Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jacob 7: Sherem and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Now that we've gotten some boring preaching out of the way, let's get back to some story.  In this chapter, we meet Sherem, the first in a series of silvertongued, anti-church, anti-Christ demagogues.  The illustrious Jacob, prophet of God and brother of the even more illustrious Nephi, crosses verbal swords with him.

Jacob Fails to Relate to the Everyman
After getting a number of Jacob's people to leave the church, Sherem tries to get Jacob to abandon his faith as well.  Here is Jacob's oh-so-humble commentary on that attempt:
And he had hope to shake me from the faith, notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things; for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me.  And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken.
This, of course, is useless to the average, everyday, non-prophet member of the church, both in Jacob's time and in our time.  Thanks, Jacob, for letting us know that the way to withstand being led away from the church is by receiving the ministering of angels and hearing God's actual voice.  Those aren't exactly tools available to the masses who haven't been chosen as the Lord's mouthpiece on the earth, so it just seems like gloating when you say that these kinds of things are what made you immune to Sherem's evil lies.

I think it's also worth noting that Jacob seems to base his testimony on miraculous events, which flies in the face of the common Mormon teaching that faith is not built on miracles.  After all, Laman and Lemuel were visited by an angel, and they continued to be conniving, murderous dicks.  If he were a good Mormon, Jacob's testimony would be based on personal confirmation from the Holy Ghost.

Sherem's Brilliant Argument
This evil mastermind who'd led away so many precious Nephite faithful decides to bring out the big guns when arguing with Jacob—the crux of his argument is that nobody knows the future (verse 7--"no man knoweth such things; for he cannot tell of things to come") therefore teaching the people to worship a savior who won't come for hundreds of years is blasphemous.

Jacob's fiendishly clever response is to ask Sherem if he denies the Christ.  Sherem, like a complete idiot, responds:
If there should be a Christ, I would not deny him;  but I know that there is no Christ, neither has been, nor ever will be.
So, immediately after condemning Jacob for claiming to know of a future event, Sherem makes the even bolder claim that he knows this future event will never happen.  In true Mormon fashion, however, instead of addressing the contradictory nature of Sherem's argument, Jacob—wait for it—bears his testimony.  Because saying you believe something bunches and bunches always trumps an appeal to logic.

The Four Most Powerful Words in the Book of Mormon
In verse 13, Sherem asks Jacob to "show me a sign" that all that stuff Jacob's been saying about Christ is true.  This is as sure a way to get yourself killed in the Book of Mormon as it is to have sex in the dark in a slasher movie.

Jacob throws a little fit about how stupid it is for God to show him a sign of "the thing which thou knowest to be true."  Because obviously anyone who preaches against the church actually knows that it's true but is simply working for the devil.  But then God smites the crap out of Sherem, who apparently spends several days unconscious.  When he wakes up he asks to address the people before he dies.  So Sherem tells everybody that he was deceived by the devil and that he lied and that the scriptures were true...and then he dies.

Ridiculous.  This story is written at barely a fourth grade level.  It's too easy and too neat and too perfect and too vindicating for the protagonist.  It doesn't ring of truth and the plot sucks.  Not to mention the characters are all one-dimensional.

But it gets better.

Happily Ever After
Verses 21 and 23 convey an even more sickeningly fictitious ending:
And when the multitude had witnessed that he spake these things as he was about to give up the ghost, they were astonished exceedingly; insomuch that the power of God came down upon them, and they were overcome that they fell to the earth.
And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people and they searched the scriptures and hearkened no more to the words of this wicked man.
...and the kingdom rejoiced in the marriage of the prince and princess and they ruled together for many years and the people loved them and the kingdom was prosperous and the bad guy got his comeuppance and everybody but him lived happily ever after.

Also, there's two subjects in the first sentence of verse 23 despite the use of a singular verb.  And there's the added problem of not hearkening unto the words of a man who at two different times preached completely opposite things.  Which words weren't they hearkening unto?  The words when he was denying Christ or the words when he was confirming the scriptures?

