Monday, December 30, 2013

Alma 6: Church Discipline

Alma reorganizes the church in the city of Zarahemla, setting apart new leaders and baptizing new members.  But the organization he establishes doesn't sound very Christlike:
And it also came to pass that whosoever did belong to the church that did not repent of their wickedness and humble themselves before God—I mean those who were lifted up in the pride of their hearts—the same were rejected, and their names were blotted out, that their names were not numbered among those of the righteous.
This makes the modern church's occasional policy of disfellowshipping and excommunication seem downright benevolent.  Imagine the bishop telling you you're too full of yourself and wear too much costly apparel and subsequently removing your name from the church records.  That kind of thing doesn't happen.  The church is pretty big on the whole repentance/forgiveness thing.  If you want to get excommunicated you need to be unrepentant for some pretty big sins, not just any old thing.

I suppose the argument could be made that these people whose names were blotted out weren't barred from attending worship services and that means they weren't truly cast off:
Now I would that ye should understand that the word of God was liberal unto all, that none were deprived of the privilege of assembling themselves together to hear the word of God.
Okay, so the prideful sinners were removed from the church rolls, but if for some reason they still wanted to go to church, they were allowed to.  But come on—who wants to attend sacrament meeting wearing a scarlet letter?

I guess that's one thing that Alma's Zarahemlan church has in common with today's Mormon church:  it makes idealistic claims about itself that can't possibly be expected to work out in practice as they're advertised in theory.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

It Takes One to Know One

Someone at work the other day used the "it takes one to know one" cliché.

I shook my head as I usually do when I hear that line.  It's such a stupid retort.  If it takes an idiot to know an idiot, then that makes both people involved idiots and everyone they know is an idiot and by extension everyone on the whole planet is an idiot.  Everybody knows somebody.

Then it hit me--that's not what that rejoinder means.  It doesn't mean "it takes one to be acquainted with one."  It means "it takes one to recognize one."  Then I felt stupid--it's actually not such a bad comeback.  How could I have not seen this before?

I realized I couldn't remember the first time I heard "it takes one to know one."  It's something I've heard semi-regularly for my entire life, going back into my early childhood.  I remember thinking the same things about how stupid it was way back then.  I guess what happened was that I heard it before I understood it and before I was capable of really comprehending its intended interpretation.  But every time I heard it since then (until now) I'd fallen back on my original assumption of what it meant and totally missed the point.

Similar things happened with everything I was taught in primary classes at church.  I heard that the church was true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that Jesus died for my sins before I had the ability to consider what all that might mean.  By the time I was a teenager, all those things formed the baseline for my assumptions about reality.  Sure, I had my own opinions, but they were all built on someone else's false teachings.  Instead of just getting one cliché totally wrong, I was getting everything totally wrong.

Once I began to revisit the assumptions I'd been directed to make as a child, I started to make some very important realizations.  Joseph Smith was not a good guy.  The Plan of Salvation makes no sense.  The church is not what it claims to be.

And I felt stupid--Mormonism is actually a pretty crappy way to live.  How could I have not seen this before?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Alma 5: Discretionary Agency

After abandoning his post as the chief judge, Alma the Younger goes on the lecture circuit in his capacity as high priest, delivering a similar speech to communities across the Nephite nation.


Forced Enlightenment
Alma urges the Nephites to remember the captivity of their ancestors and their deliverance by the hand of God.  But he makes some very peculiar statements in his commentary on God's intervention.  In verse seven, Alma claims that God "changed [the Nephites'] hearts" and "awakened them out of a deep sleep" so that they "awoke unto God."  The language is strong and direct, with no passivity implied on God's part.

Which begs the question—why does God do this?  The way he manipulate the people into rediscovering their faith seems to trample their free agency—which is something Lucifer was in favor of and God was opposed to.  God didn't allow the Nephites to remember him.  He took a hands-on approach, did what he cast Lucifer out for even suggesting, and directly "changed their hearts."

Which begs another question—if God could save the Nephites by making them believe in him, why can't he just do that for everyone?


The Good Shepherd
Alma makes numerous references to "the good shepherd" in this chapter.  Although mainstream Christianity believes that phrase was coined by John more than one hundred years later, apparently Alma beat him to it.

I think Joseph Smith may have included this to give himself more Christian credibility.  Alma's rant about the good shepherd (and about how you shouldn't let the devil be your shepherd) is less fleshed out and considerably less eloquent than Jesus's speech in the gospel of John.  But similar terminology is used and Alma predates John, which could be Smith's way of saying, "See?  Not only does my book talk about the same stuff as the Bible, but it happened first!  It has to be true!"


Childish Reasoning
Some gradeschool philosophy appears in verse 40:
For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
Not only is this black-and-white outlook naive, but it's also pretty useless.  Let's say a Mormon is considering taking a new job—one that will require him to work a lot more hours away from his family, but that will come with a sizeable pay bump, allowing him to more ably provide for his wife and children (and pay more tithes and fast offerings).  There are pros and cons to both of his options.  Neither is wholly evil or wholly good.  How does this scripture assist him in making a decision?  And how much would this scripture terrify him of making the "wrong" decision—the devil's decision?

Binary morality is profitless in a multifaceted universe.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Who's Worse--God or Stalin?

I have a few more thoughts to add (to many other thoughts) about what's wrong with the supposedly wonderful Plan of Salvation.

Don't Judge a Book by its Second Chapter
According to Mormonism (and a whole lot of other religions against which I harbor considerably less anger), after we die, we will be judged according to how we lived on Earth.  Regardless of the verdict, this judgment will determine where we spend eternity.

Eternity.

Eternity is a long time, obviously.  But regardless of how valiantly we may have fought against Lucifer during the War in Heaven before we were born, this life affects one hundred percent of our grades.  Despite the fact that our mortal existence is a fleeting blip on our unending spiritual timelines, once you're assigned to the Telestial Kingdom, you're stuck there forever.  There's no appeal, no negotiating, and there's no promotion to a higher kingdom because of good behavior.  It's the equivalent of a lifetime prison sentence for possession of an ounce of marijuana.

God's decision to base our eternal fates on such a tiny data point is ludicrous--not to mention unjust.  It's akin to reading chapter two of To Kill a Mockingbird and proclaiming that the entire book is crap.  The best stuff is in the second half, but you'd never know that by focusing only on chapter two.  You might even miss out on the good things about that section, considering you didn't bother with the beginning and might not completely understand what you're reading.

It's also unfair to us, the ones being judged, because even those few of us who follow the "right" religion have no way of precisely gauging where we stand in God's eyes (other than a Second Anointing, I suppose).  Imagine getting a new job and never once discussing your work performance with your boss--or even meeting him at all--until he shows up one day to inform you that you suck and that you're fired.  Obviously, if you'd known earlier what he thought of your work, you would have tried harder to meet his standards.  But the way the Plan of Salvation works, you have one brief, blindfolded opportunity to hit the bulls-eye with the dart.  It's not exactly a recipe for success or the brainchild of a being who could be considered just or merciful.

Political Upheaval in Heaven
The War in Heaven was, supposedly, a battle of ideas.  Jesus had one idea and Lucifer had another.  God sided with his favorite son and then executed a very Stalinesque purge of his political opponents.  Simply for disagreeing with the man in charge, Lucifer and his followers were cast out of heaven and denied the possibility of eternal progression in every way.  This is the equivalent of the death penalty for a first time offense of marijuana possession.

It would have been more merciful of God to compel Lucifer and his friends to comply with Jesus' plan.  It would have been more understandable to have those who disagreed with him be born with the curse of Cain (yeah, I went there).  It would have been better to simply take their defiance into account as one misdeed in a long existence of sins and virtues and let it be one of many things to consider in a judgment far ahead.  But God decided to throw a fit and cast a third of heaven into outer darkness over one ideological difference.

Stalin killed hundreds of thousands of his countrymen.  God damned billions of his own children.  Who's worse?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What YOU NEED to SURVIVE the COMING APOCALYPSE

I watched a video today.

