Monday, April 27, 2015

Mormon-Themed Memes 11: Cookisms

Almost a month after General Conference, after all the idiotic and ridiculous things spouted from the pulpit in the Conference Center, one thing in particular has stuck with me more than anything else—Elder Quentin L. Cook's blatant deception about the strength of the church.

Lies?  Denial?  Maybe it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.  But regardless, those claims of his still make me want to laugh and punch something at the same time:
Some have asserted that more members are leaving the Church today and that there is more doubt and unbelief than in the past. This is simply not true. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never been stronger. The number of members removing their names from the records of the Church has always been very small and is significantly less in recent years than in the past. The increase in demonstrably measurable areas, such as endowed members with a current temple recommend, adult full-tithe payers, and those serving missions, has been dramatic. Let me say again, the Church has never been stronger.
Let's draw some comparisons between Cook's bafflingly confident statements and some other...similar...situations.

Past Mormon Memes:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Thanks for Reading!

A big thank you to all of you who downloaded my book over the last few days!  I know it's been shared on and maybe a few other places.  You guys have given me (temporarily, at least) the #1 free book in Amazon's LDS category.
Pics or it didn't happen, right?
This is the first time I've had a top seller in any category.  The support means a lot to me and I really hope those of you who downloaded it will enjoy it.

Thanks again.  Like, seriously.  Thank you.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Their Works Shall be in the Dark

I have a new book out, titled Their Works Shall be in the Dark.  It's free on Amazon for the next few days.

This is the first thing I've published that directly addresses Mormonism.  It follows a priests quorum as its charismatic first assistant hatches an arguably doctrinal plan for experimental sin.  While the young men deal with their new exposure to forbidden behaviors and suffer through some of the guilt that accompanies them, they grapple with their secrets, their relationships and their beliefs.

I began writing this story because I was frustrated at the way Mormonism is perceived by the general public.  In various conversations with friends, acquaintances and coworkers, I've struggled to adequately explain how damaging the church can be.  So I decided to write an interesting, character-driven novel that could immerse the reader in the culture of the church and illustrate its flaws more effectively than a casual conversation could.  Hopefully I've done a good job with all that.

It's free through Wednesday if you're interested in checking it out.  Thanks!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Alma 57: Pesky Prisoner Problems

War continues.  But we've taken a break from reading about Captain Moroni's meritorious exploits to focus on the prophet Helaman's bizarre dabbling in military leadership.  I mean, it's not bizarre for the Book of Mormon, but we've definitely never seen Thomas S. Monson or Ezra Taft Benson or Spencer W. Kimball leading troops into battle.

Good Prisoners Make Good Neighbors
After Helaman's forces lay siege to the city of Cumeni, the Lamanite forces buckle and surrender.  Helaman is immediately presented with a huge logistical obstacle because his men have to guard an entire army's worth of captives.  His solution is to send the Lamanites down to Zarahemla.  I have no idea why.  Why would he send a bunch of enemy soldiers into what is basically the capital city of his civilization?  Couldn't he at least have shipped them off to Bountiful, which Moroni recently converted into a prison?

What really makes no sense, though, is that Helaman sends a "part" of his men to march the bad guys down to Zarahemla.  His issue was that he didn't have enough troops to keep the Lamanites from escaping or overpowering their captors.  How does peeling off a small portion of his forces to guard the prisoners in transit solve that problem at all?

Spoiler alert:  much to everyone's idiotic surprise, the Lamanites wind up rebelling.

Only the Unfaithful Die Young
After repelling a fierce attack on the city of Cumeni, Helaman gives his Stripling Warriors orders to bury their dead.  He's surprised to discover that, once again, exactly none of them has died.  Two hundred of them "fainted because of the loss of blood," but Helaman has managed to sustain roughly ten percent casualties and zero percent fatalities.  It's like he's one-upping his all-too-miraculous performance from the previous chapter.  But the worst part about all this is his explanation for why it happened (verse 26):
And now, their preservation was astonishing to our whole army, yea, that they should be spared while there was a thousand of our brethren who were slain.  And we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe—that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power.
Dude.  Helaman.  Aren't you, like, the prophet and the keeper of the sacred records?  Have you ever read the sacred records?  Because they clearly contradict what you just said.

