Monday, April 28, 2014

The Truth of All Things

In the final pages of the Book of Mormon, Moroni imparts a well-known challenge upon the reader:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
That famous scripture (Moroni 10:4) is supported by God's words to Oliver Cowdery (D&C 9:8):
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
These verses (among others) form the basis of the Mormon emotion-based methods for determining truth and making decisions.  God expects us to come to a tentative conclusion and then consult him in prayer and wait for the warm fuzzy feeling if we have the right answer.

I've heard many arguments against this.  I've made many arguments against this.  Popular points include:

  • Other religions get the same emotional response in prayer to their own religious texts.  How can we be sure our response is an accurate confirmation of truth?
  • People can "feel the Spirit" while watching emotional, secular films.  This doesn't mean that Frodo really destroyed the ring and that Vader really was Luke's father.
  • Feelings can be manipulated and misunderstood too easily.  How can we be sure we're not misinterpreting an emotional reaction to a concept that we desperately want to be real?
  • Faithful people have made life decisions based on perceived spiritual promptings that have yielded very poor results.  Why would God use a method that can be so easily and so disastrously misunderstood?
What I want to address, however, is an issue I've never considered before (although I'm sure others have beaten me to it).  Look at the verse directly after Moroni's promise:
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
All things.  This makes it sound like you should be able to say a prayer in which you explain to God that you've done a lot of research and that, according to the numbers, you think the Kansas City Royals are going to win the World Series this year.  Then you'll receive a burning in your bosom confirming that your conclusion was correct and you'll be able to put a whole bunch of money down on them and rake in the cash when they surprise everyone in October.

But more importantly than that, it makes it sound like you should be able to receive heavenly confirmation of some shady aspects of the church.  If the Spirit is supposed to testify to us of the truth of all things, maybe Mormons should start praying about things that fall into doctrinal gray areas.  How many times have you heard a member of the church bear testimony of receiving a personal spiritual affirmation that Nephi did the right thing when he cut off Laban's head?  That Ammon was justified in cutting off all those arms?  That Joseph Smith was doing God's work by instituting polygamy and then publicly lying about it?  That God was behaving admirably by waiting until 1978 to direct his church to cut it out with the racism?  That the penalties involved in the old temple rituals were inspired of God but somehow not necessary anymore?

If the Holy Ghost works the way that Mormon scriptures claim it does, then praying about any one of those things should bring about a good, confident feeling of warmth.  The most common explanation I've heard from Mormons for some of the less glamorous facets of the church is "we don't understand it, but we know the church is true, so we can take it on faith."  Has anyone ever gotten up in fast and testimony meeting to proudly declare that he prayed and received a testimony that the need for the priesthood ban was true?

Somehow, bizarrely, Mormonism has managed to teach its people to ignore its advertised method of determining truth when the method becomes inconvenient.  This goes beyond confirmation bias and unreliable feelings.  It's the culture, the indoctrination and the tendency to cling to any frail shred of approved reasoning for dear life.  Because I'm betting that if you approach a typical faithful Mormon and challenge him to pray about the truthfulness of the priesthood ban, you'll get some creative responses from him about how that's not how it works or maybe about how he doesn't need to because he knows the church is true.

But Moroni laid it out so directly:  The truth of all things.  Not just the things that appear moral in current society.  Not just the things that are easier to digest.  All things.

Maybe next time a family member embroils me in a tedious religious discussion, I'll try extending that kind of challenge.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Alma 20: Everybody Gets Threatened

God tells Ammon that his three brothers are in prison in another Lamanite kingdom.  King Lamoni offers to assist Ammon by accompanying him to the land of Middoni and convincing its king to release his Nephite prisoners.

Non-Believers are Such Scum
Lamoni and Ammon cross paths with Lamoni's father, the king of the entire Lamanite nation, on their journey to the land of Middoni.  Lamoni's father is furious with him and effectively personifies a common theme in the Book of Mormon:  people who don't believe in the gospel are horrible, horrible people.  Here's what Father of the Year does:
  • Exhibits paranoid racism when he repeatedly calls Nephites "sons of a liar" who want to seize Lamanite property and asks his son to explain why he's keeping company with a Nephite
  • Orders Lamoni to execute Ammon on the spot because he's a Nephite
  • Tries to murder Lamoni when Lamoni refuses to execute Ammon
  • Tries to kill Ammon when Ammon defends Lamoni, insisting that Ammon "hast sought to destroy" Lamoni
  • Turns into a sniveling coward as soon as Ammon gains the upper hand, promising Ammon half his kingdom in return for sparing his life
Is it any wonder Mormons can be so fearful of the world and so eager to avoid people who are not of their faith?  Look at what their scriptures have taught them about non-believers.  How many sympathetic characters in the Book of Mormon are not members of God's church?  The book is divided between righteous and wicked, prophets and hedonists, disciples and murderers.   There's not much middle ground.  With this book as a guide, how can Mormons be expected to see those of other faiths in a positive light?  How can they be expected to see atheists as anything other than bigoted, bloodthirsty and corrupt?

Death Threats are the Way of God
When Lamoni's father tries to kill Ammon, Ammon defends himself and even fights back, "[smiting] his arm that he could not use it."  And then Ammon does something that falls perfectly in line with his violent nature (verse 24):
Now when Ammon saw that he had wrought upon the old king according to his desire, he said unto him: If thou wilt grant that my brethren may be cast out of prison, and also that Lamoni may retain his kingdom, and that ye be not displeased with him, but grant that he may do according to his own desires in whatsoever thing he thinketh, then I will spare thee; otherwise I will smite thee to the earth.
So this is how we do things now?

Picture two missionaries giving a discussion to an investigator.  The investigator expresses disapproval of, say, the concept of sending out fresh-faced brainwashed kids who are ignorant of some important historical and doctrinal aspects of the church to recruit more members.  The senior companion then grabs the investigator by the hair and puts a bowie knife to his throat while the junior companion explains that they won't kill him if he promises to be baptized.
I'm sorry, Joseph, but if you expected me to believe that this Ammon guy was a prophet of God, you probably shouldn't have made him threaten a king's life for leverage to get his idiot brothers released from prison.  This is not acceptable behavior for a representative of the Lord.

Why So Grateful?
Then Lamoni's father reacts strangely to Ammon's death threat:
Now when Ammon had said these words, the king began to rejoice because of his life.
And when he saw that Ammon had no desire to destroy him, and when he saw the great love he had for his son Lamoni, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Because this is all that thou hast desired, that I would release thy brethren, and suffer that my son Lamoni should retain his kingdom, behold, I will grant unto you that my son may retain his kingdom from this time and forever; and I will govern him no more 
And I will also grant unto thee that thy brethren may be cast out of prison, and thou and thy brethren may come unto me in my kingdom; for I shall greatly desire to see thee. 
The king of the entire Lamanite population is in a surprisingly benevolent mood, considering he just received a mortal threat from a despised foreigner.  Instead of trying to put Ammon in his place, delivering some kind of "we do not negotiate with terrorists" speech, or acquiescing with secret loathing, Lamoni's father is positively exuberant.  Instead of being appalled by Ammon's audacity, he's impressed by his lack of greed and happily agrees to his terms.  And then he invites him over to his place for a barbecue.

