Saturday, March 31, 2012

What I Don't Miss from Mormonism

This would be the B-side to What I Miss from Mormonism.

This is also probably going to be a much more difficult post to write, only because there's so much to say and I'd like to keep it relatively brief.  You know, so people actually read the whole thing instead of giving up 4,000 words in.

So what is it that I've gained from escaping Mormonism?  What's better about life since I ceased attending?

Friday, March 30, 2012

1 Nephi 21: Under-Abridged

Oh, look...more Isaiah.  Nephi sure knows how to write a page-turner.

Anyway, take a look at the opening verse of this chapter:
And again:  Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel.  Listen, O isles, unto me, and hearken ye people from far; the Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
Now, let's take a look at the opening verse of Isaiah Chapter 49:
Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
Nephi-slash-Joseph felt it necessary to include a few extra lines in the beginning.  Mormon scholarship has explained that this was done to preserve the poetic form of chiasmus (which is helpfully diagrammed for us about three-quarters of the way down that page).  This is a thin explanation.

Nephi's supposed to be carving these words into metal plates.  It seems odd that he'd take great pains to preserve the poetic aspects of Isaiah, considering the extra part at the beginning doesn't really add much to the chapter.  But beyond that, Mormon went through all these records and made an abridgment of them later...which means that he also decided to include all the poetry.  Wouldn't it have made more sense, considering the limited amount of writing space and the laborious method of inscription, to have whittled the ideas down to the important parts before scratching them into the plates?

This is not strong evidence to support Mormon's aptitude or inspiration as an editor.  If Mormon had been given A Tale of Two Cities to abridge, would he have left the first paragraph as is?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
This is a well-known passage of literature.  However, if you were to regard it as scripture and consider it your task to record it for a future generation and be presented with space limitations and a time-consuming method of would you approach it?  You'd shave it down until you had the basic idea preserved as best you could in the fewest words.  Something like this:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  The period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Is it as good as the original?  No, of course not.  But considering the constraints we had to work within, it concisely stays true to the original work.  Mormon, that's how it's supposed to be done.

Joseph, stop adding extra stuff to try and make yourself look legit.

Nephi, quit quoting other people.  Try to be original.

And Isaiah...well, you're not under fire here.  You're fine the way you are.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Prophet of the Restoration: The New Version

So I finally got around to watching the updated version of the film Joseph Smith:  Prophet of the Restoration.  I shared my thoughts on the first version here (and also on Main Street Plaza, which also contains the YouTube videos.)

The second version is, surprisingly, much better, both as a film and as a missionary tool.  It stands on its own much more strongly than the original, and even some of the problems that I had with the original were patched.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

1 Nephi 20: Commercial Break

Then, suddenly, without warning or explanation, ISAIAH.

Nephi spends this entire chapter quoting Isaiah Chapter 48, although he makes a few changes to the wording.  The basic idea is that Israel is chosen, and it's had some rough times, but that's helped make it better (refined in the furnace of affliction).

I imagine Joseph Smith included this to give his claims more credibility.  Of course it's a true Christian faith--look, it quotes the Bible!  If that's not proof that the two books come from exactly the same source, what is?  Never mind that it seems that Nephi didn't need to record any of the Old Testament for us (Joseph Smith:  A Master of Textual Efficiency).

It's also possible that he temporarily ran out of ideas.  The Isaiah-quoting passages are pretty much filler anyway.  Maybe he was just buying time while he thought of an interesting direction for the story to take now that the big journey to the promised land is over with.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What I Miss From Mormonism

Andrew's recent post at Irresistible Disgrace got me thinking.  In his words, "What did I lose from ceasing activity with the church?"

What did I lose?  What do I miss?

Monday, March 26, 2012

1 Nephi 19: The Likening

Nephi and his family have reached the promised land successfully.  Nephi sets out to make a second set of plates to record secular things, and then he follows that explanation with a lengthy testimony about the coming of Christ.

Paving the Way for Non-Linear Narrative
Either Nephi was a bad writer, or he thought it was appropriate to do some experimentation with literary technique in his sacred history.  The first few verses of this chapter make it sound like he had mostly been making a journal on his first set of plates, but when he arrived in the promised land, he was commanded to make an alternate set of plates for recording sacred things.

This is something that he told us in Chapter 9.  But what he didn't explain in Chapter 9 was when he made each set of plates.  This makes it pretty confusing when you get to Chapter 19, because he describes making plates again.  For a minute it looks like he's making a third set of plates and then playing a shell game with them to see if you're paying attention to which one is the set of plates you're actually reading in translated, printed form.

Apparently, instead, he was just pioneering the non-linear narrative form, many centuries before William Faulkner or Christopher Nolan employed it in a much more notable fashion.

Likening the Scriptures
Chapter 19 contains another scripture mastery, verse 23:
And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.
Well, let's take a page out of Nephi's book (Get it?!) and see what his words have for us to liken.  This is what we can learn from Nephi's scriptures:

1.  A little conversational misdirection can convince people to follow your idiotic whims.
2.  Killing people is totally fine, even if there's a better way to get things done.
3.  Being an uppity prick is okay if you're destined to be a ruler over your brethren.
4.  Specificity is less desirable than ego.
5.  Being really, really righteous and virtuous and awesome can give you superpowers.
6.  God will send an angel, send a storm, or zap you to let you know you're being dumb.