This crap is worse than Twilight.  Joseph Smith could have benefited greatly from an editor.  You know, someone to say, "Hey, your book sucks, I'm not publishing it."

The last word of the chapter, which Joseph translated from Reformed Egyptian into English, is a French word with a direct English translation.  Why?

It's not proof that the Book of Mormon is a fraud or anything, but it's unnecessary and illogical.

Seriously, what's the point of that?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Keeping Up Appearances

I used the Lord's name in vain in my parents' presence.

I think it was somewhat appropriate, considering they'd just told me that a member of the ward I'd grown up in had broken his leg while working alone on his property and had to hobble all the way back to his house to get help.  "Oh, God, that's horrible!" is a completely normal, sympathetic reaction.  But immediately after I said that, I realized that I wasn't supposed to say those kinds of things around family.  I said "damn" once, too, but I was on the phone in the other room, so I'm not sure if they heard me.

It's exhausting trying to maintain an inoffensive, sanitized demeanor around my family.  I know their ears won't start bleeding if I swear, but considering how little they understand about my departure from the church, I hesitate to demonstrate any kind of behavior that will reemphasize to them how much my lifestyle differs from theirs.  I work on Sundays (almost every Sunday, actually), but I don't bring it up unless a specific day is being discussed.  I neglect to discuss the R-rated movies and more intense TV shows that I've watched.  And I still haven't told them that I've been living with my girlfriend for the last two years...although I'm pretty sure they know.

My attempts to modify my behavior in my family's company reminds me of the constant need I felt as a church member to continually force myself into the Mormon box.  Growing up, I was always aware of who and what everyone else (family, local church leaders, the Brethren, God, etc.) wanted me to be.  And I spent so much time trying to change myself to fit that mold.

You like playing computer games to relax?  Nope!  Better use your time more effectively and read your scriptures!
You're an introvert who's uncomfortable in crowds?  Nope!  Better speak regularly in front of the whole congregation while preparing yourself to spend two years talking to thousands of different strangers!
You're frustrated and need an outlet for your anger?  Nope!  Keep smiling, pray, read your scriptures, and ask God to help you let go of anger next Fast Sunday.
You like boobs?  Nope!  Train yourself to keep your eyes up because even enjoying the shapeliness of a fully-clothed female body is wrong!

It was exhausting.  I mean, I thought it was normal at the time.  I guess maybe it seemed like life was supposed to be that hard and feel that hopeless.  On some level, I think I knew that I was acting like someone that I wasn't.  But I think I was scared that it was because everybody else at church was better.  I was scared that the other kids (well, except for the ones that obviously didn't bother with the church's stringent rules) didn't need to act.  I was doing everything I could to modify my behavior to fit the church's expectations and I feared that some of my more pious comrades came upon their behaviors naturally.  I was running as fast as I possibly could just to break even.  Now, of course, I realize that my tireless work to maintain a good image made me appear to be the nearly the model of a Mormon adolescent.  But at the time, I felt like I was just barely hanging in there.

Now that I've let go of the church and its rules and expectations, I've learned to challenge myself based on my own standards and my own rules.  It's much, much better this way.  I'm much more motivated to succeed and much less hard on myself when I don't.  I want to achieve my goals because they're my goals--not the ideals imposed on me by a religion that was thrust upon me as a child.  And when I fail to achieve my goals I've only failed myself--instead of failing my parents, my bishop, my church and my deity.

But every time I go back home I feel the need to, for my family's sake, change how I act and withhold information about my life to avoid offending their sensibilities and exacerbating an already awkward relationship.  It's almost useful as a reminder of how much I've gained from leaving the church.  It reminds me how much I can be myself when I'm away from the influence of Mormonism.

