Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Fallen Hero

Someone on Recovery from Mormonism posted a link to this video a few days ago:
This is Lance B. Wickman, a now-emeritus general authority of the LDS church. I met Wickman about ten years ago when he was a visiting authority for our stake conference. My dad was the stake president at the time, so we drove him from his hotel to the stake meetings and back again.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2 Nephi 26: A Just God, his Virtuous Servant, and their Equal Followers

This chapter is...wait for it...completely Isaiah-free.

What a relief.  Incidentally, it's the juiciest chapter I've had the pleasure of reviewing in a while--it's chock full of ridiculous ideas, ironic teachings and glorious contradictions.  So let's get started.


Justness Level:  Godlike
Nephi prophesies about the conditions in the Americas following the death of Christ.  He foretells storms, earthquakes, and great loss of life (though mostly among the wicked).  But because Nephi is such a stand-up guy, he has some kind of respect for human life--even the wicked kind:
O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people!
So he takes it to heart that so many of his descendants will be slaughtered and he seems to think it's unfortunate.
...but I must cry unto my God: Thy ways are just.
So Nephi, the guy that's idolized in Mormon culture as being one of the most righteous men ever to have walked the earth, thinks that God's choice to end thousands of lives as some kind of his son's death is bad.  But he submits that God's ways are just anyway.

I have two problems with this.  First, obviously slaughtering people is bad so I would submit that, no, this God's ways are not just.  Second, this sets the stage for Mormon programming.  The subtle message here is that even when someone so noble and upstanding as Nephi thinks something is is hinky with divinity, they should just shut up and admit to being wrong.  Fast forward to the present day and you get people who understand that the church's explicit and implicit oppression of gays has led many to misery, denial and suicide but still claim that there's nothing wrong with the church or its policies about homosexuality.  This verse teaches believers to disregard their better judgment.


Shun the Non-Believer
Take a look at verse 17:
For thus saith the Lord God: They shall write the things which shall be done among them, and they shall be written and sealed up in a book, and those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not have them, for they seek to destroy the things of God.
So unbelievers can't have the truth (which seems to lock them in as unbelievers forever) because they want to destroy the things of God.  The message here is that anyone who has "dwindled" in unbelief has become actively opposed to all things sacred.  This means that every non-Mormon, and especially every ex-Mormon is an enemy.  And, by extension, going inactive is akin to attempted deicide.

It's also worth noting that it's not the belief that dwindles, apparently it's the person that dwindles.


Self-Incrimination
Nephi shares some words concering the Gentiles and their churches in verse 20:
...they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.
 So among the characteristics of these false churches is the tendency to amass wealth and oppress the poor?  Interesting. 

On a related note, in last month's Ensign magazine, one of the articles contained a sickeningly faith-promoting story about a recently converted family that approached their bishop with concerns that they didn't have enough money to spare to pay their tithing.  This is what the bishop told them:
If paying tithing means that you can't pay for water or electricity, pay tithing.  If paying tithing means that you can't pay your rent, pay tithing.  Even if paying tithing means that you don't have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing.
And, of course, as with any discussion about the church and money, I have to bring up the multi-billion dollar City Creek Mall that the church built in Salt Lake City.  It sounds to me like the church is attempting to "get gain" and "grind upon the face of the poor" by squeezing even the most indigent members for every dime and using that money to further the growth of its business ventures.

Sounds like a false church to me.  And apparently Nephi would agree.


Right, Because Priestcraft Is Bad, Isn't It?
In verse 29, God commands that there should be no priestcrafts, and further explains that its practictioners only want "gain and praise of the world" instead of "the welfare of Zion."

I think Joseph Smith was hoping that nobody would notice that he was condemning his own behavior.  Smith got lots of perks from his status as the prophet of the restoration.  He had a group of loyal followers who idolized him, he acquired political power, and he had sex with (or at the very least married) just about as many women as he could want. 

As far as neglecting the welfare of Zion goes, he kept his ridiculous cult going, knowing full well that it pissed off a decent amount of the general population.  He didn't try to change any of the things that made his people so unpopular--such as ending polygamy or taking responsibility for his troubles with the law.


Everyone's Equal, Just Not Equal in the Same Ways
In verse 33, Nephi describes how good his God is:
...he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.
So the Jews, which are God's chosen people, and the Gentiles, which God likes to destroy, are all alike unto him.   Males and females are both welcome in God's presence, too, except that women can't get there without a man.  Blacks and whites are equal, too, except for a period of a hundred years or so when they weren't eligible for the Priesthood.  Other than that, everyone's equal in God's eyes.

The Mormon version of God might need some corrective lenses.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Call for Acountability

I feel like I'm witnessing the noble beginnings of some kind of underground resistance movement.

Steve Bloor and eleven of his compatriots have released a "Proclamation for Truth" targeted at the highest levels of the LDS heirarchy.  The proclamation calls for answers and honesty from the Big 15--the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Give it a read.  It's a pretty damn good little document.

Not only does it call for the church leadership to be held accountable for the "wilful deception" of the membership, but it outlines some of the most critical flaws of the church's behavior and intimates the consequent damage done to its faithful followers. 

Apparently one of Steve Bloor's cohorts recently sent some letters to the Europe Area Presidency challenging the church's right to claim divine authority and posing a series of questions that needed satisfactory answers to legitimize that claim.  These letters were met with no response and necessitated an appeal to the upper management.

I would imagine that this effort will also be ignored.  Which is why I think the decision to also start a petition was incredibly smart.  A petition with enough signatures could convince the First Presidency that the proclamation has irrefutable support.  With a little luck, it could force the church to confront the issues. 

I signed.  I hope you all will do the same.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Accidental First Date

For some reason, a memory suddenly surfaced the other day--about the time I accidentally went on a date.

It was during a field trip during my sophomore year of high school.  I can't remember exactly where we went, but it was to some old-fashioned mansion with a local history museum nearby.  Being the socially inept semi-outcast that I was, I was overjoyed that one of my few good friends was actually on the trip with me.  So I spent pretty much the entire day hanging out with him to avoid an utterly miserable experience.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Making Mormonism Cool

Mormonism is not cool.

I'm not saying this from an angry, ex-Mormon perspective, I'm saying this as a young American male.  I don't mean "I hate Mormonism and everything it stands for."  I mean that Mormonism just isn't cool.

The church has been fighting its membership hemorrhage valiantly, but they haven't seen a lot of success.  How long will it be until even the massive Mormon PR machine has trouble justifying the lie that the LDS church is the fastest-growing religion in the country?  The "I'm a Mormon" campaign, focusing on making Mormons appear normal and happy, has had limited exposure and, in my opinion, tends to come off as slightly creepy.

The most recent measure taken to maintain membership numbers was the decision to lower the missionary ages.  This will possibly combat the tendency of college-age Mormon kids from leaving the church.  But this is kind of like putting a band-aid on a cancerous tumor.  Instead of keeping kids from leaving, the church needs to give them an incentive to stay--they need to give membership more appeal in case the brainwashing wears off.  And this, in turn, will also help attract more young people as converts.  The church needs to make Mormonism cool.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

2 Nephi 25: A Little Breather

Nephi's almost done parroting Isaiah.  Almost.

But at least he takes a short break to explain himself.  And explain a little Isaiah.

Nephi Miscalculates
Nephi says that he has not taught his people "after the manner of the Jews."  Considering he's just spent a few dozen pages quoting Isaiah's poetic blocks of prophesies drenched in Jewish cultural references, he has the good sense to acknowledge that "the words of Isaiah are not plain" to them.

So why did he copy down chapter after chapter of Isaiah?  For us, of course.  Because, according to Nephi, the words of Isaiah "shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them."

Sorry, buddy.  The average person in 2012 is just as ignorant (if not more so) than your fledgling offshoot society.  Nobody knows what the golden wedge of Ophir is.  Nobody knows what it means to fly on the shoulders of the Philistines.  Nobody understands Isaiah except the people who have devoted a serious amount of time (like, possibly the length of a postgraduate degree) to the study of ancient culture or Bible scholarship.  I'm not really sure how well those people really understand it, anyway.  At that level, it's probably pretty easy to fake it believably.

