Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas confusion: white Christmas

Once I hit my late teens I started wondering why the LDS Church was so insistent that Jesus (and other Biblical folks) looked so much like a white northern European. I was sure in my heart that Mormons knew full well that Jesus didn't look like a Scandinavian immigrant, but Mormon art suggests otherwise. Even this year's nativity video favors a very white Jesus.

It's like this...

...not this. Trust me. Our prophets have seen him.

We just really like to keep things white and delightsome. If you want to know more about why this might be, read Stephen Prothero.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wife #1

We typically place Emma Hale at the top of the long chain of Joseph Smith's wives because she was his first and only legal wife. However we need to keep in mind that today in LDS culture the first sealing indicates who the primary celestial spouse is. In the case of Emma and Joseph, they were not sealed until May 28, 1843 which means Emma is not wife #1 - she's something like wife #27. That's right, Joseph was sealed to well over twenty women before he was ever sealed to his dear Emma. WTF?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas confusion: God's take

Does God like Christmas? Does he have any opinion at all about it? I don't think he's ever suggested we celebrate it. There are no scriptures instructing us to throw Jesus a big birthday bash every year, are there? Does God just feel all sorts of wonderful whenever he sees us putting up our nativity scenes?

The funny thing is that even Mormons tend to discredit Christmas in their own way. Mormons insist their preference is to celebrate the adult, atoning Jesus over the wee baby Jesus (let me tell you, LDS Easters are freakin' great!), but when it comes to Christmas Mormons simply go with the flow.

"Relax, dude, God loves all this shit."

For me it feels less than inspired.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas confusion: holiday origins

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (possibly), Saturnalia, Yule, Koleda, Winter Solstice - in a word: Christmas before Christ. This is where it all began. The shortest day of the year (which happens to be today this year) has been celebrated in various way across Europe and elsewhere centuries, if not millennia, before Jesus was ever laid in a manger. Many of these traditions are still practiced under the guise of Christian worship.

Isn't it a bit strange that one of the biggest celebrations in Christianity is little more than a ripoff of non-Christian peoples? Christianity is little more than a latecomer to the already teaming milieu of late-December religious holidays. Isn't it strange that Christianity has not bothered purging the pagan from this most holy of holidays? Doesn't that make us all practicing pagans to some degree?

Does it matter at all where Christimas came from as long as we make it mean whatever we want it to mean? Hasn't commercialism already effectively undermined the Christian facade it now bears?

We've really improved on the beauty of the holiday, haven't we? Happy Winter Solstice, brothers and sisters.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas confusion: the divine birthday

Current apostle Dave Bednar stated in the April General Conference of this year that the date of Jesus' birth is known by revelation to be April 6. That's the same day James Talmage believed was Jesus' birthday, but is it Jesus' birthday?

It must be - Dave said it was revelation.

But not everyone agrees. In fact it looks like Dave can take his revelation and smoke it because he was dead wrong. Or Joseph Smith was. Or Joseph's scribe was. It's very mysterious.

When the historical facts and the scriptural text are considered, it appears Jesus was probably born in early December. I hope that means that December 5 will now feature a new holiday called Mormon Christmas.

Then again the person reaching this conclusion, one Jeff Chadwick of BYU, isn't a prophet, seer or revelator, so what the hell does he know?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas confusion: the star

Mormons believe that there really, truly was a star that appeared at Jesus' birth. They believe this partly because the Gospel of Matthew mentions some astrologers reading his sign in the sky but also because The Book of Mormon treats the star as a real thing.

It all starts out with the sun going down and "great lights in heaven" (Helaman 14:3) keeping things as bright as day. Then we get the Star of Bethlehem showing up sometime later.

The story makes wonderful sense until you stop to think about it. Why does the Bible not mention a night as bright as day? Were the "great lights" Samuel the Lamanite spoke of, like, angels acting as nightlights or something? Third Nephi doesn't say. Why would Herod's astrologers be the only assholes able to see and understand the significance of a mega-bright star showing up in the sky? Why should we believe that star-reading, horoscoping assholes had any valuable insight about the future at all, ever? Why would said astronomers need a star to travel ten miles down the road, anyway? Why doesn't Samuel the Lamanite give any instructions on how to read the "many signs and wonders in heaven" (Helaman 14:6)? Is a new savior being born every time a supernova pops or a meteor shower hits? Does God really relay messages of truth through the stars? If so, it would seem that modern-day astronomers and modern-day prophets are both having a hell of a time making heads or tails of what God's trying to tell us via astroscript.

What if it's all just a fun story? What if The Book of Mormon is just another fun story based off of a fun story or two?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Captain Kidd connection

Does The Book of Mormon bear the mark of pirate lore popular among early American settlers? Some say yes, others say no. Mormonthink has looked into the pop culture element and had found some interesting quotes; FAIR's approach favors the narrative that Joseph Smith wasn't a cartographer who would have had access to obscure maps.

What I see is this: 

1. Captain William Kidd did in fact bury treasure off the coast of New England (Gardiners Island and Block Island).
2. Joseph Smith's parents and grandparents came from Connecticut and New Hampshire.
3. Searching for more of his treasure was a popular pastime that spread far beyond the coast of Connecticut.
4. The Smiths were very engaged with treasure digging.

So is it reasonable to believe that Joseph was keyed into Captain Kidd lore, or am I just trying to be a doubter?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"United to persecute me"

"Soun's like bullshit, son. I'm gonna go excite the public mind agains' ya!"

Why, oh why did Joseph not say anything about being persecuted until many years after his First Vision? Why, oh why did no one in Joseph Smith's family (or anyone else, for that matter) talk about Joseph suffering persecution at the hand of the community?

It looks to me like Joseph, in an effort to turn himself into a new Paul, concocted a narrative of persecution for his followers to latch onto. A little pathos goes a long way. (Maybe he was persecuted but it wasn't quite as bad as he later made it out to be.)

But why worry about the early persecution at all? How does persecution logically indicate you're right about anything? Answer: because Satan.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Zion's Camp

Throughout my life as a believing Mormon I never understood why we ever had Sunday School lessons on Zion's Camp, Joseph Smith's failed military effort of 1834 to regain lost lands in Missouri. It was always presented as a wonderful example of the Lord trying his people and having to change plans because they weren't obedient enough, and yet when I heard the story I couldn't help but notice a certain discomfort afterwords because Zion's Camp is so clearly a sloppy, uninspired effort put together by a leader who was desperate to keep his followers happy.

Seriously, read it. Read the inspiring version for adults, read the inspiring version for children, watch the corny movie version or read the Wikipedia version. They all conclude with Joseph's prophecy falling flat on its face. No fighting took place and yet more Mormons died than Mormon enemies. What the hell is that?

Is it OK that I've been confused for so long?