Friday, December 30, 2016

3 Nephi 26: Haven't We Been Here Before

Jesus is still expounding upon the gospel, as Jesus is apparently wont to do.


Some Kind of Convoluted Wisdom
If a careful reading of verse 2 doesn't make you scratch your head, you must have a very high tolerance for nonsense:
And he saith: These scriptures, which ye had not with you, the Father commanded that I should give unto you; for it was wisdom in him that they should be given unto future generations.
So, Jesus gave these scriptures to the ancient Americans because God wanted the modern church to have them?  Let's analyze God's "wisdom" here....

Wouldn't it have been easiernay, wiser—for God to have made these scriptures available in the modern day through the use of his modern prophets?  I mean, unless the scriptures are meant for both the ancient era and the modern day, but I'm not sure if that's true either considering that Jesus expounded upon obsolete doctrine in the previous chapter, so maybe these scriptures are meant for, you know, a whole bunch of dead people.

Jesus does seem to imply that he's sharing these scriptures with the Nephites because the Nephites don't have access to them, but if that's why he's doing it, why couldn't God have done it sooner, before the Mosiac Law had become passé, and while all the doctrines would have actually done the ancient Americans some good?

But these scriptures lifted from the Bible are largely identical to the Biblical versions so widely available during—and ever since—the restoration of the church.  The number of changes made that aren't merely grammatical is staggeringly low when compared against the quantity of Biblical material borrowed.

And then when you consider the fact that almost two millennia later, Joseph Smith will go through the Bible and make "corrected" translations that will, in some cases, not match the supposedly perfect translations in the Book of Mormon, none of this makes any sense.  If God could have had Joseph Smith provide the modern era with these scriptures, why did he bother to make sure this part of the ancient records were preserved for us?  And if Joseph was inspired to write different words than what Christ himself said, which version of the translation is technically the correct word of God?

So basically, God's strategy here is way too confused to be considered as anything which remotely approaches wisdom.


The Reliable Excuse
I'm getting pretty tired of the Book of Mormon using this particular cop-out (verses 6 and 7):
And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people; 
But behold the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people.
If you can't even fit one percent of the speech of the savior of the freaking world into your little book, then why would you bother to include so much other stuff that doesn't matter?  Get rid of Jarom, Omni, and the Words of Mormon.  Cut out most of the Isaiah quotes.  Pare down the war chapters to be less about military strategy and more about gospel stuff.  And then maybe we can hear more about the most important event in the entirety of this centuries-long history book.

But, rest assured, dear readers, Jesus said plenty of stuff, but it's only unlockable as downloadable content if you pay an exorbitant secondary fee. But it's totally there.

This reminds me of the various members of the Quorum of the Twelve assuring the church that answers to their questions exist—but neglecting to answer or directly acknowledge the most important questions.  It's useless.

But it gets worse.  This chapter takes that old cop-out and raises it to an unprecedented level.  In verse 11, Nephi states that he Lord "forbade" him from writing down everything Jesus said.  In verse 14, the Nephite children teach many unspecified "great and marvelous things, even greater than [Jesus] had revealed unto the people."  In verse 16, the children again taught "marvelous things" on which God also issued a gag order.  And finally, in verse 18, many of the people baptized by the disciples "saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written."

I think we're beating this to death here.  Are these things sacred, are they secret, or had Joseph Smith simply not made up enough of his deeper doctrines at the time of this chapter's supposed translation?

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Little Update

I haven't been doing very well lately.

Things have been a struggle in most aspects of my life.  With my job, with my family, with my crippling lack of a social life...although I guess financially I'm doing okay, which is something to be grateful for.  And I'm still healthy, which is fantastic.  But the point is that, overall, 2016 has been my worst year, hands down, since the year I came to the slow realization that the religion I'd built my whole life around was a lie.

It's been fun.

But what's different about being miserable this time around is that I feel infinitely better equipped to change my circumstances and adjust my attitude.  As comforting as it used to be to say a prayer at night asking for everything to work out okay, I think that habit fed my sense of helplessness.  I'm sure it wasn't the same for everyone, but when I was in high school and everything was awful (at least it was in my eyes) and it was too exhausting to try to fix things on my own, it was a relief to feel like I was allowed to push that responsibility off onto a benevolent deity rather than hunker down on my own.  I think being a religious person enabled my natural tendency to resign myself to my fate.  It's a tendency I still fight, but I think I'm far, far better at it these days.

What I struggle with the most right now is the fact that I have very little to call a safety net.  I mean, my parents are good people—if I totally crashed and burned, they would let me move back in with them.  But that would be indescribably uncomfortable.  My family is more of a last resort than a safety net.  They're the metaphorical equivalent of dialing 911 while you're lying on the ground with two broken legs because there was no safety net.  Perhaps it's childish and prideful, but I despise the thought of accepting any support from them, whether it's emotional, professional, financial, or whatever.  So I feel like I'm pretty much on my own, which makes me terrified and anxious, but it also makes me prouder of my small victories.

One of the positive aspects of the church is absolutely the community.  The built-in safety net.  I mean, I could argue all day about the ineffectiveness of priesthood blessings, the insincerity of assigned home teachers, and the I-made-this-underprivileged-family-in-the-ward-a-casserole humblebragging and all the cultural snarls that come with it, but in Mormonism, the safety net is there.  It may come at a price and it may be frustrating, but it's there.  It would be nice to have that again.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going back.  I don't want that kind of safety net.  But it's certainly daunting to face a variety of problems without feeling like any person or any organization, no matter how flawed, has your back.

And I guess I don't know what to do about that, but I know I can do something.  I don't know how to walk the rope without the net, but there is a certain twisted thrill in learning by making it all up as you go.  Life by trial and error is much more exhilarating than life by rote.  And at least I know they're my trials and my errors instead of someone else's treasure map to eternal salvation.

So I guess I'll see how this whole life thing works.

Friday, November 11, 2016

3 Nephi 25: Glossing Over

This is basically Malachi chapter 4, an easily accessible text during the time period for which the Book of Mormon was intended.

(I'm talking about the present day!)

But beyond the fact that these six verses are completely superfluous in modern scripture, there is one little confusing thing I'd like to point out.  Verse 4:
Remember ye the law of Moses, my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
This is identical to the Malachi version except that it contains one extra comma.  In Malachi's context, this verse makes sense because it was written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.  But in 3 Nephi, Christ is speaking these words to the people with the express purpose of expounding them (see 3 Nephi 24:1).

But it's church doctrine that Christ retired the Mosaic Law—that we're held to a higher law less based on specific rules and more based on following the spirit of God's law (which, of course, doesn't jive with the modern church's take on things like modesty, the Word of Wisdom, etc.).  So why would Jesus include verse 4, which reminds us of an obsolete law of Heaven?  Wouldn't it be better to skip this verse or to use it as an opportunity to explain the transition away from the Law of Moses?

So much for expounding, Jesus.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

3 Nephi 24: Schoolyard Gods

In yet another of so many examples of the Book of Mormon borrowing directly from the Bible, Jesus commands the Nephites to write down Malachi chapter 3.


Grammatical Polytheism
Much like earlier Biblical quotations, most of this chapter is extremely similar to the source material except for some subtle, mostly inconsequential changes.  But in verse one, there's an amusing little punctuation change that technically implies that there are other gods.  Here's the original from Malachi 3:
...and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple...
And here's the version from 3 Nephi 24:
...and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple...
She what the Book of Mormon did there?  It removed the appositional commas around the phrase "whom ye seek."  With Malachi's punctuation, this means "the Lord, who is the guy you seek," but with Nephi's punctuation, this means "the specific Lord whom you seek."  But if there's only one god, what other Lord could anybody be seeking anyway?  Is Jesus carefully accounting for Dionysus and Bastet and Queztalcoatl because they're also Lords?

