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.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

3 Nephi 21: If/Then/Else/Never

Jesus continues to rant and prophesy about the House of Israel and all that jazz.  This chapter essentially boils down to an excessively verbose if/then/else statement:

If the Gentiles do not repent, then...
  • their horses will be cut off from their midst and their chariots will be destroyed
  • their cities will be cut off and their strongholds will be thrown down
  • witchcraft and soothsaying will disappear
  • graven images will be taken
  • groves will be plucked up and cities will be destroyed (instead of merely cut off)
  • lying, deceiving, envying, strife, priestcraft and whoredoms will cease
  • God will cut the unrepentant off from his people
  • God will execute his vengeance upon the wicked
  • God will establish his church among them
  • they will be numbered among the remnant of Jacob
  • they will assist in the gathering to New Jerusalem
  • missionary work will commence among all the scattered tribes of Israel
But the problem is that neither the if nor the else makes a convincing argument.  Basically none of the if stuff sounds like it's happened, except maybe the part about cities being destroyed.  There have been a few natural disasters that could, to some people, qualify as a fulfilled prophecy.  Except that, from a Mormon standpoint, the Gentiles have hardly repented.

On the else end of things, the prophecies are so simple and easily self-fulfilled by the church.  The church was established, the church oversees patriarchal blessings that explicitly "adopt" Gentiles into the houses of Jacob, and the church obsessively sends out missionaries to as many parts of the world as it can.  Does it really count as a fulfilled prophecy if it's fulfilled by an organization that has a vested interest in appearing to continue the same claim to authority as the person who produced the prophecy?  I mean, if you predict a flood in a specific location, there's no way you could have caused that prediction to come true.  But if you found a religion, predict that your religion will send missionaries all over the world, and then the leaders who take up the standard of your religion after your death decide to send missionaries all over the world...the validity of that prophecy deserves a lot more logical scrutiny.

The New Jerusalem thing is a snag, though.  Isn't that supposed to be in Independence, Missouri?  What, exactly, are we doing with the gathering?  Because mainstream Mormonism is still heavily clustered around Utah, not around the New Jerusalem.  And though rumors have circulated for a long time that someday the prophet will call on the members to make the trek back to Zion, promulgators of these rumors tend to exist on the fringes of "normal" Mormon society.  The top leadership of the church tends to remain conspicuously silent on the specifics of these matters.

Skipping back to the beginning of the chapter, we can see Jesus's objective in sharing all this information (verse 1):
And verily I say unto you, I give unto you a sign, that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place—
So the whole point of telling us this stuff is so that we have a sign so we can recognize when something important is about to happen.  But the Gentiles are wicked and the good chunk of Jesus's prophecy devoted to that possibility has not even begun to come to pass.  And some simpler, easily fulfilled prophecies dependent on the Gentiles' lack of wickedness have come to fruition.

Which makes this whole chapter...pointless.  Why give a sign if the stuff that's supposed to happen won't and the stuff that shouldn't happen is forced to happen by your own church?

How are we supposed to read and interpret the signs if they're so muddled by unreliability and uncertainty?

Monday, August 29, 2016

3 Nephi 20: More of that Jesus Stuff

Jesus is now in danger of overstaying his welcome and committing a serious ancient American faux pas.

Sacrament Redux
For some reason, unlike the practice of the modern LDS church, Jesus feels it necessary to perform the sacrament ordinance for the second consecutive day.  Perhaps he wants to make sure that everyone in the crowd who wasn't present the day before has the chance to receive it.

But in stark contrast to the last time Jesus did this, he does it miraculously (verses 6 and 7):
Now, there had been no bread, neither wine, brought by the disciples, neither by the multitude; 
But he truly gave unto them bread to eat, and also wine to drink.
This feels a bit reminiscent of the two escapes two chapters apart way back in Mosiah.  The first instance is a straightforward story with a dubious explanation.  The second instance is a strikingly similar story that is directly ascribed to miraculous sources.

Why didn't Jesus do the miracle both times and save those guys the trouble of searching their broken city for sufficient bread and wine?

The Native American Revolution
Jesus goes off on a lengthy, ostensibly precognitive rant about the future of the Nephite people.  It certainly sounds like the game plan was for God to allow the Gentiles to slaughter the Nephites' descendants, and then, if the Gentiles didn't repent, the Native American people would rise up and destroy them to retain the country according to their divine inheritance.

I'm baffled as to why this hasn't happened yet.  European settlers did awful things to the native inhabitants for a long time.  Generations, even.  And it's not like the United States government's dealings with the Native American tribes today are ideal.  So why, exactly, has Jesus's violent prophecy still not come to fruition?

I mean, it's not quite as pointless as one of his recent threats, but it's definitely in the same vein.

Jesus Plagiarizes
A lot of this chapter is almost straight from Isaiah, with a few other biblical quotes mixed in.  Linguistically, it doesn't make sense that after being translated through a couple different languages, Jesus's wording would so closely match Isaiah's.  It also doesn't make sense that Jesus, who preferred to teach plainly and only got fancy by resorting to parables, would prefer to adopt Isaiah's inscrutable, densely poetic approach.  And besides, this stuff is still readily available in the King James version of the Bible.  Why, like all those other Isaiah chapters and the Sermon on the Mount, does it need to be repeated?  Couldn't this space have been used for more important, previously unknown doctrines like eternal marriage and baptism for the dead?