Wow, Nephi.  Thanks a bunch.  That's a lot of useful information.  I can't wait to liken the next two hundred twenty chapters to myself for my profit and learning.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Musical Brainwashing

The children's songs that I learned in church as a kid make me sick.  There's really no better way to say that.  They disgust me.  They're nausea-inducing.  They're horrible.  Why?  Because they're such an important part of the church's brainwashing campaign.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

1 Nephi 18: The Poseidon Adventure

Nephi and his family have now finished building their boat and they set out on the sea, trusting God and his Liahona to guide them to a promised land.  Then apparently all the sinners on board (which appears to be everyone except Lehi, Sariah, Nephi and Sam...and the two little kids) party too hard, get wasted, and run their mouths.  Nephi tells them to settle down so they don't piss God off...and, big surprise, they tie Nephi up.  Then they hit the perfect storm.

Since When is God This Direct?
After four days being tossed around on the waves, the sinners come to their senses and untie Nephi.  Then the sea becomes calm, the Liahona--which had stopped working--returns to its creepy function, and everything is peachy-keen.

There are plenty of times in the Bible when God has taught someone a dramatic lesson.  Abraham had to prove his obedience by being willing to sacrifice Isaac.  Jesus appeared to the anti-Christian Paul, rebukes him for "kicking against the pricks," and strikes him blind.  God set ten full-blown plagues on the Egyptians.  There are many other examples of this.  But these examples all seem to be mostly episodic and on a one-per-customer basis.  Even in the case of the Egyptian plagues, they all went to serve the same purpose--convincing Ramses to free the Israelites.

 But Nephi's idiotic family gets a whole bunch of direct dramatic intervention when God wants to teach them a lesson.  So far they've been chewed out by an angel, zapped by the power of God, and now they're living the Poseidon Adventure with a faith-powered compass that no longer works.

When has God ever been this direct in his discipline of the same people over and over again?  That sounds less like the behavior of the Biblical god and more like the behavior of a god that was utilized as a character in Joseph Smith's novel about as accurately as General Custer was portrayed in Night at the Museum 2:  Battle of the Smithsonian.  At best, it's a caricature of a familiar figure.  

I'm not sure why that was the best comparison that popped into my head, but I think it's a valid one.

Mimicking the Bible
Joseph Smith had several tactics to lend credence to his claim that the Book of Mormon was an ancient record to be regarded as divinely inspired scripture.  A lot of these tactics, however, fall back on making it sound as similar as possible to more widely accepted scripture--the Bible.

Smith used the language of the Bible as best he could.  He matched his stories against the Bible's timeline.  His characters reference the Bible or teach identical doctrines from the Bible.  And he quotes the Bible extensively, the most prominent examples being the Isaiah sections of Second Nephi and the Sermon on the Mount:  Alternate Camera Angle in Third Nephi.

But a little more subtle than all that is the miracle of Nephi and the tempest.  Nephi's brothers had him tied up and their ship became the focal point of a massive storm.  It was only when they decided to free their brother that the seas became calm again.  This has some strong similarities with the Old Testament story of Jonah and some similar thematic elements to the New Testament story of Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee.

Perhaps Joseph used a similar miracle in his story because of Christianity's familiarity with the whole storm-becomes-calm-sea thing.  It feels Biblical, so maybe he hoped people would believe that it came from the same source.  Either that, or he just wasn't very creative.  Both are acceptable explanations in my eyes.

They're Not Horses, They're Unicorns
When Nephi and his family reach the promised land (the land of the free and the home of the brave), he describes the "abundance" of their new home.  The seeds they plant grow well, there's plenty of raw materials for them to build with, and there's plenty of wildlife:  cows, oxen, goats, horses--

Wait, horses?

Horses were brought to the Americas by the Europeans.  They didn't exist on the continent prior to that.  This is a well-researched fact.  It's not exactly an earth-shattering discovery, but it bears mentioning.  I know there are plenty of other anachronisms like this in the Book of Mormon, but this is one that's obvious enough for me to catch.  And I don't know a whole lot about what plants and what animals come from where.

I'm pretty sure God knows that Europeans introduced horses to the American continent.  But I have a feeling Joseph Smith was under the impression that they'd always been here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Leaders and Legacies

The different approaches that each prophet took to leading the church confused me when I was a kid.

There were three relevant facts that I knew to be true:
1.  The Prophet was God's mouthpiece
2.  God is the same yesterday, today and forever
3.  When the Prophet dies, the next senior apostle will become the next Prophet

Thursday, March 22, 2012

1 Nephi 17: More Sibling Rivalry

God commands Nephi to build a boat so that his family can sail to America.  Nephi gets to work on it, his brothers make fun of him for it and whine some more about being stuck in the wilderness, and Nephi gets preachy on them again.  This all feels very familiar.

Bruce Banner Can Trace His Genealogy Back to Nephi
When Nephi's brothers get mad at him for telling them they'll probably go to hell (what an uppity prick), he pretty much hulks out by the power of God:
In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God, even unto the consuming of my flesh; and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed; and he shall be as naught before the power of God, for God shall smite him.
Um, okay.  I've never heard of somebody being so overcome with righteousness that they become lethal to the touch.  I kind of half expect him to turn green or maybe burst into flames or suddenly develop the ability to fly.  It sounds about as absurd as a superhero story.