It's silly, I know.  It's not one of those checkmate, Mormons! kinds of things.  But it amuses me and I think it sits nicely atop the heaping pile of evidence that the Book of Mormon was produced only by humans and that it contains some very non-divine flaws.


Will a Man Rob God?
I used to love verses 8 through 12.  It's wonderful in that it promises incalculable blessings in return for paying a faithful tithe.  And it has such a delicious boldness in its phrasing:  Will a man rob God?

But, upon further thought, it feels like a giant, cosmic Come at me, bro.  Like God is daring you to be so recklessly stupid as to not pay your tithing.  Go ahead.  See what happens if you don't.

...but if you do, everything will be hunky dory.  Reading these verses, now, though, I keep flashing back to a slightly different area of my childhood:


Basically, God is a schoolyard bully.  

How petty is it for the omnipotent creator of the universe to demand a share of every poor working stiff's paycheck?  I know the usual rationale is that God has given us everything and it's selfish of us not to be willing to give some of it back.  But some of us don't have anything to spare.  We are completely dependent on God for every single thing that sustains our ability to live.  It's cruel of him to require some of our precious resources when he hasn't necessarily allotted all of us enough resources to guarantee our survival.  

Surely such a powerful being has other ways of accomplishing his purposes that don't involve extorting money from even his most indigent children.  And it's also troubling that his reasoning has nothing to do with helping out the less fortunate.  He takes it very personally when you don't pay him.  It's not Will you accumulate needless wealth while your fellow human beings starve?  It's Will a man rob God?

At a certain point, loyalty to a god like that stops being virtuous and starts being Stockholm Syndrome.


A Poor Father Figure
The final verses of this chapter speak of a book of remembrance into which the names of those who fear and serve God will be written.  The fate of these people is explained in verse 17:
And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
He's talking about sparing these people from destruction.  From being burned as stubble.  Because of this, the familial comparison seems wildly inappropriate.  Shouldn't a man spare his own son from utter obliteration regardless of whether that son serves him?  Would a loving father burn a disobedient child to death and then pat himself on the back for "sparing" his obedient child?

Of course not.  That's horrible.

Yet, somehow, in the face of such inexcusable behavior, the comparison between God and any normal loving father remains strangely prevalent in Mormon discourse.

Friday, October 21, 2016

3 Nephi 23: Jesus Likes Scriptures

Jesus publicly endorses Isaiah before moving on to some slightly less unoriginal material.


Dead Simple
Verse 5 distills all the complexity of the gospel and the Plan of Salvation down to one arguably non-doctrinal concept:
And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things.
If that's all we need, why do we have thousands of pages of scripture?  If those are the only requirements for salvation, why does the modern church place so much emphasis on temple covenants, tithing, eternal marriage, puritanical observances, and plenty of other things that don't factor into Jesus's summary of the gospel at all?


Messianic Fact-Checking
Here's an awkward moment.  Jesus asks Nephi to show him the records he's been keeping and our favorite irritable savior of the world says this (verse 9):
Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?
This seems to be a reference to a casual prediction in the midst of Samuel's destruction-and-horror section (Helaman 14:25):
And many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many.
And then the following exchange takes place, give or take a little creative license (verses 10-13):
DISCIPLES: Yeah, he totally prophesied that.
JESUS: How come you didn't write that down, Nephi?
NEPHI: D'oh!
JESUS: Write it down, stupid!
So...then Nephi wrote it down.  I have no idea what possible doctrinal contribution these verses supposedly make to the Book of Mormon, but they sure make Nephi look like a dunce. Way to humiliate your prophet in front of his friends, Jesus. Not cool.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Uchtdorf's Ugliness

As part of my belated and substandard coverage of this month's General Conference, here's a critical look at Dieter Uchtdorf's address entitled "Learn from Alma and Amulek."

Uchtdorf begins by relating the Book of Mormon story of Alma the Younger and Amulek, interspersing his summary with direct quotations, such as the following:
I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not [believe]; therefore I went on rebelling against God.
Amulek here is conflating disbelief with rebellion.  While I suppose it's true that people like me who don't believe in the gospel are in open rebellion against it, Amulek's characterization of his own spirituality sounds to me like he just simply never caught the Jesus Fever.  His kind of disbelief is passive.  Rebellion is active.  He makes it sound like anyone who just doesn't have an interest in Mormonism is enthusiastically enlisting with the devil's legions.  Considering he's giving an address that's supposed to extend a gentle arm of compassion toward those struggling with their faith, Uchtdorf has chosen an oddly unfair scriptural description of the faithless.

As he moves on to discuss the powerful missionary efforts of Alma and Amulek united, Uchtdorf glosses over an important part of the story.  He mentions that "God was preparing Amulek."  But he omits the fact that the preparation involved sending Amulek an angelic vision (although he does make a brief reference to this later).  Which means that none of this crap is really relevant to the average modern-day Mormon.

How did Alma the Younger regain his faith?  By being zapped into a coma by a very cross angel.  How did Amulek regain his faith?  By an angel appearing to him and ordering him to take care of the prophet of God.  How can I regain my faith?  By, um...waiting around for my angel to show up, I guess.

Uchtdorf then advises the leaders in the church to "find your Amuleks."  What follows is a weak comparison between Amulek and any average ward member whose talents are not being utilized:
Deep down, many want to serve their God.  They want to be an instrument in His hands.  ...They want to build His Church.  But they are reluctant to begin.  Often they wait to be asked.
But that's not how it was with Amulek.  It's not that deep down he wanted to serve God but was waiting for an opportunity.  He was given a frigging vision of an angel of the Lord extending him explicit instructions.  It doesn't matter whether you were waiting for an opportunity to serve, because that's just something you can't really ignore.

And it's a far cry from an angelic directive when your relief society president asks you to help with the preparation for the next ward potluck.  Amulek must have been filled with a sense of importance, a sense of duty, and a sense of mandatory compliance.  Those aren't necessarily the same things we can expect from people when we assign mundane tasks to those under our ecclesiastical stewardships.

Next, Uchtdorf encourages us to ask ourselves how we might be like Amulek, which leads him into the much-discussed story of "David."

Almost right off the bat, Uchtdorf is slyly presenting certain details of this reconversion story in a hugely biased light. For example, when David came across "information about the Church that confused him," this information is referred to in the very next sentence as "negative materials," as though such things can be assumed to be synonymous.  Not everything that causes confusion about the church has to be negative, Dieter.  It very well may be true, which, if you ask me, makes it positive material.

When "Jacob," a Mormon with whom David frequently debated on the internet, is introduced to the story, he does what many faithful Mormons with unfaithful loved ones have done—he prays relentlessly.  He put David's name on the prayer roll in the temple.  He found every way he could think of to beg God to "soften" David's heart.

Of course, since Uchtdorf is giving this sermon to a worldwide audience of followers, this story has a happy ending—David will return to the church after "more than a decade."  It's been about eight years since I left the church.  What does Uchtdorf's story accomplish other than giving my parents more false hope about my eventual return and convincing them to redouble their futile efforts of praying and fasting on my behalf?

Upon inexplicably feeling "the pull of the Shepherd," David prays for answers to his questions.   Then he begins to "listen to the whisperings of the Spirit and to inspired answers of friends."  But David's specific questions, and more importantly the satisfactory answers to them, are not discussed in any kind of detail.  What good is the story for anyone doubting their faith if the central struggle is resolved off-screen?  We saw the final showdown with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the Emperor in The Return of the Jedi.  Imagine how unsatisfying the ending of that movie would had been if we hadn't seen it and Luke had simply popped up on Endor to party with his victorious friends only to offer a casual explanation of, "Oh, yeah, Vader killed Palpatine, everything's cool."