Divine Favoritism
Verse 26 is infuriating to me.  Take a look:
The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities; and this because ye are children of the covenant—
So because their ancestors made a covenant, God intervenes to turn them away from their iniquity?  If God can simply choose to make people less prone to sin, why the hell doesn't he all the time?  Is it because that compromises our free will?  Is it because that sounds more like Satan's Plan of Salvation than his own Plan of Salvation?  Then why would he do it at all, even a little?

And being children of the covenant is a really flimsy excuse to give preferential treatment.  What did these people do to deserve preferential treatment?—they were born into a lineage originating from someone to whom God made a promise a really long time ago.  We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and rewarded for the deeds of their ancestors, apparently.  Because that's eternal egalitarianism, right?

As the Book of Mormon progresses, it's sounding less and less like God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and more like God's just making up the rules as he goes along.
Maybe the divinity is in the certainty, not in the action itself.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

3 Nephi 19: In Which Jesus is Terrible at his Job

Jesus's second coming among the Nephites is imminent and the people are getting excited.

Nonchalant Miracle
We're about to list the apostles whom Jesus appointed for the American church.  Let's begin (verse 4):
...Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also...
Whoa, hold up there.  You can't just drop some earth-shattering miracle into the middle of a sentence like it's no big thing and then steamroll on through a list of names that we'll never need to remember.

I mean, sure, if Nephi raised his brother from the dead, that's awesome.  It bears mentioning.  In fact, that kind of faith-promoting story should have its own chapter.  Maybe they could have made space for it on the gold plates by skipping an Isaiah chapter or two.

This feels like the amateurish stories I used to write as a small child.  My heroes were so wonderful and so perfect that I was prone to mentioning previous heroic exploits in passing without any explanation or exposition whatsoever.  It was like there was too much one-dimensional greatness to be contained in one character, and it would leak out all over the page.

We get it, Joseph.  Nephi was really righteous and his priesthood power was mighty.  Stop trying too hard to prove it to us.

Nothing Varying
The disciples split the crowd into twelve groups and begin teaching them (verse 8):
And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from those words which Jesus had spoken—behold, they knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.
Interesting.  They recited the precise words that Jesus had used.  After all, why change what came straight from the horse's mouth, right?  In that case, why bother with continuing revelation?  Couldn't God have given Joseph Smith all the essential doctrines to publish at the same time?  Then, in an era where books are abundantly mass-produced, we could have everything we need to know, word for word.  And it would be much easier to remember if nothing varied from God's exact phraseology.

But instead we have countless General Conference addresses taking slightly different approaches to the same tired concepts ad nauseum.  If the gospel is so simple, as many Mormons have suggested, wouldn't one book of scripture with no convoluted variations or apostolic interpretations be the best way to disseminate it?

Nephi Pulls an Alma
Everybody decides they want the Holy Ghost, and then this happens (verse 11):
And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
That's a very suspicious use of the passive voice.  Who baptized him?  It really sounds like no one baptized him.  But Jesus isn't here yet and Nephi's the first one in the bunch to get baptized, so he must have, somehow, magically gotten the authority to baptize and used it on himself.

Which is basically what Alma did, much to my annoyance (see A Broken Line of Authority). 

What's the point of having ordinances, anyway?  If you don't need official priesthood authority to perform them, why can't everyone baptize themselves?  And if the Holy Ghost "did fall upon" the multitude after their baptisms, why do we need the official laying-on-of-hands confirmation for modern members?  How is any of this doctrinally consistent?

Dude, Where's My God?
So then we have angels show up and minister unto the people.  Then Jesus pops in for another visit and ministers to the people.  At some point, these people are going to become overministered.  Next, Jesus orders the crowd to kneel and pray, so this is what happens (verse 18):
And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.
Whoa...let's roll things back a couple of pages to 3 Nephi 18:19.
Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
When did Jesus ever tell them to pray to him?  When has any modern prophet extolled the benefits of praying to the Son instead of the Father?  And why are we giving further ambiguity to the godhead's identity and division of labor?  Jesus is their Lord and their God?  Isn't that what the Father is?  But Jesus is about to go pray to the Father, so they have to be different people, except they're both Lords and Gods, capital L, capital G?  What is going on here?

Reusing a Cop-Out
Does verse 34 sound familiar?
Nevertheless, so great and marvelous were the words which [Jesus] prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man.
Was God going to strike one of the Nephites dead if he attempted to transcribe Jesus's prayer?  If it was really that great and marvelous, shouldn't it be exactly the kind of thing we should be taught about?  Or are we still sticking with the bizarre implication that no language can properly capture what Jesus used a language to communicate?

Jesus Doesn't Understand Faith
After wandering off to pray to his Father in Heaven a few times, Jesus confers with his disciples (verse 35):
And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying he came again to the disciples, and said unto them: So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief.
This is such a bizarre thing to say. If Jesus had destroyed most of the Jewish civilization with a series of unprecedented natural disasters, beset that part of the world with three days of impenetrable darkness, been introduced by the booming voice of God before publicly descending in a beam of celestial light, let huge crowds touch the wounds from his crucifixion, healed every sick person within the sound of his voice, and brought down hosts of angels to minister unto them in the midst of heavenly fire, the Jews probably would have been just as enthralled by him.

This is not faith.  This is merely a totally reasonable belief in marvelous miracles that these people have witnessed personally.  You'd think the guy who demands faith from us would know when it's legitimate and when he's manufactured it himself.