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.


  1. The Nielson talk bugged me too. I don't like how he mentioned their callings and as if they show levels of righteousness or faithfulness, how he referred to his sister who doubted and left the church as LOST, and how it didn't appear their efforts to remain close to his sister wasn't so much for family ties as it was to get her to return to activity in the church. Notice the words he uses to basically tell people who have doubts that their families will be devastated to the point of breaking their parent's hearts.

    "My brothers and I and our WIDOWED MOTHER were DEVASTATED. We couldn’t imagine what possibly could have led her to ABANDON her faith. My sister’s CHOICES seemed to be BREAKING our MOTHER'S HEART."

    Also since church activity is so low, wouldn't it be more like leaving the 33 to go out looking for the 67 (and that may be generous.)?

    1. Yeah, that was actually something my dad said to me when I chose not to serve a mission...that the decision would break my mother's heart. Awesome flashback, there, Nielson. I mean, he's right, but way to twist the dagger.

      And I'm thinking it's probably closer to leaving the 20 to go after the 80. But maybe that's just wishful thinking.

    2. Eventually, it may be the 1 going out for the 99, but it's definitely closer to that than the way the parable has it.

  2. As I read the Wixom talk, I wondered, how many talks quoted people from other religions. There was a bunch of that this year, and I've only read or listened to 5-6 talks so far. Her talk was basically about how to put all your doubts back on the shelf. “Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.” This quote illustrates what's wrong with Mormonism as well. They expect us to go off the assumption that the church is true, and everything will make sense in the end. She said, "I was reminded that our faith can reach beyond the limits of current REASON." The church is teaching its people NOT to think. The definition of reason is "the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic." I agree with Bill Maher who's said that faith is "the purposefully suspension of critical thinking." According to her, in order to continue to believe in the Mormon church, people have to stop thinking logically and take things on faith. I can't do that because, the Book of Abraham was NOT a translation, Joseph Smith married young girls and other men's wives, the church discriminates against women, it used to discriminate against black men, etc. None of those problems "reach beyond the limits of current reason," because they are all facts admitted to by the church in the topics. Faith can't explain them away. Other facts that I believe can't be explained away are: the BOM anachronisms, the fact the temple ceremony was copied from the Masons, the temporal age of the earth is more than 6,000 years, there is no archeological evidence for the BOM, etc.

    1. Ah, yes, I forgot about the "hold fast to what you already know" quote. Again, she speaks of "additional knowledge" as though it's inevitable. It's an awful way to try to find truth and that's a big part of why it takes so many so long to get out of the church. There's a lot of habitually incorrect processing of information to overcome.