What?  No.  Come on, that's not how this guy, who minutes ago was ordering Ammon's execution (and then trying to kill his son for refusing the order) would behave.  He likes having power, and Ammon just made him powerless.  Without any reference to God softening his heart to explain his bizarre change, this is just poor characterization.  But I guess that's what happens when you get someone with a third grade education self-publishing his first novel without the benefit of an editor.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Alma 19: Low Blood Pressure

King Lamoni appears to be dead and only Ammon knows that he "sleepeth in God."  Apparently the power of realizing the truth of the gospel has hit Lamoni pretty hard.

Faith is Believing in Things Which Are Claimed by Complete Strangers
Lamoni's wife, the queen, calls upon Ammon to help her with her my-husband-has-probably-been-dead-two-days-but-I-swear-he-doesn't-smell-yet problem.  Ammon explains to her that she shouldn't bury Lamoni because he is "carried away in God" and he'll wake up tomorrow.
And Ammon said unto her: Believest thou this?  And she said unto him: I have had no witness save thy word, and the word of our servants; nevertheless I believe that it shall be according as thou hast said.
And Ammon said unto her: Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites. 
Are you kidding?  That's not faith, that's gullibility!  

She hasn't prayed about this and felt a burning in her bosom.  She hasn't seen the way that Ammon's teachings have worked in her life and concluded that they are good teachings.  She hasn't gained a testimony of his role as a prophet.  She's just given credence to some rumors circulated by her employees and then believed something that a complete stranger told her when she desperately wanted to hear that her husband wasn't dead.

Ammon should be proud that there isn't such great faith among his own people, because that means they won't get duped by every con man with a seer stone who comes along.

Lamoni's Household Gets the Vapors
Lamoni awakens the next morning, as Ammon predicted.  He testifies great truths that he learned while he was seeing Jesus in his catatonic visions.  And then he collapses again.  And then his wife collapses.  And then Ammon, "overcome with joy," collapses.  And then the servants collapse.  And for some reason this is some kind of miraculous testament to the greatness of God.

Abish, one of the few women in the Book of Mormon worthy of a name (although she's referred to simply as "the woman servant" later), is the only person in the household who doesn't collapse.  She's been a secret believer in the gospel for years, which is apparently why she's immune (although Ammon isn't, because I guess he had too much joy).  She runs and tells everybody about what's going on, because she's under some deluded belief that seeing everybody in the king's household passed out will make people believe in God.  

This story is so over the top.  So many people fainting because they're overcome with the spirit.  And not only is it a little weird that Lamoni (not a Christ figure) rises after appearing dead for three days, but he gets to see Christ himself while he's unconscious.  And the reason why Abish was already a believer is because of a vision her father had a while back.  Stories like this one don't take place in the modern day.  I think that's a pretty good indication that King Lamoni's story (which is supposed to be from a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever) is fictional.

Ammon:  License to Kill
And if all that miraculousness wasn't more than your daily recommended intake, here's a little more.

Remember the leader of the sheep-scattering punks that Ammon killed?  His brother is among the crowd that gathers around the king's sleeping-gassed house.  When the onlookers see that Ammon, a Nephite, is involved, some of them blame his foreign influence for the apparent death of the royal family.  So this brother takes it upon himself to avenge his sibling and his king all at the same time, and he tries to kill Ammon.  At the perfect moment, just as he's raising his sword, God kills him.

God doesn't knock him out like everybody else.  He doesn't fill his heart with compassion or give him the spirit of forgiveness.  He just kills him dead, right there on the spot.  

The guy had a legitimate complaint.  Ammon murdered his brother in cold blood.  Sure, vengeance may not have been the most virtuous route to go, but I think the brother's actions here are more warranted than God's actions.  Verse 23 references a promise God made to Ammon's father that Ammon would be spared from danger.  But that doesn't really give Ammon the right to go picking fights with people and putting himself in extra danger just because he knows God is going to have his back.  By keeping his promise, God is condoning unprovoked murder.  He wouldn't want anyone to think he's a bloodthirsty god, would he?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Alma 18: Ammon is Pretty Much Awesome

Apparently impressed by Ammon's one-man-arm-severing-army trick, King Lamoni decides to sit and listen to what the missionary has to say.  Because unadulterated violence is usually the best way to get an investigator to take the church's truth claims seriously.

Ammon is Pretty Much the Greatest Guy Ever
As King Lamoni hears the reports of his servants, stares at the pile of arms they brought as proof, and worries that Ammon is the embodiment of the Great Spirit come to punish him for executing his servants previously, Ammon himself is absent.  King Lamoni asks where this enigmatic invincible man is.
And they said unto him:  Behold, he is feeding thy horses.  Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots....
I remember one of my church teachers going on and on about this verse.  I'm not sure if it was in seminary or in Sunday school, but this teacher was so impressed with the humility Ammon exhibits by continuing to do his job even after he'd done something that attracted so much attention.  But the story isn't necessarily about humility.  It's kind of about an emotional detachment from the act of taking a human life.  
Lamoni told his servants to take the sheep to the lake and then look after the horses.  So Ammon took the sheep to the lake, where he killed a bunch of people, and then came back to feed the horses like nothing happened.  You know, exactly like what a sociopath would do. No conscience.  No guilt.  Just business as usual, feeding the horses.  No biggie.

Ammon is Pretty Much the Most Spiritual Guy Ever
When Ammon finishes his chores, he stops by the throne room (or whatever) and asks what else the king wants him to do.  Filled with awe and fear (because he still thinks Ammon is the Great Spirit and he doesn't want to piss him off), King Lamoni doesn't answer him for more than an hour.  Then Ammon exercises his spiritual prowess in a truly remarkable way:
And it came to pass that Ammon, being filled with the Spirit of God, therefore he perceived the thoughts of the king.  And he said unto him:  Is it because thou has heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants; behold, is it this that causeth thy marvelings? 
That's not the Spirit.  That's just common sense.  You don't walk into work with a jellyfish stuck to your face and then ask people if they're staring at you because of your new haircut. 

"Oh, is it because I just pulled the most violent, over-the-top feat of strength and daring you've ever heard of that you wanted to talk to me?  Because if this is about the dent in that one chariot, it was like that when I found it."

What's even worse is that, two verses later, Lamoni falls for it, realizing that Ammon could "discern" his thoughts.  Come on.

Ammon is Pretty Much the Most Harmless Guy Ever
Lamoni promises Ammon whatever he wants in exchange for an explanation of how he did all that crazy stuff he did.  
Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni:  Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things?  And this is the thing that I desire of thee.
Ammon being wise, yet harmless?  That's clearly a lie.  Did anyone else even read the previous chapter?  He killed seven guys without even firing a warning shot!  He's a mass murderer!  A spree killer!  He is not harmless!

Ammon Bears Pretty Much the Most Powerful Testimony Ever
At King Lamoni's urging, Ammon gives him the rundown of life, the universe and everything.  He explains God, he explains that the Spirit gave him the power to kill people at his whim (because that's a good thing), he explains the fall of man, the plan of redemption, and even the history of their home continent, including the bit about how King Lamoni's ancestors were wicked and were therefore dealt a hefty curse.  

King Lamoni's reaction can be likened to  Alma the Younger's reaction to the angel that appeared to him in order to add another dramatic recurring story to the list of Book of Mormon tropes:
  • A non-believer becomes catatonic after learning the truth of the gospel
Lamoni cries out a request for God's mercy and then keels over.  Everybody thinks he's dead.  Apparently this is a credit to the power of Ammon's testimony?  Or perhaps it's supposed to be indicative of the depth of Lamoni's newfound faith?  Or maybe it's just a way to convince the people that Ammon is for real because it allows Lamoni to come back to life miraculously?  Whatever the reason, it sounds pretty corny.  It sounds like the kind of thing a bad writer does simply to make his subject matter seem more important.  It sacrifices realism and credibility in exchange for some dramatic weight.  Kind of like Nephi cutting off Laban's head and Alma letting his followers burn in Ammonihah.  

