Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Alma 12: Worst. Sermon. Ever.

The missionary Amulek has finished verbally sparring with the corrupt lawyer Zeezrom, so the prophet Alma the Younger steps in to deliver the fatal strike.

Alma:  The Man With the Golden Investigator
Zeezrom is probably a pretty good example of the Golden Investigator that every missionary wants but that hardly any missionary ever gets.  At the outset, Zeezrom is openly hostile to the missionaries' message, but after his cunning comments are met with firm rebukes by Alma and Amulek he begins to change.  Which doesn't seem very realistic to me.  Generally people resist when they're confronted with overly opinionated people who call them liars in a public argument.

Apparently Zeezrom actually knows the truth, but he's fighting against it so that he can feel comfortable in his sinful lifestyle.  He's met with such powerful oratory that he actually begins to "tremble under a consciousness of his guilt."  Which doesn't seem very realistic to me.

By verse 8, he's asking penetrating questions about doctrine in an honest desire to understand the gospel.  Which doesn't seem very realistic to me.  You'd think it would take a little more time for him to abandon the iniquitous ways upon which he's built his entire life.  One hundred eighty degree turns aren't made on a dime.

Also, considering that he's supposed to be this really clever lawyer schooled in the art of twisting words, he gives up pretty easily when Amulek's replies to his questions in the last chapter pretty much amount to "You're trying to trick me, let me tell you what I should have said."  Which doesn't seem very realistic to me.

Alma Forgets His Past
In verses 9 through 11, Alma explains that God is willing to reveal his "mysteries" to people, but that such revelation is conditional upon an open heart.  The people who "harden" their hearts receive "a lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his [God's] mysteries" and the people who are willing to listen will receive "a greater portion of the word...to know the mysteries of God."  

There's a big problem here.  Alma doesn't count.

This is Alma the Younger, son of Alma.  This is Alma the Younger, whose opposition to and persecution of the church caused his father so much suffering that God sent an angel to the punk kid to set him straight.  Alma's heart was about as hardened as it could have been.  But he saw a freaking heavenly messenger and was pretty much converted overnight.  

Also, the apostle Paul hasn't been born yet.  But when he is, he won't count either.

Other than those two extremely notable examples, though (and probably a few others), Alma makes a perfectly valid point. So much for God being no respecter of persons though.

Alma Denies the Existence of Spirit Prison
According to the Plan of Salvation, after we die, we proceed to the Spirit World for a time.  The Spirit World consists of Spirit Prison, where the wicked will dwell, and Spirit Paradise, where the righteous will be.  The righteous will do missionary work in Spirit Prison to give everyone the opportunity to hear the gospel just in case they didn't get the chance while alive.  Eventually, there will be a resurrection, and then everyone will move on to their final destination (which hopefully involves a degree of glory...I have my fingers crossed that the sorting hat places me in the Celestial Kingdom when the time comes).
The Plan of LOLvation  The Plan of Failiness.  The Plan of Redumbtion.  Okay, I'll stop.
Here's a helpful diagram for you, buddy.  Good luck with Ammonihah and everything.
But this is not what Alma preaches in this chapter.  Instead, the prophet of the Lord says:
Whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.
Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will.
Here, Alma explains that whoever suffers physical death and is still a sinner will then suffer spiritual death, be held captive by Satan, and pretty much become Lucifer's plaything.  But what happened to the waiting period between a person's death and the resurrections?  Where's the second chance to hear and accept the truth of the gospel?

Oh, right.  Joseph Smith hadn't come up with that part yet.

God's Hero Complex
Alma discusses the wondrous mercy of God's Plan of Redemption in verse 25:
Now, if it had not been for the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world, there could have been no resurrection of the dead; but there was a plan of redemption laid, which shall bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, of which has been spoken.
"If it had not been for the plan of redem........."  NO!  NO!  JUST NO!
If it had not been for the Plan of Redemption, there would have been no need for a resurrection of the dead.