Why Do Laman and Lemuel Have to Help?
Nephi seems annoyed that Laman and Lemuel don't want to help him in his endeavor to construct a ship out of nothing but raw materials.  He mentions it twice.  I don't know why he's so annoyed.

God called him into the mountain and personally told him to build a boat.  God didn't tell him he had to make his brothers help.

God also didn't give Nephi a deadline.  It's not like there's any rush.

Laman and Lemuel aren't exactly trustworthy.  I'd worry that one of them was going to accidentally-on-purpose sabotage the boat.  Or maybe give it a flaw just bad enough that it springs a leak a few hundred yards out to sea and everybody has to swim back to shore and start all over again.

Nephi was probably better off building the damn thing himself, especially in his own eyes.  Since he's so awesome and righteous and a future king over his brethren and recently filled with the power of God unto the consuming of his flesh...he's pretty much the greatest person on the planet.  That guy needs no help.  He doesn't seem like the type to want any, either.

A Supposedly Omniscient God Fails To See Something Coming
Following Nephi's Touch Me Not speech, God decides to teach Laman and Lemuel a little lesson.  In verse 53 he tells Nephi:
Stretch forth thine hand again unto thy brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock them, saith the Lord, and this will I do, that they may know that I am the Lord their God.
Not really an intelligent idea to begin with.  If a direct angelic messenger (see Living in Little Brother's Shadow) isn't going to convince them of the power of God, I don't think a little shock (or "[causing] to shake or tremble" as the footnote says) is going to do the trick.  At least with an angel it's pretty obvious that its origin is heavenly, but here it sounds like Laman and Lemuel are simply going to regret eating that extra bean burrito.  A little tremor isn't necessarily a sign from God.

But Nephi obediently stretches forth his hand and zaps Laman and Lemuel.  In a bizarre twist of events, they're totally convinced that Nephi has the power of God (because that makes sense).  And then they start to worship him.  And by "him" I mean "Nephi."

What did God say?  "That they may know that I am the Lord their God."

I don't think it worked.  Because they're worshiping the wrong guy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mormon Young Women are Useless

The LDS church receives a lot of flak for its treatment of women.  Critics claim that women are treated as inferior than men and forced into an old-fashioned gender role.  The church's supporters usually emphasize that women have a role that is of equal or greater importance than men's roles--that bearing and nurturing children is a divine calling and that women are to be honored and respected.  The general understanding in the church is that women bear children and men can hold the priesthood, so nobody should be considered unimportant.

So I thought back to my time in the Aaronic Priesthood and I realized that the girls my age had been pretty useless as far as their role in the religious tapestry goes.  While the guys were blessing and passing the sacrament, home teaching and exercising the priesthood in our leadership positions, the girls were...wait, what were the girls doing?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

1 Nephi 16: Desert Fever

Nephi faces several challenges in Chapter 16.  First, he's still trying to teach his hardheaded brothers about God and God's plan and the dream of the Tree of Life.  Second, his family begins to travel through the desert some more.  Third, Nephi breaks his bow and needs a new one to hunt for food for his family.  It's just a rough week for him, I guess.

Hard Truth
When Laman and Lemuel struggle to accept the things that Nephi tells them, Nephi responds with this:  "The guilty take the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center."

This scripture is commonly cited to explain away apostates or nonbelievers.  The idea is that they must have some sin in their lives that makes it uncomfortable to accept the truth of the gospel.  What Nephi said is actually true in some situations, but the church uses it frequently and poorly as a dismissive assessment of other people's states of mind.

My corollary?  "Those who think for themselves take what fallaciously claims to be truth to be flawed, for it ignoreth reason and encourageth blind faith."

Okay, I guess Nephi's has a better ring to it.

Marrying an Entire Family
Nephi marries a daughter of Ishmael.  Nephi's brothers marry daughters of Ishmael.  Zoram marries a daughter of Ishmael.  I wonder if it was like picking teams on the playground.  Zoram wasn't even family, so he didn't really get to choose a wife--he was stuck with whoever was left. Poor Zoram.

Seriously, though, it seems pretty weird that there are five women and five men and they decide to go ahead and marry each other.  I realize that they're going to wind up populating a continent and all, but I don't think I  would have gone along with that.  What are the odds that these five couples would actually get along?  And what about Nephi's sisters?  Are they just going to have to remain celibate for the rest of their lives?  Why not run back to Jerusalem really quick and grab a family that has a couple of eligible bachelors?

This isn't strong evidence that the Book of Mormon isn't true, of course, but it's definitely strong evidence that the Book of Mormon is freakin' weird.

The Magical, Mystical Liahona
The Liahona.  What a weird little spherical device.  It's reminiscent of Jack Sparrow's compass in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  It supernaturally guides Nephi's family to what they desire most--or, more accurately, to what God desires for them.  It also seems to have writing that appears on the sides to tell them what to do.  Its origins are unknown, its design is confusingly conveyed, and its functionality appears to be vast.

The Liahona, to me, is yet another attempt of Smith's to assert the validity of the Book of Mormon by filling it with visions and miracles.  A strange ball of curious workmanship that works based on your level of faith!  That must have come from God!

What's the Deal with that Bow?
Nephi's steel bow breaks and suddenly he can't hunt food for his family.  Everyone fears that they'll starve to death in the wilderness.  Even his brothers' bows had "lost their springs...insomuch that [they] could obtain no food."

