“Tell It Like It Is” Freethought In Media Award by Steve Benson (December 1999)

Steve Benson

“Latter-Day Saint To Latter-Day Ain’t”

by Steve Benson

Freethought Today, December 1999. This is reprinted from Steve Benson’s acceptance speech on Nov. 5 following presentation of a “Tell It Like It Is” Freethought in the Media award at the 22nd annual FFRF convention in San Antonio. Steve showed accompanying samples of his editorial cartoons.

It’s a privilege to be among such impious people who, to your credit, have “no invisible means of support.”[1]

I’ve been asked to share with you what it’s like to go from being a born-in-the-bed Mormon to a born-in-the-head atheist; from a Latter-day Saint to a Latter-day Ain’t.

The journey’s been an interesting one, especially for someone who is the oldest grandchild of the Mormon church’s version of the pope, and who, until a few years ago, was a “pray-pay-and-obey” true believer.

Even though I spent many years of my life in the hamster wheel of Mormonism, too busy trying to convert the world to enjoy either drinking or thinking, I’m not complaining. I’m finally out now and “lik(ing) life. It’s something to do.”[2]

I come from a Mormon tradition that is often referred to as a “cult.” Ralph Waldo Emerson more politely called it “the afterclap of Puritanism.”[3] (Sounds like some sort of sexually transmitted disease.)

Although, when the then-coach of the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson, brought his team to Utah for the NBA finals, he called it a cult.[4] After all, Dennis Rodman was complaining that to have a good time, he had to keep flying between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas during the playoffs.

The more honest Utahans admit its a kooky place. As one writer observed, orthodox Mormons think Diet Coke is really heroin.[5]

Look at an average group of Mormons and what do you see? People who:

Dress the same way down to the same underwear. Follow the same leader. Think the same thoughts. Believe the same thing. Read the same books. Obey the same commandments. Vote the same way. Fear the same enemies. Oppose the same ideas. Condemn the same people who don’t think the same way. Pay the same church. Avoid the same movies. Eat the same food. Associate with the same folks. Marry the same kind. And give the same reasons for believing that truth and Mormonism are one-in-the-same.

If for no other reason, I should have left because it was boring.

It was also stupid. Dr. Robert Ellis, a psychotherapist, notes, “Either religion appeals to the stupid, or religion results in stupid people.”[6]

The kind of wackiness of which I speak was evidenced in the true story of a Turkish farmer who was hospitalized after drinking a large quantity of insecticide–which he insisted he needed because he had accidentally swallowed a fly. “I wanted to kill the fly before it reproduced inside me,” he said. “I heard they reproduce a lot.”[7]

The real problem is that people like him reproduce a lot.

That includes Mormons, who, like has been said of Catholics, believe the best approach to birth control is the one that produces the most of them.[8]

As with the misuse of bug poison, the injection of religious propaganda into an otherwise normal human being infects the mind and sickens the system, quashing natural curiosity, discouraging healthy skepticism and spreading the plagues of nonsense and hate.[9]

These godly germs may actually have a neural basis. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have recently discovered that patients with an unusual form of epilepsy report intense religious experiences as part of their attacks. They also indicate being preoccupied with mystical thoughts between seizures. This has led scientists to suggest that certain regions of the temporal lobe may be hard-wired to conjure up religious ideas.[10]

Leave it to the mentally ill to help us realize that the mind created God, not the other way around.

Just this week in Phoenix, a trial is being held for a self-described loving, Bible-believing mother who, after receiving a message from God telling her that the world was going to end and she needed to tell people to repent, placed her six-year-old daughter face down on a baby blanket in the desert and shot her in the head.

Mom said she decided to exercise her ultimate parental authority because her child had been born out of wedlock and that the only way for her daughter to get to heaven was to be offered to God as a sacrifice.[11]

But, really now, why should Christians be horrified?

After all, Mom was only following the voice in her head from the same loving God who, if you believe the Bible, unleashed bears to maul dozens of children for making fun of one of his prophets, ordered parents to kill their kids if they showed disrespect and allowed his own son to be tortured to death for acts his son didn’t even commit.

