"The Whirlpool of Spiritual Stupidity"

Stupid Whirlpool

I am moving forward with the assumption that you spend some time in the Book of Mormon every day.  Right? Since you are so well-versed in it’s teachings, it will come to no surprise when I make the following observation:

It is amazing how quickly a group of people can go from good to bad, and bad to good. Sometimes it takes several generations to make the “shift”, but often it is only a matter of a few years. Remarkably fast.  Mormon probably felt like he was editing a tennis match as the pendulum of righteousness swung back and forth.

What about individuals? Have you ever had the joy of knowing someone whose life swung from bad to good in the blink of an eye?  I have. I have seen miraculous conversions where – through the gospel – the Lord heals and blesses a penitent soul’s life with lightening speed. The old man is cast off, only to be replaced by the new man.   It is understandable that a conversion from bad to good can happen so quickly, because God has power, and mercy, and He can apply both when he sees fit.

But what about when it goes the other direction?  Have you ever known anyone who is strong in the faith, has a testimony, and then – almost suddenly – they are out of the church, lost in the wilderness, or turning against the church?

I have seen that too, and it is as heartbreaking as a conversion is joyful. Sadly, personal apostasy can happen with the same blinding speed as a conversion. One minute they seem to be doing OK, the next you can’t even believe you are talking to the same person.

How?  To explain, I would like to introduce you to “The Whirlpool of Spiritual Stupidity”.

Before we understand the “WoSS”, we need to recall a few of important gospel principles:

1) When we are baptized, we are baptized by water and by fire – the Holy Ghost is the fire that cleanses us from our sins. (D&C 33:11 & Moroni 6:4)

2) The Holy Ghost can teach us the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5)

3) The Holy Ghost can guide our decision-making process. (2 Nephi 32:5, D&C 11:12)

4) The Holy Ghost will not stay with an unclean person. (Alma 7:21)

5) They Holy Ghost will withdraw from an unrepentant person. (D&C 121:37)

6) Without the Holy Ghost, we are left to our own devices – and are cursed. (2 Nephi 28:31)

Back to the “Whirlpool of Spiritual Stupidity”…

We are confronted by decisions each and every day. Some not so important: What flavor of Pop-Tart should I have for breakfast?, and important decisions: Who should I marry? Where should I go to school?  What career path should I take?

The Lord has blessed us with a companion to help us make wise choices. When we make choices in accordance with the promptings of the Holy Ghost, we will choose well. If we do not consult with the Holy Ghost, we may or may not choose well. That is where the WoSS kick in.

Worst-case Case study:

Ralph comes home from serving two years as a valiant full-time missionary. He did a great job, was faithful and obedient in all things.  After he gets home, he eases back into the normal collegiate life – staying up late, playing video games, surfing the web, etc.  Things like scripture study and prayer begin to fade from priority. Unknowingly, he is drifting closer to the whirlpool.

One day Ralph happens upon a website that features a steamy link. He is curious, so he clicks. Before he knows it, two hours have gone by, and Ralph has exposed himself to some rough pornography. He is now below the edge of the whirlpool.

The Spirit flees.

Later that night, with the Spirit gone, the only voice he hears is that of the adversary. “For the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.” (2 Nephi 32:8) So Ralph goes to bed feeling guilty – no prayers – no repentance.

The next day, as Ralph finds himself at the computer again – now in a weakened spiritual state – he brushes off the prompting to stay away, and returns to the pornography. Several days go by, and the voice of the Spirit gets easier and easier to ignore. Without prayer, and without promptings of the Spirit, Ralph gets pulled farther and farther down the whirlpool.  He ignores the pleadings of the Spirit to stop, to repent. With amazing speed, Ralph is now walking through life devoid of the Spirit. He is becoming spiritually stupid – or stupid to the things of the Spirit. He is on his own – or at least he thinks he is – but the adversary has been willing to stick around, because he still has a lot to say – and the adversary eventually talks him into immoral behavior – beyond just looking at it on the computer.  Deeper and deeper.

Remember, Ralph is in the middle of what Elder Robert D. Hales called the “Decade of Decision“, but he is trying to make his way through those decisions without the help of the Spirit. Ralph is now deep enough into the whirlpool that he is too embarrassed to do anything about it – it would break his mother’s heart – and he’s not about to go see the bishop – so he just keeps moving forward. Stupidly.