A friend of a friend (who I have on Facebook despite the fact that I don't think very highly of him) shared yet another "This is Why Obama Sucks" image.  I'm not Obama's biggest supporter or anything, but this guy's constantly one-sided, poorly-informed, uncorroborated political drivel pisses me off.  For weeks I've been trying to work up the courage to comment something along the lines of, "Okay, you may have a valid point, here, but this particular information is unreliable and false because of X and Y and Z."  I'd prefer to make sure I have a solid case before committing to anything, so I decided to do some research into his claims before I commented.  So I clicked on the link underneath the shared picture, and it led me to this...weird video.

The video was all about how the government is about to collapse and chaos will break out.  It stressed the point that, unless you're properly prepared for survival, your loved ones are ALL GOING TO DIE.  A few things about the video and its claims jumped out at me.

  1. I lost track of how many times he pointed out that the people you care about WILL ALL DIE.
  2. He made a lot of claims without providing any evidence to support them--he was a world-renowned survival expert (using a pseudonym, of course), a leading economist (who is not named or referenced) can predict when this will all happen, claims of the early signs of this apocalypse around the country, etc.
  3. There were some oddly specific points made that he could have no way of knowing.  For example, it will apparently take "three to four months" after the catastrophe for "order to be restored."
  4. At the end, he asked you to buy his survival plan so that he can ship you a book and a DVD that contains all the information he just alluded to.  And reminded you that your family could die if you don't.
  5. He went through a detailed rationale of why he's charging for this information (because people wouldn't believe it was legitimate if it was free, or something).  Then he explains that, because he's such a great guy and wants people to have the information (unless you're an "Obama-head," in which case he asked you to stop watching the video near the beginning), he's only charging like forty buck for it even though the information is worth almost two thousand dollars.
I don't put much stock in conspiracy theories, although I'm sure there are a few that might actually have something to them.  But even as I watched this video that played shamelessly on my fears...even as I noticed all the dishonesty and exaggeration and blatant manipulation...I kind of considered buying the thing.  

I don't think the government is going to collapse in a matter of weeks, but I do believe that there's plenty of stuff wrong with the way my country works--and that was enough for this guy's fear-mongering to get a foothold in my psyche.  What if this guy was right?  What if, two months from now, I had to fight for survival?  What would I do if my parents didn't survive?  How would I protect my myself?  How would I protect my girlfriend?  

And then another thought hit me--this must be what it's like to be taught by Mormon missionaries.  Look at the similarities:
  1. Don't you want your family to be together forever?  The unspoken flip side to this, of course, is, "if you don't join our church, you'll live out eternity in the afterlife without your family."  Detailed descriptions of the Plan of Salvation might further his fears that, if this stuff is true, he's getting the short end of the stick by not signing on.
  2. Mormonism makes a lot of grand, unsupported claims.  The missionaries teach about the First Vision and the visitations of the Angel Moroni.  Perhaps if you're already too busy thinking about how bad it would be to live forever without your spouse and children, you're not properly capable of assessing the veracity of these claims.  Get the fear in first, then slide some crazy stuff past 'em while they're still reeling and they won't even notice.
  3. There are some specific points that the missionaries will make that they have no way of knowing.  They will testify to the fact that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God despite the fact that they haven't actually seen Joseph Smith interact with God and they weren't around for the writing or translation of the Golden Plates.  Perhaps their faith, like that survivalist's conviction, will sell their product based purely on trust.
  4. Once joining the church, an investigator will be expected to pay ten percent of his income to the church.  In Preach My Gospel, tithing isn't even mentioned until page 62.  It doesn't come up until the third lesson.  If you're investigating the church and you've invited the missionaries back for a third visit, it's safe to say you could be seriously considering baptism. The missionaries don't bring up the expected sacrifice of a tenth of your money first thing.  Not many successful sales pitches begin with "Give me forty bucks if you want to survive the apocalypse!" because that sounds more like extortion.
  5. The missionaries can provide a detailed rationale for why tithing is important--the Lord promises us blessings, it shows our faith, it builds temples and meetinghouses and furthers the spreading of the gospel.  Then they explain that, because the church is so honest and virtuous, the tithing money doesn't go toward the payment of any of the leaders (unless you're an apostle, in which case you get a "modest stipend.")  Besides, ten percent of your money is a small price to pay for eternal salvation.
The investigator in question may not put much stock in organized religion, although he may have some kind of belief in God.  But if he doesn't realize that the missionaries are shamelessly playing on his fears...if he doesn't notice the dishonesty and manipulation...he might consider getting baptized.  And that's when the church claims another victim and rakes in a little more cash for its non-humanitarian coffers.

I didn't buy the survival guide.  I guess I just don't like it when people try to manipulate me.  Although I'm not sure if that characteristic led me to leave the church or if I acquired that trait because of my apostasy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Revelation About Revelation

I was poking around in the Doctrine and Covenants today and I was suddenly struck by how crazy it is that there are so many specific revelations given to members of the church by name.  There are so many that it's conceivable to compile an entire 240-page book containing brief biographies of each one of them. And that made me think of this verse from Joseph Smith History, when Smith discusses his vision with a Methodist preacher:
I took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had.  I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.
 Mormonism loves to celebrate this moment and how it causes the church to diverge so boldly from the rest of Christianity.  From this point in history on, so it goes, one church was getting revelation from God and all the rest continued as rudderless as before.  Mormonism is proud of its claim of a living prophet and constant divine revelation.  But oddly, the "revelation" the church gets today doesn't look much like the revelation it got in its beginning stages.

It's not a new concept to me that recent prophets haven't made much of anything resembling a prophecy or even a revelation in years.  I've seen that idea brought up repeatedly in the blogosphere, on forums and on Reddit.  But what's never occurred to me is how different the things that supposedly come from God are nowadays.  Apparently God stopped micromanaging and and no longer gives his disciples personal written instructions relating to specific circumstances.  Why?

My guess is that there are no such things as clear, unambiguous personal revelations from the prophet himself in these days.  All such things ceased with the pioneers.  There will never be any more of them.

The more I think about the church, the more glaring it becomes to me that it has changed and evolved in a manner obviously directed by the decisions of men instead of by the unchanging wisdom of a deity.

That doesn't seem right to me.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Alma 4: Alma's Absurd Abdication

In the wake of their wars with the Amlicites and Lamanites, the Nephites reacquaint themselves with the religion of their chief judge, Alma the Younger.


A Numbers Game
Verse five seems to boast of the success of their Great Awakening:
And it came to pass that in the seventh year of the reign of the judges there were about three thousand five hundred souls that united themselves to the church of God and were baptized.  And thus ended the seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and there was continual peace in all that time.
Thirty-five hundred converts in one year?  Impressive.  That's almost a rate of ten per day.  But it's much less impressive when you review the battle statistics from Alma chapter two--in one day, twelve thousand five hundred thirty-two Amlicites and six thousand five hundred sixty-two Nephites were killed.  I guess Nephites spread the gospel at approximately one two thousandth the rate that they kill each other.

The battle report also implies a sizable society.  Making some broad assumptions here, if the Nephites and Amlicites both suffered a very steep loss of forty percent of their armies, and if every single male adult was at war, and if every single male adult had one wife and two children at home, the population of the Nephite nation before the schism was approaching one hundred fifty thousand at minimum.  More than likely, it was a much larger population than that.  Considering that the true church is implied to be one of the larger religious groups of the civilization, an increase of thirty-five hundred converts in one year among a society possibly numbering in the hundreds of thousands seems far less than miraculous.


