Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Atonement

The very most important thing we can possibly learn during our sojourn on planet Earth is that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, came to Earth as a Man and died for the sins of all Mankind. This is the one truth that can set us free. Believe and be saved!

But how does killing a man like Jesus, the Lamb of God, change anything for anyone anywhere at any time in history? When has physical punishment ever righted any wrong at any point in history?

Does spanking a child undo the goose egg on his little brother's head? Does washing your mouth out with soap undo the bad words you said? Does chopping off a thief's hand unsteal what's been stolen? Does whipping a disobedient person undo previous insubordination? Does killing a murderer bring a victim back to life? How does physical punishment improve the situation rather than merely add more pain to what already been suffered?

Is it possible that the physical punishment and death required by the Atonement have nothing to do with undoing past offenses and more to do with "paying" for them as though God has some kind of price index for offensive behavior? What's the cost in beads of blood for a sip of prohibited coffee? What's the cost for treating your car like an idol? What's the cost for loving your faithful dog more than your dishonorable father? What's the cost of sleeping through 20 minutes of sacrament meeting? What's the cost of neglecting to tell your children you love them? What's the cost of not sharing the Gospel with your asshole neighbors? What's the cost of calling someone an asshole? And why does the law requiring the Atonement seem to be based on earthly laws of economics?

It seems like we should maybe have some answers for these questions. We often pose the rhetorical question "how much blood was shed for me?" but we've never been given the formula to calculate our contribution to Jesus' suffering.

What if our misbehavior actually contributed to something good? Does it still count against us? What if our calling someone an asshole caused that person to reconsider his assholeishness and eventually repent of his ways? What if our obvious boredom in church encourages the teacher to actually put some effort into preparing his next lesson? What if our neglect to show affection teaches someone to be more affectionate? What if our act of murder saves an entire nation from dwindling in unbelief? Do we get bonus points?

Should we even consider the cost in blood of shortcomings? Jesus suffered for our shortcomings, right? How much does being a bad speller cost? How much does knowing nothing about coding cost? How much does being a slow runner cost? How much does being a horrible lover cost? How much does not capturing even one Pokemon cost?

Why do we have to kill someone over any of this? I struggled a lot with this question. Why a blood sacrifice of a perfect god-human? How does this make sense to anyone?

How does an hour in the Garden of Gethsemane and a few hours on the cross by one person cover the sins of billions of people who lived over the course of thousands of years? How is an "infinite" atonement made in finite time? Why do we even need an "infinite" atonement to cover a finite number of sins performed by a finite number of people? How many sins per minute did Jesus suffer? Did he take on the big ones first and save all the little sins for last so he could manage his time more wisely, kind of like in the object lesson of the jar of rocks and sand?

The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous the Atonement became. (On the topic of the ridiculousness of the Atonement, I also recommend reading this essay by Robert Price.) I realized that I do not believe causing one person to suffer makes someone else better. I do not believe that anyone's blood can spiritually cleanse anything. I do not believe physical punishment has the power to repair or repay. I do not subscribe to such out-dated concepts of justice.

So what does Christianity have left to offer me? What is Mormonism without "the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice"? What was I without a belief in Jesus' atoning role?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Words of the prophets

One day I asked my brother if he knew why one of our siblings had left the Church. I couldn't understand how anyone could give up something as eternally important as God's "living church" "guided" by prophets and apostles. My brother wasn't exactly sure how it all came about but he recalled a few complaints about some things the early modern-day prophets had said and done. Like what? What could the prophets have possibly said or done to turn someone off the Church?

My brother responded rather non-nonchalantly about how Brigham Young had ordered the conversion or killing of some Utes at some point in time. I couldn't believe my brother could say that to me without a little more evident concern. It sounded a lot like the conversion method of the Spanish conquistadors, and I never thought much of their religious militancy. Did Brigham Young really view killing uninterested and uncooperative Native Americans as an acceptable policy? (The answer is yes.)

Of course there are number of other comments from the prophets that should give just about anyone pause. I already knew the Journal of Discourses was notorious for crazy shit prophets and apostles said in General Conference. I think everyone's favorite has to be Joseph's revelation of Quakers on the Moon followed by Brigham's declaration that the Sun has its own human inhabitants.

So how much of this kind of ridiculousness is acceptable from God's one true church? How can you maintain a belief in the prophetic-relevatory system when it produces so much utter trash? Are we expected to ignore all this stuff? Forgive the prophets for being mere mortals? Where do we draw the line between inspired word and lunacy? Do we take the prophets at their word or do we go with our gut? How long should we sustain someone or something (the Church in this case) when so much of what we get from that person or thing is not making us better, kinder, smarter people?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Empiricism vs. authoritarianism

Who do you trust more, someone who says "this is what I have observed through a series of careful experiments" or someone who says "this is how it is because I say so"? Do you feel more comfortable with someone who says "I can show you how I reached this conclusion" or someone who says "I'm related to the man at the top, so trust me"? Who's the bigger asshole, the person who says "we have no clear evidence to go off of, so I wouldn't be so sure" or the person who says "God told me personally, so I'm right"?

As odd as it may sound, I never really thought about these questions until my early twenties when an email from a disaffected sibling mention the conflict between empiricism and authoritarianism. To my embarrassment, I wasn't even entirely sure what empiricism was.