Now come the big decisions:  Where shall I go to school?  What shall I study?  Who shall I marry?  Where should we live? What job should I take?  But Ralph is spiritually stupid. He has put himself in the dangerous situation of having to make all these decisions without the help of the God that loves him. So one of two things happens: 1) He avoids making those decisions- it is easier to sit in the basement and play video games. Or 2) He goes on, pretending to be what he is not, and making the best of it, while bearing the burden of sin and the associated guilt.

Ralph meets a great girl, falls in love, decides to marry her. He never bothers to ask God if she’s the right one – he has stopped asking things by now, because he knows he doesn’t deserve an answer. His new bride loves him – she is excited to find her RM, oblivious to the fact that he is unworthy to take her to the temple to fulfill her lifelong dream.

But he takes her to the temple anyway. A little lie here, a little lie there.  Deeper and deeper.

So the young couple begins their new life together – one in sin, the other unaware. Both are unaware that the sealing – the marriage they waited their whole lives for – was not sealed by the Spirit, and is void before God. (D&C 132:7)

Ralph’s wife quietly wonders why her husband complains about going to church, why he refuses to lead the family in scripture study and FHE. Then she wonders a little more loudly. Why won’t he take me back to the temple?

They are not happy – because “happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ”, etc.  (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)  The strains begin to show in the marriage, and the cracks begin to appear.

Deep down in the whirlpool, Ralph tells himself that it wasn’t supposed to be like this. His wife’s nagging and guilt make him miserable – and if it weren’t for the baggage the church loads on him, things would be a lot better. It’s the Church’s fault! Those unrealistic expectations are causing the problems in his marriage, and in his life.  The adversary is quick to agree, and lets him know that it is not his fault, and that he is not alone.

Ralph soon discovers that there are thousands of people online that are just like him! He has found a home with other people – people unhappy with the Church, and the gospel – loud people who think that the Church can’t possibly be true, or it wouldn’t be so oppressive, and make them feel so bad about themselves.  And it follows that if the Church isn’t true, then Joseph Smith must not have been a prophet…Right?   And the downward spiral continues…

And thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.” (Alma 30:60)

There is a lot of spiritually stupid company at the bottom of the whirlpool.


A couple of finer points:

Am I making an assertion that sin precedes apostasy?  Yes.

How? Plain and simple:  People who have the Spirit don’t leave the Church. Period.

Can it really happen like it did to Ralph?  Sadly, yes. It is very common, and very tragic.

Are you asserting that much of the unhappiness in life, and relationships, can be directly traced to unresolved sin? Yes.

Do you deserve Uchtdorf’s Hammer?  No, I am just explaining how it works. I’m not condemning any specific person.

Can pornography really be that dangerous to priesthood holders? Yes. So can many other things that offend the Spirit. This example is why pornography is such an effective weapon. Offend the Spirit – then destroy the man.

What are some of those other things?  Contention, criticism of leaders, ingratitude, Word of Wisdom issues, gambling, idleness, etc.

Is there a way to keep from getting sucked into the whirlpool, or a way to get out once you are deep inside?  Yes – and I will discuss that part later – because there is hope.

Stay tuned…

About the author


  1. I, too, am the wife in that above related story. I have done both options related to by tpatrick. First the 1st option and then the second. When my husband did not/has not come around to the Lord’s side I gave up and got apathetic, toward my relationship with my husband and my Savior to the point that I myself am edging closer to that spiritual whirlpool of stupidity. It was not until I read this article that I truly realized that was were I had placed myself. I am grateful for your Mother’s Day post as I was refered to it from a niece which lead me to reading more of your blog and seeing myself and where I want to be versus where I am spiritually in a new light.

