Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Moroni 6: Idealized Flashback

Moroni continues explaining how things were way back when the Nephites were still basking in the post-Messianic-visitation afterglow.

Tear 'em Down to Build 'em Up
Verse 2 paints an interesting vision of the baptismal ordinance that doesn't exactly jive with the present-day Mormon version:
Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
I can absolutely guarantee that when I was baptized I had neither a broken heart nor a contrite spirit.  It was a rite of passage.  I was excited, not heartbroken.  I had a proud spirit, not a contrite one, because I was doing what my family and my ward leaders wanted me to do.  I was eight and had yet to really commit serious sin, but I don't recall any public affirmation I had to make detailing the renouncing of my iniquitous ways. 

With the church's continuing obsession with growth, this scriptural teaching has almost definitely fallen by the wayside.  Missionary discussions push for baptismal commitments so early on that there's no way the elders have time to really assess the brokenness of an investigator's heart or the contriteness of an investigator's spirit.  The numbers-driven mission culture has resulted in Japanese "baseball baptisms" and South American "soccer baptisms."  The church is not following the pattern set forth in scripture by the Mormonism the Nephites observed immediately after Jesus Christ appeared to them.

Plus I don't love the concept of a convert needing to be broken down to a piteously devastated level—I mean brokenheartedly contrite level—to be worthy of God's saving ordinances...buuuuut that's a different discussion.

Pharisaical Paradise
A possible precursor to today's courts of love crops up in verse 7:
And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ.
Does that not sound eerily like "every member a thought policeman" or what?  And it seems to imply excommunication, which I despise.  It seems that the Nephites were even more liberal with the spiritual guillotine than the Monsonites are, because all it took was an unregenerate member with three people willing to tattle.

But another difference here between ancient and modern churches is less flattering to today's Mormonism.  I'm not sure it's fair to say that the LDS church is so strident in its opposition to iniquity as its predecessor.  Financial fraud, sexual predation, and other forms of abuse are far too common in the church and far too poorly penalized.  If the church were following the example of this short-lived Nephite utopia, excommunications would be more common and they would be applied more commonly to damaging, traumatizing, and predatory iniquity than to any threats posed by doubt or homosexuality.

Monday, November 20, 2017

View of View of the Hebrews

I got curious browsing around Amazon a few weeks ago and wound up ordering a copy of View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith.  I'd read in a few places, including the CES Letter, that this book was evidence that the Book of Mormon was fictional to the point of plagiarism.  I was kind of disappointed.  I don't think that accusation really holds up.

There is a comparison chart attributed to B. H. Roberts in the CES Letter that delineates the similarities between these two early 19th century publications.  It seems like a generally accurate chart, but there are a lot of points that aren't particularly damning.  And some are too vague, like "settlers journey northward" and "religion a motivating factor."  Settlers travel north all the time in history and in fiction and religion is a common factor in a lot of people's motivations.  The Samuel the Lamanite connection is the most compelling, I believe, but even that is introduced very early and you're still left with more than a hundred pages of material that can be interpreted as having flimsy correlations to the Book of Mormon.

I don't think it's useful to adduce View of the Hebrews when arguing that the Book of Mormon is a fraud.  I think it's very weak evidence.  It fits the narrative that I believe since I've already concluded that the Book of Mormon is not scripture, but it's not strong enough to convince anyone who still follows the prophet.  It's not definitive enough or conclusive enough.  It's one of the arguments that FAIR pounced on most voraciously in their response to the CES Letter, and it's probably because they were excited to have something that could be dismissed with relatively little effort.

View of the Hebrews has one major evidence that may help convince a Mormon who's already begun questioning and researching, though.  It pretty exhaustively indicates that the idea of Native Americans being descendants of ancient Jews was not new in the 19th century.  It always seemed groundbreaking to me when I was a faithful church member because I grew up in an era in which a different origin for Native Americans was almost universally agreed upon as fact.  But back in Joseph Smith's day, the Hebrew-Indian thing was a theory with some popularity.  Fawn Brodie mentioned this in passing in No Man Knows My History, but Ethan Smith's book was written with the sole intent of proving that theory.  He cited numerous other contemporary scholars and thinkers in support of his thesis.  The existence of View of the Hebrews and the breadth of work it references to bolster its claims should at least take some of the shine off the Book of Mormon's mystique.  But again, it only really points to Joseph Smith penning a fictional history if you're already leaning that direction.  It seems easy to minimize or discredit if you still believe the truth claims of the LDS church.  It's not the smoking gun of plagiarism it's sometimes depicted as.