So Nephi takes matters into his own hands, makes a new bow out of wood, and then follows the Liahona to where he can find food.  But he says he takes a sling and stones with him too.  In fact, he says earlier, in verse 15 that they've been "slaying food" the whole time not only with bows and arrows but also with stones and slings.

So what was the big deal with breaking the bow?  It seems like they'd had a viable alternative to a bow and arrow all along.  And then it appears that the Liahona solves a different problem--where to go to find the food.  Was the problem that they couldn't kill it or that they couldn't find it?  Make up your mind!

A Snapshot of Early Mormonism
Take a look at verse 38, in which Laman (apparently acting on his own for once!) accuses Nephi of making everything up and manipulating them:
Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies to us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure.  And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.
This may be the only time during which Joseph Smith actually appears to be prophetic.  Take everything that was said here about Nephi and apply it to the early church.  Joseph and his leadership lied and worked many things by his cunning arts to deceive his followers.  Then his successor, Brigham Young, led them away into some strange wilderness (Utah), where he made himself a king (governor) and ruler (president of the church) over them, so that he could do with them (marry their women) according to his will and pleasure.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

1 Nephi 15: A Character Study

In this chapter, Nephi explains life, the universe and everything (or maybe just the tree of life, the future of the world, and Lehi's vision) to his older brothers, Laman and Lemuel.  Some of it is repeated information from the last few chapters, and I think that gives me a good enough excuse to ignore all that stuff for now and just focus on Laman and Lemuel.  Laman and Lemuel make no sense whatsoever. Let me explain why.

First, they have no identity from each other.  We know Laman is the older of the two.  That's about it.  They seem to act mostly (but not always) as a single unit.  They change their minds about whether or not they believe the religious preaching of Lehi and Nephi at the same times.  They abuse or attempt to kill their brother at the same times.  Not once does Lemuel tie Nephi up and Laman plead for his release.  They act in unison.  They probably braided each other's hair too.

Second, I have never met a single person who is quite so fickle as these two clowns are.  Let's run through their waffling so far:

  1. Laman and Lemuel beat up Sam and Nephi for nearly getting everyone killed trying to get the plates from Laban.
  2. A freaking angel of God appears and tells them to cut it out.  They cut it out.
  3. After retrieving Ishmael's family from Jerusalem, Laman and Lemuel rebel against Nephi and tie him up with the intent of leaving him to die.
  4. After Nephi escapes his bonds, Laman and Lemuel are apologetic and even go so far as to pray to God for forgiveness.

They change their minds all the time.  And when they do, Nephi usually swears by it.  He calls them "humbled" or something to indicate that, yeah, that sudden conversion was for real.  Even though they were murderously angry a few verses ago, now they're true-believers.

Their waffling continues when, in chapter 15, Laman and Lemuel say they haven't prayed for understanding of Lehi's dream because God doesn't talk to them.  Nephi then goes off on a rant about how hardhearted they are and apparently he explained just about everything to them.  Their response?

These two guys who have beaten Nephi up, tried to kill him, and will later try to kill him again, start asking questions about Lehi's vision.  And not just basic questions like "What does the iron rod represent?"  They ask perceptive questions, too, such as verse 31, which is along the lines of:  "You said the chasm between the righteous and the wicked represents hell...does that refer to temporal suffering in this life or does it refer to the suffering of the soul after death?"

That's kind of weird.  They're asking detailed doctrinal questions like that when their only apparent motives so far have been:

  1. Stay in Jerusalem because home is awesome.
  2. Don't get killed.
  3. Get Nephi to shut the hell up.

They don't care about their dad's visions or their uppity younger brother's soapbox.  They don't think Jerusalem is going to be destroyed and they don't want to wander around in the desert for years.  Considering their desires and concerns are almost entirely about whether they'll be able to chill at home not giving a crap about anything, why would we believe that these two are busting out with the Sunday-School-discussion-generating questions?

So, to summarize:  Laman and Lemuel are interchangeable, unrealistically fickle, and do things that aren't supported by any of their motivations.  That, to me, is plenty of support for the theory that they are not, in fact, historical figures.  They are poorly written one-dimensional fictional characters.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration

For kicks, I decided to pass the time during my lazy, uneventful day off by watching Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration, a church-sponsored film about the life of Joseph Smith.  I found it on YouTube, split into five pieces, each with a description of the video containing a claim that it was a "documentary film."  And as I watched, I noticed lots of things that seemed...wrong.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

President Thomas S. Orwell?

I stumbled across this issue while browsing this thread over at the message boards.

Apparently, the LDS church is denying the doctrine of eternal progression.  It claims that the belief that when we are given salvation in the celestial kingdom of heaven we become gods and rule over our own spirit children and our own planets is a "misunderstanding" that is "misrepresented by those who caricature the faith."

Wait, what?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

1 Nephi 14: So Much Logic

Chapter 14 continues, unsurprisingly, with Nephi's vision. He still has an angel on his shoulder to direct his attention and explain what he sees.

Us versus Them
Among the things the angel tells Nephi about the world after the Gentiles come in and take over the land of Nephi's descendants is this little gem (verse 10):
Behold, there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.
So despite what many LDS members will tell you about how lots of churches are good because they have some truth but Mormonism is the only true church because it has all the truth, their own book of scripture dictates otherwise: If you're not in God's true church, you're in the abominable church. You know, the one that's the whore of all the earth and stuff.