There are better ways to tell this story.  But this way has so much punch to it!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Alma 17: Defender of the Sheep

Now we'll step out of the action for a while and go back to the record of the sons of Mosiah, who bump into our hero (Alma, in case you forgot) while they're returning home from their fourteen years of gospel-preaching among the Lamanites.

Lamanites:  God's True Favorites?
The sons of Mosiah decide to split up and work their missionary magic in separate corners of the Lamanite realm.  This is how they describe the people of their new home:
Thus they were a very indolent people, many of whom did worship idols, and the curse of God had fallen upon them because of the traditions of their fathers; notwithstanding the promises of the Lord were extended unto them on the conditions of repentance.
This makes it sound like the Lamanites have things way better than the Nephites.  The Nephite's are God's favorites, because they're descended from righteous people, except that he constantly threatens them with destruction if they become wicked.  How will God destroy the Nephites?  By siccing the Lamaniteswho have been wicked the whole timeon them.

Not only that, but the Lamanites are promised the Lord's blessings if they become righteous.  So the Nephites are usually righteous but will be destroyed if they turn to the dark side.  The Lamanites are usually wicked but are eligible for the "promises of the Lord" if they repent.  Who has the better deal?  Probably the group that's allowed to be wicked without being destroyed.

For all Nephi's righteousness, his God sure gave his descendants the short end of the stick.

Lamoni:  As Dumb as Limhi?
Ammon, one of Mosiah's sons, ventures into the land of Ishmael, where he is captured by Lamanite guards and brought before King Lamoni.  Because Lamoni apparently likes to play with his food before he kills it or sentences it to a lifetime in prison, he asks Ammon a question:
And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
And Ammon said unto him:  Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.
And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife. 
Lamoni's men uncover a trespasser in his land and bring him to be judged. Lamoni asks a simple question to which the answer is obvious if you're looking to not piss off a powerful king who is holding you captive.  Ammon says, "Yes, of course, I want to live here!  In fact, I could live here the rest of my life!" Lamoni is so impressed by the answer that anyone without a death wish would give that he decides to set Ammon free.  To top it off, he even decides that Ammon should marry his daughter.

What an idiot.

Does this story sound familiar?  It should.  A very similar thing happened to another guy named Ammon in Mosiah 7 (see Limhi Gets Himself Conned).  So either ancient American kings weren't very bright or Joseph Smith ran out of story ideas and recycled them.  I'll add that to the list of reused plot devices in the Book of Mormon:
  • Righteous escapees from the Old World build ships to start afresh in America
  • An entire society escapes from their oppressive overseers overnight
  • An angel visits a non-believer and scares him straight
  • A visitor in a foreign land is brought before a stupid king and talks his way out of an execution
I realize this book is more than five hundred pages long, but I'm not even halfway through it yet and there's all these bad recurring storylines.

That Escalated Quickly
Now we come to one of those Book of Mormon stories that every Mormon kid grows up hearing many times.

Ammon somehow refuses to marry Lamoni's daughter without offending him and instead offers his services as a servant.  Lamoni sends Ammon to work with his shepherds.  While Ammon and his new coworkers are tending to the sheep, some punk Lamanites scare their sheep to intentionally scatter their flock.  Ammon's coworkers are devastated because Lamoni will surely kill them (which you'd think would have been enough deterrent for the punks to leave the king's sheep alone) but Ammon convinces them to go find all the sheep.  They collect all the sheep, stand around the flock ready to preempt another scattering, and Ammon goes to "contend" with the jerks that messed with the royal livestock.

Ammon, however, decides to act in a manner very unfit to teach small children about.  He makes no attempt at conflict resolution.  There's no talk.  There's no, "Hey, guys, not cool, cut it out."  He didn't negotiate or even argue.  He just pulled out his sling and started chucking stones at them.  He actually kills some of them.

Then, surprise surprise, the guys are so pissed off that Ammon had murdered their friends that they decide to attack him.  Ammon responds with one of the most memorable moments of badassery in the Book of Mormonhe cuts off their arms until they give up and run away.

And verse 38 nicely encapsulates what a great guy Ammon is:
Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword; and he smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him, and they were not a few.
Wow!  Look at that moral restraint Ammon exercised!  He didn't kill any of them except for their leader!  Oh, and except for the six guys he took out with his sling.  What a stand-up guy!  Instead of killing more than seven people in a fight that he started, he only cut off their arms and maimed them for life!

This is not admirable behavior.  This is bloodthirsty, hair-trigger violence.  It's a powerful story, sure. But it does not deliver a positive message.  Maybe if Ammon's sheep had been scattered a few more times.  Maybe if Ammon had tried to talk things out first.  Maybe if Ammon and his coworkers had been physically assaulted. But none of that happened.  Ammon just opened fire, kicked some Lamanite ass, and then goes down in Mormon history as some kind of awesome missionary instead of some kind of senseless murderer.

Don't teach your children this crap!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Real Responsibilities of Parents

My sister sent out an email a few days ago about a lesson she's going to have to teach in church in a few weeks.  Her calling is in the primary, so she's supposed to follow a manual containing lessons that are geared toward children.  She appealed for our assistance:
The theme is, Parents have important responsibilities in families.  So part of it says I'm supposed to invite 2 girls and 2 boys to come to the front to represent father mother son and daughter.  I'm supposed to give each a "prop" representing each one.  (The picture has the "father" holding a Book of Mormon, the "mother" holding a mixing bowl, the "son" holding a ball and the "daughter" holding a doll.  I'm offended already.)  Then I explain the roles of father (presides, provides, protects) and mother (care for and nurture)  Then the children are supposed to pantomime different things fathers and mothers do to fulfill these roles.  And mention that both parents are supposed to be good examples and teach the gospel.   
So I already have an issue with teaching that mothers cook and clean and change diapers and fathers go to work and teach the gospel and fight off bad guys.  Also there are many things that both parents do (like cook and clean and change diapers and work and teach the gospel).  And then there are plenty of children in our primary who do not have the "ideal" family for whatever reason, so I find the whole thing really awkward.  Does anyone have any good ideas on what to do?
Upon reading this, half of me cheered for her and half of me was ashamed for her.  She was so close!  She discussed all the problems that present itself with her assignment but when she was finished she came to the conclusion that she simply needs to frame the lesson better instead of the conclusion that the lesson is full of crap.

My sister is an intelligent, capable woman.  She graduated from BYU and became a math teacher before she met her husband.  Since then, she's dutifully embraced her responsibilities as a wife and a mother, but I'm glad that she had the chance to prove that she was perfectly able to support herself on her own before she met the priesthood holder on whose coattails she can ride to the Celestial Kingdom.

My mother, however, offered some useful advice for her:
I agree that your lesson model is rather stereotyped.  Maybe you could have the kids make a list (with help) of things their mother and father do.  (For example:  Who cooks dinner?  Mom.  Does your father ever cook on the BBQ?  So he cooks sometimes too.)  You might find that lots of mothers and fathers do the same sorts of things.  Then maybe you could read that part out of the family proclamation that tells what fathers and mothers are primarily responsible for.  Doesn't it use that word, primarily?  Just because it is someone's responsibility doesn't mean they only do it or all by themselves.
That's an excellent point, mother.  The Family Proclamation does state that "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children."  But let's take your point and tweak it just a little bit so that it's not so backward and sexist.