    1. As a licensed marriage and family therapist that speicalizes in pornography addiction I can tell you that the wife has a couple of options. Likely she will FEEL a distance with her husband an not really know what it is until eventually something breaks it wide open (maybe she finds it on the internet, stumbles across text messages not meant for her eyes, etc).
      There will be a confrontation where Ralph discloses only as much as he thinks he needs to to pacify his wife. She will struggle with feelings of fear, insecurity, thoughts of being inadequate, etc. She may try harder to “be a better wife” for a while. This is where she has a couple of options herself.
      Option 1: she will continue to stay in the relationship and living in a state of fear and mistrust. She may try to control her husbands behavior by constantly checking the internet and his phone and nagging him to seek help (12 step, treatment, bishop, etc). Inevitably her husband will continue to act out and she will feel a sense of failure because she was trying so hard to control his behaviors. This further leads to a feeling of inadequacy and now she is in a cycle of her own shame (loss of sight of who she is in God’s eyes). She remains trapped in the misery of the whirlpool and eventually feels hopeless, angry, and depressed.
      Option 2: Out of respect for herself and love for her husband she will set appropriate boundaries with her husband that help her to feel safe and maintain her self respect. She will lovingly encourage him to take the steps he needs to take (treatment, internet filters and rules, 12 step, etc) without taking his responsibilities on her own shoulders. She will reach out to connect with supportive people (12 step, bishop, counselor). She will begin to address her own issues of shame, truama, and resentment. Eventually, as she works her own form of recovery her husband will come along. If he decides that he loves the whirlpool more than her, she is in a better place emotionally to make some really tough decisions. Regardless of what Ralph ultimately decices to do she has placed herself on higher ground and has kept her understanding of who she really is (a beloved daughter of God).
      Wow, sorry for the novel.

    2. I am the wife of that man. It was 10 years before I found out why our relationship had been so full of pain and anguish. I chose to forgive and love despite how difficult and impossible that felt to me at the time. I worked tirelessly on developing a closer relationship with my Heavenly Father and carefully examined MY life so that I could repent of MY sins. I discovered a few very important things. First, as I focused on my sins, not his, I was able to be much more forgiving and my love for my Savior grew. Second, I learned that spying, nagging, and seeking comfort from those who were venting did not actually comfort me, but made me feel worse. So I stopped. I prayed to my Heavenly Father with frequent desperation. He became my counselor. I determined to trust in Him even when I didn’t think I could go forward for another day. Christ strengthened me to love my husband despite his then inability to begin the repentance process in earnest. I knew that he might not ever decide to begin the process in earnest, but I was able to love him and forgive him only “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” 2 Ne 31:19. That journey began 4 years ago and I am fortunate and blessed that now my husband’s journey back on the path has recently begun thanks to the loving and inspired outreach of a bishop. Our marriage is still very difficult because of many bad relationship habits developed by both of us during those 10 years, but now we have learned to turn to the Savior for help in our weaknesses and I have learned that no matter what happens going forward I am responsible for my own spiritual welfare.

  2. I am only commenting as anonymous because I don’t want to identify anyone in my family BUT
    With the exception of serving a mission this was, line for line, the story of my father.

  3. You must sure have a strong testimony and I feel sorry for folks who don’t meet your standards. If I had been your friend and decided that LDS Church life really wasn’t for me, I would not feel like our friendship would survive in any meaningful way knowing that you considered me a sinner and not somebody who had chosen for myself.

    1. You couldn’t be more wrong. First of all, I don’t meet my standards, either. Second, they aren’t MY standards.

      And yes, relationships can, and do survive and flourish – even when people think differently about the Church. . I don’t know of anybody in the church – myself included – who does not have a family member or friend who has left the church.

      Simply put, you are judging THIS sinner incorrectly.

  4. Great post. I’ve seen many friends wander off the path over the years. I think your description of how it happens is spot on. I’ve also noticed how many of them feel guilty over a period of time and feel the need to kick back at the church as if they were wronged. PS-I don’t want to sound like I have a “holier than thou” attitude since I’m a sinner who is constantly messing up too.

  5. I absolutely agree, Jocelyn. It has to be a daily struggle with trying to keep the Spirit with us and being able to discern what is right.

    Tolerance is often one step away from out-and-out sinning, in my experience.

  6. Yes to your described situation, sin offends the spirit. Without the spirit it is impossible for us to see the correct paths our lives should take. I would also suggest that we can be thrown off (at crucial times in our lives) by MUCH smaller sins…Pornography just happens to be one of the most potent weapons in Satan’s arsenal. Unfortunately many of us church members refuse to recognize pornographic material that is embedded in books, movies, tv shows, music, fashion, and basically the culture at large. As a result, we are poisoned by degrees and we tolerate where we should reject.

  7. You forgot to go over how people can go so quickly back to spirituality. I think even if people do clean up their lives, though, sometimes members continue to judge them for a long time afterwards.

