Friday, January 27, 2012

Temple Work

One of the things that takes place in the dozens of Mormon temples is baptism for the dead.  Members of the church in good standing are baptized in the place of deceased individuals who did not receive Mormon baptisms during their lifetimes.

The idea is that these people, in the afterlife, will be able to either accept or reject this baptism.  This way, people who didn't have the opportunity to be baptized into Mormonism in life can still get the eternal benefit of baptism after death.  This is a big part of why Mormons are often obsessed with genealogy.  The more they can uncover about their family history, the more names they can take to the temple for baptism. do they expect to give everyone the "opportunity" to accept baptism?  How do you save the billions upon billions of people from the last few millenia for whom there is no record of any kind?  Do you just start guessing names?  Or will there be some kind of final blanket baptism for "everybody we missed"?

The idea is kind of cool in theory, but it's laughably impractical.  Hundreds of thousands of Mormons are spending hours and hours digging up names and taking them to the temple despite the fact that there is hardly a chance in making a dent in the billions upon billions of the unsaved.  And they don't seem to feel like there's something inherently flawed in the logic.

And that doesn't seem right to me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fallibility of Local Leadership

Mormon bishops have a lot of responsibilities.  One of them is interviewing the members of their ward for things like temple recommends, church callings, ordainings and tithing settlements.  

But...they're not really that sharp when it comes to reading people.  At least, some of them aren't.  I'd be willing to bet that most of them are just as good at understanding people as the average person.  There seems to be no kind of extra perceptiveness that you'd think would come from the supposed revelation they get to perform their callings.

How is it that couples who have been sexually active still manage to get approval for temple marriages?  How do abusive husbands serve honorably in church callings?  How do impure young men become ordained as priests?  It always bugged me as a young man, that I lied in all my interviews about masturbation and not one of my bishops ever called me on it.  Why didn't they?  Because they didn't know.  They couldn't know--they actually weren't receiving the kind of revelation we all thought they were.

And it's not just bishops' failure to spot liars that bothers me.  At BYU, I once had an interview with a bishop who was concerned to know why I wasn't attending sacrament meeting.  I thought that was pretty odd, considering I'd attended every sacrament meeting except one early in the semester, during which I was at home, puking my guts out.  When I tried to explain that to him, he proceeded to analyze my behavior and my morality in the rudest way possible.  He asked me which commandments I resented following and told me what I needed to change.  His analysis was completely unfounded and entirely uncalled for.  It was one of the most appallingly insulting experiences of my life.

THAT guy didn't have a clue.  And yet, he served as a bishop who had been called by God to preside over my ward, and, of course, over me...something he did a very poor job with.

Of course, any Mormon worth his salt would immediately remind you that bishops are imperfect men serving in a calling.  They're just as prone to error as the rest of us.  But that argument doesn't hold a lot of water in my opinion.  It should only explain failings in the bishop's personal life.  What is the point of a God-ordained position with a few hundred souls in your charge if you have only your own, human wits about you to fill that position?  Shouldn't there be some added measure of ability or knowledge granted by God to allow you to perform His duties as he needs them done?  Doesn't God want to keep unworthy members from receiving the priesthood or entering the temple?

Because if that is what he wants, he's not getting it.  There's too many fallible bishops, branch presidents and stake presidents using their flawed human perception and reasoning to allow the unworthy to slip past their nets.

And that doesn't seem right to me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Church Leadership

I spent a few minutes on Wikipedia learning a little about the professional lives of the LDS First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  I realize Wikipedia is not a 100% reliable source, but it only gave me more details about things I'd already known...with the exception of the newer apostles, whose background I admittedly knew nothing about until today.  Here's what I found:

Thomas S. Monson, President
Monson has two business degrees, one from the University of Utah and the other from BYU.  He was a reasonably successful publisher, working in various positions for the Deseret News Publishing Company.  He has served on boards of directors for several different corporations.

Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor
Eyring studied at the University of Utah and has a doctorate in business administration from Harvard.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor
Uchtdorf was a successful pilot who eventually got a degree in business administration and became a senior vice president for Lufthansa Airlines, a position he held for almost fifteen years.

Boyd K. Packer
Packer studied at both BYU and the University of Utah and has a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and a doctorate degree.