Instead of interpreting that line as "mothers have more responsibility to nurture than fathers," let's interpret it as "mothers are more likely to be the nurturers than fathers."  If you look at a large population, you could say that more mothers are the caregivers than fathers but that it's not an exclusive responsibility.  If my sister's profession had been more advantageous to her family (which it wasn't) she should have felt permitted to pursue her career while her husband dealt more with the children, even though this is uncommon.

I wish the church could have said something along the lines of "Though God designed the family with the roles of the mother as caregiver and the father as the providers in mind, He recognizes that every family is different and there are many ways to achieve His honorable goals in the home.  What He desires most for our families is that there are two dedicated parents who work together to provide for and raise their children with love.  This may mean that in some cases, traditional roles of the father and mother may interlock or even reverse.  There should be no shame in or criticism of those choices so long as the first priority of the marriage partnership remains the loving nurture, teaching and protection of the children."

Instead, the church said:  "Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation."  Individual adaptation shouldn't be "necessitated."  It should be welcomed as a legitimate alternative.

In a society that has had so many families shattered by underage pregnancies, drug abuse, abandonment, selfishness, parental disinterest and so many other problems, the church should be championing loving partnerships, not gender roles.  What we need for the next generation is parents who are devoted to their children and to each other.  Which one cooks the food, cleans the house, brings home the paycheck or "presides" (which is a stupid, empty responsibility that simply elevates the father over the mother) should be irrelevant.  What's missing in too many children's lives is love and stability.

It's too bad my sister hasn't quite gotten to the point where she realizes that a church that teaches her to cook, clean, nurture the children, and support her husband as he presides over the family is not respecting her value, her potential, or her individuality.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Notes on General Conference, Part III

Last one, I swear.  This is just filling in some gaps in my General Conference viewership and note-taking.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no place for ridicule, bullying, or bigotry.
--Neil L. Andersen, Saturday morning session

I got the apostles confused.  I thought Cook gave the sermon that touched on gay marriage, but it was actually Andersen.  I get the apostles who were called after I stopped believing in the church mixed up sometimes.

Anyway, Andersen is sternly declaring that the church does not condone anti-gay bigotry.  The problem with this is that he just finished praising a young woman who bravely publicized her support of "traditional" marriage on Facebook, reminding his audience that God has not "redefined marriage" and slighted homosexuals' validity as parents by claiming that "traditional" families are important for the purpose of "advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared and nurtured."

If you walked up to a black guy and said, "I love you as a child of God, but your race, which is an important part of your identity, is evidence of a curse which makes you unqualified to have equal part in religious ceremonies with the rest of us," the vast majority of society, Mormons included, would label you as a bigot.  A hundred years ago, the Mormons would have been on your side.

If you walked up to a gay guy and said, "I love you as a child of God, but your sexual orientation, which is an important part of your identity, is something that you should be expected to repress your entire life and the public expression of which is something that I feel justified in taking political action to quell," you'd still be a bigot, but at least you'd have the Mormons on your side this time.

An old Chevy with a fresh paint job and a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament is still an old Chevy.  Bigotry stemming from religious fervor is still bigotry.

You need the strength that comes from trusting the Lord's prophets.  President Harold B. Lee said:  "The only safety we have as members of this church is to ... learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet."
--Neil L. Andersen, Saturday morning session
It sounds like Andersen and L. Tom Perry coordinated their General Conference messages.  The only safety isn't prayer or personal revelation or even trusting your conscience.  It's obedience.  It's submission.  It's trusting Big Brother.

You may wonder if it is worth it to take a courageous moral stand in high school or to go on a mission only to have your most cherished beliefs reviled or to strive against much in society that sometimes ridicules a life of religious devotion.  Yes, it is worth it, because the alternative is to have our "houses" left unto us "desolate"desolate individuals, desolate families, desolate neighborhoods, and desolate nations.
--Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday morning session
Wow, that's pretty heavy-handed stuff.  But then, that's Elder Holland's favorite kind of subject matter, anyway.

Let's be reasonable herethe kinds of stands that Elder Holland expects his high schoolers to make aren't all moral stands.  A lot of them are denominational stands.  He wants them to stand up for the church but that's not the same thing as standing up for what's morally right.  He wants them to stand up against gay marriage and against tattoos and against R-rated movies.  He wants them to feel proud of themselves when they explain the "truth" about polygamy in answer to their non-member friends' ridicule on the matter.  He wants them to take a courageous emotional stand in favor of the church, not necessarily a courageous moral stand in favor of the truth.

And there's a threat at the end here.  If you don't stand up for the church, you'll be left "desolate."  But not just youyour families, communities and countries will suffer for your spinelessness. Funny...not only did I stop standing up for my religion, but I eventually left it completely (in favor of my own morals instead of the general authorities' morals) and I don't feel desolate at all.  I am one of many, many ex-Mormons who would describe the experience of leaving the church as bringing a feeling very far removed from desolation.

They need to know the dangers of pornography and how it overtakes lives, causing loss of the Spirit, distorted feelings, deceit, damaged relationship, loss of self-control, and nearly total consumption of time, thought and energy.
--Linda S. Reeves, Saturday morning session
Oh, okay.  Let's check off the list.

  1. Loss of the Spirit.  Considering I masturbated before I ever discovered pornography, I guess I never really had the Spirit to begin with, so pornography isn't to blame for that.
  2. Distorted Feelings.  I'm not sure what this is referring to, unless it's the classic claim that pornography messes with people's expectations for how sex is supposed to work.  If that's the case, considering that I'm now an adult, I've managed to learn the difference between TV and reality over the years.  My personal experiences do not match the things I've seen in porn, and I didn't expect them to because my personal experience with high school did not match the events I witness in high schools on television.  So no worries here either.
  3. Deceit.  Yes.  I have been deceitful because of porn.  I was taught to be ashamed of it and I knew my parents did not approve of it, so of course I hid it from them and lied about it.  But that's not pornography's fault either.  That's the the fault of the church for demonizing it.  I agree that too much porn is probably a bad thing and that parents should monitor what their children do with their time, but shaming the simple act of curiosity is not a recipe for a healthy relationship with your parents.
  4. Damaged Relationships.  My relationship with my parents has been damaged by many things, including pornography.  But the healthiest relationship in my life (my girlfriend) is also the relationship in which pornography is discussed most openly.
  5. Loss of Self-Control.  I suppose for genuine porn addiction, that is a very real possibility.  Just as loss of self-control is a possibility for those with the tendency to overeat.  But Reeves isn't preaching the evils of food, is she?
  6. Consumption of Time, Thought and Energy.  I only watch porn when I have free time and nothing particularly important to do.  (Yes, I know, "idle hands are the devil's playground" or whatever.)  I've never been late to my job because I was too engrossed in pornography.  I've never forgotten an anniversary or an appointment because I was too wrapped up in my carnal endeavors.  And when I'm at work, I focus on work.  When I'm with my girlfriend, I focus on my girlfriend.  Pornography does not occupy time I don't have.  It does not dictate thoughts I don't need.  It does not expend energy I can't spare.  
Her summary isn't nearly as condemning as she thinks it is.  There are a lot of problems with pornography.  I don't believe it should be viewed in excess.  I don't think it should be available to children.  It should never supplant personal physical relationships.  And those who choose to be performers should be of legal age and perform willingly.  Pornography can be damaging but it is not the destructive force the church claims it is.

