney if he's ever made a "throat cutting" gesture during a Mormon initiation rite at any time. And then ask him if "blood atonement" -- as put forth by the unerring prophet of God Brigham Young -- is a proper tenet for a Christian religion.

  2. WIKIPEDIA entry:

    "As a general rule, anything spoken or written by a prophet, while under inspiration, is considered to be the word of God.[118] Thus, the Bible, written by prophets, is the word of God, so far as it is translated correctly. The Book of Mormon is also believed to have been written by ancient prophets, and is viewed as a companion to the Bible. By this definition, the teachings of Smith's successors are also accepted as scripture, though they are always measured against, and draw heavily from the scriptural canon.[119]

    Note: "The teachings of Smith's successors are also accepted as SCRIPTURE." Brigham Young had a revelation from God about "blood atonement" -- i.e. atonement that cannot be made through prayer or baptism, etc., but only through the shedding of that apostates blood in this life. And that a good Mormon should we willing to carry out blood atonement. Imagine a so-called Christian religion which such a clause in its scriptures. And now they're stuck with it because it came from divine revelation via Brigham Young. Ditto on polygamy. Joseph Smith (after years of denying it was going on) made it official revelation in 1843 (?), and put it right there in the canon. It's still there. The Mormon elders have no way to excuse it or explain it (it's revelation from God, remember) so they just ignore it. Pretend it doesn't say what it says. Pretend that by "suspending" that tenet, it is somehow no longer part of the Mormon religion. Which is not true. It's suspended until such time that they could figure out a way to revisit it. If anybody wants a great introduction to the inherent crazyiness of the Mormon history and doctrine, a great place to start is Krakauer's book, "Under the Banner of God". The current Mormon leaders have profited mightily from Mormonism, in terms of business and political power, and that is what they are protecting at this point. God or Jesus Christ have very little to do with it. They just need to keep the wheels turning and count on the willful ignorance of the general congregation.

  3. "I would not suggest anyone try and edit the page to include those, any change you might want to leave on the page should be written on the "talk" page."

    That's not always a good practice... somebody made a study about that and most of the contributions in the talk pages were ignored.

    Just BE BOLD and fix the articles.

  4. I'm all for being Bold. But in the case of the Mormon pages I think (just my opinion) that if someone was going to insert criticism they should state their case on the talk page first. Ask for opinions and rally up some support.

    Other editors might just chime in and something really well written would be done with the paragraph or two.

    Otherwise I think a Bold measure on those pages would just result in a edit war.

    They all look really well guarded.

  5. The more I think about these pages the more I'm concerned that they don't have enough criticism on them. I understand that there is a large group of Mormons editing and protecting these pages. But that's not how Wikipedia works. If there is criticism and it is clearly backed up with notable sources then it should be in the article, Right?

    For example, just opened the LA Times and saw this article

    Now why isn't this discussed on the page? It can be written in a neutral way.

    I do not have time to tackle the Mormon pages, but surely someone can help?