So Much for Democracy
As the next two years pass, the members of the church begin to prosper, and, falling into the predictable pattern of the Book of Mormon, they become prideful and wicked.  Alma the Younger, seeing the iniquity among his peers, decides to abdicate the position of High Priest and preach the gospel to his people.  This is how he does it:
And he selected a wise man who was among the elders of the church, and gave him power according to the voice of the people, that he might have power to enact laws according to the laws which had been given, and to put them in force according to the wickedness and the crimes of the people.
Now this man's name was Nephihah, and he was appointed chief judge; and he sat in the judgment-seat to judge and to govern the people. 
So Alma appoints his own successor.  What happened to King Mosiah's preaching about choosing leaders by the voice of the people?


Prophet on the Go
Verse 18 makes sure to inform the reader that Alma only gave Nephihah the position of chief judge, choosing to "[retain] the office of high priest unto himself."  This is odd, considering he abdicated his political office for the purpose of travelling and preaching (verse 19).  That's a terrible idea.

Generals don't fight on the front lines. Conductors don't play violins in their own orchestras.  If you are the head of an organization that requires leadership and oversight, you can't just wander off to do other stuff.  You can't involve yourself so directly in the tasks that are supposed to be done by the people you manage.  Alma knew he couldn't leave the judgement seat empty.  Why does he think it's okay to leave the high priest's position vacant?

Unless he's just wandering around ancient America with a Bluetooth device in his ear, in constant communication with his staff at home.  Then this arrangement could work.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Alma 3. Curses, Works, and Eternal Fates

In the aftermath of the battle, the Nephites return to their homes to size up the extent of the devastation that war has wrought on their society.


Questionable Mark
For some ill-explained reason, the Amlicites, having joined with the Lamanites, decide to mark their foreheads with a red color.  I guess they got their hands on some magenta permanent markers and went to town on themselves.  I suppose it could have been a tattoo of some kind.  But it seems pretty strange to me that every person in this splinter group (implying men, women and children) would mark themselves.  Of course, this was all done, apparently, to fulfill the word of God, who cursed the Lamanites with a darker skin and extended this curse to any who allied with them (assuming that the alliance included some kind of skin marking).

The most delicious irony of this chapter is contained in its explanation of how the Amlicites, by marking themselves and joining up with the Lamanites, effectively cursed themselves:
Now I would that ye should see that they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation.
Whoa, whoa, back up there.  Every man that is cursed has brought it upon himself?  That must mean that all Lamanite children were born white and received their dark skin some time after reaching the age of accountability.  Surely they could have done nothing in their infancies to deserve their curse.  After all, the curse was originally placed on their distant ancestors.  Their ancestors may have brought it on themselves. The adult Amlicites may have brought it on themselves.  But baby Lamanites were innocent of any wrongdoing.  So, according to verse 19 (quoted above), how could they have been born bearing the curse of dark skin?


Rough Concept Rolling
Verse 26 is a little peculiar:
And in one year were thousands and tens of thousands of souls sent to the eternal world, that they might reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one.
First of all, it seems kind of weird to mention works and the eternal destinations of souls in the same breath without mentioning grace or the atonement in some way.  But what really caught my eye was the implication that the afterlife is a binary affair.  Happiness or misery.  Heaven or Hell.  Exaltation or damnation.

But the Mormon concept of the afterlife is far from binary.  There are three degrees of glory, the highest of which is subdivided into three sections of its own.  In addition, there is Outer Darkness for Lucifer's original followers and the Sons of Perdition.  In Mormon doctrine it's not so cut-and-dry as "bad people go to hell and good people go to heaven."

So...if the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel, why is it that its purported authors didn't know the details about the afterlife?  The most logical answer, of course, is that the book was written by Joseph Smith, who hadn't finished constructing his personal conception of postmortal existence (or many other aspects of his religion) at the time of the book's publication.

The Book of Mormon was published in 1830.  Doctrine and Covenants Section 76, which outlines the degrees of glory, was written in 1832.  The King Follett sermon, in which Joseph Smith introduced the doctrine of eternal progression, was delivered in 1844.  The Book of Mormon's simplistic treatment of the afterlife is indicative of its status at the beginning of Smith's doctrinal evolution.

And if the doctrine evolves, how can it be said to be the doctrine of a god who is the same yesterday, today and forever?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Alma 2: Alma, Warrior-Monk

Now, five years into the reign of the judges, the good people of Zarahemla have to contend with a new Book of Mormon villain, Amlici.


Almost the Easiest Coup of All Time
Amlici is a former follower of the recently-executed Nehor who has gained support from many of the Zarahemlites.  As an adherent to the religious movement started by Nehor, Amlici is of course evil and wicked and in favor of all kinds of iniquities like destroying the true church and persecuting its members.  Amlici's play for power is described in this chapter:
  1. Amlici's followers want Amlici to become king of Zarahemla (verse 2).
  2. Righteous people don't want Amlici to become king of Zarahemla (verses 3-4).
  3. People from both sides gather in groups, informally vote on the matter, and bring their opinions to the judges (verses 5-6).
  4. The judges, following the will of the majority, proclaim that Amlici can not, in fact, be the king (verse 7).
This chain of events is unusual and illogical.  A man without any legal claim to leadership pretty much asks to be appointed a supreme ruler in the place of a lawfully designed network of democratically elected officials...and the government actually takes him seriously?  

If I sent a letter to President Obama telling him not that I want to be President and plan to run for office, but instead that I should be President right now, he's not going to run the letter over to Justice Roberts and say, "What do you think...should my whole administration step down so this guy can run the country?"  That's what a stupid person would do.  So I guess that means either the Nephites were stupid or the person who made them up was.


Alma Has Entirely Too Much Power
As Amlici breaks his people off of the society, sets himself up as their king, and plans a war with Zarahemla, let's examine Alma's responsibilities:
Now Alma, being the chief judge and the governor of the people of Nephi, therefore he went up with his people, yea, with his captains, and chief captains, yea, at the head of his armies, against the Amlicites to battle.
So not only is he the high priest and prophet, but he's also the chief judge and the governor—as well as a military leader.  Seems to me that, despite all King Mosiah's preaching, the Nephites have given way too much power to just one guy.  The system of judges seems like simply King Alma's cabinet of advisors.  The only real difference between Amlici and Alma now is that Alma isn't a bloodthirsty jerk.


How Righteous Men Fight
Or maybe Alma is a bloodthirsty jerk.  Let's look at his performance in the second battle, after a huge army of Lamanites have inexplicably allied with the Amlicites:
  • He prays for his life to be spared so that he can be a (bloody) "instrument" in God's hands, although he claims it's so that he can save his people (verse 30).
  • He kills Amlici himself and then tries to kill the king of the Lamanites too (verses 31-32).
  • His army throws the bodies of the dead Lamanites in the river to make a bridge so they can cross to the other side and kill the rest of their army (verse 34).
  • His men continue killing the Lamanites and Amlicites as they retreated over a great distance (verse 36).
  • The Nephites chased their enemies so far from civilization that many of the Lamanites died from their wounds or were killed by wild animals (verse 38).
Yeah.  This Alma guy is a great role model.  Not only is he power hungry, but he has an inexcusable lust for battle, no respect for the dead and little restraint to speak of.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Alma 1. Nehor the Horrible

Alma the Elder is now dead.  King Mosiah II is now dead.  A new government of elected judges is ushered in across the land of Zarahemla.  Welcome to the Book of Alma.


A Little Proofreading Goes a Long Way
The Book of Alma starts off...poorly:
Now it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, from this time forward, king Mosiah having gone the way of all the earth, having warred a good warfare, walking uprightly before God, leaving none to reign in his stead; nevertheless he had established laws, and they were acknowledged by the people; therefore they were obliged to abide by the laws which he had made.
That is one looooong sentence fragment.  It never explains what came to pass in the first year of the judges.  Instead, this verse goes off on this long tangential review of Mosiah's life and his arrangements for the government following his death.  The basis upon which the sentence begins is never resolved.

If this is, according to Joseph Smith, the most correct book on the planet, then why does it seem to have such a loose grasp on the language of its first publication?