In the beginning, when we were all spirit babies living with God in the preexistence, apparently we were all dumb enough to say, "Yeah!  I'm totally on board with leaving the presence of my father, forgetting he existed, taking a mortal body, testing my fortitude in a world of sin, and hoping I'm good enough to get back into the presence of my father.  Even though I'm risking an eternity of torturous separation from my father, it's a gamble I'm willing to take because if I play my cards right this somehow allows my progression into godhood.  Sign me up!"

We had a good thing going with God until he decided to make us jump through hoops to earn our right to live with him forever.  If he'd never decided to go with the Plan of Redemption, we would never have taken mortal bodies.  Obviously, this would mean that we would never experience physical death.  And therefore, we would never have needed anything called "the resurrection of the dead."  It's not the Plan of Redemption that overcomes this.  It's the Plan of Redemption that introduces it as a problem and then bombastically parades around the solution like it would have been an issue at all in the first place.
"If you don't want a physical body then I won't resurrect it when it dies."

Why is God Wrathful?
Alma ascribes these words to our loving Heavenly Father:
And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest.
And this guy is a perfected, exalted being?  This "my way or the highway" crap sounds a whole lot like some extremely imperfect people I know.  I've used a similar kind of phrasing many times at work...but that's when I'm managing people who aren't my children and for whom I'm not popularly assumed to have an unconditional love. How can someone be so vindictive, so capricious and so unapologetically wrathful and expect us to not only believe that he's perfect but also to worship him and dedicate our lives to him?

I think God needs to hire a press secretary to smooth out these kinds of misunderstandings.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Alma 11: Zeezrom's Diabolical Cleverness

We're still in Ammonihah.  Amulek is still preaching to the wicked rabble.  The wicked rabble still doesn't like him.

Money Talks
The first nineteen verses of this chapter discuss the monetary system among the Nephites, including tons of made-up words and lots of unnecessary detail.  This is yet another unimportant non-doctrinal section that no ancient prophet in his right mind would spend a second carving into gold plates to preserve for later generations.

Also it reads like a novel.  Melville described different species of whales in great detail.  Tolkien explored the histories of various races of Middle-Earth.  Rowling set forth the rules of Quidditch.  All their stories could have been told just fine without these things, but they wanted to flesh out the world in which their novels existed.  They wanted to immerse the reader in it.  They wanted the events to feel real and genuine and to have a solid basis.  Describing the economy and currency of a society is not something you do if you're penning holy scripture—it's something you might do if you were trying to write a good story.

I also find it amusing that, in Alma 9:34, it says that "the words of Amulek are not all written, nevertheless a part of his words are written in this book."  But a few pages later there's time to explain that a limnah of gold is equal to the sum of a shum of gold, a sheon of gold and a senine of gold.  Does that mean that money is more important than the words of a missionary calling a city to repentance?

It's All About the Shiblons, Baby
The whole purpose of this rambling discourse on Nephite currency is apparently to illustrate that Zeezrom and his jurist friends are all greedy and that they like to instigate problems among the Nephites so that they can try more legal cases and get more senines and stuff.

Zeezrom offers Amulek (our current hero) six onties of silver to deny the existence of God.  Because of the first half of the chapter, we can deduce that this is a decent sum of money.  An onti is equal to seven senums of silver.  A judge (which appears to be synonymous with "lawyer" for Ammonihah's purposes) earns one senum per work day.  Zeezrom is pretty much offering forty-two days of earnings.  Using a little math and the 2012 USA median income as a guideline, it's fair to say that Zeezrom is offering Amulek more than eight thousand dollars to deny God.  And considering that Zeezrom is implied to be wealthy and accused of loving money more than God, it's probable that Zeezrom's income was significantly above the Nephite median.  So pretty much, he offered Amulek a buttload of money to say that God did not exist.

