Sunday, October 5, 2014

Notes on General Conference, Part I

Three sessions of General Conference have come and gone, and for the second time since leaving the church, I tuned in.  I was surprised that, at least in my view, there was less objectionable content this time around than in April.  So props to the brethren (and one sister) for being less awful than they were six months ago, I guess.  Although there are still two sessions left and Bednar hasn't spoken at all, so there's still plenty of time.

Here, again, are my scattered thoughts.  All the quotes I use may not be one hundred percent verbatim, but I got them as close as I could.  (YouTube was being really mean about letting me go back and listen to stuff I hadn't typed up in time.)

Because we're concentrating our efforts on completing temples which were previously announced, we're not at the present time announcing any new temples.
--Thomas S. Monson, Saturday morning session 
Obviously, this is a completely subjective observation, but this sounded like spin.  Hinckley built temples like crazy and I'm betting that temple sessions these days are not as packed as the leadership had hoped.  But rather than admit to having overreached and to having a membership that doesn't attend the temple as devotedly as preferred, Monson is saying that they're just not going to announce any new temples yet because they're "concentrating [their] efforts" on trying to chew what they shortsightedly bit off.  He also mentions that they'll need to "identify needs" and "locate properties" as believable reasons why the temple-building frenzy might appear to have slowed down.

Prophets through the ages have always come under attack by the finger of scorn.  Why?  Well, according to the scriptures, it is because "the guilty take the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center."  Or, as President Harold B. Lee observed, "the hit bird flutters."  Their scornful reaction is, in reality, guilt trying to reassure itself.
--Lynn J. Robbins, Saturday morning session 
In a fiery speech that was only implicitly directed at those who sympathize with the Ordain Women movement and gay rights movements, Robbins spewed forth eleven minutes of passive-aggressive  vitriol.  Here he states that when people disagree with the prophets, it's because the prophets are right and the dissenters are guilty of something they don't want to accept fault for.  Never mind the fact that past prophets have staunchly clung to teachings that are no longer accepted by the church.  Never mind that some policies of the church have changed due to pressure from both inside and outside the membership.  If you disagree with the leadership, you're guilty of something.

Lowering the Lord's standards to a standard of society's inappropriate behavior is apostasy.
--Lynn J. Robbins, Saturday morning session 
So you think women should have the priesthood?  You're an apostate. You think the church has no right to encourage legislation against same-sex marriages?   You should be glad we don't excommunicate your sorry ass on the spot.  Robbins's entire discourse was designed to remind the worldwide church "which way he faces."  He reminded his audience that the church leadership serves God, not the general membership. He'll only listen to what God tells him and it's not his job to listen to the concerns of the peons.  Although I have to give him a little credit for speaking vaguely.  I don't think he ever mentions exactly what "inappropriate behavior" in society he's referring to, so I guess I can't fairly label him a homophobe or a sexist.  Just a self-righteous jerk.

Resenting the law of gravity won't keep a person from falling if he steps off a cliff.
--D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
Very true, but not very wise.

The problem is that there is a huge difference between the law of gravity and the purported laws of God's church that Christofferson is advocating.  We witness the results of gravity every single day of our lives.  We don't have the same evidence for the laws of the church.  Sure, there are plenty of stories of people who have benefitted from following the commandments.  But it doesn't have the same reliability or the same specificity.   Every time you drop an object, it falls.  But every time you pay your tithing...?  The effect that's supposed to follow the cause is vague.  You're supposed to receive blessings for paying your tithing, but "blessings" are unquantifiable, difficult to observe and often subjective.  In contrast, every time you drop a plate in your kitchen, it accelerates toward the center of the earth at 9.8 meters per second squared. No sane person expects to step off a cliff and not fall.  Plenty of sane people understandably expect no negative consequences for not giving ten percent of their money to a church.

It's a pithy little witticism, sure, but its content is hollow.

If it were not for the reality of fixed and immutable truths, the gift of agency would be meaningless, since we would never be able to foresee and intend the consequences of our actions.
--D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
Ugh.  See above.

