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.


  1. Brilliant! All of this is dead on!

    I want to comment on this quote:

    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.

    As members of the church, this is exactly what we have to do. We have to rationalize false stories like Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah, the Book of Abraham, the age of the earth, Book of Mormon Archeology, etc. The church and science aren't in harmony with each other. In order to stay believing in the church, you have to totally ignore scientific facts or you have to compartmentalize. I did that for far too long, and it caused depression. I'm much happier now that I can admit that the church teachings are false. The cognitive dissonance is gone.

    Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court Justice, knows exactly what he's saying. What I don't understand is how those women stay in the church given that kind of treatment. He showed no respect for them. They are a nuisance to be swatted like an annoying fly. I would love to see them hold a very public meeting where they all submit resignation letters.

    Your comments on Monson are dead-on as well.

    1. I hadn't equated Nelson's comments with cognitive dissonance. That's a good take on it.

      And, yeah, Oaks's background as a jurist means he's probably far more familiar with "separate but equal" thank the average person...which makes it all the more irresponsible of him to dance so closely around that expression.