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 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
  • 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?