Philosopher James Libbard was right: “Holding up the Bible as a paragon of virtue is like canonizing Charles Manson.”[l2]

Nonetheless, convinced that God is on their side, his generals, like Jerry Falwell, have declared, “Good Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions.”[13]

Likewise, my own grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson–bless his narrow little heart–“prophet, seer and revelator” for the millions of Mormon faithful, exhorted me in my youth to follow what he called my “marching orders.” Those commands meant a frontal assault on the forces of the devil or, when necessary, a retreat to safer ground.

In the Benson household the enemies list included: Martin Luther King, who, I was taught, was a notorious liar and a rabble-rousing communist; African-Americans in general, who, Mormons still believe, are an inferior race; the Beatles, who, according to John Birch material scattered around our house within easy reach of the children, were trained by Soviet musicians as part of a plot to corrupt America’s youth with satanic rock music; liberals, who were disdained as thorns in the side of God; scientists and intellectuals, who were denounced as offspring of the anti-Christ; homosexuals and working mothers, who were seen as perversions of the natural order; and, last but not least, John F. Kennedy, who, I was told as a fourth grader on the day of his assassination, got what he deserved.

For years, incredibly as it seems to me now, I lived amid such garbage, all the while striving to be the ideal, thoroughbred Mormon. I was on track to eternal Mormon stardom, reserved especially for faithful men in a church run by men.

At age eight, I was officially baptized into Mormonism. I remember going under the water in my white baptismal clothes as my dad immersed me in the font. All I could see was a murky light above me. It turned out to be a spotlight that was to follow me throughout my youth, shining on me from the appointed enforcers of righteousness in an ever-watchful church and family, making sure I didn’t wander too far afield, where I might wind up befriending Democrats or dating gentiles.

To keep me on the straight and narrow, my parents yanked me from a high school English class because the teacher ridiculed Bircher claims that the hippie peace symbol was really a sign of the devil. They also didn’t like the fact that she had us reading John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, which featured rebellious children who used swear words.

To help me maintain my sense of “chosenness,” I was forbidden to attend the high school Sadie Hawkins dance with the Baptist girl who would have “brung” me–because she wasn’t a Mormon.

At age 19, I was ordained as a “minister of the gospel” under the hands of my grandfather and ordered to Japan to serve a full-time mission. Our Mormon invasionary force was first sent ashore at Okinawa. I and my fellow Grunts for God slugged our way up to Hiroshima, where I spent months handing out propaganda leaflets to the Japanese–some with their faces disfigured and melted by radiation–as they walked through “Heiwa Koen,” or Peace Park, located at the epicenter of the atomic bomb that America, in the name of its Christian God, had used to flatten their city and vaporize over 70,000 non-combatant men, women and children.

Two years later, only a handful of Japanese had taken me up on my offer to join “the one and only true church on the face of the earth,” in return for their agreement to give up their culture, abandon their families and cough up 10 percent of their annual income for the rest of their lives. (I suspect most thought the exchange rate was too high).

At 21, I met my wife-to-be, Mary Ann, while we both were attending what Mormons refer to as “the Lord’s University” (known to the outside world as “Breed ’em Young”). We were eventually married in the Salt Lake temple.

Our marriage was the usual secret Mormon temple rite, in which the bride and groom wore bizarre costumes made out of bulky white material, complete with fig leaf aprons, a puffy hat for me and a veil for my wife. As was typical, the event was strictly off limits to all except Mormons in good standing who had passed a “worthiness interview” prior to being admitted. My grandfather officiated as the ceremonial high priest.

Our marriage was the celebrated high point of a series of secret temple initiations that included whispered code names, handshakes and underwear emblazoned with emblems cribbed from the Masons, and figurative blood oaths pledging obedience to God, in return for His assurance He wouldn’t kill us.

Barely nine months into our union, having thrown reproductive caution to the wind on the orders of our leaders, we did our part by bringing forth our first baby, followed in quick succession by three more. Like the obedient Mormon helpmate she had been conditioned to be, my wife stayed home, trying to keep from going crazy. Like the stalwart Mormon breadwinner I had been raised to be, I continued to work and go to school.

While still in the long shadow of the Salt Lake City temple and well within monitoring distance by prophets and parents, I kept up the church/family tradition of drawing cartoons for the BYU newspaper defending what I was told to defend–like the FBI.

