Friday, October 21, 2016

3 Nephi 23: Jesus Likes Scriptures

Jesus publicly endorses Isaiah before moving on to some slightly less unoriginal material.

Dead Simple
Verse 5 distills all the complexity of the gospel and the Plan of Salvation down to one arguably non-doctrinal concept:
And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things.
If that's all we need, why do we have thousands of pages of scripture?  If those are the only requirements for salvation, why does the modern church place so much emphasis on temple covenants, tithing, eternal marriage, puritanical observances, and plenty of other things that don't factor into Jesus's summary of the gospel at all?

Messianic Fact-Checking
Here's an awkward moment.  Jesus asks Nephi to show him the records he's been keeping and our favorite irritable savior of the world says this (verse 9):
Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?
This seems to be a reference to a casual prediction in the midst of Samuel's destruction-and-horror section (Helaman 14:25):
And many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many.
And then the following exchange takes place, give or take a little creative license (verses 10-13):
DISCIPLES: Yeah, he totally prophesied that.
JESUS: How come you didn't write that down, Nephi?
NEPHI: D'oh!
JESUS: Write it down, stupid!
So...then Nephi wrote it down.  I have no idea what possible doctrinal contribution these verses supposedly make to the Book of Mormon, but they sure make Nephi look like a dunce. Way to humiliate your prophet in front of his friends, Jesus. Not cool.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Uchtdorf's Ugliness

As part of my belated and substandard coverage of this month's General Conference, here's a critical look at Dieter Uchtdorf's address entitled "Learn from Alma and Amulek."

Uchtdorf begins by relating the Book of Mormon story of Alma the Younger and Amulek, interspersing his summary with direct quotations, such as the following:
I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not [believe]; therefore I went on rebelling against God.
Amulek here is conflating disbelief with rebellion.  While I suppose it's true that people like me who don't believe in the gospel are in open rebellion against it, Amulek's characterization of his own spirituality sounds to me like he just simply never caught the Jesus Fever.  His kind of disbelief is passive.  Rebellion is active.  He makes it sound like anyone who just doesn't have an interest in Mormonism is enthusiastically enlisting with the devil's legions.  Considering he's giving an address that's supposed to extend a gentle arm of compassion toward those struggling with their faith, Uchtdorf has chosen an oddly unfair scriptural description of the faithless.

As he moves on to discuss the powerful missionary efforts of Alma and Amulek united, Uchtdorf glosses over an important part of the story.  He mentions that "God was preparing Amulek."  But he omits the fact that the preparation involved sending Amulek an angelic vision (although he does make a brief reference to this later).  Which means that none of this crap is really relevant to the average modern-day Mormon.

How did Alma the Younger regain his faith?  By being zapped into a coma by a very cross angel.  How did Amulek regain his faith?  By an angel appearing to him and ordering him to take care of the prophet of God.  How can I regain my faith?  By, um...waiting around for my angel to show up, I guess.

Uchtdorf then advises the leaders in the church to "find your Amuleks."  What follows is a weak comparison between Amulek and any average ward member whose talents are not being utilized:
Deep down, many want to serve their God.  They want to be an instrument in His hands.  ...They want to build His Church.  But they are reluctant to begin.  Often they wait to be asked.
But that's not how it was with Amulek.  It's not that deep down he wanted to serve God but was waiting for an opportunity.  He was given a frigging vision of an angel of the Lord extending him explicit instructions.  It doesn't matter whether you were waiting for an opportunity to serve, because that's just something you can't really ignore.

And it's a far cry from an angelic directive when your relief society president asks you to help with the preparation for the next ward potluck.  Amulek must have been filled with a sense of importance, a sense of duty, and a sense of mandatory compliance.  Those aren't necessarily the same things we can expect from people when we assign mundane tasks to those under our ecclesiastical stewardships.

Next, Uchtdorf encourages us to ask ourselves how we might be like Amulek, which leads him into the much-discussed story of "David."