If Jesus was in fact literally resurrected, it necessarily follows that He is a divine being.  No mere mortal has the power in himself to come to life again after dying.  Because he was resurrected, Jesus cannot have been only a carpenter, a teacher, a rabbi, or a prophet.  Because he was resurrected, Jesus had to have been a God, even the Only Begotten Son of the Father.
Therefore, what he taught is true; God cannot lie.  Therefore, He was the Creator of the earth, as He said.  Therefore, heaven and hell are real, as He taught.  Therefore, there is a world of spirits, which He visited after His death.  Therefore, He will come again, as the angels said, and "reign personally upon the earth."  Therefore, there is a resurrection and a final judgment for all.
Given the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, doubts about the omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence of God the Fatherwho gave His Only Begotten Son for the redemption of the worldare groundless.
--D. Todd Christofferson, Sunday evening session
 Apologies for the long quote, but it's a line of reasoning so broad that it's difficult to capture just the essentials.

Prior to this quote, Christofferson quoted Jesus's explanation to the Nephites of his death and resurrection.  He uses Christ's assertion that he was resurrected to apparently prove that Christ was resurrected and that God is good.  His reasoning basically boils down to this, the way I see it:  "Christ said he was resurrected.  If he was resurrected, he's a god, which means everything he said was true.  That means that when he said he was resurrected, it was true."  Jesus just proved Jesus by being Jesusy.

Christofferson extends this ridiculous logic to include God's omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence.  Because apparently it's always accurate to judge someone's character based on the qualities of that person's offspring.  But Christ's resurrection may speak to God's power, but not necessarily his power to do all things (omnipotence).  And Christ's resurrection may similarly indicate God's knowledge, but I think it's fair to say that you can accomplish something awesome without knowing everything (omniscience).  And even if you brought your son back from the dead, that doesn't mean you haven't created a flawed plan for exaltation that many of your supposedly beloved children are going to fail, especially the third you cast out simply for disagreeing with you (and there goes the benevolence).

Christofferson's grasp on logical reasoning is even worse than Aidukakis's grasp on the scientific method.

And that's it for General Conference.  It was a fun analysis.  I'm expecting the flurry of concerned emails with links to some of these talks to arrive from my family any day now.  After all, Russell M. Nelson warned them not to compartmentalize their lives to hide the gospel.

Notes on General Conference, Part II

It seems most of the controversial material (Cook, Oaks, etc.) was covered on Saturday, but Sunday's sessions still offered plenty to disagree with.  Again, probably not everything is a direct quote, but I got as close as I could with my note-taking.
...primary children can be missionaries too.
--M. Russell Ballard, Sunday morning session 
This is bad.

When I was in second grade, I made a new friend who was obsessed with the Atlanta Braves and convinced me to root for his favorite player, David Justice.  A few years later, when I met another kid in the neighborhood who liked baseball, I went on and on about how great David Justice was and why he should be my new friend's favorite player too.  Did I like him for his athletic prowess or his determination or his team-oriented playing style?  Did I respect him for his charity work and his family values?  Nope.  He was my favorite player because he was my old buddy's favorite player and, whether I could admit it then, the biggest selling point that won me over was the fact that Justice is a really awesome last name.

Young children can't possibly be expected to accurately understand the gravity of religion.  Openly preaching to your worldwide congregation that they can and should use their children to spread the word of beliefs that these children don't fully understand and haven't even been completely exposed to yet is reprehensible.  The depth of their comprehension of the product they're selling doesn't extend much beyond the positive reinforcement they get from their parents when they obey and claim to believe.

They're children.  Not the front lines of the member-missionary army.

Submitting our will to His may be difficult, but it is essential to becoming like Him.
--Jean A. Stevens, Sunday morning session 
Logically, this makes no sense to me.  God is the supreme ruler of the universe and the father of us all, with the power to lift civilizations out of ruin, topple earthly governments, direct masses of people and make covenants with his children.  These are all proactive, powerful attributes.  He answers to no one.

So it's essential to obey him to become like him?  Seems a little far-fetched.  The more we submit to his will the more we become reactionary instead of proactive, subservient instead of dominating and human instead of godlike.

After a long, full lifetime of obedience, God will hand us the keys to a new universe and say, "Here ya go.  You're in charge of literally everything.  Have fun."  And our immediate response will be, "Wait.  What am I supposed to do?  I'm not used to running the show, I'm used to you telling me what to do."  Some preparation.

This life is your four minutes.  While you are here, your actions will determine whether you will win eternal life.
 In a sense, your four minutes have already begun.  The clock is ticking!
Your four minutes will pass quickly and you'll have eternity to think about what you did in this life.
You've prepared for this for millennia.  This is your time.  This is your four minutes!
--Gary E. Stevenson, Sunday morning session 
Directed primarily at the youth, Stevenson's talk was easily my least favorite of the session.  He compared us all to Olympians who train over great lengths of time for competitions that will last only mere minutes.  He tried to sound positive and frame his message as a call to action, but the underlying theme was this:  "You can bust your ass your entire life only to fail by a slim margin.  If you screw up once, you can put everything at risk and you'll regret it for the rest of eternity."

Talk about fear mongering.

To any young man in the audience worried that he might not be found worthy to serve a mission and any young woman in attendance who fears that she won't make a good mother, this talk was a stab in the heart.  Mormonism already pushes its members to be better and meet every possible standard with the threat of losing the respect of their community, their place in the celestial kingdom and their eternal family looming over their heads.  This is just cracking the whip.

Those who thought they were doing well are told they need to do better.  Those who thought they weren't doing well are pushed closer and closer to the brink of desperation.

And one more thingwe prepared for this life for millennia?  How, exactly, did we prepare?  Because we passed through the veil and forgot every bit of training we may have done.  All that preparation doesn't seem to have amounted to much.  How many Olypmic skiers suddenly forget everything at the top of the course, can't remember how to maneuver their skis, don't know the rules of the event and have no clue what the objective is unless they're lucky enough to be informed while they're partway down the mountain?

Is the load I'm carrying creating sufficient spiritual traction so I ultimately can return home to Heavenly Father?  Sometimes we mistakenly believe that happiness is the absence of a load.  But bearing a load is necessary and essential part of the Plan of Happiness.
--David A. Bednar, Sunday morning session
Translation:  Miserable?  You're doing something right!  The more responsibility and fear of inadequacy you heap on yourself, the better off you are!  The more you're weighed down with the burdens of your church callings, the more spiritual traction you'll get so that you can lift yourself out of your church-induced depression and guilt.  If you're not getting out, you must need a heavier load!

While there's some truth to the idea that stress or opposition can help us thrive, I don't think the church's version of a "load" is conducive to psychological health and happy living.

Their words are my words.
--Boyd K. Packer, Sunday afternoon session
Instead of directly testifying of the gospel, Packer quotes Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon's powerfully-worded testimony and pretty much says, "What they said."

He added a little bit after that, but the eloquence and the fervor of his testimony is far outshined by the quote from almost two centuries earlier. It's a little sad that an apostle of the Lord has to rely on someone else when he needs the big guns instead of imparting his own Spirit-infused wisdom.

It would be a wonderful thing if every Latter-Day Saint knew the conversion story of their forefathers.
--William R. Walker, Sunday afternoon session
An entire talk devoted to this.  Surely there's something a little more important, relevant and central to salvation that he could have spent his time on.