It got me thinking. Perhaps not surprisingly I thought of Alma 32 and the request that the reader "experiment upon my words". I really wanted faith to be an empirically testable thing, just like the seed analogy. Did this experiment of faith work the same way as planting seeds in various soil? Was it reliable? And what about verse 32? "Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away." How many people have not experienced any growth from their seed of faith? How many people have experimented only to watch the experiment fail?

I began to think about my life a little differently. How did I want to see the world? Who did I want making decisions for me? Who could I trust most? How could I trust myself? Was I going to behave in a certain way simply because someone told me that that's what God wants me to do? Wouldn't it better to weigh all my options carefully and trust collective experience?

The mustard seed

It is written that faith the size of a mustard seed is sufficient to do some pretty kick-ass stuff.

"And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you." (Luke 17:6)

"And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."  (Matthew 17:20)

"And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ. And they straightway came forth out of the prison; and they were loosed from their bands; and the prison had fallen to the earth, and every soul within the walls thereof, save it were Alma and Amulek, was slain; and they straightway came forth into the city." (Alma 14:28)

Even my faith was at least the size of a mustard seed (I actually like to think it was much bigger), but I was never able to work a miracle of any discernible magnitude.

The truth is I've never heard of any of this kind of thing happening in real life - only in scriptures and fantasy novels - and I think the Mormon Church (and other churches) have more than a few adherents who are sure "beyond a shadow of a doubt" of their beliefs. They have the faith, so where are the miracles?

I have to doubt these words of Jesus because they simply haven't proven to be true in the slightest. It seems instead that if you have faith the size of a mountain you'll be grateful for every little mustard seed of hope you come across.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Mormon culture

Not all Mormon communities are created equal. Perhaps the most common division of Mormons cuts between Utah Mormons and Mormons everywhere else in the world (also referred to as "the field"). Members from the field can't stand Utah Mormons. They say Utah Mormons are unbearable sanctimonious jerks who only see the world in black and white terms. The implication is that the Church is better outside of Utah. Better because the members are more authentic and accepting, more Christ-like. 

(Members outside the U.S. tend to be thought of a bit like merit badges.)

Utah Mormons naturally hate hearing how they suck and how they make the Church insufferable, so they often find a scapegoat for all the shitty Mormon behavior that makes hanging out with other Mormons such a chore. Inside Utah all annoying aspects of Mormon culture are said to have been bred in Utah County (also known as ”Happy Valley” or "the Bubble"), where all the asshole Mormons live in blissful ignorance of the real world and the real Gospel. 

But Utah County Mormons aren't about the accept responsibility for making Mormon culture awful. Hell no! They're not the ones with sticks up their asses! It's those self-righteous know-it-alls over at BYU who are dragging the good name of Mormons into the sewers of arrogance and bad taste.

It's BYU culture, not Mormon culture, that we all hate, right? Kind of, unless you're at BYU, then you have to find someone else to blame, like for example the RMs (returned missionaries) who haven't quite landed yet. They're still trying to proselytize even though everyone's already Mormon and rope you into early morning scripture study or late night hymn singing! They get all touchy about how the Spirit retreats when someone swears or if the person they're dating tries to slip them the tongue! They're ridiculous! No one understands why the Church hasn't ex-communicated them yet.

This all makes total sense unless you're an RM attending BYU and you still hate the culture you're immersed in.

My doubts about belonging to Mormon culture hit hard during my final years at BYU. Maybe it was something about squabbling over caffeinated beverages for the billionth time or listening to another rant about how not watching R-rated movies is a commandment. No, it wasn't just that. Maybe I just couldn't handle the singles wards anymore, the desperate males struggling to establish themselves as an Alpha and the desperate but contemptuous females all calculating how to line up yet another silly Mormon-style date with that special "one", their "eternal companion", who fortunately happens to live in same ward boundary. Maybe it was just Church culture in general. I'm thinking of the suits and ties, the meaty handshakes, the laughably irrelevant insights to certain verses of scripture, the camaraderie found in the persecution complex, the vocal disgust of everything pertaining to "the world", the delight in leader veneration, and the drive at ladder climbing. Maybe it was because I was finding myself turning anti-war and hated the rhetoric of being a soldier in Christ's army. Maybe it was because I was realizing more and more that I identified as a feminist and therefore qualified as an enemy of the Church. Maybe it was my disgust for the cult of virginity perpetuated within Mormonism under the guise of “chastity”, "cleanliness", "virtue", and "honor". Maybe it was the parameters Mormonism had set on science by suggesting it's not true science if it contradicts Mormon doctrine.  Maybe it was the patriotic zeal infused in the Book of Mormon's depiction of the Americas as the most promised of promised lands. Maybe it was the overall defensiveness members feel toward outsiders and outside opinions. Maybe it was the overall defensiveness members feel toward each other.

Who or what started all this crap? Who could I blame for all of these deplorable aspects of my culture? The vocal nut job members of the Church? Misguided local leaders? Prophets speaking as men? Ancient unenlightened traditions? Human nature? God?

Could I see myself living happily within this culture? How long could I hold out?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Surviving church

I couldn't help but question my participation in the Church when it became painfully obvious that I couldn't enjoy church meetings. Every talk, every lesson, every hymn, every nod to authority, every Sunday smile made me hurt inside. I wondered constantly what I was doing in church. I wondered what any of us were doing in church. Nobody really enjoyed being there. There must be a reason half the congregation shows up late even though the meeting house is all of two minutes away from home.