This is totally true for scientific theories.  If the laws of gravity, to use Christofferson's own comparison, were not fixed, we would not be able to act with any kind of specific outcome in mind because we'd never know what direction things would drift when we let go of them.

But gravity is different because we know exactly what to expect when we let go of things.  With the "fixed and immutable" laws of God, we don't know exactly what to expect.  If we do our home teaching, we'll probably be blessed, but we don't know how, where, when or to what degree.  It's entirely possible for us to receive those blessings without even realizing it.  Yet even Todd here would agree that most people can't step off a cliff without realizing they're falling.  The difference is that clear, non-variable, comprehensible and predictable outcomes result from gravity and we have no such guarantees from the laws of the church.

Why is it so difficult to have Christlike love for one another?  It's difficult because we must live among those who do not share our beliefs, values, and covenant obligations.
 --Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday afternoon session
Oaks doesn't like people who are different from him.  Not only does he admit up front that it's apparently difficult to get along with people who aren't Mormon (which really shouldn't be a problem), but he phrases his existence in a not-entirely-Mormon world as a burden.  He uses the word "must."  To me, this implies that he is required to live among people with which he does not wish to rub shoulders.  And that is defeating Christlike love right out of the gate.  If you "must" to live in the same world as people who don't believe what you believe, you clearly don't think very highly of them.  Some love.

We encourage all of us to practice the Savior's Golden Rule: "whatsoever ye would that man should do to you, do ye even so to them."
--Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday afternoon session
Okay, so if a bunch of gay people were trying to make sure it was never legal for you to get married to a woman, what would you want them to do?

Oaks's discussion of the topic of Christlike love just doesn't ring true after his scathing rant against the Ordain Women movement in the last conference.

Suppose a family member is in a cohabitation relationship.  That brings two important values into conflict:  our love for the family member and our commitment to the commandments.  Following the Savior's example, we can show loving kindness and still be firm in the truth by forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong.
--Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday afternoon session
Suppose a family member is in a cultlike religion.  That brings two important values into conflict:  our love for the family member and  our commitment to truth.  Following the Savior's example, we can show loving kindness and still be firm in the truth by forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong.

Oh, wait, except I'm not that kind of asshole.  I do condone my family's religion because I know it's important to them.  I desperately want them to leave it, but I've never sent them the CES Letter and I've never even participated in a religious discussion with them that wasn't started by one of them.  I went to my nephew's baby blessing and I went to the temple to wait outside during my sisters' weddings.  I have never once complained to them about all the religious content of their emails in which they are constantly discussing their various callings, giving each other suggestions for Sunday School lessons, and sharing interesting revelations from their daily scripture study.  I hold my tongue when the church is inevitably discussed at holidays and family gatherings.  But you're right.  They should definitely not condone my cohabitation with the woman I love because they know it to be wrong.

Studying the church through the eyes of its defectors, Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, is like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus.  Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed.
--Neil A. Andersen, Saturday afternoon session
Oh, gimme a break.  Defectors aren't reliable sources of information but cronies and co-conspirators are that much better?   Studying the church through the eyes of its fanatics is like interviewing Eva Braun to understand Hitler.  (Yeah, I went there.  But I figured, since Andersen jumped straight to Jesus, I should go as far as I could in the opposite direction since I was making the opposite point.)

This is why it's helpful to look at both sides of the issue.  You read the five-star reviews and the one-star reviews to find out what's good about it and what's bad about it.  That's a much better method of getting an accurate picture of a situation.  But, of course, Andersen doesn't want you to look at both sides of the issue because he's terrified that the one-star reviews are going to be a little more compelling.

We do not discard something we know to be true because of something we do not yet understand.
--Neil A. Andersen, Saturday afternoon session
Something you read about Joseph Smith on the internet may damage your testimony, but we just don't understand all the details yet.  I'm sure the fact that he was a sex-crazed, power-hungry con man will make sense in context, given enough time.  Keep believing until we figure out how to explain it so it doesn't sound like the church is a fraud.

