Friday, November 11, 2016

3 Nephi 25: Glossing Over

This is basically Malachi chapter 4, an easily accessible text during the time period for which the Book of Mormon was intended.

(I'm talking about the present day!)

But beyond the fact that these six verses are completely superfluous in modern scripture, there is one little confusing thing I'd like to point out.  Verse 4:
Remember ye the law of Moses, my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
This is identical to the Malachi version except that it contains one extra comma.  In Malachi's context, this verse makes sense because it was written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.  But in 3 Nephi, Christ is speaking these words to the people with the express purpose of expounding them (see 3 Nephi 24:1).

But it's church doctrine that Christ retired the Mosaic Law—that we're held to a higher law less based on specific rules and more based on following the spirit of God's law (which, of course, doesn't jive with the modern church's take on things like modesty, the Word of Wisdom, etc.).  So why would Jesus include verse 4, which reminds us of an obsolete law of Heaven?  Wouldn't it be better to skip this verse or to use it as an opportunity to explain the transition away from the Law of Moses?

So much for expounding, Jesus.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

3 Nephi 24: Schoolyard Gods

In yet another of so many examples of the Book of Mormon borrowing directly from the Bible, Jesus commands the Nephites to write down Malachi chapter 3.


Grammatical Polytheism
Much like earlier Biblical quotations, most of this chapter is extremely similar to the source material except for some subtle, mostly inconsequential changes.  But in verse one, there's an amusing little punctuation change that technically implies that there are other gods.  Here's the original from Malachi 3:
...and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple...
And here's the version from 3 Nephi 24:
...and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple...
She what the Book of Mormon did there?  It removed the appositional commas around the phrase "whom ye seek."  With Malachi's punctuation, this means "the Lord, who is the guy you seek," but with Nephi's punctuation, this means "the specific Lord whom you seek."  But if there's only one god, what other Lord could anybody be seeking anyway?  Is Jesus carefully accounting for Dionysus and Bastet and Queztalcoatl because they're also Lords?

It's silly, I know.  It's not one of those checkmate, Mormons! kinds of things.  But it amuses me and I think it sits nicely atop the heaping pile of evidence that the Book of Mormon was produced only by humans and that it contains some very non-divine flaws.


Will a Man Rob God?
I used to love verses 8 through 12.  It's wonderful in that it promises incalculable blessings in return for paying a faithful tithe.  And it has such a delicious boldness in its phrasing:  Will a man rob God?

But, upon further thought, it feels like a giant, cosmic Come at me, bro.  Like God is daring you to be so recklessly stupid as to not pay your tithing.  Go ahead.  See what happens if you don't.

...but if you do, everything will be hunky dory.  Reading these verses, now, though, I keep flashing back to a slightly different area of my childhood:


Basically, God is a schoolyard bully.  

How petty is it for the omnipotent creator of the universe to demand a share of every poor working stiff's paycheck?  I know the usual rationale is that God has given us everything and it's selfish of us not to be willing to give some of it back.  But some of us don't have anything to spare.  We are completely dependent on God for every single thing that sustains our ability to live.  It's cruel of him to require some of our precious resources when he hasn't necessarily allotted all of us enough resources to guarantee our survival.  

Surely such a powerful being has other ways of accomplishing his purposes that don't involve extorting money from even his most indigent children.  And it's also troubling that his reasoning has nothing to do with helping out the less fortunate.  He takes it very personally when you don't pay him.  It's not Will you accumulate needless wealth while your fellow human beings starve?  It's Will a man rob God?

At a certain point, loyalty to a god like that stops being virtuous and starts being Stockholm Syndrome.


A Poor Father Figure
The final verses of this chapter speak of a book of remembrance into which the names of those who fear and serve God will be written.  The fate of these people is explained in verse 17:
And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
He's talking about sparing these people from destruction.  From being burned as stubble.  Because of this, the familial comparison seems wildly inappropriate.  Shouldn't a man spare his own son from utter obliteration regardless of whether that son serves him?  Would a loving father burn a disobedient child to death and then pat himself on the back for "sparing" his obedient child?

Of course not.  That's horrible.

Yet, somehow, in the face of such inexcusable behavior, the comparison between God and any normal loving father remains strangely prevalent in Mormon discourse.

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

Ballard.

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!