Not enjoying church meetings is a common problem in Mormonism that is frequently addressed (for example, the January 2013 New Era featured an article about how to never have a boring church class ever again and by November of the same year they're soliciting readers for more info on the same topic for an upcoming issue - not being bored at church). The problem, according to Church leaders and publications, is that we the members are not preparing ourselves properly. We're not seeking the Spirit the way we should. It's our fault church sucks, not the lesson manuals, not the repetitiveness, and certainly not the banality of what's taught or the blatant dismissal of numerous facts.

I agree that members half-ass the vast majority of their talks and improvise most of their lessons, but couldn't that be indicative of how uninteresting the material is? Sit down and write a little something about following the prophet and see how compelling it is. Isn't there at least a chance that church is boring because of what we're told to talk about?

Whatever the case my be, I accepted that it was principally my fault I wasn't cuckoo for church and kept rededicating myself to a better attitude and a more open heart. That is until I just couldn't anymore. How many times do you have to eat shit sandwiches before you realize it's not the Thanksgiving feast you were told it would be?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Respect the office

BYU's decision to invite the then Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney to give the commencement speech in April 2007 really came as a blow. It had since been proven that Cheney had fed the US and the UK bad intelligence with regards to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. His deception and war mongering has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths (reporting about a good portion of the casualties has been suppressed) and long term resentment across the globe. The man once known mainly for accidentally shooting his friend in the face in a hunting accident became one of the most despicable men in the world and probably should have been tried for war crimes.

Why would the largest and most well known Mormon campus endorse such a disgusting and controversial person? People did complain. Students, faculty, and community protested (you can read and hear about the protesting here and here), but BYU kept Cheney.

Why? What were the justifications for inviting such a controversial figure? The height and nobility of his office. At least that's the most common justification flying around campus. It's an honor to have someone - anyone - holding the office of Vice President of the USA visiting the campus and we should all respect that office even if we cannot respect the man!

It's the vilest, most nonsensical horseshit I've heard. What if Cheney had been caught having sex with men in airports, would the Church have continued to endorse him? What if Cheney had been convicted of molesting a couple of nieces, would we still ask him over? What if we had discovered that Cheney was secretly a Neo-Nazi? What if he had caused the killings of thousands of innocent people and sent many of our friends and family overseas to fight, kill, and be killed? Oh, wait.

Would Jesus have invited Cheney to give the commencement speech? Doubtful. Would Jesus have shrugged off all the deaths caused by Cheney's lies? Doubtful. Would Jesus respect Cheney merely on the basis of his office? No fucking way. Why was my church doing this? What was I a part of?

Monday, December 16, 2013

The sacredness and beauty of procreative powers

Sexual sin is one of the worst sins according to Mormon scripture, but when a couple engages in the right kind of sex (nothing too crazy!) it's the most god-like act they can perform. Just remember, we have to do it God's way.

Great. So what about our animal kin? They're totally doing it God's way, aren't they? Animal sex is probably the most sacred sex because they have all they know is the nature God gave them. Should it be emulated then? Maybe. Is it loving? I suppose so. Is it beautiful? So much of it seems so violent and disgusting, but I'll let you be the judge.

God's obviously very cool with this because he's the one who wants them doing it in the first place. Is there any possibility that God thinks this is vile and base and wants to punish these animals for their behavior? What's the difference between their sex and our sex? The amount of lingerie worn? Where does God draw the line with licking and thrusting?

Some times I doubt he has a line drawn anywhere.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Aspirations of empire

Maybe it wasn't until after I had taken a couple of anthropology courses that the Mormon Church's goal of filling "the whole earth" (i.e. taking over the planet) and spreading to "every kindred, tongue, and people" started to bother me.

What good would come of the Church invading countries and teaching them to abandon their traditions only to replace it with the wholesome business aesthetic of white shirts and ties? Why should Asians stop drinking tea and start drinking root beer and Hawaiian Punch? Why should indigenous American peoples consider their ancestors the cursed offspring of Lehi and Sariah? Why would Pacific Islanders really need to be wearing and covering temple garments in their hot climate? Why should Kung men start carrying around little vials of olive oil purchased from Utah? Do we really want to see marriage traditions disappear into the goofy mirrored sealing rooms of the House of the Lord, where everyone (not just Pacific Islanders) must give up local color for white cotton-poly blends? How are we all not cringing at the thought of the Aboriginal Australian singing "Come, Come, Ye Saints" or "If You Could Hie to Kolob" while their children sing "Chose the Right Way"?

The Church has no true appreciation for diversity. The Church doesn't give two shits about different world views. What the Church cares about is what Dallin Oaks calls "Gospel Culture" and snuffing out every other culture that doesn't conform to it. This is the Church taking the offense and being as offensive as possible without physically harming people. If you don't like it, just know that one day every knee shall bend and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ!

The more I thought about it the more I didn't have to doubt any more - I knew with a surety - that I did not believe in the is kind of approach to interacting with people outside of my faith tradition.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

DNA of pre-contact Americans

Once DNA analysis became available to scientists, tracking historical migrations became much easier and reliable. This was going to be it! Finally we were going to show the world that Lehi really did come to America 600 years before Christ and that his descendents really do exist!

Unfortunately the results have always come back negative. No Hebrew DNA in the pre-contact family trees of the American continents. Instead of getting major breaks these past few years, the Church has found itself taking some major blows.

I know this is a bit of a repeat doubt, so I apologize. It's also an issue that Mormons keep hoping to resolve either by negating its significance or by hoping and praying the DNA will eventually show up (preferably in Mesoamerica). Believers would really like a solid on this one. It would take such a load off their doubts.