He's stalling. as generous as circumstances permit in your fast offering.  And other humanitarian, educational and missionary contributions.
--Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday afternoon session
This whole talk was just uncomfortable.  Holland tearfully discusses how hard it must be to be poor, even though he admits he has no clue because he's never been poor.  And then he reminds everyone that, on top of the ten percent fee, they're expected to pay fast offerings once a month as well (yes, even the poor people he's pretending to defend here).  And the odd wave of his hand as he tacks "humanitarian, educational and missionary contributions" casually onto the end of a sentence he just sobbed his way through seemed very callous to me.  It was kind of a, "by the way, there's several other categories you should donate to, don't forget, but I'm not talking about those right now."  And, of course, it's hard to shake the feeling that the entire talk was about giving the church more money.  All the contributions he mentioned are on LDS tithing slips and he never once mentioned donating to any other organization.  No American Red Cross.  No drives for local food banks.  No soup kitchen volunteering.  No suggestion to donate used clothing.  Not even a nod to throwing your loose change into the Salvation Army bucket around Christmastime.  Be as generous to the church and, implicitly, the church only, as your circumstances allow.

This prophet, seer and revelator is not prophesying, seeing or revealing anything.  He's merely organizing a fundraiser and telling us to call now because operators are standing by.

Some postpone marriage until education is complete and a job obtained.  While widely accepted in the world, this reasoning does not demonstrate faith, comply with counsel of modern prophets and is not compatible with sound doctrine.
--Quentin L. Cook, Priesthood session
You have no right to be so responsible and level-headed!  Why can't you be more like your younger brother, all impulsive and shortsighted all the time?

 Chastising people for waiting to have a family until they're capable of providing for it because it "does not demonstrate faith" is an awful thing to do.  I don't even understand the "doctrine" part of it.  Other than various prophets urging us to get married, I don't remember anything from the scriptures that commanded us to marry before we have an education and a reliable income.


  1. Nice job! I was hoping you would comment on conference. I found a lot less objectionable material as well, though it seemed a lot more boring. So hard to listen to. Reading from a Teleprompter makes it so monotonous and takes away the spontaneity. Hey, they did add the surprise of having talks given in other languages. About time!

    Have you tried for the videos? It appears they get them posted fairly quickly.

    When it came to temples, I had to wonder if decreases in tithing income has played a role in building less of them. I would like to think that not getting any from me has helped slow the spread of the downright weird "borrowed" Masonic rituals.

    Yes, the talk by Robbins was one more example of trying to guilt the general membership into towing the line.

    Like last conference, Christofferson showed his lack of scientific logic and reasoning skills. Gravity compared to the laws of god, as you point out so well, doesn't work.

    I though Oaks' talk took a much less ass-hole-like tone than last conference, but his message was still divisive. I don't know how you're able to hold your tongue around your family at certain times. I have a hard time, and mine don't even know I've checked out. They think we're still active. However, I have told different family members that Noah's story never happened, that the Book of Abraham is a fraud, and that the earth is 4.7 Billion years old.

    I want to tell you I'm really sorry that you missed your sisters' sealings. I really am. The church is so wrong to cut out family from this important time. They aren't weddings, though. When my wife and I got "married" the old man sealing us made a point of telling us it wasn't a marriage, though the state recognized it as such. I missed my sister's sealing. I was an active, believing member of the church, but I was only a teenager. It's so sad the church divides families at such an important time. I have a son in his 20's who has a mental disability such that temple attendance isn't possible. He will never go to the temple. He will never attend a temple sealing of anyone. I think he's being discriminated against by the church because of his disability. He is still a very strong member of the church in every way. He's 100% active, does his calling, home teaches, etc. It's WRONG! Occasionally people will comment something like, " isn't it a blessing you're in the church with a child that has a disability where you can get help?" First of all, nobody ever helps. He was never given any Aaronic priesthood callings. He never attended youth conferences, because nobody would step up to watch over him. And finally, he'll never be able to attend a family member's "wedding" unless they choose to marry outside the temple.