  8. This was a fantastic, well thought out post. It was a reminder to me that it takes consistent effort daily to be able to stay as far away from the whirlpool as possible. One of the things that came to mind is that justification is a part of the beginnings of Apostasy. Perhaps a good test of how close we are standing to the whirlpool is what conversations we’re having with ourselves in the first place. For instance, in your example of Ralph the Returned Missionary, what did he FIRST tell himself when he started slacking off? What was his initial justification? And how can we catch ourselves at the edge of the whirlpool before we begin to wade in? I find that it simply goes back to where I am at with my scripture study and personal prayers. I tend to do a heck of a lot less self justification when I’m right in line with the Lord. My conversations with myself change, and instead of teetering close to the whirlpool, I steer clear away. Don’t even want to get near it. No desire to do so. Yet when I start justifying the other way, such as being too “tired” to pray or read scriptures today, or “I’ll do it tonight or tomorrow morning” or any of a hundred things I have in the conversations in my head that cause me to justify obedience, I find that is where I start edging closer to the whirlpool.

    The scripture that comes to mind is Mosiah 4:30 “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not awatch yourselves, and your bthoughts, and your cwords, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.”

    I don’t want to perish in the whirlpool 🙂

  9. I was with you all the way, until you threw in that list at the bottom, and just HAD to include “idleness and ingratitude.” Why’d you have to go and throw ME into the whirlpool!?!?! (or at least remind me that I am often uncomfortably close)

  10. I don’t have a problem with the concept of sin preceding apostasy. It always does. That’s not to say we shouldn’t love the sinner and hate the sin. Some of my best friends are ex-members. There but for the grace of God go we.

  11. Brilliant. The older I get, the more I know that the ONLY thing that matters in each day is whether we are doing what we need to do to have the Holy Ghost with us. Period. If we’re not, it only takes an instant to lose sight of everything we’ve worked so hard for.

    btw, I think this should be required reading for every RM. I am going to give it to my son when he comes home in June.

  12. Excellent reminder MMM! When I taught YW’s I loved the “slippery slope” lesson. I always made sure I worked extra hard on that lesson because the point is “spirit saving” so to speak. I like the whirl pool analogy too! I am bookmarking this post.

  13. Very good. I love this! Reminds me of the opposite (what we were talking about on Sat. –King Benjamin) and that list I made i.e. Fourth article of faith. But maybe I’m getting ahead of your point?

    I have seen both types like Paul mentioned, too. I have also been in the WoSS, but I’m grateful I’ve gotten out. One ex’d member (whom I live dearly) told me once that living without the Spirit was flying blind. But it wasn’t enough for her to come back. 🙁

  14. I really love this. My sister and I were just recently talking about people who end up in the whirlpool and how tragic it is, especially when they “knew better”.

  15. Great post! The whirlpool of spiritual stupidity, eh? That’s got a nice ring to it. Isn’t that practically the same thing as the pride cycle in a way? You start going around the pride cycle when you start sinning- generally the sin of pride of course.

  16. My observation is that the slip into the whirlpool can happen in an instant or over a long, long time on the “slippery slope.”

    I’m happy to see that you did not write that ALL apostacy is linked to sin. I agree that most is likely linked to sin. But I know enough good people (and I can only judge what I see, so maybe there is hidden sin I do not know) who struggle with issues of testimony, and who, in some sad cases, give up the good fight.

    1. Hmmm… Yes, I agree with your definition of apostacy, though I was thinking in a more narrow way, namely when someone leaves the church. Someone may leave the church and still seek (and even find) a connection to God. From where I sit, that’s apostacy because it’s movement away from God’s revealed truth and from priesthood authority to perform sacred ordinances.

      I’m not able to judge where someone is on his path to discipleship, however. As Elder Cook taught — being on the path is better than not being on the path, regardless of where we are. And if someone is not yet at the place where he can accept revealed truth through modern prophets, but is still striving to live a Christlike life, I’m not sure I’d call that sin.

      Sorry for the bit of a threadjack.

    2. I don’t see it as a threadjack at all – just another of our many conversations.

      Even in your narrow view of apostasy – as when someone leaves the church, I don’t see how that can happen without sin being involved: Choosing not follow the Lord’s counsel, choosing not to participate in the ordinances of the gospel (sacrament), not fulfilling stewardships, not paying tithes – I see all of these as sins of omission. (And I know plenty about sins of omission!) I don’t see how anyone can leave the church and not have sinned either before or during the process. I would also make the case that someone who was on the path, and chooses to let go of the iron rod, will quickly find themselves off the path. Different scenario for someone who has never been on the bath and is looking for it.

