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?"

Sunday, April 8, 2012

2 Nephi 2: Predicting Distopia

The dying patriarch of the family continues to share his parting words, preaching important doctrines to his sons.

The Millennium is Going to be Really Lame
Among these doctrines is the claim that "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things" (verse 11) and that without sin and misery we can't experience goodness and joy (verse 23).  Which begs the lame will Christ's Millennial reign be?

The Devil will be locked up, so nobody can sin, and it's supposed to be this perfect, utopian society for a while.  But that means nobody will be happy and nobody will really be good because there won't be any sin or misery.  So that means...Christ is going to reign over the blandest, boringest, most unremarkable period of human history.  Oddly enough, I was never taught that.

But that's what it says, right there in the scriptures.  All I'm doing is putting all the pieces together.

The Purpose of Our Existence
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
Second Nephi, Chapter 2, verse 25--a Mormon classic.  It's very comforting to think that the purpose of our existence is for us to be happy.  But it's not a very solid claim.  It comes from a father trying to console his children before he dies.  Do you really expect Lehi to cough weakly, motion for his sons to lean in closer, and then whisper "it all means--nothing" right before he breathes his final breath?

Of course he wants to send his children out to face the world armed with a positive outlook.

But if the reason the Mormon god created people was to make them happy, he's certainly not doing a great job of it--even assuming that the happiness is meant to be the eternal, afterlife kind and not necessarily the lifetime, "second estate" kind.  Considering his habit of cursing people for generations following the offense and then keeping the priesthood from an entire race, limiting them from reaching the highest degree of glory in the afterlife, it looks like a whole bunch of his precious souls are slipping through his fingers.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Re: Why People Leave the LDS Church

I recently discovered John Dehlin's video entitled "Why People Leave the LDS Church" on YouTube.  And I watched the whole thing, mostly to see how a faithful member of the church could manage to reach out to ex-Mormons with any level of understanding.  He actually did a pretty good job of it.  I can't say I understand his ability to look some of the church's worst aspects in the face and not apostatize, but at least he makes a reasonable attempt to reconcile some of the problems that people tend to leave the church over.

But what I'd like to address is one of the final slides in his presentation, which he fills with things that he thinks apostates should consider.  These are things that he thinks could influence us to return to the fold:

Friday, April 6, 2012

My Un-Missionary Experience

Probably around half of the people I work with know that I was raised Mormon but no longer subscribe to the belief system.

A big part of the reason that some of them know is because when one of the high school kids learned that I used to be Mormon, he began yelling out "STORRRRMIIIIIIN MORRRRMOOOOON" at inappropriate times.  This often results in somebody giving me a weird look and saying, "'re Mormon??"

Thursday, April 5, 2012

2 Nephi 1: Famous Last Words

Welcome to Second Nephi!

After the family has settled into the promised land, Lehi decides that he's about to die.  He imparts some words of wisdom to leave his family with.

That's One Crappy Covenant
In verse 5, Lehi explains the gift God has given him for his obedience:
Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord.
So here's the deal, Lehi:  You've been great about this whole getting-relocated-halfway-around-the-globe thing, so I'll tell you what--this land that you've been moved to will belong to your descendants forever.  And also it will belong to whoever else I decide to cram in there.  Wouldn't want to make you feel too special by giving you some kind of exclusive deal or anything.

Oh, and one more thing--these other people I bring in will kill, manipulate and generally mistreat the majority of your descendants, but it's cool because your descendants will break the deal by rejecting the Messiah.  So pretty much I'm going to hold them responsible for the conditions of a covenant that was made long before they were born and without their knowledge.  Eventually, though, they'll break the rules to the deal they didn't know about and that's why I'll punish them by letting the white men slaughter them.

That's...not a fair deal.

Nephi's Motives are Pure...Mostly
In verse 25, Lehi tells Laman and Lemuel that Nephi didn't "[seek] power nor authority over [them]."  That's kind of a load of crap.

Just look at 1 Nephi 17--when Nephi tries to get Laman and Lemuel to help him build the boat.  Not only does he complain that they refuse to work for him, but he also does that whole hulking out thing.  He, without claiming any inspiration from God, warns his brothers not to beat him up because he's full of the power of God and anyone who touches him "shall wither even as a dried reed."  Maybe...Nephi was using fear to get his brothers under his thumb?

God:  Just or Petty?
This chapter contains five full claims to the fact that people in the new world will prosper if they keep the commandments of God but will be punished or cursed if they fall into iniquity or reject God.  But in verse 22 Lehi mentions that it's a "just God" that will do this.

And while I understand that a God following the laws of justice would punish wickedness, some of the punishments described seem like overkill.  For example, "a cursing...upon you for the space of many generations" doesn't seem very just, especially considering that the people will also be "visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated, and are led according to the will and captivity of the devil."