Almost right off the bat, Uchtdorf is slyly presenting certain details of this reconversion story in a hugely biased light. For example, when David came across "information about the Church that confused him," this information is referred to in the very next sentence as "negative materials," as though such things can be assumed to be synonymous.  Not everything that causes confusion about the church has to be negative, Dieter.  It very well may be true, which, if you ask me, makes it positive material.

When "Jacob," a Mormon with whom David frequently debated on the internet, is introduced to the story, he does what many faithful Mormons with unfaithful loved ones have done—he prays relentlessly.  He put David's name on the prayer roll in the temple.  He found every way he could think of to beg God to "soften" David's heart.

Of course, since Uchtdorf is giving this sermon to a worldwide audience of followers, this story has a happy ending—David will return to the church after "more than a decade."  It's been about eight years since I left the church.  What does Uchtdorf's story accomplish other than giving my parents more false hope about my eventual return and convincing them to redouble their futile efforts of praying and fasting on my behalf?

Upon inexplicably feeling "the pull of the Shepherd," David prays for answers to his questions.   Then he begins to "listen to the whisperings of the Spirit and to inspired answers of friends."  But David's specific questions, and more importantly the satisfactory answers to them, are not discussed in any kind of detail.  What good is the story for anyone doubting their faith if the central struggle is resolved off-screen?  We saw the final showdown with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the Emperor in The Return of the Jedi.  Imagine how unsatisfying the ending of that movie would had been if we hadn't seen it and Luke had simply popped up on Endor to party with his victorious friends only to offer a casual explanation of, "Oh, yeah, Vader killed Palpatine, everything's cool."

To people like my parents, the specifics don't matter, it's the impossible hope Uchtdorf is offering that does.  But Uchtdorf is apparently trying to speak to those who are like Amulek—those who have "become less committed in [their] discipleship," those who "have become disillusioned or even angry."  And for those people, the story of David is pointless without specifics, because all it does is point back to the same tired doctrines that these people are starting to wonder about.  

It's absurd to me how gingerly the apostles and prophets will dance around the issues, never mentioning what they may be and never addressing any of them directly—but all the while assuring us that there are answers.  Who better than the anointed mouthpiece of the Lord to settle such troublesome questions?  If reasonable explanations exist, Uchtdorf should offer us something better than Sunday School answers.  

But he doesn't, because the reasonable explanations don't exist.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ballard's Bullhockey

Unfortunately, my work schedule this month kept me from being able to do my usual General Conference roundup.  I mean, I might have been able to catch the last twenty minutes of the last session when I got home on Sunday, but considering I'd just finished off a ninety hour work week, I was more desperately in need of greasy food and a good Netflix marathon than I was of stoking the fire of my anti-Mormon wrath.

But I glanced through the talk summaries on and I perused the discussions on the Ex-Mormon subreddit, and there is, unsurprisingly, one particular talk that I'd like to dissect.


Good God, Ballard.  What the hell, man?

The framework for this insincere and reductive clutter of subtly recycled aspersions is a Bible story in which Christ's apostles refused to abandon him when others lost faith.  The title of the talk is a reference to Peter's reasoning:  "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life."

After relating this story, Ballard immediately begins to spin his knotted yarn of utter nonsense:
In that moment, when others focused on what they could not accept, the Apostles chose to focus on what they did believe and know, and as a result, they remained with Christ.
Okayyyyy then...but here's the thing...
Sure, what I could not accept was what drove me out of the church, if you want to phrase it that way.  But, in another sense, focusing on what I did believe and know drove me out of the church, too.  They're essentially the same thing, only worded differently to reflect our disparate biases.  I couldn't accept the racism because I knew that racism is wrong.  I couldn't accept the brainwashing because I knew that manipulating children is wrong.  I couldn't accept the failure of Moroni's promise because I believed that remaining loyal to an organization which has let you down so colossally is neither virtuous nor healthy.

Ballard chooses to depict those who no longer follow Christ as focusing on what we cannot accept.  But in so doing, he ignores that many of us consider ourselves to be standing up for our principles and that many of us have legitimate reasons for refusing to accept some aspects of the gospel.

