Monday, March 31, 2014

WoW - meat eating

It's time to address the explicitly clear part of the Word of Wisdom that everyone hates. 

"Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine." (D&C 89:12-13)

In other words, God's cool with us eating a little meat if it's either (1) the cold season or (2) a time of famine.

If I had to guess, the justification for eating a little meat in the winter is that you can't grow crops when it's too cold and you're completely reliant on your most recent harvest; the justification for eating a little meat in times of famine is probably the same: you don't have crops growing.

Did God not foresee our day of global trade? We're no longer a bunch of do-it-yourselfer farming types. Did he not see the advent of industrialize agriculture? Did he somehow miss that science labs would produce super-hardy varieties of fruits and vegetables? We have fresh produce year round, brothers and sisters! The cold doesn't stop us! There are no more famines in the rich developed world! Who even needs meat anymore? Eat meat sparingly? Don't you worry, Lord, we no longer have to eat any at all!

The only problems is that we have all been seduced by the $1 hamburger menus across America. That's probably what God saw coming down the pipe. He probably saw the "evils and designs" of the "conspiring men in the last days" (D&C 89:4) running the vast majority of meat produced in the United States. God's just trying to protect us from extremely powerful men who want to cash us out, right? It's so clear!

And yet that's not what you'll hear in church. Ask any member about the "meat sparingly" bit in the Word of Wisdom and chances are you'll be informed that that advice is out of date and has been since the invention of the freezer/fridge combo. You see, back in the day they would never harvest an animal when it was warm because the meat would go bad so fast. Besides, the warm months are when grass grows and livestock can feed and fatten up. You want to get to butchering after the animals are fat, not before.

But what about the whole "sparingly" thing even when it was winter? It sounds an awful lot like God's trying to minimize the killing of animals. It sounds like God might be one of those PETA assholes. Let's not be ridiculous, we all know God's Kingdom invests in ranching.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

WoW - drugs

One amazing fact about the Word of Wisdom, the revelation given to Joseph Smith about healthy living, is that totally foresaw the problems of our day and gave us sound guidance on how to avoid those health dangers. Take drugs for example. Drugs come in many shapes and sizes, but they will all destroy you. They'll take over your life, ruin it, invade your family's life, ruin that, ruin your friends' lives, and basically making dying more horrible and painful both physically and emotionally. Haven't you read Requiem for a Dream? (Well don't, just watch the movie. No, don't do that either. It sucks.)

Scene from that shitty movie that everyone loved.

Let's turn to the revealed word of God on the matter.

This is what it says about drugs:

Then there's this:


And finally this:

Obviously there's a lot to learn here.

Remember, this advice on drugs from the Lord is meant to protect us from the danger of substances aimed at us "[i]n consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days" (D&C 89:4). Clearly this is in reference to the drug lords who push horrible substances violently across the globe and pushers who pray upon small children, which is why the following verses address the consumption of wine.

God totally nails Big Tobacco. That's another score for God!

But he does fail to mention the use of psychedelic mushrooms

and he doesn't mention the growing popularity of opium either.

It might feel like a couple of missed opportunities to some doubters (you'd think God would at least throw in a verse about addiction, right?), but, for those of us who have mastered doubting our doubts, we don't actually need God to say something or have what he's thinking put in writing for us to know exactly what's on his mind.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

WoW - wine, strong drinks, and mild drinks

In my experience Mormons, even the ones who are on the fence about the metaphysical stuff, boast of the wisdom of the Word of Wisdom, the LDS Church's dietary guideline (read "commandment"). The rules seem to stand on their own. For example, everyone knows that alcohol is bad for you. In the short term it impairs your judgment, speed, and coordination and gives you horrible breath; in the long term excessive drinking contributes to a disgustingly chubby gut, depression, cirrhosis of the liver, and cancer. That's why it's so easy to get behind the Church's policy on total abstinence.

And it's right in the scriptures: "inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father"!

It's very clear... until you read the rest of the verse: "only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him [the Father]". SO WINE'S OKAY IN CHURCH (according to the word of God to Joseph Smith).

