Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When a cult rules a town

Two former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) found a kitten, still alive, mostly buried in concrete inside a metal tube on one of the men's property in Colorado City, Arizona. The tube was of one of six standing upright in the ground, intended for use in making posts to support a horse shelter. They worked to rescue the kitten-- cut the tubing apart and hacked at the concrete-- and managed to get it out, but it died a couple of days later. Andrew Chatwin was working on Isaac Wyler's property, and was the one who initially discovered the cat. He says he has seen incidents of apparent deliberate animal abuse before, and believes that this was an act of intimidation by FLDS members telling Wyler (and presumably himself) to "get out."

When Chatwin went to local police to report the incident, he says they laughed at him. Chatwin says that the police are themselves FLDS, and Colorado City is effectively a "theocracy.":
The U.S. Justice Department recently filed a lawsuit against government officials in Colorado City, and the neighboring border town of Hildale, Utah, for alleged civil rights violations, including acting as de-facto agents for the church, denying ex-members and non-members of the FLDS Church access to everything from police services to housing and utilities, according to KSTU-TV.
Warren Jeffs may be in prison, but his people appear to still be going strong. According to The 21st Floor,
The FDLS [sic] is one of the largest fundamentalist Mormon denominations and split from the Church of the Latter Day Saints over their suspension of the practice of polygamy and its decision to excommunicate its members who would continue the practice. The sect believe that a man must have three wifes [sic] to get into heaven and a number of members have been convicted of abusing their spiritual wifes [sic] who were aged between 15 and 16. The FLDS Church is estimated to have 10,000 members and was formerly led by Warren Jeffs who is convicted of two counts of child sexual abuse and is currently serving life plus twenty years in Palestine Texas. 
The church believes that women should be subordinate to their husbands and in general, women are not allowed to cut their hair short or wear makeup, pants, or any skirt above the knees. It has been reported by former members that the FLDS Church has excommunicated more than 400 teenage boys for offenses such as dating or listening to rock music. Some former members claim that the real reason for these excommunications is that there are not enough women for each male to receive three or more wives. Six men, aged 18 to 22, filed a conspiracy lawsuit against Jeffs and Sam Barlow, a former Mohave County deputy sheriff and close associate of Jeffs, for a “systematic excommunication” of young men to reduce competition for wives. 
The church is considered a hate group because of it’s views on race. Former leader Warren Jeffs is quoted as saying: ”the black race is the people through which the devil has always been able to bring evil unto the earth.”
Richard Dawkins claims that at least a mild form of mental abuse is "inherent in a typical religious education," and that threats of eternal suffering in hell are an extreme example. What about the abuse of telling young men that they must marry at least three women if they want to get into heaven, and then denying them any opportunity to do so? What about the abuse of telling women that they must acquiesce to sharing a husband with other wives if they want to get into heaven-- and that they really have no say in who that husband may be, and must marry him as a teenager though he could be fifty years old?

I call FLDS a cult, but not because they having teachings I consider immoral-- though they have loads of those. I call them a cult because they are an insular group which threatens and harasses defectors, and indoctrinates children with beliefs that render them unable to function within society outside of the group, terrified and guilt-stricken about trying to do so. I think Dawkins is definitely exaggerating to suggest that abuse is inherent in a religious education, but that it is abusive to tell children that their eternal fate rests on obeying the particular restrictions of your group, especially if doing so is nearly impossible.

And I think that torturing an animal on someone's property as a means of intimidation counts as terrorism-- what more effective way is there to say "We have absolutely no regard for your well-being" than to demonstrate a complete lack of such regard for a kitten? Even among farmers, who are at least accustomed to dealing with the suffering of animals even if they will never be exactly comfortable with it, that recognition seems clear. As Chatwin says "How else would you take the message?"

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