Why didn't the Book of Mormon just say that?  Why go through all the trouble to describe the monetary system when a simple "Zeezrom offered him a small fortune" would have sufficed?  And why did we spend so much time learning about the different gold currencies and the measures of grain when all Zeezrom mentioned in his bribe was one single denomination of silver currency?

Zeezrom is a Bad Lawyer
In his attempts to twist Amulek's words, Zeezrom gives our new favorite missionary plentiful opportunities to bear his testimony.  Look at the brilliant questions Zeezrom poses:
  • Is there a God?  (verse 26)
  • Is there more than one God?  (verse 28)
  • How do you know? (verse 30)
  • Will the Son of God come?  (verse 32)
  • Will the Son of God save his people in their sins? (verse 34)
  • Is the Son of God the Eternal Father? (verse 38)
Amulek has now had a perfect setup to bear witness of the existence of God, the nature of God, revelation, the coming of Christ, the importance of repentance...etc, etc, etc.  If you're putting Hitler on trial, you don't start asking him about how he's revitalized the German economy.  You don't give your opponent the chance to look good or the chance to say what he wants to say.

Then Zeezrom completely yields to Amulek, allowing him to go off into an uninterrupted (and, frankly, kind of tangential) sermon.  And this is the guy that is supposed to be using his cunning and his trickery to make Amulek look bad?  This is the guy that is such an "expert in the devices of the devil, that he might destroy that which is good"?  Weak sauce.

God is Who on the What Now?
This sounds suspiciously like it's not current church doctrine (verses 38-39)
Now Zeezrom saith again unto him:  Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?
And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last; 
The account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith History describes two beings appearing in the Sacred Grove--the Father and the Son.  The Topical Guide entry on the Godhead begins with an explanation that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings.  So how, exactly, is the Son of God the Eternal Father of heaven and earth?

This is not the first time that the Book of Mormon has been in blatant violation of approved church doctrine concerning the nature of the Godhead (see Mosiah 13, "Those Pesky Divine Identity Complications" or 2 Nephi 11, "Unlucky Verse Seven").  And I'm sure it won't be the last.

I've never typed "Zeezrom" that many times before in my entire life.  The more I look at that word, the weirder it gets.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Alma 10: Rabble Rousing

Now Amulek gets up to speak to his native city of Ammonihah.

Seriously, Another Angel?
In verse 7, Amulek explains that he used to be a wicked man like the rest, but then he took an arrow to the knee was visited by an angel.  The angel explained that Amulek would cross paths with a prophet of God who needed some assistance and that it was Amulek's calling to provide that assistance.

But the important question here is why are so many angels appearing to non-believers?  So far in the Book of Mormon, we've got Laman, Lemuel, Alma the Younger and now Amulek.  I'm a non-believer.  Where the hell is my angel?

The wicked-guy-turning-righteous-due-to-a-heavenly-messenger shtick is starting to challenge the small-family-from-the-ancient-holy-land-travels-to-America-to-start-its-own-society shtick as Joseph Smith's favorite plot device.

Apparently Two is a Thousand Times Better Than One
Amulek doesn't really teach doctrine here.  His speech so far has pretty much amounted to "Alma's not making this stuff up, so whatever he said is totally legit."  The public response to his oration is a little strange, though:
And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them.
More than one witness?  Not by much.  It's only two witnesses!

If you were to stand up on a street corner in New York City and start yelling about something that was universally regarded as ludicrous, probably nobody would believe you.  But if you got your buddy to stand up next to you and shout that everything you just said was true...probably nobody would believe you.  Get a hundred people with signs or a petition with a thousand signatures and maybe people will start to pay attention.  But if nobody's buying what you're selling in the first place, one additional witness is not going to make the entire crowd start to reconsider their outlook on life.