No biggy. It's just a sip of wine. In fact it's so insignificant that we don't even have to use wine at all in the sacrament. Let's ignore what God supposedly said and move on.

The next verse is also about wine for church services: "And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make". WE'RE COMMANDED TO MAKE OUR OWN WINE. Interesting. It's probably supposed to mean grape juice. No biggy.

 The next verse is just weird: "And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies". What? This has to mean that we can use high grade alcohol to sanitize wounds, right? Then again it doesn't mention wounds, does it? Whatever it means, it definitely doesn't say you should be doing shots. No drinking alcohol, people!

"Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain." (verse 17, emphasis added)

Hold up a second there. Wheat beer? Yes, that's for man. Barley beer? Yes, it's a lovely mild drink. Mead? Sure, there are hops in there too. Other mild drinks made from grains? Yes, it's all very useful.

After searching the Scriptures, I have to admit that I'm a little confused. I thought that "God has spoken against the use of ... alcohol," but it seems he's only spoken against some uses and in favor of others. If I were to actually follow the Word of Wisdom when it comes to alcohol, I wouldn't be the weirdo at the party who's always turning down a beer. Hell, I might even be the dude pouring vodka all over his body instead of just mixing it into drinks like everyone else. But if you want to taste my wine, you're going to have to come to church with me on Sunday!

How the hell does the Word of Wisdom speak for our day?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fiery salamanders and slippery treasures

I heard about the Mark Hofmann forgeries only a few years ago when a sibling mentioned them to me in passing. I didn't look up Hofmann or read anything about the forgeries right away because, as juicy as it all was, I expected nothing less from our modern prophets, seers, and revelators.

Page 1 of the "Salamander Letter"

In a nutshell, Hofmann was an amazing forger who produced a number of documents relating to early LDS Church history. These forged documents compromised the Church's position of authority to such an extent that Gordon Hinckley, who was serving as a councilor to Spencer Kimball, got directly involved in the purchasing and hiding of the Hofmann forgeries. There's plenty of literature out there on topic (like this, this, or this) if you'd like all the nefarious details.

We can all agree that Mark Hofmann did terrible things and hurt a lot of people - killing two - but his story should find its way onto everyone's lists of doubts because of how badly the Church handled him. First off the Church showed zero power of discernment with regards to Hofmann's evil intents. The Church showed zero power of discernment with regard to the content of invented documents. Instead, the Church's behavior indicates that top leaders find the existence of such documents entirely plausible. The Church proved that it was willing to spend hundreds of thousands of (early 1980s) dollars to control compromising documents. And top leadership was more than eager to keep the content of the forgeries a secret from the general Church membership and the world in what can only be described as outright deception.

How could our prophets, seers, and revelators be so naive? How could they be so shady? Why should we trust the Church's whitewashed version of history when it's obvious that they themselves do not? Isn't it cause for concern when our top leaders are so preoccupied with an potential expose of early Mormon insanity? It's frankly incriminating.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Together in the clouds?

Do Mormons believe in the Rapture? I think the answer is no. I only ever recall teachers mentioning it as a belief in other faiths, not ours. And yet the scripture in 1 Thesselonians is quite clear:

"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (4:17, emphasis added)

I've already commented on the whole cloud thing, so let's move on to the issue of how Mormons might understand this verse. Good thing Joseph Smith came along to clarify the translation for us:

So now, thanks to Joseph's amazing powers to translate, we have:

“Then they who are alive, shall be caught up together into the clouds with them who remain, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord.” (JST, 1 Thes. 4:17, emphasis added)

Dang. We're still getting beamed up into the sky to hang with JC. So is that a "yes" on Rapture?

Monday, March 24, 2014

You're out!

Excommunication is a funny thing. The Church is supposedly for everyone - as in EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING EVER BORN OR TO BE BORN ON EARTH NEEDS BOTH THE GOSPEL AND THE ORDINANCES FOUND ONLY IN THE LDS CHURCH - and yet there are those times when you just have to take your neighbor aside and say:

"Hey, Jesus loves you and died for you, but you can't be in his church anymore because we say so!"

Everyone's supposed to fit in, but apparently we need to kick some people out anyway. This is kind of the way Jesus wants it.