At that time, the press had begun reporting excesses of the late J. Edgar Hoover’s reign of domestic terror. My grandfather was an outspoken anti-communist and former Cabinet member in the Eisenhower administration. He worshipped Hoover almost as much as he hated Martin Luther King. I’m convinced he thought the “J” in “J. Edgar” stood for Jesus.

Eventually, however, I managed to break out of Mormonism’s Alcatraz. To understand why requires some examination of what Mormons believe.

As with every fledgling cult involved in authoritarian, elitist and ritual worship, Mormons created their sacred myths to give a sense of meaning and control to a world they didn’t understand and felt powerless to change.

For the superstitious Hebrew tribesmen of ancient Israel, it was their superman figure Moses, who laid down the law from Mount Sinai. To equally credulous Mormon settlers of frontier America, it was their prophet Power Ranger, Joseph Smith, who laid down the law from the Hill Cumorah.

As had been said of all “prophets,” both these guys “navigat(ed) the sea of knowledge without the charts of science or the compass of education and end(ed) . . . by discovering ultimate truths which somehow eluded the wisdom of the ages.”[14]

Smith was a 14-year-old farm boy when, in 1820, he said God descended through the treetops behind his New York farm to inform him he had a job for him to do. An angel led Smith to a nearby treasure trove of buried scripture, engraved on golden plates, containing the long-lost word of God to the world. Using a magic “peep stone” to decode its strange hieroglyphics, Mormonism’s boy wonder pulled back the curtain to reveal a volume he called The Book of Mormon.

When asked by the skeptical crowd to produce the actual plates from which the book was translated, Joe informed his audience that the angel had come back, picked them up and packed them off to heaven. Folks would just have to have faith–what Ambrose Bierce called “a belief without evidence in what is postulated by one who speaks without knowledge of things without parallel.”[15] Actually, the Book of Mormon had several parallels to other 19th century works from which it was plagiarized.

Nevertheless, Smith claimed his book got its name from an ancient warrior whose ancestors set sail for the New World from the Arabian peninsula in 600 B.C., using a special compass shaped like a bowling ball with pointers on both ends, that worked only when they did what God commanded them. Other groups had embarked even earlier, in specially-outfitted submarines, carrying everything they needed to colonize the wilderness, including honeybees. Long before Columbus, these transplanted Hebrews hit the shores of the New World, from where they reproduced like rabbits and fanned northward, only to finally destroy themselves in a huge family feud.

The tale features a spectacular battle scene, in which tens of thousands of white-skinned, armor-plated true believers are slaughtered by godless Indians sporting shorn heads and loin cloths, in the area of present-day New York state.

Trouble is, the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Anthropology has concluded that virtually no archaeological evidence exists to support Book of Mormon claims.[16]

But let’s not let such details to get in the way of the greatest story ever sold.

Amid earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and general mass destruction, Jesus himself appears in the Book of Mormon storyline, stopping en route to heaven after his resurrection. To the astonishment of his audience, he gives a preview of his not-yet-compiled Biblical teachings (delivered coincidentally, in Elizabethan English). Before leaving, he organizes a tax-free church and chooses a handful of stout-hearted men to run it until he returns.

Unfortunately, within a few years, things go to hell. Thanks to the temptings of the devil (Jesus’ cantankerous brother, according to Mormon doctrine), God’s church falls apart in America, the Dark Ages envelope Europe and it’s time to phone home. That’s when God calls on young Joe to pick up the pieces, dig up the gold plates, and restore the truth to the earth.

That’s the official version. It was shaken up a few years ago, when Mark Hofman, a skilled forgerer and antiquities dealer, phonied up documents showing early church leaders claiming a white salamander, not an angel, delivered the gold plates to Smith. Only when Hofman tried to cover his tracks by blowing up other Mormons was the hoax exposed.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a cartoon.

I got a call from Command Central in Salt Lake City. Grandpa was on the line, somberly informing me he had the cartoon in front of him. “Why?,” he asked. I was tempted to respond with a “Why not?” but wanted to remain in the will. Instead, I tried to explain that one of the best defenses in the face of criticism is an ability to laugh at oneself. My grandfather replied, “I still love you. Just go easy on us.”

Despite such scandals, including the most recent one involving the Olympics, today the Mormon church boasts a membership of over 10 million and sits on a multi-billion dollar financial empire.