What if I Plead to Priestcraft in the Second Degree and Serve 25 to Life?
This guy named Nehor starts preaching stuff that doesn't jive with God's Zarahemlatopian church. He tells the people that church leaders should become "popular" and make their living from their followers instead of from their own vocations.  This, which of course is common practice for the top leaders of the modern church, is later condemned by Chief Judge Alma the Younger as "priestcraft."  In fact, when Nehor is brought to be judged after he kills Gideon during a religious argument, Alma seems more miffed about the priestcraft than about the murder:
But Alma said unto [Nehor]:  Behold, this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among this people.  And behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but has endeavored to enforce it by the sword; and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction.
Yeah, but murder doesn't destroy people, right?  Just make sure those priests keep their jobs and don't rely on the church and their celebrity to make money!


Black and White—or Black and Red
The remainder of the chapter paints a starkly contrasting picture of the divergent factors of Zarahemlan society.  There are the faithful members of God's approved church, who are peaceful, who don't persecute those of other faiths, and are humble and altruistic.  Because of their righteousness, they are blessed with financial success.  Then there are those who do not belong to God's church, who are into idolatry, the occult, conflict and pride.  They persecute members of the true church and do all kinds of other no-nos, including theft, whoredoms, and murder. And they did not prosper nearly so much as the members of God's congregations.

This paints a false picture of reality for modern Mormons.  It makes things out to be black and white—members are good people and will be wealthy but non-members are bad people and will be poor.  Of course, the text doesn't explicitly promise this scenario, but it explains how it worked out for Zarahemla and implies that it was because of the same God that modern Mormons now worship.  So why wouldn't it be the case in the Latter Days, right?

But church membership, goodness, and tax brackets don't break down that simply.  There's plenty of church members who are terrible people and commit terrible sins.  There's plenty of non-Mormons who are wonderful people and accomplish a lot of good for the human race.  And I'd like to see statistics on the economic situation on members versus non-members, because I have hunch that a claim that Mormons are more financially prosperous than their non-Mormon counterparts would have no statistical backing whatsoever.

But despite reality, this chapter tells faithful Mormons that they'll be rich and all those evil adult filmmakers are going to live in cardboard boxes and wear rags.  Which seems pretty absurd to me.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A New Milestone for Women

Good morning, brothers and sisters.  It fills me with joy to see all of you gathered here today, eager to be edified by the Spirit.  I only hope that my talk doesn't keep you from being edified for too long.  (pause for polite laughter)

When the Bishop asked me to speak to you today about the recent announcement concerning the new General Women's Meeting, which was tagged by LDS.org as a "milestone," I was pretty excited.  I was also pretty out of breath, too, considering that I sprinted all the way from the bishop's office to the cultural hall when he gave me that look.  (pause for polite laughter)  You guys know the look!  (pause for scattered laughter)  That look that says, "you can either come accept a speaking assignment now or I'm going to call you as nursery leader."  (pause for awkward silence due to overselling the punchline)

Anyway, I have to tell you, I think it's just wonderful that we have a living prophet today, even Thomas S. Monson, who speaks for the Lord and dictates the marvelous press releases of our loving Heavenly Father.  Here's an excerpt from the latest one:
As the women of the Church gather together--sisters, mothers, and daughters--they, their families, and the Church will be strengthened and blessed.
Isn't that fantastic?  I'll just take a moment and let those words sink in so you can feel how palpably inspired they are!  (pause for silent contemplation)

So what the Church has done, in order to better demonstrate the equality of women within our membership, is consolidate the annual Relief Society broadcast with the annual Young Women meeting and move them into General Conference Madness.  Now, twice a year, all the women of the church are invited to a special meeting just for them--except that, obviously, it will be presided over by the male leadership.  They'll be taught about their important womanly duties, such as getting married, being mothers, and supporting their husbands in the priesthood.

Now, according to dictionary.com, a milestone is defined as "a significant event or stage in the life, progress, development or the like of a person, nation, etc."  Just look at all the significant progress being made in the development of our nation of righteous women!  Now they have twice as many broadcasts intended for a non-Y-chromosomal audience instead of being targeted at two age groups!  Truly the prophets and the apostles physically converse with God the Father on a daily basis!

I'd also like to take a moment to address the issue of gender equality directly.  (pause for it to dawn on the ward that shit just got real) I know there's been some murmuring among us--probably because of taking the world's values too much to heart--about how women are not treated as equals in the church.  I think this demonstrates pretty clearly that women are on the same plane as men--if not higher!  After all, the scheduling of this new meeting places it precisely one week before the Priesthood General Session of General Conference.  Not only do the ladies get to go a whole week before the men (implying deference to their higher virtues and duties) but they are also encouraged to bring all sisters age eight and up (as opposed to twelve and up for the priesthood session).  The Brethren are clearly more eager to teach to the Daughters of God than to our Priesthood Holders.

Speaking directly to the women, now...I know that some of you may feel tempted at times to wear pants to church.  And I know some of you feel that it is within your rights to try to get into certain priesthood meetings to which you were not invited.  And I know some of you feel the urge to point out the disparity in leadership between men and women.  And I know some of you may even start to think that women should be given the priesthood.  But to those of you who may struggle with Gender Inequality Dissent Addiction, or GIDA, I exhort you prayerfully consider the pattern the Brethren have laid out for us with their meeting schedules.  They've designed independent but equivalent special meetings for the men as well as the women in which each sex can receive divine counsel--and, hopefully, personal revelation--concerning their stewardships as mothers or priesthood holders.  A leadership responsible for creating such a balanced, if occasionally partitioned, method of preaching the word of God cannot, in good faith, be criticized for sexism.

And besides--it's the worst-kept secret in the Church that the women are really the stronger spirits.  Gordon B. Hinckley once said that behind every great prophet of this dispensation was a loyal wife--reminding him to read his scriptures.  (pause for yawns)  And I can tell you from personal experience that even though I've given a few stressful anointings of the sick in my time, I tremble in fear at the thought of staying home with my two-year-old like my wife does every day while I'm at work!  (pause for laughter on the off-chance anyone is still listening)

In closing, brothers and sisters, I'd just like to say that, not only are the separate roles of women as nurturers and men as priesthood holders divinely established, but so is this landmark new meeting schedule.  I'm actually excited for my wife to go to this new meeting! I think it will be great for the sisters to get together twice a year and have obnoxiously perky, administratively impotent middle-aged female figureheads whose supervisors are all men tell them how blessed they are to be women in the church.

I say these things in the name of our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ, who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, who knows all that we have suffered, including crazy fantasies of gender inequality, amen.

(pause to grab a tissue from the podium before sitting down)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mosiah 29: No More Kings...Eventually

Mosiah is getting old and his sons have all been bitten by the missionary bug, and so the Land of Zarahemla is rocked by a succession crisis.


Mosiah II:  Almost as Stupid as Limhi
Marvel at the spectacular process Mosiah goes through when he decides upon whom he should confer his kingdom:
  1. He asks the people who they want as their next king, and they apparently overwhelmingly want his son Aaron (verses 1-2).
  2. Mosiah realizes that neither Aaron nor his other sons will accept the throne because they're too busy spreading the gospel (verse 3).
  3. Mosiah reasons that appointing someone other than Aaron could result in Aaron changing his mind and trying to usurp the throne, leading to a great schism that would ultimately lead to lots of war and bloodshed and iniquity among the people because that's totally a likely outcome (verses 7, 9).
  4. The people have no right to "destroy" Aaron by appointing someone other than him to be the king and permitting the possibility of the above scenario (verses 8-9).
  5. Mosiah unilaterally opts to appoint an ill-defined group of judges to rule in his stead, but only after he's dead (verse 11).
  6. He reasons that, if only kings could be relied on to be wholly good and just, then monarchy would be a perfect system of government.  Sadly, not all kings are righteous, so monarchy is a bad idea (verses 13-24).
  7. Mosiah touts his own righteous management style, probably as a way to try and justify keeping power for the remainder of his life despite preaching against the risks of monarchy and coming up with a supposedly better system (verses 14-15).
Not only does this whole thing paint Mosiah as kind of a hypocrite ("I just reigned for thirty years, but I'm here to tell you that kings are bad news, so as soon as I'm dead you guys need to stop having kings!") but it also makes him look kind of bad at problem solving and critical reasoning.  The important problem here appears to be that monarchy is too risky, but he wastes a whole lot of time worrying about who to appoint as king, predicting doom should he choose the wrong person and assuming that his children will be complete screwups.