To people like my parents, the specifics don't matter, it's the impossible hope Uchtdorf is offering that does.  But Uchtdorf is apparently trying to speak to those who are like Amulek—those who have "become less committed in [their] discipleship," those who "have become disillusioned or even angry."  And for those people, the story of David is pointless without specifics, because all it does is point back to the same tired doctrines that these people are starting to wonder about.  

It's absurd to me how gingerly the apostles and prophets will dance around the issues, never mentioning what they may be and never addressing any of them directly—but all the while assuring us that there are answers.  Who better than the anointed mouthpiece of the Lord to settle such troublesome questions?  If reasonable explanations exist, Uchtdorf should offer us something better than Sunday School answers.  

But he doesn't, because the reasonable explanations don't exist.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ballard's Bullhockey

Unfortunately, my work schedule this month kept me from being able to do my usual General Conference roundup.  I mean, I might have been able to catch the last twenty minutes of the last session when I got home on Sunday, but considering I'd just finished off a ninety hour work week, I was more desperately in need of greasy food and a good Netflix marathon than I was of stoking the fire of my anti-Mormon wrath.

But I glanced through the talk summaries on LDS.org and I perused the discussions on the Ex-Mormon subreddit, and there is, unsurprisingly, one particular talk that I'd like to dissect.

Ballard.

Good God, Ballard.  What the hell, man?

The framework for this insincere and reductive clutter of subtly recycled aspersions is a Bible story in which Christ's apostles refused to abandon him when others lost faith.  The title of the talk is a reference to Peter's reasoning:  "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life."

After relating this story, Ballard immediately begins to spin his knotted yarn of utter nonsense:
In that moment, when others focused on what they could not accept, the Apostles chose to focus on what they did believe and know, and as a result, they remained with Christ.
Okayyyyy then...but here's the thing...
Sure, what I could not accept was what drove me out of the church, if you want to phrase it that way.  But, in another sense, focusing on what I did believe and know drove me out of the church, too.  They're essentially the same thing, only worded differently to reflect our disparate biases.  I couldn't accept the racism because I knew that racism is wrong.  I couldn't accept the brainwashing because I knew that manipulating children is wrong.  I couldn't accept the failure of Moroni's promise because I believed that remaining loyal to an organization which has let you down so colossally is neither virtuous nor healthy.

Ballard chooses to depict those who no longer follow Christ as focusing on what we cannot accept.  But in so doing, he ignores that many of us consider ourselves to be standing up for our principles and that many of us have legitimate reasons for refusing to accept some aspects of the gospel.

If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do?
Hey, man, just because you're terrified of the unknown doesn't mean everyone else should be too.  When I left the church, I didn't know where I would go or what I would do, and it scared the hell out of me—probably because being Mormon was all I ever knew and because the way inactivity and apostasy are treated in Mormonism left me petrified that I was leaving a warm, welcoming haven in favor of a bleak, bottomless abyss.  So nice job amping up the anxiety factor for anyone currently "vacillating" in their faith, Ballard.

The unknown can—and often should—be exciting, though.  Anything can happen now.  I can design my own system of belief.  I can live according to my own priorities and my own sense of right and wrong.  I have cognitive freedom and so much less to limit me.  Where will I go?  Could be anywhere.  What will I do?  Could be anything.  Isn't that beautiful?

Clearly it's not beautiful to Ballard.  But to anyone pondering an exit from the church, it could be.

There may be some doctrine, some policy, some bit of history that puts you at odds with your faith, and you may feel that the only way to resolve that inner turmoil right now is to “walk no more” with the Saints. If you live as long as I have, you will come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves.
If that's the case, Detective Spooner, you'll be in the ER by the time Ballard leaves the pulpit.

What kind of useless reasoning is this??  Things have a way of resolving themselves?  Great, because it's been more than a decade since I desperately tried to receive a confirmation of the Book of Mormon's truthfulness in prayer.  So how long, exactly, was I supposed to wait around doing my home teaching and attending the temple before that situation worked itself out?  People with deeply troubling questions don't want to hear your platitudes about eventual resolutions—they want you to answer their goddamn questions.

Also, I think that Ballard and the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve have effectively demonstrated that being old doesn't necessarily make you wise.  I may not have lived as long as they have, but at least I'm wise enough to know that gay people are still people and that employing Orwellian tactics to manipulate masses of adoring devotees is one of the scummiest things you can do.

So before you make that spiritually perilous choice to leave, I encourage you to stop and think carefully before giving up whatever it was that brought you to your testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in the first place.
Oh, don't make me laugh, Ballard, you saucy little windbag.  Perhaps this line works better on those who converted to the church, but for a lot of people who were born in the covenant (like I was), this might not make a lot of sense.  I never had a testimony.  I mean, I had one, but it was a testimony of the reality of Mormonism, not the truthfulness of it.  The church defined my life, and I thought that this was completely normal because it was all I knew.  I thought I had a testimony, but what I really had was a pre-programmed mindset to convince me that what I believed was the truth and what I felt was happiness.  The only thing that brought me into the church was the circumstance of my birth.

And let's be honest here—how many people leave the church without stopping and thinking carefully?  It's a huge decision, and a traumatic one for many of us.  Maybe there are some people who can just flip a switch and call themselves ex-Mormons, but for a lot of people it's a careful, thoughtful, agonizing process.  Not that Ballard would know any of that, apparently.

Where will you go to learn more about Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness and peace, a plan that is filled with wondrous possibilities, teachings, and guidance for our mortal and eternal lives? Remember, the plan of salvation gives mortal life meaning, purpose, and direction.
I have very little patience for Ballardry.
This is in the middle of a laundry list of things the church can supposedly offer that cannot be found elsewhere.  But the way all these questions are framed is laughably Mormon-centric.  When I went elsewhere after leaving the church, I wasn't in search of a place to learn more about the Plan of Salvation.  I was in search of truth.  I'd just decided that the Plan of Salvation wasn't true, so why the hell would I care about learning more about it?  Ballard can't even put himself in someone else's shoes in the simplest of terms.

The Plan of Salvation doesn't give mortal life meaning.  Mortal life has inherent meaning and claiming that you need knowledge of the correct divine gameplan in order to have it tries to cheapen the value of human life and insults approximately six billion people.  And while the Plan of Salvation can give people purpose and direction to some people, it's irresponsible to pretend that those things can't be found in other religions, without religion, or from any number of pursuits entirely outside the realm of religion.

Where will you go to find people who live by a prescribed set of values and standards that you share and want to pass along to your children and grandchildren?

How about a different church?  How about a charitable volunteer organization?  How about a fucking book club?

A lot of times when people have trouble with a church doctrine or a church policy or a bit of church history, it's because the issue in question is not in line with their values—which would immediately disqualify Mormonism as a source of people who share their standards.  If people have a problem with the November 2015 policy, for example, the church will not be a nurturing place for their pro-gay (or, dare I say, pro-family-unity) values.

But the slimiest issue here, to me, is the word "prescribed."  I don't want prescribed sets of values.  I want my own values.  I want to decide what feels morally right to me, and then to do those things.  I want my standards to change and improve when I learn something new.  I don't want someone to tell me "these are your values" only for me to loyally parrot back, "yes, these are my values."  I think that relying on someone else to preset your moral radio stations for you engenders weakness.  You can't discover your best morality unless you work the tuner yourself.

Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail.
Okay, this is totally not a doctrinal issue, but this line drives me frigging insane.  This is a terrible metaphor.  Life can be like the ascent.  We are like the hikers.  Life is not like the hikers.  This is sloppy writing.  Did no one proofread this before it went to the teleprompters?
Somewhere in this [Church Office] building is our talent.

He's supposed to be one of the mouthpieces of our omniscient Father in Heaven and he can't even properly employ a decent metaphor?  How disappointing.  

