Monday, January 23, 2017

3 Nephi 28: Jesus's Parting Gifts

Now that Jesus has gotten some important information about the name of his church out of the way, he again offers to grant his disciples some wishes.

Selfishness is Next to Godliness
Nine of the disciples ask Jesus that, upon reaching old age, they "may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom."  Jesus replies in verse 3:
And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me; therefore, after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest. these guys are going to bypass the spirit world and the whole judgment and resurrection process and get fast-tracked into celestial glory?  How is that fair?  What's the point of having a Plan of Salvation in the first place if members of the godhead get to manipulate it according to their whims?  What's the point in pretending like people have free agency if you're handing out no-strings-attached tickets to paradise?

And furthermore, why are these guys "blessed" for wanting this?  It seems like a pretty straightforward act of self-interest.  If they'd asked for world peace, or the cure to some disease, or mercy for the sinners or something even remotely altruistic, I can understand why Jesus would be so impressed.  But they've only asked to be guaranteed a spot in the highest degree of glory—and without the usual waiting period, no less.  This is selfish.  Understandable, sure, but selfish.  Why are we praising people for being selfish?

Awesomer than the Bible
The other three Nephites (who have come to be known in the church as The Three Nephites) are hesitant to ask, but with a bit of Snape-like legilimency, Jesus discerns that they essentially desire to live until the end of everything, at which point they will be translated instead of physically experiencing death.  And what follows is a summary of the Three Nephites' exploits in which Joseph Smith engages in an ethusiastic game of biblical one-upmanship.

This, to me, is a pretty good indicator of the Book of Mormon's status as biblical fan fiction.  Like a lot of bad fan fiction, it takes the source material and tries to make everything way more totally awesomer without much in the way of imagination.  For example:

In the Bible, Jesus makes a vague reference to his ability to grant someone life until his Second Coming.  In the Book of Mormon, he explicitly gives three people this supernatural longevity.  That's much awesomer than the Bible.

When the Three Nephites were cast into the earth (verse 20), "they did smite the earth with the word of God" and were "delivered out of the depths of the earth."  That makes them way awesomer than Joseph of Egypt.

The Three Nephites were thrice "cast into a furnace and received no harm" (verse 21).  That makes them three times awesomer than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

But wait, there's more!  The Three Nephites were also, on two separate occasions, "cast into a den of wild beasts...and received no harm" (verse 22).  This makes them each twice as awesome as Daniel.

And verse 23 even implies that their missionary work converted an entire civilization to the gospel.  Such a feat makes them incalculably more successful than Jesus Christ himself.

Stories, events, characters, abilities, and plot points have been recycled from the source material and given a clumsy boost in scope and significance.  This is all so much awesomer than the Bible.  And yes, I'm quite aware that "awesomer" is not a word.  But I feel that it appropriately mocks the poor, unimaginative, and juvenile qualities of the storytelling here.

Doom and Gloom
Mormon shares some words of comfort in verses 34 and 35:
And wo be unto him that will not hearken unto the words of Jesus, and also to them whom he hath chosen and sent among them; for whoso receiveth not the words of Jesus and the words of those whom he hath sent receiveth not him; and therefore he will not receive them at the last day; 
And it would be better for them if they had not been born. For do ye suppose that ye can get rid of the justice of an offended God, who hath been trampled under feet of men, that thereby salvation might come?

Okay, first of all, I'm going to point out some grammatical vagueness:  In the opening line, are we saying also wo to them whom Jesus hath chosen and sent, or also wo unto him that will not hearken unto the words of them whom Jesus hath chosen and sent?  I mean, by the end of the verse, it's obvious from the context, but grammatically speaking, it could go either way.

But my real problem with this is that Mormon, a prophet of God, says it would be better for those who reject the word of Jesus to have never been born.  That's one of the boldest, ugliest, most unmerciful sentiments I've seen in the Book of Mormon so far.

Why were we born?  Because we sided with God and Jesus in the War in Heaven and now we have the opportunity to receive mortal bodies and we have access to a pathway to eternal exaltation.  In what way is it fair for God to create any kind of environment in which our reward for our loyalty to him can backfire so spectacularly as to utterly negate the progressive value of our mortal births?