But I love being as free as I am.  And I've been out of the church and out of my parents' house for so long now that I think I'm getting worse and worse at maintaining the allusion of a semblance of piety.  And one of these days, I'm going to accidentally let loose an F-Bomb...and that will be a very, very uncomfortable situation.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Jacob 6: Badly in Need of a Retcon

Jacob Mixes his Metaphors
Our current protagonist just got finished relating a very complicated vineyard allegory in which the prophets were servants in the vineyard and the people (both Israelites and Gentiles) were represented by various branches of various trees.  But before moving on to another topic, he makes this statement in verse 3:
And how blessed are they who have labored diligently in his vineyard
Wait—based on the allegory he's referring to, those who labored in the vineyard were God's prophets.  Is he telling his people "your prophets are blessed because of their work?"   Because that doesn't seem very useful, considering he spends this chapter trying to scare people out of Hell.  He must be referring to his people when he refers to laborers, which flies in the face of the detailed illustration of God's plan he provided in the previous chapter.

Jacob Forgets The Hands-Off Approach
The prophet makes some interesting amnesiac comments about God across several verses.
He [God] stretches forth his hands unto them [Israel] all the day long
...cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long 
But this everpresent, relentlessly nurturing God is the same one who disappeared twice in the middle of the Allegory of the Olive Tree and was happy to give up and burn stuff if his servants didn't talk him out of it.  Clearly, Jacob has as selective memory.   Because the god he described in the previous chapter doesn't stretch his hand forth all the day long, doesn't cleave unto his children and doesn't nourish us with his word all the day long.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

An Understandable Misunderstanding

My Mormon "history" came up at work again a few days ago.  

We were, for some reason I can't recall, discussing holiday traditions.  And one of my employees with whom I've had several discussions about the church asked whether Mormons have any specific traditions in the way of holiday foods.

I casually replied, "Nah, Christmas is pretty basic for us.  We don't eat anything unusual.  Just the lamb entrails and stuff.  Pretty normal."

I was joking, of course.  But then I saw the look on his face and I remembered telling him about the dead-dunking and the magic underwear--and I suddenly realized that he had no reason to believe I was joking.  I'd told him much weirder stuff that was completely factual, so a traditional Christmas meal of lamb intestines didn't seem comparatively outlandish.  I quickly had to assure him that I was making that part up and reiterate that my childhood Christmases were pretty all-American--turkey, ham, presents, trees, stockings...pretty normal.

It's crazy to realize that, because of my deadpan delivery and the information that I'd provided him with, it was totally reasonable to believe the completely bizarre crap I'd just come up with.  A religion that can result in that kind of misunderstanding is a pretty weird religion.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mormon-Themed Memes 4

I had some more time to kill and an irresponsibly fast internet connection, so I continued making masses of my meaningless Mormon memes.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Jacob 5: The Clusterfuck of the Olive Tree

This chapter is a beast.

It's seventy-seven very verbose verses about trees and vineyards, Lords and servants, roots and branches, digging and pruning, grafting and burning, wild fruit and tame fruit and a whole lot of symbolism.  But it's not a very good chapter.  It's very repetitive, occasionally vague (wait, which tree are we talking about now?) and entirely dull.

The Basic Flaw
This chapter is the famed Allegory of the Olive tree, which originated from an otherwise unknown prophet named Zenos.  Jacob reads Zenos's allegory to the Nephites to teach them about God's plan for his chosen people, including the scattering and gathering of the tribes of Israel.

But the whole point of an allegory (or a parable or an object lesson or whatever you want to call it) is simplicity.  The advantage of an allegory is that you can use a familiar setting to relate a complex concept to your audience so that they can better understand.  Zenos, apparently, decided that since God scattering the house of Israel because of its wickedness and then orchestrating a future gathering was such a complex idea, he'd explain this idea using a vineyard.  But he didn't just explain—he overexplained.

Suddenly this simple, real-word example that the people supposedly would understand better than bare doctrine spirals out into a massive, intricate story featuring about a zillion different characters (if you count the trees).  It's not so simple anymore.  The allegory's symbolism and meaning are lost in the textual landslide.

God is a Bad Gardener
What I think is funny about the Allegory of the Olive tree is that, on two separate occasions during this millennia-spanning epic, the Lord of the vineyard (popularly assumed to be Jesus Christ) completely ignores his vineyard (the world) for a while.  Twice, in verses 15 and 29 a "long time" goes by before the Lord goes back to see how his trees are doing.