I don’t pretend to know why faith to believe comes easier for some than for others.
Well, what bloody use are you, then?  You're an emissary of God himself!  Your church is struggling against an onslaught of public opinion and a hemorrhage of inactivity and resignation, and you can't even offer some basic insight that could cut to the heart of the problem?

I’m just so grateful to know that the answers are always there, and if we seek them—really seek with real intent and with full purpose of a prayerful heart—we will eventually find the answers to our questions as we continue on the gospel path.
I'm so sick of this crap.  The answers are out there, but we won't tell you what they are, because then we'd have to mention the questions, and we don't want to give you any more ideas on what to question.  But trust us, the answers are totally out there, but as prophets, seers, and revelators, we can't be bothered provide them.

And this also reinforces the age-old myth that those who have left the church haven't tried hard enough to stay.  I really sought answers with real intent and with full purpose of a prayerful heart.  If the church were true, it certainly wouldn't be my fault for not receiving answers because I tried as hard as I possibly could.  And it's unspeakably heartless to expect someone to wait around for such important answers to "eventually" come.  

In my ministry, I have known those who have drifted and returned after their trial of faith.

Please stop giving people false hope.  My parents don't need apostolic bullshit to bolster their already unhealthy belief that I'll one day come to my senses.  Some of us may return.  But in the meantime, please stop talking about it as though it's a likelihood.  (I'm looking at you, Uchtdorf.)

I think I'm done now.  I might try to tackle Uchtdorf's talk too at some point, because that one was particularly irksome as well...just not so much as Ballard's.

Apologies for the GIF dump.  I feel like it's been a while since I've tried to visually spice up a post, and I may have overcompensated!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

3 Nephi 22: Because You Can Never Have Too Much Isaiah

After a long career of preaching, Jesus seems to have exhausted his repertoire of original material, so he falls back on his Isaiah to keep his epic oration going.  Which is kind of odd, considering he totally outranks Isaiah and should be able to come up with something better on his own.


Vain Repetition
This chapter is essentially a rehashing of Isaiah 54 with a few notable differences.  My favorite difference crops up in verse 4.  Isaiah's version merely states that "thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth," but 3 Nephi 22 adds, "and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth."

Jesus is apparently the Master...of tautology.  That second part is completely unnecessary and adds no new nuance to the existing Biblical version.


Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?
One thing that should have been changed from the Isaiah version but wasn't is this section (verses 7-8):
For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee. 
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.
Mormonism likes to depict God as a perfected, loving, benevolent father figure.   But a perfected, loving, benevolent father figure wouldn't forsake his children, not even for  a small moment (although this isn't the first time the Book of Mormon has endorsed a depiction of an absentee-father-god).  And he certainly wouldn't hide his face in wrath.

The everlasting kindness bit sounds right, but when the divergent elements of these verses are combined, it doesn't make God sound perfect—it makes him sound like a generally good guy who's still working to get past his issues.  That's not very divine.


Jesus Gets Tongue Tied
The Savior of Mankind apparently stumbles over some of Isaiah's phrasing and the result is clumsy.  Here's Isaiah's version (Isaiah 54:9):
For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.
And Jesus's awkward nonsense (3 Nephi 22:9):
For this, the waters of Noah unto me, for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee.
Because a couple of key words are omitted, the comparison to the great flood is a little difficult to understand without the subsequent explanation.  And even if Jesus's bizarre appositional phrase makes sense to the reader, it still lacks the clarity and simplicity of Isaiah's original.  (Yes, I just praised the clarity and simplicity of Isaiah.  That should be an indication of how badly Jesus screwed this up.)  

Some perfect son of God he is.  He can't even deliver a scriptural-based speech properly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Elders Eat for Free

I've often told myself that if a pair of Mormon missionaries were ever to find themselves in my humble little fast food restaurant, I wouldn't charge them for their meals.  But it's never happened.  Until this week.

My Mormon-dar is still well-tuned, apparently, since I immediately recognized them as missionaries before I spotted the telltale nametags.  But I kept an eye on their progress through the line so that when the first one got to the front and ordered his food, I slid over to discreetly give him a 100% discount and to tell my cashier to call me back in a minute so I could do the same for the second guy.

I'm actually pretty proud of myself for doing it.  I mean, it was maybe 20 bucks in total, so it's not that big of a deal.  I did it to be a nice guy, partially, but it was mostly for me.  It helped me prove to myself that I'm not too pissed at the church.  The way I see it, those missionaries and I were duped by the same predatory organization.  I don't hate Mormons—I feel empathy toward them and I want to help them.  And something as simple as a couple of free burgers reassured me that I wasn't letting hatred of the institution translate into hatred of the victimized representatives of the institution.

The shorter missionary was really gracious and thanked me repeatedly.  His towering junior companion seemed very uncomfortable the whole time, but I'm guessing that he was a green elder still struggling to adjust to his new reality.  As they sat down to eat, one of my coworkers who knows a bit more about my Mormon background than the others asked me why I'd done it.  I thought about it for a moment and, since we were in the middle of a busy rush and there wasn't time to explain, I replied simply, "Because their lives blow."

As our business died down a few minutes later, the two young men came up to hang out by our front counter.  I knew they wanted to chat, and I suspected it might be awkward for me, so I pretended to be too busy to notice them.  I hoped they would give up and leave, but they eventually asked my cashier if she would let me know they were waiting to say thank you whenever I had a minute.  Reluctantly, I went over to talk to them.

The senior companion expressed their gratitude again and I babbled uncomfortably through a modest explanation.  "Well, you know, you're a long way from home," I said.  "It's a rough life and I just figured you guys could use a favor."

He expressed his appreciation yet again and then asked the dreaded question:  "Are you a member?"

I broke eye contact, not because I was ashamed but because I felt I was about to ruin the moment.  "Uh, no," I said flatly, "not anymore."

And suddenly the conversation was over.  He wasn't rude about it at all and he thanked me one last time, but it was obvious that nothing he had hoped to gain from our conversation had come to pass.  So he and his companion left.

I guess I hope that these missionaries will think about how ex-Mormons can be nice people and that maybe they won't commit to the demonizing of apostates as fully as the Quorum of the Twelve would prefer.  But I'm worried that this will become a story about how the very elect are being deceived and that even this really nice guy was led away from the gospel.  I don't know anything about those two young men, but I hope I gave them something to think about...in addition to giving them free meals.

I wonder what kind of mentions I got, if any, in these elders' emails home.

But I got to feel good about myself, at least.  I had an opportunity to behave with compassion instead anger concerning a touchy and deeply personal subject and I made the right choice.  After so much time failing to make the choices the church told me were right, it's intensely gratifying to set my own values, decide what I believe is right...and then live up to my own standards.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

3 Nephi 21: If/Then/Else/Never

Jesus continues to rant and prophesy about the House of Israel and all that jazz.  This chapter essentially boils down to an excessively verbose if/then/else statement:

If the Gentiles do not repent, then...
  • their horses will be cut off from their midst and their chariots will be destroyed
  • their cities will be cut off and their strongholds will be thrown down
  • witchcraft and soothsaying will disappear
  • graven images will be taken
  • groves will be plucked up and cities will be destroyed (instead of merely cut off)
  • lying, deceiving, envying, strife, priestcraft and whoredoms will cease
  • God will cut the unrepentant off from his people
  • God will execute his vengeance upon the wicked
...else...
  • God will establish his church among them
  • they will be numbered among the remnant of Jacob
  • they will assist in the gathering to New Jerusalem
  • missionary work will commence among all the scattered tribes of Israel
But the problem is that neither the if nor the else makes a convincing argument.  Basically none of the if stuff sounds like it's happened, except maybe the part about cities being destroyed.  There have been a few natural disasters that could, to some people, qualify as a fulfilled prophecy.  Except that, from a Mormon standpoint, the Gentiles have hardly repented.