If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do?
Hey, man, just because you're terrified of the unknown doesn't mean everyone else should be too.  When I left the church, I didn't know where I would go or what I would do, and it scared the hell out of me—probably because being Mormon was all I ever knew and because the way inactivity and apostasy are treated in Mormonism left me petrified that I was leaving a warm, welcoming haven in favor of a bleak, bottomless abyss.  So nice job amping up the anxiety factor for anyone currently "vacillating" in their faith, Ballard.

The unknown can—and often should—be exciting, though.  Anything can happen now.  I can design my own system of belief.  I can live according to my own priorities and my own sense of right and wrong.  I have cognitive freedom and so much less to limit me.  Where will I go?  Could be anywhere.  What will I do?  Could be anything.  Isn't that beautiful?

Clearly it's not beautiful to Ballard.  But to anyone pondering an exit from the church, it could be.

There may be some doctrine, some policy, some bit of history that puts you at odds with your faith, and you may feel that the only way to resolve that inner turmoil right now is to “walk no more” with the Saints. If you live as long as I have, you will come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves.
If that's the case, Detective Spooner, you'll be in the ER by the time Ballard leaves the pulpit.

What kind of useless reasoning is this??  Things have a way of resolving themselves?  Great, because it's been more than a decade since I desperately tried to receive a confirmation of the Book of Mormon's truthfulness in prayer.  So how long, exactly, was I supposed to wait around doing my home teaching and attending the temple before that situation worked itself out?  People with deeply troubling questions don't want to hear your platitudes about eventual resolutions—they want you to answer their goddamn questions.

Also, I think that Ballard and the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve have effectively demonstrated that being old doesn't necessarily make you wise.  I may not have lived as long as they have, but at least I'm wise enough to know that gay people are still people and that employing Orwellian tactics to manipulate masses of adoring devotees is one of the scummiest things you can do.

So before you make that spiritually perilous choice to leave, I encourage you to stop and think carefully before giving up whatever it was that brought you to your testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in the first place.
Oh, don't make me laugh, Ballard, you saucy little windbag.  Perhaps this line works better on those who converted to the church, but for a lot of people who were born in the covenant (like I was), this might not make a lot of sense.  I never had a testimony.  I mean, I had one, but it was a testimony of the reality of Mormonism, not the truthfulness of it.  The church defined my life, and I thought that this was completely normal because it was all I knew.  I thought I had a testimony, but what I really had was a pre-programmed mindset to convince me that what I believed was the truth and what I felt was happiness.  The only thing that brought me into the church was the circumstance of my birth.

And let's be honest here—how many people leave the church without stopping and thinking carefully?  It's a huge decision, and a traumatic one for many of us.  Maybe there are some people who can just flip a switch and call themselves ex-Mormons, but for a lot of people it's a careful, thoughtful, agonizing process.  Not that Ballard would know any of that, apparently.

Where will you go to learn more about Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness and peace, a plan that is filled with wondrous possibilities, teachings, and guidance for our mortal and eternal lives? Remember, the plan of salvation gives mortal life meaning, purpose, and direction.
I have very little patience for Ballardry.
This is in the middle of a laundry list of things the church can supposedly offer that cannot be found elsewhere.  But the way all these questions are framed is laughably Mormon-centric.  When I went elsewhere after leaving the church, I wasn't in search of a place to learn more about the Plan of Salvation.  I was in search of truth.  I'd just decided that the Plan of Salvation wasn't true, so why the hell would I care about learning more about it?  Ballard can't even put himself in someone else's shoes in the simplest of terms.

The Plan of Salvation doesn't give mortal life meaning.  Mortal life has inherent meaning and claiming that you need knowledge of the correct divine gameplan in order to have it tries to cheapen the value of human life and insults approximately six billion people.  And while the Plan of Salvation can give people purpose and direction to some people, it's irresponsible to pretend that those things can't be found in other religions, without religion, or from any number of pursuits entirely outside the realm of religion.

Where will you go to find people who live by a prescribed set of values and standards that you share and want to pass along to your children and grandchildren?