Amulek Makes a Common Facebook Argument
Because his audience clearly disagrees with him, Amulek appeals to the authority of a revered past leader—King Mosiah II.
Yea, well did Mosiah say...that if the time should come that the voice of this people should choose iniquity...they would be ripe for destruction.
This strikes me as being very similar to what I see on Facebook.  How many times have we seen someone post a picture of George Washington with a quote relating to a current political issue like that one sentence attributed to a Founding Father is somehow the end of the argument?
Facebook Person:  George Washington said:  "Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself.  They are the American people's liberty's teeth and keystone under independence."
 Me:  Yeah, well, he also owned slaves, so clearly he wasn't right about everything.
I imagine the people of Ammonihah responded a similar way.
Amulek:  King Mosiah said:  "If the time should come that the voice of this people should choose iniquity they would be ripe for destruction."
Tricksy Lawyer:  Yeah, well, that's the same hypocrite that pushed a different political structure on us because he said monarchy was so bad—even though he didn't actually give up the throne until he died.  So clearly he wasn't right about everything.
(It also bears mentioning that both quotes are fictional.  King Mosiah never existed and the George Washington quote is misattributed.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Alma 9: Alma the Insult Comic

Alma and Amulek now begin the difficult task of attempting to convince an entire city of skeptics that they should repent.

Alma Boldly Rebukes the Masses
In verses 8 and 9, Alma cries:
Behold, O ye wicked and perverse generation, how have ye forgotten the tradition of your fathers; yea, how soon ye have forgotten the commandments of God.
Do ye not remember that our father, Lehi, was brought out of Jerusalem by the hand of God?  Do ye not remember that they were all led by him through the wilderness? 
He's off to a good start here, pretty much using "you're all bad people and also you're idiots" as his lead-in material.  Then he takes it upon himself to criticize the entire city of Ammonihah for—let your eyes slide up to the chapter heading for a second—forgetting about events that took place more than five hundred years ago.  That's fair, right?

Ours is Not a Logical God
Later on, Alma explains why the wicked Nephites in Ammonihah are in danger of the wrath of God but the wicked Lamanites everywhere else are not:
For there are many promises which are extended to the Lamanites; for it is because of the traditions of their fathers that caused them to remain in their state of ignorance; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them and prolong their existence in the land.
And at some period of time they will be brought to believe in his word, and to know of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers; and many of them will be saved, for the Lord will be merciful unto all who call on his name. 
So the only reason the Lamanites get away with all their barbarism and iniquity is because it's not their fault--their ancestors were evil, and so the Lamanites have simply remained that way.  By the same reasoning, once the current generation of Ammonihah dies out, shouldn't their descendants receive the same deal?

Not only that, but God is so petty and so unloving that he would rather have the wicked Lamanites slaughter all of his chosen people than let the Nephites persist in their sinfulness.  Why?  Because after all the times God claims to have bailed the Nephites out of tough spots, they still have forgotten about him.  Apparently God hasn't taken into consideration that those tough spots happened more than a generation ago.  And he also doesn't seem bothered by the fact that it's his own fault that the people seem to forget about him, considering he sent them all through the veil at birth so that they're all born without any knowledge that he exists in the first place.

The Public Reaction
Take a look at the facepalm-worthy comment in verse 31:
Now it came to pass that when I, Alma, had spoken these words, behold, the people were wroth with me because I said unto them that they were a hard-hearted and a stiffnecked people.
Alma insults his audience and then explains that they were offended by it?  I think it's about time to bring this one back:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Prophet, Seer, and Fraudulator

Yes, I know fraudulator isn't a word, but it has such a nice ring to it.

Apparently somebody worked some legal hijinks to try and get the church into some hot water.  Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has been summoned to a British court on charges of fraud--scamming people out of money by tricking them into following a false religion.

This is going to be like Nuremburg.  Like Scopes.  Like Roe v. Wade.

Okay, obviously not.  But I'm definitely interested to see if this legal action gains any traction, any media attention or--even better--any actual results.

Details (including two of the actual summons) are at MormonThink.