Sounds like maybe the deists were Mormon after all.  So much for the hands-on, answers-my-prayers-to-find-my-car-keys version of God.  Apparently there are some huge gaps of time during which he doesn't have a member of the godhead directly supervising his work.  And it should have been no surprise to the Lord of the vineyard that, after he comes back from his extended sabbatical, his vineyard has gone down the tubes.  Maybe a more continuous, concerted effort would have yielded better results?

There's a potted fern on the window sill in God's celestial office.  It's been dead for centuries but he hasn't noticed.

God Is Perfectly Happy to Give Up
The Lord of the vineyard, in verse 26, wants to burn the branches that have failed to bring forth good fruit.  But in the next verse, the servant talks him out of it by offering to do some more work on the trees.  In verse 49, after whining for a while about how his vineyard is all messed up, the Lord suggests that the two of them go chop down all the trees and burn them.  But in the following verse, the servant talks him out of it.

Why is the Savior so quick to throw up his hands and admit defeat?  And why is a prophet (the servant), who is supposed to be only a fallible man doing the work inspired of God, able to change his mind?

A Final Tangential Point
During my admittedly cursory research into the vast intricacies of this chapter, I happened across a piece from BYU's Maxwell Institute.  I almost laughed out loud at its opening line:
In language that rivals the best literature has to offer, the allegory of the olive tree is the most beautiful prose expression of God's aspirations for the house of Israel during its history here on the earth.
Dude—seriously?  Jacob chapter 5 "rivals the best literature has to offer?"  Come on.  It's bland and repetitive.  It's unimaginative, largely practical prose that explains what's happening without offering much in the way of poetic wording.  It's drier than overcooked cornbread.  Here are a few examples of what I think is among the best that literature has to offer.
You're afraid of making mistakes.  Don't be.  Mistakes can be profited by.  Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces.  They beat me with sticks.  By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed into a fine cutting point for me.  If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.   (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)
I am afraid.  Not of life, or death, or nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been.  (Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon)
 When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples.  (Stephen Crane, The Open Boat)
And compare:
Behold, this have I planted in a good spot of ground; and I have nourished it this long time, and only a part of the tree hath brought forth tame fruit, and the other part of the tree hath brought forth wild fruit; behold, I have nourished this tree like unto the others.  (Joseph Smith, I mean Jacob, I mean Zenos, Jacob 5:25)
One of these things is not like the others.

Mormon loyalty to their sacred book can get a little ridiculous sometimes.  Whether it's the word of God or not, nobody should be comparing its contents to the works of people who could really turn a phrase—you know, Dickens or Twain or Wilde or Steinbeck.  As a novel, the Book of Mormon is crap.  It's nowhere near the level of the classics.  Its only value is in its religious significance—which, ironically, is zero to everyone on the planet except for a couple million practicing Mormons.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Forgetting What It's Like Not to Know

Fast food years are like dog years.  I've worked a long canine lifetime in fast food.  And I've been with the same company the whole time, doing pretty much the same things and following pretty much the same routines and procedures.

I've noticed lately that, when I'm training someone on any kind of task, I often skip steps.  I'll explain steps one, three, and six of a process and not even consider that explaining steps two, four and five would be necessary.  I've done the task a thousand times and I've forgotten that, if you've never done it before, you might not realize the necessity of those few steps that I'd assumed were matters of common sense.

I've forgotten what it's like not to know how to do things.  I've been there too long, and too much time has passed since I was new, untrained and pretty much clueless.  I struggle to relate to the frustrations of some of my newer employees as they fail to grasp my cursory and incomplete explanations of what they are required to do.