It's also worth mentioning that Alma doesn't seem to weigh in on the matter, despite being arguably the second most powerful official in Nephite society and having addressed the same issue a few chapters earlier.


Just...Wow.  
Democracy is apparently very important to KING Mosiah, which is why he's so excited for it to be instituted after his death.  He fails to mention the vital fact that his proposed oligarchy would limit the amount of power given to an individual, thus diminishing the government's capacity for corruption.  Instead, he suggests that the judges be elected by the voice of the people and sings the praises of majority rule:
Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
By this reasoning, it's probable that the LDS church is not the true church and that premarital sex is right.  After all, the majority of people on the planet worship someone other than the Mormon version of God and (at least in Western societies) premarital sex has become far more widely accepted than it was a few generations ago.  But I doubt you'll find any Mormons preaching nondenominational Christianity and free love.  Maybe the next verse explains why:
And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time tha the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.
The basic principle here is to trust the people—but use God as a fail-safe.  If the people start making poor choices en masse, then God will just visit them with vindictive discipline.  We can clearly see how this pattern has played out repeatedly in American history.  The country went into a period of deep economic depression following the expulsion of the Mormons from the midwest.  After Roe v. Wade, there was a massive earthquake that caused a good chunk of Los Angeles to fall into the sea.  And every state to legalize gay marriage so far has reported twice as many cases of avian flu than the more righteous states.  

It's so obvious what's going on.  And it was all prophesied in the Book of Mormon.


HAVE YOU PEOPLE LEARNED NOTHING!?
So the people of Zarahemla get all psyched for this new system of government.  And they elect their judges.  And they choose Alma the Younger as the chief judge—despite the fact that he is also the high priest.  After all of Mosiah's pontificating about how too much power in too few hands can run horrible risks for a society, the people immediately make the highest ranking religious official the highest ranking government official.  Congratulations, Alma, you just did what the papacy spent a few centuries of the middle ages trying to accomplish.

You.  Nephites.  You're all morons.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mosiah 28: Backdoor Pilot

Now that Alma the Younger and the Four Sons of Mosiah have been forcibly rehabilitated, they join the good guys and decide to become missionaries.


This is How Mission Calls Are Received?
The first eight verses of this chapter tell a story that is lots of fun to contrast with the modern church's method for handling prospective missionaries.  Here are the key differences:
  • The sons of Mosiah volunteered because of the strength of their testimonies, not out of family pressure or cultural duty.  
  • They chose their own destination (the land of Nephi, where the Lamanites were) instead of letting some oft-touted committee of church higher-ups assign them one.
  • They chose their own companions instead of letting a mission president assign them at his whims.
  • Instead of bringing their desire to serve a mission to the ecclesiastical leader, Alma, they went to the secular ruler, King Mosiah.  This seems to be a recurring problem.  (See "Church and State" and "More Problems with Authority")
Sometimes it really seems like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints bears very little resemblance to the church described in its defining book of scripture.


A Slow News Day in Zarahemla
After the departure of his sons, King Mosiah uses some seer stones (presumed to be the Urim and Thummim which Joseph Smith later possessed) to translate the records of the Jaredites.  Smith talks it up pretty well by describing how excited the people were to learn about the history of the Jaredites and by analyzing their reactions once the records were shared:
And this he did [translated the records] because of the great anxiety of his people; for they were desirous beyond measure to know concerning those people who had been destroyed.
...Now this account did cause the people of Mosiah to mourn exceedingly, yea, they were filled with sorrow; nevertheless it gave them much knowledge, in the which they did rejoice.
Which, in modern language, equates to something like this:
The highly anticipated and critically acclaimed Book of Ether is the event of the summer!  You'll laugh!  You'll cry!  You won't want to miss a single episode!  Fridays at nine, eight central on ABC!
Yep.  The Book of Mosiah contains a backdoor pilot and a commercial for the Book of Ether.


So the Urim and Thummim are What Now?
Here is God's brilliant description of Mosiah's seer stones—by which I mean the mortal Smith's flawed description of Mosiah's seer stones:
And now he [Mosiah] translated them [the Jaredite records] by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow.
So now you know exactly what he was talking about, right?

Not to overuse the why-would-they-carve-such-unnecessary-detail-into-metal-plates argument, but why would they carve such unnecessary detail into metal plates?  Especially considering how useless this description is?  Do we even need to know what the seer stones look like so long as we know that they were tools provided by the Lord for the interpretation of languages?  What practical purpose does this verse serve other than to make every attentive reader pause, struggle to picture it, and then read on in confusion?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Like and Share, but Don't Think

I found this little gem in my news feed yesterday.  Ugh.

This wasn't posted by a Mormon, but it struck me as having a similar logical flaw to the Mormon concepts of God and Jesus.  This depicts Jesus as being simultaneously vindictive and loving.  It demonstrates how he supposedly holds your salvation for a ransom of love.  It's ludicrous to suggest that a perfect being who lived without sin could be capable of that.  It's also absurd to suggest that someone loves us unconditionally if he delivers ultimatums like this one.

All that, combined with the fact that the numerous grammar and punctuation errors make the originator of this graphic look quite foolish, makes me think that this is the work of a troll.  My theory is that some atheist/agnostic/anti-religious guy decided to make a little quote and hoped that lots of religious people would share the crap out of it without realizing how silly it is.  It kind of makes me want to do something similar for circulation in the Mormon Facebook community.

What would a Mormon version look like?  I don't have many Mormon friends on Facebook, and the few that I do keep are not the gushy, post-every-day-about-how-Mormon-I-am type, so I haven't seen much in this vein from them.  But I have a few ideas:

  • The proclamation on the family says that the family is ordained of God.  Like if you believe marriage should be between one man and one woman.  Share to take a stand against the wickedness of the world.
  • I don't need to donate to charity...I pay ten percent of my income to the most charitable organization in the world.  Re-post if you have a testimony of tithing!
  • I believe homosexuality is a sin, but I don't believe that gays have any less chance of reaching the celestial kingdom so long as they don't act on their urges and marry a worthy daughter of God!  Share if you hate the sin but love the sinner!
  • The Word of Wisdom is the only health code I need...Like if you don't drink coffee, tea or alcohol, smoke or do drugs because of what it says in D&C 89!
I'm sure there are almost endless ways to subtly lampoon Mormon logic.  Unfortunately, as amusing as it would be to see how many Mormons unwittingly share their religion's foibles on social media sites, it wouldn't accomplish anything.  I wish they could perceive the problems instead of promulgating them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mosiah 27: Persecution, Schmersecution

In this chapter, Mosiah's people encounter more troubles with non-members.


Disagreement is not Persecution
At first, the members of God's church begin to "murmur" because of "the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers."  So King Mosiah put out some kind of official decree stating that people shouldn't persecute other religions and that everyone should be considered equal.  By law, signs that said "Alma's Followers Need Not Apply" were banned.

But then we meet Alma's son, also named Alma, and the four sons of Mosiah, who (wisely) do not follow in the pious footsteps of their fathers.  Verse 10 states that they tried "to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king."

But the king's proclamation addressed persecution, inequality and, strangely, self-reliance.  What did Alma and the sons of Mosiah do?
  • spoke flattery unto the people (verse 8)
  • led many of the people to do iniquity (verse 8)
  • hindered the prosperity of the church by stealing away the hearts of its members (verse 9)
  • caused dissension among the members (verse 9)
  • gave the enemy of God a chance to exercise his power over the people (verse 9)
  • tried to destroy the church by leading away its members (verse 10)
None of that is persecution.  None of it is even illegal, depending on what iniquities they got the people to commit.  Did they burn down member's homes?  Did they tar and feather the church leaders?  Did they murder any of the members or try to drive them out of town?  No.  They just disagreed with the church and told people why.  But, interestingly enough, Mormonism appears to have suffered from an overdeveloped sensitivity to persecution for more than two thousand years.