God's basically saying, "Hey, guys, thanks for making the right decision.  So I'm gonna give you some physical bodies and throw you down on earth.  But I'm also going to wipe your memories so you won't know what you're doing.  Oh, and if you screw this up, you'll be worse off than ever before.  Good luck!"

What a dick.

Mormon tries to rationalize this principle with a claim that God's umbrage is easily stoked and his justice is immutable.  But considering that pretty hefty memory wipe I mentioned earlier, it doesn't seem rational, just, or befitting of divinity to drop us into a system engineered for overwhelming failure and then to exact such draconian punishments upon us for failing.

The Mormon God is too easily offended and too eager to hide behind a mercurial temper that he prefers to call justice.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

3 Nephi 27: Multiple Logical Thickets

Jesus comes back in this chapter with a vengeance.  Okay, no, actually it's more like he comes back with a blank check.

Priority One:  Nomenclature
Jesus appears to his American disciples and asks, "What will ye that I shall give unto you?"  Verse 3 contains their answer:
And they said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter.

Are you...kidding me?  This is the most important thing they could come up with to ask of the Son of God—what do we name your church?

But the fact that this was the disciples' most pressing question doesn't faze Jesus one bit as he's too busy getting bent out of shape over the fact that they didn't assume that the church should be named after him.  He goes on a little rant about this, and my favorite part comes in verse 8:
And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.
That's some terrible logic, there, chief.  But let's address the grammar first.

There is not a single plural noun or plural pronoun in this entire verse until, for some reason, Jesus throws in the word "they" near the end.  We were talking about a church, we were talking about Moses, we were talking about a man, and then suddenly we're making sure that "they" are built upon the gospel of Christ.  Who is they?  I mean, ostensibly, he's referring to the church that's called in his name, but thus far he's been referring to churches as singular entities.  Suddenly, he's referring to (and I'm assuming here) the membership?  The membership of the church would be a plural subject necessitating the use of a plural pronoun.  But if that's what he means to say, he sure as hell couldn't find a grammatically feasible way to relay this information to Joseph Smith during the translation process.

Also, Moses' should be Moses's, at least in present-day English.

Something, something, most correct book, blah blah blah.

Moving on, though, it appears that Jesus has two criteria to determine if a church is actually his church or not.  First, it has to bear his name.  Which means that, so far, any of thousands of churches across the world today could be his church.  The second criterion is that this church has to be built upon his gospel.  Mormonism claims to be the only true restoration of Jesus's original church and Jesus's original gospel, which would make Mormonism the church of Christ.

Only...this second criterion makes the first completely unnecessary.  Because there's supposedly only one church built on Christ's gospel, so that's really as specific as you need to get, regardless of the name.  And what if the modern church for some crazy reason changed its official name to "The Church of Latter-Day Saints"?  Would it somehow cease to be Christ's church?

Basically, Jesus wastes like five verses telling these people what idiots they are for not naming the church after him when in reality the only thing that can truly set this church apart from all the others with similar names or similar credos is the specific version of the gospel it espouses.  The name is completely irrelevant.

Besides, you can call me a Martian all you want, but that doesn't change the fact that I am, biologically speaking, a human.  If the church has Christ's DNA all over it, why should it matter what it's called?

Harsh, Dude
Jesus paints a particularly draconian picture of judgment in this chapter, particularly in verse 17:
And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.
Ouch.  This does not sound like the doctrine of the modern church.  In fact, it doesn't even sound like the doctrine Joseph Smith would teach in his later years.  Where are the various degrees of glory?  Where are the consolation prizes for people who were generally good but did not endure, or people who were generally good, but didn't accept the gospel?  This grim depiction of everlasting damnation for those who aren't necessarily evil but simply don't measure up to the standard is not at all like what we read about in Doctrine and Covenants section 76.

How sure are we, really, that both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants are the word of God?  I mean, I'm pretty sure neither of them is, but I'm struggling to see how someone can even make the argument that more than one of them is.  Because they really seem to differ on some key points of doctrine.

