Tuesday, July 7, 2020

D&C 26: Revelation Unplugged

Here we have a stripped-down counterpart to some of the lengthier, flowerier revelations.  This is just two verses long.  After some pretty basic, mundane instructions in the first paragraph, the second addresses something that just seems laughable when applied to the modern church:

And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith. Amen.

Common acquiescence, you mean.  Giving consent implies that a lack of consent is supposed to change something. Those who vote to sustain church leadership are agreeing with decisions they have no power to affect.  Those who vote to oppose church leadership are suffering under...how would Cook say it...non-consensual dominion, maybe?

This is, of course, driven home by the voting at the April 2020 General Conference, in which the apostles, isolated from an audience due to the viral pandemic, asked everyone around the world to vote.  And then, without having thousands of conference center attendees to provide a facade of visible consent, the apostles behaved as though the members had provided that consent.  Or maybe they behaved as though member consent was completely unnecessary to the administrative processes of the church.  How weird that those two behaviors could look exactly the same.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

D&C 25: The Fantastic Mrs. Smith

God has some words of instruction for Emma, the "elect lady" to whom the prophet of the restoration owes a great deal.  Spoiler alert:  this is not the most forward-thinking, feminist-allied, equality-driven text ever to be attributed to God.  I think we've all certainly heard much worse, but it's still not great.

Conditional Lineage
This section introduces an objectionable concept right out of the gate:

Hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God, while I speak unto you, Emma Smith, my daughter; for verily I say unto you, all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom.

I'll say it again...God is a shitty parent.  Here, he explains that the reason he calls Emma his daughter is because she's accepted his gospel.  Look, my actual, non-spiritual, biological dad and I have had our differences, but he considers me his son because I'm his literal offspring regardless of whether I've followed in his footsteps or made life choices he disagrees with.  If God is really a loving parent, Emma should be called his daughter not because she's accepted the gospel but because she's his spiritual offspring.

Mysterious Ways
Verse 4 contains another one of God's non-answer answers to the concerns of one of his potential followers:

Murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen, for they are withheld from thee and from the world, which is wisdom in me in a time to come.

Wow.  Don't have concerns that you have no evidence for this stuff, because the very mechanism for which you have no evidence assures you that there's a very good reason for the lack of evidence.

With circular logic like this, who needs circular logic?

Women's Work
When God gets around to explaining to Emma what her role will be in building his kingdom it's...it's a bit disappointing (verse 5):

And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.

Uh, that's not a divine calling.  That's just being a good spouse.  And this does kind of come across as sexist.  If she's really such an elect lady, why is her job just to make the man in charge feel better?  Elect ladies can do other things in addition to being doting wives.  They can even get elected to things.

That's probably the sloppiest pun setup I've ever been guilty of in my entire life.  And that's saying something.

Women's Work II
God starts to get into more detail about Emma's duties and says some stuff that really doesn't sound like the kind of thing God would say through his apostolic mouthpieces these days (verse 7):

And thou shalt be ordained under his hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.

Oh, here we go!  Now she gets to do more stuff!  Maybe she really is elect!  Or maybe not?  The phraseology here is interesting.  Ordained?  Under Joseph's hand?  Sounds kinda like a laying on of hands to receive a priesthood office.  But she's a woman, so that idea is ludicrous, right?

Perhaps she's a glorified Sunday school teacher or something.  That's still cooler than "make Joseph feel better" but still underwhelming considering how awesome God says she is. 

Women's Work III
Emma gets a special assigning in verses 11 and 12:

And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.

For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.

God's reaaaaally playing up that hymnal to make it sound like he gave her an important job, isn't he?  She can't serve a mission, she can't heal the sick, she can't lead men, she can't baptize (that we know of), but she gets to pick the hymns, so...she's got that going for her, which is nice.

This is definitely better than nothing, but remember that the office of her calling is to comfort her husband.

Parting Wisdom
In his closing remarks, God imparts this gem (verse 14):

Continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him.