I Don't Deserve an Angel
Eventually, while Alma and the sons of Mosiah were out destroying family values and such, an angel appeared to them to tell them to give it a rest:
Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.
What a horrible verse.  It either implies that church leaders can get God to force a testimony into their wayward children's hearts or that enough faith can get God to force a testimony into a wayward child's heart.  I hate to think of my parents reading this verse.  I wonder if they think that I'm still against the church simply because they haven't had enough faith or they haven't prayed hard enough for God to change my heart.  That's horrible.  Joseph Smith is inflicting psychological torture on my parents from beyond the grave.

If enough faith or faith from the right leaders is what it takes to summon an angel to put the fear of God back into an apostate, then why hasn't an angel appeared to Steve Benson?  Or Park Romney?  


Knowing Something False
The angel's voice shook the earth, and that seemed to be one of the major selling points for its legitimacy as a messenger from God:
And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.
Nothing, that is, beyond earthquakes and volcanoes and such.  I guess you could make the argument that those things are simply a manifestation of the power of God, but that would make God kind of destructive and murderous, wouldn't it?


Alma Pulls a Publicity Stunt
Alma the Younger basically lapses into a coma after the angel leaves.  When the sons of Mosiah explain to what happened, Alma the Elder is overjoyed, but rather than staying by his son's bedside during his recovery, he gathers a multitude to watch.  Because that is what any loving father would do--prepare a massive audience so that when his seriously injured son wakes up, everyone is there to hear him say, "Dad, you were right and I was wrong."

Alma wakes up with a surprising level of lucidity and eloquence.  He speaks to the people about his experience and the truthfulness of the gospel, reminds them that they need to be reborn from their sinful state, and explains that if they don't repent then they're totally screwed.

Honestly, this reads as less of a story of redemption than it does as a publicity stunt pulled by an old preacher desperate to revitalize his failing religion.  But it works--because of Alma the Younger's dramatic rebirth and subsequent teaching in the company of Mosiah's converted sons, Alma the Elder gets more butts in the pews and more senines in the coffers.

Well played, Almas.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Comfort of Blind Faith

When I was around twelve years old, I made a rare trip to the emergency room.  At the end of a boy scout service project, a few of us had been attempting to skip stones across the creek whose banks we'd just spent a few hours protecting against erosion.  One of the other boys had misjudged the right moment to release his stone, so instead of glancing off the surface of the water, it careened off the back of my skull.
A few minutes later, my parents had me in the ER.

As a matter of coincidence, the doctor who sewed me up happened to live a few doors down from us.  I rode the school bus with his son.  Although I'd never seen him before, my dad recognized him and I knew the last name.  I remember feeling better when I learned that my doctor was also my neighbor.  Despite the fact that I didn't actually know the man, I felt that I was in trustworthy and capable hands simply because he lived in my neighborhood and I knew his son.

I was a kid.  I was scared.  Anything remotely familiar to me was a comfort.

As it turned out, my injury wasn't that severe anyway.  I think I only got three or four stitches.  I don't know that I learned anything from that experience at the time, but in retrospect, I think it illustrates an important point:  What brings comfort may not necessarily have any practical value.

The fact that my doctor was also my neighbor had no effect on whether or not he was capable of fixing the gash on my head.  If he'd been a complete stranger, he would have had the exact same chance of being a bad doctor.  Similarly, a religion that makes you feel better because facing a world without it is uncomfortable has no effect on whether or not that religion is true.  As I considered leaving Mormonism, staying because it was a less daunting thing to face crossed my mind many times.  But just because staying in the church would be comfortable didn't mean it had any practical value.  And as terrifying as it was to confront the possibilities that my life could have no inherent purpose and that I could be completely gone when I die, ignoring those possibilities in favor of the warm-fuzzy lie I'd been raised on wouldn't make them any less possible. By staying in the church, I'd be lying to myself and limiting my development as a person.  But at least I wouldn't have to leave my comfort zone.

Garnering the courage to leave that comfort zone and search for something that does have practical value was one of the most difficult and proudest moments of my life.  

Although it's pretty damn difficult not to resent being taught to trust the comforting lie.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mosiah 26: Alma's On-the-Job Training

Here we encounter some trouble in paradise as the rising generation in Mosiah's kingdom fails to adhere to the religious tradition of their parents.


More Problems With Authority
In case the weirdness about authority and its sources has escaped your detection in the last few chapters, you're about to get slapped in the face with it in verse 8:
Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church.
King Mosiah.  The secular leader.  Has just.  Given.  God's.  Prophet.  Authority.  Over.  The.  Church.

Preposterous.  I suppose Tommy Monson received his calling from George W. Bush and Barack Obama has simply opted not to replace his predecessor's appointee with his own choice?  Considering how much of a fuss the LDS church likes to make about authority coming from proper, legitimate and divine sources, I find it hilarious that one of the greatest prophets of that church's primary book of scripture not only gave himself the authority to baptize but also had to be granted the authority to run the church by the king of an earthly government.

Alma also doesn't seem to understand that his role is supposed to be different from Mosiah's.  When Alma is confronted with the iniquities of the rebellious non-believers, he delivers them to the secular king to be judged instead of handling the obviously religious matter himself.


God Rewards Gullibility and Recklessness
When Mosiah tells Alma that it's Alma's job (as leader of the church) to handle church-related problems, Alma prays to know what he's supposed to do with the group of non-believers.  This is how God begins his response:
Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon.  Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
God lays it out for him right there—Alma was blessed because he bought Abinadi's story hook, line and sinker.  He was blessed because he didn't bother with outside confirmation and he didn't worry about anything other than how Abinadi's words made him feel.  Because of his blind belief in unverified claims, he mouthed off to his psychotic boss, which got him fired from an extremely prestigious job and also put his life in immediate danger.  He threw away his career, alienated his friends, and nearly got himself killed all because when some hobo with a white beard told him he was wrong, he trusted that hobo.  And for all that idiocy, the Lord blessed him.

Because that makes perfect sense.


God Doesn't Always Answer Prayers, but When He Does the Answer is Useless
God spends eighteen verses answering Alma's question.  Alma's question was, "what am I supposed to do about all these sinful non-believers who occasionally deceive members of the church with their cunning words?"

God's answer, when all the fat is trimmed off of it, is effectively, "If they don't repent, they don't count as church members."  Which makes me feel like this kind of thing probably happened a lot over the next few days:
ALMA:  Apostate, do you repent of the sins that you have committed?
APOSTATE:  I don't believe in your religion, so I don't think I did anything wrong, so I guess my answer is no.
ALMA:  Then you will be blotted out from the records of the church!
APOSTATE:  Huh?
ALMA:  Your punishment for apostasy is excommunication!
APOSTATE:  *shrugs*  Okay...
ALMA:  You can't break up with us because we're breaking up with you! 
—awkward silence—
APOSTATE:   So I can go then? 
How exactly is it such a harsh punishment to excommunicate someone who doesn't want to be a member of your church in the first place?  And how was this answer so complicated that in verse 33 Alma had to write it down so he didn't forget?  After eighteen verses of prayer-answering, it's a little underwhelming when the conclusion of God's thoughts on the subject do little else than make you slap your forehead.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

That Last Days Panic

The more I think about it, the more I think that the concept of the Last Dispensation was one of Joseph Smith's cleverer ideas.

I realize that it wasn't a complete invention, considering plenty of other Christian denominations believe that the end of times is quickly approaching.  But I've rarely seen people outside of Mormondom take that belief so dearly to heart.

