Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year to all! It's a great time to remember that all we have is the present. So let's focus on a few things we should be doing to make the most of life.

1. Develop and show more empathy.
Nothing will make human existence better faster than trying to sincerely understand what others are going through. Empathy pacifies and unifies. We're all safer and happier with empathy.

2. Show more gratitude.
Gratitude requires a dose of humility. You have to slough off the notion that you earned and deserve everything you have and instead recognize the roll others have played and play in your life. Life gets better with gratitude.

3. Keep your nose out for bullshit.
A sucker is born every minute. Bullshitters are born every few seconds. We're all prone to make shit up and pass it off on others, but we can curb that tendency. Question others and question yourself. What you've been told is gospel truth very well may not be. What you tell yourself is true might very well be false. Keep an eye on the rhetoric people use to convince you one way or another. Take the time to engage with serious research. Some rational skepticism can go a long way in keeping the bullshit away.

4. Have some fun.
Life is short. Moments are fleeting. Have a laugh.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Google "Joseph Smith's wives" or "Fanny Alger"

If you search for "Joseph Smith's wives" in Google, please take the time to scroll to the end of the names and pictures at the top. It looks something like this:

It would appear that Fanny's picture comes from my blog post about her. I got it from this AMAZING VIDEO. Amazing as it is, it's not entirely accurate. No angel with a drawn sword was needed to convince Joseph Smith to practice polygamy until the early 1840s, several years after he had hooked up with Fanny and a few others. That's right, it doesn't make sense and it's not the only thing about the sword story that doesn't make sense.

The doubters seem well pleased. Emma looks pissed.

I'm just happy to have helped make a slight difference in the world.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Communist conspiracies

Remember how Ezra Benson was absolutely petrified by the Red Scare? This man, a prophet of God gifted with the privileges of visions, prophesy and discernment, couldn't sort his shit out when it came to world politics.

Shit like this kills me now. I could never quite believe that Communism was Satan's version of the United Order. It always felt like a wishful conclusion on the part of my church leaders and teachers. But I find it extremely problematic that a true prophet of God would get so carried away in McCarthyism and political scare tactics that he couldn't help but marry them to Mormonism. Talk about philosophies of man mingled with scripture!

Though I doubted it for years, I can now comfortably say the Ezra was a product of his time and clown of a prophet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How the LDS Church is different

While out and about seeking new investigators as a missionary, I often heard the question "How is your church different from mine?" As far as I could tell, it was almost always a sincere question. It's also an excellent question. If Mormonism has nothing exceptional to offer then there's probably not a great reason for joining it.

Hearing the question filled me with a mix of joy and anxiety. On the one hand I was thrilled to be given the open door invitation to talk about how awesome the Church is, but on the other hand I knew my major selling points weren't exactly the most impressive.

1. We have a living prophet like Noah and Moses! He tells us all the useful and relevant things God wants us to know for these very times.

Typical responses to this depending on one's religion went something like this: 1) Cool, we have a guy like that too!, 2) We don't need someone like that because we have a book of scripture that's still perfectly relevant or 3) We don't need that sort of thing because we have the Spirit guiding us at all times. At that point you had to then make the case for how much more impressive the LDS prophet was than their figure head, book or ability to listen and understand the will of God via his Holy Spirit. It was never an easy task. I always sought a fine balance of diplomacy and conviction, hoping and praying that the Spirit would fill my mouth with just the right words.

Inevitably discussions would arrive at the point where I have to explain what the prophet has said recently that was so great and so clearly prophetic. That's where all momentum was lost because no LDS prophet since Joseph Smith has done much of anything at all.

2. We have The Book of Mormon (and other new scripture)!

 This comment usually would of course get some people saying the Bible is all you need, but usually people would ask what it said that was so great. At that point I or my companion would share the wonderful tale of Jews settling parts of the Americas in 600 BCE, how they tried killing each other until the resurrected Jesus stopped by to set them straight, at which point they lived happily for 200 years until they eventually decided that killing each other was better. This only ever impressed uneducated people. Everyone else waited patiently until we left them alone.

