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.


  1. I agree with you on verse 29. If that verse were true and not just one more way of Joseph Smith trying to control his followers, then ALL members who take the sacrament would be damned. How do we define worthy? Mormons are taught that the very reason to take the sacrament is to get atonement for sins, in other words, you did wrong and are unworthy to be in the presence of God. The sacrament is the way for sinners and those who are unworthy to move form unworthiness to being worthy. There's no need to take it if you're perfect and worthy. Now you could argue you had no intention of stopping, but I would bet at first you did but soon found out the impossibility. There was no way you were you going to be able NOT take the sacrament with all the family watching you wondering why you didn't. This is a way to shame, guilt, and control people. They take something normal, healthy, and instinctual, like masturbation, and call it a sin knowing very well virtually everybody will struggle with it. Then when they do, they call them sinners. An interesting thing to note, a guy I know that is a bishop in his ward told me it's the girls who are struggling with porn and masturbation. I actually bet the boys do too, but they have one more sin, lying.

    1. So much control and self-loathing and fearmongering. Even if I believed in "sin" anymore, I wouldn't be able to justify how high masturbation ranks in the list of Mormon no-nos. It's a victimless crime. If it must be considered self-abuse, then the only victim is still the perpetrator. Stealing someone else's car should be WAY worse than that, because you've actually negatively affected the life of another human being.

    2. You're so right. To Mormons, masturbation is closely tied to the sin next to murder. The sad thing is bishops will ask about "self abuse" in one on one interviews, but they won't ask you if you've sexually abused others or if you've been abused. Now that's the sin next to murder!

    3. That's something I never thought of. Not that BEING abused by someone else should make you unworthy of a temple recommend, but if the bishop has to explain to you what masturbation is or what the law of chastity means, he should probably cover what it's not okay for other people to do to you.

      I don't think I can recall rape ever being mentioned during lessons about the law of chastity. I guess most people don't need to be told that rape is wrong (or at least not socially acceptable), but it should definitely be a bigger issue in comparison to jerking off or good old-fashioned, mutually consensual premarital sex.