Or maybe you're right.  Gideon, the righteous enemy of King Noah, who was murdered by Nehor in the first chapter of Alma...that guy wasn't really a strong believer.  And Abinadi, the prophet who boldly preached repentance and expounded upon the scriptures to King Noah's priests, scoring the critical conversion of Alma the Elder...his testimony was pretty lukewarm.  And all those hundreds of people in Ammonihah who God specifically allowed to be burned to death by their wicked chief judge so their murders could be evidence against him...they just didn't have enough faith.

Transposed into modern times, this is an incredibly heartless thing to teach.  The relief society president who raised six children in the church and goes to the temple twice a month...well, she only got cancer because her belief was wavering.  And that young man who passed away during his mission...he'd have survived if he'd been devoted enough to the gospel.

This is like backhanded victim-blaming.

What a Bloody Miracle
The successful Nephite defense of Cumeni was only possible because of the early return of the troops who'd left to escort the Lamanite prisoners to Zarahemla.  After those guys joined the fight and managed to turn the tide, Helaman figures out what happened.

While Gid and his men were marching the Lamanites away from Cumeni, they came across a group of Nephite scouts who frantically explained that a Lamanite army was about to descend upon the city they'd just left.  Upon hearing this, the prisoners took heart and fought back.  Most of them were killed by the guards and a few managed to escape.
I sure hope nobody turns a weird giant crank underneath Cumeni and moves the whole city on them.
Suddenly having no prisoners, Gid's troops decided that they'd better book it to Cumeni and help.  They arrived just in the nick of time, the Lamanite attack was repulsed, and everybody lived happily ever after.  You know, except for all the dead people.  They didn't live.

Gid's reaction (verse 35) and Helaman's reaction (verse 36) are similarly sickening:
And behold, we are again delivered out of the hands of our enemies.  And blessed is the name of our God; for behold, it is he that has delivered us; yea, that has done this great thing for us.
Um...he has done this great thing for us?  You mean he gave you an excuse to slaughter your prisoners so you could go back to Cumeni and slaughter more people?  If you really believe these events were orchestrated by your God, doesn't it worry you how little he seems to care for human life?
Now it came to pass that when I, Helaman, had heard these words of Gid, I was filled with exceeding joy because of the goodness of God in perserving us, that we might not all perish; yea, and I trust that the souls of them who have been slain have entered into the rest of their God. 
You were filled with exceeding joy?  A thousand of your countrymen are dead and even more of your enemies are dead.  That's a lot of death.  Have a little respect.  What kind of God accomplishes "goodness" with so much fortuitous bloodshed?  And I'm sure you're not even thinking about all the dead Lamanites, because you know damn well that those filthy savages died in their wickedness and aren't destined to enter into "the rest of their God" any time soon.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Comforting the Bereaved

A few months ago, one of my best friends from my high school days lost his father to cancer.  He posted an announcement on Facebook with a very beautiful tribute to his dad, and countless friends chimed in to share their sympathies.

I, on the other hand, had no idea what to do.

I wanted to express my support, but I also wanted to give the impression that I was willing to actively do something about my friend's loss.  I wanted to say something along the lines of, "My prayers are with you and your family," but that would have felt disingenuous.  I know he's aware that I'm no longer a faithful Mormon, but I don't know how much he knows about what exactly I believe these days (other than not-Mormonism).  I didn't want to offer him something that he knew I regarded as hollow and pointless. 

I also considered writing, "My thoughts are with you and your family," as a few others had done, but while prayer at least claims to accomplish something, simply thinking happy thoughts in my friend's direction would obviously be fruitless.

So I settled for something like, "I'm so sorry for your loss.  My best wishes to you and your family."  Which seems so toothless and dispassionate.  And not a whole lot better than my second option.

I realized that this was something that would have been so much easier as a Mormon.  I kind of miss the surety of prayer, its purported power, and its capacity to comfort the inconsolable.  I don't miss it for myself.  I miss it for other people.  I don't feel that I need prayer in my life, but I know there are people around me who do want it in theirs.  Without my former belief in it, the best I can come up with when someone loses a loved one is basically, "Well, gee whiz, buddy, I'm really sorry." I've always been bad at this kind of thing.  But now that I'm agnostic instead of Mormon, I'm pretty terrible at it.