It's a weird read, too.  Very racist to a modern eye.  It's very dry to a modern eye, too, as the prose hasn't aged well.  But it's interesting nonetheless.  The Late War is a totally different story.  I couldn't stomach more than a few chapters of that before giving up.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Moroni 5: Bless and Sanctify 2

...and then we have a separate chapter for the blessing on the wine.  I realize this is not a chapter break that was included in the original 1830 Book of Mormon, so it isn't a criticism of the book's legitimacy.  But it sure is a weird editing decision from somewhere down the line.

The slight differences between the two sacrament prayers are curious.  It's odd that we're making sure that we remember Christ and that we keep the Spirit with us in both but that we promise to keep the commandments and take his name upon us only when partaking of the bread. What I think is even stranger is that the reason for the symbolism is explained immediately in the blessing on the wine.  It represents the blood of Christ, which was shed for us.  But in the previous prayer, we mention that the bread represents the body of Christ and we roll right into what we're doing by partaking of it.

Why is Christ's body important?  Why is it important to attach a symbolic significance to the wine but leave us guessing about the bread?

It also used to bother me, just slightly, that the wording of these two prayers is a little inconsistent. In the blessing on the bread, it says, "that they may eat in remembrance of," and in the blessing on the wine, it's, "that they may do it in remembrance of."  Seems like it should be drink instead of do it.  For such an important pair of prayers, I always felt that there should be a solemner, holier symmetry to them.   

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Moroni 4: Bless and Sanctify

Moroni offhandedly mentions yet another thing that Christ explicitly commanded when he visited the Americas that somehow did not merit a mention in 3 Nephi.  This time it's the sacrament prayer.  And that's kind of ironic, considering that we agree to keep the commandments in that prayer—but when we're commanded to administer the sacrament in a specific way, we almost forget to preserve that method for future generations.

But what really caught my eye about this chapter this time around was the specific phrasing.  The pronouns make me wonder if this is still a leftover of the mostly Trinitarian attitude of the original Book of Mormon.  Look at verse 3:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
So we're speaking directly to God the Father the whole time, which means whenever the words him or his are used, it's a reference to Jesus.  Which means that the commandments we're supposed to keep are Jesus's commandments.  Usually, commandments are attributed to God the Father—at least in Mormonism. But it also means that when we'll have his Spirit to be with us, it's Jesus's spirit.  And I don't ever remember the Holy Ghost being taught as belonging to the Son.  It always belongs to the Father.  The spirit of God like a fire is burning...not the spirit of Jesus.

So perhaps this verse was written with the whole Father-and-Son-are-still-kind-of-the-same-guy mindset, which makes it all the more bizarre that it winds up being one of the things that is repeated most often, most officially, and most stringently in modern-day Mormonism.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Moroni 3: The Six-and-a-half-th Article of Faith

Moroni continues to cover some important stuff that bafflingly had not been included in his essential summary of the Nephite records.

The present-day LDS church is proud to have the same organization that existed in the primitive church.  In addition to being in the Articles of Faith, this sentiment was the basis for a talk by Tad Callister establishing modern mainstream Mormonism as the legitimate continuation of Christ's gospel.  Normally this claim refers to Jesus's church in the old world, but it's also used—usually internally—to reference the church Jesus established among the Nephites, too.

But then there's this chapter, demonstrating that this was a different organization.  The disciples  (a term which seems intended to be interchangeable with the term apostles) are also referred to as elders.  How many of today's Quorum of the Twelve are mere elders?

This chapter covers the ordaining of teachers and priests without any mention of deacons.  Or high priests.  Or bishops.  Or stake presidents.  Or seventies.  In fact, it doesn't even mention that there are two divisions of the priesthood (Aaronic and Melchizidek), which are pretty important and also common knowledge in the present-day church.  But at least it mentions the laying on of hands, so we can begrudge a few points for occasional continuity.  But as far as the hierarchy of the church and the structure of the priesthood are concerned, this is not the same thing at all.   It's like Italian and Latin.  Obviously they have some similarities and there are even some things that line up almost perfectly.  But if you tell anyone that Italian and Latin are the same language you won't find anyone willing to agree with you.