Two things about his talk popped out at me.  First, when he was talking about Wilford Woodruff's mission in England and his supposedly inspired jaunt to Herefordshire and the congregation of unaffiliated truth-seekers he encountered there, the numbers seemed a little wonky.  Woodruff baptized 541 people and organized 33 branches in the area.  That's less than 17 people per branch.  If this was a pre-existing group of people all in the same approximate geographical area, why so many branches with so few members apiece?

Second, and more importantly, he old the story of some guy who led his family across the plains to Utah and, while stopped at Winter Quarters, he heeded the call of Brigham Young for enlistment in the Mormon Battalion.  He left behind his children.  And his wife.  Who was pregnant.

This man is not a role model.  I don't care if you think wandering across the country for a few months because a prophet wants people to do it is an honorable thingyou do not abandon your family during a time when they need you more than ever.

I remember an instance when I was a kid in which my dad explained his priorities in life as "family comes first, then the church, then work."  This motto became increasingly difficult for him to abide by as the church gave him more demanding callings that required him to spend large amounts of time away from his family.  But as much as a hypocrite as he may have turned out to be, he never disappeared for six months during a time of high stress and exceptional need on the whim of a prophet.

There is no reason a church leader should be praising this kind of behavior from the pulpit.

A team of horses must always know who is in charge.
The only way for a horse to know he's doing the right thing is to be obedient. 
--L. Tom Perry, Sunday afternoon session
Not in so many words, L. Tom Perry boldly proclaimed to the membership of the church:  "You guys are like clueless animals.  The only way for you to stay spiritually safe is to submit unconditionally to the church's orders.  You are not in charge.  Do not make your own decisions."

Too often we think of obedience as passive and thoughtless, following the orders or dictates of a higher authority.  Actually, at its best, obedience is an emblem of our faith and the wisdom and power of the highest authority, even God.
--L. Tom Perry, Sunday afternoon session

Okay, those aren't opposites.

That's like saying, "Too often, people think of World of Warcraft as being nerdy.  Actually, at its best, it has excellent graphics."

That's great, but you didn't refute the first half of your statement.  "An emblem of our faith" is not the opposite of "passive and thoughtless."  You didn't tell us why obedience isn't passive and thoughtless.  You didn't even tell us that it's not passive and thoughtless.  Fact is, the kind of obedience he's talking about here is passive and thoughtless.  Accept and do what you're told...passivity.  Don't question God's wisdom and authority...thoughtlessness.

Strong, proactive obedience is anything but weak or passive.  It is the means by which we declare our faith in God and qualify ourselves to receive the powers of heaven.  Obedience is a choice.  It is a choice between our own limited knowledge and power and God's unlimited wisdom and omnipotence. 
--L. Tom Perry, Sunday afternoon session 
How, exactly, can obedience be proactive?  You can't obey before you're told what to do.

Perry is simply trying to tell people to do as they're told without making it sound bad.  If you get to think of yourself as "strong" and "proactive" and "declaring your faith" and making a "choice," maybe you won't think it's so bad when you blindly follow the drivel spouted from the pulpit.

Of course obedience is a choice.  So is disobedience.  Neither one is inherently better.  The quality of the choice depends on what you're choosing to obey or disobey.  If you obey the prophet's call by abandoning your pregnant wife in the dead of winter, you're making a bad choice.  If you disobey the prophet's call to serve a mission because you're not sure you really believe the church is true, you're making a good choice.  The lone fact that something is a choice doesn't define it as good.

And just in case you were wondering, God is smarter than you.  So choose to obey him because he knows what's up.

This whole thing was a poorly veiled attempt to remind everyone to fall in line and stroke their egos at the same time so they won't complain about it.  Instead of preaching about doing what you think is right, Perry preaches about doing what you're told.  What a disgusting talk.

Which is more likely?  That he dreamed it all up on his own or that he had the help of heaven?  Do the scriptures he produced sound like the words of man or the words of God?  
There aren't many options.  He was either a pretender or a prophet.  Either he did what he did alone or he had the help of heaven.  Look at all of the evidence.  Not just any single piece but the entire mosaic of his life. 
--Lawrence E. Corbridge, Sunday afternoon session didn't...really...want to say that, right?

People write novels all the time!  It's totally plausible that he dreamed it all up on his own and eventually decided to write it down, especially considering that some of the "truth" he imparted in the Book of Mormon was changed later on (polygamy, the nature of the godhead, etc.)  Isaac Asimov's Foundation is a much more believable fictional history in my opinion, and that's kind of funny considering that he based his plot on a fictional science called psychohistory.  But Foundation's psychohistorical predictions make a lot more sense than the Book of Mormon's Godthe God that told his prophet to kill a sleeping drunk, let hundreds of righteous people die because he needed them as evidence, and continually punished his favorite people for being wicked to the point where he let the even more wicked people kill every last one of them...among other things.  So yeah, I totally buy the theory that Joseph Smith made it all up.

And...the entire mosaic of his life?  Do you really want to encourage your members to look up all his polygamous wives, their ages and his threats to some of them?  All his self-important positions including Prophet, Mayor and General?  All his experience with Freemasonry?  His order to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor?  His varying stories of the First Vision and the appearances of Moroni?  The entire mosaic of his life includes some very not-faith-promoting tidbits that can paint Joseph Smith as an untrustworthy, power-hungry womanizer.

Just sayin'.

In the Kingdom of God, the search for truth is appreciated, encouraged and in no way repressed or feared.
--Marcos A. Aidukakis, Sunday afternoon session
Spoken like someone who's been accused of fearing and repressing the truth.

In the LDS church, the search for truth is appreciated and long as it is done using church-approved methods and church-approved sources.  We are repeatedly warned not to visit websites that contain "anti-Mormon" materials and reminded that the way to learn the truth is to pray about it.  There's no talk of reading material from both sides and weighing their authenticity and veracity against each other.  There's no talk of deduction or logic or reasoning.  There's only talk of reading the scriptures and the words of the church leaders and then receiving a burning in your bosom while keeling in prayer.

That's a little bit repressive.  "Search for truth...but only do it this way" is not an open way to encourage honest discovery of truth.

This could be compared to a scientific experiment.  We are invited to test the word.  We are given parameters.  And we are given the outcome of the test if we follow the instructions.
--Marcos A. Aidukakis, Sunday afternoon session 
What?  No!  What's wrong with you?  That's not scientific at all!

In science, you start with a hypothesis, then you experiment, and then you draw the best conclusion you can from the observable data.  You don't start with an answer, experiment, and then compare your results to the answer to make sure you did the experiment right.

I guess Aidukakis was trying to make the emotions-only approach sound more reasonable by likening it to the scientific method.  But Moroni's Promise is hardly scientific and hardly reliable.  How do you measure "a burning in the bosom?"  How do you protect against false positives?  How can the experiment be valid without a control group?  How can you be sure the experiment was conducted exactly right?  (Did I really ask with real intent?  Was my heart sincere enough?  Did I have enough faith in Christ?)  And how do you know outside variables didn't affect the outcome?  (Maybe I didn't get an answer because I didn't have the Spirit because I thought about looking at porn earlier today.)

Science can be wrong, but it's conducted in ways that make it easier to be held accountable for its failures and to course-correct itself.  Emotions-only is subjective, flawed, and ineffective.  Nice try, Aidukakis.

...and that brings me to an end of my notes.  I had something I wanted to say about D. Todd Christofferson's circular logic, but I didn't get a full quote and it's kind of a big concept that deserves a full quote in order to discuss.