Let's be practical here. You can't let that new convert dude keep standing up and flipping off the first councilor whenever he takes the stand, can you? And I know there's room for the lady who likes to teach that dinosaur fossils were placed on the earth by the Devil to deceive the hearts of man, but can we honestly sit by and let a Sunday School teacher admit that she thinks green tea is harmless and that the Church should change its policy about tea drinking?

What are the limits of heterodoxy and heteropraxy? What are the Church's limits? Who's out? We can't all be in.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Court of Love

Church discipline is an interesting thing. Typically it involves an offending member and the offender's bishop working things out as quietly as possible. There might be a temporary probation enacted on certain types of participation, but the idea is that the offender has time to work through the repentance process fully and arrive at a good place spiritually. The works of God and His Church are sacred and not to be defamed by those who cannot or will not respect them.

Disciplinary councils, or "courts of love" are much more serious. They typically address weightier matters that might warrant excommunication. Typically those matters have to deal with sexual indiscretion, apostasy, and occasionally the mishandling of tithes.

Coming down hard on local leaders embezzling tithing funds seems appropriate. No one should be taking monies intended to assist in the cause of Jesus and use them for personal or worldly gain. (Then again, we have no idea what the LDS Church is actually doing with the money even when it does make it past the local leadership.)

Matters of sexual indiscretion come in all shapes and sizes so it's hard to come up with any single example that can fully illustrate all of the issues at stake. I'm all for finding out who in the Church is sexually abusive, who is offending the law (as in the case of child porn), and getting the right counseling for anyone seeking to overcome hurtful sexual practices. Where courts of love become questionable lies more in the nature of the court itself. You have the offender facing off alone to a bishop, a stake president, and fifteen high counselors (all of whom are men). That's one against seventeen. Often an unknowing spouse is involved, in which case there could very well be an unpleasant surprise in store - a surprise that the spouse gets to sort out in front of eighteen people who know more about the matter than he or she does. Sexual matters are delicate and can contribute to deep embarrassment and shame. Does a wife hearing about her husband's sexual escapades for the first time deserve to hear it in front of nearly twenty men, some of them neighbors?

Potential apostates are another tricky matter. You have all kinds of unorthodox thought and practice to address from something people who think the Church has derailed to self-proclaimed prophets who are seeking followers. You also have people who run into difficult problems with what the Church claims and are asking for answers. Asking hard questions doesn't go over well in disciplinary councils. You're supposed to be humble and let the Church remold you.

I think the only reason I didn't have a problem with this in the past was because 1) I believed in keeping the Church safe from apostates and 2) I didn't know what kind of shit went down in these disciplinary councils. In my mind, anyone dragged into a court of love was going to get what they deserved! Nearly twenty inspired men can't be wrong, can they? How often do these courts turn around to blame the victim? You should have learned to be more sexually satisfying! You shouldn't have started investigating Church history! You should have doubted your doubts, not your faith!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spying for the Lord

I think it's safe to say that there are a number of things going on in the Church that members don't know about: the general membership has only the vaguest of ideas about what's going on with Church finances, most members have never heard of the Second Anointing, the majority of members do not have access to the first volume of the Church's Handbook of Instruction, and very few members have ever heard of the Strengthening Church Members Committee. I'll let Jake over at Wheat & Tares explain it to you.

Recently the topic was brought to public attention by John Sweeney's interviews in the sensationalist BBC documentary The Mormon Candidate, in which Jeffrey Holland makes a total jerk of himself on camera. But Holland does manage to fain ignorance and provide only the most vague of explanations as to what the SCMC is or does. Instead Lynne Whitesides, one of the September Six, offers a much clearer (but no less sensationalistic) explanation in the book Latter-Day Dissent describing the SCMC as "a Gestapo-like group which press-clipped everything anyone said who might be considered an enemy of the Church, meaning one who disagreed with Church policy"

Sensationalism aside, let's face the fact that the Church has an unpublicized, undiscussed program dedicated to rounding up dirt on potential "enemies" to assist in the process of excommunication. Isn't that wild?

