Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Moroni 10: All Bad Things Must Come to an End

And here we are.  The final chapter.  The last words imparted to us from an ancient prophet.  Let's see what concluding gems of wisdom Moroni has for us.

Cruel to be Kind
Moroni decides to write a few words of his own after spending so much time quoting his dad and quoting his Messiah.  Here's one of his first original comments (verse 3):
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
Okay, what?  God has been merciful?  He flooded the entire planet and only allowed one family to survive.  That's not merciful, that's sadistic.  But since this is really supposed to be criticism of the Book of Mormon, let's stick to things that have happened in the last five hundred thirty pages or so.

Moroni is way off the mark here.  The God he's talking about has done some absolutely horrific shit.  Admittedly, there have been moments of mercy, but overall, it's grossly disingenuous to characterize that guy as "merciful unto the children of men."

Reality Determined That was a Lie
And here we have the two verses that drove me out of the church.  It's another scripture mastery, for you ex-seminary students who have been keeping a tally.  I'm referring, of course, to Moroni 10:4-5.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
I know I've told this story before and I know it's far from a unique story.  But when I was at BYU and dreading the possibility of being called to serve in some faraway place for two years, I latched onto this scripture and decided that, since I kind of had to serve a mission, I could at least make sure that I knew the church was true before I did it.  I was looking for confirmation that this religion I was about to devote two years of my life to was every bit as true as I hoped it was.

I don't know how I could have had a more sincere heart or more real intent.  My faith was imperfect, sure, but I prayed with faith in Christ because I wanted to know he was real as an absolute certainty instead of relying on a testimony built on my parents' faith in Christ.  I desperately wanted to receive the answer that the church told me I'd receive.  I wasn't praying for a no.  I absolutely wanted a yes and everything I'd believed in my whole life told me that I'd receive that yes.

Guess what—I didn't even get a no.  After a few weeks, I finally gave up and began to slowly and sadly draw the series of conclusions that led to my apostasy.  Moroni's Promise didn't work.  The Holy Ghost didn't manifest the truth of anything.  And this scripture is a relatively straightforward if...then statement.  I reread this chapter tons of times trying to figure out if there was some missing ingredient to my prayer that was inhibiting my ability to receive the desired response.

These verses are among the best-known, most frequently quoted, most dutifully memorized scriptural passages in all of Mormondom, but because of how useless they turned out to be and how colossally they let me down, they're also among my least favorite scriptural passages in all of Mormondom.

Whatsoever Thing is a Thing is a Thing
Here we have some more faux wisdom in verse 6:
And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
Good, just, and true are all different things.  This is why they have different definitions.  Pizza is good, but how can you make any appraisal of pizza's justness or truthfulness?  Sentencing a man to prison for rape is just, but how does truthfulness factor into that action?  Can it really be said that having to imprison someone is good?  Isn't it more of a necessary evil?  The fact that the Book of Mormon exists is true, and while people may argue over whether that's a good thing, the factual statement has no bearing on any kind of justice.  This verse is utter nonsense.  It may sound cool, and it may seem wise when you read it, but if you stop and think about what it means, it's actually a completely useless thing for a prophet of God to say.

I take issue with the black-and-white claim in the second half of this verse too.  There are plenty of good things accomplished by people who deny the Christ.  Ricky Gervais is an outspoken atheist who is also outspoken against animal abuse.  Keira Knightley calls herself an atheist as well, and she's been busy with activism for human rights and against domestic abuse.  Neither one of these people would have testified of Christ, but these actions are generally considered "good."  These actions also have absolutely nothing to do with religion, which is another reason why Moroni's blanket statement falls somewhere between inaccurate and irrelevant.

And, based on Mormon's convoluted reasoning in Moroni 7, we can't really know whether deeds are good or not good anyway, so telling us that everything good acknowledges Christ is totally pointless.

The Spirit of Giving
The other big reason why this chapter gets so much attention in Sunday school is because it discusses Gifts of the Spirit.  These gifts were taught reverently like they were the prescribed spiritual superpowers that we could possess.  All we had to do was be righteous and faithful and God could grant us any from the following list of supernatural abilities:
  • teach the word of wisdom
  • teach the word of knowledge
  • exceedingly great faith
  • healing
  • working of mighty miracles
  • prophesying concerning all things
  • beholding of angels and ministering spirits
  • all kinds of tongues
  • interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues
There are a lot of problems with this list.  First of all, Moroni is trying to pad it with gifts that are essentially the same thing so that the list seems longer (teaching wisdom versus teaching knowledge, all kinds of tongues versus interpretation of tongues).  

Secondly, some of these things are borderline heresy in the modern church.  Bear your testimony sometime about how you beheld an angel and were ministered unto by spirits and watch how uncomfortably the LDS congregation squirms.  Angelic visitations to the common man are a fringe teaching in today's Mormonism—the typical Mormon neither expects nor accepts the concept when it arises.  And prophesying concerning all things basically is one hundred percent straight-up heresy because only the President of the Church and sometimes his Apostles have the right to do that.  We're taught repeatedly in church meetings that we can receive revelation for our stewardships (i.e. our families and those we serve in our callings) but that for big-picture revelation and prophecy we need to rely on the Prophet himself.

And thirdly—arguably most importantly—a lot of these gifts are not a thing anymore.  Healing, mighty miracles, angelic visions, the gift of tongues...these are either rare, poorly documented occurrences or watered-down versions of the gift.  I've heard Mormons make an argument for the gift of tongues, for example, but it usually amounts to someone having a natural aptitude for learning languages instead of the miraculous ability to speak and understand without prior study, which is how the gift of tongues was traditionally presented.  So if these spiritual gifts are mostly gone and largely downplayed wherever they may exist, according to verse 19, this does not bode well:
...all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.
Not that I'm suggesting everybody packs their bags and shifts from the Brighamite sect to the Snufferite sect or the Community of Christ, but...I feel like Moroni 10 is a pretty decent argument that, at the very least, the LDS branch of Mormonism isn't the right branch because their lack of spiritual gifts means they've fallen away from the truth.

Also, how lame is the gift of having great faith?  It's like being blessed with preternatural credulity.  Whoop-dee-doo, I believe everything the prophet says immediately, without question, and way more fervently than you do.  What kind of spiritual superpower is that?  It seems like the doctrinal equivalent of a degree in comparative literature—good for you and all, but...what the hell do you do with it?  You can't raise people from the dead like that mighty miracles guy or cure someone's cancer like the healing guy and you can't even prepare really awesome Sunday school lessons like the teaching the words of wisdom guy. And doesn't it seem like it contravenes free agency if the Spirit makes you inherently more inclined than others to believe in the gospel?

Faith Hope Love Remix
In verses 20 through 22, Moroni demonstrates how he wasn't actually paying attention when his dad gave sermons and stuff.
Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope. 
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
Well, he skipped meekness in this convoluted chain of philosophizing.  Meekness was a pretty big part of the equation when Mormon was talking about this in Moroni chapter 7.  What's more confusing is that, according to Mormon, hope is both the cause and the effect of faith.  But in this chapter they're kind of strung together with charity as parallel characteristics.  And Moroni also throws despair and iniquity into the mix, stating that despair—which is the antithesis of hope—is caused by iniquity, which honestly might be the only part of this that makes any sense whatsoever.

Anyway, my point is that this slightly contradicts Moroni 7 although it shares an almost identical tone—it sounds reasonable enough if you're reading it casually, but if you try to pick it apart, it crumbles.  It's meaningless, useless, pseudophilosophical nonsense.  Moroni could have just said, "wherefore, ye must needs have faith, hope, and charity or you can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God" and left it at that.  But he felt like trying to grandstand a bit, only he didn't have the chops.