The days of being wild

I think every member has had a conversation or two about the transformation of the Church's image from the early days of unique facial hair styles to the unimaginative, clone-ish, clean cut look of today. We could talk about the history of how this came to be and discuss how silly it all is, but there's something else about this transition that eventually stood out to me.

The more I compared and contrasted the early Church with our current LDS Church, the more I noticed significant differences. Generally speaking, the early Mormons seemed to have a far greater range of expressing individualism and variety of thought compared to today, when so much of what we must think, believe, and do is dictated with precision. What happened to the freedom of belief and expression that once was found in Mormonism?

Then one day a friend of mine pointed out in a brief aside that the early Mormons were incredibly liberal for their times and today Mormons are known for taking a very conservative stance on most issues. How did Utah become one of the reddest states of the U.S.A.? Why does the Tea Party do so well where the Church is strongest? What happened to the spirit of early Mormonism? Why would God find a bunch of liberal, democratically-minded people to start his church only to hand it over to close-minded theocratic reactionaries?

Something didn't seem consistent about the trajectory of this "perfect" Church. Reading about what brought about the changes only clarifies who's really at the helm of mainstream Mormonism.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Our big break

When you're a believing Mormon you're always looking for the big break, that event that catches the world's attention and gets people flocking en masse to the One True Church. Gordon Hinckley's interviews on 60 Minutes and the Larry King Show had everyone sure that finally the citizens of the United States would wake up to the Marvelous Work and Wonder of the Church! Hinckley's temple building blitz had us all wringing our hands in anticipation as well. Temples mean publicity, it's true, but they also mean God's conquered more land from which his holy powers of the Priesthood would be felt. The Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City provided an opportunity for numerous articles and reports throughout the world on Mormonism. Surely the Olympics would spread the True Gospel like never before! Then there was Mitt Romney running for president of the United States. A Mormon! A faithful member of the Church leading the most powerful nation on earth! Our time had finally come. Let's not forget the "I am a Mormon" publicity campaign! The nations of the world were obviously ready to learn at our feet. We should build a mall for our throngs of visitors and interested parties...

The reality is that none of these events have created a miraculous surge of conversions to the Church. The only surge in numbers we've seen recently came after the Church lowered the minimum age required to serve a mission and the number that surged was simply the number of missionaries in the field, but not the number of converts.

Most Mormons get over the disappointment of nothing exciting ever happening with the Church. We're very good at recovering our faith and adjusting our gaze back up to the horizon when current events fail to produce significant results. We don't let doubts hold us down. Our day will come.

The language of prayer

When praying in English members are encouraged to use the "language of prayer", which simply means invoking God correctly, closing in Christ's name, using the proper Renaissance English pronouns when referring to God, and sometimes including an archaic English verb form in there if you're really good.

Those pronouns insisted upon belong to the second person singular. You have "thou" as the subject, "thee" as the object pronoun, "thy" as the possessive adjective, "thine" as the possessive pronoun, and "thyself" as the reflexive pronoun. Second person verb forms typically end in a "-est", "-st", or "-t" for verbs in the present indicative.

So a Mormon prayer should look something like this: Our dear Father Who Art in Heaven, we love Thee and thank Thee for our many blessings. We ask Thee to continue to bless us with moisture according to Thy wisdom and mercy. Thou knowest the desires of our heart (for we have just told Thee we desire moisture). We also thank Thee for Thy son Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent as a blood sacrifice for Thy fallen children. We're sorry we're so awful. In the sacred and holy name of our Everlasting and Eternal Savior, Thy very Son, The Holy Anointed Of Israel, even Jesus... the Christ, amen.

We're told to pray like this because it shows respect, especially when you capitalize titles and pronouns. Besides, it's great to have a special language to use between you and your father in heaven, isn't it? That's what we're taught anyway.

The problem is that praying like that tends to be more of a hindrance and distraction from prayer because you're constantly assessing the language you're using, but the worst part about using the archaic English pronouns is that, quite contrary to showing respect for God, it's addressing him as an equal or as someone below you on the social ladder. (Ironically enough, the Church encourages non-English speakers to address God in the informal if their language has such a distinction.) Why would the Church even bother imposing rules on how to pray in the first place?

Even as a preteen my friends and I sensed that there was something up with this language of prayer thing. We couldn't take it seriously. Then I learned a tiny bit of outdated English and started to doubt that I should take it seriously.

UPDATE: Listen to this Infants on Thrones episode

The power of PR

Of all the responses I have seen to the Church's recent statement about the banning of black people from the Priesthood and the temple, Denver Snuffer's speaks most directly to Mormon understanding. It looks like Tommy might actually get a chance to (re)write some scripture before he's relieved of his post!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Yahweh vs. other gods

Throughout the Old Testament Jehovah worries incessantly that his people will turn to other gods. As I made my way through the entire Bible for the first time it became increasingly clear that to Jehovah and the Israelites the gods of other nations were taken pretty seriously. Jehovah & Co. weren't so much about converting other people to the one true god as much as defeating the other gods and decimating their followers in a show of strength. A few quick examples of Jehovah out to annihilate might include Moses freeing the Israelites from the Egyptians, the Israelites taking over the land of Canaan, and the story of Elijah calling fire down from the sky to burn his offering.