Works, Grace, Both or Neither?
In verse 23, Nephi opens up a little can of works...I mean, a little can of worms. He makes the claim that "it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."  As if the works/grace conflict weren't already messy enough, Joseph Smith had to throw his own little spin on it.  That last little prepositional phrase complicates an otherwise straightforward sentence unfettered by doctrinal nuance.

I still don't know what the official doctrine of the church is concerning faith and works.  I do have clear memories of, amid religious debates among friends, advocating the necessity of both.  I had this sense, at the time, that I was the only one who was really seeing through the complexities of the argument to the simple truth.  One friend would be adamant that grace was what saved us, another would be equally as vehement that without good works you get nothing, and I'd be sitting in the middle being brilliant--"Guys, guys, what if you're both right?"

I think maybe this verse works as evidence toward Smith's inability to control himself.  He could have made it simple, but he couldn't stop himself from adding a little more information than was really necessary.  "God has instructed me to restore his church to the earth and return the power of the Priesthood" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say until you end the sentence with "and I get to sleep with anybody I want."

Passive-Aggressive Much?
Observe the beauty contained in verse 28:
I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand.  And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not...
Translation?  "I'm making sure you can have no plausible deniability.  You know exactly what's expected of you so you can't whine when you get THRUST DOWN TO HELL FOR NOT BEING CHRISTIAN ENOUGH."  Nephi, apparently, is the kind of guy who will throw the rule-book at you right before he screws you with it.  Lump this in with the fact that he's an arrogant prick, a self-aggrandizing jerk, and a murderer and I kind of wonder why he thinks he has the right or the expertise to teach anyone about how to get into heaven.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ex-Mormons in the Making

Sometimes when I'm hanging out with my family, they make snarky little comments that fill me with this probably false hope that they will eventually leave the church.

My oldest sister was telling a story a few days ago about how she'd intentionally kept a library book a day past its due date because she only had thirty pages left and she wanted to finish it before taking it back.  But when she returned it the next day, knowing she owed a fine of maybe five cents, the lady at the library kept saying the computer didn't say she owed anything.

At this point, my other sister chimed in sarcastically, "It's probably because you pay your tithing."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I still kind of like Thanksgiving.  It's not a religious holiday, so I don't have to feel weird celebrating it as an agnostic in an entirely Mormon family.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd just like to show some gratitude for my family.  They're very devout in their beliefs and they don't understand my departure from Mormonism, but every one of them has made attempts to remain in amicable contact with me despite my clear rebellion. 

I know a lot of ex-Mormons aren't so lucky.  My family hasn't shunned me in any way (my oldest sister still invites me to come to church every holiday), and I'm thankful to have escaped the fate that some exmos suffer with for years.  My family can be annoying, and they happen to belong to a cult, but I'm lucky to have them.

Have a good holiday, everyone! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I've Been Found!

There was a little card stuck on my front door today.

The front of it has a few pictures of some people looking deliriously happy with the words "I'm a mormon" next to them. 

Ho boy.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Invisible Mormon Moment

I was talking with a coworker about the outcome of the Presidential election.  I couldn't believe how much of the popular vote Romney had actually garnered.

So I asked my coworker what he'd heard about Romney's Mormonism.  I explained that I heard all kinds of things and had seen talk shows and interviews (not all with Mitt himself) that addressed the weird, creepy, and socially unacceptable aspects of Romney's religion.  But I was looking for that stuff.  I wanted to know how much of the Mormon creepiness had leaked into the general public's awareness.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Free to Choose

I voted today.

Weird how voting for a Democrat running against a Mormon Republican felt like so much more of an act of rebellion than the hundreds of things I do in my non-gospel-oriented daily life. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Let the Donor Beware

My parents are and always have been full-tithe payers.  They pay their fast offering, too.  They've probably donated to the perpetual education fund, too.  But as far as their "charitable" donations go, that's about it.

I don't mean to judge them for a lack of charity.  I don't make any charitable donations (although I might if I made as much money as my dad does) other than the occasional used-clothing-drop.  What does bother me about their donating is that they seem to think that the church is the only place worth donating to.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

2 Nephi 24: Isaiah, Alternate Ending

There is a section in this chapter that makes a few interesting statements about Lucifer.

Verses 12 through 16:
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!  Art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!
For thou has said in thy heart:  I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and shall consider thee, and shall say:  Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?
The chapter summary describes this section by saying that "Lucifer was cast out of heaven for rebellion."  This seems like equating a claim to becoming "like the Most High" to rebellion against God.  Does that mean that Joseph Smith's later doctrine of eternal progression--the idea that exalted men can become gods themselves in the same way that our God became God--is rebellion on a comparable level to Lucifer's?

I don't know if there is a god, but if there is one I certainly hope he has a good sense of irony.  Because if he does, you can bet he'll have Joseph Smith in a cage for all eternity so that people can walk by, squint at him and say, "Is this the little guy that caused all that trouble?"

Friday, October 12, 2012

2 Nephi 23: Isaiah, Production Notes

As Nephi continues to quote Isaiah (chapter 13), he actually manages to make a few changes of greater importance than simple punctuation.

In verse 3, he alters a few words to clarify that God's "mighty ones" and those that "rejoice in [his] highness" are exempt from his anger.  I suppose that's a fair thing to point out, as the King James version of this verse does make it sound a little weird, but it's hardly earth-shattering revelation.

In verse 8, Nephi removes the phrase "they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth," which simply amounts to extracting a bit of imagery. 

In verse 15, Nephi adds a little specificity.  He amends Isaiah's comment about people being "thrust through" and "falling by the sword" to point out that these people will be those who are "proud" or "joined to the wicked."  Helpful, I suppose, but nothing to build a testimony on.

And in verse 22, Nephi adds a closing statement to the chapter:  "For I will destroy [Babylon] speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish."  The destruction of Babylon has been prophesied roughly a bajillion times, and God's proclamations of destroying the wicked and preserving "his people" are just as plentiful throughout the scriptures. 

For a book that is claimed to have the "fullness of the gospel" and the preserved "plain and precious truths" that have been removed from the Bible, the Book of Mormon's quotations from the Bible are pretty sparse on the precious doctrines.  There are some differences between Isaiah and Second Nephi, but I've seen nothing so far that is important enough to merit including a dozen chapters of Isaiah (in their entirety).

I think I only have two Isaiah-quoting chapters left.  Are we there yet? 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Scammer Tactics

So the big topic that has the Mormon and ex-Mormon blogospheres similarly abuzz is the shocking announcement at General Conference that missionary ages are being lowered.  That's right--young men may serve as early as 18 and young women as early as 19.

Juicy stuff.

In light of this development, I'd like to add my own spin to the zillions of other opinions swirling around on the internet.  I'd like to talk about dirty sales tactics (or scammer tactics) and how they apply to the church's decision to get the mishies out early.  This is not about the tactics the missionaries will use on the unsuspecting public to lure them into a seemingly harmless but secretly destructive religious organization--this is about the tactics that religious organization is using on the missionaries.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I'll Go to Your Church if You Go to Mine

This is just another memory of how much of an arrogant prick I was when I was a fully-brainwashed member of the church.

I had this close friend from maybe third grade through eighth grade who was a hardcore evangelical Christian.  He was caught up in the whole Christian pop-culture thing, too (you know, showing kids that church is hip and cool and your only avenue to heaven).  He was a pretty cool guy, I guess, but he was pretty pushy when it came to religion.

Monday, October 1, 2012

2 Nephi 22: Isaiah, Director's Cut

This is another copy of Isaiah.  These are not the most interesting chapters to read or to comment on.

It's only six verses and it almost exactly mirrors Isaiah chapter 12, with a few differences in punctuation.  My favorite difference is at the end of the first verse, when the already odd-sounding, archaic "comfortedst" is altered to "comfortedest."  This seems to be simply a misspelling of an early modern English verb form.  It's interesting, though, that the only real differences in so many of these Isaiah chapters are punctuation and spelling.

As far as I can tell, the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew.  Around 600 BC, Nephi's family took a copy of the Hebrew scriptures with them to the Americas.  Somewhere over the next thousand years and a few abridgments, Nephi's copies of Isaiah chapters got translated into some language called "Reformed Egyptian," which Joseph Smith then translated into English.  I guess the closeness to the established book of Isaiah after all that time and those translations could be faith-promoting for a believing Mormon.

