Thursday, April 30, 2015

That time of month

Dear brothers and sisters, I just want to remind you that it's the last day of the month, so if you haven't done your home teaching (brethren!) or visiting teaching (sisters!!) you'd better be sure to whip up a batch of cookies and take them over to your assigned families tonight!!!

We all know how much kids love cookies and how those cookies are the only thing keeping the neighbor kids from hating our guts totally and completely for interrupting their evening with an hour of boring parent talk, five minutes of awkward "tell us about school" talk, and the even more awkward ten minute "here's this month's lesson" talk. We all know how awful that is, right? These poor kids. What do we think we're doing for them by making them sit quietly while we adults blabber on and on about whatever the hell isn't interesting at all to anyone anywhere?

We might say it's not really for the kids, it's for us. We might, but I think we'd be lying to ourselves. Do we really need to have neighbors come over and read a few paragraphs from an article in a magazine we're already subscribed to? Oh yeah, and didn't we already read and study and pray about that very article in preparation to share our thoughts on it with about three other families already? And aren't these articles little more than a rehashing of yet another primary lesson? How is this supposed to be beneficial again? I'm not seeing the purpose of rehearsing this monthly farce we call "teaching".

Is it about our pride? Is it about making higher ups happy?

Surely it's not for us. Oops! There goes the timer on the oven! I'd better go pull the cookies out.

Monday, April 27, 2015

"You can leave the Church, but..."

You Can Leave the Church, But You Can't Leave it Alone. (Reposted from here.)

I had a conversation with a friend about people who wonder why post-mormons don't all quickly move on. I'm sure you've all heard the saying, "You can leave the Church, but you can't leave it alone." This is my response to that claim:

There's a huge double standard, as evidenced by the following:

1- I don't go knocking on my neighbor's doors to tell them about Agnosticism.

2- I don't text them saying, "I noticed you went to Church today. I sure missed you at not-Church. Hope to see you soon."

3- I don't bribe their kids with treats to stay home from Church.

4- When my Mormon neighbors move, I don't track them down and invite them to leave the Church in their new area.

5- When PBS has a show on about Charles Darwin I don't make fancy invitations and invite them to watch it with me.

6- I don't keep track of who's going to Church and who's not.

7- I don't fly across the country to Philadelphia at my own expense and spend two years trying to get Philadelphia Mormons to leave the Church.

8- I'm not constantly quoting Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan on Facebook.

9- I don't put on a huge anti-Mormon pageant every year and invite all of my Mormon friends.

10- I don't secretly interrogate their children to find out why their parents are staying in Church.

11- When a Mormon neighbor makes the decision to stay in the Church, I don't write them a letter explaining the eternal consequences of their decision and telling them that before they make such an important decision they must sit down with me to discuss it.

12- I don't drive down to the Church on the night they're having youth activities and say, "Hey kids, we're on our way to the arcade. Do you want a ride?"

13- I never look at a Mormon and try to figure out what type of underwear they're wearing.

14- I never use funerals as an opportunity to teach the plan of natural selection to grieving Mormons.

15- I have never written my testimony inside a copy of No Man Knows My History and given it to a Mormon while explaining what the book means to me and how it has changed my life.

16- I have never bought a Mormon a gift subscription to a Secular Humanist magazine.

17- I have never told a Mormon how they should vote.

18- I have never criticized a Mormon for the clothes they are wearing.

19- I have never chastised a Mormon friend for posting something on Facebook that was too mormony.

20- I do not deny my Mormon friends and family the opportunity to attend weddings, even if they're not Agnostics in good standing.

21- I do not send Birthday cards to my Mormon Neighbor's Children with a note that says, "Darwin loves you and so do I. We sure miss you when you go to Church."

22- I don't tell my Mormon friends that they're going to hell because they don't believe in the Big Bang.

23- When my less-active Mormon neighbors decide to start going to Church more often, I don't visit them at a time when I know their spouse will be at work and tell them, "Now you know you don't have to go to Church just because your spouse wants to go. You're allowed to make up your own mind."

24- I don't disown my child if they decide to be Mormon.

25- I don't counsel anyone to divorce their spouse because they've decided that Atheism isn't true and that Mormonism makes more sense.

26- When I notice that a family in my neighborhood has attended Church for several weeks in a row, I don't leave delicious chocolate cupcakes on their doorstep with a note that I wish they would stop attending.

27- I don't get together with several of my Post-Mormon neighbors and say, "Hey, lets make a list of all the Mormons in the ward boundaries, and let's think about it and pray about it, and we'll narrow that list down to 5 names, and we'll focus all of our energy and attention on these five people or families, and we'll try to get them to leave the church."

When I was Elder's Quorum President, I was instructed to contact all the elders and potential elders every year, even if they had requested not to be contacted, because they could have changed their mind since last year.

