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 fiancĂ©e, 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.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

3 Nephi 13: The Sermon on the Rubble, Part II

Jesus's strangely familiar sermon to the devastated Native Americans is now in full swing.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Publicity
The first four verses of this chapter explain that alms should be given privately, without fanfare, and without the desire to be praised by others.

Do you think the apostles have read either version of this chapter? Because with the brightly colored shirts they hand out to their disaster relief volunteers to mark them as Mormons and the prominent church logos on their donated wheelchairs and their boasting from the pulpit of the church's humanitarian efforts, according to Jesus, they're a bunch of hypocrites.

Say Adieu to Mammon
When Jesus gets to the part about how no man can serve two masters, he makes a curious linguistic misstep (more accurately, it was Joseph Smith's misstep).  He tells his audience that they "cannot serve God and Mammon" (verse 24).

A quick Google search tells us that "mammon" comes from an Aramaic word, but that this exact spelling and usage is from late Middle English, which wouldn't emerge for hundreds of years after the destruction of the Nephites.  I'm not personally aware of any evidence that Native Americans in the first century AD had any knowledge of Aramaic.  So you'd think Jesus would have chosen a word in a Native American tongue (hey, maybe a word in Reformed Egyptian) to explain himself.

And if the Book of Mormon was written for our day as we've been repeatedly told in Sunday School classes, why wouldn't Joseph have translated whatever Jesus said into words more palatable to the modern reader's understanding? Why not say "wealth" or "avarice" or "greed" or something?

Honestly, my theory is that Joseph Smith wasn't really clear on what "Mammon" meant.  If he'd clarified the meaning and turned out to be wrong, that might raise some uncomfortable questions.  So he stuck with the King James version phrasing and continued adhering to the original script with only a few minor cosmetic changes.

An Elite Club
In Matthew 6, Jesus tells his entire audience not to fear because God will provide for them—this is the oft-quoted "consider the lilies of the field" section that Guy Montag couldn't get out of his head.

But the corresponding portion of 3 Nephi 13 includes extra language indicating that Jesus said these words specifically to the apostles he'd just called.  The implication, at least the way I'm reading it, is that God will ensure that his chosen leaders will have adequate food, shelter, and raiment.  Everybody else is on their own, at least in the Nephite world.

Why would the Book of Mormon make this change, narrowing a beautiful promise from the Son of God to encompass not everyone but only a select few?  Could this implication that apostles needs and worries are of greater importance than the common man's be one of the origins of the modern church's hero-worship of its leaders?