But unfortunately, Mormonism teaches that one of the reasons we need the Book of Mormon so much is because, over the centuries, evil men had altered or removed the "plain and precious truths" from the scriptures, rendering the King James Bible flawed and incomplete.  But considering that what became the King James Bible was translated piecemeal from various translations and with an ear to established scriptural traditions (meaning the translators' choices were sometimes practical instead of inspired) and prone to those evil conspiring men messing it all up, it seems very suspicious to me that two versions of the same text took very different linguistic journeys in distinct civilizations on opposite sides of the globe only to result in minute punctuation differences.

That isn't evidence that the Book of Mormon is true.  It's evidence that Joseph Smith simply copied large sections of the Old Testament.

Actually, sitting down and thinking about this for more than a minute makes me disappointed with my own reasoning skills for not working this out much, much earlier in life.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

2 Nephi 21: Isaiah, Deleted Scenes

This is, word for word, a copy of Isaiah chapter 11.

The biggest differences (which, of course, hold no spiritual value) are that "cockatrice' den" in Isaiah was changed to "cockatrice's den," "dryshod" was changed to "dry shod" and "an highway" was changed to "a highway."

So God had the omniscient foresight to make sure that there were two versions of Nephi's story so that the first one could be lost by Martin Harris without losing important teachings, but he didn't have the foresight to have Nephi, Mormon, Moroni, or Joseph Smith omit doctrinally (if not gramatically) identical copies of scripture that would be widely available in the modern society for which the Book of Mormon was produced?

That doesn't make any sense.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rereading the Book of Mormon

My mother recently finished reading the Book of Mormon.  Again.

She remarked in her family email today, "I really do see something new every time I read it."  This is a common claim in Mormon culture (one that I thought my mother was better than) that really, really gets under my skin.  I've heard many people bear their testimonies about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon based on the idea that they learn something new each time they read the book. I guess there's a simple fact that these people have overlooked:  The Book of Mormon is long.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Funereal Recruitment

My parents attended a funeral for a member of their ward over the weekend.  He included a paragraph about the service in the weekly email that he sends out to the family.  Among other things, he said:
After the funeral, the daughter-in-law told [ward member] that she really likes all that she feels as she hears about the Church and wanted to know how she can learn more about the Church.  [Ward member] was able to help her out!
Ick. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What it Means to Be Mormon

Growing up as a Mormon kid in an overwhelmingly non-Mormon part of the country, I got a lot of questions whenever I brought up my religion...or anything related to my religion.

Age 8:  "You have to go to church for three hours? Every week?"
Age 9:  "What do you mean, 'What's communion?'"
Age 10:  "Your mom says you can't play soccer this year because the games are on Sundays?"
Age 11:  "You mean you've never had Coke?  Ever?"
Age 12:  "Aren't Mormons the ones with like ten wives?"
Age 13:  "Wait...did you just say your sister lives in Spain?"
Age 14:  "How can you call yourself Christian if you don't even believe in the Bible?"
Age 15:  "How many wives does your dad have?"
Age 16:  "You're a priest?  Seriously?"
Age 17:  "So what's the deal with the magic underwear?"
Age 18:  "Utah?  What a random place to apply for college."
Age 19:  "You can get expelled for drinking?  It's a college, right?"
Age 20:  "So does your family practice polygamy?"
Age 21:  "You're still a virgin?"

What did it mean to be Mormon?  It meant fielding a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances...and desperately trying to downplay how weird the answers were.

Monday, September 3, 2012

2 Nephi 20: Isaiah, Interactive Maps

More Isaiah--only with extra useless sauce.

Here, Joseph (I mean Nephi) has made a second copy of Isaiah's endless namedropping.  It kicks off in verse 9 with some comparisons of ancient cities:
Is not Calno as Carchemish?  Is not Hamath as Arpad?  Is not Samaria as Damascus?
My favorite part is later, when Isaiah goes on a five-verse name-spouting rampage.  Starting in verse 28:
He is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron; at Michmash he hath laid up his carriages.
They are gone over the passage; they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramath is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled.
Lift up the voice, O daughter of Gallim; cause it to be heard unto Laish, O poor Anathoth.
Madmenah is removed; the inhabitants of Gebim gather themselves to flee.
As yet shall he remain at Nob that day; he shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem. 
Anybody following this?  No?  Then allow me to mention a central teaching of Mormonism--the claim that the book was written specifically "for our day."  In the October 1986 General Conference, President of the Church Ezra Taft Benson stated boldly:
The second great reason why we must make the Book of Mormon a center focus of study is that it was written for our day.  The Nephites never had the book; neither did the Lamanites of ancient times.  It was meant for us.  Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization.  Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us.
So this means that God carefully engineered the Book of Mormon to target a modern-day audience.  This also means that God intended for this chapter, full of references to people, places and events that a modern-day audience will not have knowledge of nor identify with.  And apparently God forgot that he had already made the same irrelevant information available in the book of Isaiah in his Bible.

Fascinating.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hecklers

When I was maybe fourteen, my family and I went to Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York.  As we were pulling into the empty field that served as a makeshift parking lot, I was shocked to see a surprisingly large group of people with surprisingly large signs shouting surprisingly rude claims at an unsurprisingly unresponsive group of pageant attendees.

When we got out of the car and headed toward the pageant itself, we walked past a seemingly endless row of hecklers, most of whom were under some deluded impression that they could get us to change our religions by screaming about how we were all sinners.  It was a bizarre experience.

Friday, August 24, 2012

2 Nephi 19: Isaiah, Trailers for Upcoming Releases

"For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still."

This sentence appears three times in this chapter (and, of course, in Isaiah chapter 9, which is pretty much the same thing).  The sentence, and its repetition, speaks to God's mercy.

The first time it's used, it shows God's mercy towards those who "devour" Israel, his chosen people.  The second time, He's extending his hand toward hypocrites and evildoers.  The third time, He stretches out his hand despite disloyalty, conflict, and "wickedness [burning] as the fire," within the tribes of Israel.  The third use of this sentence is the final statement in the chapter.

I think the point here is that God is merciful.  He doesn't give up on people.

Which is why I find it odd that a church that believes the words of this book to be the words of God can be so casual with excommunication.  Excommunication from Mormonism means being stripped of all blessings gained from church membership--the loss of Priesthood, the loss of baptismal covenants, the loss of temple covenants, etc.  Considering that the church leadership claims it is given authority directly from God, it seems contradictory of the church's teachings when someone is excommunicated for doing something not-so-terrible.

Take the September Six as an example.  You could say that what they did was contentious, or wicked, or disloyal.  But they didn't murder anyone or sexually abuse anyone.  I think their "crimes" should have easily fallen under the blanket of God's mercy--but they were excommunicated anyway (okay, one was only disfellowshipped).

If the Mormon leadership doesn't act in accordance with God's characteristics, maybe they don't actually have any divine authority.

(And yes...I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as interesting things to say about the Isaiah chapters go.  Is it the Book of Jacob yet??)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What Tipped the Scales

I had another interesting discussion today with one of my employees.  It was the same kid that I explained Mormonism to and the same kid who offered to pray for me.

For no apparent reason, during our shift, he blurted out, "You should go back to church."  It would have bothered me if anybody else there had said it, but for some reason his teddy-bear demeanor and totally harmless attitude made it sound like he wasn't overstepping his bounds at all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Passing the Sacrament

When I was twelve, I was ordained as a Deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood and given the duty of passing the sacrament.  This meant that, at the appointed time during church every Sunday, my Aaronic Priesthood brethren and I would distribute the bread and water (symbolizing the body and blood of Christ) to the congregation.

This is lauded in Mormon culture as an important step in the development of the next generation of honorable Mormon men.  The act of passing the sacrament, I was told, was a sacred duty that I was to take very seriously as the first of many of my Priesthood responsibilities.  But to illustrate the silliness of the so-called "preparatory Priesthood" and the idiocy of placing a "sacred duty" in the hands of a twelve-year-old boy, let me describe the thoughts that went through my head every time I passed the sacrament:  I hope this looks cool.

I was a cookie-cutter Mormon child.  I was a perfect-attendance-scriptures-open-always-knew-the-answers-in-class-bishop's-son-honest-to-goodness-true-believing-Mormon and all I was thinking about was making sure I looked cool.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Appearance of Evil

LDS leaders have preached that members should "avoid the appearance of evil."  Even when I was a faithful true-believing Mormon, I always thought that was silly.  Here's why.