On the else end of things, the prophecies are so simple and easily self-fulfilled by the church.  The church was established, the church oversees patriarchal blessings that explicitly "adopt" Gentiles into the houses of Jacob, and the church obsessively sends out missionaries to as many parts of the world as it can.  Does it really count as a fulfilled prophecy if it's fulfilled by an organization that has a vested interest in appearing to continue the same claim to authority as the person who produced the prophecy?  I mean, if you predict a flood in a specific location, there's no way you could have caused that prediction to come true.  But if you found a religion, predict that your religion will send missionaries all over the world, and then the leaders who take up the standard of your religion after your death decide to send missionaries all over the world...the validity of that prophecy deserves a lot more logical scrutiny.

The New Jerusalem thing is a snag, though.  Isn't that supposed to be in Independence, Missouri?  What, exactly, are we doing with the gathering?  Because mainstream Mormonism is still heavily clustered around Utah, not around the New Jerusalem.  And though rumors have circulated for a long time that someday the prophet will call on the members to make the trek back to Zion, promulgators of these rumors tend to exist on the fringes of "normal" Mormon society.  The top leadership of the church tends to remain conspicuously silent on the specifics of these matters.

Skipping back to the beginning of the chapter, we can see Jesus's objective in sharing all this information (verse 1):
And verily I say unto you, I give unto you a sign, that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place—
So the whole point of telling us this stuff is so that we have a sign so we can recognize when something important is about to happen.  But the Gentiles are wicked and the good chunk of Jesus's prophecy devoted to that possibility has not even begun to come to pass.  And some simpler, easily fulfilled prophecies dependent on the Gentiles' lack of wickedness have come to fruition.

Which makes this whole chapter...pointless.  Why give a sign if the stuff that's supposed to happen won't and the stuff that shouldn't happen is forced to happen by your own church?

How are we supposed to read and interpret the signs if they're so muddled by unreliability and uncertainty?

Monday, August 29, 2016

3 Nephi 20: More of that Jesus Stuff

Jesus is now in danger of overstaying his welcome and committing a serious ancient American faux pas.


Sacrament Redux
For some reason, unlike the practice of the modern LDS church, Jesus feels it necessary to perform the sacrament ordinance for the second consecutive day.  Perhaps he wants to make sure that everyone in the crowd who wasn't present the day before has the chance to receive it.

But in stark contrast to the last time Jesus did this, he does it miraculously (verses 6 and 7):
Now, there had been no bread, neither wine, brought by the disciples, neither by the multitude; 
But he truly gave unto them bread to eat, and also wine to drink.
This feels a bit reminiscent of the two escapes two chapters apart way back in Mosiah.  The first instance is a straightforward story with a dubious explanation.  The second instance is a strikingly similar story that is directly ascribed to miraculous sources.

Why didn't Jesus do the miracle both times and save those guys the trouble of searching their broken city for sufficient bread and wine?


The Native American Revolution
Jesus goes off on a lengthy, ostensibly precognitive rant about the future of the Nephite people.  It certainly sounds like the game plan was for God to allow the Gentiles to slaughter the Nephites' descendants, and then, if the Gentiles didn't repent, the Native American people would rise up and destroy them to retain the country according to their divine inheritance.

I'm baffled as to why this hasn't happened yet.  European settlers did awful things to the native inhabitants for a long time.  Generations, even.  And it's not like the United States government's dealings with the Native American tribes today are ideal.  So why, exactly, has Jesus's violent prophecy still not come to fruition?

I mean, it's not quite as pointless as one of his recent threats, but it's definitely in the same vein.


Jesus Plagiarizes
A lot of this chapter is almost straight from Isaiah, with a few other biblical quotes mixed in.  Linguistically, it doesn't make sense that after being translated through a couple different languages, Jesus's wording would so closely match Isaiah's.  It also doesn't make sense that Jesus, who preferred to teach plainly and only got fancy by resorting to parables, would prefer to adopt Isaiah's inscrutable, densely poetic approach.  And besides, this stuff is still readily available in the King James version of the Bible.  Why, like all those other Isaiah chapters and the Sermon on the Mount, does it need to be repeated?  Couldn't this space have been used for more important, previously unknown doctrines like eternal marriage and baptism for the dead?


Divine Favoritism
Verse 26 is infuriating to me.  Take a look:
The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities; and this because ye are children of the covenant—
So because their ancestors made a covenant, God intervenes to turn them away from their iniquity?  If God can simply choose to make people less prone to sin, why the hell doesn't he all the time?  Is it because that compromises our free will?  Is it because that sounds more like Satan's Plan of Salvation than his own Plan of Salvation?  Then why would he do it at all, even a little?

And being children of the covenant is a really flimsy excuse to give preferential treatment.  What did these people do to deserve preferential treatment?—they were born into a lineage originating from someone to whom God made a promise a really long time ago.  We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and rewarded for the deeds of their ancestors, apparently.  Because that's eternal egalitarianism, right?

As the Book of Mormon progresses, it's sounding less and less like God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and more like God's just making up the rules as he goes along.
Maybe the divinity is in the certainty, not in the action itself.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

3 Nephi 19: In Which Jesus is Terrible at his Job

Jesus's second coming among the Nephites is imminent and the people are getting excited.


Nonchalant Miracle
We're about to list the apostles whom Jesus appointed for the American church.  Let's begin (verse 4):
...Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also...
Whoa, hold up there.  You can't just drop some earth-shattering miracle into the middle of a sentence like it's no big thing and then steamroll on through a list of names that we'll never need to remember.

I mean, sure, if Nephi raised his brother from the dead, that's awesome.  It bears mentioning.  In fact, that kind of faith-promoting story should have its own chapter.  Maybe they could have made space for it on the gold plates by skipping an Isaiah chapter or two.

This feels like the amateurish stories I used to write as a small child.  My heroes were so wonderful and so perfect that I was prone to mentioning previous heroic exploits in passing without any explanation or exposition whatsoever.  It was like there was too much one-dimensional greatness to be contained in one character, and it would leak out all over the page.

We get it, Joseph.  Nephi was really righteous and his priesthood power was mighty.  Stop trying too hard to prove it to us.


Nothing Varying
The disciples split the crowd into twelve groups and begin teaching them (verse 8):
And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from those words which Jesus had spoken—behold, they knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.
Interesting.  They recited the precise words that Jesus had used.  After all, why change what came straight from the horse's mouth, right?  In that case, why bother with continuing revelation?  Couldn't God have given Joseph Smith all the essential doctrines to publish at the same time?  Then, in an era where books are abundantly mass-produced, we could have everything we need to know, word for word.  And it would be much easier to remember if nothing varied from God's exact phraseology.

But instead we have countless General Conference addresses taking slightly different approaches to the same tired concepts ad nauseum.  If the gospel is so simple, as many Mormons have suggested, wouldn't one book of scripture with no convoluted variations or apostolic interpretations be the best way to disseminate it?


Nephi Pulls an Alma
Everybody decides they want the Holy Ghost, and then this happens (verse 11):
And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
That's a very suspicious use of the passive voice.  Who baptized him?  It really sounds like no one baptized him.  But Jesus isn't here yet and Nephi's the first one in the bunch to get baptized, so he must have, somehow, magically gotten the authority to baptize and used it on himself.

Which is basically what Alma did, much to my annoyance (see A Broken Line of Authority). 

What's the point of having ordinances, anyway?  If you don't need official priesthood authority to perform them, why can't everyone baptize themselves?  And if the Holy Ghost "did fall upon" the multitude after their baptisms, why do we need the official laying-on-of-hands confirmation for modern members?  How is any of this doctrinally consistent?