3. We have the same power and authority held by Jesus Christ himself during his earthly ministry!

This usually got a response similar to "Oh, we've totally got that!" but would also receive challenges like "Great. Go ahead and tell me about the miracles you've performed." In the first case you had to get into the same type of debate mentioned above in number 1. How do you tell someone who believes they have the power of Jesus available to them that they really don't, at least not to the same degree that you do? And how do you prove it? I hadn't performed any miraculous healings, cast devil spirits into swine, fed thousands of people on scraps or kicked thousands of people out of a house of worship for not being reverent enough. All I had to offer were the miracle stories I had grown up with - stories about Joseph Smith, pioneers and the bishop of the brother of the one guy in my ward who maybe healed the child of a family he home taught - and those, I'm telling you, failed to convince. More often than not my miracle stories were met with other miracle stories that sounded just as awesome if not a little bit more grandiose.

4. We know that families can be together forever!

I could never understand how people weren't more impressed by this claim to Mormon exceptionalism. Most people were absolutely unimpressed by this doctrine we hold so dear. I met people who were sincerely confused that we would think our family mattered once we were in heaven. Weren't we all going to be one gigantic family anyway? Other people were annoyed by the idea that they would be stuck with family in heaven. Why should they be happy spending an eternity with people they don't especially care to see now? What's the point of having our earthly family in heaven? What problem does it solve? Will Mom still have meals to cook and dishes to do? Will Dad have to keep the Pearly Gates oiled and our misbehaving hides tanned?

5. We can teach you how to have a direct, personal relationship with God the Father. 

Most religious people we encountered had already heard this from their current religion. Communion with the Divine is an extremely popular and persistent promise of religions across the world. Trying to convince religious people that their previous encounters weren't as personal or frequent or powerful as they were with Mormons was a great way to offend people. Occasionally, however, we would find someone who had been longing to escape the chill of the Universe and make a connection with a loving god they hadn't yet known. These were our moments of elation. They occasionally turned into baptisms. I saw people enthusiastically accept baptism and I LOVED it. It made me feel so good. Unfortunately I saw almost all of those people leave the Church in frustration, the same frustration of others who tried and failed to make the connection as well as those who thought they had succeeded only to find themselves once again cold and alone.

I wondered if God simply didn't have time for his children. I wondered if God was testing how long we could hold our breath underwater. I wondered if God was as good as we say he is. I wondered why God would be so stingy. I wondered why I believed in God at all.

Why believe in this amazing father god if he can't stick with us despite our total loyalty? How is that any better than worshiping an idol? How is my god any better than the those worshiped by people I contacted daily on my mission?

For years I assumed that people couldn't see why Mormonism was so special because they weren't giving it a fair shake. Now I see that Mormonism has nothing different to offer the world. It's the same slop with a different name. I can see no reason why the LDS Church should be considered a "true" church, let alone The One True Church.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My worthiness interview

It's absurd that members aren't given the temple recommend questions and told to assess themselves rather than having to sit down one on one with a non-discerning authority figure. If I were called into the bishop's office today to have a worthiness interview I think it would go something like this.

1. Do you believe in God, the Eternal Father, in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost; and do you have a firm testimony of the restored gospel?

I definitely don't believe in the Mormon gods. Claiming you're the offspring of total knowledge and power is ridiculous. Believing that you can physically harm someone for a few hours and have everyone's mistakes disappear is absurd. I'm not entirely sure what the Holy Ghost is but it sounds like supernatural malarkey. As far as I'm concerned the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just an ugly latecomer branch to the tree of Christianity, definitely not a divine replanting.

2. Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator; and do you recognize him as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?

