Get in the For-Life Boat: Finding Titanic Fallacies in the Church

On August 7th, 2021, Bradley R. Wilcox–second counselor in the Young Men general presidency–delivered an address to single adult members of the LDS church who attended the Abundant Life Conference. His talk, titled “Get in the Lifeboat: Finding Safety in the Church,” compared being unaffiliated with the church to failing to get into one of the few lifeboats aboard the sinking Titanic.

Here are a few of Brad Wilcox’s assertions and why I disagree, or, at one point, contrarily agree with his Titanic metaphor and the many fallacies that stem from it.

QUOTE 1: “In 2019 some people proclaimed, “Nothing can stop the world economy. Unemployment rates across the globe are lower than ever.” Then along came a virus so small that we cannot even see it, and it changed everything. Not only did millions of people become ill and many die, but many also lost jobs. Fear was everywhere. Like the Titanic, the world tilted, but members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were safe and secure in the lifeboat.”

First off, someone needs to tell Brad Wilcox that all viruses are “so small that we cannot even see” them. It’s going to rock his world.

Secondly, I’m not sure where to begin with describing how out of touch Brad and the Brethren are with who exactly is feeling “safe and secure” in the church. Is Brad really implying that there were NO members of the LDS church who lost jobs during the pandemic, got stranded while traveling, lost loved ones, or even suffered and died themselves? Does he really think it’s appropriate to ignore the rise of DezNat and anti-maskers in the Mormon ranks who refuse to follow the prophet’s call for vaccines and other science-based precautions? Is Brad oblivious to the pain of the devout who had missions cut short, were isolated from their church community, or suffered from physical or mental health crises during this global pandemic?

What evidence, exactly, is there that members of the church were exempt from the dangers of this “tilting world” created by COVID19? Maybe Brad’s world didn’t change very much, but he’s in no position to tell the less privileged that they are as “safe and secure” as he.

Out-of-touch-ness + gaslighting does not a man of God make.

QUOTE 2: “Then an interesting thing happened. A lot of people looked toward our Church lifeboat. The April and October general conferences in 2020 were watched by more people than ever before—millions of additional people. During the pandemic, many people began to realize they needed what the lifeboat had to offer: belief in God, appreciation for organized religion, and faith in Jesus Christ.”

First off, I’d like to see evidence for Brad’s assertion that millions of additional people watched general conference; more importantly, I’d like to know how he knew these viewers were non-members of the Church who suddenly realized that the LDS church was exactly what they needed, and tuned in to an exclusive broadcast for Mormons that isn’t widely advertised outside its ranks.

Are we really to believe Brad’s fallacious and strange assumption that millions of nonmembers had unprompted feelings to become Mormon, and took measures to be present for 10 hours of church talks? I think not. More likely, if there were indeed millions of additional viewers, they were members watching general conference from the comfort of their own homes, rather than congregating in their meeting houses to watch as a group. If hundreds of families broke off and watched general conference, each being counted as separate units, that would easily account for these millions of additional viewers who, because of the pandemic, opted to stay at home.

Because I find my explanation much more practical than Brad’s, I say again that I’d like to see what evidence he has that make his assertions closer to God-like truth than mine. Other than the fact that he was born with male genitalia, and I was not.

QUOTE 3: “A recent international study indicated that more young people than ever before are declaring themselves atheists. These individuals think that belief in God doesn’t make a difference when it comes to being a good, moral, and ethical person. Here’s the challenge: God has given us the freedom to believe in Him or not, but it’s not correct to say it doesn’t make a difference. Our belief in God affects how we see ourselves and how we see and treat others.”

Here is where I contrarily agree with Brad Wilcox. I think he’s totally right in asserting that our belief in God affects how we see ourselves and others.

For example, I believe that God is a loving Creator, which is why I openly support giving my fellow queer citizens the same rights as everyone else. My belief in God is also why I don’t think 12-year-old boys are inherently more worthy of holding God’s power than women who have dedicated their lives to being a light in this world. Also, my belief in a mature creator is why I don’t for a second think He throws a fit whenever someone uses the word “Mormon” instead of LDS.

So yeah, Brad, your belief in a sexist, homophobic, racist, petty God and what He wants does indeed affect how you see me and every other human who raises a middle finger to your dumb Titanic metaphor and the dim-witted conclusions you draw from manipulated evidence.

More on that coming right up.

QUOTE 4: “Studies show that in times of trouble and crisis, believers cope much better than nonbelievers.”

Any guesses on Brad’s source for this? For those of you who guessed “A study conducted back in 1998 about hospice caregivers that has little to do with a global pandemic and Mormon membership a quarter of a century later,” you’d be correct! Are any other studies quoted to support Brad’s claim? Nope!

QUOTE 5: “Believers are happier and more willing to donate to charity.”

You just had to put in a plug for tithing, didn’t you, Brad? Trust me, you are all very happy as members of this Church, and happy people PAY UP!

Go to hell, Brad.

QUOTE 6: “During the pandemic, people struggled to find peace and meaning in a time of great isolation and disruption. Believers felt a hope and optimism others did not.”

Okay, Brad, you’ve really got to quit cherry-picking your research and, even worse, putting words in BIPOC researchers’ mouths. The study that Brad is referencing above, conducted in Taiwan, did find that “Christians or Catholics perceived better psychological well-being” (emphasis placed on perceived), but overall, “their recovery rate was slower compared with those of other religious faiths . . . . At follow-up 6 weeks later, those of Christian/Catholic faith had developed lower psychological well-being over time.”