Dude, Where's My God?
So then we have angels show up and minister unto the people.  Then Jesus pops in for another visit and ministers to the people.  At some point, these people are going to become overministered.  Next, Jesus orders the crowd to kneel and pray, so this is what happens (verse 18):
And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.
Whoa...let's roll things back a couple of pages to 3 Nephi 18:19.
Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
When did Jesus ever tell them to pray to him?  When has any modern prophet extolled the benefits of praying to the Son instead of the Father?  And why are we giving further ambiguity to the godhead's identity and division of labor?  Jesus is their Lord and their God?  Isn't that what the Father is?  But Jesus is about to go pray to the Father, so they have to be different people, except they're both Lords and Gods, capital L, capital G?  What is going on here?


Reusing a Cop-Out
Does verse 34 sound familiar?
Nevertheless, so great and marvelous were the words which [Jesus] prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man.
Was God going to strike one of the Nephites dead if he attempted to transcribe Jesus's prayer?  If it was really that great and marvelous, shouldn't it be exactly the kind of thing we should be taught about?  Or are we still sticking with the bizarre implication that no language can properly capture what Jesus used a language to communicate?


Jesus Doesn't Understand Faith
After wandering off to pray to his Father in Heaven a few times, Jesus confers with his disciples (verse 35):
And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying he came again to the disciples, and said unto them: So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief.
This is such a bizarre thing to say. If Jesus had destroyed most of the Jewish civilization with a series of unprecedented natural disasters, beset that part of the world with three days of impenetrable darkness, been introduced by the booming voice of God before publicly descending in a beam of celestial light, let huge crowds touch the wounds from his crucifixion, healed every sick person within the sound of his voice, and brought down hosts of angels to minister unto them in the midst of heavenly fire, the Jews probably would have been just as enthralled by him.

This is not faith.  This is merely a totally reasonable belief in marvelous miracles that these people have witnessed personally.  You'd think the guy who demands faith from us would know when it's legitimate and when he's manufactured it himself.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The C Word

I hired an ex-Mormon.

I can't remember how this came up, but recently one of my newer employees mentioned that he had a lot of Mormons in his family.  I'd harbored suspicions of a Mormon background for a couple of weeks, but for the sake of professionalism, I was not going to be the first one to bring it up.

Well...it turns out my suspicions were right and my Mormon-dar is in excellent working condition.  This guy's family apparently left when he was pretty young, which is obviously great for him.  The revelation of our LDS connection started a chain reaction of discussions of Mormonism, Utah, and our personal backgrounds in the church.

He asked me if I still get Mormons knocking on my door, because he's still on a list of inactives somewhere and his family periodically gets bothered by members of the church who are trying to reach out.  So I told him that when I first moved out of my parents' house, my family provided the church with my new address.  I specifically instructed my parents not to share my address with the church the next time I moved, but a few years later I got a Christmas card from a man I'd never met who was the Elders' Quorum President of a ward I'd never attended and I had to send a nasty email to a Bishop I'd never even heard of to make sure this wouldn't become a regular thing.

Another coworker, after listening to our exchange about the various ways the church tries to track people down, offered us a sage nod and the simple conclusion:  "Yeah, that's a cult.  You guys were in a cult."

Like it's just that obvious.

It took me a long time, even after I'd stopped believing in the church's doctrine, to classify it as a cult.  Maybe it was processing time or decompression or something, but it's continually astounding to me how clearly evident it is to outsiders (so to speak) that there are some policies, behaviors, and cultural values in Mormonism that are seriously not okay.  Or, as this other coworker termed it, creepy.

And this was without mentioning the creepier aspects like the baptisms for the dead and the so-sacred-it's-secret temple rituals and the crushingly insular mindset and the whispering public testimonies in toddlers' ears and the hero worship and the temple garments and the regular inoculations against apostasy and the frequently disparaging mischaracterization of ex-members.

As much as I don't think that using the word cult is constructive when discussing the church with faithful Mormons, that doesn't change the church's status.  It's still a cult.  Some of us were just lucky enough to get out of it before it locked us in for life.

Monday, August 15, 2016

3 Nephi 18: Compare and Contrast

Jesus continues to be rampant in ancient America.


An Understated Miracle?
At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus requests that bread and wine be brought to him so that he can perform the ritual of the sacrament.  The disciples dutifully scurry off to return with the requested refreshments.  Jesus then proceeds to feed everyone in attendance.

But these people had just survived the most potent cocktail of natural disasters the western hemisphere has ever seen.  How many containers of wine hadn't been smashed in all the destruction?  How much bread had escaped falling into the muck and then remained unspoiled after three days of darkness?  How much ready-to-eat bread and wine could there have been?

We all know Jesus has a unique ability to stretch small quantities of sustenance to feed huge crowds.  But considering the probable scarcity of resources in this post-quasi-apocalyptic setting, you'd think it would at least bear mentioning that he performed another miracle as he demonstrated the sacrament ordinance.


Jesus is Above the Law
As he distributes the bread and wine, Jesus explains their significance to his audience.  He uses similar phraseology to the familiar modern-day sacrament prayer, but it's not identical by any means.
Yet in any LDS congregation today, the presiding authority is charged with ensuring that the blessing on the bread and the blessing on the water are both recited perfectly.  If the poor priest makes a mistake, the prayer must be repeated correctly.

But when Jesus performs the sacrament, he can do it however he wants, apparently.  He can just kind of summarize the themes of the blessing without sticking to any official wording.  A god that is the same yesterday, today, and forever is perfectly happy to accept Jesus's bullet-points rendition but cannot accept a sixteen-year-old's accidental substitution of the word "this" for the word "it"?

And, of course, there's the whole wine-versus-water thing too.


Open Arms
Verse 22 doesn't sound like the modern church:
...and ye shall not forbid any man from coming unto you when ye shall meet together, but suffer them that they may come unto you and forbid them not;
Okay, just to get this out of the way, God should definitely have a tighter grasp on English grammar than this.  At the beginning, he's using "any man" as the direct object.  Without warning, he uses the plural pronouns "them" and "they" to refer back to the singular "any man."

But more importantly, "forbid them not" is hardly a slogan the current church leadership subscribes to.  Excommunication and disfellowshipping shouldn't exist in a religion founded upon a book in which Jesus reminds his church to welcome every single person to their worship services.  And last year's policy that essentially requires children of gay parents to repudiate their loved ones' lifestyles would be utterly unfathomable to Joseph Smith's depiction of Christ.

To be fair, I'm not aware of situations in which ex-Mormons or gay people are actually barred from attending sacrament meetings.  But while that may adhere to the letter of the law, it has no regard for the spirit of the law.  It's my understanding that, ideally, churches should be places where sinners can come together and find peace as equals.  While all kinds of sinners are ostensibly permitted to attend church functions, singling out certain types of "sinners," demonizing them for their differences in philosophy or lifestyle, and driving massive wedges between them and their families is a pretty effective way to implicitly make them unwelcome in the chapels.

Forbid them not.  Nobody's perfect.  What right does a church claiming to represent a god of love and mercy have to drive people away with guilt and shame?


The Numbers Don't Lie
In a similar vein, verse 31 sounds a bit more like the Monsonites, warning that the unrepentant sinner should be "numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people...."  The next verse clarifies that this sinner should not be thrown out of the house of worship and that the church should continue to minister to him.

Because apparently numbers are just magical enough that a sinner is only a threat to the congregation if he's counted as a member in the formal church statistical report.  I guess that means I'm doing everything I can to tear the church down by remaining stoutly apostate but not removing my name from the official rolls.


One of my Least Favorite Verses
Verse 29 straight-up screwed with my head when I was a teenager:
For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul;
Hey, guess what?  Overwhelming cultural pressure at odds with divinely unequivocal condemnation is a recipe for disaster!