The Elijah story's a little odd, if you ask me, because Jehovah and Elijah behave so badly. First Elijah insults the prophets of Baal, suggesting that Baal might be busy taking a shit because Baal isn't igniting the wood under their sacrifice. That's when Elijah gets showy and orders people to dowse his alter with water so it would be especially hard to light. And Jehovah's totally cool with this sort of braggart showmanship. He sends down his divine flame to consume the offering, and Elijah gathers all the prophets of Baal and kills them despite their recognition that Jehovah was the true god.

What the hell, right? What about baptizing people and accepting them into your midst after they have seen the truth of your words and have confessed belief in God?

Once again I found myself doubting my beliefs in Jehovah/Jesus the more I read the texts that were supposed to convince me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

No, no, don't help me!

I didn't know what to think of ole Yahweh after he zapped Uzzah. OK, sure, he wasn't supposed to touch the Ark of the Covenant, I know, but this was seriously a split second decision sort of situation.

Take a moment to imagine the scene. You're trudging along, guarding the most holy object the world has hitherto seen - Yahweh's hand written law safe in a chest! - and you see one of the oxen pulling the box stumble and the chest starts to slide. "Oh my dear LORD God (Jehovah), no! If the tablets of stone hit the ground who knows what will happen! They might break! They might be defiled! Yahweh might get PISSED like he did back at Sinai! Heads will roll!" You can't let it happen so in that split fraction of a second you reach out to prevent the calamity and BAM! you're dead.

It's like Yahweh's a feisty, gun-welding old man who furiously insists on doing everything himself.

All you wanted to do was keep the holy holy, save and preserve the sacred, prove your vigilance in guarding the gifts of God (or maybe you didn't even have time to think about any of that, maybe you reached for the ark instinctively the same way you try to catch a glass that's about to topple), and now you're divinely smitten to death. Congratulations.

Was this killing of Uzzah really justifiable? Can I respect and worship a god who will kill for such a petty "offense"? Can I love a god who constantly threatens his people with death? Who does this god think he is, anyway?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

War - God's mouth piece

You know what was awful? Sitting through Gordon Hinckley's General Conference talk on war.

In case you forgot, the first semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2003 came about three weeks after the United States declared war on Iraq.

The war was on everyone's mind, so it was an awesome feeling to hear the prophet announce that he was going to address it. It was controversial, to say the least. We all had questions and doubts. We wanted answers. Who better than the prophet - the Lord's mouthpiece on Earth - to provide those answers?

For me Hinckley's talk was the talk that conference. No one could have anything more relevant to say. He was our man. He was going to set the record straight. We members were going to walk away proud to have a living prophet, grateful to understand our inspired position with regards to such a significant current event.

Here's what he said:
1. I have a great story about a Mormon dad who died!
2. Okay, anyway, so I really sought the Spirit about this whole thing because, you know, the Church is so global it's hard to know what to say to keep everyone happy. Let's face it, this is some emotional shit.
3. Here's the thing, war is old news! It's pretty much what we do.
4. We like to glorify it but really it's pretty fucking ugly.
5. Some of "our own" are fighting in this one! Yikes!
6. Here's a sad letter I got... things are sad and people don't like it!
7. So where do we as a church stand?
8. We don't hate Muslim's but (un)fortunately we're really under our government's thumb on this one.
9. Just keep in mind that we're all about peace!
10. And keep in mind that, like the Nephites, we're "inspired by a better cause"!
11. By the way, the Book of Mormon totally justifies wars like this...
12. And, look, even Jesus said he was going to bring "the sword"...
13. (Recap)
14. In case you were wondering, military personnel are just pawns and bear no responsibility for this shit show.
15. To be honest, God might actually get pissed off if you oppose this war.
16. Don't hate.
17. Let's pray our people come back safe.
18. Let's pray for the people we're gonna kill. (Sorry, guys, we love you!)
19. People die, but comfort comes from Jesus.
20. Let's hope the Millennium comes soon.
21. Let's also keep Jesus in our hearts and keep on preachin' on!
22. It's important to remember that our earthy existence is nothing in comparison to the eternities, so who cares how or when you die as long as you're cool with the Jeebs!

I couldn't believe what I had just heard. Here's the recap: War happens and our scriptures say it's cool sometimes, and besides, maybe God wants this one because, holy shit, those dudes over there are evil, so I wouldn't oppose this one. Stay safe out there and trust in Jesus! Amen.

I thought we were all wondering about the existence of weapons of mass destruction and whether or not the war was really, truly justifiable based on evidence, not whether or not we should be converts of Christ.

Wouldn't it have been wonderfully prophetic had Gordon said something like "You know, I've been praying a lot about this conflict and my impression is that we need to take our time and look more closely at the evidence and consider more carefully the implications of waging war"? And wouldn't it have been truly amazing had he said "Dear brothers and sisters, this war is being waged on a false premise. This will be the greatest American scandal since the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Our endorsement of this war will greatly tarnish our reputation and credibility abroad"?

Instead we got some bullshit talk about how we have to submit to the government, fight against evil, and, you know, BLESS OUR TROOPS! With prophets like this, who needs 'em?

No ordinary man

I always hated that statement that Joseph "did more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it". I guess it's not really a statement, it's scripture.

I think we can all admit that Jesus did a hell of a lot for the salvation of man, like proposing The Plan, creating the Universe, and suffering for everyone's sins and shortcomings so Our Father can legally forgive us without tanning our hides. That's a lot of work, but more important still - HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE THE ONLY REASON ANYONE IS SAVED AT ALL.