This morning's family emails confirmed a sadly positive reaction from my family concerning the General Conference weekend, although a few of them were troubled by the tone of the Saturday morning session (which was the only one I missed, unfortunately).  There's so much wrong with what was said.  I don't know how they don't see it.

But then I remember that I used to be like them, and I didn't see it either, so I guess I shouldn't hold that against them.  It's the church that made them this way that's at fault.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Notes on General Conference, Part I

I watched General Conference (well, a decent amount of it) for the first time in about five years and I took notes on it for the first time...ever.

I'm not sure what motivated me.  I think maybe it was the increasing family tension that made me want to bolster my arguments for the inevitable flood of overbearing (yet concerned) post-Conference emails.  Either way, I paid attention closer than I think I ever have in my life (until something interesting popped up on Reddit).  Here are a few scattered thoughts.

The quotes may not be one hundred percent word-for-word (I can type fast, but people other than Richard G. Scott tend to talk faster) but they're reasonably close to exact quotations.

Admittedly there have been times when atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.
--Russell M. Nelson, Saturday afternoon session 
 Indeed.  Thanks for pointing that out, Russ.  Let's review some...

  • The Mountain Meadows Massacre
  • The Evergreen Program
  • Joseph Smith's polygamy-by-divine-threat
  • and while we're at it, might as well add Laban's murder at the hands of Nephi

If one tries to segment his or her life into such separate compartments, one will never rise to the full stature of one's personal integrity, never to become all that his or her true self could be.
--Russell M. Nelson, Saturday afternoon session
Translation:   Let Mormonism consume your identity.  Never be ashamed to let your religion hang out like an unwelcome beer belly in any situation.  The more you force your beliefs on others, even in circumstances in which religion should have no place, the deeper you wriggle yourself into the destructive quicksands of dogmatic belief and stubborn, unfounded loyalty.  You are Mormon before you are anything else.

Fifty million people CAN be wrongtotally wrong.
--Russell M. Nelson, Saturday afternoon session 
Is that so?  What about fifteen million eighty-two thousand twenty-eight people?  Can they be wrong?

[My future wife] said, "When I marry, it will be to a faithful returned missionary in the temple." 
--Richard G. Scott, Saturday afternoon session 
Here we have an apostle of the Lord condoning women holding themselves to ransom to keep the men in line!  Scott did go on to point out that she never directly told him that he needed to serve a mission...but why would she?  When this kind of thing is said between people who are already in a pretty committed relationship, both parties know what it means.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think thinly veiled ultimatums have any positive role to play in a healthy relationship.

Be careful who you follow.
--Robert D. Hales, Saturday afternoon session
This is, on the surface, good advice.  Don't follow Miley Cyrus.  Don't follow Kanye West.  But the problem I have with it is that it implies that following something is necessary.

The concept Hales is shaping here is that we should follow the church (oh, wait, I mean the prophet, no wait, I meant to say Jesus the whole time) instead of any one of the poor role models in the annals of celebrity.  But I heard no mention of making one's own decisions and blazing one's own trail.

Following President Monson instead of Justin Beiber is like switching out a Big Mac for a Whopper.  One's more desirable than the other, sure, but neither one of them is very good for you.  Why not make your own choices, weigh your own values and come to the conclusion that a salad is the best way for you to go?  You don't have to follow anyone.

The First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, who preside over the church, are empowered to make many decisions affecting church policies and procedures—matters such as the location of the church buildings and the age for missionary service.  But even though these presiding authorities exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.
--Dallin H. Oaks, Priesthood session 
Holy crap, where to start?

Much of his talk was directed at the Ordain Women movement, but some passages are particularly...harsh.  While I agree that it makes sense from a doctrinal standpoint (doctrine I consider complete rubbish), he's not being very subtle about his disdain for Ordain Women.  He's saying, "There's nothing we can do about this because WE CAN'T OVERRULE GOD, YA DUMB BITCHES."  Which isn't very nice.

The best part about this quote, however, is how he ascribes the oft-lauded realignment of missionary age requirements to the administrative decisions of men instead of to a divine mandate from God himself—which is what the church naturally assumed it had been all along, because it came from the prophet.  You know, the prophet?  Mouthpiece of the Lord in our times?  That guy?  I guess when he revealed the age changes he was speaking as a man.  An administratively empowered man.

Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their..."RIGHTS"...and concentrate on their responsibilities. 
--Dallin H. Oaks, Priesthood session (appropriateness of emphasis probably up for debate)
Oh, you asshat.

That smirk as he gave the dramatic pause preceding the much louder word "rights."  The distaste with which he spoke that central word.  The implication that men don't consider it a right so women should shut up about it already.  The insinuation that this is all about responsibility and we should get back to talking about the important stuff.  Obviously, these observations are largely subjective.  And I'm not exactly hiding my bias against the church, but I would think that, even as a faithful member, I'd have recognized that Oaks is giving someone a verbal slap in the face in a very inexcusable and un-Christlike manner.

Men and women are EQUAL...with different responsibilities.
--Dallin H. Oaks, Priesthood session 
Now he's just twisting the knife, flirting very closely with the phrase "separate but equal."  There are two basic possibilities in my mind.

First, he could be that entrenched in his myopic, bigoted way of thinking that he really doesn't realize how close he's coming to describing women in the same way that civilized society now regrets ever describing black people.  The reason they regret it, of course, is because it's wrong.  Which would be another similarity.

Or second (more likely, in my opinion), he knows how similar it sounds and he's trying to subtly denigrate women while professing to do just the opposite.  Saying it doesn't make it so!

Smug bastard.

The abundance of choice, however, carries with it an equal portion of accountability.
--Randall L. Ridd, Priesthood session
Wait. How is that fair?

God puts person A on the planet.  Person A has two choices in life:  Good or bad.  He chooses bad.  God says, "You screwed up!" and throws him in Hell.

God puts person B on the planet.  Person B has five choices in life:  Very good, good, neutral, bad or very bad.  He chooses very bad.  God says, "You really screwed up!" and throws him in Hell's subbasement, where the sinners get fried extra crispy.

Person B says, "How come I'm getting fried crispier than Person A?"

"Because," God says, "The abundance of choice carries with it an equal portion of accountability."

"How do you know Person A wouldn't have made the same choice I did if he'd had those options?" Person B asks.

"But he didn't have those options," God says.

"That's not fair!" Person B protests.

"Have fun in Hell's armpit!" God says.

That's not a loving God.  That's a stupid God.  If life is a test, we should all be tested on the same scale and judged by the same metric.

Each click has meaning.
--Randall P. Ridd, Priesthood session
I can almost visualize the wave of guilt that washed over the gathered masses of Aaronic Priesthood brethren at that comment.  And that wave will be recreated in smaller forms all over the world every time a teenage LDS boy logs onto the internet.  "If I click on this one I a bad person?"
We're not be imprisoned in straitjackets of our own making. 
--Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Priesthood session
Uchtdorf was discussing addiction here (of many varieties, including "pornography, alcohol, sex, drugs, tobacco, gambling, the internet and virtual reality").  This could just be poor wording instead of an insidious comment with psychologically manipulative intent, but, to me, it sounds like this:

"If you're addicted to something, you did this to yourself."

This does not strike me as a healthy or responsible way to approach addiction.  Of course choice factors into it.  But the very nature of addiction means that, even if you want to stop doing something, you don't have the control you might possess in normal situations.  The straitjackets Uchtdorf referred to could be partially of our own making...but considering it's an addiction, placing the blame solely at the feet of the victim is not demonstrating an appropriate understanding of the situation.