Thomas Monson has shared no prophesies, no visions, and has revealed nothing noteworthy to the world. I respect that he has inspired millions of people to be kind to one another, but his priesthood is imaginary and his authority exists only within the confines of belief within the worldly organization he represents.

3. Do you sustain the other General Authorities and the local authorities of the Church?

Of course not. These men have no divine authority. However I do feel sympathetic to many of their trials. Dedicating endless hours to other people's problems is not easy, and I applaud their sincere efforts to help other people feel loved and accepted. Those in authority who belittle others, pile on guilt, and needle their underlings for more money can do us all a favor and step in front of an oncoming train.

4. Do you live the law of chastity?

What I do with my genitals is absolutely none of your business. 

5. Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?

I hold a mild grudge against my father. I can't imagine you care, nor can I imagine you have advise that will help fix it.

6. Do you affiliate with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or do you sympathize with the precepts of any such group or individual?

Definitely. Every degree I've worked on has come from an institution who's teachings and practices are contrary to those of the Church. That includes BYU. Many of my close friends "teach" and "practice" things that are unaccepted by the Church. Members of my family often try to convince others of concepts and practices that go against the Church's teachings. I also advocate against many Church teachings.

7. Do you earnestly strive to do your duty in the Church; to attend your sacrament, priesthood, and other meetings; and to obey the rules, laws, and commandments of the gospel?

I acknowledge no duty to the Church and stopped attending years ago. The rules the Church has set up are of no account to me.

8. Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?

I use an online alias. I suppose I could be more straightforward there.

9. Are you a full-tithe payer?

I pay no money to the Church.

10. Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?

No. I like green and black teas and occasionally enjoy wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. I also eat too much meat.

11. Have you ever been divorced or are you now separated from your spouse under order of a civil court?


12. If you have received your temple endowment -- (a) Do you keep all the covenants that you made in the temple? (b) Do you wear the authorized garments both day and night?

No. I am repulsed by the absurdity of the temple in all respects. I deplore it. I do not regard what is done there as sacred. I do not consider the covenants made there to be of any effect (especially considering how they are presented without previous disclosure and in a high pressure setting).

13. Has there been any sin or misdeed in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but has not?

I never should have gone to my priesthood leaders about any of my sins. Unfortunately I did. I talked privately with men about masturbation and dry humping my girlfriend. Those men didn't need to hear it. I should have shown more respect to myself and to my former girlfriend and kept it to myself.

14. Do you consider yourself worthy in every way to enter the temple and participate in temple ordinances?

I have no interest in participating in most temple ordinances. I would however like to attend marriages of friends and family. I definitely consider myself worthy of that - much more worthy than Joseph Smith the con man, fraud, emotional abuser and child molester ever was.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Back to you, Dieter

Dear Dieter,

Two years ago I started this blog because you recycled a mind-numbingly stupid slogan about how we needed to be aggressively critical towards our doubts instead of towards our faith. It's a slogan that suggests we should engage in self-censorship by turning a blind eye to unfavorable information. You suggest that ignorance is better than honesty. The fact is it's not.