This verse also helps bolster the church's sense of superiority and its unspoken but pervasive "us versus them" mentality...the mentality in which the word "them" means "the entire world."

Joseph Smith: A Master of Textual Efficiency
Nephi wants us to believe that his vision was so sweeping, so comprehensive, so intense and so freaking epic that it included much more than what he could describe in three chapters. So he makes the comment that he would have written more, except that part of his vision included John, who was the one who was supposed to write the parts about the end of the world. I find two things about this amusing.

1. The angel says that when John wrote his books, they were "plain and pure" and "easy to the understanding of all men." This appears to be an acknowledgement to claims made in the previous chapter (amid the madness of the Chiasmic Chaos) that early agents of the great and abominable church had altered the Bible and taken out many important doctrines (I mean...plain and precious truths). Which means that the angel is telling Nephi not to write down what he's seeing because someone else will write it down, only for it to be changed so that nobody can understand it. What's the point of that? The Book of Mormon purports itself as another testament of Jesus Christ, untainted by man's meddling, containing correct doctrine. Why not have Nephi write this stuff down so that when the Book of Mormon is revealed it can clarify some of the confusing things found in the sabotaged books of John?

2. If it wasn't necessary for Nephi to make a record of the entirety of his vision because someone else would cover that subject, why didn't that stop Nephi from quoting huge chunks of Isaiah later on? Why, when Mormon was abridging centuries of religious texts into one record for Joseph Smith to discover, was he not prevented from repeating the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Third Nephi? Somebody already wrote that stuff down!

Good job, Joseph. In one chapter, you've made Nephi, an angel, and God all look like idiots. Unless, of course, you just made the whole thing up.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Taxes and Missionaries

I was talking with my family tonight about tax season.  My sister had finally decided to get her taxes done professionally, because for the first time in her life, she'd had a very complicated year as far as taxes go.  She'd gotten married and her husband recently quit his job in another state and started his own business in this state, and the whole thing was confusing enough that she figured it might be better to have a professional sort it all out for her.

My dad said that he'd heard that a nearby university was offering its accounting students as volunteers to give people free advice about filing their tax returns.  He chuckled and said, "I'd rather pay for a professional to do it than take the advice of some 20-year-old kid who's halfway through his accounting program!"

My immediate thought (which I did not share with my Mormon family) was, "So...why do you support the church's missionary program then?"

The point of his comment was, of course, that you shouldn't put your trust in someone who's not completely qualified, especially someone young and inexperienced.  But as a bishop and a stake president, my dad has sent dozens of missionaries out into the field.  Missionaries who teach about the plan of happiness and eternal marriage...but who've never been married themselves.  How could they be considered qualified to preach about sacred ordinances if they haven't quite achieved all of them?

Nineteen years old is a horrible time to send out a missionary.  This is the time when most kids are adjusting to life after high school, discovering their identities, and seeing the real world outside of their parents' direct care and protection.  But the church plucks these kids up and sends them out to preach to the world before they've really had a chance to experience the world.  And instead of discovering their identities, the missionaries discover the church and substitute it for an identity.  I'm sure most missionaries--especially the ones that were born and raised in the church--have little understanding of the struggles some of their investigators have, but they boldly go door to door proclaiming that they have the solutions.

If you won't trust your tax return to a partially-trained 20-year-old, why would you trust your eternal salvation to a partially-trained 20-year-old?  Mormonism expects you to.

And that doesn't seem right to me.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dismissing the Possibility of Doubt

I've noticed a pattern.

This is not any official church doctrine or even any unofficial church folklore.  It's just an annoying habit that seems to be a frequent result from the Mormon mindset.

It seems that Mormonism teaches people to push doubts aside and ignore them entirely.  I'm not talking about cognitive dissonance or confirmation bias (which are also big problems), I'm talking about something that seems more akin to selective hearing.

I've noticed this lately in internet discussions and realized that I've come across it before.  On YouTube, TBMs commenting on exmo videos tend to get annoyed and exclaim vaguely that the truth has been twisted and distorted.  When asked to provide specific examples, the vague exclamation is repeated without ever addressing an issue in detail.

It reminds me of the conversations I had with my father when I told him that I was leaving the church.  I told him that I'd prayed about the Book of Mormon many times and never received the confirmation that I sought.

And he'd stare at me with that pained look in his eye, and say, "But why do you want to leave the church?"

"Because I don't think I ever really believed it," I told him.  "After giving up on Moroni's promise, I looked back at some of the church doctrines and I realized I had a problem with some of them.  I've never found a good reason for why the church banned blacks from holding the priesthood, and even the stuff with polygamy way back when seems pretty fishy."

And he'd look at me sadly and say, "But you haven't told me why."

Yes I did.  How did he not hear what I just said?  I just gave him three reasons why I left, and he still seemed to think that I hadn't provided any kind of explanation.

My mother had a similar reaction when she asked me why I wasn't going on a mission.  I told her I didn't want to.  She didn't try to address any specific concerns of mine...she just asked me how I couldn't want to.

Acknowledging the possibility of disbelief is put aside in favor of incredulity.  How can you not believe?  They're too bent out of shape over the impossibility of apostasy to worry about the reasoning.  They don't want to hear the reasoning.  They just want to hear the opposite of what they just heard.