Again, possibly just poor writing.

We live in a world where moral values have in great measure been tossed aside, where sin is flagrantly on display, and when temptations to stray from the strait and narrow path surround us.
...we will almost certainly be called upon to defend that which we believe.  Will we have the courage to do so? 
--Thomas S. Monson, Priesthood session
Ah, yes, the good old "the world is getting worse and we have to be strong" speech.  What really gets me about this, though, is his call for the courage to defend our faith.


A month ago, this same guy had a golden opportunity to defend his faith by answering a summons to an English court that charged him with fraud.  What did he do?  He sent some lawyers, and they managed to get the case thrown out.  He didn't testify.  He didn't pontificate about the eternal truths of the gospel.  He didn't confound his accusers and cross verbal swords with the apostates.  He didn't do any of the things that the prophets he referred to in this talk (Abinadi, Daniel, etc.) did when their beliefs were publicly challenged.  He just sent some lawyers.

And he stands up in front of the whole church a few weeks later and describes the need for modern-day Abinadis.  He extols the virtues of standing up for the church's values.  He goes on at length about the courage it takes to hold fast to unpopular beliefs in the midst of a sinful world.  Any scriptural prophet worth his salt would have jumped at the opportunity to testify in court—especially a modern, first-world court on a charge of fraud.  Abinadi was executed for his testimony.  Monson would have been...what, fined?  Jailed at worst.  It's all the teaching opportunity without the risk of death!

What a hypocrite.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Stone Rolls Forth, Losing Speed

That random dude, pictured above, announced the church's growth statistics during the afternoon session of General Conference today.  Here are some of the numbers (as of the end of 2013) that he related to us:
  • Total church membership: 15,082,028
  • Children of record added:  115,486
  • Converts added:  282,945
Here is some relevant information that he didn't explicitly state:
  • Total church membership at the end of 2012:  14,782,473
  • Net growth during 2013:  299,555
  • Net growth during 2013 as a percentage:  2.02%
What's interesting is that, as a solid number, this is the church's smallest growth since 2005.  As a percentage, it's an even more damning statistic.  According to, it would be the church's tiniest increase since 1974.  But according to Wikipedia, it would be Mormonism's most pitiful expansion since 1947.

While that's cool news to those of us who don't want the church to roll forth to fill the whole earth, it's also not exactly a slam dunk.  Dialogue between Mormons and ex-Mormons tends to be filled with a lot of bias and lots of accusations of distorting facts.  Considering that the numbers in those two links don't line up with each other properly until 1998, it wouldn't be hard for a defender of the faith to claim that the statistics are unreliable.  A simple uncorroborated claim that the church inflates its own numbers wouldn't be enough to combat that assertion.

I couldn't find any church-sponsored source of historical membership data, although I wasn't going to spend all day looking into it. If anyone knows where to find it, I'd love to be able to verify my theory that 2013 was a monumentally awful year for the church.  

Mormon-Themed Memes 7: Steven Kapp Ducreux

Today I felt like mocking some timeless classics from the LDS Children's Songbook.

Past Mormon Memes:
Mormon-Themed Memes #6
Mormon-Themed Memes #5: Douchebag Dieter
Mormon-Themed Memes #4

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Shocking Revelation

At the end of January, I finally worked up the courage to tell my dad that my girlfriend and I have been living together.  Of course, I only had the courage to do it by email, but at least I did it.

I tried to deliver the blow as softly as possible, mentioning that we didn't decide to move in together until we'd decided we wanted to get married eventually.  I tried to emphasize the fact that we were looking to spend more time together and save money instead of talking about things like how we share a bed.  I realized it wasn't going to go over big, but I hoped that I'd get a begrudging acceptance in response.

And I did, I guess.  But it came with some heavy-handed preaching that I really didn't appreciate.  My dad's response a few days later, included this particularly infuriating paragraph:
As to your living arrangements, there are other ways to enjoy the advantages you describe.  I wish you would have talked to me first...but I guess that is the last thing you would have done.  It's difficult to hear you state so proudly that you have stripped yourself of the principles taught to you by the two people in the world who love you the most and want your happiness, while you drink the rationalizing bathwater of a society who cares nothing about you.  I understand your perspective.  I have heard it many, many times from people...people who later had to deal with the downsides they didn't see and then kept trying to rationalize their regrets.
If he'd said that to me in person, I might have actually hit him.  Okay, probably not.  But I definitely would have thought about it.

I'm pretty sure there is no other way to get all the advantages I described without living together.  By sharing an apartment, we've maximized our time together and pooled our financial resources in ways we couldn't when we had separate places.  We're closer and more united than we were before.  You can't get that by living separately and paying separate bills and having to drive across town to visit each other all the time.

And the holier-than-thou warning at the end was misplaced.  He was referring to his time as bishop and stake president when he counselled couples about their living arrangements.  But those were overwhelmingly couples that still wanted some kind of connection to the church.  Of course you'll regret moving in with your girlfriend if you care what the church teaches about sexuality.  I suppose time will tell, but after almost three years of sharing an apartment with my girlfriend, the only downside was the one I did see--that my family would disapprove.

But the worst part, the part that made my blood really boil, was that, after all the effort I put into trying to explain the reasons why my girlfriend and I made this decision, he ascribed that decision to following the ways of society.  And he even uses colorful, Maxwell-esque language like "drinking the rationalizing bathwater."  It was our decision.  We made it together.  It was not an easy decision.  But it was reasonable, and I don't regret it.  Thanks for giving the credit to some massive faceless evil like "society."

I didn't respond to the email right away because I was still fuming.  A day or two later, I drafted a response, but I was still too angry, so I didn't send it.  I decided rather than engage him point-by-point, I'd just make him worry that he'd pissed me off so much that I wasn't going to speak to him again.

Then he sent me four text messages in a twenty-four-hour period that I still didn't feel calm enough to respond to.  He was asking if I was mad at him.  Eventually, I replied, "I don't even know what to say to you."  We then engaged in a very slow conversation (about one text per day) in which he apologized for upsetting me and I complained that the situation sucked.

"Anything I can do to make the situation not suck?" he asked.

"Don't judge," I texted back.  "Don't preach.  I'll never be able to tell you anything important if that's what I get for it."

He apologized again and asked if we could talk in person.  About two weeks ago I went over one evening and we had a very awkward discussion that got less and less awkward as it went on.  He apologized again.  I did not.  I was still mad and I had no intention of apologizing, not even for lying to him about my living arrangements, because I wouldn't have needed to do that if the kind of reception I reasonably expected was like this.  So he apologized.  I nodded.  And we slowly transitioned into other, less infuriating topics.  By the end of the night, we were both complaining about our jobs.

So the relationship between us is kind of back to how it was before.  Mostly.  But I'm a little unsure of how well I behaved through this.

Sometimes, I feel like I'm awesome because I pretty much text-bitchslapped my dad for being such an overbearing, judgmental jerk and made him crawl back to me begging for us to be friends again.  And then the other times, I feel like I'm an asshole because I manipulated my dad into totally backing down by making him feel like he was about to lose a relationship with his son completely.  Did I stand my ground and triumph or did I torture someone who cares about me over petty differences?

It's not an easy answer.  I think at best, this was a Pyrrhic victory. I established some important boundaries with my dad, but I may have done it through unacceptable means.