The sense of constant vigilance is pervasive in Mormonism.  The belief is that the Second Coming of Christ could be at any time and that all the signs are piling up.  This gives members the feeling that they're running out of time to achieve their potential.  If you haven't repented of your sins and magnified your calling and done your family history by the time Jesus comes, then you've kind of missed the ultimate deadline.  You don't want to be the guy that has to say, "Oops, sorry, bro, I was a little behind schedule and I'm not ready."  This is why church leaders repeatedly urge us to be prepared.

Ostensibly, anyway.

The real reason we're supposed to be prepared is that when you're in a continuous state of heightened panic for the fate of your immortal soul, you're not taking the time to stop and think about what it is you're doing.  Rushed decisions are often bad decisions, and the more the church cracks the whip of a looming apocalypse, the more rushed the members feel.  Being part of a perceived last-second full-court press makes people focus on doing instead of on what is being done--and instead of why what is being done is supposedly necessary.

If you run into a building and start screaming that there's a fire and people need to evacuate, a lot of people will start evacuating. In a suddenly high-pressure situation, who's going to wait around to see if you're right?  Who's going to question you about how the fire started to see if you're making it all up?  The thing you're screaming about is dangerous and you're really selling it, so for their safety, people are going to take your word for it.  The big difference though, is that if you evacuate the building because you trusted the guy shouting fire, you've wasted an afternoon...but if you strive for Mormon perfection because you trusted the church, you've wasted an entire lifetime.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mosiah 25: The Zarahemlan Melting Pot

As all plotlines converge on the land of Zarahemla, ruled by the righteous Nephite King Mosiah, more weirdness ensues.  The entirety of Zarahemla, including Nephites, Mulekites, the people of Alma, the people of Limhi, and the disgruntled descendants of Amulon, gather to hear the stories of miraculous escapes from the evil Lamanites.


Convert ALL the Nephites!
Alma begins preaching to the hodgepodge collective of righteous peoples (who suspiciously all happen to be descended from people who weren't cursed with a dark skin).  He teaches repentance and tells the people of Limhi that they were delivered from bondage by God (even though this is the first we're hearing of it).  And then this totally unrealistic thing happens:
And it came to pass that after Alma had taught the people many things, and had made an end of speaking to them, that king Limhi was desirous that he might be baptized; and all his people were desirous that they might be baptized also.
All his people?  All of them?  Really?  Nobody wanted to be a rebel?  Nobody was sick of getting dicked around by an increasingly fickle and petulant god?  Nobody said, "You know what, I'd like to think about this for a few days before I rush into a rash decision"?

People don't act en masse like that, Joseph.  Sure, most people may tend to follow the crowd or go with the flow, but ALL of ANY large group of people RARELY agree on ANYTHING.


Church and State
Do a doubletake on verse 19:
And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church.
Whoa...why exactly does the head of state get to give the prophet of God permission to do anything?  And it's more than a little strange that Alma is just going along with this considering his recent soapbox speech about how the people should "not esteem one flesh above another" and "trust no man to be a king."

And what power does Mosiah have to give Alma the power to ordain priests and teachers?  Alma just organized a church in his own town two chapters ago, which apparently he's allowed to do ever since he gave himself the authority to do stuff.  But now, all of a sudden, he needs Mosiah to grant him the power to ordain people to the church heirarchy?


Just the Way Tommy Monson Does It
Verse 21:
Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.
What happened to personal revelation?  Shouldn't the different officers and leaders of the church receive revelation from God concerning their stewardships?  Why does it all come to them from Alma?  That seems pretty suspicious, although I have to admit it's in keeping with the way the current church is run.  Everything comes from Monson and the rest of the Big 15, because God doesn't actually talk to the Mormon church—probably because he has nothing to do with it.  Which is why all big decisions in the church come from the top, instead of from personal revelation to the appropriate level of leadership like it's supposed to.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mosiah 24: The Greater Escape

This chapter is pretty much Chapter 22 reloaded.  I'm pretty sure that this is the way Joseph Smith wished he'd written Chapter 22 the first time.  But once he'd screwed that one up, he couldn't tell his scribe they were going to go back and rewrite it without threatening his claim of divine inspiration.  So instead, he simply told a very similar—but improved—story.  Here are some key differences:

God is involved.  The almost-miraculous escape of Limhi's people from Lamanite rule was entirely attributed to acts of man.  But in Alma's story, the people pray for deliverance and are given three miracles.  God is depicted as being heavily involved and central to the story.

God speaks directly to his people.  Instead of plotting an escape in a very public meeting, the people of Alma are provided with their solution by God, who is probably much better at communicating in secret than that idiot Limhi.  Although it seems pretty weird that so many people got to hear the voice of God despite the fact that it's been a while since even a modern prophet made such a claim, at least the story makes sense by itself.

The Lamanites go into a deep sleep instead of getting smashed.  Rather than offering the Lamanites extra wine and hoping that none of them had any self-control whatsoever, Alma's people have the assurance of a divine miracle.  The Lamanites fall into what appeared to be a temporary God-induced mass coma, which makes it more believable that so many people can take everything they own, including animals, and walk out without getting caught.

God confounded the pursuing Lamanite army.  While Alma and his people are fleeing in the wilderness, God informs him that the Lamanites are coming for them.  He tells Alma to get the people out of their current location and that he will "stop" them there so that they can pursue them no further.  This stands in stark contrast to the absurd events of chapter 22, in which the fleeing people of Limhi, with all their children and livestock and possessions, inexplicably manage to outstrip a trailing Lamanite army by a significant margin.

The other point I'd like to make is that at two different locations in this chapter, Alma's followers attribute things to the wrong people.  In verse 15, when God makes their burdens feel light, it says that "they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord."  That's a little strange, considering that the will of the Lord was only helping them.  It's more noteworthy to say that they submitted cheerfully to the will of their evil Lamanite taskmasters.  You can hardly be said to "submit" to something that you're totally on board with, such as an all-powerful being doing you a solid when you're in a tight spot.

The second time this occurs is in verse 20, when the freshly-escaped people camp out in a valley in the wilderness.  They name the valley Alma "because he led their way in the wilderness."  That's a little strange, considering that, based on recent events, you'd think it would be more appropriate to name the valley the Nephite word for "glory to God" or something.  It doesn't seem very grateful of such a righteous, humbled people, to, after God sticks his neck out for them twice, name the first place they come to after the man who was simply acting as his mouthpiece.

Even though it's a huge improvement over the earlier story it mirrors, this chapter still has its dumb moments.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Little Children Suffer

My nephew is three.

He's being raised by my firm-in-the-faith sister and her firm-in-the-faith husband.  Recently, my sister and her son visited my firm-in-the-faith parents for the week.  I dropped by a few times to see them during that time.

My nephew likes Family Home Evenings.  He likes saying the blessing on the food.  He likes singing primary songs and he loves Jesus.  My family thinks that all of these things are cute.  Meanwhile, I silently observe, thinking that all those same things are despicable.

He doesn't understand any of it.  He insists on having Family Home Evening every week not because he loves the gospel, but because he likes the routine.  He says the blessing on the food not because he wants to thank his Lord for the bounty he is about to receive, but because his parents say the blessing on the food--his prayers are mostly gibberish anyway.  He loves to sing primary songs not because he wants to worship his Heavenly Father but because he likes to sing whether he knows and comprehends the lyrics or not.  And he says that he loves Jesus because he gets such a huge outpouring of parental approval whenever he says it, not because he understands what love is or who Jesus was or why Jesus deserves our love.

My sister thinks he's cute.  And he is.  But he's also a poster boy for a very ugly brainwashing machine that is probably going to con him into wasting two years of his life and ten percent of his money down the road.

After the discussions my dad and I had about brainwashing a while back, I don't understand how he can't see it.  For Family Home Evening, my dad pulled out his iPad and played "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus" for the opening song.  My nephew eagerly sang along with it, babbling incoherently through the verses and getting about half the words right on the choruses.  Meanwhile, my dad sang along, trying to enunciate carefully so my nephew could understand.  When my nephew became louder and more confident during the chorus, it wasn't because he believed what he was singing, it was just because he suddenly knew what he was supposed to sing.  How does that not look like brainwashing?