    1. Holland needs to stop bawling. It reminds me of the fraud preacher Robert Tilton who would beg for money on TV. It's ridiculous. You can watch stories about him on Youtube. Here's why I don't give the church money anymore. We had a child attending counseling the bishop had offered to pay the insurance co-pay for. Without going into too much detail, she was going for something we hold the church leadership partly responsible for, because they did nothing to stop a boy who had sexually abused a child in our ward. He finally reached my family. We stopped him. I think the church paid for a handful of sessions. Then, one day, my wife took my daughter to counseling, and the counselor said she hadn't received co-pays for over 6 months, for at least 11 sessions. We paid it that day, and that was the end of paying a generous fast offering. I have made no tithing or church donations of any kind since then. The begging for money from the pulpit, the guilting, and the year-end arm twisting at tithing settlement disgust me.

      I feel bad for kids of strict believing parents who, because of a conference talk, are going to stop letting their kids watch TV and will make them read scriptures more and read more books. Maybe they can become successful like Dr. Ben Carson. But wait, he isn't a member. Why would we want to emulate him?

      As I've studied the history of the church, I've found the most dishonest and misleading information comes from the church, apologists, and groups like FAIR. All you have to do is read the church topics on subjects like polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, the Book of Abraham, etc, to realize that they aren't being very forthcoming. They're full of spin. Sites like Mormonthink provide way more complete information.

    2. Wow. Thanks for those comments. I'll try to reply to everything...sorry if I miss something important.

      I've been relying less on "live transcribing" this time than last. I think you pointed out that the church site posts videos pretty quickly last time, so I used that as a fallback if I couldn't get everything I wanted to quote down quickly enough.

      I wonder how much tithing income is flagging. It's still got to be staggeringly high, though maybe not as high as it was. I get the sense that there's still a strong core membership. Even if only 40% of the church is active and people are leaving in droves, TBM families are still pumping out children and I'd be surprised if tithing is doing anything other than holding steady or declining slowly.

      I think I'm only able to hold my tongue around my family because they're so wrapped up in the church that most of my opinions would be seriously devastating to them. So it's usually not too difficult for me to keep my thoughts to myself unless I'm directly asked for them. Other than a few rare incidents I've posted about (the "Mo Pas" post from a few weeks ago, for example), I don't have too much of a temptation to let loose with an anti-Mormon outburst. However, I don't think I've gone so far as to hit any of the more damning issues in a while and I definitely haven't brought up the Book of Abraham or anything like you have.

      I wasn't as pissed about missing my sisters' sealings as I thought I'd be. I think I was more troubled by the fact that they didn't seem to be bothered by the rule. They were sad that I wasn't qualified to be there instead of sad that the church forces the exclusion of non-believers, which strikes me as yet another example of people placing a higher importance on their religious beliefs than on their family members. But since there was no legal wedding ceremony and one of them didn't even really have a reception, the sealings were really the "weddingest" their marriages got, so even if it's not really a wedding like you say, I obviously still would have liked to have been there.

    3. You've alluded to some shocking events between the church and your family before. I have no children, no family members with mental disabilities, and I'm not close with any victims of sexual abuse, so I can't really relate to what's happened to you. But even with my limited understanding, I can sympathize with how much you and your family may have suffered and struggled because of all that. Your son sounds like a genuine, dedicated person, which, whether the church is true or not, still makes it sound like he deserves more than the average Mormon to be included, both in the social aspects of the church and in the temple ordinances he believes in but is barred from participating in. I'm curious as to how it was determined that he wasn't eligible for a temple recommend. I'm assuming the recommend would have been denied him by the bishop and/or stake president, but I'm also assuming that neither of those men has the educational background or qualifications to make the judgment of whether or not he's mentally "competent" to enter the temple. Schools use IQ tests to draw the lines on which children need special education (at least, that's my understanding). A representative of the Lord using that metric seems crude and insensitive, but an unqualified representative of the Lord using some kind of spiritual metric seems just as unfair. I imagine there's something in some church handbook about mental capacity and eligibility for temple attendance and I bet it's not the most lovingly worded thing out there.