L. Tom Perry
Perry graduated from Utah State University with a degree in business.

Russell M. Nelson
Nelson graduated from the University of Utah and the University of Minnesota and became an internationally-respected surgeon and medical administrator.

Dallin H. Oaks
Oaks studied accounting at BYU and law at the University of Chicago.  He was the chairman of the board of directors for both PBS and the Polynesian Cultural Center.  His notoriety mostly stems from his career as a lawyer and judge, including four years on the Utah Supreme Court.

M. Russell Ballard
Ballard attended the University of Utah and worked as a businessman in the automotive industry and the real estate industry.

Richard G. Scott
Scott received a degree in Mechanical Engineering from George Washington University and became a nuclear engineer.

Robert D. Hales
Hales graduated from the University of Utah and the Harvard Business School and served as a high-level executive for several different corporations.

Jeffrey R. Holland
Holland studied at both BYU and Yale.  He began a career in education, working in the Church Educational System and serving as the President of BYU for just short of ten years.

David A. Bednar
Bednar was educated at BYU and Purdue University.  He became a university professor and eventually worked his way up to the presidency at BYU-Idaho.

Quentin L. Cook
Cook graduated from the University of Utah and Stanford Law School and worked his way up through a coporate law firm to become a healthcare executive.

D. Todd Christofferson
Christofferson graduated from BYU and the Duke University School of Law before embarking on a successful career as a lawyer.

Neil L. Anderson
Anderson graduated from BYU and the Harvard Business School and became a vice president for a health network in Florida.

These are some very well-educated, well-connected men.  And I have a few interesting observations:

1.  All of the fifteen leaders listed above have at least one college degree.
2.  Eleven of them have two or more college degrees.  If you count Scott's doctorate work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for which he was not given a physical degree because his work was "classified," it would be twelve.
3.  Thirteen of them have a degree from a university located in Utah.  If you count Uchtdorf's honorary degree from BYU, it would be fourteen.
4.  All of them speak English, fourteen of them as their first language.
5.  All of them are white.

Mormonism prides itself in being a worldwide religion.  Mormon missionaries are in scores of countries carrying copies of the Book of Mormon in countless languages.  But the leadership is made up of white, English-speaking, highly-educated men, many of which have strong ties to the state of Utah.  That does not sound like an honest representation of the membership's demographics.

The makeup of the church's leadership also contradicts the church's claim that the Holy Ghost will reveal important gospel truths to anyone willing and worthy to hear them.  It looks more like if you're well-educated and successful, you'll be privy to religious truth.  Joseph Smith was a poorly-educated farm boy.  Jesus was a carpenter who picked a few humble fishermen to share his message with the world.  But we have surgeons, nuclear engineers, business executives and lawyers to share that message today.  Why?

I propose the next addition to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles should be a garbage collector.  Or a WalMart sales associate.  Or a pizza delivery guy.  According to church doctrine, they should have the same ability to receive revelation about the gospel.  Actually, they should have a greater ability to do so, considering how the Book of Mormon warns that education can lead to pride, which drives away the spirit.

So why does Mormonism need so much secular knowledge in its leadership?  Maybe because it's actually a secular organization.

And that doesn't seem right to me.

Spinning Joseph Smith's Death

To Mormons, Joseph Smith was a martyr.

The way the story was told to me in years and years of Sunday School was that he was being held in jail because closed-minded anti-Mormons hated him.  Then a mob ambushed him and his friends and martyred both he and his brother.  There are a few important details and relevant facts missing from this story.

First, there was never really an adequate description of why Smith was jailed.  But early church history is rife with stories of persecution, so when the Sunday School teachers told us he was unfairly jailed because people hated his guts, we believed it.  What we never heard about was Smith's violent attempt to quash the Nauvoo Expositor or the charges brought against him for polygamy and treason (among other things).

I can understand omitting that from the story.  If you're trying to convince someone that Joseph Smith is a hero and a martyr, then you might as well skip the parts that make him look bad.  Sure, you're putting a biased spin on the story, but at least you're doing it for an good reason.