I guess this is the mentality that leads to the simplistic dismissal of the apostate's reasoning, once it's been accepted that the apostate is actually doing the impossible.  When they realize that someone can seriously decide to not believe in the church anymore, they begin writing that person's decision off as trivial--you left because you couldn't live the standards, you left because someone offended you, or you left because you wanted the freedom to sin.

From the beginning to the end of the process of apostasy, all an upstanding member of the church can do is assume that it's impossible to want to leave and if it is possible, it can't be because of doctrinal flaws.

And that doesn't seem right to me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

1 Nephi 13: Delusionist History

But Seriously...We Don't Hate the Catholics
In this chapter, we hit the first mention of the "great and abominable church." It claims that this church is "abominable above all other churches," that one of its chief motivations is riches and that it's formed following Christ's death. Historical clues might lead you to believe that this refers to the Catholic church, but I was taught in seminary that it's not referring to any specific church. The great and abominable church represents any and all churches that preach falsehood, persecute the LDS, or have impure motives. So really, Mormons don't dislike Catholics any more than any other church, since they all contain the incomplete gospel and preach falsehoods.

Ironically, however, the Mormon church preaches falsehood, persecutes its own members and has impure motives.

The Divinely-Inspired Mistake
Take a look at verse 12:
And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.
That's saying that Christopher Columbus was inspired by the Holy Ghost to discover the Americas. Interesting, because later on in the Book of Mormon, Moroni tells us that "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." Except, it would appear, in Columbus' case, when the Spirit inspired him with a little white lie ("There's a shortcut to India if you sail west!").

Genocide is Just Another Word for the Wrath of God
Verse 14:
And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.
Oh, so all the atrocities committed by the Europeans against the Native Americans are cool because it was just God getting his vengeance against the Lamanites for wiping out the pretty white Nephites. Joseph Smith's alternate history of the early Americas seems more and more to be simply an excuse for hating the Native Americans.

And if the Lamanites wiped out the Nephites a little after 400 AD, why would God wait more than a thousand years to punish them for it? It's not like any of the actual perpetrators of the crime were still alive.

Chiasmic Chaos
See if you can follow verse 29:
And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yeah, even across the many waters which thou has seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest--because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is the Lamb of God--because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.
That's a lot of repetition, and it sounds to me like Joseph Smith is trying a little too hard to use chiasmus to bolster the historical accuracy of his writing. Only it doesn't break down like chiasmus at all. It doesn't work out to any kind of symmetrical construct. Instead, it goes deeper and deeper into a more complicated structure that never gets back to the first phrase to resolve itself.

Instead of going so far out of his way to try and create some convoluted parallelism to support his claim of the Book of Mormon's historical legitimacy, Smith probably could have just written the verse in a more straightforward fashion and avoided suspicions that the Book was simply written by a bad writer trying to recapture the style of the Bible:
And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.
There. That makes the same point that verse 29 made, only in less than half the time and without the confusion. And it illustrates more evidence that the Book of Mormon was poorly written instead of divinely inspired.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Gift of the Gospel

About halfway through my sixth grade year, my English teacher got married.  The other teachers organized a little party for her during the school day.  Many of the students brought small gifts for her.  I wasn't going to bring a gift.  I had no idea what a newly-married schoolteacher would want.  But my dad had a brilliant idea--I should get her a copy of the Book of Mormon.

I was pretty uncomfortable with this idea.  But it's not like I could say no to spreading the word of the gospel.  That was supposed to be one of my primary objectives as a good Mormon boy.  Besides, if I was expecting to serve a mission someday, I'd need to get comfortable with the idea of sharing the truth with the world around me.  So I dutifully wrapped up one of those cheap paperback copies of the book and brought it to school with me.

I was really nervous about giving it to her.  I put the book on the table with the other gifts and walked away.  

A few days later, after my teacher had taken all her gifts home to her husband and opened them, she thanked me for it.  But it was not sincere gratitude.  It was a forced attempt to be gracious.  It was delivered in awkward, tight-lipped speech that made me think it had pissed her off but she was struggling to be polite nonetheless.  I was embarrassed.

In the years following, I occasionally fantasized that someday when she was at a low point in her life, she'd find that Book of Mormon in some box in the attic, read it, and let it change her life for the better.  And I dreamed that she'd credit me with her membership in the church and her eventual eternal salvation.  

From my new perspective, I feel even more embarrassed about what I did.  At the time, I thought I was being selfless by sharing the source of my happiness with her.  But now I realize that I was being selfish by taking a celebration about her and turning into a marketing platform about me.  A box of chocolates would have been a much more appropriate gift.  The other small issue is that I wasn't happy but I was still trying to share the source of that not-being-happy-ness like it was something special.  Because that's what I was supposed to do.

And that doesn't seem right to me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

1 Nephi 12: Generalized Characterization

Joseph Smith Doesn't Know People
In Nephi's sweeping vision of the future of his posterity on the American continent, there's this little part about how Jesus comes down and visits his descendants (I'll get to that, Third Nephi later). And then Nephi says that after Jesus visits the people and establishes church leadership (twelve apostles), three generations "pass away in righteousness." This is simply impossible.

Come on. It's a full-blown society that's been thriving and growing on the continent for six hundred years, so there's thousands upon thousands of people (minus the deaths from the catastrophes signalling Jesus' crucifixion). And those people, who are all converted upon Jesus's arrival, later have grandchildren who don't depart from the beliefs of their elders? No dissent whatsoever until the fourth generation?