That's just embarrassing.

The Bar of God
And Moroni wraps things up with a thinly veiled threat (verse 27):
And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?
Joseph Smith did have a knack for writing a badass turn of phrase here and there.  This one isn't quite as memorable as 2 Nephi 33:13's "as the voice of one crying from the dust," but it packs a pretty decent punch.  However, the image of Moroni standing next to God at the judgment seat with a petty "I told you so!" smirk on his face is...a little amusing.

Listen, God, if the best you could offer me to believe in your gospel was a voice crying from the dead and speaking out of the dust, I don't think you've done your due diligence.  The church in my day is ripe with hypocrisy, secret combinations, Pharisaical culture, dishonesty, and an unforgivable inability to overcome the bigotry that other parts of society are trying to put behind us.  If you expect me to believe this stuff, you need to give me something better than a voice crying from the dust.  If your strongest argument to kindle my faith is really a centuries-old record from a civilization that, by all accounts, can't even be confirmed to have existed, it isn't me who's failed.  It's you.  Your job is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  If you can't give your creations the tools to find the truth, if you couch the truth in such a repugnant organization led overwhelmingly by old bigoted white men who behave more like business administrators than divinely appointed prophets, then you're just not very good at what you've chosen to do with eternity.  And that's not on us.

And on that note, I'll add one final quote from the Book of Mormon:
The End
And that's all, folks.  The entire Book of Mormon, all 239 chapters of it, analyzed, criticized, and, admittedly, mocked.  It's not a book of scripture.  It's nothing more than a charismatic and imaginative con man's novel, and while it definitely has its moments, it reeks of amateurism. The effect it's had on the world is astonishing and kind of horrifying.  And it's bizarre to consider that the massive corporate religion that's reared up as its legacy bears little resemblance to what's described in its pages.

These are all things I think I've effectively pointed to over and over again, and while I admit that not every single argument I've made necessarily holds water, I think that the sheer number of legitimate criticisms should give any serious reader pause.  There are enough internal contradictions, disagreements between Book of Mormon doctrines and doctrines from both the present-day and the historical LDS church, examples of absurdly over-the-top storytelling, recycled plot devices, frightening glorifications of violence, despicable justifications of racism, pointless chapters of filler, and bits of laughably incompetent writing that it should be patently clear that this book is not the word of any real god.

Thanks to those of you who have followed along.  Your comments and occasional discussions were fascinating!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Moroni 9: Mormon's Final Wish

And now we're treated to another letter from Mormon to his son Moroni, and at least this time it covers a somewhat important topic—evil and destruction.

Shock Value
Mormon goes into a surprising amount of detail as he tells his son about the worsening depravity of both the Lamanites and the Nephites.  We're down to the last few dozen verses of the Book of Mormon and as Moroni is throwing this all together, he's not choosing to spend the final chapters on the central doctrines of salvation or the essential truths that will be most needed for the era in which this record will be unearthed.  So far it's doom and gloom.  He's discussing how the Lamanites are forcing their prisoners to eat the flesh of their dead loved ones to survive.  He's talking about Nephites raping, torturing, murdering, and cannibalizing Lamanite women.  He isn't discussing faith or atonement or even the commandments.  He's trying to cram in as many awful taboos as possible.

While this may make for a compelling plot point on an envelope-pushing HBO series, it does not make for good scripture.  And it doesn't make any sense considering that, as far as the modern day is concerned, these are basically Mormon's dying words—and Moroni's dying words as he shares them.

A Father's Prayer
Mormon makes a really creepy wish for his son's future in verse 22:
But behold, my son, I recommend thee unto God, and I trust in Christ that thou wilt be saved; and I pray unto God that he will spare thy life, to witness the return of his people unto him, or their utter destruction; for I know that they must perish except they repent and return unto him.
Okay, first of all, Mormon, did you even read all that crap you spent a lifetime compiling and abridging?  Do you really think there's any hope for your civilization?  After all the references to the Nephite covenant with God that they will inhabit the land as long as they remain righteous, after all of your own failed preaching and lamentations about the state of your society, after Nephi's vision of the future in which the Lamanites defeat the Nephites, how in the hell do you think there's any hope that your people will return unto God?

But enough about that.  The weirdest part is that he hopes that his son will live to see the Nephites return to their former pious glory...or to see them completely annihilated?  He's praying to God that his son has a 50/50 chance of winding up completely alone as the only surviving member of his people.  That's messed up.

Pay No Attention to the Apocalypse Behind the Curtain
But Mormon doesn't want all this bad stuff to bring his boy down (verse 25):
My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.
He just talked about children eating the flesh of their fathers to avoid starving to death.  He just said that most likely all of Moroni's friends and acquaintances will be exterminated.  He just discussed rape, torture, and more cannibalism.  And then he adds, "But don't let it bother you, keep thinking happy thoughts!"

Mormon is a terrible father.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Moroni 8: Priority Mail

Now Moroni shares a letter that his father wrote to him years earlier.  Interesting how this is the Book of Moroni but so far most of it has been things that Jesus said and things that Mormon said.

First Order of Business

So, Mormon is writing this letter at some point during his adult life, when the Nephite civilization is in its final downward spiral.  Wars rage with the Lamanite nation, iniquity abounds, and there's at least one point at which Mormon throws up his hands and refuses to help his people because they're just too damn wicked.  So when he writes his son to address some key concerns for their failing society, what subject does he kick things off with?  Well, infant baptism, of course.  What could possibly be more important?  Here's what Mormon says in verse 6 concerning the misconception that infants need to be baptized:
And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle.
Gross error?  People are being killed!  Have some perspective!  Isn't war one of the grossest errors there is?!  Surely there's something else with a higher priority in the prophet's mind than infant baptism.

Mormon is an Idiot
Moroni's father tries to explain why it supposedly makes so much sense that little children have no need of baptism.  This brilliant argument comprises verses 12 and 13:
But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism! 
Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.
But...doesn't that mean that being a respecter of persons is exactly what God is doing?  Because Mormon is basically saying that children are a protected class who are not held accountable for the law that baptism is required for salvation.  If God really weren't a respecter of persons, that same rule would apply equally to everyone.  God has partiality based on age or accountability.  And it's also a little silly to claim that, within Mormon theology, God is not changeable.  The behavior of God and the word of God have both evolved significantly.

And the doctrine of God has evolved significantly as well, to the point at which verse 13 has become false doctrine.  These children won't go to an endless hell, because, according to Doctrine and Covenants 137:10, "all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven."

God is an Idiot
Mormon examines our creator's eternal justice in a bit more detail (verse 15):
For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism. 
So it's wickedness to suppose that God will save one child because of baptism and condemn another because of no baptism, but it's not awful to say that about adults?  In my eyes, this points out the silliness of performing ordinances of any kind.  Shouldn't it be awful wickedness to suppose that God will save one adult because of secret signs and tokens and will condemn another adult because he does not correctly perform the secret signs and tokens?  Isn't it utterly absurd that, when being judged according to our works by an omnipotent God who knows our hearts, there is a checklist of ceremonial deeds that need to have been accomplished for us to gain entry into his kingdom?  Because if you concede that it's silly to discriminate between two otherwise similar children based on whether one ritual has been performed, shouldn't it be just as silly to require other rituals from adults?