I have to doubt that Jesus would be into this sort of thing. I could be wrong, but the only time he had the opportunity to excommunicate someone (Judas, who was about to betray him) his reaction was something along the lines of "knock yourself out!" or "get 'er done!" No spying, no collecting evidence, no "court of love," no defensiveness, no blaming, no fear tactics.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Body aesthetics

Does the Church still get its panties in a bunch whenever they see people with tattoos or a girl with more than one set of earrings? When he was prophet, Gordon Hinckley sure made a stink about it and a new policy about tattoos and earrings was immediately adopted. The justification, as given in the talk, had nothing to do with revelation from God and everything to do with Hinckley's personal tastes and lack of understanding American culture.

"I cannot understand why any young man—or young woman, for that matter—would wish to undergo the painful process of disfiguring the skin with various multicolored representations of people, animals, and various symbols"  he says.

Can Gordon understand why this older lady got her tattoos?

Well if you can't understand it, Gordon, it must be ludicrous, stupid, and maybe a little bit evil!

"Likewise the piercing of the body for multiple rings in the ears, in the nose, even in the tongue. Can they possibly think that is beautiful? It is a passing fancy [...]"

Yes, actually, some people can possibly think that. Is that a problem? Does it honestly concern you? Is this seriously a valid topic for you to weld your prophetic authority on?

Hinckley frames his comments in terms of "self-respect" and talks about "defiling" one's body/temple, but chooses to ignore the fact that the verses he reverences have everything to do with filling our meetings and lives with the Spirit and nothing to do with how we dress and ornament ourselves.

Dissing the JC!

I'll admit that I have plenty in common with Hinckley on this topic: I rarely see tattoos I like and I easily imagine a life of discomfort when I see someone with obtrusive piercings, but who the hell am I to say that no one else finds those things interesting or beautiful? Who am I to stop someone from wanting tattoos or piercings? And why are we so convinced that God, who looks on our hearts and who will supposedly give us a perfect body and a perfect understanding of that body, actually gets upset about how much ink you've injected into your skin or how many ornaments you have hanging from your skin?

And if Jesus is so concerned about all the ways we disrespectfully change our bodies, why haven't we heard a prophet outlaw nose jobs and breast implants?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Political "neutrality"

The LDS Church uses a special definition of political neutrality (i.e. not officially endorsing any political party or candidate) and claims to moral duty as a smoke screen to get involved in politics on an institutional level without ever gaining consensus from its general membership.

The LDS Church has, since its earliest of days, engaged directly in political issues. By the Church's own preferred version of the story, the establishment of the Church was a reaction to the politically contentious religious atmosphere of the early 1800s New England. Many of the early Church's problems with neighbors were a direct result of the tendency for Mormons to vote as a solid block. Joseph and Hyrum Smith's death was cause to introduce an oath of vengeance against the United State into the endowment ceremony. Brigham Young ran the state of Utah largely as a theocracy and today in Utah the state government continues to bend to the religious directive of the Church rather than to civic responsibility. The Church openly opposed desegregation. The Church organized its Relief Society against the Equal Rights Movement. The Church invested millions of dollars to oppose Proposition 8, tried to fight marriage equality in Hawaii, and continues to support opposition to marriage equality in Utah. How can the LDS Church claim political neutrality when it has been involved in these issues and thousands upon thousands of other actions taking place on all levels of politics, from neighborhood to city to county to state to federal to international?

Doesn't political neutrality mean you refrain from taking sides on a given issue? The LDS Church is obviously unable to simply let its members determine their political convictions on their own, opting instead to lead them out on the conservative war path. The Church's claim of neutrality is deceptive and wrong, but I can think of a way the Church could justifiably get involved in politics: hold a Church-wide vote involving all members wherever they may be in the world and gain unanimous support before taking action.

However, if the LDS Church took action only after a unanimous vote in favor, as is required for the establishment of official Church doctrine and proclamations, there would be no chance in hell that the Church would reach the consensus to mobilize in a single direction on a given issue. No wonder our leaders don't ask our opinion on political matters.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My tribe, my future

Patriarchal blessings are a big deal in the LDS Church. Receiving that blessing equates to an unmistakeable encounter with real live direct personal prophecy. There is no maybe about it, this is God addressing you and you alone through his prophetic mouthpiece, the patriarch. The future God has in store for you is spelled in delicious detail if you're lucky, but most likely it will read something like a cross between a baby blessing, horoscope, and fortune cookie.