Hemming and Hawing
Verse 24 sounds like it means something, but after about a dozen careful readings testing out different emphases, I can't make out what that something could possibly be:
Write the works of this people, which shall be, even as hath been written, of that which hath been.
For a little fun, let's compare this to a few quotes from people who have been overwhelmed during public appearances and let themselves babble.  There's the infamous rambling of Miss South Carolina Teen USA in 2007 when she was asked why she thinks a fifth of Americans can't locate the US on a world map:
I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, uh, people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future. For our children.
There's George W. Bush's bungling of a famous adage:
There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again.
And for some extra fun, I'll throw in a fictional example from The West Wing, when a politician is asked why he wants to be president:
The reason I would run, were I to run, is I have a great belief in this country as a country and in this people as a people that go into making this country a nation with the greatest natural resources and population of people, educated people.
Now, with all those gaffes in mind, take a second look at verse 24:
Write the works of this people, which shall be, even as hath been written, of that which hath been.
See the similarities in diction and delivery?  The way the sentences all just seem to...slip through the speakers' fingers?

I feel like something must have happened during Joseph Smith's dictation of this chapter that totally broke his focus and he struggled to get back on his game somewhere around...verse 24.

The Omniscience Can of Worms with a Garnish of Free Will
Jesus mentions in verse 30 that no one from the generation he's addressing will be "lost."  But he mourns the fourth generation in verse 32, because they will be "led away captive by him even as was the son of perdition."

But if Jesus knows this, why didn't he design his world and his generations in such a way that those people wouldn't be led away?  And if he couldn't because doing so would defeat free agency, then are we really just souls in a vast generational lottery?  If I'd been lucky enough to have been born in the second Nephite generation following Christ's appearance, I'd never have turned apostate?

And now that Jesus has been publicly recorded saying that the fourth generation will be wicked, it has to happen, right?  Because he can't be wrong.  But these people are supposed to be able to make their own choices.  But isn't it technically predetermined now because Jesus says he already knows what they're going to do?

What the hell does Christ even accomplish by telling people their great-great-grandchildren are going to be a bunch of jerks, anyway—especially when there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it?

Friday, December 30, 2016

3 Nephi 26: Haven't We Been Here Before

Jesus is still expounding upon the gospel, as Jesus is apparently wont to do.

Some Kind of Convoluted Wisdom
If a careful reading of verse 2 doesn't make you scratch your head, you must have a very high tolerance for nonsense:
And he saith: These scriptures, which ye had not with you, the Father commanded that I should give unto you; for it was wisdom in him that they should be given unto future generations.
So, Jesus gave these scriptures to the ancient Americans because God wanted the modern church to have them?  Let's analyze God's "wisdom" here....

Wouldn't it have been easiernay, wiser—for God to have made these scriptures available in the modern day through the use of his modern prophets?  I mean, unless the scriptures are meant for both the ancient era and the modern day, but I'm not sure if that's true either considering that Jesus expounded upon obsolete doctrine in the previous chapter, so maybe these scriptures are meant for, you know, a whole bunch of dead people.

Jesus does seem to imply that he's sharing these scriptures with the Nephites because the Nephites don't have access to them, but if that's why he's doing it, why couldn't God have done it sooner, before the Mosiac Law had become passé, and while all the doctrines would have actually done the ancient Americans some good?

But these scriptures lifted from the Bible are largely identical to the Biblical versions so widely available during—and ever since—the restoration of the church.  The number of changes made that aren't merely grammatical is staggeringly low when compared against the quantity of Biblical material borrowed.

And then when you consider the fact that almost two millennia later, Joseph Smith will go through the Bible and make "corrected" translations that will, in some cases, not match the supposedly perfect translations in the Book of Mormon, none of this makes any sense.  If God could have had Joseph Smith provide the modern era with these scriptures, why did he bother to make sure this part of the ancient records were preserved for us?  And if Joseph was inspired to write different words than what Christ himself said, which version of the translation is technically the correct word of God?