Luckily (at least for me), this friend stopped by to visit me a few weeks later and I got a second chance to convey my condolences.  It felt much easier to be genuine in person.  Religion and prayer never came up, but I asked how his sister and his mother were doing, and I got to let him talk for a few minutes about how he's doing.   

It was a strange experience, though.  It was certainly not one of the difficulties I'd anticipated when I abandoned my faith.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Notes on General Conference, Part II

Here are a few thoughts on the Sunday sessions.

The building of temples is a very clear indication of the growth of the church.
--Thomas S. Monson, Sunday morning session
This is an interesting thing to say considering that the church just announced its weakest growth since World War II.  And also an interesting thing to say considering that only fourteen temples have been dedicated in the previous five years.  And an utterly baffling thing to say considering that thirty-four temples were dedicated in a single year in 2000.  So what Monson is saying here is that the church is really losing momentum.

I mean, I guess to be fair I should mention that there are fourteen more temples under construction.  But even if they were all finished today, the number would still pale in comparison to the burst of activity from the turn of the millennium.

Sometimes I would ask myself, "What do I want for my children?"  I realized I want them to have temple marriages.  That's when belief came back to my heart.
--Rosemary M. Wixom, Sunday morning session
In relating the story of a woman who had suffered a crisis of faith, Wixom completely sidesteps the issues that generate many people's crises.  When the woman finally regained her faith, it wasn't by asking, "Is this right?" or "Is this really true?" or "What makes the most sense?"  Asking what she wants for her children is a good question, too, but it's not necessarily one that cuts to the heart of the matter.

What makes it worse is that, in answering her question, the woman fell back on her previous faith.  You don't earnestly desire a temple marriage for your children if you don't believe in the church.  What she experienced wasn't a reaffirmation of the truth—it was a failure to seek it on a meaningful level.

I was reminded that our faith can reach beyond the limits of current reason.
--Rosemary M. Wixom, Sunday morning session 
Sure, your faith can reach beyond the limits of reason, but most of the things you believe in can't.

And the use of the word "current" to modify "reason" makes me cringe.  There's this assumption in the church that all the beliefs that aren't logical simply haven't yet been validated by science...but that such an event is inevitable.  It also evokes the similar mentality in Mormonism that while society drifts by from whim to fairy tale, the positions and the standards of the church have been constant amid the chaos.  Though societal beliefs do undergo many shifts, people who think the church is somehow above that are either poorly informed or lying to themselves.

Some of you, like the Nielson family, have family members who have temporarily lost their way.
--Brent H. Nielson, Sunday morning session 
Ugh.  I was encouraged by Nielson's discussion of his sister's disaffection until this point.  It wasn't a fantastic talk, but it was much more understanding than others toward apostates.  But then he had to go and use the word "temporarily."

Thanks, asshole.  You just gave my whole family an adrenaline shot of false hope.  They don't need any help thinking that my apostasy is temporary.  Don't feed their delusions.

Is our only purpose in life an empty existential exercise—simply to leap as high as we can, hang on for our prescribed three score years and ten, then fail and fall, and keep falling forever?  The answer to those questions is an unequivocal and eternal no!
--Jeffrey R. Holland, Sunday morning session
He speaks as though such an idea were utterly preposterous.  "Existential exercise?"  Come on, dude.  If that's all you think life is without the Plan of Salvation wrapped around it, then you must be a truly miserable human being.  Yeah, maybe there's nothing after death.  That doesn't make my life an existential exercise.  All it makes it is, you know, finite.  That's not the same as empty.

[Satan] attempted to destroy moral agency in heaven, and now on earth he is fiercely undermining, opposing, and spreading confusion about religious freedom—what it is and why it is essential to our spiritual life and our very salvation.
--Robert D. Hales, Sunday afternoon session 

Religious freedom is essential to our salvation?  Um, no.  Hales is equating free agency with religious freedom, but they're not the same thing.  Free agency is the individual's ability to make choices of his own accord.  Religious freedom is the individual's ability to practice his religion without retribution from the government.  Unless we're talking about some kind of evil dystopian science experiment here, the government is incapable of taking away the moral agency that God granted us.  No matter what happens, we can still make the decisions to believe what we want and to practice whichever religion we choose.  We just might get thrown in jail for it...or whatever.