Joseph Smith Leaves His Options Open
While the United States may be a major player in the world today, it was not a military or economic powerhouse in the 1820s when Joseph Smith was dreaming up the Book of Mormon.  But, in keeping with his theme of America being a promised land, Joseph decided to make some prophecies about this great country:
Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom [God] shall bring.  And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore they shall never be brought down into captivity;
A bold statement.  America shall never be conquered by an enemy.  It will be a land of liberty.  Wonderful.  But just in case it turns out that this prophecy doesn't come true (after all, many great nations in history have fallen), Joseph reiterates the caveat:
...wherefore they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.
Smith is saying, "I'm making a prophecy--but if it turns out I'm wrong, this is why."  Brilliant.  Way to cover your bases, Joe.

Although I think it's safe to say at this point that you're wrong anyway.  With all the premarital sex, pornography, drugs, violence, atheism and homosexuality, you'd think the Mormon god would be positively irate these days about the moral state of his promised land.

But where's the smiting?  Where are the curses?  Where's the famine?  America's far from perfect, but it's still a land of liberty in comparison to much of the world.  The economy's been having some trouble and gas prices are high but this is hardly the dramatic vengeance God promised.

Hell, he's aiming to install a Mormon as President of the country--how mad could he be?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

If Mormons Wrote American History

Let's say, for a bit of fun, that the American government is run the same way that the LDS church is run.  Which means, of course, it would exert an undue amount of influence on the representation of its own history.  So what would happen if America wrote its history the way Mormonism would?

The concept behind this, of course, would be the assumption that America is and always has been perfect, the best government on the planet populated with the most upstanding citizens and led by the most virtuous leaders.    The history would have to be modified to match that idea.

So let's begin at the beginning.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

1 Nephi 22: Nephi Babbles

Nephi stops quoting Isaiah for a while.  His ever-waffling brothers ask more unexpectedly poignant questions that allow him to go off on a rant about how all the stuff Isaiah he was talking about is true, all of it will come to pass in a literal, temporal sense, and people had better repent to make sure they don't get destroyed.

I think it's safe to say that Nephi doesn't really know what he's talking about.  A few examples:

I Think You Got Your Churches Backwards, Chief
Verse 13:
And the blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.
Not only is this a bizarre mixing of metaphors, but it sounds a lot like the current LDS church...not like the great and abominable church--you know, the church that is supposed to be made up of all the churches that aren't God's true church.  I haven't noticed a whole lot of other churches falling on their own swords or getting skewered by their own doctrines.

Still Waiting
Verse 16:
For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.
Has anybody noticed the wrath of God being poured out upon the children of men?  I haven't.  But Nephi said it would happen soon about 2600 years ago.

I suppose you could make the argument that this might count as "soon" in God's eternal perspective, but going on the claim that humanity is only about 6000 years old, this "soon" accounts for just shy of 43% of the earth's timeline so far.  That's not "soon" by anybody's definition.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mitt Romney and Public Scrutiny

I am not well-versed in politics.

I understand the basics of how the US Government is constructed, and I have my opinions about what I want in a President and what kinds of things I want my representatives to consider priorities.  But I'm not intimately familiar with the bureaucracy or the details of certain bills and I couldn't really tell you how the nominees stand on various issues.

But I do like to think that I'm well-versed in how the Mormon church operates and that I have a pretty good handle on human nature.  And that's why I give credence to my own opinion that Mitt Romney is not good for the church.  At all.

Two Years is a Long Time

As of today, my girlfriend and I have been together two years.

Pondering the passage of that amount of time makes me look back to when I was considering serving a mission for the LDS church.  After much thought and a hell of a lot of prayer, I decided against going.  I realized that I wasn't so sure of the truthfulness of the church and I was not going to devote two years of my life in the service of something that, by my most careful assessments, was "probably true."

That was a good call.  Looking back on the last two years of my life, I try to imagine if I'd spent that amount of time preaching in a foreign country instead of spending time with the girl I love.  And I just keep coming back to the realization that two years is a long time.

I went into the relationship with my girlfriend voluntarily, and I was committed to it.  And even though we've had a pretty smooth ride free of the dramas that can plague other couples (especially among our generation), we've had our ups and downs.  It's all been worth it.  But I can't fathom the possibility that I almost spent that same amount of time working for a cause I was not fully committed to--how miserable would I have been for those two years?

Two years is a long time.

I considered going on a mission in the hope of gaining a testimony while I was serving.  I'd heard of others having this experience, and I thought maybe I should just go.  I'd grown up in the church, and it was expected that I'd serve a mission, and I didn't relish the thought of being a twenty-year-old male in the church who wasn't a missionary.  I figured maybe going despite my uneasiness would make things easier and that I'd come home with a testimony and it would be worth it in the end.  

But two years is a long time.

If I'd managed to stick it out for the full two years, I have a feeling they would have been the worst two years of my life.  I'd be removed from my family and the comforts I'd grown used to, planted in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, and I'd spend my days fervently telling people to believe in something that I had only a casual interest in and a tepid trust in.  My hypocrisy would have eaten away at me.  And it would have eaten away at me for two years.

Two years is a long time.

I'm proud of myself.  I'm proud that I stood up to the society I was in and made the difficult choice to proceed in a different direction.  I'm proud that I learned to start spending my time with things that I felt committed to and invested in.  And I'm proud that I used my years my way.

Because two years is a long time to waste.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I Made a Mistake

I'm going back to the church.

Just kidding.

April Fool's jokes are never funny.