I struggled with masturbation all through high school.  I confessed it to my bishop (who was, by some sick twist of fate, also my father), but I later lied about having stopped when we had one of our follow-up chats on the subject.  I hated taking the sacrament because I knew I was unworthy, but I couldn't bear the embarrassment of skipping it or the thought of being an unrighteous disappointment to my parents.  This scripture made me feel like I was basically fucked either way.  No wonder I was beset with such inescapable ontological despair as a kid.

I usually make an effort to tone down some of my conversational profanity on this blog, but this scripture reminds me of so much of the unnecessary suffering of my youth.  Fuck this verse.  It has no doctrinal purpose, but it sure does a lot of damage.

Friday, July 29, 2016

3 Nephi 17: Overblown Nonsense

Jesus, being awesome, realizes that he's speaking truths beyond the comprehension of his poor audience.  He advises them to pray about it, sleep on it, and return in the morning for further edification.


Occasional Mercy
Apparently moved by the people's desire for him to stay a little longer, Jesus makes this statement in verse 7:
Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.
I mean, that's cool and all.  I like that Jesus heals the sick and afflicted. But it's weird that this is kind of a humanizing moment for him—he was busy being all godly and then the puppy-dog eyes of the Nephites stirred him to compassion.  But he's not a human.  Compassion shouldn't be a transient state for him, it should be a permanent aspect of his character.   No amount of adoration from his followers should have elicited any extra measure of mercy from him because he should have already been optimally merciful.

This scene also illustrates a frustrating paradox of the godhead's behavior.  Why does he decide to be merciful to these people and heal their sicknesses, but plenty of his other devout followers die of awful afflictions on a regular basis?  How is Jesus a personification of the same cosmic governance that deemed it necessary to permit the mass burning of the faithful converts of Ammonihah?

In the following verse, Jesus explains that these Nephites' faith is of an adequate magnitude to permit them to be healed, which kind of adds insult to injury for every pious person who's been forced to suffer any serious ailment.

God likes to claim that he's a god of mercy, but his son's actions as a resurrected being serve to highlight that mercy is not one of his most enduring priorities.


Trust Me, it was Great
During this chapter, Jesus prays publicly to his Father in Heaven.  But we have no idea what he said (verses 16-17):
The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; 
And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.
These are empty hyperboles designed to make the content of the prayer sound wonderful without forcing the author to actually come up with something wonderful.  This is the kind of writing that finds its most comfortable home in fantastical fiction.
Here's one example that comes readily to mind...
What doctrinal truths does this story relate, other than the already well-established scriptural claim that Jesus is awesome?  What's the purpose of mentioning this at all if the magnificent specifics are going to be completely glossed over?  I mean, if Jesus's prayer was so powerful that his audience was filled with such prodigious joy, isn't that exactly the kind of thing the scriptures should preserve for our benefit?

And also, if "tongue cannot speak, neither can there be written by any man...so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak," I think it's fair to ask what language did Jesus speak these things in and what words did he use.  Because clearly the words exist, otherwise how could Jesus have spoken them?  The description of the Savior's prayer doesn't even make logical sense, but it definitely sounds cool—which I suppose was probably its primary purpose.


Redundant Ministry
At the close of this chapter, Jesus speaks the epic line, "Behold your little ones" and the Nephites look on in awe as this happens (verse 24):
And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.
Again, this definitely sounds cool.  But what exactly were the angels doing when they were ministering unto the children?  Jesus had just healed every single sick person in the whole multitude.  And not three verses earlier, he'd just blessed and prayed for each child, individually.  What possible physical or spiritual needs could these kids have still had that a mere angel could have provided?

I mean, how would you react if someone ceremoniously (and pyrotechnically) presented you with your kindergarten diploma after you just finished framing your doctorate?

Monday, July 25, 2016

3 Nephi 16: A Pointless Warning

Jesus continues.  He's very long winded.

Verse 10 contains a chilling warning that could be very easily applied to the present-day USA (or, honestly, just about any era in American history):
And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.
That's interesting.  Because in the preceding two verses, he was just talking about all the awful things the European settlers did to the Native Americans—scattered them upon the face of this land, trod them under their feet, slew them, made them a hiss and a byword, etc.  But it's not until they reject the truth that God will remove the gospel from them.  Because apparently all that business with the Europeans and the Native Americans wasn't quite enough pride, deceit, mischief, hypocrisy, murder, whoredom, or secret abomination to really get God's goat.

And it looks like nothing really has gotten God's goat, even now.  With all the doom and gloom foretold in Mormondom about the fate of America should the nation turn wicked, why hasn't it happened yet?  Why didn't it happen way before I was born?

Surely the slaughter and persecution of the Indians was enough to herald our destruction instead of fomenting the restoration of the gospel.  Well, not according to this chapter. 

What about the slave trade?  I mean, we were so much more enlightened than in Biblical times, so we should have known better, right?  I guess it's no big deal.  Besides, most of the time that slavery was a thing in the "promised land"—and even after full emancipation—God's church wasn't particularly bothered with the welfare of black people (temporally or eternally).

Our embarrassingly long struggle for civil rights must be too much for him, then.  After all the progress we've made, Ferguson and Dallas and so many other tragedies have reminded us how far we still have to go, and we still seem to have a lot of trouble accepting LGBT.  No, it can't be that, because God cares a lot more about religious freedom than equal rights.

Well, it has to be the violence, then.  Gangs and such, murder.  Only that stuff reached its nationwide peak a few decades back, so either we're off the hook or God hit the snooze button and plans to retroactively take the truth away from us once he's well rested.

Maybe the whoredoms will do it.  Pornography exploded with the advent of the internet.  Now that we're all touched by the deviant filth of digital voyeurism and remote whoredom, it seems like the time is right for that apocryphal white horse prophecy.

What about pride?  I mean, if the arrogance of scattering the Native Americans didn't have the mojo to incur God's deepest ire, then surely the blooming of manifest destiny or the jingoistic excesses of the early twentieth century must have done it.  Even now, we're in a bizarre period of intense patriotism and elitism despite a heavy presence of disillusionment, so how has America's pride not reached critical mass at any point in the last two hundred fifty years or so?

Or what about hypocrisy?  Purporting to be the land of the free and claiming to guarantee inalienable rights while still allowing fellow human beings to be property?  Fighting the tyranny of Nazi Germany while rounding up our own Japanese citizens into internment camps?  Pretending to have a moral authority while making unilateral decisions with lasting, devastating international consequences? 

Maybe our priestcraft has gotten out of hand, what with the rich pastors of megachurches and the con-men selling religion for money, power, and influence.  Apparently that hasn't peaked yet, although with an increasingly secular society, we may have missed our window there.

Then surely it must have been the corruption and mischief and secret combinations that have plagued presidencies.  Jackson?  Grant?  Nixon?  Maybe certain movements within current electoral organizations?  No?

So what prerequisites for the Lord's wrath and the removal of his gospel from us have the inhabitants of the promised land not satisfied?  We've sinned against the gospel, we've rejected the gospel, we've been lifted up in pride above all nations, we've been filled with lyings and deceits, we've been guilty of mischiefs, hypocrisies, murders, priestcrafts, whoredoms, and secret combinations.  We've done literally everything on this list numerous times.  Where are the consequences? 

This entire chapter is basically one long, toothless threat.

Monday, June 20, 2016

3 Nephi 15: Additional Notes on the Sermon on the Rubble

Apparently satisfied with his near-flawless recitation of his greatest hit, Jesus moves on to his newer material.


I Told You!
Verse 2 unwittingly addresses the exact issue I've been harping on for the last three chapters:
And it came to pass that when Jesus had said these words he perceived that there were some among them who marveled, and wondered what he would concerning the law of Moses; for they understood not the saying that old things had passed away, and that all things had become new.
They didn't understand?  You don't say!

Maybe if Jesus weren't so busy reading his previously prepared remarks, he could have adapted his speech for the benefit of his audience's comprehension.  Maybe if he were a little more attentive he could have avoided this problem by recognizing the confusion three chapters ago and providing a more detailed explanation then.


