Sunday, December 28, 2014

Silent Stupidity

While I visited with my family over the holidays, it somehow came up in conversation that I didn't know who invented the television.

I could have guessed the guy's last name was Farnsworth, although I must admit that's only because it came up once on Futurama.  But I had no clue about the first name.  Apparently it's Philo.  Poor guy.
Professor Hubert Farnsworth (left) and his distant ancestor Philo T. Farnsworth (right)
Everyone was shocked that I didn't know the man's name.  Apparently Farnsworth was a Mormon and a BYU alumnus, and my oldest sister couldn't understand how I could have possibly gone to BYU and never learned about the guy who invented the television.  Without really meaning to, she made me feel incredibly stupid.  She didn't actually call me stupid, she just got a little carried away with her tone and her insistence that it was something I should have known.

That day, I learned that I don't like being treated like an idiot by Mormons.

I like to think that I'm a reasonably smart guy.  I'm used to being the smartest guy in the room but I also have plenty of experience being the dumbest guy in the room.  And I think I'm pretty good at telling when I'm intellectually outclassed.  I try not to push things when I realize that I'm arguing with someone who's better informed than I.  I have gaps in my knowledge and I have plenty of stupid moments, but I try to accept my mental shortcomings gracefully.

This time, it was a struggle.

I was furious.  What I really, really wanted to say was, "Okay.  I wasn't aware of a particular historical factoid.  You belong to a cult started by a horny nineteenth-century con man, but I'm the stupid one, right?"  I didn't say it.  But it was the first angry thought to flash across my mind the instant I felt insulted and it very easily could have slipped out.

I couldn't let it go for the rest of the night, either.  Any time it turned out that I knew something that someone else didn't, I relished it as a vindicating (if immature) triumph.  That same sister had never heard of the little plastic balls they make for you to put your hamster in to let it run around.  HA!  I'm smarter!  I know what a hamster ball is!

Anyway, it really got under my skin.  I was genuinely surprised by how much it got under my skin. It's clearly not important, but it seemed so important at the time only because the implied accusation of cerebral inferiority came from a source whose own faculties have been hindered by decades of brainwashing.  I'm starting to think that maybe I need to sit down with some of my family members and start laying out in detail my personal beliefs and my problems with the church, because keeping quiet and biting my tongue is starting to become more difficult.  

Then again, opening up a can of worms by initiating an "anti-Mormon" discussion could prove even more difficult.  It's crazy that even though my journey out of the church has been tamer and less dramatic than many others, I'm still left with lots of situations that leave me with no desirable solutions.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Alma 49: Tower Defense

Amalickiah sends his armies out to destroy the Nephites.  Shockingly, the Nephites have fortified their cities to the extent that the Lamanites are basically powerless to attack them.

Population Distribution
When the Lamanites arrive to attack the city of Ammonihah, they are appalled to discover that the Nephites have built some kind of wall of earth around the entire city.  The Lamanites have no way of getting past the wall other than targeting the gates, which would create a choke point and lead to their slaughter.  So they withdraw and advance on the city of Noah, which, to their "uttermost astonishment," is even more ably secured.  Upon learning that Lehi is in command of the defense of the city of Noah, the Lamanites vow to destroy him and do their damnedest to follow through.  Instead, they get their asses kicked until they scurry back to their homeland to lick their wounds.

Captain Moroni had apparently made sure that every single Nephite city had a huge wall around it (verse 13) so that there could be no weak points in the entire nation.  But that brings up the problem of where those cities' resources come from.  If the Lamanites were really as ruthless and barbaric as they are so frequently depicted, I'm sure they would have thought of laying siege to a city and cutting off its supplies.  The only reason this wouldn't have worked is if everything the city needed was inside the defenses.  That means that Moroni had walls erected around all the fields for crops and all the pastures for the livestock.  Which is totally unrealistic.

If Nephite civilization was spread out the way civilizations tend to spread out, the Lamanites should have been able to find some kind of weakness.  Whether it was laying siege to the city of Noah or burning crops and scattering animals, there should have been something the Lamanites could have done to deal the hurt.  The population distribution of the Book of Mormon appears to be a set of large polka dots.  Nowhere is a Nephite or a Lamanite depicted as living off on his own.  There's no mention of any farmers.  But there are abundant references to citiescities whose populations are dense enough and whose borders are clearly defined enough to have walls encircling them.  None of this seems indicative of a society that may have actually existed.

Once the Lamanite forces finally withdraw with their tails between their legs, "the people of Nephi did thank the Lord their God, because of his matchless power in delivering them from the hands of their enemies."  Seems like they're showing gratitude to the wrong person.