So who's not leaving who alone?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Skylanders and The Book of Mormon

I found some Skylanders Skystones game cards in my cereal the other day and as I read the back of the little box they came in I was amazed at how familiar the story line sounded. I switched out a few nouns and a verb and this is what I got:

"The origins of [The Book of Mormon] go way back to the days of the [Nephites]. While experimenting with early [translation] technology and magic they discovered a form of enchanted stone that would allow anything [read through] it to become real. The Ancients worried that this power might fall into the wrong hands so they turned it into a [treasure hunt], purely for fun and leisure."

"Fuckin' A, dude, you found the magic stone! You win! Fun!!!"

It sounds like fun to me!

Friday, April 24, 2015


If there is one reoccurring lesson in The Book of Mormon it's probably that "inasmuch as ye keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper" (1 Ne. 2:20; 4:14; 13:15, 20; 2 Ne. 1:9, 20; 4:4; Omni 1:6; Mos. 1:7, 17; 2:22, 31, 36; 7:29; 25:24; 26:37; 27:7; Alma 9:13, 22-23; 36:1, 30; 37:13, 43; 38:1; 45:8; 48:15, 25; 50:18-20; Hel. 12:1-2; 3 Ne. 5:22) or, in other words, if you do what God wants you to do he'll bless you with wealth and lots of kids. (Congratulations, God loves you!) In fact, the entire book is about two groups who were both righteous enough to be blessed with life in the Americas only to fall from grace and get wipe out almost completely by the will of God. The Book of Mormon exists to bolster the idea that God gives you health and wealth if you behave.

Take a look at how the Jaredites and Lehites "prosper", "multiply" and "wax" (often "exceedingly") every few chapters (2 Ne. 5:11, 13; Jar. 1:8; Mos. 2:2; 9:9; 10:5; 21:16; 23:19-20; Alma 1:31; 50:18-20; 62:48, 51; Hel. 3:8, 20; 4:13, 15; 6:12; 11:20; 3 Ne. 6:4-5; 4 Ne. 1:4, 10, 18, 23, 28; Eth. 6:18; 7:26; 9:16; 10:16, 28), but they're also always becoming prideful and "waxing in iniquity". That's when God has to smite them down (by the tens of thousands) to make them humble again so they follow the commandments again so God can bless them with riches again so they can get prideful again, etc. (You'd think God would catch on after a while, wouldn't you?) Within the LDS Church this cyclical narrative within The Book of Mormon is known as the Pride Cycle. I would dare say that the majority of believing Mormons are very familiar with the concept though few have probably lived the cycle, but it's supposed to be one of the greatest and clearest warnings in Mormon scripture.

Outside of Mormonism this kind of relationship with God is called the Prosperity Gospel and it was very popular with the Puritans who colonized New England.

Lucy Mack, Joseph Smith's mother, had a strong Puritan leaning, so in addition to growing up surrounded by New England's general culture of discussing and believing in the Prosperity Gospel Joseph had an earful of it at home.

His other ear was full of his father's Universalist tendencies and his grandfather's adherence to Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason. Predictably enough Universalism and rational skepticism are also extremely prominent in The Book of Mormon (though always as opponents of truth).

It's almost as though The Book of Mormon was written specifically for Joseph Smith's father and family members...

Could Joseph Smith have written The Book of Mormon? I mean, it just happens to be full of the very religious education he received at home! Let's hope he didn't, though. It would be extremely inconvenient for our testimony of The Book of Mormon. Maybe we shouldn't think about it too much after all.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A toppled tower

I'm not sure how long I believed in the literal existence of the Tower of Babel and all its linguistic consequences. I'm pretty sure I believed in it as a little kid, probably didn't believe in it as teen (because who's stupid enough to try to find God living in the sky when we all know he's near Kolob?), tried really hard to regain belief in it as a missionary, and gave up entirely after taking a few linguistics courses and an Old Testament one at BYU post-mission.

The story of the Tower is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, it must have been quite an undertaking to intimidate God enough that he felt he had to stop construction (but not destroy the tower), and yet there is no solid archeological evidence for it. Secondly, it seems this story has more to do with Mesopotamian myth designed to explain where languages come from and teach us not to challenge God. And most importantly, we know damn well that the languages of the world definitely did not all spring into existence circa 2300 BC. The very idea is simply ludicrous.

Even without knowing the first thing about historical linguistics you can see that the oldest texts we've found include more than one language pre-2300 BC.

This is all very bad fucking news for Mormons. Why? Because The Book of Mormon requires a literal belief in the Tower of Babel, that's why. Read for yourself...

the Title Page

 the Introduction

and the story in Ether.

"Dear Heavenly Father, I know this story isn't true, 
but please tell me it's True. Thanks. Amen."