What did Joseph do? Well, he "brought forth the Book of Mormon", sent the Gospel to the "four quarters of the earth" via some missionaries, wrote the D&C and some other stuff, gathered thousands of people, and built a city (Nauvoo). Has anyone else ever done anything similar at all?

Moses dueled with the pharaoh, freed hundreds of thousands of Israelite slaves, gave them rocks with God's handwriting, paraded around the desert with them for 40 years, and showed them the Promised Land, which is full of many significantly more famous cities than Nauvoo.

What about Enoch? The dude was so bad ass that not only did every single person in his city go straight to heaven, but the city itself lifted off the ground and went celestial! That sounds like some mighty heavy work for the salvation of men.

How many billions of people are indebted to the Gospel writers for their knowledge of Jesus? And how many people are indebted to Joseph for their knowledge of the Savior? A few million.

This belief that Joseph is second only to Jesus in saving souls is nonsensical. Think for a moment how many souls could have been saved without Adam and Eve? Don't our first parents deserve a lot more credit than Joseph for the simple fact that their eating of the fruit made Jesus-Savior relevant in the first place? That sounds like a pretty huge role to play in the salvation of men.

The thing is this scripture always sounded ridiculously hyperbolic and overblown. As I recall from a Church movie, John Taylor wrote this when he was under the influence of a giganto cry-gasm. Why is it canonized scripture? Why is anyone even competing for the title of Person Who Did the Most for the Salvation of Men in the first place? All glory be the Father's, remember?

P.S. Here's a great entry about this topic at By Common Consent.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Prove me wrong!

Years before the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster made an appearance in this dark and dreary world, I was challenged to prove that there was not an invisible Monkey in the Sky creating all the weather on Earth.

To be fair, the man asking me and my companion to prove his sky monkey wasn't real initially had no intention of ruining my day, I was the one who insisted we talk things over. It wasn't long before I was pissing him off big time and he came back at me with the sky monkey. Could I disprove him? He swears that when he asks the Monkey for good weather he gets it the same way I get answers to prayers when I pray to Heavenly Father. How can I take his facetious belief and show him the reality of God?

How? How? How can I prove to him that the Mormon Word is worth more than his Monkey Word? What can I say to show him that he's being an ass and I'm serving the Everlasting? What? What? What...

God, help me! .... No?

Monkey, if thou truly art in heaven...

A noble and great one

The following story is without a doubt one of the major causes of my more serious doubting. Like many of the doubts I've mentioned, this goes back to my days as a missionary.

My companion and I were working on reactivating a guy in his late 20s. The man had some serious hygiene problems but he had quite a brain. He and his father (then diseased) had converted from the Jehovah's Witnesses about a decade earlier only to both go inactive a few years later. My companion and I were thrilled to be in contact with him because (1) we didn't have many solid contacts, (2) we wanted to get more Priesthood holders into the branch, and (3) we fucking hated Jehovah's witnesses and didn't like that this guy had (supposedly) returned to them.

I had never seen the kind of enthusiasm this guy had ever before. He was all about Joseph Smith and the Restoration. He loved all the visions, all the revelations, all the visitations - everything. He wanted to hear it all. He had studied a number of the American religions that had sprung up in the early 19th Century and apparently had found Mormonism extremely convincing.

We would come to us having read sections of the Doctrine & Covenants and testifying of their truthfulness. The man was on fire with the spirit. Hungry for the Restored Gospel. Eager to share the confirmations of the spirit.

In fact, he was the most spiritually sensitive person I had ever taught by far. One day he told us about a dream he had in which his diseased father appeared to him in a dream bearing testimony of the Church. In the same dream he even heard the voice of Joseph Smith confirming that he would once again be with his father in the Celestial Kingdom.

It was amazing! Visions! The voice of the Prophet! I was so excited for him, not to mention jealous! Holy shit, it's all real! Our guy is living it the way it was meant to be! My companion and I were sure he was going to be leading the local church within a decade. Shit, this dude was going to be an area authority by the time he was 45! He was going to lead the church in that country with the power of the Spirit unlike anyone before him! Every meeting with him was magical. Our meetings with him always ended on a high note.

We loved this guy and loved what he was going to do for the Church, so when he called us in desperation one day asking for some financial help we were ready to assist. We weren't too thrilled that he had asked us for money, though he had promised to pay us back the next week, but my companion and I talked it over and prayed about it and eventually came up with $120 that we compassionately handed over.

As you likely suspect, we didn't hear from him for a long time, and when we did hear from him a month later he was telling us that he had up and gone to the UK for some English course. We knew he had scammed us and we knew he was lying to us. We knew that he had always been lying to us about everything. That for whatever reason he had been trying to wrangle as many copies of the Doctrine & Covenants from us as possible. Then he wanted our money.

We could have killed him, but we kept that to ourselves. Once we finally managed to convince him to meet us again we called him out on his bluff. He, of course, got upset and a shouting match ensued, after which he stormed out of the church. Our problems with him continued for a time. At one point he threatened to call the police on us because we still had the Discman he had left in the church the day we had our big fight. It wasn't a pretty scenario.

The most troubling thing about the whole situation was that my companion and I had felt the Spirit the strongest we had ever felt it before while listening to this guy's stories. Considering the fact that he had made everything up, what was it that we had felt? Why had God allow us, his humble and dedicated servants to be so badly conned? What did this whole experience mean with regards to the other experiences I had with the confirmations of the Spirit? And what did it mean with regards to God's personal investment in our work (his work)?