But the next verse ratchets up the absurdity quotient:
Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.
Mormon claims to speak with authority from God when he says that people who believe that infant baptism is necessary—and especially people who actually perform infant baptisms—are doomed to Hell, barring some serious repenting.  What kind of messed-up concept of morality does this god have?

Ostensibly, the reason that these people are baptizing little kids is because they don't want these kids to go to Hell. As it turns out, the baptisms are unnecessary, but these people are still trying to protect children from eternal misery—which is something that most of us should agree is an honorable pursuit.  All these ordinances would constitute, then, is a mistake made with good intentions.  This isn't one of those misinterpretations of the scriptures that inspires someone to murder non-believers.  Literally no one has been harmed.  It's just someone trying to do a good thing operating under a mistaken understanding.  And that will put this person in danger of hellfire.

The Book of Mormon is more unequivocally against infant baptism than it is against violence or rape or bigotry.  And this is the fullness of the gospel.  The Mormon God has his priorities all screwed up.

Oh, and by the way...DOOM
Continuing with the theme of this chapter Mormon, closes his epistle by demonstrating further how out of whack his priorities are.  After rambling for dozens of verses about ordinances for kids, he finally gets to something of a little more immediate importance—and something that's more universally relevant—with only four verses remaining in the letter (verse 27):
Behold, my son, I will write unto you again if I go not out soon against the Lamanites. Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction except they should repent.
Hey!  Here's an idea!  If you know what's going to destroy the whole friggin' civilization, why don't you spend more time preaching about that than about other, infinitely more frivolous offenses? Mormon goes on and on about a doctrinal clarification that should basically amount to an administrative announcement and then ends this lengthy letter to his son by basically stating, "Oh, and our people are too proud, so we're all gonna die.  Love you, bye!"

Why the hell is this chapter not a sermon about pride so that Moroni can go back to his town and proclaim the word of God's prophet calling the Nephite people to repentance? Wouldn't that make so much more sense?  Wouldn't that theoretically help a whole lot more people?  Wouldn't that seem like your first priority?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Moroni 7: Contradictation

Moroni now shares an old sermon from his father's journal of discourses.  Apparently there was a time during poor Mormons's tumultuous existence when there were actually enough righteous people among the Nephites that he had a church to preach in and a congregation to preach to.  Apparently he had one good week in there between all the war and wickedness.

Say It Ain't Not Isn't Not Not So
Early in his address, Mormon alludes to a classic teaching of Christ (verse
For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.
And then he goes on to confusingly deconstruct—or maybe enhance?—this Sermon on the Mount reference.  He basically says that even though you can tell if someone's good by seeing their good works, you may need to redefine good.  And works.  Or maybe know.
For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. 
For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. 
For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. 
And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such. 
Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.
Seriously, what's the point in saying you can know someone by their works if you have to clarify that works can look good but not actually be good depending on the doer's disposition and therefore won't count as righteousness only you can't know that because it's due to internal intent instead of the face value of the act itself no matter how pious it may seem because even though the work itself was good it actually wasn't because—

See what I mean?  I'm not a believer in Jesus, so normally I'm fine disagreeing with the Bible.  And normally I'd say that Jesus's version is a bit naive.  But Mormon looks like such an idiot trying to piggyback on Jesus while actually contradicting him that I kind of want to side with Jesus on principle.  "By their fruits shall ye know them" may be naive, but at least it's pithy, memorable, know...not rife with internally contradictory hogwash.

Mormon is an Idiot
This chapter is starting to make me angry (verses 16-17):
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. 
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Like it's really that friggin' easy! If it were that dead simple there would be a lot less evil in the world. One of the many problems with this concept do you define evil in the convoluted moral calculus that plagues even the most ordinary person? Obviously building a homeless shelter is good and slaughtering your family is bad. But the overwhelming majority of human decisions are far more complex. Lying is bad. Being mean is bad. Do you tell someone the truth if it will cause hurt feelings? Mormon's perfect solution can't even provide a good answer to a relatively simple problem that every single person in the history of everything has faced. What use is it if the obvious questions are easy and the slightly more nuanced questions are impossible?

It's also kind of weird that the Book of Mormon refers to the devil's followers as "his angels."  That makes the Mormon mythology murkier.  What the hell is an angel then, anyway?  According to the LDS Bible dictionary they're messengers of God.  Except when they're not, because this entry also alludes to "the devil's angels," and then gives a few references to the possibly-incorrectly-translated Bible.  It doesn't mention that the devil's angels show up here in the good ol' Book of Mormon, perhaps because you'd think the most correct book that had been translated by the power of God would be able to keep its doctrinal terminology straight.  This is hardly something that's essential to our salvation, but it sure fits well with the theory that Joseph Smith was making this stuff up.

Angels Among Us
Slightly less infuriating, but maybe enough for a groan and an eye roll, is Mormon's clearly outdated teaching about miracles and angels (verses 29 and 30):
And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men. 
For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
According to the church-approved narrative of Joseph Smith's life, verse 29 contains a question that Mormonism is uniquely suited to answer. The church is supposed to be proud that miracles and revelation continue in the modern day just like with prophets of old. Except that scriptural-style miracles don't happen anymore. There are no unending loaves and fishes, there are no resurrections of dead friends, there are no missionaries delivered from captivity by dark smoke and loud voices. There are some arguably apocryphal anecdotes from early church history, but miracles—as most people think of them—have least where Mormonism is concerned.

Apostles don't directly claim to speak with God and they don't claim to have been visited by angels. According to Mormon, as long as these prophets are firm in the faith, there isn't really an explanation for why angels don't appear to them—or to other worthy church members. And this is kind of insulting, considering that Alma the Younger, Laman and Lemuel, and Saul of Tarsus were given angelic visitation despite clearly not meeting Mormon's godliness requirements.

What's the point in teaching something in the scriptures if it's not actually going to work out that way? What's worse is the way the next verse begins:
And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance...
So they show themselves to those who are firm in the faith and those who need to be called to repentance? What about the rest of us? What about the middle of the spectrum, where people struggle with what they believe and pray for signs and answers? What kind of sense does this angel policy make, and why does it not seem to apply anymore?  Verse 37 answers part of that question:
...and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
This makes no sense! If angels appear by faith, how were they calling faithless scriptural apostates to repentance? And it's obnoxious the way this chapter tries to cover its bases. The past few verses basically boil down to "Of course miracles haven't ceased! Oh, but just in case they have, here's probably why—it's your own fault." How quintessentially Mormon of Mormon.

Faith Hope Love
Remember when the Star Wars prequels came out and we were all disappointed with, among other things, Yoda's terrible dialogue? Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering? Except that it isn't as wise as it initially sounded because the ordering of all these terms can be scrambled and it still makes the same amount of sense? Well, Mormon is about to pull a Yoda and crank the dial up to eleven. Verses 38 through 47 is his convoluted masterpiece of solemn-sounding nonsense.  I'll summarize to save you some time:

You can't be saved without faith. You can't attain faith without hope. But without faith there can be no hope. You can have neither faith nor hope without meekness. If you don't have meekness then your faith and hope are not acceptable to God. If you're going to be meek and faithful, you'll need to have charity. Without charity, you are nothing.

Wouldn't it have been simpler and less contradictory to just skip right to the preaching about charity? Because this is really just a pointless moebius strip of semantic self-indulgence.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Moroni 6: Idealized Flashback

Moroni continues explaining how things were way back when the Nephites were still basking in the post-Messianic-visitation afterglow.