In one of your talks earlier this month, you repackage the story of Daniel ("and other young students in Israel") in Babylon like it's the story of a young, enthusiastic Mormon headed off to a liberal university where he must resist the peer pressure to adopt the philosophies of man. "But Daniel believed. Daniel did not doubt." It's a clever move. It's also a very misleading juxtaposition. To suggest that today's higher education systems throughout the world are comparable to the vicious theocracy of King Nebuchadnezzar in which nonconformists are burned alive is, in a word, bizarre. Seriously, the Babylonian "team of scholars" (the Bible says "magicians and astrologers") has nothing to do with thousands upon thousands of highly trained researchers across the world who endlessly critique each other's work. Daniel, the Israelite captive carried off to be indoctrinated probably has more in common with young LDS missionaries than college students being pressured to binge drink with their fraternities and sororities.
Just think about it. I am, Dieter, and I think your analogy sucks. How much easier would it have been for Daniel to simply go along with the ways of Babylon? I don't know. I imagine he would have faced some pressure from his fellow Isrealites in captivity and I can't imagine how attractive the Babylonian belief system would have been, if at all. Please don't think that replacing one's belief system is easy. When a belief system is not yours, you're mostly likely going to think it's obviously ridiculous. He could have set aside the restrictive code of conduct God had given the children of Israel. He could have feasted on the rich foods provided by the king and indulged in the worldly pleasures of the natural man. Think of all the vile bacon he could have been eating! He would have avoided ridicule. I didn't see where in the book of Daniel it mentions ridicule. Can I get a verse on that?
He would have been popular. WTF? He was the prince of the eunuch's favorite and one of Nebuchadnezzar's top four councilors.
He would have fit in. Poor kid. At least the totalitarian king loved him. :S
His path might have been much less complicated. Had he just drank the Kool-aid, er... wine...
As silly as your talk is up to this point, it's outdone in the next section where you blame it all on Satan and shame people who are skeptical or have doubts.
Satan, our adversary, wants us to fail. Satan is an early Christian invention, not an actual spirit being. He spreads lies as part of his effort to destroy our belief. What lies? That Joseph Smith had a history of making shit up to get money out of people starting from his early teens? That he plagiarized and falsified rather than actually translate? That he cheated on his wife many, many times and tried to exonerate himself with a fabricated revelation? He slyly suggests that the doubter, the skeptic, the cynic is sophisticated and intelligent, while those who have faith in God and His miracles are naive, blind, or brainwashed. No, that's not Satan, that's logic. Satan will advocate that it is cool to doubt spiritual gifts and the teachings of true prophets. No one's doubting because it's "cool", you asshole! People doubt because they see various inconsistencies in the theory of spiritual gifts and the teachings of those claiming to be prophets. Most of us don't go hunting for them; they arise naturally throughout the years of indoctrination. Right now you sound like the type of person who would claim fossils were put on earth by Satan to deceive us.
And now for the token quote from this train wreck of a prophetic message - the part where you call doubters ignoble, unimpressive, lazy, morally weak, disloyal and cowardly.
Brethren, let me be clear: there is nothing noble or impressive about being cynical. Skepticism is easy—anyone can do it. It is the faithful life that requires moral strength, dedication, and courage. Those who hold fast to faith are far more impressive than those who give in to doubt when mysterious questions or concerns arise.
Who the fuck do you think you're fooling? First off, don't conflated cynicism for skepticism. Now let me show you the other side:
Following your family, your friends and your community in their beliefs is easy. It's great having everyone around you be in constant agreement because they think like you do. It's very hard when you don't share the beliefs of your community and you live your life as an outsider. Your kids might even have a hard time finding friends whose parents will let them come over to play. But it is the sincere life of inquiry and careful judgement that requires moral strength, dedication and courage! Those who hold fast to integrity of thought and open-mindedness are far more impressive than those who allow their family or the geographical location in which they were born to provide a prepared set of default answers to questions or concerns about your worldview.

You end your talk with the horrible idea that we simply choose to believe because somehow that will make all the absurdities of the LDS history and doctrine magically disappear. You're asking us to shut off our brains, to stop thinking. Most people can't do this. Most people will struggle silently with cognitive dissonance, will wear out their knees praying for answers, will hate themselves for not understanding and not getting any divine enlightenment. Others will have the courage and good sense to accept the reality of life on earth and walk away from the Church.

Dieter, you should be ashamed of yourself. Your talk will hurt thousands of people who are struggling to make Mormonism work somehow. My only consolation is that the only reason you gave this talk in the first place is because so many people are leaving the Church. You're desperate. You can't defend the Church with facts, so you attack the people who have seen the facts. How cowardly of you.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dale Renlund criticized

The most lowly of the new LDS apostles is Dale Renlund. It's time we consider his witness of Jesus as offered earlier this month.