If Joseph Smith were alive today, he’d probably be amazed at the number of folks who’ve actually bought his snake oil. After all, he, better than anyone else, knew the importance of spin control.

Among other things, he was convicted in court for being a money-digging charlatan, accused by his followers of swindling their cash in a clumsy bank fraud scheme, and lured into “translating” a set of supposedly ancient brass plates which had actually been manufactured in a local blacksmith’s shop by a group of detractors.

His claim to have also translated ancient Egyptian papyri from a first-hand account by the prophet Abraham was likewise exposed as a hoax when the original documents later turned up and were identified by Egyptologists as common funerary texts used for embalming the dead before shipping them to the underworld.

Add to this that Smith rolled in the hay with a 14-year-old girl, counted a secret harem of several dozen wives, practiced astrology and dabbled in the occult, and what you have is a somewhat different picture from the Mormon ads you find in Readers Digest.

As fate would have it, Mormonism’s inventor didn’t live long enough to explain himself. He was shot to death by an angry mob while in jail for ordering the destruction of a newspaper printing press that had published embarrassing revelations about his polygamous affairs.

That’s not all that Mormons have tried to keep under wraps.

They don’t want you to know, for instance, that they still hold the view that people of Native American or African lineage are born with dark skin because God cursed them and their progenitors. When Mormons tried to get away with a slippery change in the wording of Book of Mormon scripture prophesying the future of Indians who converted, I drew a cartoon lambasting the Mormon God as the bigot he really was.

The traditional scripture read that Indians who accepted Jesus would become “white and delightsome.” The scripture was altered to instead read “pure and delightsome.” The change was made despite the fact that racist Mormon prophets had, from the early days of the church, predicted that only a change in the red man’s heart would result in a change in the red man’s skin.

When Mormons insisted, contrary to their actual doctrine, that they really do regard black people as equals, I did a cartoon showing them trying to scrub up their racist image.

Mormons also don’t want you to know of their professed belief that Jesus was literally fathered by God through sexual intercourse with the Virgin Mary.

And they’d prefer you believe they’re just like their Christian neighbors when it comes to accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord. What they won’t tell you is that according to early Mormon doctrine, Adam was Jesus’ granddad who, along with one of his plural wives, Eve, was transported to the Garden of Eden from another planet.

They also want you to think they love scientific pursuit and produce some of the best minds in the country when, in reality, the phrase “Mormon university” is a contradiction in terms.[17]

When I did a series of cartoons on a Mormon Arizona legislator with a habit of introducing anti-evolution bills, showing him as a monkey swinging through the legislative chambers on a tire or attempting to type up a bill that made sense, a local right-wing Mormon activist sent a letter of protest to my grandfather, complaining that my cartoons were impeding God’s plan for returning constitutional control of the schools to his people. Unable to bring me to my senses, she implored him to silence me.

When Grandpa called, I told him that so-called “scientific creationism” was nothing more than religion masquerading as science and that if Mormons, or anyone else, wanted to teach it in the public schools, they should confine it to a course on comparative religions.

I was later to do cartoons on like-minded zealots who seek to kick Darwin out of science classes and replace him with the Christian god.

I was just as committed to replacing Arizona’s Mormon governor, a small-minded, loose-lipped, vicious little used car salesman with an ill-fitting toupe named Ev Mecham. Thankfully, he lasted barely a year before being thrown out of office.

His first official act as governor was to cancel the state’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, declaring that blacks didn’t need holidays, they needed jobs. He defended the use of the term “pickaninny,” saying he saw nothing wrong with it and couldn’t understand why blacks would be offended. He assured dumbfounded Arizonans that he hired blacks at his car dealership, not because they were black, but because they were the best for “the cotton-pickin’ job.”

He didn’t stop there. He caused a stir in a visit to a local synagogue, where he declared to the Jews in attendance that Jesus Christ was their lord and savior.

At a rubber chicken luncheon for a local service club, he recounted how, on a trip to Japan, he told golf lovers about the many courses in Arizona. He marveled how their eyes “got round.”

Eventually, Mecham was impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. Quoting Biblical scripture at a press conference, he vowed, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,” and promised to return. I could hardly wait. True to his word, like a bad rash, he came back, running for reelection.

Naturally, I did a cartoon.