Tear 'em Down to Build 'em Up
Verse 2 paints an interesting vision of the baptismal ordinance that doesn't exactly jive with the present-day Mormon version:
Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
I can absolutely guarantee that when I was baptized I had neither a broken heart nor a contrite spirit.  It was a rite of passage.  I was excited, not heartbroken.  I had a proud spirit, not a contrite one, because I was doing what my family and my ward leaders wanted me to do.  I was eight and had yet to really commit serious sin, but I don't recall any public affirmation I had to make detailing the renouncing of my iniquitous ways. 

With the church's continuing obsession with growth, this scriptural teaching has almost definitely fallen by the wayside.  Missionary discussions push for baptismal commitments so early on that there's no way the elders have time to really assess the brokenness of an investigator's heart or the contriteness of an investigator's spirit.  The numbers-driven mission culture has resulted in Japanese "baseball baptisms" and South American "soccer baptisms."  The church is not following the pattern set forth in scripture by the Mormonism the Nephites observed immediately after Jesus Christ appeared to them.

Plus I don't love the concept of a convert needing to be broken down to a piteously devastated level—I mean brokenheartedly contrite level—to be worthy of God's saving ordinances...buuuuut that's a different discussion.

Pharisaical Paradise
A possible precursor to today's courts of love crops up in verse 7:
And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ.
Does that not sound eerily like "every member a thought policeman" or what?  And it seems to imply excommunication, which I despise.  It seems that the Nephites were even more liberal with the spiritual guillotine than the Monsonites are, because all it took was an unregenerate member with three people willing to tattle.

But another difference here between ancient and modern churches is less flattering to today's Mormonism.  I'm not sure it's fair to say that the LDS church is so strident in its opposition to iniquity as its predecessor.  Financial fraud, sexual predation, and other forms of abuse are far too common in the church and far too poorly penalized.  If the church were following the example of this short-lived Nephite utopia, excommunications would be more common and they would be applied more commonly to damaging, traumatizing, and predatory iniquity than to any threats posed by doubt or homosexuality.

Monday, November 20, 2017

View of View of the Hebrews

I got curious browsing around Amazon a few weeks ago and wound up ordering a copy of View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith.  I'd read in a few places, including the CES Letter, that this book was evidence that the Book of Mormon was fictional to the point of plagiarism.  I was kind of disappointed.  I don't think that accusation really holds up.

There is a comparison chart attributed to B. H. Roberts in the CES Letter that delineates the similarities between these two early 19th century publications.  It seems like a generally accurate chart, but there are a lot of points that aren't particularly damning.  And some are too vague, like "settlers journey northward" and "religion a motivating factor."  Settlers travel north all the time in history and in fiction and religion is a common factor in a lot of people's motivations.  The Samuel the Lamanite connection is the most compelling, I believe, but even that is introduced very early and you're still left with more than a hundred pages of material that can be interpreted as having flimsy correlations to the Book of Mormon.

I don't think it's useful to adduce View of the Hebrews when arguing that the Book of Mormon is a fraud.  I think it's very weak evidence.  It fits the narrative that I believe since I've already concluded that the Book of Mormon is not scripture, but it's not strong enough to convince anyone who still follows the prophet.  It's not definitive enough or conclusive enough.  It's one of the arguments that FAIR pounced on most voraciously in their response to the CES Letter, and it's probably because they were excited to have something that could be dismissed with relatively little effort.

View of the Hebrews has one major evidence that may help convince a Mormon who's already begun questioning and researching, though.  It pretty exhaustively indicates that the idea of Native Americans being descendants of ancient Jews was not new in the 19th century.  It always seemed groundbreaking to me when I was a faithful church member because I grew up in an era in which a different origin for Native Americans was almost universally agreed upon as fact.  But back in Joseph Smith's day, the Hebrew-Indian thing was a theory with some popularity.  Fawn Brodie mentioned this in passing in No Man Knows My History, but Ethan Smith's book was written with the sole intent of proving that theory.  He cited numerous other contemporary scholars and thinkers in support of his thesis.  The existence of View of the Hebrews and the breadth of work it references to bolster its claims should at least take some of the shine off the Book of Mormon's mystique.  But again, it only really points to Joseph Smith penning a fictional history if you're already leaning that direction.  It seems easy to minimize or discredit if you still believe the truth claims of the LDS church.  It's not the smoking gun of plagiarism it's sometimes depicted as.

It's a weird read, too.  Very racist to a modern eye.  It's very dry to a modern eye, too, as the prose hasn't aged well.  But it's interesting nonetheless.  The Late War is a totally different story.  I couldn't stomach more than a few chapters of that before giving up.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Moroni 5: Bless and Sanctify 2

...and then we have a separate chapter for the blessing on the wine.  I realize this is not a chapter break that was included in the original 1830 Book of Mormon, so it isn't a criticism of the book's legitimacy.  But it sure is a weird editing decision from somewhere down the line.

The slight differences between the two sacrament prayers are curious.  It's odd that we're making sure that we remember Christ and that we keep the Spirit with us in both but that we promise to keep the commandments and take his name upon us only when partaking of the bread. What I think is even stranger is that the reason for the symbolism is explained immediately in the blessing on the wine.  It represents the blood of Christ, which was shed for us.  But in the previous prayer, we mention that the bread represents the body of Christ and we roll right into what we're doing by partaking of it.

Why is Christ's body important?  Why is it important to attach a symbolic significance to the wine but leave us guessing about the bread?

It also used to bother me, just slightly, that the wording of these two prayers is a little inconsistent. In the blessing on the bread, it says, "that they may eat in remembrance of," and in the blessing on the wine, it's, "that they may do it in remembrance of."  Seems like it should be drink instead of do it.  For such an important pair of prayers, I always felt that there should be a solemner, holier symmetry to them.   

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Moroni 4: Bless and Sanctify

Moroni offhandedly mentions yet another thing that Christ explicitly commanded when he visited the Americas that somehow did not merit a mention in 3 Nephi.  This time it's the sacrament prayer.  And that's kind of ironic, considering that we agree to keep the commandments in that prayer—but when we're commanded to administer the sacrament in a specific way, we almost forget to preserve that method for future generations.

But what really caught my eye about this chapter this time around was the specific phrasing.  The pronouns make me wonder if this is still a leftover of the mostly Trinitarian attitude of the original Book of Mormon.  Look at verse 3:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
So we're speaking directly to God the Father the whole time, which means whenever the words him or his are used, it's a reference to Jesus.  Which means that the commandments we're supposed to keep are Jesus's commandments.  Usually, commandments are attributed to God the Father—at least in Mormonism. But it also means that when we'll have his Spirit to be with us, it's Jesus's spirit.  And I don't ever remember the Holy Ghost being taught as belonging to the Son.  It always belongs to the Father.  The spirit of God like a fire is burning...not the spirit of Jesus.

So perhaps this verse was written with the whole Father-and-Son-are-still-kind-of-the-same-guy mindset, which makes it all the more bizarre that it winds up being one of the things that is repeated most often, most officially, and most stringently in modern-day Mormonism.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Moroni 3: The Six-and-a-half-th Article of Faith

Moroni continues to cover some important stuff that bafflingly had not been included in his essential summary of the Nephite records.

The present-day LDS church is proud to have the same organization that existed in the primitive church.  In addition to being in the Articles of Faith, this sentiment was the basis for a talk by Tad Callister establishing modern mainstream Mormonism as the legitimate continuation of Christ's gospel.  Normally this claim refers to Jesus's church in the old world, but it's also used—usually internally—to reference the church Jesus established among the Nephites, too.