When I was in middle school, my dad was the bishop of our ward.  He took his calling very seriously...or maybe too seriously.  Once when we were travelling somewhere (I don't remember where, maybe it was for Christmas shopping or something), he realized that he'd missed the turn to our destination.  I pointed to the next place along the road to turn around and suggested he pull a U-turn in a little parking lot next to the street.  The parking lot was for an adult bookstore.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

2 Nephi 18: Isaiah, Fullscreen Version

Isaiah.

Again.

Not much to say here except that I don't like this particular verse:
To the law and to the testimony; and if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
This is the kind of thinking that makes a portion of Mormonism, a portion of Christianity, and a portion of many other religions so...icky.  The "if it doesn't line up with our teachings then it's bad" philosophy is a great way to influence people to despise everyone else.  It's not always despising.  Sometimes it's condescending pity, overwhelming self-righteousness, or unflinching arrogance.

Of course, even though the LDS church has sentiments such as these in its scripture, it also preaches that other religions accomplish some good and is proud to work side-by-side with other religious organizations in its relief efforts.  Even though these organizations have been interpreted to collectively make up the "great and abominable church."

There's some doublethink for ya.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2 Nephi 17: Isaiah, Original Storyboards

This chapter is a great example of the Isaiah-quoting's status as little more than filler in the Book of Mormon.  Why?  Because of the chapter heading.

Recent editions of the Book of Mormon (and by recent I mean way after Joseph Smith died...although according to Wikipedia, it means since 1920) have included summaries before each chapter.  These are helpful little blurbs that can make it easier for the reader to keep track of the important plot developments and doctrinal teachings in each chapter.

For example, here is the chapter summary from 1 Nephi Chapter 19, which is twenty-five verses long:
Nephi makes plates of ore and records the history of his people—The God of Israel will come six hundred years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem—Nephi tells of His sufferings and crucifixion—The Jews will be despised and scattered until the latter days, when they will return unto the Lord.
Before reading that chapter in detail, you already know that Nephi's going to create and describe his records, a rough timeline for when the events of Nephi's life take place will be established, Nephi will speak of Christ's atonement, and then he'll go off on a speech about God's master plan for the Jews and the whole scattering/gathering business. 

But if you look at the summary for our current chapter, 2 Nephi 17, which is also twenty-five verses long, you'll read:
Ephraim and Syria wage war against Judah—Christ will be born of a virgin.
Before reading this chapter in detail, you already know...that Nephi will quote Isaiah's description of Biblical history and impart the not-so-shocking-revelation that Jesus' mother will be a virgin.

What do these twenty-five verses accomplish that wasn't already done in the Bible?  Nothing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2 Nephi 16: Isaiah, Cast Commentary

Here, Isaiah relates a story about a seraph forgiving him of his sins.  This is...apparently...relevant?  Let's examine it from Nephi's, Moroni's, and Joseph Smith's perspectives.



Nephi
Nephi knows he's writing this for future generations.  Perhaps he realizes that future prophets will read his records and make their own.  In that case, it makes a little bit of sense for Nephi--who has questioned his own worthiness--to relate this story of the revered figure of Isaiah struggling with his identity as both a prophet and a fallible man.  Maybe Nephi hoped the passage would be a pep talk for future prophets.


Moroni
Moroni is collecting, abridging, and combining a thousand years of sacred and secular history of his civilization.  Why would he include this chapter?  Nephi's already given his pick-me-up speech to generations of prophets.  Why would Moroni have been inspired to leave this chapter in, considering it was God's plan to have these records be spread across the world and given to millions of people who weren't prophets?  All this is available in the book of Isaiah so including it in the Book of Mormon seems like a waste of valuable plate-space (and, later, printing space).


Joseph Smith
Filler.  Quoting the Bible makes his book seem more credible.


On an unrelated note, why exactly do both accounts of Isaiah's story mention that the seraph used tongs to pluck the coal from the fire?  It's a supernatural being...is its skin really that sensitive?

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Evergreen Program

In light of the recent mess with Chick-fil-A's attempt to find a site in Boston despite their recently stated position against homosexuality, I thought I'd come back to a topic I've been meaning to address for several months.

Anybody ever heard of the Evergreen Program?  I never had, until after leaving the church.  Apparently, it's a program that the church has set up to help those with same-sex attraction...stop being gay.

Friday, August 10, 2012

If Mormons Made Lord of the Rings

What if some Mormons got together and decided to make a reinterpretation of the Lord of the Rings films?

Life as a Mormon gives one a very unique perspective on things, and seeing that perspective translated into the arts can often be...interesting.  In thinking about some LDS films (such as The Testaments, Joseph Smith:  Prophet of the Restoration and How Rare a Possession), I began to wonder how an LDS filmmaker with an LDS perspective (and perhaps an LDS agenda) might reinterpret some modern cinematic material.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

2 Nephi 15: Isaiah, Alternate Camera Angle

Verse 20:
Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Sounds like a warning to the LDS church leadership to me.  They're constantly preaching that evil is good and good is evil.  For example, they teach that Joseph Smith was a virtuous, moral man and that those who oppose the church are tools of the adversary.  They teach that obedience to the church is the greatest exercise of free will (darkness for light) and that all the so-called sinners in the world are just following the crowd (light for darkness).  They teach that sex is almost always sinful (bitter for sweet) and that spending most of the week away from your family to fulfill your calling as bishop is honorable (sweet for bitter).

Wo unto them.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When Patriarchs Become Obsolete

An interesting thought occurred to me last night as I was trying to explain patriarchal blessings to my nevermo girlfriend.

I showed her mine as an example, and I noted that it planned my whole life out for me.  It mentioned school, marriage, kids, and all the way up to being an empty-nester (when my wife and I, of course, will become temple workers).  And I considered what would happen if the second coming of Jesus Christ were actually approaching.  How would that affect patriarchal blessings?

Monday, July 23, 2012

How Mormonism Stunted My Social Development

I am socially awkward.

Everyone who knows me knows this.  My coworkers mock my awkwardness.  My girlfriend tells me that it's her least favorite thing about me.  My few friends express frustration when I refuse to join them in the company of people I don't know.   I am in a constant struggle to relate to and interact smoothly with every person I meet who I don't know well and many people that I do know well.  My awkwardness is almost legendary.

I considered titling this post "How Mormonism Made Me Socially Awkward," but that didn't seem quite right.  I believe that the way we develop depends mostly on two things--what happens to us and how we react to what happens to us.  With most things concerning Mormonism, I reacted poorly to my circumstances and exacerbated the problems that were thrust upon me.  I don't intend to blame Mormonism for every negative aspect of my life, but I do blame it for the circumstances which initiated many of those aspects.

So, instead, here is How Mormonism Stunted My Social Development.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

2 Nephi 14: Isaiah, the Making-of Featurette

As an exercise, allow me to list the differences between a chapter of Isaiah and a chapter of 2 Nephi.  Here are the things that Joseph Smith's divine inspiration caused him to change from the King James version of Isaiah chapter 4:

Verse 1
-added a comma after the word "day"
-changed the comma after "saying" to a colon
-changed the colon after "apparel" to a semicolon
-removed the comma after "name"


Verse 2
-changed the comma after "glorious" to a semicolon
-removed the words "shall be"
-changed the word "for" to the word "to"

Verse 3
-added the word "that"
-changed a singular subject to a plural ("they" instead of "he") and appropriate verbs ("are" instead of "is")
-removed a comma after "Zion"
-added "he that" for parallelism
-changed "remaineth" to "remain"
-removed a comma after "Jerusalem"
-added the word "even" for emphasis
-changed the colon after "Jerusalem" to a dash

Verse 4
-removed a comma after "judgment"

Verse 5
-changed "dwelling place" to "dwelling-place"
-removed a comma after "day"
-changed the colon after "night" to a semicolon
-changed "the glory" to "the glory of Zion"

Verse 6
-removed the word "for" before "a covert"


How much of this was important?  I'd be willing to bet none of it.  Of the twenty-one changes I caught in my side-by-side comparison, twelve of them were inconsequential punctuation changes.  The few words that were added or removed were not central to any of the ideas being conveyed in this chapter.  Even the pluralized subject in verse 3 doesn't change the meaning of the scripture--it's more stylistic than anything else.  The adding of the words "of Zion" in verse 5 doesn't serve much purpose, either, as I would have expected that phrase to be about Zion anyway because of its context.