How about a different church?  How about a charitable volunteer organization?  How about a fucking book club?

A lot of times when people have trouble with a church doctrine or a church policy or a bit of church history, it's because the issue in question is not in line with their values—which would immediately disqualify Mormonism as a source of people who share their standards.  If people have a problem with the November 2015 policy, for example, the church will not be a nurturing place for their pro-gay (or, dare I say, pro-family-unity) values.

But the slimiest issue here, to me, is the word "prescribed."  I don't want prescribed sets of values.  I want my own values.  I want to decide what feels morally right to me, and then to do those things.  I want my standards to change and improve when I learn something new.  I don't want someone to tell me "these are your values" only for me to loyally parrot back, "yes, these are my values."  I think that relying on someone else to preset your moral radio stations for you engenders weakness.  You can't discover your best morality unless you work the tuner yourself.

Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail.
Okay, this is totally not a doctrinal issue, but this line drives me frigging insane.  This is a terrible metaphor.  Life can be like the ascent.  We are like the hikers.  Life is not like the hikers.  This is sloppy writing.  Did no one proofread this before it went to the teleprompters?
Somewhere in this [Church Office] building is our talent.

He's supposed to be one of the mouthpieces of our omniscient Father in Heaven and he can't even properly employ a decent metaphor?  How disappointing.  

I don’t pretend to know why faith to believe comes easier for some than for others.
Well, what bloody use are you, then?  You're an emissary of God himself!  Your church is struggling against an onslaught of public opinion and a hemorrhage of inactivity and resignation, and you can't even offer some basic insight that could cut to the heart of the problem?

I’m just so grateful to know that the answers are always there, and if we seek them—really seek with real intent and with full purpose of a prayerful heart—we will eventually find the answers to our questions as we continue on the gospel path.
I'm so sick of this crap.  The answers are out there, but we won't tell you what they are, because then we'd have to mention the questions, and we don't want to give you any more ideas on what to question.  But trust us, the answers are totally out there, but as prophets, seers, and revelators, we can't be bothered provide them.

And this also reinforces the age-old myth that those who have left the church haven't tried hard enough to stay.  I really sought answers with real intent and with full purpose of a prayerful heart.  If the church were true, it certainly wouldn't be my fault for not receiving answers because I tried as hard as I possibly could.  And it's unspeakably heartless to expect someone to wait around for such important answers to "eventually" come.  

In my ministry, I have known those who have drifted and returned after their trial of faith.

Please stop giving people false hope.  My parents don't need apostolic bullshit to bolster their already unhealthy belief that I'll one day come to my senses.  Some of us may return.  But in the meantime, please stop talking about it as though it's a likelihood.  (I'm looking at you, Uchtdorf.)

I think I'm done now.  I might try to tackle Uchtdorf's talk too at some point, because that one was particularly irksome as well...just not so much as Ballard's.

Apologies for the GIF dump.  I feel like it's been a while since I've tried to visually spice up a post, and I may have overcompensated!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

3 Nephi 22: Because You Can Never Have Too Much Isaiah

After a long career of preaching, Jesus seems to have exhausted his repertoire of original material, so he falls back on his Isaiah to keep his epic oration going.  Which is kind of odd, considering he totally outranks Isaiah and should be able to come up with something better on his own.

Vain Repetition
This chapter is essentially a rehashing of Isaiah 54 with a few notable differences.  My favorite difference crops up in verse 4.  Isaiah's version merely states that "thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth," but 3 Nephi 22 adds, "and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth."

Jesus is apparently the Master...of tautology.  That second part is completely unnecessary and adds no new nuance to the existing Biblical version.

Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?
One thing that should have been changed from the Isaiah version but wasn't is this section (verses 7-8):
For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee. 
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.
Mormonism likes to depict God as a perfected, loving, benevolent father figure.   But a perfected, loving, benevolent father figure wouldn't forsake his children, not even for  a small moment (although this isn't the first time the Book of Mormon has endorsed a depiction of an absentee-father-god).  And he certainly wouldn't hide his face in wrath.