A few things are for certain though. You're from the tribe of Ephraim either directly or through adoption. Congratulations. You should keep your blessing as a private, sacred matter because, if you go around sharing it, you'll probably realize that it's just like everyone else's blessing and that might cause you to doubt. You should read your blessing all the time and probably memorize it because the more time you invest in it the less likely you'll be to throw it out as complete trash. Finally, you'll likely notice as your life progresses that, despite all of your best efforts and deepest convictions, your patriarchal blessing and your real life aren't matching up, and you might be believe it's your fault. Just keep in mind that there are very few certainties anyone can tell you about life; one is that you will die and another is that until you do you'll have to address a several physical needs and experience a wide range of emotions, some pleasant, others less so.

My patriarchal blessing was perfect. It said everything right. Tribe of Ephraim. Check. Diligent mission service. Check. Marriage to a choice daughter of our Heavenly Father. Check. Righteously fulfill my paternal role. Check. Life of potentially high callings and committed service in the Church. Check. Future recipient of unbounded love and respect by countless people. Check. That's either a BINGO! or a jackpot, I think.

Or it could just be the same Mormon spew I've heard every Sunday and every day in between about how my life should be if I want to be "truly happy" and make God so very proud of me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Open your mouths

One of the shittest things about going to church is listening to the same tired, infantilizing talks and lessons week after week and year after year. LDS correlation sucks. What's even shittier is having to listen to a few assholes in the ward give those talks and control those lessons. Every ward has their assholes who can't shut up and can't say anything anyone should hear. The worst part about it, in my opinion, is that almost no one wants or can compete with the assholes. At least not for very long.

One of the very best things about the Internet is that Mormons finally get to say what's on their mind. The Mormon blogosphere is what church is supposed to be. This is where people can really speak their mind and create meaningful conversation. All levels of belief and orthodoxy abound. Non-believers can talk about how they miss the delight of believing the Church if they want too, and believers can talk about how shitty Mormons are if they want to. It's all fair game.

If only church could be so democratic.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The temple - doubly secret secrets

Even as an endowed, sealed member of the LDS Church, there's a good chance you've not been informed on all the goings on of the temple. Growing up Mormon I remember hearing about meetings in the upper room of the Salt Lake temple that supposedly involved the Big JC sitting down at meetings, and I remember studying about Holy of Holies in the Israelite tabernacle and Solomon's temple. There was a lot of speculation with friends about what happens in the temple we went through, then there was more speculation about what also happens in the temple after we went through. Isn't it a little strange that we were still speculating even after we had received the secrets of the Kingdom? I had heard the James Talmage had written his magnus opus Jesus the Christ in the temple, but I couldn't imagine where. There must be private room I had never seen and had absolutely no idea how to access. I had also heard rumors about a special feet washing ceremony, or something awesome like that, for apostles, who were probably getting visitations from Jesus. The point is that even as an endowed member of the Church, the temple was still VERY MYSTERIOUS.

Fortunately a brave soul has come forth to share the insider of insiders information with all of us outsiders of insiders. Tom Phillips gave an interview to Mormon Stories' John Dehlin, but the potato was too hot and never made onto the Mormon Stories site. It's okay, though, because it's on various other sites in various forms. Here is one of two YouTube excerpts from the five-hour-long interview.

Part 2 is here. (Notice that Tom is still very careful about what he says and doesn't say.)

Tom and his wife were instructed to keep their experience on the down low. Call this sacred if you want - Tom speaks of it as a very touching and tearful experience - but it's also extremely secret. And disappointing. SPOILER ALERT: JC never showed.

On the plus side, Tom's "calling and election" were "made sure"! He had been given the most explicit guarantee of the Celestial Kingdom in all of Mormonism.

Think how many more converts the missionaries would have if they had this carrot to wave in front of investigators!

About the same, you say? You're probably right.