Hales goes on to mention the first cornerstone of religious freedom as being "the freedom to believe."  By this he seems to mean "the freedom from criticism and persecution," which, of course, is not even close to being the same thing.   This guy really has no clue.

Some are offended when we bring our religion into the public square, yet the same people who insist that their viewpoints and actions be tolerated in society are often very slow to give that same tolerance to religious believers who also wish their viewpoints and actions to be tolerated.  The general lack of respect for religious viewpoints is quickly devolving into social and political intolerance for religious people and institutions.
--Robert D. Hales, Sunday morning session
Oh, boo hoo.

First of all, when you bring your religion into the public square, you think it's okay to legislate your religion.  This is why people get angry.  Yeah, sure, it's pretty bigoted of you to think that homosexuality is just about the worst thing ever, but it's not really that big of a deal until you decide to make laws that reflect your backwards thinking.  There are not any laws in your country that, for example, make Mormon temple sealings illegal.  Maybe we need to pass one so you'll start to understand a little bit about why LGBT people and their allies can become frustrated with proponents of "religious freedom."

And secondly, way to generalize.  "The same people," blah blah blah.  L. Tom Perry complained about the vocal minority opposing traditional marriage less than 36 hours earlier.  Maybe you should entertain the idea that perhaps there are a lot of people who disagree with you but don't vehemently despise religious people or religious institutions.  Maybe there's a silent majority of people who are merely frothing at the mouth over your blatant bigotry in private.  Maybe you should shut up to avoid pissing them off and turning the tide of public opinion overwhelmingly against you.

As we face increased pressure to bow to secular standards, forfeit our religious liberties, and compromise our agency, consider what the Book of Mormon teaches about our responsibilities.
--Robert D. Hales, Sunday morning session 
What the..."compromise our agency?!"

Look, the only real pressure for the church to bow to secular standards is in the very secular realm of government.  Freedom of religion should mean that you don't force your religion on someone else.  Which means that you don't legislate based on religious beliefs, you do it on political ones.  Outside of the realm of government, who's giving you pressure?  What religious liberties are you forfeiting if, for example, gay people are allowed to be legally married to each other?

And for the last time, no one is compromising your agency.

Three beautiful examples of the Lord's hand in establishing His kingdom are the temples announced today by President Monson.
--Neil L. Andersen, Sunday afternoon session
Temples are...miracles?

Not to fall back on a Mormon trope here, but the definition of "miracle" according to Google is "a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency."  How are the temples miraculous?  We know that the church has gotten very good at build temples.  We know how the church got the money to do it.  We know that the church has a foothold in many nations around the world, first and third world alike.  How is this surprising and inexplicable to anybody?

Temples are man-made.  If a temple suddenly rises out of the depths of the sea and parks itself on the California beach, I'll call that miraculous.  The church doing the same kinds of things it's been doing for decades?  Not miraculous.

A legal and lawful marriage sealed in the temple and in which the sealing covenants are honored gives parents and their children the opportunity for the best experience of love and preparation for a fruitful life.
--Joseph W. Sitati, Sunday afternoon session
Okay, that phrase "legal and lawful" is really starting to get on my nerves.  Let me demonstrated why:
"A legal and lawful marriage and union sealed and bound in the temple and in which the sealing covenants and promises are honored and kept gives parents and their children and offspring the opportunity and possibility for the best experience and  involvement with love and affection and preparation and readiness for a fruitful and fruit-bearing life and livelihood."

Why does the word "legal" need a wingman?  Especially when its wingman is its super-awkward twin brother?

Anyway, moving on, it's the height of hubris for the church to boldly proclaim that temple marriages give children the best possible chances at love and success.  It's kind of downright insulting to other marriages.  So because my girlfriend's parents weren't Mormon and never made temple covenants to each other, that means they didn't do everything they possibly could to love her and provide her with the tools to be happy and successful?