My dear brothers and sisters, thank you for sustaining me yesterday as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I didn't. I'm not sorry. It is hard to express how much that means to me. Are you going to try? I was especially grateful for the sustaining vote of the two extraordinary women in my life: my wife, Ruth, and our dear, dear, dear daughter, Ashley. You didn't try to express how much being sustained means to you. Hi, Ashley, you little dear you!!!

My call gives ample evidence to the truthfulness of the Lord’s statement early in this dispensation: “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.” Right, because nothing screams "weak and simple" like a white dude from the United States with a top education and a healthy income as a cardiologist and professor. :S I am one of those weak and simple. Um... maybe "weakling" and "simpleton", but let's not pretend you've been dredged up from the lowly of the low. Decades ago, when I was called to be the bishop of a ward in the eastern United States, my brother, slightly older and much wiser than I, called me on the phone. You're really hammering away at the false humility bullshit and you only just started. In the words of Dieter: STOP IT! He said, “You need to know that the Lord hasn’t called you because of anything you have done. The bishop called you because you insisted you don't look at porn or cheat on your wife. In your case, it is probably in spite of what you have done. We all know you touch yourself sometimes. The Lord has called you for what He needs to do through you, and that will happen only if you do it His way.” He needs you to avoid counseling people and refer them instead to professionals. I recognize that this wisdom from an older brother applies even more today. Definitely. Now that you're in the big time you're probably going to start thinking you're way hot shit. Remember, you're a cardiologist, not someone channeling the mind and will of Jesus for the masses.

Something wonderful happens in a missionary’s service when he or she realizes that the calling is not about him or her; rather, it is about the Lord, His work, and Heavenly Father’s children. You're God's little pawn and it's beautiful. I feel the same is true for an Apostle. It probably is about the same. This calling is not about me. It had nothing to with your close vicinity and sucking up to the hierarchy? It’s about the Lord, His work, and Heavenly Father’s children. Let's see what you can do to increase the Church's spending for the homeless and hungry rather than real estate and city development. No matter what the assignment or calling is in the Church, to serve capably, one must serve knowing that everyone we serve “is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, … has a divine nature and destiny.” Well, not everyone. Some beloved spirit children are destined for something less than divine. Most actually. But don't worry, God loves you lots.

In my past profession, I was a cardiologist specializing in heart failure and transplantation, with many patients who were critically ill. How lowly! :S My wife jokingly says that it was a bad prognostic sign to become one of my patients. Your wife's not very funny. All teasing aside, I saw many people die, and I developed a kind of emotional distance when things went poorly. What a horribly segue. You really are a calloused man. That way, feelings of sadness and disappointment were tempered.

In 1986 a young man named Chad developed heart failure and received a heart transplant. Oh lord. Is this a story about how you cried once back in 1986?! He did very well for a decade and a half. Chad did all he could to stay healthy and live as normal a life as possible. He served a mission, worked, and was a devoted son to his parents. What does "devoted to his parents" mean? The last few years of his life, though, were challenging, and he was in and out of the hospital frequently. So he did died. Did you cry?

One evening, he was brought to the hospital’s emergency department in full cardiac arrest. My associates and I worked for a long time to restore his circulation. Finally, it became clear that Chad could not be revived. We stopped our futile efforts, and I declared him dead. Although sad and disappointed, I maintained a professional attitude. I thought to myself, “Chad has had good care. He has had many more years of life than he otherwise would have had.” Yes, he did have many more years... THANKS TO MEDICAL SCIENCE, not a miracle. That emotional distance soon shattered as his parents came into the emergency room bay and saw their deceased son lying on a stretcher. In that moment, I saw Chad through his mother’s and father’s eyes. I'm not sure how you can claim you saw him through their eyes, but empathy is a beautiful thing so whatever. I saw the great hopes and expectations they had had for him, the desire they had had that he would live just a little bit longer and a little bit better. Sad. With this realization, I began to weep. Ah-ha! This story is about you crying! Lovely. I'm feeling the Spirit now! :S In an ironic reversal of roles and in an act of kindness I will never forget, Chad’s parents comforted me. And it was awkward as hell for them.