The everlasting kindness bit sounds right, but when the divergent elements of these verses are combined, it doesn't make God sound perfect—it makes him sound like a generally good guy who's still working to get past his issues.  That's not very divine.

Jesus Gets Tongue Tied
The Savior of Mankind apparently stumbles over some of Isaiah's phrasing and the result is clumsy.  Here's Isaiah's version (Isaiah 54:9):
For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.
And Jesus's awkward nonsense (3 Nephi 22:9):
For this, the waters of Noah unto me, for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee.
Because a couple of key words are omitted, the comparison to the great flood is a little difficult to understand without the subsequent explanation.  And even if Jesus's bizarre appositional phrase makes sense to the reader, it still lacks the clarity and simplicity of Isaiah's original.  (Yes, I just praised the clarity and simplicity of Isaiah.  That should be an indication of how badly Jesus screwed this up.)  

Some perfect son of God he is.  He can't even deliver a scriptural-based speech properly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Elders Eat for Free

I've often told myself that if a pair of Mormon missionaries were ever to find themselves in my humble little fast food restaurant, I wouldn't charge them for their meals.  But it's never happened.  Until this week.

My Mormon-dar is still well-tuned, apparently, since I immediately recognized them as missionaries before I spotted the telltale nametags.  But I kept an eye on their progress through the line so that when the first one got to the front and ordered his food, I slid over to discreetly give him a 100% discount and to tell my cashier to call me back in a minute so I could do the same for the second guy.

I'm actually pretty proud of myself for doing it.  I mean, it was maybe 20 bucks in total, so it's not that big of a deal.  I did it to be a nice guy, partially, but it was mostly for me.  It helped me prove to myself that I'm not too pissed at the church.  The way I see it, those missionaries and I were duped by the same predatory organization.  I don't hate Mormons—I feel empathy toward them and I want to help them.  And something as simple as a couple of free burgers reassured me that I wasn't letting hatred of the institution translate into hatred of the victimized representatives of the institution.

The shorter missionary was really gracious and thanked me repeatedly.  His towering junior companion seemed very uncomfortable the whole time, but I'm guessing that he was a green elder still struggling to adjust to his new reality.  As they sat down to eat, one of my coworkers who knows a bit more about my Mormon background than the others asked me why I'd done it.  I thought about it for a moment and, since we were in the middle of a busy rush and there wasn't time to explain, I replied simply, "Because their lives blow."

As our business died down a few minutes later, the two young men came up to hang out by our front counter.  I knew they wanted to chat, and I suspected it might be awkward for me, so I pretended to be too busy to notice them.  I hoped they would give up and leave, but they eventually asked my cashier if she would let me know they were waiting to say thank you whenever I had a minute.  Reluctantly, I went over to talk to them.

The senior companion expressed their gratitude again and I babbled uncomfortably through a modest explanation.  "Well, you know, you're a long way from home," I said.  "It's a rough life and I just figured you guys could use a favor."

He expressed his appreciation yet again and then asked the dreaded question:  "Are you a member?"

I broke eye contact, not because I was ashamed but because I felt I was about to ruin the moment.  "Uh, no," I said flatly, "not anymore."

And suddenly the conversation was over.  He wasn't rude about it at all and he thanked me one last time, but it was obvious that nothing he had hoped to gain from our conversation had come to pass.  So he and his companion left.

I guess I hope that these missionaries will think about how ex-Mormons can be nice people and that maybe they won't commit to the demonizing of apostates as fully as the Quorum of the Twelve would prefer.  But I'm worried that this will become a story about how the very elect are being deceived and that even this really nice guy was led away from the gospel.  I don't know anything about those two young men, but I hope I gave them something to think addition to giving them free meals.

I wonder what kind of mentions I got, if any, in these elders' emails home.

But I got to feel good about myself, at least.  I had an opportunity to behave with compassion instead anger concerning a touchy and deeply personal subject and I made the right choice.  After so much time failing to make the choices the church told me were right, it's intensely gratifying to set my own values, decide what I believe is right...and then live up to my own standards.