Divine Sequestering
Jesus spends a curious amount of time explaining to the Native Americans that their ancestral civilization—with which they've had zero contact for the last six centuries—has no knowledge of their existence.  Which, to be honest, kind of seems like common sense.  Lehi and friends disappeared into the desert.  They didn't hold a press conference saying they were traveling across the ocean to raise up two parallel societies on a different continent.

But the rationale Jesus gives is that the other guys were too wicked.  That's why the Nephites and Lamanites had to be separated from them and kept secret from them.  In almost the next breath, he implies that there are even more hidden offshoots of Israel, who were also kept from the knowledge of the Old World, but he doesn't tell the Native Americans where they are.  He essentially uses a slightly more verbose but equally uninformative version of "other sheep I have which are not of this fold" and leaves it at that.

So, by withholding information about these other peoples, is Jesus saying these Nephites are too iniquitous to be worthy of that information?  Keep in mind, this is after pretty much all the wicked people on the continent have been killed by the horrible disasters heralding Jesus's crucifixion.  Or, since the Book of Mormon was written for our day, does that mean the world of 1830 was too wicked?  The modern world?  Why isn't he telling us about his other sheep?


More Favoritism
Jesus makes a weird comment near the end of the chapter (verse 23):
And they understood me not that I said they shall hear my voice; and they understood me not that the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice—that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost.
Why?  Why don't the Gentiles get to see him in person, and why does this verse make it seem that this is the case not because of chance, but because of some kind of divine vendetta?

I don't understand any of the favoritism God exhibits.  In the Bible, a lot of it is about the House of Israel instead of the Gentiles.  In the Book of Mormon, a lot of it is about the Nephites instead of the Lamanites.  We're all sons and daughters of God, right?  He loves all his children, right?  And we're all punished for our own sins, right? (Second Article of Faith, anyone?)  So why do God and Jesus insist on treating entire ethnic or racial groups differently from each other?  Isn't it completely unfair to proffer or withhold blessings based on a heritage that one has absolutely no control over?

I mean, hey, at least the Gentiles get radio reception from Heaven through the Holy Ghost like everybody else, but why go out of your way to insist that the Gentiles should not see the savior of the world in person unless you're just trying to be a dick about it?

Friday, June 17, 2016

3 Nephi 14: The Sermon on the Rubble, Part III

After concluding his inequitable aside to his apostles, Jesus resumes his remarks to a wider audience.


On Motes and Beams
Just as he did in the Bible, Jesus warns his people against being judgmental.  He also reminds the people that their own flaws make their judgments of others hypocritical.  Yet the culture of the modern LDS church is saturated in judgment and hypocrisy.  Admittedly, a lot of that stuff is cultural rather than doctrinal (for example, looking down on a family with spotty sacrament meeting attendance).  Some of it is an inevitable result of Puritanical policies that micromanage the members' lives (such as the shaming of a woman who wears a sleeveless dress).  And some of it is inescapably doctrinal (insert everything that isn't strictly heterosexual here).

My mother used to frequently criticize the rote pageantry of Catholicism and contrasted Mass with the less-structured layperson instruction of sacrament meetings.  I'm proud that, even as a kid, I quietly wondered "but what about the word-for-word recitation of the sacrament prayers?" when she spoke on the subject.  What I didn't realize then was that the temple ordinances relied heavily on a repetitive solemn pageantry that, when combined with its secretive nature, put any criticism of Catholicism in an absurd light.  

Maybe the Catholics have a mote.  But Mormonism definitely has a beam.  He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.  Judge not, that you be not judged.


A Self-Defeating Deity
In verses 13 and 14, Jesus says some stuff that sure makes it sound like the game is rigged against us:
Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat; 
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Okay, so he's saying that the majority of God's children aren't going to Heaven (because remember, we haven't confabulated the degrees of glory yet, so at this point in Mormon theology the afterlife is strictly binary).  But my question is WHY?  If God loves his children and his work and glory is to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life, why would he design a system in which the path to success is narrow and the path to failure is wide?  Why would the gate to eternal glory be strait and the gate to eternal regret be broad?  

Why is God so bad at his job and why does he seem totally fine with his own ineptitude?


More Poor Adaptation
Yes, for the third chapter in a row, I am about to complain about Jesus's failure to properly adapt his originally Old World address for his New World audience.  Take a look at verse 16:
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Figs are not native to the Americas.  The Spaniards brought them roughly a millennium and a half after this sermon supposedly took place.  Surely there could have been another fruit for Jesus to use as an example.

I mean, sure, you don't really have to understand the precise plant in question to understand the concept he's teaching.  The context is sufficient.  But wouldn't it be the considerate, Christlike thing to do to tailor your remarks for the specific group of people you're speaking to?  Would it really have been that difficult for Jesus to pose the rhetorical question:  "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or tomatoes of thistles?"

Apparently God is a god of limited cultural sensitivity.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Friend's Coming Out Moment

Recently I spent a day hanging out with an old friend.  She's bisexual, and a few of our conversation topics reminded me of the day she came out to me.

Back when AOL Instant Messenger was still something people used, she and I would occasionally chat while I was at BYU and she was back in Pennsylvania.  And it was during one of these conversations when she explained to me that, in addition to being attracted to her fiancée, she also liked girls.

I was proud of the way I handled it because I was still a pretty big believer in the church at that point.  I'd recently chosen not to serve a mission because I didn't want to devote two years of my life to something I wasn't completely convinced was the truth, but I was more than 50% convinced of the gospel's legitimacy.  So, naturally, I wasn't too big on tolerating the whole same-sex-attraction thing.  But this girl was a friend of mine, and even though her admission made me uncomfortable, I remember telling her that it didn't affect me, so it wouldn't change our friendship at all.

But after the other day, I got curious.  I used to save a lot of my AIM convos, so I did some hunting on my hard drive (in a folder of a backup from a previous computer, which contained another folder with another backup from a previous previous computer) and I found it.  It was from October of 2006.  And I read through it.

And I felt so ashamed.

My memory wasn't entirely accurate:
Friend: yeah and there is one more thing that i didnt say that is pissing me off about work but i am not sure u would like what i have to say
Me: how would it affect me?
Friend: not sure it might make u look at me different
Me: okay, now you have me curious
Friend: i am bi
Friend: and o came out to my mom and everyone and they all bithc about that
Me: the people at work?
Friend: yeah they all stay away from me and act all strage
Friend: and then dont talk to me anymore
Friend: u think u will look at me different
Me: honestly?
Me: yes
Friend: oh ok
Friend: that is whati guessed
Me: but it creeps me out much less than [flamboyantly gay coworker] did, so I doubt it will make much of a difference
Friend: oh ok well sorry i creeped u out
Friend: i guess i will be going
Me: haha
Me: okay
Friend: well i am sorry that u feel that way about me but u know what i cant see how it changeds anything i am the same way i was in the summer it is just i dont hide it anymore. so i am not different at all!!!!!
Me: I know exactly what you mean
Me: and I agree
Friend: oh ok just asking
Ugh.  It's a miracle we're still friends.

I mean, I was honest, which I guess is a good thing, but I was really surprised to see that I wasn't as gracious and as accepting as I thought I'd been.  I certainly could have given her a worse reaction, but I wasn't magnanimously elevating friendship above dogmatic prejudice in the way I'd chosen to recollect.

In one sense, it's disheartening to see how much time I wasted believing in the small-minded tenets of a manipulative and prejudicial religion.  In another sense, it's reassuring to see the philosophical distance I've placed between my current position and that of my former Mormon self.

It's also noteworthy that remaining friends was much easier for the girl being unfairly judged for her sexuality than it was for the kid doing the unfair judging.  That makes it pretty clear to me which one of us was the bigger person.