It's not that I had never doubted the power of the Spirit to communicate before, but now things had somehow become much more serious and real. Could I trust God? Was the Spirit a load of bullshit,  nothing more than happy feelings of confirmation bias?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Book of Mormon - King James Bible

The more I read The Book of Mormon and the more I read the Bible the more I saw how much of the King James Bible was in The Book of Mormon. It was already weird enough that Nephi didn't have the foresight to spare us all the Isaiah that we would have anyway (he should have simply left things with "hey, Isaiah's awesome so read up!"). Jesus could have left a simple endorsement as well.

As a believer I was taught that some of the Bible made it into The Book of Mormon because it wasn't really the Bible per se, just God's pure inspiration and profound insights given in the same words to his prophets. And I bought that explanation. For a while anyway. Did God really inspire them to write the exact same words? I can understand him imparting the same concepts, but the EXACT SAME WORDS? Usually you can't even get two people sitting in the same lecture to write the same notes down.

I think it would have been a little more convincing had there been something in the Bible that felt a little more like The Book of Mormon, if that makes sense. Maybe an epistle from Peter about some Roman village that converted after falling to the ground and then being baptized en masse after burying all of their weapons and making oaths to never fight Gauls again or something along those lines. Why was it that The Book of Mormon felt so desperate to be the Bible, but the Bible doesn't feel much like The Book of Mormon?

Unfortunately for Mormons who want to believe The Book of Mormon is the actual historic record of another so-called flock, there are some real problems to consider. It starts to look more and more like somebody just sat down and plagiarized the living shit out of the Bible all willy nilly.

Book of Mormon - the three Nephites

Though I believed in them, it did not escape my mind how silly it was to believe that there were three immortal Nephite apostles roaming the earth in efforts to prepare the gathering of Israel.

What was even sillier were all the stories circulating throughout the Church about encounters with these nearly 2000-year-old men.

How can you not doubt this kind of thing? How can you read this in a non-fiction book and not feel some kind of cognitive dissonance? How long can you maintain faith in the idea of three stealthy fellows moving around the globe preaching the good word for centuries on end? One would think that if they were imparting the Gospel of Jesus all over the place there might actually have been a few attempts at restorations of the Primitive Church before 1830? There would at least be some kind of series of journals out there somewhere where people in different parts of the world wrote about some kind of conversion to something that looks a hell of a lot like Mormonism, right?

Book of Mormon - excuses

"And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them." (Ether 12:24)


Book of Mormon - loss of steam

Is it just me or does The Book of Mormon have a hard time staying interesting? After a while I couldn't help but feel that as the book goes on the authors get increasingly bored with it all. It's as though whoever wrote The Book of Mormon lost interest in the material and took less and less time to develop the characters, flesh out events, or even write down what Jesus was saying.

It's true that The Book of Mormon takes a few downhill turns early on. Getting through the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi is notoriously difficult, and the tedium of Alma's war chapters is also known to force readers to a grinding halt, but for me the book really dives with Jesus' visit to the Nephites. I know, I know, it's supposed to be the best part - certainly the most important part - but honestly it sucks.

The Jesus chapters basically just rip off Matthew, Isaiah, and Malachi, and adds some crazy story about babies and children hanging out with JC and angels in a ring of fire. It's a pretty lame miracle by modern Mormon standards (Mormon's like practical miracles like healings, escapes, and mass feedings, not this overblown pyrotechnic shit). And really the whole visit sucks. Apart from telling the Nephites the same stuff that's in the Bible and stating that he wants his church to use his name, we just get Jesus praying in a language that can't be written and some a cryptic hints at totally mind-blowing stuff that was too sacred to write down. Thanks a lot. It feels like a total cop-out. I would have thought they could have spared us some of the war stratagems and given us a few more Jesus teachings.

Fourth Nephi should be one of the longest books, in my opinion, because that's the one that talks about how everyone lived in peace for an insanely long time and wouldn't we all love to know how exactly they did it? Some details on the how-tos would really come in handy these days. Instead we blow through 200 years of happiness to get back to more fighting. Then we move on to Mormon which is all about the final battle to the death, then you have Ether which is basically a Book of Mormon reprise concluding with another battle to the death, and then you have Moroni!

Moroni comes as a welcome change. It's not great but you have a fun chapter vilifying anyone or anything that doesn't persuade you to believe in Jesus, that great chapter about how infant baptism is evil, and the classic verses about how The Book of Mormon is true so pray to know that it's true and you'll know that it's true because it really is true! And for anyone missing the violence and gore of previous chapters, don't worry, Moroni includes some stuff about rape and cannibalism (I love how rape and cannibalism are worthy to be written about but not the things that Jesus said, the amazing things uttered by babes, or anything the translated apostles saw! Sheesh!).

After I got over the excitement and pride of having finished the entire Book of Mormon the first couple times I read it, I started picking up more and more on how lifeless the end of the book was. I think "lifeless" is the best way to describe it, but does that lifelessness also indicate soullessness?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Book of Mormon - not much Mormonism

Another issue I had as I would make my way through The Book of Mormon for the umpteenth time was that there wasn't a whole lot in there that looked or felt like the Mormon Church I was a part of. I think the most Mormon parts came in Moroni when he gives us the sacrament prayers verbatim and when he denounces infant baptism. There's no talk of our Pre-Earth Life, the War in Heaven, the three kingdoms of glory, temple washing and anointings, the endowment, eternal marriages, eternal families, baptisms for the dead, Spirit Prison, children and teen males participation in worship services, the Aaronic Priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood, a Relief Society type organization, any discussion of female participation at all, bishops, youth leaders, etc.

