What wizard are you worshiping these days?

John Dehlin Understanding Mormonism 7 Comments

In the musical “Wicked,” the Wizard of Oz is made out to be the “bad guy.” According to the common interpretation, the Wizard fools the people into believing that he has powers that he does not have, and enriches himself through this position.

I guess I understand why people make the Wizard out to be the bad guy. Deception and manipulation are wrong after all.

But here’s the problem I see: I don’t think the Wizard of Oz (or Joseph Smith for that matter) originally set out to fool the people on such a grand scale.

I think that the people wanted a Wizard (or a treasure seeker, or a prophet) to make their lives feel less drab, meaningless, and vulnerable. They wanted hope. And so the people, in effect, created the Wizard by flattering and elevating him to his status.

Don’t believe me? Check out the lyrics from the song “Wonderful” from the Musial Wicked:

I never asked for this
Or planned it in advance
I was merely blown here
By the winds of chance
I never saw myself
As a Solomon or Socrates
I knew who I was
One of your dime a dozen
Mediocrities
Then suddenly I’m here
Respected, worshipped, even
Just because the folks in Oz
Needed someone to believe in
Does it surprise you
I got hooked, and all too soon?
What can I say?
I got carried away
And not just by balloon
“Wonderful”
They called me
“Wonderful”
So I said
“Wonderful. If you insist”

In other words, to whatever extent Joseph Smith conned our ancestors, to some degree, they were eager to be conned.

This is one of the hardest parts about what I do these days. As someone who sees how harmful cults can be, and who deeply values truth and science and evidence and reality, it’s continually astounding to be reminded over and over again that so many people, even ex-religious people, WANT…almost NEED a “Wizard”….whether it be a belief in Foot Zoning, or Reiki, or crystals, or chakras, or energy work, or Satanic Ritual Abuse, or aliens, or the mis-use of essential oils, or some drug (psychedelic or otherwise), or the next MLM, or anti-vaxxing beliefs, or conspiracy theories, or political fanaticism, or some set of extreme beliefs about diet or exercise, etc.

Many of these things can be innocuous….or they can grow to become a huge waste of time and money….or in a “worst case scenario” they can cause serious damage. It just depends on the situation.

Regardless, what’s clear is that we constantly want to give our time, money, and extra special “powers” to people or things that they simply don’t and should not have it….in order to make our lives feel more meaningful, or hopeful.

I guess that meaning and hope are good things. And I’m not a fan of people feeling powerless. And I honestly don’t want to insult anyone here.

Still…..I guess I wish that less of us felt the need to believe in superstitious or supernatural or conspiratorial things…..in part because I think that these beliefs can waste our time and money, make us vulnerable to charlatans, cause us to be bigoted to vulnerable minority groups, or even just give us false hope…but mostly because the power that we often give these things is usually not based in reality.

But as messy as reality is, I want to live in it. Not in Oz. And I don’t want to follow any more Wizards.

More importantly, I want humans to find a way to get meaning, joy, and purpose from life’s incredible realities — and there are so many — and not from charlatans or superstition.

Do any of you resonate with what I write here?

Again, I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone.

I just want the best for our people. ❤️

What Wizard are you worshiping these days?

————

Three essential books for those interested:

The Demon Haunted World
Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me
Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory

Would love your feedback.

Comments 7

  1. JS started deceiving people at a young age. That is who he was when he started with his treasure seeking. I think he was constantly searching for the next scam. He told people and deceived people and into believing he was gods new prophet.

  2. JS started deceiving people at a young age. That is who he was when he started with his treasure seeking. I think he was constantly searching for the next scam. He deceived people into believing he was gods new prophet and created all the props to prove it.

  3. I’ve made myself my own wizard. I seek for truth and teach it to myself when I find it.

    If Joseph Smith and the others get to do that, why can’t I too? Why do I have to rely on them?

  4. What you write very much resonates John. It seems as though having just enough brain power to comprehend the precarious situation we find ourselves in but not enough brain power to discern what, or if, anything can, or should, be done to improve our situation leaves us homo-sapiens open to any good narrative that comforts or explains even when it may not be based in reality.

    I was born and raised Mormon and when I first read that Joseph Smith used a rock in the bottom of a hat to “translate” from plates that, at times, weren’t even in the room, I was incredulous. I was sure that Fawn Brodie was either mistaken or a true “anti-Mormon” for spreading such a scandalous lie. Of course a bit more thought on the matter and one soon realizes that using “. . . two stones bound by silver bows into a set of spectacles (interpreters) . . .” otherwise referred to as a “Urim and Thummim” is no less magical than staring at a crystal ball, tea leaves or a rock in a hat. My own desire to maintain the comfort of my cocksure ignorance simply overrode the gnawing concern that I might be drifting toward that slippery slope of thoughtful uncertainty, and even worse, that I might have been purposely deceived. I had simply settled into a comforting narrative and held it as “the truth” right up until I actually learned the truth of the matter. I think my initial response is all too common within our species. I also think it is one of the primary reasons that the continuance of human civilization remains precarious.

    I read Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World” many years ago and count it as another part of my own faith journey. I look forward to checking out the other two titles. Another book I read recently by Yuval Noah Harari, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, was also very useful to me in thinking about the importance of which narratives we choose to attach ourselves to and the importance of the scientific method. I can’t imagine why anyone would take offense at what you have written John unless, of course, your Trump fan followers recognize who else qualifies as a “wizard” as you have outlined it here. Keep up the good work.

  5. I loved your use of the “Wizard of Oz” to illustrate your point.

    In the original movie, even though the Wizard was a charlatan, he still helped the characters find the best in themselves: The Scarecrow learned that he was really intelligent, no matter that he had a head was full of straw for a brain; the Tin Man learned that what really mattered was to love and be loved, and not whatever he had in his chest for a heart; and the Lion learned that true courage was not to be without fear, but to face your fear and do what needs to be done in spite of it. Maybe that’s what the best “Wizards” do for us — help us find the best in ourselves?

  6. In L. Frank Baum’s original novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the Wizard, after being exposed by Dorothy and friends as a “humbug” (AKA fraud) says to himself: “How can I help but be humbug when people expect me to do things that they know can’t be done?”
    In the original story, the true “magic” that the Wizard performs is convincing the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion that they already possessed within themselves the attributes that mistakenly believed they lacked.
    When any religion, theology or myth does this, I think it is a positive thing. But when a religion, theology or myth instills in people the belief that they lack something essential for their happiness or that they can’t trust themselves because they are broken, tainted, fallen or sinful–then that religion, theology or myth needs to be abandoned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.