It's also worth noting that, in some ways, an upbringing in the church can definitely hinder a child's sense of love and opportunity for success.  The ways the church stifles critical thinking and the way so many Mormon youth struggle with self-worth because of their sexual orientation, sexual temptations, or any other perceived unworthiness can be very damaging on both counts.

But yeah, this guy totally knows what he's talking about.  Apparently temple equals love.

No other work transcends that of righteous, intentional parenting!
--Russell M. Nelson, Sunday evening session 
First of all, "intentional?"  Accidental parenting doesn't count?  I'm guessing he means that good parenting is something that happens because of a conscious application of effort as opposed to something that takes place as a spontaneously generated product of fortuitous circumstance.  But damn, dude, fire your speechwriter.

But I find it a little worthy of an eye-roll that he thinks "righteous" parenting is the greatest work you can ever do.  I mean, I believe that good parenting is a skill that is extremely lacking in my society.  I believe genuinely loving parents who do their best to raise their children to be moral, productive members of society should be applauded.  I also believe that great things can be done by unassuming people.  But nothing being more important than righteous parenting?  What about, like, philanthropy?    Habitat for Humanity?  Clean water in Africa?  Building a homeless shelter in your town?  Hell, maybe even campaign finance reform?  Parenting is super-important, but unless you've found a way to make it a reality on a large scale, there are lots of other things you can be doing that can positively impact the world in a much greater way.

Obviously, that doesn't mean it's okay to beat your kids and tell them they're worthless right before you jaunt off to save the world, but I think there needs to be a more macro-cosmic perspective here.

But the church, as evidenced by its meager humanitarian aid and its eagerness to publicize what aid it does give, doesn't overly care about people's temporal suffering.  It only cares about their knowledge of "things eternal."  Which is why Elder Nelson is telling us that it's more important to teach our children about how Ammon cut off all those Lamanites' arms than it is to contribute toward making the world a better place on a broader scale.

And personally, I don't think that's a good idea.

And that's all, folks.

Seems there was a lot of focus on church progress and a lot of focus on apostasy.  It's a little strange that they keep talking about bringing people back to the fold so much while they're claiming the church is moving forward like never before.  I mean, I guess they could be growing strong even while hemorrhaging all those apostates they were talking about, but it doesn't seem likely considering dat less-than-two-percent increase, though.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Notes on General Conference, Part I

Saturday's General Conference sessions have concluded, and with a little more excitement than usual.  The Any Opposed movement audibly voiced their opposition to the sustaining of church leaders during the broadcast of the afternoon session, much to Uchtdorf's discomfiture.  And the statistical report reveals the church's self-reported worst increase in membership since 1946.

But, of course, there was more to it than that.  Many speakers covered many topics and shared many nuggets of false wisdom.  The texts of these talks aren't available on just yet, which accounts for why I'm a little late this time and why some of my quotes aren't know...quoted.

Wise parents recognize [that a 24-hour fast may be difficult for their children] and so are careful to follow the counsel of Joseph F. Smith:  "Better to teach them the principle and let them observe it when they are old enough to choose it intelligently."
--Henry B. Eyring, Saturday morning session
I like how Eyring and Smith think that it's a simple matter to "intelligently" choose to follow a principle you've grown up hearing about from your parents.  If we really cared about equipping our children to make choices, we wouldn't fill their heads with things they can't understand at such a young age.  We'd introduce the principle to them when they're old enough to choose it intelligently.

Pure love presupposes that only after a pledge of eternal fidelity, a legal and lawful ceremony, and ideally after sealing in the temple are those procreative powers released in God's eyes for the full expression of love.
--Boyd K. Packer, Saturday morning session
I don't understand how a pledge of eternal fidelity is somehow more binding than a pledge of a lifetime of fidelity.  People in temple marriages and non-temple marriages alike are guilty of infidelity.  Pledging your eternal devotion in a sealing ordinance is clearly not a foolproof way of preserving love and maintaining loyalty.  Any promise can be broken, whether it's an eternal promise or not.

And I find Packer's obsession with "legal and lawful" marriages a little baffling, too.  Does God really give a crap if the marriage is legal?  Isn't his law higher than man's law?  It should only matter to him that it involved a correct sealing ordinance.  The government's classification of a marriage shouldn't affect its legitimacy in his eyes.