I think I'm at that point with this whole Mormon business, too.  I've been an "inactive" member for almost five years now (Maybe I should call myself an apostate, that has an air of finality to it).  I'm struggling to understand just how so many people (for example, my family members) can continue to believe what, to me, is quite clearly a load of crap.  I've forgotten what it's like not to know that the church isn't true.  I've forgotten what it's like not to consider that possibility because of the depth of my emotional, spiritual, social and familial investments in the church.  I can't understand why if I list four of Mormonism's truth claims that are patently false, my parents don't shake their heads and say, "Wow, you're right, it's all a lie."

The concept that I think I need to wrap my brain around is that the truth staring one person in the eyes is facing away from somebody else.  Just because I can see it clearly doesn't mean someone else can.  Similarly, what's clear to other people may not be clear to me.  For example, some of my coworkers have recently informed me that I've developed a habit of being extremely condescending to people I don't like.  I didn't realize I was doing it until it was pointed out by someone else (or multiple someone elses).  That doesn't mean anybody involved is stupid--it just means that someone's perspective has limited his ability to see what others have a much better vantage point of.

I guess this is kind of a follow-up to my musings on intelligence and stupidity.  Maybe by trying to step back and consider the angle from which my family sees their religion and trying to remember how it was when I was at the same angle, I can forgive them for being what I sometimes term "stupid."  Maybe I can be less angry with them and more...I don't know...patient?

Maybe I can reconcile my respect for their intelligence and my disgust for their religion.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Mormonism is Why I'm Not Rich and Famous

Okay, not really.

But I'm gonna go ahead and just blame the church's hyper-restrictive Sabbath Day observance for the fact that I am not currently an insanely rich soccer superstar, rolling in money and surrounded by beautiful women.  Obviously that's not true.

But when I played community intramural soccer as a kid, I was pretty good.  Probably not the best on any of the teams, but probably above average.  I wasn't really a glory seeker and I wasn't great at shooting, so I took pride in my ability to set up the plays.  I considered myself the one who got all the assists instead of the one who got all the goals.  I played from the time I was little--about six or seven, up through middle school.  And I loved it.  But I could only play during the fall season because during the spring season all the games were on Sundays.

Then something horrible happened around eighth or ninth grade--the league changed their schedule so that both spring and fall seasons had games on Sundays.  So, being the dutiful Mormon lad that I was (and not that I'd have had much of a choice anyway, because of my parents) I stopped playing the sport that I loved.

The next year, the schedule was inexplicably altered again so that the fall season games were on Sundays but most of the spring season games had moved to Saturdays.  I was overjoyed--I could play soccer again!  But because of the scheduling weirdness, it had been a year and a half since I'd last played a real game.  And when I triumphantly returned to the field, it felt like everybody else had gotten a year and half more skill than I had.  Suddenly, I was solidly below average instead of solidly above average.  I discovered I did not enjoy the sport nearly as much when I was getting schooled all the time instead of doing the schooling.

As best I remember, I'd quit soccer by my junior year of high school.  My year and a half hiatus had ruined my ability to become a superstar.

But I really don't understand the point of "keeping the Sabbath Day holy."  It seems to be, at best, a nice sentimental tradition in remembrance (is "in remembrance" used by anybody outside of Mormondom?) of the seventh day of the creation.  But it's entirely absurd to make it a doctrinally mandated practice.  I came up with a few of the usual reasons for keeping the Mormon Sabbath holy.  I'm sure this list is incomplete.

To Demonstrate Obedience - Didn't the whole obedience-for-obedience's-sake thing go out with the end of the Mosaic Law?

To Rest From Your Labors - Sure, taking a break and unwinding is important sometimes.  But it's impractical, in the modern world, to expect everyone to take a break on the same day of the week--Sunday, for example.  Plenty of jobs require flexible schedules, often necessitating work on Sundays.  And besides, as a kid, the day I rested from my labors was Saturday anyway.

To Focus on the Savior - One day a week, you can spend all day being super-religious just to make sure you don't fall out of touch with your religiosity.  But I'm going to use the argument my mother made about Easter--you shouldn't need a forced reminder to worship what you believe in if it's really that important to you.

I really don't see what tangible reason there is to keep a kid from playing soccer--or any other healthy activity--on a Sunday.