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deluded

When I hear Mike Lindell and other Trump followers claim, again and again, that they have “proof” Trump won the election and that all will be revealed “soon,” I experience flashbacks to my years as a devout Mormon.

Joseph Smith, our founding prophet, assured us that if we truly understood how wonderful even the lowest degree of heaven was, we’d all kill ourselves to get there. If he knew such details, clearly the Mormon version of a tiered heaven was real. We had inside information.

Latter-day Saints have long been promised that “soon,” there will be so much archeological evidence proving the Book of Mormon is true that everyone around the world will be forced to acknowledge it. If we have any lingering doubts ourselves, we can relax and dismiss them. We “know” that evidence is coming, and that’s good enough.

Again and again, we’re told what to believe, told we’re supposed to question, but then if we do question and come up with a different answer, we’re labeled as faithless or deceived. We’re accused of "listening to the wrong spirit."

We see ourselves as open-minded, but only if we all believe the same thing.

After I was excommunicated, my apostasy was announced publicly twice, once to the stake-wide Single Adult organization over which I volunteered as co-chair and again to my home congregation. Everyone needed to be alerted to the danger I posed.

I felt like Veronica Cartwright at the conclusion of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Most of the friends I’d known for years refused to talk to me, would see me and cross the chapel to avoid me. Those who did talk to me called me a traitor, a Judas, a son of perdition.

Those who managed not to despise me instead cried over me. They prayed for me. They sent my name to the temple so those in the prayer circle there could pray for me as well.

And they let me know all this to show how much they “cared.”

While all that hatred and condescending pity helped me escape a tremendously oppressive mindset and culture, I don’t want to repeat that patronizing behavior and say the same thing in return, either about believing Mormons or about Trump worshippers.

We were all essentially suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. We were Patty Hearst forced to aim weapons at bank employees, Patty forgetting she could run away when she was finally left alone for the first time after a year and a half of captivity.

Even so, it’s impossible not to laugh about Uncle Jerry who believes Democrats are cannibals or our coworker who believes in Jewish space lasers. It’s irresistible not to make fun of the ridiculous.

Injecting bleach. Really?

We got out, though, we tell ourselves. If we can be strong and brave and risk everything, so can these other deluded folks.

Still, it’s one thing to ridicule those at the top setting the delusional agenda, and another to sneer at the lowly followers who “know not what they do.”

As Mormons, we were only allowed to do “research” using LDS-approved sources, so most of us remained deceived. If we doubted, our teachers and bishops and other leaders would tell us, “I had a personal revelation and know beyond a shadow of a doubt the Church is true. Rely on my testimony until you have one of your own.”

It’s not easy for conservative Trump believers to escape a huge framework of lies. They’ll hate being described as ensnared or cultish or the other negative ways the rest of us view them.

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Everyone likes to see themselves as superior. We’re better because we didn’t “fall away from the gospel.” Or we’re better because we “saw through the lies.”

But I identify with the deluded. I identify with those who break free.

I identify with the frustrated. And I identify with the hopeful.

Moral one-upmanship may feel satisfying, but it’s not constructive.

Those of us who have escaped soul-crushing mindsets will fare better emotionally and have a stronger chance at persuading at least a few others still trapped if we view those delusional friends, families, and neighbors as human beings oppressed by the same liars and gaslighters who oppress us.

A longtime friend of mine suffering from schizophrenia was plagued for decades with auditory hallucinations. When she was finally diagnosed and started receiving treatment, she called me, distraught.

“Now that I’m on anti-delusional medication,” she wailed, “I no longer believe in God!”

Like a spouse who knows their significant other is cheating on them but can pretend it isn’t true as long as the words aren’t spoken out loud, many on the right feel more comfortable accepting what they already suspect are lies.

It’s hard to leave a culture you’ve known perhaps all your life and realize you’ll be hated by those you love. We’re expecting people to accept being attacked as "fair game," risk various emotional and actual fatwas against them.

Finding another community after I left Mormonism wasn’t easy. Some in the gay sub-culture I entered were afraid of me because of my background. Or disdainful. Even my eventual husband, another ex-Mormon, confided that after our first date, he told himself he’d never get involved with someone who had such a problematic history.

We got out, though, we tell ourselves. If we can be strong and brave and risk everything, so can these other deluded folks.

It’s true that some of these religious and political extremists so thoroughly relish being awful to others that whatever culpability they may or may not possess on a cosmic level, it’s not safe for us to be around them. If they’re redeemable, it will only be after backbreaking effort, and we are not responsible to do their hard work for them.

I’m reminded of a classmate in a graduate program who wore neo-Nazi T-shirts to class, when everyone else in the class was either Jewish, Black, female, gay, or a combination thereof.

We’re hardly behaving much better when we use dismissive, even vicious behavior against our deluded right-wing friends and relatives. That behavior doesn’t miraculously become honorable when moderate Democrats attack those further to the left who are demanding more action on climate and healthcare and other social justice issues. And when those of us on the far left see moderates as still deluded and treat them as mortal enemies, we’re violating one of our most essential principles—solidarity is a healthier strategy than divide and conquer.

I didn’t like shunning, hate, and disdain when it came from the deluded, and I don’t like it any better from the enlightened.

Insulting millions of Trump supporters, or millions of corporate Democrats, or millions of social justice advocates isn’t going to solve our problems any more than Bill Maher’s fat shaming will cure obesity.

I don’t know “the answer,” of course. But disdain isn’t it. Whoever does come up with an approach that both tampers down the brewing civil unrest in our nation and creates some willingness to cooperate will probably be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Johnny Townsend

But even if we’re not brilliant enough to be that great leader, let’s at least try to come up with humane ways to reconnect with the humanity in those who may never try to do it themselves unless we take that step first.

Johnny Townsend