The Taiwanese researches also stated that “Religion can be seen as a meaning-making coping system, which influences subjective well-being and the way in which we cope with traumatic stressful events in life.” So, while it may be true that believers feel “a hope and optimism that others d[o] not,” it’s a little shortsighted to conclude that the Christian/Catholic experience of just maybe being in denial about their emotions during a traumatic experience was the healthiest option overall. More importantly, nothing in the research Brad cites concludes that being in the Mormon lifeboat is the best way to ride out a global pandemic. So, there’s that.

Maybe Brad didn’t read the study all the way through, and therefore missed out on some pretty important details. Or, maybe, in the sporting tradition of gaslighting members, he purposefully omitted findings that didn’t line up with his message.

Either way, fuck you, Brad.

QUOTE 7: “Many people believe in God but not organized religion. They say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Typically that means they acknowledge God’s existence but do not want Him to ask anything of them, give them any commandments, or expect them to make any changes.”

No, Brad. What that “typically” means is people who are against organized religion don’t believe that institutions like Mormonism speak for God. It’s the organizations themselves, not God, that we take issue with when they ask things of us (tithing that our leaders don’t even pay), give us commandments (wear this magic underwear at all times), and expect us to make changes (stop being gay) that are not in line with God’s teachings. We believe that following God does not require the oversight of or exclusive membership to a white-centric, money-hoarding, abusive organization.

You, Brad, and your Brethren, are my problem with organized religion–not God.

QUOTE 8: “. . . [Y]ou need the norms and standards of religion to help you bring . . . ideals like love right down to the reality of the moment when someone is being unlovable. That is what religion helps us to do.”

Brad precedes this quote with the anecdote of choosing not to honk or yell at the driver ahead of us who’s driving slowly. If this is the kind of behavior Brad finds “unlovable,” causing a deep internal struggle within him that can only be overcome through the help of religion, I got to ask:

Is Brad okay?

Quote 9: “Some people see no need for organized religion, and yet they demand organized schools, cities, stores, airports, and hospitals. They see the benefits of going to an organized hospital, where there are rules or expectations. We see the same benefits in our organized Church.”

What we’re actually seeing here is the fallacy known as equivocation. The word “organized” means something very different in both contexts that Brad presents. He credits the church’s humanitarian efforts to it being an “organized religion,” meaning it: “make[s] arrangements or preparations for (an event or activity); coordinate[s]” (Oxford definition). For example, Brad states: “We provided food and other necessities to care for millions in need. None of us could have done that on our own, but we did it together because we have an organized religion.” Here, organized = prepared and coordinated.

But that’s not what anti-religion people are talking about. What we, and the rest of the world, mean by “organized religion” is something that is “arranged in a systematic way, especially on a large scale” (Oxford definition). Things like unions, political groups, and, yes, religions.

Brad knows full well that he’s talking about “organized religion” in an entirely different way than we are so he can dress it up as an unreasonable thing to dislike. Does he really think that if the Mormon church devolved into an unprepared, disorganized mess, that anti-religion, spiritual people would suddenly be drawn to it? Come on, man. That’s just insulting. Even Brad can reason better than that.

QUOTE 10: “One research study showed that while the COVID-19 pandemic raged during the summer of 2020, 12 percent of non-Latter-day Saint families increased their family religious practices compared to 62 percent of Latter-day Saint families who increased theirs.”

Brad’s research for this is a one-off study presented by W. Justin Dyer, an Associate Professor of Religious Education at BYU who believes that the LDS church actually protects LGBTQIA+ youth from suicide. If you’re wondering whether or not Dyer can be trusted as an ethical academic, fear not–I looked into him, and let’s just say Dyer isn’t exactly known for his large sample sizes or non-biased approach to Church-sponsored research. He’s a church lap dog through and through. (More on Dyer’s shoddy research coming up soon in another post).

I have absolutely no faith in any of Dyer’s findings, least of all ones quoted by Brad Wilcox. In any case, the fact that LDS families allegedly increased their family religious practices means . . . what exactly? That everyone else in the entire world has “turn[ed] [their] backs on the Savior,” because it’s the popular thing to do, as Brad suggests? What does that have to do with the pandemic and the Church being a lifeboat? This incomplete reasoning is what responsible rhetors would describe as non sequitur–yet another fallacy in Brad’s arsenal.

Why not instead offer us evidence that the Church was indeed something others flocked to (e.g. stats on significantly higher recruitment to Mormonism during the pandemic)? Is it, perhaps, because there is no proof of such a thing, and Brad, like all his superiors, likes to make stuff up and pretend his reasoning is defensible?

Honestly, when all is said and done, it sounds to me like Brad and Co. are much more like the captain of the Titanic than the lifeboats that had to do all the saving when the people in power royally fucked up.

Here’s my take on the metaphor. The Brethren are Captain Smith, smugly sure of their ship’s infallibility. The passengers, class differences and all, are Mormons who believe what they’re told, and continue acting as if they are “safe and secure” in their boat. The lifeboats are good souls waiting in the wings to help passengers flee disaster. Unfortunately, these lifeboats are too few and too ignored to help until it’s too late. That, too me, is the real message of Brad Wilcox’s fallacious talk to oblivious Mormon passengers dancing on thin ice:

We will not save you. Get out now, before it’s too late.

You can read the full address to LDS single adults here.

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