Howls of protest ascended to the heavens. Letters threatening to have me hauled into ecclesiastical court were fired off to Salt Lake City, demanding that my grandfather remove me from all positions of church service. Phoenix’s ecumenical council, under pressure from a Mecham henchman, denounced my cartoon as an attack on the Mormons. My stake president–the Mormon equivalent of a Catholic bishop–called me into his office and relieved me of my church duties, declaring that I had abused my God-given talents in mocking the sacred emblems of the church. (A Mormon state senator later admitted to me that he had advised the stake president to lower the boom. The stake president himself acknowledged he had received a call from the big boys in Salt Lake, but insisted it had nothing to do with his decision.)

I wasn’t the only one to feel the wrath of the Mormon management team. “The Brethren,” as they are called, constantly remind the faithful to do and think as they are commanded. They are admonished that “when the prophet speaks, the debate is over.”[18] Those who insist on following their own drummer are drummed out, but only after being publicly denounced as apostates destined for damnation, and made the targets of false allegations and innuendo.

Such has been the fate in recent years of several Mormon intellectuals, scholars and feminists who have dared to speak out. Like a friend of mine, and now excommunicated former Mormon, Deborah Laake, who chose to talk–and write–openly about Mormonism’s patriarchal grip on women.[19]

In an episode that helped write the final chapter in my escape from Mormon madness, I went to the press to inform it of my elderly grandfather’s deteriorating physical and mental condition.

The church knew of his situation but chose to mislead its members into believing he was still mentally alert and performing his daily prophetic duties.

Based on my own direct observations, I knew the opposite was the case. He was largely confined to his recliner in his apartment, where he spent his days dressed in a jumpsuit and diapers, wrapped in a blanket, being spoon-fed by his nurses, incapable of speaking more than a few words and unable to recognize visitors.

When publicity shots were required to reassure the faithful that he was leading the church, his office staff would dress him up in a suit, prop him up like a dime store mannequin and take his picture, making sure the camera didn’t catch the feeding tube up his nostril.

Even my young son could see through the charade. One Sunday morning over breakfast, he asked, “Dad, why do they call great-grandpa ‘prophet’ when he can’t do anything?” That simple question prompted me to call an Associated Press reporter and lay out the facts. He warned of the repercussions that would follow. He was right.

Mormons denounced me as a tool of the devil and an enemy of righteousness. I was chastised for lacking faith to believe in miracles. I was reminded that if God could part the waters for Moses, he could make Ezra Taft Benson rise, walk and talk. (That would have been a persuasive argument to me, had it not been for the fact that God never parted the Red Sea).

Some drew their own cartoons and sent them to me anonymously.

One of my cousins went on local radio to insist that her grandfather was in fine shape, running the church like God wanted him to, as demonstrated, she said, by the fact that the last time she visited him, he squeezed her daughter’s toe. Family members wrote letters accusing me of being a pride-filled publicity hound. A sister lamented my spiritual blindness.

Even my father called to warn me that the media was the enemy of the church. I reminded him that I was a member of the media. Well, then, he said, if I ever again went to the press about his father’s health, he would see to it that I would be barred from ever seeing my grandfather again. (So much for that good ol’ Mormon family togetherness).

A few weeks later, my wife and I left the church. Our Mormon bishop soon called, asking if we would be interested in selling him our house, since he was in the market and figured we might want to move out of the neighborhood. We weren’t and we didn’t.

Word soon hit the Internet that my real reason for leaving Mormonism was because I had fathered an illegitimate child by a young woman in Utah and was running from excommunication. (Actually, I was a virgin on our wedding night and my bride was the first and only woman I have ever kissed, not to mention made babies with. It sounds almost as unbelievable as Mormonism itself, I know, but I swear on a stack of Thomas Paine pamphlets that it’s true).

A few months later, my grandfather died. Shortly after his passing, I received an anonymous call from a man in California, claiming to be carrying a message to me from my grandfather from beyond the grave. He said my grandfather had appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to tell me he wanted me back in the church. I figured if my grandfather had regained enough of his senses in the afterlife to communicate with someone in California he didn’t even know, he sure as hell could have contacted me himself. After all, he had done it plenty of times before.