    3. I greatly appreciate Paul’s threadjack, because I don’t think the whirlpool analogy is entirely valid — it’s not always a whirlpool of stupidity, for instance, and whirlpools entrap people for reasons other than sin: human frailty — whether physical illness or mental/emotional sickness or social isolation or family abandonment or ignorance (which is not stupidity!) — is not sin. It’s mortality. God can broadcast through all of that, sure, but a sufferer may be incapable of receiving God for reasons other than sin.

      But for most of those reading this — including me, if I were to slide into apostasy — sin is the likely culprit. Not everybody has had the training and experience and witness, and the clear-sightedness to appreciate all that, as MMM, though.

    4. Well, of course we are all sinners, so we all have (by merits of this discussion) the seeds of apostacy in us. It would, therefore, be imposssible to find someone who leaves the church who has not sinned.

      And I agree that the lapsing from standards and practices of active members is sin, just as you outlined in the OP with the RM who feel into the web of pornography, or the one-faithful member who has stopped paying tithing, going to church, etc.

      I still have a question, however, about a person who may not have made it “on the path” as you put it, despite outward appearances to the contrary. For instance, a person born in the church who finally decides (even after a long period of study) that he cannot accept the truth of the Book of Mormon.

      He may be a case like the boy who fell out of bed and, when asked why he fell out answered, “Because I wasn’t far enough in it!” (I’m trying to remember if I heard that comparison first from Elder Faust or Elder Wirthlin…my old memory isn’t what it used to be.)

      Thinking about this a different way, some of these folks may not have sunk completely into the whirlpool. Surely those who have shut God out of their lives and are therefore absent the influence of the Spirit or the light of Christ are swirling away. But others who continue to strive to live the gospel (if not through the church) may just be on the edge…not a comfortable place, to be sure.

    5. Hmmm… “Spiritual stupidity” was meant to emphasize that when we divorce ourselves from the Spirit though our unrighteous actions, we lose our best helper in the quest to make correct decisions.

      Those who Ardis rightly points out with mental/emotional/physical limitations, or those as both Ardis and Paul point out that are “ignorant”, don’t really fit the whirlpool model very well. Aren’t those things taken up by the atonement anyway?

      In my discussion, I see apostasy as a choice, a choice to let go and turn away. But to let go, we have to have once had it in our grasp. So, in my frenzied mind, those who have never had their feet firmly planted on the path (as Paul mentions) , don’t really merit the title of “apostate”. I see them more like the seeds who were not firmly rooted, and withered in the heat of the sun.

      (I think it patently unfair that I have to have doctrinal discussions with someone named “Paul”. Your name carries instant credibility that I cannot compete with.)

    6. MMM, I have the same problem when I argue with myself… 😉 (Frankly, I’d worry much more about arguing with Ardis than with me!)

      You are right: I played with your analogy so much that I stretched it past its intended field of play. But that’s why I thanked you at the outset for not making it an all-inclusive analogy, just so it would allow these exceptions.

      And, FWIW — I agree that people who have light and then walk away are probably pretty deep in the whirlpool. The edge is frighteningly close for any of us (we’re all sinners, after all; Elder Faust reminded us quite well a few years back that it’s foolish to say it could never happen to me), so your warning is well-placed.

    7. This morning the fam was reading in Alma 32, and verse 19 reminded me of this thread:

      “And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only have cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?”

    8. Posting under my wife’s login, but my name is Waldo.

      I just got released as Ward Mission Leader, and that verse was the center of my mission plan. Had a little pushback from the missionaries at first, before I explained that 1) We are in the business of saving souls, 2) one soul is as good as the next, and 3) how much better if we can return someone to activity who has a lot more to lose Spiritually? Our baptisms were not great, numbers wise, because the focus was not on proselytizing, but our retention and reactivation did pretty well.

      Not to get ahead of your post for tomorrow, though…

      Great discussion.

  17. Thank you so much for this. I think it’s so easy to get sucked into those whirlpools, because the surface of the water looks so calm… at first.

    I look forward to tomorrow!

Add your 2¢. (Be nice.)