I am convinced that a husband is never more attractive to his wife than when he is serving in his God-given roles as a worthy priesthood holder, most importantly in the home.
--Linda K. Burton
You heard it here first:  the priesthood is sexy.

I mean, I've heard that fatherhood is attractive and that many wives love the way their husbands care for their children and stuff, but apparently calling on someone to give an opening prayer in Family Home Evening is a real panty-dropper.

Also, why is the token female speaker giving her address about why men are so awesome?

In an age dominated by the internet, which magnifies messages that menace faith, we must increase our exposure to spiritual truth in order to strengthen our faith and stay rooted in the gospel.
--Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session 
What bothered me the most about this quote was the delivery and the word choice.  The alliteration felt forced and Oaks's tone made it sound like he wanted this to be the most quotable line of his speech.  He wanted this to be the takeaway, the soundbite, the calligraphy on top of the motivational images shared on Facebook.  If you remember nothing else about Oaks's talk, you'll remember that the internet is bad. 

Another potential destroyer of spiritual roots accelerated by current technology, but not unique to it, is the keyhole view of the gospel or the church.  This limited view focuses on a particular doctrine or practice or perceived deficiency in a leader, and ignores the grand panorama of the gospel plan and the personal and communal fruits of its harvest.
--Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
Yep.  The CES Letter definitely espouses a keyhole view of the gospel.

Oaks implies here that there are only a few false doctrines and corrupt practices and deficient leaders, but in reality the church is positively sclerotic under the strain of these problems.  Those who ignore Oaks's "grand panorama" aren't looking through a keyhole—they're staring through a gaping cavity so large that there's hardly any panorama left.

Those who believe in what has been called the theology of prosperity are suffering from the deceitfulness of riches.  The possession of wealth or significant income is not a mark of heavenly favor and their absence is not evidence of heavenly disfavor."
--Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session 
Today I learned that Dallin H. Oaks has never read the Book of Mormon.

The theology of prosperity is one of the larger recurring themes in the book of scripture upon which Oaks's religion is founded.  When the Nephites were righteous, God blessed them with prosperity.  Prosperity led to pride.  Pride led to destruction and poverty.  Destruction and poverty led to humility.  Humility led to righteousness.  Righteousness led back to prosperity.  This happens again and again.

But Oaks disagrees with, you know, the word of God.  So there's that.

The decision to believe is the most important choice we ever make.  It shapes all our other decisions.
--L. Whitney Clay, Saturday Morning session
Belief is a decision?  Maybe for some.  But Clay is also pointing out how much of an effect our beliefs have on everything we do.  You'd think the church would be a little more responsible when it comes to indoctrination of children so that children actually can choose to believe and are permitted to shape all their decisions with their personal convictions instead of with the borrowed creeds hammered into them since infancy.

No one has ever come up with a more efficient way to raise the next generation than a household of married parents with children.
--L. Tom Perry, Saturday morning session
So because nobody has come up with a better way, there must not be one, right?  That's the same reason we still walk everywhere—nobody has ever come up with a more efficient way to travel.

But I refute the premise of the statement anyway.  Define "efficient."  Show me quantifiable evidence that your beloved nuclear families are objectively better at raising children than any other arrangement.  Perry could be right.  But he has nothing to back up his claim other than his dogged obsession with perfect family structure.  So he just looks like a cranky old man who can't adjust to a changing world.

...the solid majority of mankind still believes that marriage should be between one man and one woman. 
--L. Tom Perry, Saturday morning session
But you don't.  At least, you're not supposed to.  It must take either a special level of amorality or an impressive talent for doublethink for a Mormon apostle to defend marriage between one man and one woman from the pulpit.  Your church is known for its polygamy.  Lots of people think it's still a thing.  You don't think anyone's going to raise an eyebrow when you act like it's not still canonized in your scriptures?   