But then there's this chapter, demonstrating that this was a different organization.  The disciples  (a term which seems intended to be interchangeable with the term apostles) are also referred to as elders.  How many of today's Quorum of the Twelve are mere elders?

This chapter covers the ordaining of teachers and priests without any mention of deacons.  Or high priests.  Or bishops.  Or stake presidents.  Or seventies.  In fact, it doesn't even mention that there are two divisions of the priesthood (Aaronic and Melchizidek), which are pretty important and also common knowledge in the present-day church.  But at least it mentions the laying on of hands, so we can begrudge a few points for occasional continuity.  But as far as the hierarchy of the church and the structure of the priesthood are concerned, this is not the same thing at all.   It's like Italian and Latin.  Obviously they have some similarities and there are even some things that line up almost perfectly.  But if you tell anyone that Italian and Latin are the same language you won't find anyone willing to agree with you.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Moroni 2: DVD Extras

Now Moroni starts to go into some Book of Mormon bonus features—as in, deleted scenes from when the Son of God appeared and taught the people.  Stuff that totally could have wound up on the cutting room floor since it's not that important.

When is an Ordination not an Ordination?
Apparently, somewhere around Third Nephi, Jesus basically gave his disciples the power to give themselves the power to confer the gift of the holy ghost (verse 2):
Ye shall call on the Father in my name, in mighty prayer; and after ye have done this ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost;
When the average deacon, teacher, priest, elder, or high priest is ordained to the office, there's nothing about praying mightily.  The powers are granted by the conferring authority in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of God's priesthood.  End of story.  It seems totally bizarre that Jesus, who by all accounts should have way more priesthood mojo than the average modern day bishop or stake president, would require an extra step inserted into his process.  If you get the confirmation power from your bishop, it's plug-and-play.  But if it's from Jesus, you have to download a driver first.  

That makes perfect sense.  Right?

Add-ons and Tie-ins
It's pretty odd that when Moroni realizes that he may still have time to write before he dies, he doesn't cover his personal history, he says, "oh yeah, and I forgot to mention..." and then proceeds to share details (purportedly verbatim quotations) from events that took place 300 years before he was born.  What's weirder is the secretive nature of the information he shares (verse 3):
Now Christ spake these words unto them at the time of his first appearing; and the multitude heard it not, but the disciples heard it;
So what he's telling us is not something that was common knowledge that could have been passed down by oral tradition or anything.  This is stuff that only twelve guys heard, which means that probably one of the very few places it was written down was in the record that eventually became the book of Third Nephi.  So either Moroni should not have known any of this or he was too dumb to include something so doctrinally and organizationally fundamental to the church in the regular record.  Good thing he lived longer than he expected and had time to add this in.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Moroni 1: Last of the Time Lords

Well, we're on the home stretch, folks.  Our last Book of Mormon prophet has just a few more pages to finish his tragic tale and impart his final words of advice.  Or something.

Double Standards Only Apply to Other People
Moroni briefly touches on the current attitude of Lamanite society in verse 2:
For behold, their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ.
Why does Moroni seem to think this is such a terrible thing?  I mean, it's basically the religious version of what Captain Moroni did, and he's a valiant hero in the annals of Mormonism.  He put to death every Lamanite prisoner who wouldn't agree to the cause of freedom.  The Lamanites are apparently putting to death every Nephite who wouldn't disagree with the cause of Christianity.  Both of these things appear to me to be equally morally repugnant.  But somehow, there's a world of difference between slaughtering people who won't abandon a different political ideology and slaughtering people who won't abandon a different religious ideology.  Or maybe the important distinction here is that this time it's the bloodthirsty savages doing it instead of the white and delightsome people.

Travel Logistics
It cracks me up that in verses 1 and 4, Moroni is basically like, "Well, I figured I'd be dead by the time I finished abridging the Jaredite records, but apparently I'm still alive.  So what the hell, I'll just write down some more stuff."

But more importantly, I don't understand why he apparently has to keep wandering around, lugging these metal plates with him everywhere.  It's a big continent.  Couldn't he have traveled to an area hundreds of miles outside of the Lamanite territory and just built himself a little hut to live out the rest of his years in?  I think most of us have this romantic image in our heads of Moroni spending his final days in constant motion, hiding from murderous Lamanites, but that doesn't actually make a lot of sense.  If he's the last of his kind, I really doubt that the Lamanites are going to expend much effort to hunt down one guy.

If the Book of Mormon took place in the heartland of the USA, Moroni could have just gone to Mexico.  If it took place in South America, he could have retired to California.  If it took place in both places, surely there was somewhere he could escape to.  I'm sure he'd be cold in Canada, but cold beats dead any day.  So really, this concept of an always-moving Moroni scribbling down the final chapters of the Book of Mormon while he's on the run for his life makes very little sense.  Was Moroni really that dumb that he didn't realize that just travelling a couple hundred miles north would be enough for the Lamanite armies to give up the chase?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Notes on General Conference

I missed General Conference again because of my work schedule, but it looks like this time the church preserved the sessions on YouTube instead of just offering the live stream.  Or, more likely, they've done that before and I didn't realize it until now.

But from skipping through the sessions and admittedly only paying close attention to the big names, here are some of the most...noteworthy...passages I came across.

Latter-day Saints who understand God's plan of salvation have a unique worldview that helps them see the reason for God's commandments, the unchangeable nature of his required ordinances, and the fundamental role of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session

Unique worldview, indeed.  But I'm not so sure that we can safely pretend that God's required ordinances are unchangeable.  I mean, the penalties were removed from the endowment ordinance a few decades ago.  When the sacrament was first performed by Jesus (and when it was performed in the Book of Mormon, as well as—please correct me if I'm wrong here, someone—when it was performed in early church history) it used wine, not water.

And these required ordinances weren't always required anyway.  There was a complete overhaul of God's commandments and of his required ordinances way back, ohhhh, about two thousand years ago.  Ring any bells?

Just eighteen years after the Family Proclamation, the United States Supreme Court authorized same sex marriage, overturning thousands of years of marriage being limited to a man and a woman.
—Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
Does anybody have any idea what he's being so dramatic about?  Thousands of years?  The United States has not been around that long, chief.  And even during US History, there was a time when marriage between, say, a man and multiple women was legal.  And if we're going back thousands of years, Jacob preached against polygamy in the Book of Mormon, so apparently multiple-member-marriages were a thing back then too.  So let's not pretend that marriage on this particular continent has always been defined the same way.

Another respondent said, "I would not know that there is continuing progress after this life."
—Russell M. Nelson, Saturday afternoon session
This is, purportedly, a reply to Nelson's queries about how our lives and attitudes would be different without the Book of Mormon.  This is my favorite reply because the Book of Mormon does not teach the doctrine of eternal progression.  In fact, it leans more toward the generically Christian version of the afterlife.  It mentions nothing about degrees of glory, of becoming gods, or any postmortal progress other than your basic Protestant version of salvation.  These are things that this person would not have known if Joseph Smith had been murdered sooner, but they are not things that this person would not have known without the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon shatters the false beliefs that happiness can be found in wickedness....
—Russell M. Nelson, Saturday afternoon session
Um...what?  Point me to a religious tradition that teaches "wickedness always was happiness."

I don't think there's a pervasive belief out there that happiness is found in wickedness.  The reason people do bad things is that not everyone agrees on the definition of wickedness.  Some people may pursue fulfillment in things that others may perceive as wrong, but that doesn't mean we have a billions of people running around looking for more wicked things to do so they can be happy. If one of the Book of Mormon's most powerful abilities is the dispelling of a false belief that isn't actually that widespread, I'm not particularly impressed.