      You've mentioned the abuse of your other child in an earlier comment, and I don't even know how to express how sorry I am about that. It's an ugly thing that happens too often, even in what's supposed to be the church of God. What stands out to me about your experience with the counseling sessions is that you had no warning that it wasn't getting paid. At least if the bishop was going to retract his offer to cover the copayments, he should have had the class and the integrity to let you know beforehand. Instead he just stuck you with the bill for something you've said his ward was responsible for. That doesn't seem like the behavior of someone called by God to lovingly preside over a congregation.

    4. I don't remember off the top of my head whose talk contained that story of the woman who made her kids go to the library instead of watching TV, but I remember being relieved to hear that the mother in the story allowed her boys to watch 3 hours (or was it three programs) a week. I was worried that it was heading in the direction of "and then she took the television set out to the dumpster and said a little prayer while she bashed it to pieces with a baseball bat." I completely agree that kids (and, well, adults like me) should spend less time with television and more time with books, but I'm also wary of the overly strict parenting you mentioned. The church gobbled up my childhood and I feel like I missed out on a lot of things--normal social development, normal cultural experiences, the whole carefree-little-kid bit. While I definitely plan on stressing the value of reading when I have my own children (as I feel it contributed greatly to any academic success I had, even when my motivation to succeed fell short), I do think that kids should be allowed to be kids some of the time and I want my children to have more nostalgic memories of their youth than I do. Maybe they can become successful and well-rounded and happy. Better to emulate Carson than Boyd K. Packer, right?

      I actually have a slight problem with MormonThink, to be honest. It's very useful and informative, but I feel like it tries to present itself as something it's not. It presents both sides of the issues in an attitude of fairness, but I think it's skewed toward the ex-Mormon bias more than it likes to admit. I guess you could make the point that it's skewed that way because the church isn't true and the truth speaks for itself, but something about that site just rubs me the wrong way. Occasionally. And, that being said, it's about a million times more honest and straightforward than the church. I guess neither side is immune from the temptation to spin, but those general authorities do it like it's going out of style.

      Thanks again for your comments! In closing, I'll just leave you with this General Conference meme that popped up on Reddit: Scumbag Neil A. Andersen

    5. You're right that Mormonthink passes itself off as unbiased, but it does lean Ex. However, it does a good job of countering the spin and half truths spread by FAIR.

      My son isn't eligible, because he can't serve a mission. Plus, he wouldn't understand at all the teachings and probably wouldn't be capable of keeping the secrets. I don't have a problem with him not going to the temple for the endowment. It would freak him out. However, he should be allowed to attend a wedding.

    6. And I guess if your children and your extended family are still active, he'll miss some weddings. I was under the impression that unendowed but worthy family members of at least twelve could get a kind of temporary temple pass specifically to attend a sealing. Is that not true?

    7. No, that's not correct. They can get one to do baptisms for the dead, but they cannot attend sealings. Plus, most of the sealing rooms are too small to hold very many, some as few as 20. I think we crammed about 30 into ours. My wife's siblings were not there. They were too young. With a few exceptions for older people, you can't go to the temple unless you go on a mission or get sealed. It's interesting that in 1835, the D & C said this: "...we believe, that all marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, should be solemnized in a public meeting, or feast, prepared for that purpose..." That rule wasn't changed until 1876 when the section was removed from the D & C.

      Great meme.

    8. Hmm. I wonder where I got that idea then. It did seem kind of odd to me that they'd let teenagers into that part of the temple, but I thought I'd heard of it happening somewhere.

      Interesting tidbit about the public marriage thing. I guess in 1835, they hadn't even finished building their first temple and the early temples were different anyway. The temple as we know it probably wouldn't crop up for another thirty years or so. I guess it's one more example of Joseph not planning ahead in his doctrinal evolution.

  2. Or, it's just one more example of the many changes Brigham made to the church, which as the president of the church, he had every right to do. I just don't agree with it.

    I believe they do let children into sealing rooms if they are being sealed to their parents.

    I prefer the old way of celebrating weddings. In some countries, they allow couples to get married civilly and then travel to the temple later for the sealing. Much better. I actually saw that happen on my mission.