Looking back on it now I can relate to the confession of Charles Darwin, in his autobiography. “I gradually came,” he said, “to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. This disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but at last was complete.”[20]

I gradually discovered that everything I needed to know I hadn’t learned in Mormon kindergarten. The lies, distortions and cover-ups began leaping off the pages the more I studied, and biting me in the brain. I found myself reacting strongly to the Mormon thought police who were trying to squeeze the life out of my intellectual growth and individual freedom.

I tried going through the motions. At work, I still drew the obligatory Easter cartoons. I still attended church, but would bring along an interesting book to tuck between the pages of the hymnal. Finally, I gave up. My heart–and head–just weren’t in it, so I decided to start my own church. It would be the church of my own mind.

I concluded there was no hope of compromise between reason and religion. The two had been, and would forever be, at war. “The theist and the scientist,” said Joseph McCabe, “are rival interpreters of nature. The one retreats as the other advances.”[21]

I had to either follow my head and my conscience, or surrender both to the dictates of little minds whose feet were forever sunk in the concrete of arrogant absolutism, unable to move along the path to new discovery.

No longer would I let my true self be smothered by a church that had for so long held its tablets of stone over my head like a swatter over a fly, warning me that if I took off, I would be flattened.

Once I decided to act, I found that for all their formidable appearance, the stones were made of Styrofoam. Religion can have only as much power over your mind as you allow it.

So, I cast faith aside. No longer would God be my imaginary playmate. Instead, I placed my bet on a proven winner. As Baron D’Holbach observed, “if the ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, the knowledge of nature is calculated to destroy them.”[22]

Scientific explanations based on observable laws of nature made infinitely more sense than the scriptural fairy tales invented around campfires by ignorant shepherds.

As astronomer Carl Sagan observed in his last book, Billions and Billions, shortly before dying of cancer:

“The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”[23]

As a newspaper editorial cartoonist, I work in the world of journalism, where lying, hypocrisy, intolerance, bigotry, self-righteousness, abuse of power, corruption, and downright stupidity are regularly exposed and reported. Sadly, those doing the deeds often wrap themselves in the vestments of the church.

We must never retreat in the face of threats or punishments dispensed by theocratic terrorists more interested in protecting their power and indulging their vanity, than in advancing the human condition.

If, as the true believers claim, the word “gospel” means good news, then the good news for me is that there is no gospel, other than what I can define for myself, by observation and conscience. As a freethinking human being, I have come not to favor or fear religion, but to face and fight it as an impediment to civilized advancement. Historically, it has been the so-called “men of God” who have committed all manner of evil in heaven’s name.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell observed:

“You find as you look around the world that every single bit of human progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is, the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.”[24]

The solution? Says Robert Ingersoll: “The star that shines above the dawn, the herald of the day, is Science, not superstition; Reason, not religion.”[25]

And, lastly, as a cartoonist’s favorite, I turn to the wisdom of Walt–as in Disney.

In the year I was born, 1954, Time magazine proclaimed him “the poet of the new American humanism.”

Recall the memorable scene of the special star from Pinocchio, eloquently described here by Mark Pinsky, of The Orlando Sentinel:

“The old man (needs) a miracle, a dramatic intervention to give life to his little boy, slumped motionless in the corner of the room. So the whitehaired woodcarver (does) what might be expected under the circumstances: He (drops) to his knees, folds his hands and turns his eyes to heaven. Then, in his soft Italian accent, he (does) not pray.

“Instead, Geppetto (wishes) upon a star.

“The transformation that (ensues is) miraculous but not traditionally divine. As the old man (sleeps), a winged, glowing spirit, the Blue Fairy, (advises) the marionette to ‘let your conscience be your guide,’ to ‘choose right from wrong,’ so he (can) earn the gift of life.”[26]

There you have it.

Let your conscience be your guide–not that of some fiery god or foaming clergyman pretending to speak in the name of deity. Using your powers of will, you be the judge. Using your powers of intellect, you choose right from wrong. Using your powers of reason, you make your decisions in life.

That is the humane way. That is the way to freedom and moral justice. That is the gift of life.