Willingness to be patient is part of our search for truth and part of the Lord's pattern of revealing truth.
—David F. Evans, Priesthood session

I get that not every answer to every question can be made available at a moment's notice, but some people wait for unnecessary lengths of time.  When I was testing Moroni's promise at BYU, desperate to receive a strong testimony with the prospect of missionary service looming, I waited weeks and weeks for an answer to repeated prayers.  The woman in Evans's example waited the better part of a lifetime for her witness of the gospel.  What possible reason, other than sadism, would God have for making people wait and wonder for these inordinate periods?

Some receive a witness very quickly.  For others, it will take more time and more prayer and may include reading the book several times.
—David F. Evans, Priesthood session
Whoa, hold up, where does it say that in Moroni 10?  Because if you can know the truth of all things by the power of the Holy Ghost, but it may take the Holy Ghost twenty years to answer, isn't that something that should at the very least be in the fine print?  But there's no "some exclusions apply," line in this chapter.  There's no "you may need to receive these things several times before the Holy Ghost will manifest its truth unto you."  How can you possibly expect people to just keep on keepin' on, devoting a lifetime to something that they can't confirm, even after following a specifically prescribed series of steps to receive that confirmation?

If the keep-trying-the-same-one-thing-over-and-over-until-you-get-it-right-and-never-try-anything-else philosophy were applied to other aspects of Mormon life, every Mormon would be completely unemployable.  It's an insane approach to doing anything, but it's a particularly insane approach to determining truth, personal identity, and a life's pursuit.

Do we have the faith not to be healed from our earthly afflictions so that we might be healed eternally?  A critical question to ponder is "where do we place our faith? Is our faith focused on simply wanting to be relieved of pain and suffering or is it firmly centered on God the Father and his holy plan and in Jesus Christ and his atonement?"

—Donald L. Hallstrom, Sunday morning session
What kind of nonsense is this?

I have no idea what this means, doctrinally.  I mean, it sounds like he might be saying that the family who died in the plane crash were so selfish as to have prayed for relief from death instead of having faith in God's plan.  But that's crazy.  Who blames people who died in a plane crash because they appealed for divine deliverance?  That can't be what he's saying.

Aren't some of the most important purposes of prayer to receive comfort and to request aid from our heavenly father?  What's the point of praying while your plane is going down if not to ask for rescue from urgent earthly troubles?  And what's the point of faith if you have faith in two mutually exclusive outcomes?  If you pray with faith to be healed and faith not to be healed, are you really praying with true faith, nothing wavering?  Also, how does dying in a plane crash heal you eternally?

All Hallstrom is trying to do is change the question to fit the answer.  When you pray for miracles and don't receive them, he wants to make sure that the explanation can't be that the church isn't true.  The explanation is that the church is so true that it's impossible for you to understand your situation because you don't have God's eternal perspective.  The trueness is the reason that your suffering continues—and that's a good thing and you should be reassured by the fact that you're still suffering.

Also, quit worrying about how much pain or danger you're in and think about God's plan for you.  You know, try not to be so small-minded while your life is flashing before your eyes.

Today, I testify of miracles.  Being a child of God is a miracle.  Receiving a body in his image and likeness is a miracle.  The gift of a savior is a miracle.  The atonement of Jesus Christ is a miracle.  The potential for eternal life is a miracle.

—Donald L. Hallstrom, Sunday morning session
Because that last quote from this guy pissed me off so much, I'm gonna nitpick a bit here.  Let's review Hallstrom's definition of a miracle that he provided earlier in this talk:  a beneficial event brought about through divine power that mortals do not understand.  By his own definition, two of these miracles he listed are not actually miracles.  The state of being a child of God is not an event.  The potential for anything, eternal life or not, is not an event.  These two things are not miracles.  A representative of God said so.  Of course, he also said the exact opposite, too, but....

A young elder arrived with apprehension in his eyes.  As we met in an interview, he said dejectedly, "I want to go home."  I thought to myself, "We can fix this!"  I counselled him to work hard and to pray about it for a week and then call me.  A week later, almost to the minute, he called.  He still wanted to go home.  I again counselled him to pray, work hard, and to call me in a week.  In our next interview, things had not changed.  He insisted on going home.  I just wasn't going to let that happen.

—W. Craig Zwick, Sunday morning session
And there, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most important problems of Mormonism.  Screw what you want, pal, you need to conform to what the organization wants for you.

To be fair, the point of Zwick's story is to illustrate that he wasn't examining the situation carefully enough.  He admitted that he'd given hasty advice without fully understanding the situation.  But Zwick's reactions to the missionary's repeated insistence is indicative of Mormon culture as a whole.  We don't listen.  We try to apply fixes to the church-approved perception of the problem.

Also, I think it's hilarious that the phrase "young elder" makes any kind of sense in context, but that's entirely beside the point.

Obviously, truth mandates our highest allegiance, though it should never be a barrier to kindness.
—W. Craig Zwick, Sunday morning session
I wish you'd tell that to your buddy Dallin.

But I don't think truth should mandate your highest allegiance anyway.  Your highest allegiance should be to your fellow human beings.  Truth should definitely be high on your list, sure.  But I think that humanity mandates your highest allegiance.  Because you can be wrong about what you think is truth, but people will always be people regardless of what you consider true at any given time.  The best way to make sure your monomaniacally religious mindset isn't a barrier to kindness is to make sure that kindness is actually your first priority.  For what shall it profit a man if he shall believe all the right truth but lose his own soul on account of being an asshole to everyone who considers something different to be true?

We need to embrace God's children compassionately and eliminate any prejudice, including racism, sexism, or nationalism.
—M. Russell Ballard, Sunday afternoon session
Whoa.  I was not expecting this.

The church now claims to stand against racism on a pretty regular basis, so that wasn't a surprise.  A call for the elimination of sexism was a bit unexpected from M. Russell Just-Put-On-A-Little-Lipstick Ballard.  But, of course, both of those issues are poorly reflected by the makeup of the church leadership.  The number of women or persons of color among the general authorities seems to indicate that the church isn't that overly concerned about racism or sexism.

Nationalism was perhaps the biggest surprise.  The western world, lately, seems to be regressing back into a nationalist, isolationist attitude.  The President of the United States has adopted an "America first" slogan and repeatedly criticized international cooperative efforts such as the United Nations and NAFTA.  The United Kingdom voted to withdraw from the European Union.  And more recently, the nationalist party Alternative For Germany received an unprecedented portion of its country's popular vote.  This is not a trend that I believe is good for these countries, for western society, or for the world as a whole. Shockingly, Ballard and I seem to agree.

Although, if the other two forms of prejudice he mentioned are any indication, this may be little more than lip service.

To believe such [Book of Mormon critics' reasoning], I would have to accept one unproven assumption after another.
—Tad M. Callister, Sunday afternoon session
Where do I start with this talk?  I may feel the urge to go through it line by line later, but for now, I'll just focus on this quote.

Almost every single thing Callister said in his entire talk was an unproven assumption.  So apparently, to defend his faith from a litany of unproven assumptions, he finds it both necessary and acceptable to provide his own litany of unproven assumptions.  That doesn't make him right.  It just makes him a hypocrite.

Where we turn to find answers requires great care.  There is nothing to be gained in exploring the views or opinions of the less informed or disenchanted. 
—Ian S. Ardern, Sunday afternoon session
This kind of mindset, is, I believe, one of the most important ways that the world manages to hold itself back.  When we have disagreements, we are too quick to write off the opposition as uninformed or unreliable.  What Ardern says is absolute, one hundred percent, flat-out wrong.