So in case nobody's clear on the argument that I've been trying to make for several chapters now, there was no point in copying large chunks of Isaiah into the Book of Mormon except to serve as filler, to pad to the word count, or to lend credence to the Book of Mormon by linking it to the Bible.  This is not a superior translation.  It is the same translation with slightly altered details.

And when I say there was no point, I mean to say that I have concluded that the Isaiah sections of the Book of Mormon are evidence of the book being the words of a man and not the words of God.

They're also easily the most boring parts of the Book of Mormon.  (Yes, worse than Omni.)   

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chastity and Perspicacity

When I was a member of my ward's Teachers' Quorum, my quorum adviser told us a story once concerning the law of chastity that really stuck in my memory.  And because of a casual conversation at work a few nights ago, I revisited that memory and discovered--not for the first time--that something I'd been taught in church was utter crap.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Follow the Prophet

In an email she sent out to the family this week, my sister mentioned a charming story about her two-year-old son.  She said that he liked the primary song "Follow the Prophet" and that he'd been wandering around the house most of the day singing it.  Apparently he got the melody down pretty well but his pronunciation left a little to be desired.  She said that his vowels were mostly right but that he seemed to use whatever consonants he felt like, making the whole song sound like complete, adorable gibberish.  I didn't find the story particularly adorable.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

2 Nephi 13: Isaiah, Digitally Remastered

Continuing with his Isaiah-fest, Joseph Smith lifts the entirety of Isaiah chapter 3 for his own records.

I would like to know why Nephi felt the need to quote so much Isaiah.  Considering that he was etching these words into metal plates, you'd think he'd have been a little more economic about what he wrote.  Why labor over words that are already preserved in another record?  Not only is there a record for his people (you know, the one he's copying from), but there's going to be a Bible for everybody else later--a fact you'd think God would have revealed to him.

I suppose you could make the argument from a Mormon perspective that the Bible has been vandalized--that evil men have altered the texts over the centuries and removed "plain and precious truths" from the Bible (Joseph Smith: A Master of Textual Efficiency).  But if that were the true purpose behind the Isaiah sections in the Book of Mormon, why are the only differences between 2 Nephi 13 and Isaiah 3 punctuation changes and slight re-wordings that don't change the meaning in any significant way?

Like I've said before--filler.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

2 Nephi 12: Nothing to See Here

More Isaiah.

There's not really much here.  It's a nearly-identical transcription of Isaiah chapter 2, with a few extra words thrown in to make it seem like there was a point to its reproduction.  It's more filler that imparts very little of importance over its repetitive, poetry-embellished 22 verses.

I don't really have anything to say about this chapter beyond that, but I'm discussing each chapter, so I can't just skip it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

2 Nephi 11: Logic and Revelation

Chapter 11 is only 8 verses long, and it's pretty light on the earth-shattering doctrines.  But there are two things about this chapter I'd like to mention:  revelation and the mess that is verse 7.


No More Revelation
In verses 2 and 3, Nephi mentions that both he and his brother Jacob have physically seen Jesus.  Nephi and his brother were among the spiritual leadership of their society.  But this bold, direct claim stands in contrast to recent actions of the current church leadership.  When is the last time a Mormon prophet explicitly claimed to have a face-to-face meeting with a member of the godhead?  And let's not forget the change to chapter 14 of Gospel Principles which describes an Apostle as being "a special witness of the name of Jesus Christ," implying that an Apostle is not a physical eyewitness of Jesus Christ's existence.

This is reminiscent of a part of the Joseph Smith story--young Joseph was told by local religious leaders that he could not have seen a vision of God because there are no more visions or revelation in the modern age.  But a church that teaches that divine revelation is just as alive today as it was in the Bible is suspiciously shy of addressing the subject directly.


Unlucky Verse Seven
Nephi makes an interesting series of assumptions in verse 7:

 1.  "If there be no Christ there be no God"
Isn't it the other way around?  Besides, there are plenty of religions that teach belief in a supreme being and don't teach of Christ.  This is not the strongest case you can make for the existence of Christ.

2.  "If there be no God we are not, for there could have been no creation."
This is far from an original argument, but I guess I'll cut Nephi some slack, considering he was writing it in 600 BC.  Smith does not get the benefit of the doubt, because I'm pretty sure this was an overused concept even in 1830.  But what I really dislike about this sentence is its connection to the previous claim.  The objective here is to claim that if there was no Christ we wouldn't exist, therefore Christ must exist.  This is horrible logic.

3.  "There is a God, and he is Christ"
Wait...I thought Christ was the son of God.  This is pretty important to Mormon Doctrine--they don't buy into the whole Trinity thing.  I've heard apostles (I want to say...Russell M. Nelson in particular) explain things like this away by saying that "god" is a title and even though God is our God, Christ is also a god.  This is a sloppy, hair-splitting, retrofitted teaching.

Pretty much what happened here was Joseph Smith made some outlandish claims and tried to pass them off as logic, and then he proceeded to destroy his own church's doctrines about the nature of the godhead.

Good going.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mormon-Themed Memes

I had a day off, and I had three hours during which I was not in a Mormon meetinghouse, so I spent the time as wisely as I thought possible:  I went to QuickMeme.com and starting making fun of Mormonism.  What better way is there to spend a Sabbath?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Disney-McKay Connection

I had dinner with some of my family tonight.  My mom, my dad, my oldest sister and her husband were there.  That made me and my nevermo girlfriend the only non-Mormons in the room.

My mother mentioned that she'd recently read a quote from Walt Disney that went along the lines of "neglecting your family in favor of your career is bad."  (According to BrainyQuote.com, it's "A man should never neglect his family for business.")  And my sister said it reminded her of a quote from one of the Presidents of the Church about how "no success can compensate for failure in the home."

They had a brief discussion about which prophet said that, and, as I listened silently, they arrived at the correct consensus of David O. McKay.  None of them had any clue that McKay's famous quote was lifted from Benjamin Disraeli.  I didn't bother mentioning it because I have no proof and it wouldn't really change their minds about anything anyway.  Also I'd prefer to avoid straining the relationships even more.

But to me, it's pretty clear:  a prophet of God has no need for plagiarism.  If he speaks the word of God, he doesn't need to speak the words of another man.  And if he plagiarized "as a man," a phrase often used to dismiss poor actions taken by church authorities, then I find it highly suspect that God would allow such a dishonest man to be his mouthpiece to the masses.

This is far from the only example of a Mormon authority lifting his teachings from another source.  And that does not seem right to me.

2 Nephi 10: Jacob and his Prophesying

Jacob continues his epic, multi-chapter speech.  The Book of Mormon is fond of epic, multi-chapter speeches.

He preaches about the fate of the Jews, the fate of the Gentiles and the role of the American continent in God's master plan.  But a little weirdness does arise in Jacob's sweeping summary of the next few thousand years.


Continuity Is Everything
Joseph Smith sloppily sidesteps an error in verse 3:
Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ should come among the Jews...
But, of course, Jacob should have no knowledge of the Messiah's actual name yet.  So a quick comment is tossed into the middle of that sentence:
Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ—for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name—should come among the Jews...
Wow.  It feels just like a moment from one of those horrible, low-budget, made-for-TV movies when you can tell that someone, during production, said, "Hey, this script doesn't make any sense!" and a brief line of awkward dialogue was hastily thrown in to explain away some bizarre event.

I imagine Joseph may have misspoken as he was dictating this stuff off the top of his head to his dutiful scribe.  Rather than go back and make it sound like he wasn't translating by the perfect power of God, he figured it would be easier to just cover his butt and explain it away.


Prophesying Backwards
Jacob also makes more of Smith's trademarked Already-Fulfilled Prophecies starting around verse 11:
And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.
Okay, at this point, anybody reading this book when it was first published in 1830 already knows that North America was settled by Gentiles.  The whole representative democracy thing is pretty well established and the Bill of Rights is old news by now.  So this verse contains three astonishing prophecies that have long since come true and really mean nothing to anyone because their purported origins can't be proven.