The religion of The Book of Mormon better represented a day and age when any man feeling "called of God" could set to preachin' and declarin' repent'nce and baptism, and that was about all you needed. Commit to Jesus and walk in his ways, AMEN!

It made it hard to take seriously the claim that The Book of Mormon was written for our day.

They "prophesied concerning us and our future generations" (2 Ne. 4:2)... or did they?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Book of Mormon - war and violence

It's hard not to notice how many violent stories The Book of Mormon includes. It's authors were obsessed with detailing violence and stratagems and raids and things that don't really seem to have a whole lot to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of the war material is pretty boring. How many chapters about trench digging and fort making can you include and still call your writings holy? So much of The Book of Mormon reads like adventure stories for 12-year-old boys, only way more boring. Did the authors really not have anything better to write about than stuff like this?

Rationalization of murder: And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him. And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property. And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief. (1 Ne. 4:10-13)

Coercion: And now I, Nephi, being a man large in stature, and also having received much strength of the Lord, therefore I did seize upon the servant of Laban, and held him, that he should not flee. 
And it came to pass that I spake with him, that if he would hearken unto my words, as the Lord liveth, and as I live, even so that if he would hearken unto our words, we would spare his life. (1 Ne. 4:31-32)

Violent solutions: But Ammon stood forth and began to cast stones at them with his sling; yea, with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them insomuch that they began to be astonished at his power; nevertheless they were angry because of the slain of their brethren, and they were determined that he should fall; therefore, seeing that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with clubs to slay him. But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished, and began to flee before him; yea, and they were not few in number; and he caused them to flee by the strength of his arm. Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword; and he smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him, and they were not a few. (Alma 17:36-38)

Deception: And it came to pass that they [the Lamanites] did take of the wine freely; and it was pleasant to their taste, therefore they took of it more freely; and it was strong, having been prepared in its strength. And it came to pass they did drink and were merry, and by and by they were all drunken. And now when Laman and his men saw that they were all drunken, and were in a deep sleep, they returned to Moroni and told him all the things that had happened. And now this was according to the design of Moroni. And Moroni had prepared his men with weapons of war; and he went to the city Gid, while the Lamanites were in a deep sleep and drunken... (Alma 55:13-16)

Gratuitous detail: And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Shiz, that Shiz raised up on his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died. (Ether 15.31)

 I thought room on the plates was limited. I thought the authors were boiling their records down to only include the information that would be relevant for these latter days. God knows we don't need help learning how to get our enemies drunk or how to avoid being poisoned. This kind of garbage made me suspect The Book of Mormon just might be lacking in divine inspiration. 

If this book's about Christ's Gospel, why does it relish in war and not peace? Where's the instruction on how the people managed to live in perfect harmony for centuries after Christ's visit? It seems like there might be some quality information in there. What kind of programs did they have set up? How did people distribute their property to have "all things in common"?

Book of Mormon - Christ the Father

Remember how the Book of Mormon is so great because it clarifies the Gospel so well, eliminating all confusion and room for debate? Mormons are so lucky to have it! Thanks to its inspired writings we don't have to worry about how that whole Godhead thing works because WE KNOW that God the Father is the big boss daddy god, Jesus is his literal son and perfect soul clone, and the Holy Ghost is... something... without a body... who's... out there... somewhere... inspiring, teaching, and comforting people! We love the Holy Ghost!

Anyway, the Book of Mormon has such powerfully clear explanations of who Christ is, like when Abinadai teaches that the Messiah, meaning the "Anointed One" (usually referred to with the Anglicized version of the Greek word "Χριστός" (Khristós) "Christ") is "the Father... and the Son" (Mosiah 15:3). With scripture like that it's only obvious that the God and Jesus are two different people. But if that's not clear enough, perhaps you should hear it straight from the horse's mouth. Nothing makes the nature of the Godhead more clear than when Jesus himself explains it to the brother of Jared: "I am the Father and the Son" (Ether 3:14). It's so obvious they're totally different people!

And it's not like anyone's gone back to mess with Joseph's excellent translation to correct any confusing Godhead talk, right? Sure, adding "son of" to verses like 1 Nephi 11:18, 1 Ne. 11:21, 1 Ne. 11:32, or 1 Ne. 13:40 might seem like whoever wrote the Book of Mormon wasn't exactly clear on who was Who, and maybe you might be tempted to point out that the original version of Alma 5:48 said that Jesus was begotten of himself, but that's really splitting hairs! Anyone who fails to understand the clarity of the Book of Mormon must not be reading with the Spirit.

Even if there were changes made later on in an effort to rewrite the relationship between God and Jesus, why should that cause anyone to doubt the scriptures? It's not like Joseph Smith was a Methodist-influence trinitarian in his early days of leading the Church only to change his mind years later! He had seen God the Father and Jesus Christ in the Grove what back in 1820, remember? No one needed to tell him God and Jesus were separate!

And yet when I read Mosiah 15 and Ether 3 I can't help but wonder if there's a little more going on beneath the surface. Oh, whatever! I'm sure those prophets just meant that Jesus is our adoptive father after we're baptized, that's all. Doubt not, dear Mormons, and press forward with faith!