Be humble, beware of pride, and rejoice that your husband is super awesome.  There's a baked-in hypocrisy here considering that the same person telling her to be humble and beware of pride is the person on whom the stated glory will be bestowed.

But don't forget your husband is totally the coolest.  What a life for Emma.

Friday, June 26, 2020

D&C 24: Preaching, Patience, and Pruning

This section is the first of three revelations given as church leaders were in "partial seclusion" for fear of persecution.  I have to wonder if the vague terms the section header uses to refer to the persecution is a way of softening up the audience for later.  

See, I had no idea when I was in seminary that the "persecution" that landed Joseph Smith dead outside Carthage Jail was largely about polygamy.  But by the time you get to the era when polygamy was a thing, you've been prepared to dismiss persecution as some aimless evil because it's been described in such non-specific but clearly negative language as early on in the story as 1830.  Joseph won't marry Fanny Alger until more than two years after this section and polygamy won't really kick into high gear until almost ten years after this section.  But when we get to that point in the story we'll be used to not knowing the specific motivations for anti-Mormonism—and we'll be used to not having to know them.

Paperback Writer
Today's reading begins with some problematic but not necessarily damning word choice:

Behold, thou wast called and chosen to write the Book of Mormon, and to my ministry;
Yes, God said "write."  And yes, he was talking to Joseph Smith—the chapter summary confirms verses 1-9 and directed at Joseph and verse 10 refers to Oliver Cowdery as "thy brother Oliver." 

So what does this mean, exactly?  I fully admit this is not a smoking gun, but this sure is an odd way for God to phrase his sentence.  Joseph didn't do any of the actual writing of the Book of Mormon, of course, because he had scribes for that.  So if God isn't referring to the physical inscription of the words when he uses the verb "write," what is he referring to?  Is he referring to the act of authorship?  Is God saying Joseph's job was to come up with this stuff?

It's not totally crazy, considering the original publication of the Book of Mormon had Joseph listed as the "author and proprietor."  It does seem crazy that God himself would have called Joseph to fabricate a book of stories to be passed off as religious history and then dropped a hint about this in a later revelation.

So, again, not a smoking gun, but I feel like that particular line fits much more comfortably with ex-Mormon preconceptions than with Mormon preconceptions.

Betting on Every Horse
Let's break down the prophetic logic of verse 4:

But if they receive thee not, I will send upon them a cursing instead of a blessing.
God has just advised Joseph to go speedily to Colesville, Fayette, and Manchester, where the members of the church will support him.  

It's a little weird that a prophecy from an omniscient god contains what basically amounts to an if/then/else statement.  Doesn't God know damn well what's going to happen?  He shouldn't need to qualify his prophecies or cover his bases like this—but a charlatan would need to.  

This is God's way of saying, "Go here so those people will do a thing.  But if they don't do a thing, I'll totally punish those jerkfaced nincompoops."  That's certainly not very godlike, but it does seem like the kind of thing a false prophet may want to put in God's mouth so that he can manipulate people into doing what he wants them to do.

Indolence is Next to Godliness
Verse 9 is suspiciously convenient for a certain audacious young con artist:

And in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength, for this is not thy calling. Attend to thy calling and thou shalt have wherewith to magnify thine office, and to expound all scriptures, and continue in laying on of the hands and confirming the churches.
Joseph just had God give him permission to be intentionally unemployed because that's not his "calling." I'd almost admire the audacity if it weren't so slimy.  And lazy.

Sic 'em, God
God utterly fails to be a reliable wingman in verse 16:
And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall lay their hands upon you by violence, ye shall command to be smitten in my name; and, behold, I will smite them according to your words, in mine own due time.

This is a disconcerting clarification God adds at the end here.  If someone physically attacks you, God's got your back, but probably not right away.  But after you've been tarred and feathered and beaten to a pulp, two weeks later, in his own due time, BAM—God's gonna smite the shit outta that guy.  Bummer about the broken teeth and the cracked ribs, but Heavenly Father works on his own timeline.  