I will, however, award Jacob a half point for the next verse, in which he states that God will "fortify this land against all other nations." Sure, the US had won its independence and survived going up against the British again in 1812, but this was all before the World Wars and all that messed up crap from the following century...through which the United States emerged pretty safe from enemy invasion.  The only exception is Pearl Harbor, which was a mistake that nobody has made since.  The only real war that befell the "promised land" was the American Civil War.  And this may be semantics, but God didn't say he was going to fortify this nation against itself.

So props to Smith for making a decent educated guess about the future of the United States.


For and Against
Verse 16 is dangerous:
Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God.
Here we have another example of a horrible, horrible Us-Versus-Them attitude.  The beginning of the verse was fine—oppose God's people and God will punish you.  But the ending takes it too far—to the point where anyone not supporting God's people are considered to be opposing them.  How is that fair?  That sounds like the spiritual equivalent of shooting civilians in battle.

Scriptures such as this one preach an attitude that, cemented by Mormonism's persecution during its early history and maintained by under-the-radar status during the modern era, has evolved into a very unhealthy mentality of Mormons versus Non-Mormons.  Righteous People versus The Worldly Sinners.  The Enlightened versus The Rabble.  The Blessed versus The Ignorant.

But at the same time church members are expected to be missionaries and spread the gospel to the people whom they simultaneously feel pitted against.  Maybe that contradictory message is what makes most missionary work see such little success.  How do you share the gospel with someone you consider to be actively opposing you?  How do you gain the trust of someone you can't help but feel you're supposed to be better than?


Jacob Manipulates the Masses
Near the chapter's closing, Jacob imparts a few last bits of advice.  Among them is this devious little comment:
Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.
This is an old trick.  Jacob takes the entire gospel and boils it down to a simple choice between two starkly contrasting options.  One option is clearly good and the other option scares the crap out of you.  If you've believed anything he's said in the last few chapters, suddenly you're so focused on the possibility of everlasting death that instead of assessing whether or not what he claims is true, you're trying to figure out how you can avoid the undesirable outcome.

Similarly, Smith gets his readers to worry about their salvation, almost allowing them to skip the part where they decide whether or not they believe him.  The sharp contrast and the dramatically jarring claim that their fates are a simple, binary choice hook them.

And before they know it, they're freezing to death in a handcart company somewhere in the wilderness of Wyoming.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Record Indexing

My mother and sisters have been gearing up for this new goal that FamilySearch has thought up: indexing five million names in a twenty-four hour period.

Indexing names has become a new craze in the church, as far as I can tell.  Apparently it's a way to contribute to genealogical research (and thus baptism for the dead) by poring over downloaded scans of old documents from around the world to interpret the handwritten records of births and deaths and residency and all that great stuff.  Now Mormons can feel like they're offering salvation to countless souls without ever leaving the comfort of their own computer chairs.

Monday, June 25, 2012

2 Nephi 9: Doubt Your Learning Before You Doubt Your Fate

This is a pretty heavy chapter.  And long.  And that means there's plenty to discuss.

Joseph Smith (oops, I mean Jacob) shares a lot of his concepts about the Fall, sin, punishment and mercy.  I remember reading this chapter as a kid and in seminary and it always seemed like such an important chapter.  Look at all this cool stuff he's saying!  What I didn't realize, of course, is that it's complete hogwash.  It sounds like Smith is just making this stuff up off the top of his head.  


Screwing with Cause and Effect
Smith talks a lot about how horrible our fates could be without the Plan of Salvation (although it's not referred to by name).  But the focus is on HOW HORRIBLE OUR FATES WOULD BE and there's no explanation of why they would be so horrible.  In verses 8 through 10, he proclaims:
O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace!  For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God and became the devil, to rise no more.
And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself, yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
Reading this passage as a faithful Mormon, my reaction was, "Sounds pretty grim.  Good thing God loves us!"

Reading this passage as an unfaithful ex-Mormon, my reaction is, "Wait...exactly how does that work?"  He's saying that if there were no resurrection, our spirits would all be at the mercy of the devil and we'd all be stuck in Hell for an eternity.  But why?

If there's no resurrection, then our bodies would never be reunited with our spirits.  That's all that means.  How does it go from that to being cut of from the presence of God and becoming as evil and miserable as Lucifer himself?  This is the doctrinal equivalent of A + B = Q.  What happened to C?

Teaching People Not to Think
Verses 28 and 29 of this chapter were one of my favorite scripture masteries when I was in seminary.  Besides their intended meaning, I thought these verses were written in a very badass way.  Now they kind of disgust me.  Observe:
O that cunning plan of the evil one!  O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men!  When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.  And they shall perish.
But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.
The church stresses the value of education.  It wants people to go to college.  But it also wants people to hold fast to the things they've been taught should they learn things in their studies that contradict what they thought they knew.  These verses are probably hung on the wall of every office in FARMS and FAIR.  

It's these kinds of verses that are designed to influence people not to doubt.  Mormonism attempts to get everyone to dismiss their doubts as dangerous temptations from the devil himself.  It's fine to want to keep people in your religion, but it's not fine to go to the point of trying to discredit other belief systems and quash members' attempts to think for themselves.  

And more than that, this chapter, especially including verses 30, 42 and 43, sound like they were written by Joseph Smith, not Jacob.  Smith was poor and poorly educated, and this chapter sounds as though the writer has a bit of a chip on his shoulder concerning the upper class.  Sure, plenty of rich people are full of themselves and plenty of smart people think they know everything, but geez, man, let it go!


Undermining Your Own Doctrines
My favorite part of this chapter, hands down, is verse 25.  To explain why, I'll start in verse 24:
And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptized in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it.
Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him. 
So...this means that if God makes no laws, he doesn't need to punish us and the mercy of the atonement can save us.  So that means, if he'd given us no commandments and still sent his son to die for us, we'd ALL be saved.  And not only that, but damnation is God's creation.  He's the one that decided people should be damned.  I was taught that God operated according to laws of right and wrong--that he can't save a damned man from being damned simply because that was wrong and God couldn't do anything wrong.  But if the whole thing was his idea, it makes it look like he's thrusting someone down to hell for an eternity because he's pissed off at him.  

Lucifer's plan from the War in Heaven is starting to make more and more sense.  If God doesn't have to damn anybody and is capable of saving everyone through his son's atonement...why exactly does anybody have to wind up in Hell?  Wouldn't it be more loving (and Godlike) to save everyone?  

Oh, right.  Eternal Progression.  Whatever.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Four Other Types of Sunday School Answers

Hey, I'm still alive!

I've had a rough couple of weeks...work's been weird, I've been sick (twice) and I had a few other concerns that were higher on my to-do list than maintaining this blog, but I've cleared a decent amount of that crap out of the way.  So here I am with another post.

Those of you who are returning, thanks for being patient.

There's a humorous reference often made in Mormonism (At least, I've encountered it in my hometown on the East Coast and in the BYU Bubble) about "Sunday School Answers."  The gist of it is that, whenever a Sunday school teacher asks the class a question, there are a finite number of overused responses that can adequately answer it.  For example:

Friday, May 18, 2012

"I'll Pray For You"

I had a pretty rough night at work a few days ago.   It was one of those days when everything was going wrong, and my crew was frustrating me with their inability to handle it.   I've worked there for eight years, which is about the equivalent of one zillion in fast food years.  Most of my crew has worked there between six and twelve months.  I can do everything they do, only faster and better, and I was annoyed by their inability to be as good as I am (even though they have nowhere near the same level of experience).  As my crew slowly but dutifully attempted to perform to the best of their ability, I got more and more exasperated.

Seeing my frustration, one of the guys (this guy, actually) gave me a sympathetic smile and said, "When I go to church tomorrow, I'm gonna add you to my prayer list."

Monday, May 14, 2012

2 Nephi 8: Poetic Filler

More Isaiah.  Again.

I've already mentioned that I think the Isaiah-quoting is filler, an attempt to lend the Book of Mormon some (much-needed) credibility, and pretty much unnecessary.  But I think I figured out why Joseph Smith decided to use Isaiah as his unnecessary, credible filler:  Nobody gets Isaiah.