Predictably - because The Book of Mormon must be understood as a literal history - the LDS Church still insists on a literal understanding of the Tower of Babel story. It's totally moronic, but somehow we find a way to doubt. There has to be an explanation. Heavenly Father will explain everything after we've proven ourselves. We'd better keep doubting this doubt.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tom Perry criticized

LDS apostle LTP (L. Tom Perry) has recently lost a few potential LGB friends earlier this month when in a talk about "traditional" marriage and family he spoke out against the non-traditional.

"We [the leaders of the LDS Church] want our voice to be heard against all of the counterfeit and alternative lifestyles that try to replace the family organization that God Himself established," says he.

In case you didn't get that, let me say it another way, unless you're family is headed by just one person with a penis followed up by just one other person with a vagina, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. Thus sayeth an apostle of God. But everyone already knows that the LDS Church has been trying to keep gay marriage from legalization. My impression is that LTP simply pulled the wrong straw when everyone was getting assigned topics for General Conference this year because typically Perry doesn't have much of a reputation for saying offensive things. Most of what we remember him for falls into the category of "Same Old Same Old," probably because he cowedly bends to authority rather than daring to go out on a limb and say something unique enough to shock anyone.

Whatever the case may be, L. Tom, you've heaped shame upon thine own head this Conference season. Fortunately for you, your lesson to learn is an easy one:

In conclusion, let's learn to love one another better. Let's stand by each other's side in strengthening home life wherever and whenever love is the foundation that home.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What if God's not good?

Dear monotheists, what would our world look like if God were some twisted, hateful being instead of a loving, nurturing being? What if God were purely sadistic instead of wholly protective, as we like to think?

Answer: it could very well look exactly the way it does now.

Friday, April 10, 2015

God and our moral sense

If God exists and has the power to intervene in nature, and on occasion apparently uses that power, they [critics of religion] ask, why does God fail to intervene in so many other cases of horrific injustice, cruelty, and suffering? Why, for example, did God allow Agatha to be tortured, abused, and mutilated before miraculously healing her through a vision of St Peter? Why would god allow some to be killed by volcanic eruptions and plagues, while bestowing special protection on the inhabitants of Catania? Why, in any case, does God need to use the powers of an object such as St Agatha's veil to achieve this protection, rather than acting directly to prevent the eruption or the disease in the first place? More generally, why is one person miraculously cured while another of equal faith and virtue suffers and dies? We might say that God moves in a mysterious way - which certainly seems to have been the case if we are to believe the many religious tales of wonders and miracles through the ages - but is that a good enough response? If God created us and our moral sense, then why do God's own ways of acting in the world seem to us not to meet our own standards of what is just and good?

Thomas Dixon Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction, pg. 56.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Poor theologians!

Pity the poor theologians! They are faced with a seemingly impossible dilemma when it comes to making sense of divine action in the world. If they affirm that God does act through miraculous interventions in nature, then they must explain why God acts on these occasions but not on numerous others; why miracles are so poorly attested; and how they are supposed to be compatible with our scientific understanding of the universe. On the other hand, if they deny that God acts through special miraculous interventions, then they are left with a faith which seems to be little more than Deism - the belief that God created the universe but is no longer active within it. If God is real, should we not expect to be able to discern at least some special divine acts? The theologian seems to have to choose between a capricious, wonder-working, tinkering God and an absent, uninterested, undetectable one. Neither sounds like a suitable object for love and worship.

Thomas Dixon Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction, pg. 41.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Euthyphro dilemma

"Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" In other words, does righteousness exist outside of God or does God define what it is?

The Mormon answer has to be that righteousness predates God because Mormons believe that he learned to be righteous while living as a man. God became God heaven knows how long ago and continues to acquire glory and intelligence to this day.

What this means for most Christians is that Mormons are heretical impostors who obviously must deny God's eternal, unchanging status, his omnipotence (how can God be the all-powerful GOD if he is a son of yet another god, and the exact number of gods out there is completely unknown? which god is the most powerful in the end?), his omniscience (does God really know everything if he's just another little scholar in a sort of divinity school?), and his omnipresence (God has a physical body, remember?)

What this means to most Mormons is that they too will one day be gods if they "endure to the end" by continuing to keep the commandments as laid out by the general authorities.

Accepting a god who must abide certain standards of righteousness means God can be measured against those standards, all we have to do is learn them. What Mormons like to ignore is that God very often fails to live up to very basic standards of righteousness. So not only do Mormons end up worshiping a minor god (while Christians claim to worship THE God), they also find themselves with a rebellious god who loves breaking the rules.

The situation is no more tidy for Christians who maintain that God defines and emanates righteousness. The problem here is that righteousness becomes relative - relative to whatever kind of character God is. And what if he's actually evil? What evidence do we have that he's not twisted and malicious?