Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Disney-McKay Connection

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

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

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

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

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

2 Nephi 10: Jacob and his Prophesying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 29, 2012

Record Indexing

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

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, right.  Eternal Progression.  Whatever.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Four Other Types of Sunday School Answers

Hey, I'm still alive!

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

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

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