Let's use this verse from 2 Nephi Chapter 8 as an example (which is extremely similar to Isaiah 51:22):
Thus saith thy Lord, the Lord and thy God pleadeth the cause of his people; behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again.
By way of comparison, let's look at Leviticus 12:2:
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity she shall be unclean.
So, why did Smith decide to quote Isaiah and not something else, like...Leviticus?  Because Leviticus actually means something.  Isaiah sounds good.  It speaks metaphorically of God's broad plans.  Other parts of the New Testament are very literal and very specific.  And...kind of shocking to the modern-day reader.  Quoting Isaiah is a good way of sounding like you're relating important, detailed doctrines without ever really saying anything of consequence.

Which makes it very useful as filler in a new book of scripture.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vain Repetitions

Early morning seminary wasn't worth it.

I've heard many different members of the church bear their testimonies about how much early morning seminary helped them "start the school day off on a spiritual high" and how it benefited them spiritually, personally and scholastically.   It's crap.  The church membership has a bad habit of latching onto certain phrases and concepts and learning to parrot them back in coherent sentences at a moment's notice.  I doubt this is only a phenomenon of Mormonism, but as with any other problematic facet of organized religion, I have a feeling that Mormonism has taken it to the next level and made it...much, much worse.

Monday, May 7, 2012

2 Nephi 7: Filler

More Isaiah.

As if having Isaiah just once in the standard works wasn't boring enough.

Joseph Smith apparently just went through Isaiah chapter 50 and reworked some of the punctuation, changed some wording here and there, and added a little bit of unnecessary emphasis (because Isaiah is already repetitive enough) on a few points.  The only significant difference between the two chapters is an omission in verse ten of some advice to "trust in the name of the Lord."  I'm not sure why Smith omitted that, considering it might be the most straightforward teaching in the chapter, but it doesn't radically change any kind of doctrine.  The two chapters are still pretty much the same conceptually, tonally, and doctrinally.


Maybe his reasoning for siphoning off so much Isaiah by this point is becoming less about building credibility for his manuscript as the word of God and more about filler.  If it were possible to make a movie that was to be considered direct revelation of God, this chapter would be the equivalent of a massive explosion going off repeatedly from various camera angles, followed by the protagonist walking out of the blast radius in slow motion.  He'd put on a pair of sunglasses, raise his gun, and exchange a few meaningful glares with the antagonist--all still in slow motion.  Except at least that kind of filler would still be kind of fun to watch.

So maybe it's more like a remake of a classic film--let's use Gone With the Wind as an example.  In Joseph Smith's remake of Gone With the Wind, he'd periodically utilize footage from the original movie as some kind of flashback material, cutting these scenes in at odd intervals until he'd gotten his remake to come reasonably close to the almost-four-hour running time of the classic.  The Bible is huge, and it covers thousands of years of history.  If Joseph Smith had come up with his own book of scripture spanning more than a thousand years of history and it came to a measly 150 pages...maybe he was worried he'd get laughed at.  How can you take a book claiming to be a second Bible seriously if it's hardly the size of a decent novel?

Hence the filler.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

2 Nephi 6: The Former Latter Days

In this chapter, Jacob, the brother of Nephi, addresses the people.  He quotes Isaiah, testifies that Jerusalem has been destroyed, and teaches about the coming Messiah.  The power of this chapter is derived from a very strong theme in Mormonism:   the hope of future vindication.

In his speech, Jacob stresses the benefits of waiting for and believing in the Lord.  He promises destruction during the Savior's second coming to those who did not believe and protection to those who did.  While not exclusive to Mormonism in any way, this concept is played upon heavily in the church.

The similarities between the Nephites awaiting Jesus's first coming and modern-day Mormons awaiting Jesus's second coming are emphasized--the movie The Testaments stands as a good example.  The Nephite society is depicted as having believed in the Messiah for so long that most people have lost faith.  Similarly, Mormons have been in it's-almost-the-end-of-times mode for a very long time.  The church wants us to hold out and continue assuming that the day of our vindication is just around the corner.

Not only does this strategy keep people scared and obedient, but it gives them hope that a lifetime of being peculiar and removed from the mainstream will be rewarded when Jesus returns.  This will be accompanied by all those self-righteous evangelicals who hated Mormonism suddenly realizing that they've been wrong the whole time...right before they're destroyed for their wickedness.

Jacob subtly pitches a similar idea to his people (and, therefore, Joseph Smith subtly pitched the idea to his followers)--hold out, remain obedient, and one day everybody will know you were right, God will destroy them, and you will be rewarded.

But it's just a way to keep the people in line.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Name Removal Policy

I've been perusing the Church Handbook of Instructions for Bishops and Stake Presidents.  I've learned some interesting things about church policy.

Apparently, if you decide to have your name removed from the church records, it nullifies any baptism, priesthood or temple blessings you may have received.  That part makes sense.  But the bizarre part is that, according the Handbook of Instructions, if you rescind your request for name removal within thirty days, you can keep your membership, and, ostensibly, all the blessings you were this close to throwing away.  I guess everyone is entitled to a crisis of faith, so long as that crisis persists for an amount of time not exceeding one month.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2 Nephi 5: Beauty, Thy Name is Loathsomeness

In the wake of Lehi's lengthy demise, his family members are left with an important decision--do they follow the arrogant prick Nephi who's always telling everybody what to do, or do they follow the conniving Laman and Lemuel, who have recently and repeatedly attempted fratricide?  Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the fledgling American civilization splits into two factions.



Nephi Sets a Dangerous Precedent
It appears that the first tradition Nephi's half of the civilization inherits is his awful naming convention.  When Nephi and his righteous followers pack up and leave, they call themselves "The People of Nephi."  And when they find a new place to live, they decide to name that place--you guessed it--"Nephi."

This means that the people of Nephi live in Nephi while their leader, Nephi, makes a record of their civilization on two sets of plates, one called the Plates of Nephi and the other called the Plates of Nephi.  It's a miracle that when the Europeans moved onto the continent centuries later they didn't discover a civilization of millions of men named "Nephi."


Nephi Shows More Humility
In verse 18, Nephi mentions that this new society wanted him to be their king.  He, of course, in his infinite humility, declined.  

Nephi wasn't their king.  They only named themselves (verse 9) and their homeland (verse 8) after him, and he only taught them to build things (verse 15), took credit for things that he surely must have required their help to accomplish (verse 16), made sure they were well-armed (verse 14) and made sure they kept busy (verse 17).  But it's not like he was in charge or anything.  He was way too righteous and non-manipulative to want anything like power.  


The Book of Mormon is RACIST
Something I hadn't noticed before (or more likely had ignored and quickly read past) was the reason given for God's curse of dark skin upon the Evil Lamanites.  As stated in verse 21:
And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity.  For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
It looks like God wasn't too keen on his righteous clan getting it on with the unrighteous clan, so...he made their skin darker?  I can totally see why.  There's just something so...unenticing about dark skin:

Halle Berry—Bond girl, sex symbol

Beyonce Knowles—People magazine's most beautiful woman of 2012
Gabrielle Union—a personal favorite

And I can totally understand why, in verse 23, God warns the righteous (AKA "white and delightsome") people not to intermarry with  the unrighteous (AKA "dark and loathsome") people.  I mean, look what kind of monstrosity that could create:
Alicia Keys.  Your argument is invalid.
So it seems that, either God sucks at his job or perhaps Joseph Smith wrote a few of his own prejudices into the Book of Mormon.  Considering the popular concept of God includes things like omnipotence and infallibility, I think it's probably safe to say the Book of Mormon is just plain racist.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Baby Blessings

Baby blessings are weird.

They've always weirded me out.  When I was growing up I thought they seemed weird, but, like so many other times, I ignored what weirded me out in favor of focusing on how awesome being Mormon was because it was all true and shit.

And, like so many other times, I've realized from my new ex-Mormon perspective how close I was to really being onto something during my time as a faithful Mormon.  I thought baby blessings were weird, and I even occasionally managed to form coherent ideas in my mind about why they were weird...but I couldn't make that final jump between passively formulating the thought and actively latching onto the concept.

Friday, April 27, 2012

2 Nephi 4: Truth Table

The dying Lehi continues to give his extremely lengthy parting words to his children and grandchildren...only in this chapter, he finally gives up and dies.