So basically, God's strategy here is way too confused to be considered as anything which remotely approaches wisdom.

The Reliable Excuse
I'm getting pretty tired of the Book of Mormon using this particular cop-out (verses 6 and 7):
And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people; 
But behold the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people.
If you can't even fit one percent of the speech of the savior of the freaking world into your little book, then why would you bother to include so much other stuff that doesn't matter?  Get rid of Jarom, Omni, and the Words of Mormon.  Cut out most of the Isaiah quotes.  Pare down the war chapters to be less about military strategy and more about gospel stuff.  And then maybe we can hear more about the most important event in the entirety of this centuries-long history book.

But, rest assured, dear readers, Jesus said plenty of stuff, but it's only unlockable as downloadable content if you pay an exorbitant secondary fee. But it's totally there.

This reminds me of the various members of the Quorum of the Twelve assuring the church that answers to their questions exist—but neglecting to answer or directly acknowledge the most important questions.  It's useless.

But it gets worse.  This chapter takes that old cop-out and raises it to an unprecedented level.  In verse 11, Nephi states that he Lord "forbade" him from writing down everything Jesus said.  In verse 14, the Nephite children teach many unspecified "great and marvelous things, even greater than [Jesus] had revealed unto the people."  In verse 16, the children again taught "marvelous things" on which God also issued a gag order.  And finally, in verse 18, many of the people baptized by the disciples "saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written."

I think we're beating this to death here.  Are these things sacred, are they secret, or had Joseph Smith simply not made up enough of his deeper doctrines at the time of this chapter's supposed translation?

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Little Update

I haven't been doing very well lately.

Things have been a struggle in most aspects of my life.  With my job, with my family, with my crippling lack of a social life...although I guess financially I'm doing okay, which is something to be grateful for.  And I'm still healthy, which is fantastic.  But the point is that, overall, 2016 has been my worst year, hands down, since the year I came to the slow realization that the religion I'd built my whole life around was a lie.

It's been fun.

But what's different about being miserable this time around is that I feel infinitely better equipped to change my circumstances and adjust my attitude.  As comforting as it used to be to say a prayer at night asking for everything to work out okay, I think that habit fed my sense of helplessness.  I'm sure it wasn't the same for everyone, but when I was in high school and everything was awful (at least it was in my eyes) and it was too exhausting to try to fix things on my own, it was a relief to feel like I was allowed to push that responsibility off onto a benevolent deity rather than hunker down on my own.  I think being a religious person enabled my natural tendency to resign myself to my fate.  It's a tendency I still fight, but I think I'm far, far better at it these days.

What I struggle with the most right now is the fact that I have very little to call a safety net.  I mean, my parents are good people—if I totally crashed and burned, they would let me move back in with them.  But that would be indescribably uncomfortable.  My family is more of a last resort than a safety net.  They're the metaphorical equivalent of dialing 911 while you're lying on the ground with two broken legs because there was no safety net.  Perhaps it's childish and prideful, but I despise the thought of accepting any support from them, whether it's emotional, professional, financial, or whatever.  So I feel like I'm pretty much on my own, which makes me terrified and anxious, but it also makes me prouder of my small victories.

One of the positive aspects of the church is absolutely the community.  The built-in safety net.  I mean, I could argue all day about the ineffectiveness of priesthood blessings, the insincerity of assigned home teachers, and the I-made-this-underprivileged-family-in-the-ward-a-casserole humblebragging and all the cultural snarls that come with it, but in Mormonism, the safety net is there.  It may come at a price and it may be frustrating, but it's there.  It would be nice to have that again.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going back.  I don't want that kind of safety net.  But it's certainly daunting to face a variety of problems without feeling like any person or any organization, no matter how flawed, has your back.

And I guess I don't know what to do about that, but I know I can do something.  I don't know how to walk the rope without the net, but there is a certain twisted thrill in learning by making it all up as you go.  Life by trial and error is much more exhilarating than life by rote.  And at least I know they're my trials and my errors instead of someone else's treasure map to eternal salvation.

So I guess I'll see how this whole life thing works.

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.