Isn't he a great deity to have in your corner?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

D&C 23: Proto-Patriarchal Blessing

According to the section header, this chapter is the response to five men with an "earnest desire" to know their duties in the church.  Joseph produced this revelation glittering with gems of divine wisdom as a result.  The duties are as follows:

Oliver:  preach to the church and to the world
Hyrum:  exhort and strengthen the church
Samuel:  exhort and strengthen the church, but don't preach to the world
Joseph Sr:  exhort and strengthen the church
Joseph Knight:  pray vocally in all places, and also exhort the church

I have a feeling these men were hoping for more detailed, more personalized revelations.  All of them are supposed to preach to the church.  Samuel is the only one specifically prohibited from preaching to the world.  Joseph Knight is told to take up his cross and pray, but also to do the same things the others were told to do.


The church is in its infancy and its eager new leaders are looking for direction on what they need to be doing because the work is so exciting and they want to be involved.  But they're merely told to preach and to help out in disappointingly non-specific terms.  And that's about it.  There isn't anything particularly groundbreaking for them in here, since I'm sure they already knew that missionary work and strengthening the church were important. 

Bafflingly, God, in his infinite wisdom (or, more accurately, in Joseph's limited imagination), chooses to reward these men's enthusiasm by giving them what amounts to somewhere between a form letter and a bad tarot reading.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

D&C 22: Groggy God

This section is surprisingly dense with problems considering it's a whopping four verses.  

Holy Paradox, Batman!
It begins with what should be a blatant self-contradiction from God that might set some kind of a land speed record (verse 1):

Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.

Okay, read that back and tell me how it makes sense.  The old covenants are gone.  This is a new covenant, which existed previously, from the beginning.  So...it's not new then?  Or is it?

This is like the nonsense God mumbles when he wakes up in the morning and his consciousness is still struggling to separate reality from the dream it was just inhabiting.  It sounds like him, but he's not actually making sense.

Works Without Works Are Dead
Then we move on to a sideways entry into the old faith-versus-works debate that I'm not sure the current church would fully agree with:

Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works.

For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old.
God refers to dead works twice here.  Nelson and Friends seem to really emphasize works, though, because they want you to keep busy being anxiously engaged—and I do mean anxiously—in a Mormon cause.  If works were really dead, why would they prescribe so many works like doing your ministering, serving in your callings, attending your presidency meetings, teaching your children the Come, Follow Me curriculum, cleaning the church, indexing names from public records, attending the temple, et cetera?  If works were really dead, wouldn't all that constitute an apostolic edict to waste your life doing things that don't really amount to anything? 

But that's not really what bothers me about this passage.  What really bothers me is that this covenant of baptism is being propped up as a solution to the fact that works are dead.  But isn't...isn't baptism just...isn't it just another work?  It's not a state of mind.  It's not a quality of building faith in oneself.  It's an outward expression of faith, sure, but it's a discrete one-time event.  It's a task to be accomplished.  It's a work.

The normal thing to debate about here is whether faith is of greater importance than works.  But God is saying that the things we do aren't going to get us into Heaven, so he's remedying the problem by giving us a required physical action to complete.  He's not saying we should focus on faith because our works are dead.  He's saying we should focus on a specific work because works are dead.

Three verses in and God still hasn't snapped out of his post-sleep stupor.

Who's in Charge Here?
But maybe God is back to his old self for the last verse:

Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God. Amen.

Damn, Elohim just dropped the mic.

Apparently Joseph didn't like the way some of his converts were approaching the concept of baptism.  This isn't like a driver's license, people, you can't just cross denominational lines and keep using what you came with.  You gotta take the driver's test all over again when you join this church.

I suppose counseling God on this issue would have been pretty tempting for the early Saints, though.  It seems reasonable that if you were baptized into Christianity you wouldn't think a Mormon baptism to be necessary.  But this scripture sounds like something Oaks would whip out when confronted with Ordain Women, Any Opposed, or anyone pushing for sincere acceptance of LGBT members.  It is frustrating to be in a position of authority over people who relentlessly challenge your actions.

But it would help if your actions weren't so awful.  People are less likely to question things that aren't awful—which is a lesson Joseph would learn too late, if at all.