Human nature, pal. Maybe the majority will stick with the status quo, but there's always those people that want to be different, or want to rebel, or need to question what they've been taught. Unless Jesus is there to reign personally (which, of course, he wasn't), I don't think you're going to get three solid generations of righteous believers. That's just silly. It sounds like a happily-ever-after-fairy tale in which everything is an extreme--the female lead is the most beautiful, the male lead is the most honorable, the antagonist is pure evil, and everything else is appropriately exaggerated.

Hey, Look! Racism!
You know it's not real Mormonism until you're quashing the status of a supposedly inferior group of people! In Nephi's future-vision, he witnesses his descendants get wiped out by the descendants of his brothers (Laman and Lemuel, the non-believers). And then, after all the Nephites have been eradicated, Nephi witnesses the Lamanites become "a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations." So, from this Book of Mormon passage, we learn that Native Americans are, in fact, filthy, loathsome and abominable. Nice.

Because the white guys that came by several hundred years later, kicked them out of their homes, tricked them into signing treaties, gave them small pox and slaughtered them...those guys weren't loathsome at all.

On a related note--weren't the people in Joseph Smith's day a little less enlightened than we are about racial issues and the equality of people as human beings and stuff? Wasn't it normal to consider the Native Americans to be savages, second class citizens, or a lower form of humanity? I'm sure saying bad stuff about the Native Americans didn't create too many waves back then, but considering Mormons believe in a god who loves all his children, that kind of bigotry just doesn't seem to jive with the church's modern image. It's like the religion is founded by a book that was entirely fabricated in the mid-nineteenth century or something.

...Also, More Visions.
The Book of Mormon is like Inception. When you're watching Inception, you're trying to figure out how much of the movie is actually happening in real-time, how much of it is a flashback, and how much of it is a dream or a dream within a dream.

When you're reading the Book of Mormon, you're trying to figure out how much of the book is actually happening in real-time, how much of it is an editor's note by Mormon, and how much of it is a vision or a vision about someone else's earlier vision.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gay People Aren't Poisonous

Gay people are poisonous.

At least that's what I used to believe.  As a teenager in the Mormon church, I was kind of scared of gays.  Not in the "them homosexuals is ruinin' our family values, get the shotgun mama," kind of way, but more in the "these people are weird and there's something wrong with them" kind of way.  I was scared to associate with them because it felt like associating with a drug dealer--why get that close to something that's so wrong?  I didn't want to endanger my own worthiness.

The way it was taught to me, homosexuality was an aberrant behavior that some people participated in.  They weren't born that way, it was something that they did.  Homosexuality was a sin, and these people needed to repent and marry women and have kids like normal people.

When I was sixteen, I met my first gay guy.  Or, to be more accurate, I met the first person who was comfortable enough with himself to let it be public knowledge that he was gay.  He worked with me at a fast food joint, and he was a crazy, crazy kid.  Always goofing off, singing popular songs, being loud.  Most people liked him because his antics were entertaining and harmless.  I didn't really know how to act around him.  I didn't necessarily dislike him, but his gayness and his stereotypical "gay lisp" (if you can call it that) and his general friendliness gave me the creeps. He didn't hit on me, though, so I mostly got along with him just fine.  But I was really worried whenever we interacted that he was going to start hitting on me.

A few months after he left the job, another gay guy joined our ranks.  He was much more in-your-face about his sexual orientation to the point of being proud of it.  He had a bumper sticker on his car that read There's a party in my mouth and you're cumming.  It made me sick.   I hated him a little for that public, crude display of his immoral lifestyle.  He was a nice guy, though.  He wasn't as popular as the first one, but he was friendly and easy to talk to...when I wasn't worried about him hitting on me.  He used to complain a lot that his mother in particular didn't understand or approve of his sexuality.  I thought he was stupid.  If it caused so much family strife, why did he keep being gay?  It didn't make any sense to me.

Sometime after this, I had a shocking revelation on the subject of homosexuality.  I was involved in a debate in an online forum (for something totally unrelated to any of this) which discussed homosexuality.  A gay poster was expressing disbelief that people could actually consider homosexuality a choice.  He cited his own life as an example, saying that nobody would choose to be gay because of the family problems and societal prejudices they'd have to deal with.  I suggested the only remaining argument that made any sense to me--that homosexuals subconsciously chose to be gay, if only to establish some kind of individuality.  I think I went so far as to compare gays to goths, saying that they both displayed behavior that was radically different from what was considered normal to feel as though they had their own identities and could stand out.

And then a girl who'd struggled with bisexual urges earlier in her life changed my way of thinking entirely, claiming that, in her personal experience, homosexuality was a temptation.  It was a sin just like any other, and like some people struggle with greed or pride, she had struggled with homosexuality.  I couldn't believe I hadn't considered this approach, and I finally thought I'd found the answer that aligned both with logic and with the homophobic teachings I'd grown up with.  It's a temptation--that explains everything!  I used this as my explanation for my beliefs about homosexuality for years.

Then I went to BYU, and nobody there would admit to being gay anyway.  When I came home from BYU three years later, a lot had changed.  I no longer believed the church to be true.  And a few months after my return, I stopped attending sacrament meeting and cut myself off from the church as much as I could without cutting myself off from my family.