You know what you can gain from exploring the views of others?  Understanding.  Just because you see or read the opinions of someone less informed or disenchanted doesn't mean you will begin to agree with those views.  It's absurd to think that there's some false information out there with the intrinsic insidious power to overwhelm reason and truth.  Can we be mislead by disingenuous opinions?  Absolutely.  But that doesn't mean we should be careful what kinds of views we explore.  It means we should be careful about how thoroughly we process new information.  

Refusing to explore opposing views and dismissing them as "less informed" or "disenchanted" leads to ignorance and resentment.  It splits people apart along dogmatic lines instead of allowing us to unite despite our philosophical differences.  Exploring opposing views can lead to better understanding of your fellow human beings, even if you continue to disagree with them.  It can totally change the way you see and treat people when you can become educated enough about their beliefs that, even if you still think they're wrong, you can comprehend the principles, you can understand the approach, and—more often than you'd think—you can admit that their intentions are good.

Another important thing you can gain from exploring divergent views is enlightenment.  Sometimes, you're actually going to find out that you were wrong and that's totally okay.  But if you are wrong about something, stubbornly entrenching yourself in your current mindset will keep you from being aware of it and you will forever continue to be wrong.  Opening yourself up to other viewpoints and other information can help you move toward beliefs that you feel better about.  This is how I went from Mormon to ex-Mormon, from homophobe to ally, and from misanthrope to humanist.  Obviously, I can't claim that my current opinions and beliefs are all correct (and many are subjective anyway), but I can feel much better and much prouder in my continued evolution toward mindsets that are more accurate, more positive, and more beneficial.

Never let anyone tell you that there is nothing to be gained by exploring other views and opinions.

Yes, the irony is intentional.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ether 15: The End of the World As We Know It

The moment we've all been waiting for is finally upon us—the ultimate destruction of the Jaredites.

Numerical Escalation
In the process of coming to his senses in verse 2, Coriantumr realizes that two million Jaredites have been killed in this ridiculous war.  Two million.

Two million people died by the sword.

Surely battles on such a vast scale would have left prominent archaeological traces—especially since the previous chapter states that they were basically leaving the dead where they fell without any kind of burial.  Shouldn't there be hundreds of thousands of skeletons and swords (and shields, and breastplates, and head-plates as described in verse 15) littering a field somewhere?  

Also, the numbers of casualties in these battles seem to be getting more and more impressive to the point of absurdity.  Back in the earlier pages of the Book of Mormon, deaths were counted in the tens of thousands (and, more recently, hundreds of thousands).  But the escalation as the narrative progresses seems less reminiscent of a historical record and more reminiscent of a storyteller's efforts to keep his audience interested.

Turning Over a New Leaf
Coriantumr starts to understand that, just maybe, having everybody slaughter each other may not be a good idea.  In verse 3 he makes this realization:
He began to repent of the evil which he had done; he began to remember the words which had been spoken by the mouth of all the prophets, and he saw them that they were fulfilled thus far, every whit; and his soul mourned and refused to be comforted.
He even goes so far as writing a letter to his nemesis, Shiz, and offer a truce.  But twelve verses later, he's arming children to help fight against the continual depredations of Shiz's army.

What the hell kind of patty-cake, taffy-pulled repentance is that?  If he were really repentant, he would have made a stand and fought defensively against Shiz to buy time for some of the families to escape into the wilderness, or the land northward, or to the narrow neck of land.  You know, instead of directly introducing children to the horrors of war and essentially guaranteeing that they were all going to die.

But yeah.  He's totally seen the error of his ways and he's a good guy now.

Never Tell Me the Odds
I fully understand what a brazen statement this is, but the story of the Jaredite apocalypse may be one of the most absurd things in the entire Book of Mormon.  This chapter essentially follows the civilization as they kill each other, move to a new place, kill each other some more, flee somewhere else, and then—you guessed it—kill each other until there are hardly any each others left to kill.  This culture has apparently evolved past such trivial things as a sense of self-preservation.

At no point does anybody say, "hey, we went from millions to less than a hundred, let's stop and think about this."  At no point does someone say, "I'm getting out of here to live on my own before these animals destroy everyone."  At no point does anyone say, "Maybe the fact that we keep fainting from the loss of blood doesn't bode well."    It's just continuous fighting, with occasional breaks for sleeping and for fleeing to other made-up place names between battles.  When did they have time to prepare and ingest food to fuel more fighting?  How is it that one side didn't win by attacking while the others slept? 

None of this makes sense.  None of this feels like the behavior of real people—although, admittedly, it would make one seriously badass action movie (Jason Statham IS...Coriantumr.  Coming summer 2018).  No one is this obsessed with victory or vengeance, but even if there are people like that, what are the odds that the last hundred or so warriors of a nation numbering in the millions would ALL be that kind of person?

But you know what's even more ludicrous?  After these millions of Jaredites have hacked each other to pieces, the last two combatants after every single other person has died are the two leaders of the armies.  The final inning is a showdown between Shiz and Coriantumr. 

Gimme a break. 

I mean, everybody loves a good macho squaring off between Skywalker and Vader, Neo and Agent Smith, or Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, but that's generally something that happens in fiction.  FDR did not trade blows with Hitler.  Grant and Lee never crossed swords.  And even if they had, they'd have needed to miraculously survive in the heat of battle while every single one of their soldiers fell dead around them in order for the end of Ether to be historically analogous.  Assuming that each of the Jaredite rulers possessed an army of one million combatants, the probability of Shiz and Coriantumr being the last two survivors comes in at around one in one trillion.

One in one trillion.

Let that sink in.

Considering these were both wicked men, I don't think it's fair to say that this was a miracle.  I think it's fair to say that it was a complete fabrication.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Eclipsing the Truth

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to view a total solar eclipse.  My sister happens to live right in the path of the totality, so a bunch of us drove to her house and made a weekend out of it.  It was pretty fantastic and pictures don't really do the firsthand experience justice.

But the reason I mention that is because this was the first occasion in a very, very long while that I spent an extended period of time surrounded primarily by Mormons.  And there were some interesting conversations.  The one that irritated me the most was between my sister and her friend.

Her friend mentioned that the moon's orbit is slowly changing and that in thousands of years, total eclipses won't happen.  The moon will be further away from us and it will appear smaller to our view, which means that instead of totally eclipsing the sun, the moon will only be able to blot out most of it.  This is a fascinating comment to make, and it was, up until that point, an engaging discussion.

And then...

Since this is only going to be a problem in thousands of years, he continued, by then it won't matter to us.  Finishing his thought, my sister agreed that, by that point in time, we'll just be able to design our own solar systems to make eclipses happen exactly how we want.

Which made me immediately think of this infuriating entry in the Mormon Newsroom's frequently asked questions:

It's a flat-out "no" on the whole becoming-gods-and-designing-planets thing, huh?  

For a church that seems so obsessed with controlling information and standardizing its teachings, it seems kind of weird that so many lifelong, doctrinally educated members don't realize that, apparently, they won't become gods or get their own planets.  The church leadership has sent letters to local authorities to make sure members know what kinds of sex they're allowed to have and to appeal for members to combat specific laws that may go into effect.  And Elder Nelson used his fifteen minutes in the last general conference of the church to deliver a semantics lesson.  But somehow, in the last 187 years, the prophets have never bothered to clarify exactly what will happen to us if we attain exaltation in the afterlife. 