I now realize that in the Church, to effectively serve others we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes. This is the god who saw fit to exile a full one third of his spirit children eternally and exile the other two thirds for some kind of poorly thought out test. Those involved in the test have seen their father do strange things. He drown 99.99% of them one day, ordered genocide another, has left and continues to leave millions upon millions to suffer sicknesses and various calamities, and has never even sent a prophet or Mormon missionary to explain why it was all happening to the vast majority of his children on earth. I'll tell you now, as a parent, I cannot relate to this being. Only then can we begin to comprehend the true worth of a soul. This god sells life cheap. Only then can we sense the love that Heavenly Father has for all of His children. Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them. His unconditional love requiring baptism and full conformity to his arbitrary set of rules? We cannot completely fulfill our covenant obligation to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort unless we see them through God’s eyes. Can you imagine what it would be like to see what God sees? Everything that is, ever was and will be all at the same time! Talk about a headache. This expanded perspective will open our hearts to the disappointments, fears, and heartaches of others. God is perfect - he's whole and complete - why would he be vulnerable to disappointment, fear and heartache? But Heavenly Father will aid and comfort us, just as Chad’s parents comforted me years ago. Of course he'll craddle us and tell us it's OK that Jesus died, he's the one who ordered him dead in the first place. The difference is that God got his son back in a few hours, Chad's parents are still dealing with their son's absence to this day. We need to have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that know and feel if we are to accomplish the rescue so frequently encouraged by President Thomas S. Monson. What rescue is that? The rescue of human souls? I'm sure it sounds important to be part of a "rescue".

Only when we see through Heavenly Father’s eyes can we be filled with “the pure love of Christ.” Let me simply point out that the terms you're using are confusing. I want to think you're talking about empathy and selflessness. Those are wonderful things. I hope that's what you're trying to say. Every day we should plead with God for this love. Hey, if it helps you treat others better, go for it. Mormon admonished, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” Mormon sounds like a 19th century revivalist preacher. I'm about to fall to the ground struck by the Spirit!

With all my heart I want to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. That shouldn't be hard. You just imagine him however you like him and imagine he thinks more or less like you do. Historically that's how everyone has approached following him. I love Him. Gay! I adore Him. Don't let him walk all over you. Make him respect you! I witness of His living reality. Are you saying you've seen him? Alive? Did you talk to him? Did he really call you to be a "special witness"? Does what you just said mean anything other than "I believe Jesus is a living person somewhere in or outside of the Universe"? I witness that He is the Anointed One, the Messiah. In other words, the Christ. Yeah, yeah. How did you "witness" this anointing? What are you referring to exactly? I am a witness of His incomparable mercy, compassion, and love. You obviously haven't read The book of Mormon. Jesus is not merciful or particularly loving in that book. I add my testimony to that of the Apostles who, in the year 2000, stated “that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. … He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world.” That string of "special" witnessing put a load of heavy questions on my shelf of doubt. I testify that on a day in 1820 in a grove in upstate New York, the risen Lord appeared, along with God, our Heavenly Father, to the Prophet Joseph Smith, just as Joseph Smith said They did. To quote a creationist asshole named John Ham, "WERE YOU THERE?" The historical record indicates that the event you're talking about is a narrative invented by Joseph Smith years after the alleged date in his constant effort to reinforce his authority over his followers. Priesthood keys are on earth today to enable saving and exalting ordinances. The restoration of the Priesthood is another post hoc fabrication. I know it. Ahem! You "believe" it. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen. No. This is false witnessing. Fuck everything you said except the part about being nice to other people and trying to see their hardships from their perspective.