Robert Kirby is a Mormon columnist for the SL Tribune. I have read 20 or so columns of his over the years, and some of them are really good and funny and others suffer from what I call the “straw man Mormon” argument.
The “straw man Mormon” argument is extremely common on the Bloggernacle, and it is this: invent an intolerant, holier-than-thou Mormon in your mind and then proceed to show how wrong this Mormon is. If this Mormon is wrong (which he is), then most Mormons (except for you) are wrong because in your mind this invented Mormons represents how most Mormons think. Therefore, we can assume that most Mormons are intolerant, holier-than-thou types because nobody wants to be like this (invented) Mormon.
This tactic is especially cruel because writers like Kirby will take one little characteristic that they have noticed in a few Mormons and then apply these negative characteristics to the entire Mormon population and inflate them into the dominant personality trait of all Mormons.
This Kirby column is a great example of the “straw man Mormon” argument at work. Here is Kirby’s point: if a good Mormon kid grows up and announces he is an atheist, then his very wrong Mormon parents will think the kid is lost and “going to hell” and “doomed,” etc, etc.
Kirby is of course correct that a loving God gives people lots of chances, on Earth and in the Spirit world, to change. He is also right that thinking the kid is doomed is short-sighted. He is also right that some parents probably overreact to their kids losing their testimonies.
Everybody reading this post probably knows some parents who have overreacted in this way. We could fill hundreds of pages on this blog with stories about these “wrong” parents.
But the truth is that everybody, including these parents, are human beings with nuances.
The parents may overreact at first, and when they calm down and pray and talk to their bishop or their friends, they can usually change their perspective. They will have faith that God will work things out in His own way. They will (for the most part) come to know the good qualities in their now-atheist son or daughter. They will, in short, come to accept their situation and perhaps find even more love for their wayward son or daughter.
But even if they don’t, their overreaction does not mean they are due a lecture on their unrighteousness by the suddenly self-righteous Mormon straw man inventors. It is far more charitable, it seems to me, to say to yourself, “wow, those parents whose son announced he is an atheist are going through a tough time, but they will get through it and hopefully they will learn from it and rely in their faith in God at the end of the day.”
Instead, what we see is people like Kirby (and many, many, many writers in the Bloggernacle) noticing some parents who overreact and using it as an excuse to lecture the entire Mormon population on how intolerant Mormons are. Such a reaction — preying on the suffering of others to point out your own self-righteousness — is truly mean-spirited in my opinion.
So, yes, Kirby is right that God will ultimately work things out. He is also right that a lot of Mormon parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc, overreact to people losing their testimonies. But he (and many, many Bloggernacle writers) are horribly wrong to try to imply that this somehow reflects how the majority of Mormons act and that Mormons are “silently torturing loving relationships to death.” The reality is that most Mormons are just trying to do their best in an often difficult world, and creating wrong-headed straw man Mormons to make yourself look good by comparison is unfortunate.