  1. Fulton Sheen, in Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations, revised and enlarged, Fitzhenry, Robert I., ed. (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1987), p. 311
  2. Ronnie Shakes, in 1,911 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, Byrne, Robert, ed. (New York: Ballatine Books, 1988), p. 22
  3. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Dietz, Robert S. and Holden, John C., Creation/Evolution Satiricon: Creationism Bashed (Winthrop, WA: The Bookmaker, 1987), p. 58
  4. “Basketball’s Dennis Rodman Fined $50,000 for Comments on Mormons,” Sheridan, Chris, Associated Press, 13 June 1997
  5. Kirby, Robert, “5 Kinds of Mormons,” Utah County Journal
  6. in Dietz and Holden, Satiricon, p. 135
  7. “Short Takes,” Shepherd, Chuck, comp., The Arizona Republic, 10 October 1991, section E., p. 3
  8. Dietz and Holden, Satiricon, p. 93
  9. see Dawkins, Richard, “Viruses of the Mind,” Free Inquiry, Summer 1993, pp. 34-41
  10. “Brain Area Tied to Religion–Spiritual thoughts may be hard-wired by a ‘God module,’ ” Hotz, Robert Lee, The Los Angeles Times, in The Arizona Republic, 29 October, 1997, sec. A, p. 11
  11. ” ‘Then I offered her to God’–Insane mother’s confession in murder of child,” Walsh, Jim, The Arizona Republic, 3 November 1999, sec. B, p. 1ff
  12. in Dietz and Holden, Satiricon, p. 57
  13. quoted by Anthony T. Podestra, People for the American Way, in ibid., p. 44
  14. Dietz and Holden, Satiricon, p. 89
  15. in ibid., p. 58
  16. The Smithsonian Regarding The Book of Mormon.
  17. adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s original observation, “A Catholic university is a contradiction in terms”
  18. N. Eldon Tanner, “The Debate is Over,” Ensign, August 1979, p. 3
  19. Laake Deborah, Secret Ceremonies–A Mormon Woman’s Intimate Diary of Marriage and Beyond (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1993)
  20. from Charles Darwin’s autobiography, in Dietz and Holden, Satiricon, p. 31
  21. in ibid., p. 133
  22. in ibid., p. 135
  23. Sagan, Carl, Billions & Billions–Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium (New York: Ballatine Books, 1997), p. 258
  24. Russell, Bertrand, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1957), pp. 20-21
  25. in Dietz and Holden, Satiricon, p. 117
  26. “Disney Movies Shun Religion–Well, religiously Mickey is moral, but secular,” Pinsky, Mark I, The Orlando Sentinel, in The Arizona Republic, 19 August 1995, sec. D, p. 4

More About Steve Benson

Steve Benson, the first grandson of the late head of the Mormon Church, Ezra Taft Benson, has been an editorial cartoonist with the Arizona Republic for 18 years. He has won many awards, including the 1993 Pulitzer Prize, and the 1997 Golden Spike Award for the best cartoon an editor killed. He is incoming president of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists.

Steve says his favorite saying is from Mark Twain: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” His take on this is: “There’s nothing so small that it can’t be blown out of proportion.”

Steve’s editor’s favorite saying is: “A picture is worth a thousand phone calls.”

Steve was an Eagle Scout and graduated cum laude, 1979, from Brigham Young University.

Today his cartoons are nationally syndicated in more than 120 newspapers. Following a cartoon barb at then-Phoenix mayor Paul Johnson, the city leader wrote Steve: “Your editorial cartoon was rude, crude, outrageous, inaccurate and poorly drawn. Could I have it for my office?”

Steve has been married for 21 years to Mary Ann Christensen, and they have four children, ages 12 to 20, and more than 30 small animals (not counting their own kids, Steve writes). These include ferrets, tortoises, rabbits, hamsters, birds, dogs, iguanas and rats. Steve says working with animals helps him better understand politicians.

He also has the distinction of being a fully-sworn Arizona state police officer, volunteer reserve, in his home community in Gilbert. The self-described “coptoonist” says that when he pulls over motorists who ask why they’ve been stopped, he is tempted to ask: “Do I have to draw you a picture?” He also works as a crosswalk guard at his daughter’s junior high school.

He and his wife resigned from the Mormon Church in the mid-1990’s, “a gesture which took a lot of courage and attracted a lot of attention,” the Freedom From Religion Foundation pointed out in awarding him the “Tell It Like It Is” Freethought in the Media Award. Steve counts reading his hate mail as a hobby.

Photo by Brent Nicastro

Freedom From Religion Foundation