A little over a year after that, I met my girlfriend.  As we started dating and getting more serious, I began to meet her friends.  And she had a lot of gay friends.  And, having stripped myself of most of my Mormon prejudices, I realized--they were actually pretty cool.  I wasn't worried about them hitting on me or somehow infecting me with their poisonous gay-osity.  I wasn't busy feeling sorry for their sad, immoral lifestyles.  I still thought they were kind of weird, but mostly because I still didn't understand how a guy can look at another guy and want to have sex with him.

But I also don't understand how people can enjoy country music, and I still associate with country-lovers.  In my first interactions with homosexuals since leaving the church, I was surprised to find that the anxiety and confusion that accompanied my earlier interactions had disappeared.  I could joke around with a gay guy like anyone else.  I could be friends with these people--what a crazy idea!  I've had friends who were blatant racists, arrogant pricks, and bullies.  Homosexuality is actually less harmful than all that.  The racists and pricks and bullies I'd known had done emotional damage to people.  What did my girlfriend's gay friends do that was so horrible--love each other?

What's so wrong about that?  Even assuming it's a crime, it's a victimless one.  And each time I hung out with these guys, homosexuality was looking like less and less of a crime.  I'd been conditioned to see these people as pariahs--confused, immoral, and disgusting.  They didn't seem like outcasts, they didn't seem confused, they didn't seem immoral since they weren't hurting anyone, and the only thing I found disgusting was what they did behind closed doors.  And, let's be honest, there are plenty of heterosexual fetishes that are pretty nasty.  The fact that I found their private behavior disgusting was simply a difference of opinion, not a reflection on their value as human beings.

After a while, I began to understand that gay people aren't poisonous.  They're just people, like anybody else, only with one distinguishing characteristic that has somehow been deemed notable and then blown totally out of proportion.  Why did I waste so much time fearing these people?

Because I was taught to.  Because Mormonism doesn't bother trying to understand who they are and dismisses them as a sinful faction of society.

And that does not seem right to me.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Thinking For Yourself

I was always a big believer in thinking for yourself.

Even as a true-believing Mormon, I always placed a high value on thinking independently, coming to your own conclusions and making your own decisions.  It's part of the reason why I felt like I belonged in the LDS church.  I loved being part of the peculiar people.  I felt that, unlike my peers, I had the truth, and I was using that truth to make my own choices.

The choices that I made for myself were mostly not to participate in the sinful activities that the kids I knew from school were participating in.  Because I was enlightened, I realized that my choices not to smoke, drink, do drugs, bully people, cheat, and have sex made me better than those kids.  Those kids were blindly following the urges of human nature and human biology, but I was choosing to be different because I was actually thinking and making my own decisions.

But what I slowly began to realize, after an embarrassingly large number of years being a self-righteous prick, that I wasn't any better than they were.  In fact, I was exactly the same:  a product of my environment.  While many of the non-Mormon kids did the things that was normal and acceptable in their families and backgrounds, I was doing what was normal and acceptable for mine.

I was raised in the Mormon church by two parents who were also raised in the Mormon church.  I was the product of multiple generations of indoctrination and brainwashing.  I grew up thinking that the worldview I grew up was purer than and superior to everyone else's.  I was conditioned the believe that the non-Mormon kids were sinful, evil and ignorant.  When I saw them doing things that contradicted what I'd been taught were wrong, that reinforced my understanding that my belief system was better.  It took me a long time to realize that this was circular logic.

Growing up in the Mormon church taught me not to think for myself and it also taught me that doing so was thinking for myself.

That doesn't seem right to me.

1 Nephi 11: The Tree of Life, Digitally Remastered

Oh Look, More Visions
Nephi has a vision of what his dad saw in the vision of the Tree of Life. I've already touched on how many freaking visions have taken place so far, and the trend seems to be continuing.

Why Is Mary Beautiful?
In Nephi's vision, the angel shows him Mary and asks him what he sees. His answer? "A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins." I don't understand why he makes a big deal about how beautiful she is. Why didn't he just say "a virgin?" Or, to be less creepy, why not "a young woman?"

In fact, assigning Mary an almost supernatural level of beauty kind of demeans some of the important aspects of Jesus's birth. As one of the most notable lessons of what power and greatness really mean, Jesus--the King of the Jews, Savior of Mankind, Son of God, etc, etc--was born into extremely humble circumstances. His father was a carpenter, not a member of the wealthy class. He was brought into the world to little fanfare in a stable. Saying that his mother was the most beautiful of all virgins makes those circumstances seem less humble. The whole point is that he was born to parents who were totally average and unremarkable to the world, but they were good people in the eyes of God. What we're supposed to learn from the story of Jesus's birth is that what the world sees isn't what is important--that greatness comes from character and not from wealth or social status.

But if Mary is a total babe...well, let's just say that's something the world definitely notices. It waters down the meaning of the story. So why bother to mention that Mary is beautiful at all?

Origins of the Superiority Complex
In the closing verses of this chapter, Nephi learns that the "great and spacious building" which Lehi saw in his dream (the one with the people who mocked the ones who followed the iron rod to the tree and ate the fruit) represented the pride of the world. And, apparently, in Nephi's version, this building fell. And then the angel told him:
Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Nice. So Joseph Smith writes a book that he claims contains the word of God. The book also contains statements like this ("'ll get yours!"). Then Smith begins preaching that the religion he built around this book is the only religion on the entire planet that's actually right about stuff.

And a century and a half later, Mormons have this weird theological superiority complex and an "us versus them" mentality. That sounds a little bit like cause and effect.