Godly fear is loving and trusting in Him.  As we fear God more completely, we love him more perfectly.  And perfect love casteth out all fear.
--David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session 
Bednar's talk was easily the most convoluted stupidity I've heard in a long time.  The above quote is the pinnacle of this lunacy.  The basic point of his address was to tell us that we shouldn't have any fear because God can give us peace.  Except that we should fear God.  But when he says fear, he doesn't really mean fear, because that sounds bad, so he redefines the word fear to mean something that's not fear.  Except that it is fear.  But it's godly fear, so it's okay.  Because when we fear him, we love him, and loving him means we don't fear him.  Of course, if we don't fear him anymore then we're not loving him more perfectly, which is bad, so we should fear him even though doing so will cast out our fear of him.

Make sense?  No?  Try and keep up.  It's so simple!

I shared with my mission president my desire to correct this misunderstanding.  His response was, "Heavenly Father knows this young man is a successful missionary, and so do I."  He added, "And now you know too.  So who else really matters?"
--Michael T. Ringwood, Saturday afternoon session
The story here is that Ringwood was paired with a missionary who was known across the mission for being ineffective, but Ringwood discovered that this young man was actually exceptionally diligent and hardworking.  He wanted to try to repair his companion's reputation, but his mission president talked him out of it.  This experience is intended to illustrate that service should not be done to garner titles or accolades or prestige, but instead, it makes this mission president look callous and unappreciative.

Who else really matters?  Um, to that poor missionary, probably everybody.  All Ringwood needs to do is tell the truth about his experience and he can help the guy out.  His companion could shake off the poor reputation and stop being the laughingstock of the mission.  With that kind of a reputation, it's very likely that the missionary felt like a failure since everyone around him seemed to think he was.  What kind of wonders could it have worked for that young man's morale if the mission president had encouraged Ringwood to dispel the false rumors?

Some have asserted that more members are leaving the church today and that there is more doubt and unbelief than in the past.  This is simply not true.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has never been stronger.  The number of members removing their names from the records of the church has always been very small and is significantly less in recent years than in the past. 
--Quentin L. Cook, Saturday afternoon session

What we need now is the greatest generation of young adults in the history of the church.
 --M. Russell Ballard, Priesthood session
Referencing his seminal talk about "raising the bar" for missionaries from more than a decade ago, Ballard effectively raises the bar for a whole generation.  But if he needs the greatest generation of young adults in the history of the church, why isn't he saying this in the general session?  His message is only getting out to half of his intended audience.  Somebody didn't think this through.

I know a very faithful young deacon who became a modern Captain Moroni...He told me one day that he was surprised by a very difficult and embarrassing situation.  His friends were accessing pornographic images on their cell phones.  In that exact moment, he had to decide what was more importanthis popularity or his righteousness.  Immediately filled with courage, he told his friends that what they were doing was wrong.  He said they should stop doing it or they would become slaves to it.
--Ulisses Soares, Priesthood session
If it was his righteousness he was worried about, he should have avoided looking at the images or he should have left.  If it was foisting his own (albeit programmed) sense of right and wrong on his friends he's worried about, then he did exactly the right thing.

Also, pornography is not heroin.  You can get addicted to it, but odds are that his friends would not have become "slaves" to it as he so gravely predicted.

And, most importantly, this kid, though filled with a misled sense courage, was not a modern Captain Moroni.  A modern Captain Moroni would have tackled one of his friends, wrapped his hands around his throat, and squeezed until every last one of the boys swore to never access pornographic images again so that he didn't kill them all.
[The people I taught on my mission] received us very well.  But they liked to debate the scriptures and asked us for concrete evidence regarding the truthfulness of our teachings.  I recall that each time we set out to try to prove something to people, the spirit of God left and we felt lost and confused.
--Ulisses Soares, Priesthood session
Maybe that's because you were starting to understand that you had no concrete evidence, only your feelings and convictions?  Maybe you were uncomfortable trying to compete in an arena for which you'd never been prepared?  Maybe you felt lost and confused because the people you were debating with were making lots of good points that you didn't have an acceptable response to?

Unfortunately, what he learned from this experience is that bearing testimony and sticking to the "truths" of the gospel is much more powerful.  Like many faithful Mormons, when confronted with troubling questions or areas in which he was uncomfortable with his lack of knowledge, he falls back on his testimony, and uses it as a toothless trump card in a debate.  I'd wager that this strategy only served to make him feel better and probably didn't result in an abundance of converts.