The Nephite defenses and strategies haven't been attributed to God in any way until now.  For example, in verse 8, it explains that "they were prepared for the Lamanites, to battle after the manner of the instructions of Moroni."  There was no miraculous event that derailed a probable Lamanite victory.  There was no timely deus ex machina to pluck the Nephites from a horrible fate.  There was no mention of Moroni's strategy being the result of any kind of prayer or divine inspiration. He outsmarted the bad guys all on his own and it was pretty much over before it started.
"We're saved!  He saved us!  Commander Taggert has saved us!"
But those Nephites praised God for delivering them with no thought to the tireless work of Moroni, who ensured that every single Nephite settlement was impenetrably guarded against a Lamanite incursion.  It was a bold plan, but it seems to have paid off...except that the people he'd so expertly defended chose to give their gratitude to someone who wasn't even involved.

I actually feel a little sorry for him right now.  He finally did something that wasn't douchey or bloodthirsty and he doesn't even get credit for it.

That Crap Worked on Corianton?
But perhaps the most depressing part of this chapter is the final verse:
Yea, and there was continual peace among them, and exceedingly great prosperity in the church because of their heed and diligence which they gave unto the word of God, which was declared unto them by Helaman, and Shiblon, and Corianton, and Ammon and his brethren, yea, and by all those who had been ordained by the holy order of God, being baptized unto repentance and sent forth to preach among the people.
Corianton is now a missionary and a leader in the church.  How disappointing.  After sitting through four chapters of self-righteous, irrelevant, and disingenuous blathering from his dad, he actually decided to come back to the church.  Corianton, buddy...what were you thinking?  All that weird rambling about resurrection and eternal punishment actually convinced you?

I definitely feel bad for that guy, getting sucked back into the cult because of familial pressure.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hard to Watch

I spent some time with my family during Thanksgiving, which meant that, for a few hours a day for three straight days, I was graced with the wonderful opportunity to be the only non-believer in a room full of ardent Mormons.  It also meant that I had to sit through a few of my little nephew's mini-brainwashing sessions.

Apparently my sister and my brother-in-law, like many Mormon parents, make it a priority to read the scriptures with their children every night.  As they read from the Book of Mormon, my four-year-old nephew was understandably confused.

"Why do the Lamanites want to fight the Nephites?" he asked.

"Because they don't like them very much," my brother-in-law answered wisely.

Talk about an oversimplification.  Even though I consider the majority of the Book of Mormon's stories to be bordering on the absurd, there's always some kind of explanation provided for why any group goes to war against any other group.  They can range from the simple ("because they're wicked and greedy") to the complex ("the Nephites converted too many of their brethren and then helped them escape from their lands, so when the Lamanites came to conquer them, the Nephites stepped up to defend their new friends"), but there's always an explanation with a little more nuance to it than "they don't like them very much."

The question and the answer both indicate that my nephew has almost zero understanding of what's going on in the story.  The question demonstrates an absence of knowledge of the most fundamental, most repetitive conflict in the entire book.  And the uninformative, oversimplified answer speaks to my brother-in-law's confidence in how much of the real answer the little boy is capable of comprehending.  If the kid doesn't understand the basic plots, how can he be expected to understand the spiritual knowledge framed within the context of these narratives?  And if he can understand neither the story nor the doctrine, why is anyone even bothering to read this stuff to him?

The only answer that makes sense is that my sister and her husband are trying to instill in him at a young age the importance of reading the scriptures.  Or, more accurately, to instill in him at a young age that habitually reading the Book of Mormon on a daily basis is a normal part of family life.  He doesn't understand what's going on, but when he gets older, he'll feel more pressured to read the scriptures himself because that's what you do in his family.
Except that my nephew won't win an Oscar for this.

When I was discussing my feelings on the church in a series of emails with my dad a while back, he seemed particularly offended when I used the word "brainwashing."  But then he sits happily by while his daughter does this.  Once I was over there for a family home evening in which my dad played a recording of a primary song from his phone for the opening hymn and helped my nephew remember the words as he cheerily mumbled his way through it with innocent enthusiasm.  My dad is offended by the use of the term "brainwashing" but he's intricately involved in perpetrating the exact thing he finds so offensive on his own grandchildren.

I remember what it was like to be in the church, and I know that it doesn't seem like brainwashing from the inside.  But from the outside, brainwashing is all that it does look like.  After all this hymn-singing and Book-of-Mormon-reading and programming and conditioning, ten years down the road, my nephew is going to be racked with guilt every time he lets his eyes linger a second too long over a pretty girl.  He's going to have expectations and goals and standards and requirements foisted upon him and he might feel as though there's nothing he could do to ever measure up.   He might go through high school feeling like he's just barely staying afloat and that the best he can do is tread water and stave off drowning for just a little longer.  And all of that turmoil and guilt and desperation can be traced back to the intense brainwashing of his upbringing.

I don't want him to go through the kinds of things I went through.  I don't want him to go through the kinds of things that are far worse than what I went through but still possible from Mormonism.  But it's also not my job to raise him.  It's not my place to step in.  So I'll continue to watch him grow up in a loving, unified, well-off, but relentlessly pressuring family.  And I'll have to strive to be the cool uncle so that one day I could be the only person he's comfortable talking to about the heavy stuff.  And maybe I'll eventually be able to help him.

But until then, I'll just have to do my best not to vomit when I'm unfortunate enough to be in attendance for my sister's family home evenings.