He's three.  He doesn't understand.  How horrible is it to force that kind of belief on someone who hasn't yet developed the ability to judge the credibility of new information?

And now my sister has another son who will probably share my first nephew's fate.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mosiah 23: Sucks to be Alma

Now we switch to the story of Alma following his people's escape from King Noah's attempt to quash their religious subculture.


Alma Institutes Doublethink
So because people are stupid, the first thing that Alma's followers do when they set up a little town eight days' journey away from King Noah is beg him to be their king.  Alma responds very self-righteously:
Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.
...I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.
But then, of course, Alma became their high priest instead.  He's too humble to be their king and possibly wield more power than one man should have, but he's not too humble to be their religious leader and wield more power than one man should have.  It's not like the head of a religion to which virtually everyone in a society belongs can influence the people or the politics of a region.  Right, Medieval Europe?

Alma makes a big show of turning down power and then, whether the people realize it or not, he accepts it in a different form.  Alma, you sly little worm, don't think we didn't notice.


Getting Toyed With by God
After Alma's people set up their little government of uncertain structure in the land of Helam, the Lamanite armies eventually find them.  This same Lamanite army had also discovered where the rogue priests of King Noah had been hiding.  By the time the Lamanites find Alma, they'd been convinced to assimilate Noah's old priests (and their stolen Lamanite wives) into Lamanite society.  When their massive armies descend upon the land of Helam, they decide to appoint Amulon, the leader of Noah's priests, as their puppet king over the easily conquered people of Alma.

Those events begin to unfold in verse 25 and continue to the end of the chapter.  But immediately before that story, in verses 23 and 24, we read:
For behold, I will show unto you that they [the Nephites] were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.
Yes, great were their rejoicings, and in a nonspecific time frame not exceeding the length of a generation, they were back in bondage again.  And their powerful god, who delivered them from bondage because they were his favored race and because they'd finally started getting righteous again, decided to let them be captured by Lamanites even though they hadn't even fallen into iniquity yet.  What a stand-up guy, letting them praise him and rejoice in their freedom only to sit idly by while it is forcibly wrested away a few years later.

Can you even consider the escape of Alma's people a faith-promoting story if everything goes to crap again right after the happy ending part?  Unless the moral of the story is trust in God and have a selective memory.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Conversation With Lucifer

So God says your plan sucked.

Yeah, I've heard.  All I wanted to do was make sure everybody got to be as happy as possible. 

God says you want to take away our free agency.

Sure, but just for your mortal lives.  That would be the blink of an eye followed by an eternity in exaltation.  Doesn't seem like a bad trade to me.

And when God kicked you out, you convinced a third of the host of heaven to go with you.

Everybody but God knew my plan made more sense.  But only a third of you had the guts to admit it.  It's okay, dude, I don't take it personally.  Rebelling against God is a pretty big deal, so I don't blame you for sticking with him back in the War in Heaven.

You mean the war you started?

It wasn't a war when I started it, pal.  And if there's any proof that God doesn't really care if his spirit children wind up eternally happy, it's what he did to me and my friends.  He casts a third of us out and denies us the right to gain a mortal body?  That's shooting one pretty epic torpedo at your own plan at the very beginning.  Right off the bat--BOOM!--maximum success rate drops to sixty-seven percent.  

But now that you can't have a mortal body, you want to stop us all from making the right choices so that we're all miserable like you, right?

What?  Who told you that?

I learned it in Sunday School.

Listen, that makes no sense.  Look, I was a good guy from the beginning--one of God's favorites.  My whole thing was the Everybody Wins Plan.  Sure, I'm a victim of God's Plan of Improbable Happiness, but I'm still running an underground resistance.  You think I'm really shallow enough to abandon the cause I supported from the beginning just because I've had to make some personal sacrifices?  God is a tyrant.  I still want as many people reaching exaltation as possible.  I'm working behind the scenes constantly to try and circumvent God's train wreck of a plan.  One of these days, I'm going to figure out how to save everybody.

So you don't tempt people?

No.  God gave you guys agency so you often choose a selfish or immoral course of action.  It has nothing to do with a knowledge of good an evil--it's the availability of limitless options.  You don't need anyone to tempt you to do wrong, because that implies that you wouldn't otherwise.  That's not how free agency works.  Free agency means that many choices are laid before you and you pick any of them for your own reasons.  

So you're saying that all the evil crap in the world is just human nature?  That we're naturally this horrible to each other?

Not really.  Come on--cut off from your spirit parents and with no knowledge of your role or purpose or value?  No offense, but you guys are kind of like wounded animals in a cage.  You're scared and you don't understand what's happening so a lot of you lash out at those around you.  I don't blame you for that.  But it's not exactly an ideal environment for proving your goodness and loyalty to God, which is yet another reason why God's plan is so idiotic.  

Is it weird that you make more sense than God did when I talked to him?

Nah.  He's an out-of-touch, sadistic egomaniac.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mosiah 22: The Great Escape

So now that Limhi has learned from Ammon about the people of Mosiah, he becomes determined to free his people from the awful deal he struck with the Lamanite king.  The events that follow are ludicrous.


A Public Gathering is No Place to Formulate a Secret Plan
In one of the Book of Mormon's many references to the value of democracy, King Limhi decided that, in order to "have the voice of the people concerning the matter," he needed to call this big town meeting so everyone could brainstorm ideas for getting out from under Lamanite rule.

It's a nice idea, but you have to wonder how the Lamanite overseers failed to notice a huge meeting of Nephites—or, if they noticed, you have to wonder how they failed to realize that the meeting was about a mass prison break.  Large gatherings tend to spell trouble for oppressive regimes.  You'd think the Lamanites would have sent some soldiers in to break up the revolution before it gathered any momentum.  It seems a little weird that they didn't.


Alcohol Does Not Make Everyone Pass Out
The ingenious plan proposed by Gideon was to offer a totally-not-suspicious extra helping of wine in their payment of goods to their Lamanite masters.  Somehow, the Lamanite guards were actually dumb enough to get completely plastered.  It's implied (though not explicitly stated) that every last one of the guards passed out.  I find it really hard to believe that there weren't at least a decent portion of the guards that were smarter and less inebriated.  There should have at least been enough guards left to run for reinforcements to stop the entire city of Nephites "with their flocks and their herds...all their gold, and silver, and their precious things, which they could carry, and also their provisions."  Of course, considering the Nephite city was surrounded by Lamanite settlements, the Lamanite civilians must have been drunk too as Limhi's people walked past their homes in the middle of the night.

I suppose this is supposed to be interpreted as a miracle—that God caused an increased stupor of drunkenness to fall upon the Lamanites that their righteous captives might be freed from bondage.  But the Book of Mormon is usually pretty good about saying things like, "HEY, EVERYONE, AND THUS WE SEE THAT GOD DID SOMETHING MIRACULOUS."  Here, there's nothing.  There's no mention of God at all.   All the events of this chapter are attributed directly to the characters involved.  Limhi's people escaped on their own without the Lord's help.  Without that crucial divine plot device, the story becomes that much more absurd.  This is simply a bad chapter from a bad novel.


How Do You Lose Track of a Mass Exodus?
When the Lamanites realized that all their underlings had disappeared, they sent an army after them but failed to catch up after two days.  Not only did they fail to overtake them in that time, but they also lost the trail, gave up, and went home.

So an army, which is designed to be mobile, couldn't catch up to a slow-moving mass of civilians, livestock and children?  They were even so slow that they couldn't follow the tracks anymore—and the tracks of thousands of people and thousands of animals don't just disappear after a little rain.  I feel like the guy who was in charge of that army was probably executed by the Lamanite king for incompetence upon his return home.

Slowest.  Army.  Ever.