“I considered it a good day when I worried only 90% of the time that I’d been deceived by Satan.” This is the way one woman expressed the paralyzing fear she felt for several months after deciding to leave the LDS church. At the time, she had no idea her fear was common among those brave enough to leave a high-demand religion like Mormonism. She was experiencing the result of phobia indoctrination.
What is phobia indoctrination?
A phobia is a persistent, irrational fear. Phobia indoctrination is the process by which leaders install irrational fears in followers about the dangers of leaving the group or questioning a leader’s authority.
Steven Hassan, the author of Releasing the Bonds and an expert on mind control, calls phobia indoctrination “the most powerful technique for emotional control.” Hassan further asserts, “If a person’s emotions are successfully brought under the group’s control, their thoughts and behavior will follow.”
Children and teens are especially vulnerable to phobia indoctrination because their brain is still developing, but adults are also susceptible as well.
The LDS Church teaches members to fear Satan
Though there are many types of phobia indoctrination in Mormonism, teachings about Satan are among the most toxic.
Members of the church are regularly taught to be on high alert because an unseen army (Satan and his minions) is single-mindedly fighting to destroy their eternal happiness.
The church cannot be seen as a solution if there isn’t a problem. Religious phobia indoctrination relies on creating the perception of danger in order to present the church as the means of safety.
Prophetic warnings about Satan are not G-rated; they are downright terrifying! Here are 3 toxic messages that create fear in those who believe in them:
Toxic teaching #1: Satan can outsmart you!
In the talk The Great Imitator, James E. Faust teaches members of the church that Satan is so crafty that he can seem reasonable. In other words, although Satan is evil, he can imitate good.
Faust warns his listeners that Satan will become increasingly shrewd:
In the future the opposition will be both more subtle and more open. It will be masked in greater sophistication and cunning, but it will also be more blatant. We will need greater spirituality to perceive all of the forms of evil and greater strength to resist it.
The implication here is that it’s going to be tricky to keep up with all the ways Satan may attack because he’s continually getting better at catching people off guard.
Following this fear-based message, Elder Faust insists that the church has the power to protect its members:
I wish to testify that there are forces which will save us from the ever-increasing lying, disorder, violence, chaos, destruction, misery, and deceit that are upon the earth. Those saving forces are the everlasting principles, covenants, and ordinances of the eternal gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. These same principles, covenants, and ordinances are coupled with the rights and powers of the priesthood of Almighty God. We of this church are the possessors and custodians of these commanding powers which can and do roll back much of the power of Satan on the earth.
In summary, Faust is saying you can’t outsmart the devil, but don’t worry—the priesthood (available only in the LDS church) will keep you safe. In order for the priesthood or church to be a solution, the members must first be indoctrinated about all the perils of Satan.
Toxic teaching #2: Satan never sleeps!
Members of the LDS church are taught Satan is a continuous threat. According to the lesson in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball entitled Fortifying Ourselves Against Evil Influences we learn:
The evil one is alert. He is always ready to deceive and claim as his victims every unwary one, every careless one, every rebellious one…The arch deceiver has studied every way possible to achieve his ends, using every tool, every device possible…He never sleeps—he is diligent and persevering…The adversary is subtle. He is cunning. He knows that he cannot induce good men and women to do major evils immediately, so he moves slyly, whispering half-truths until he has his intended captives following him.
This is no bedtime story—it’s downright scary!
At the end of this lesson, Kimball offers the solution to the fear-based messages he just taught:
As Latter-day Saints we must ever be vigilant. The way for each person and each family to guard against the slings and arrows of the Adversary and to prepare for the great day of the Lord is to hold fast to the iron rod, to exercise greater faith, to repent of our sins and shortcomings, and to be anxiously engaged in the work of His kingdom on earth, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Herein lies the only true happiness for all our Father’s children.
This lesson is classic phobia indoctrination. Church members are taught they cannot escape Satan without clinging to the very organization that taught that Satan exists.
Toxic teaching #3: Satan deceives people into believing that he doesn’t exist!
The Book of Mormon warns that Satan’s ultimate tactic is to convince people there is no devil.
2 Nephi 28 warns that Satan will be so powerful in the “last days” that he will be able to convince “false teachers” that he doesn’t exist. He will stir up some people to anger and
…others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security…and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.
In other words, Latter-day Saints are taught that those who don’t believe in the existence of the devil have been deceived by the devil, are subject to him, and face eternal punishment.
The story of Korihor in the Book of Mormon makes it clear that anti-Christs will suffer and be exposed as liars. Korihor is struck dumb for his sins and ultimately confesses that Satan taught him how to lead people astray. Even though he confesses his evil ways, Korihor gets his just rewards: he becomes a beggar, is killed, and suffers eternally. Alma explains,
And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.
From this story, Mormons learn that anyone who teaches that Satan isn’t real must be treated as a threat.
Many Latter-day Saints see this excerpt from Meridian magazine as a reasonable reply to someone who doesn’t believe in Satan:
A friend shared a conversation she had with someone who professed that the Church wasn’t true and that, in fact, there was no devil. She looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “It doesn’t matter one whit what you think. The Church is true whether you believe it is or not. And there is a devil whether you believe there is or not. And he’s seeking to lead you away from the truth. You can choose the devil’s way or the Lord’s way. It’s up to you, but there will be consequences.
When people are terrified of not believing in Satan, they are more likely to shut down anyone who does. It isn’t peace that keeps Mormons in the church—it’s fear.
What’s the solution to phobia indoctrination?
If you have been brave enough to leave the church but continue to be haunted by the idea of Satan, you are not alone. Fear-based thoughts don’t magically disappear.
Here are some strategies you can use to help your brain begin to let go of irrational fears about Satan:
First, become aware of your fear-based thoughts. You will begin to see them as just ideas passing through your head and not as absolute reality. If you have a question like “What if I’m wrong and I am being deceived?” constantly haunting you, normalize what you are experiencing and remind yourself that such questions are the result of indoctrination. Here’s an example of what you might tell yourself:
Of course that question is constantly showing up in my head. I was taught to be afraid of an unseen adversary who wants nothing more than to destroy me. My survival brain is just looking out for me, scanning for possible danger. There’s nothing wrong with me and I’m not in danger. It will take some time for my brain to figure this out.
Second, educate yourself about methods of mind control. Here are some excellent books on this topic:
- Standing For Something More: The Excommunication of Lyndon Lamborn.
- Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control by Luna Lindsey.
- Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults by Steven Hassan [Watch Steven Hassan on Mormon Stories here.]
- Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion by Marlene Winell
Finally, find other people going through the same thing. There is an abundance of post-Mormon and ex-Mormon groups on social media. It’s helpful and healing to know that there are others also recovering from the impacts of phobia indoctrination.
Overall, meet yourself with compassion and give yourself time. You have a beautiful future ahead. It is the LDS church—not the devil—that deceived you. As you continue to heal from the impact of fear-based messages, you will learn to trust yourself, have your own back, and let love guide your decisions.