Second, there was never a mention of the fact that Smith had a gun and that he used it to fight back.  I don't understand the omission of this because it doesn't make it look bad.  Sure, Joseph Smith had done some bad stuff, but he was in jail awaiting his trial, and everybody knew he was at risk for assassination.  So they smuggled a gun in so he could protect himself.  And when a bunch of guys tried to kill him, he defended himself.  There is nothing morally reprehensible about that.

Just in case someone misunderstands and thinks that he was a violent person, we're gonna skip the part about the gun?  The church is way too concerned with PR and goes so far as to nearly deify its founder in the process.  There's even a nice seminary video depicting Joseph's martyrdom and--gasp!--he is unarmed.  There is, however, lots of mournful music and soulful posing.

It's easier to see him as perfect, incorruptible, and heroic if he's the victim.  It's easier to see the mob as hateful, fearful, evil people if they kill him when he's unarmed.  It's easier to brainwash people into Smith's church if you spare them the whole truth and whitewash what's left.

And that doesn't seem right to me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Unpaid Lay Clergy

Mormonism is proud of its lay clergy.

I grew up thinking we were better than other religions because our leadership served for no monetary rewards. They sacrificed their time to help the church and its members.  Unlike the leadership from those other, bad religions, ours had pure motives.

At least, that's what I thought.

But we're also informed in Sunday School classes that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are given some kind of "living expenses" out of our tithing.  As usual, the church is somewhat vague on the specifics,  as they are with anything related to finances.  But the fact that the top church Leadership is paid isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Consider the positive and negative aspects of this:

Being a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, I would assume, is a job that has serious demands on your time.  So it makes sense that the Twelve would have trouble holding a day job like your local bishops and stake presidents do.  Especially considering all the world travelling they do.

On the other hand, the majority of General Authorities are of retirement age.  This frees up their time and eliminates some of their financial needs.  In that case, they should require little to no monetary compensation.  So the question becomes whether or not their "living expenses" amount to too much.  Are they being provided for comfortably or extravagantly?  Considering that the exact (or even approximate) sum of these living expenses are undisclosed, it's difficult to say.

It's also worth mentioning that many of the General Authorities have backgrounds in medicine, business or politics, and were very successful in their pre-calling professional lives.  It's a safe bet that they have better-than-average retirement plans.

Plenty of the General Authorities, especially those in the top tier, generate income by writing.  There is a steady, eager market for literature from Mormon celebrities and leadership figures.  A book from a member of the Twelve is a guaranteed seller.  For the Twelve, book income should be able to supplement retirement income very nicely.

So the way I see it, paying the Twelve any living expenses is probably unnecessary.  But more than that, it flies in the face of the popular Mormon understanding that "we're better than other religions because our clergy isn't paid."  If the top leadership of the church consists of successful retired men with plenty of their writings lining the shelves of Deseret Book, then they shouldn't need to be paid--especially considering the membership's assumption of superiority.

Lots of Mormons consider the structure of the church to be free of the corruption that has plagued other religions both past and present.  But perhaps Thomas S. Monson and his peers are getting rich from the church.  Maybe members' tithing goes to fuel the greed of the church's leadership.  Maybe Mormonism really isn't any better than other religions with paid clergy.  Maybe that's one more reason why the church keeps its finances private.

This, to me, is an example of common Mormon doublethink.  They're proud of their unpaid clergy, but they know that the top leadership--the people everyone listens to--get monetary gain from the church.  And publish books.  And were rich before they became apostles.  The pride they take in their leadership is contradictory.

Not only does this suggest that the church leadership is needlessly taking tithe payers' money for itself, but it also reflects the willful ignorance and senseless logic of the church membership.

That does not seem right to me.

Let's Kick Things Off

Three years ago, I left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

There are lots of things about Mormon doctrines, teachings, practices and culture that don't seem right to me.  I had plenty of those things in mind when I made the decision to leave the church.  But I began to realize, after leaving, that there were plenty of other things out there that, if I'd thought about them before, would probably have contributed to my exit.

Whenever someone asks me my opinions of the church, or why I left, I can think of a few examples off the top of my head, but I inevitably fall back on "there's just so much that I don't even know where to start."  This blog is intended to be a way for me to keep track of all these issues, problems, and concerns that I have with Mormonism as well as a way for me to reason them out in a lucid, coherent written format.  

Any discussion is welcome.