Departing from the Way Ye Should Go
Lehi makes an interesting comment to Laman's children in verse 5:
I know that if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it.
This is either an acknowledgement of the brainwashing that would later become a trademark of the church based upon this book, or simply one of the dumbest things I've ever read.  For modernism's sake, let's review this in the current vernacular:
I know that if you're raised to be good, you will always be good.
Or, alternatively:
If you're brought up to be righteous, you will never stop being righteous.
Neither one of these versions sound intelligent, but I think they capture slightly different nuances of Lehi's claim.  And I mean that to demonstrate the fact that, from multiple angles, this is complete nonsense.

Lehi seems to think that people don't change.  Does this mean every apostate from a faithful family is faking it?  Is every apostate is a victim of poor parenting?  Or maybe it's just wishful thinking.

Or...maybe it's just some idiotic drivel made up by some con artist and paraded around as the word of God.


Ask Not Amiss
In verse 35, during what appears to be Nephi's pep talk to himself while he mourns his father's death, he makes this statement:
Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh.  Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss.
Interesting. This is a common practice in much of Christianity (and maybe other religions too) that always annoyed me.  There's this irritating tendency to cover all the bases.  It's like creating a truth table in which every cell evaluates to "THE CHURCH IS TRUE."
No matter what happens, there's always an explanation:  The Church Is True!
I suppose this means that, when I asked God if the Book of Mormon was true, I wasn't supposed to ask that?  According to Nephi, there can be no other explanation for the fact that I did not receive the confirmation I'd asked for.  But according to Moroni, I'm supposed to ask that when I read the book.

And so it came to pass that Nephi demonstrated that the Book of Mormon is not true, but is, instead, a tangled mess of self-contradictory balderdash.

Well done.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2 Nephi 3: Overestimation

Lehi now turns his attention to his youngest son, Joseph.  This chapter mentions four Josephs (apparently the writer of the Book of Mormon really liked the name):  the son of Lehi, Joseph of Egypt, Joseph Smith Jr. and Joseph Smith Sr.

Joseph Smith (Junior) apparently used this chapter to bolster his reputation by weaving in some hefty prophecies about himself.  Some of these prophecies are...problematic.


Joseph Overestimates Himself
In verse 7, Joseph of Egypt prophesies that Joseph Smith will be a "choice seer" of Joseph's descent who will be "highly esteemed" among Joseph's descendants.  Considering that the tribes of Israel have been scattered and it's difficult to know who is descended from which tribes (if any), this is a pretty useless statement to make.

Unless, of course, you go with the adoption principle the Church teaches, in which members are "grafted in" to the tree of Israel regardless of their ancestry and told which tribe they now belong to in their patriarchal blessings.  That would mean that being "highly esteemed" among Joseph's descendants would include being "highly esteemed" in the church.  But considering that Joseph of Egypt lived thousands of years ago, his descendants must be staggering in number, and the 26,000 members of the church at the time of Joseph Smith's death, even if they all loved him dearly, would only represent a negligible fraction of Joseph's seed.  And considering how many enemies Smith had, I don't think it's fair to say that there are very many people outside of his church who held him in high regard.

If you are highly esteemed by a tiny percentage of a group, is it accurate to say that you're highly esteemed by the group in general?

I guess it could be referring to the claim that Lehi was of the house of Joseph and so, therefore, are the Native Americans.  But where's all the love for Joseph Smith among the Native Americans?  Again, it seems to be a very small part of the group.


Joseph Overestimates the Book of Mormon
In verse 12, Joseph prophesies that the book of Judah's tribe (the Bible) and the book written by Joseph's seed (the Book of Mormon) will  "grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins."

The Bible and the Book of Mormon together have not confounded false doctrines or laid down contentions.  There's no obviously correct interpretation of scripture now that there are two testaments of Jesus Christ.  Doctrines still vary and continue to branch out, and the presence of the Book of Mormon has increased the amount of contention in the Christian world.

As far as peace among Joseph's descendants...if you go with the Lamanite interpretation of that phrase, then perhaps there's a certain level of peace among the Native Americans now...although there was plenty of strife and slaughter during Joseph Smith's lifetime and for decades after.  So there may be peace among the fruit of Joseph's loins, but it came after a long period of war and unrest.  If you interpret the phrase broadly, including every person on the planet who is descended from Joseph...who knows if there's peace?


Joseph Overestimates his Notability
In this chapter, Joseph Smith compares himself to Moses (verse 9:  "And he shall be great like unto Moses") and Joseph of Egypt (verse 15:  "And his name shall be called after me.... And he shall be like unto me...").

Talk about an ego.  I suppose it makes sense from a certain perspective--Smith needed his followers to think he was friggin' awesome.  So in his made-up scripture, he uses a familiar Biblical character to "prophesy" of his life and his awesomeness and to compare him to another revered Biblical character.  That makes it that much more difficult for one of Smith's followers to dare defy him or question his authority.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Assigned Seating

I had some very strange problems with my computers/internet connections--hence the week-and-a-half absence.  I wish I could return with something better.  Instead, I have another story about my past religion coming up at work.

That seems to be happening a lot more lately.

Anyway, one of the kids who works for me has mentioned that he goes to school with a Mormon kid.  I asked him the kid's name, and, sure enough, I recognized it.  It was a family that moved into my ward around the time I had begun to fully loathe attending.  They moved in probably a year before I left.  I don't think I ever had any direct interaction with the kid, but I could probably pick him out of a lineup.

So I asked my coworker if he'd ever mentioned anything about his Mormon boss to his Mormon friend.  He said he hadn't, and I asked him to keep it that way just in case word of the non-Mormon-approved things I do at work trickles back to my parents.

"No, I wouldn't say anything," he assured me.  "But how do you even know your parents know his parents?"

"Oh, they definitely do," I said.  "They go to the same church every Sunday."  Then I thought better of it.  "Well, maybe not, since they changed the boundaries of the congregations since I left, so it's possible they go to different places now, but they definitely know each other."

"Wait," the kid said.  "You're saying if you're Mormon you have to go to a specific church depending on what area you live in??"

He said it like it sounded crazy.  And I realized that it kind of does.  "Yeah, we used to go to the one in Place-town-ville-opolis every week when I was growing up."

"Place-town-ville-opolis?!  That's like twenty-five minutes away!"

"We averaged about nineteen minutes," I said.  "No traffic on Sunday mornings."

Yet another thing I'd never thought of before.  It is kind of weird to have your church assign you where to attend, isn't it?  I think the average religious person has his own set of beliefs, and he chooses which church to attend based on which one aligns the most with his beliefs and which one is the closest or easiest for him to get to every week.  But not Mormons.

Or maybe that's just the Protestant way.  It seems a little different for more organized religions like Catholicism.  And I don't know much about Islam, so it could be different for them too.  But it seems to me that a lot of the religious people I've known in my area attend where they please and switch congregations if they disagree with their pastor.

But you can't do that in Mormonism.  You go where you're told to go, and you believe what you're told to believe.  My dad and I used to home teach a former member of our ward who had been assigned to be the branch president of the teensy Boondock-stick-hickville-hamlet Branch.  Apparently the branch was in desperate need of leadership.  So he and his wife made the almost two-hour round trip out to that area several times a week.  But that's where they were assigned to attend (and to serve as leadership), so that's where they went.  At BYU, when I had a complete asshat as a bishop, I continued to attend that ward because that's where I was assigned to attend, even though I lived literally a hundred feet from about three other ward boundaries and attended sacrament meeting a few yards away from another ward's sacrament meeting.

And you can't leave a Mormon congregation based on doctrinal disputes because the church makes such an effort to have the same things taught in every unit.  If you think it's crazy that your bishop is teaching that masturbation makes you ineligible for temple blessings, it won't serve any purpose to attend a different congregation.  The other bishop probably teaches the same thing.  So if you find something you disagree with, you're left with the option of sticking it out while dismissing your doubts, sticking it out while acting pious, or leaving the church entirely.

And that doesn't seem right to me.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Defending the Church

At work the other night, a coworker and I were discussing our families--specifically, relationships that are strained because of some unspoken barrier.  She was using the example of her grandfather, who tended to neglect his family because of the influence of his second wife.  I used the example of my parents, whose interactions with me have been awkward over the past few years because I left the church.  She'd heard that I was Mormon before but we'd never directly discussed it.  Because it was the first time we'd talked about it, her curiosity got the best of her.

"So," she asked, "Does your dad have more than one wife?"