That makes no sense.  Clearly the leadership is not doing a good job of prioritizing the information it chooses to share with the faithful.  It is, however, carefully prioritizing the information it shares with the public, downplaying teachings that are embarrassing or off-putting and obfuscating things that cannot be safely denied.

That is not being very honest in your dealings with your fellow men.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ether 14: Countdown to Extinction

We're witnessing the death throes of the Jaredite civilization, folks.  

Ain't Happy Without a Good Curse
The chapter begins with a description of a curse that befalls the people.  This is one of the more peculiar ones I've heard of (verse 1):
And now there began to be a great curse upon all the land because of the iniquity of the people, in which, if a man should lay his tool or his sword upon his shelf, or upon the place whither he would keep it, behold, upon the morrow, he could not find it, so great was the curse upon the land.
The people were so wicked that they kept losing things?  It makes more sense to me that they'd become so wicked and so violent that they slept with their hands on their weapons out of a necessary paranoia.  And maybe people would steal the good weapons and tools from their sleeping neighbors.  Or maybe it was a mystical curse.  I guess that works too.


Not As Good As Vantage Point
Here's a verse, that, quite honestly, requires no context (verse 9):
And it came to pass that his high priest murdered him as he sat upon his throne.
Again!?  I'm starting to think that if the FBI developed a time machine and used it to track American crime statistics back a few thousand years, they'd discover that about 80% of all homicides in this country prior to European invasion took place on either a throne or a judgment seat.  It's literally the most dangerous place for any character of the Book of Mormon to be at any given time.

Or maybe Joseph Smith just wasn't that creative when it came to dreaming up scenarios for the assassination of government officials (luckily for Lilburn Boggs).

The Great Schism
After a whole lot of fighting and killing, apparently every single person in Jaredite society chooses a side—either Coriantumr or Shiz.  Nobody strikes out on his own.  Every single Jaredite is now a member of an army.  This makes perfect sense to me.  The phenomenon likely shares a sociological explanation with why it's common to see elections in which only two candidates receive votes and no eligible voter abstains from the process.

Blood for the Blood God
In verse 25, we get a nice, straightforward, told-you-so just to make sure we understand that these people got what was coming to them:
And thus we see that the Lord did visit them in the fulness of his wrath, and their wickedness and abominations had prepared a way for their everlasting destruction.
Okay, so the moral of the story is pretty roughly shoved down the reader's throat.  But there's a serious lack of self-awareness in this chapter.  Because just three verses earlier, we were taught this:
And so swift and speedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to become a prey to the worms of the flesh.
Being punished with destruction for wickedness is something that I don't necessarily agree with, but I can understand the cold logic behind it—at least when it applies to able-minded adults.  But what exactly did those children do to deserve this brutal vengeance from God?  This chapter goes from gruesome depictions of child corpses to gloating about God's execution of justice with frightening speed.  Why did God deem it necessary to punish children for crimes they should not have been accountable for?  Why is it so important to God to use senseless violence as a teaching tool?

And thus we see that God is a bloodthirsty asshole.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ether 13: Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble

There's some nice little mumbo-jumbo in this chapter about the New Jerusalem being established on the American continent, but I think the most interesting and most central verses here revolve around a meeting between Ether and Coriantumr.

Ether is essentially the only righteous person remaining in the Jaredite society, so he's apparently God's only option when it comes to selecting a prophet.  Ether is staggeringly unpopular because of his preaching, so he's been living in a cave somewhere to avoid being beaten to death.  But then God tells him to go and speak with the wicked king Coriantumr, so Ether dutifully relays the following prophecy:  if Coriantumr repents, his life and his people's lives will be spared—but if he does not repent, Coriantumr will live to see his family and his entire society die, and he will be the last Jaredite left.  Is it just me, or does this feel like the premise of a classical tragedy more than the premise of a book of scripture?  I mean, if it had been three witches talking instead of just gloomy old Ether, it could have been Shakespeare.

But if we're following the pattern of a theatrical tragedy, it should come as no surprise that Coriantumr refuses to repent, tries to kill Ether, and then gets embroiled in an absurd, over-the-top war that fulfills the horrific prophecy.  The next two chapters will go into painstaking detail about how all that comes to pass.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ether 12: Faith-uh Faith-uh Faith-ahhh

Finally we're nearing the exciting conclusion of the Book of Ether.  You can tell because the prophet who gave the book his name is now in the mix—as well as a badass figure named Coriantumr.

A Treatise on Faith
For you former seminary kids, we have our first of two scripture masteries in this chapter (verse 6):
And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
Oh, shut up, Moroni, just let Ether tell his little stories.  But let's look at some individual pieces of Moroni's unwelcome interjection.  First, faith is things which are hoped for and not seen.

I don't like this definition.  Because "hope" doesn't really connote belief, it connotes desire.  Many people hope they'll win the lottery, but an extremely small percentage of those people would say they have faith they'll win the lottery.  By Moroni's definition, I have faith in God, because I kind of hope that there is one and that there's a method to the madness...but I don't see much in the way of evidence that any such entity exists.  By a normal person's definition, this attitude does not constitute faith.  Also, I think an important aspect of faith should be a basis in something.  You could have faith that your mother loves you because she's told you so many times, even though love is intangible and not "seen."  You could have faith that your country will recover from political upheaval or economic distress because you've seen it do so in the past, even though you can't "see" the future.  But believing that a meteor will land on the house of your least favorite coworker isn't actually faith because you have nothing to form a realistic basis for that belief.  So not only does Moroni's definition include what it shouldn't, but it's also incomplete.  So what good is that kind of definition?

Next, dispute not because ye see not. I'm assuming, for the sake of argument, that Moroni is using the broader, metaphorical sense of the word "see" because even Joseph Smith realized that "dispute not because ye see, hear, smell, touch, and taste not" is a terrible turn of phrase.  So really, what it seems to me that Moroni is saying is "dispute not merely because you have no direct evidence."  But then where do we draw the line at things that we believe and things that we dispute?  Because I have no direct evidence that the government is covering up a crashed flying saucer from Roswell.  I haven't had the chance to examine any wreckage or palpate any alien corpses.  So does that mean that I should not dispute when someone asserts that there are spaceships in hangars and aliens suspended in liquid-filled tubes somewhere in Area 51?  Surely Moroni isn't suggesting that we believe everything we're told even if we're told things that have no supporting evidence.  But if you live by a credo of dispute not because ye see not, you'll be sucked in by every scam and cult you come in contact with.

Third, ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.  I think the Book of Mormon has pretty well demonstrated that this is not the case.  Remember Alma the Younger?  Laman and Lemuel?  Korihor?  Or the gang who tried to murder Lehi and Nephi in their prison cell?  There are plenty of scriptural examples of people who had zero faith who were still provided with a powerful witness of the things they did not believe in (and many of these instances are mentioned later on in this same chapter to demonstrate that miracles cannot be performed without faith, completely disregarding the fact that these miracles were witnessed by those who had no faith or whose faith had not yet been tried).  If this much of the verse is obviously false, why should we place any value on the rest of it?

Faith in Christ
Moroni continues (verse 7):
For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.
How, exactly, was it by faith that Christ appeared in the Americas?  I think it would be more accurate to say it was by virtue of a religious purge that Christ appeared in the Americas.  He only descended from Heaven after God had brutally murdered the masses of unbelievers with a series of floods and fires and storms and earthquakes and other assorted calamities.

It's also a little weird that, with such a high premium placed on faith, God would even allow the resurrected Jesus to appear to anyone.  By Moroni's definition, faith is things which are hoped for and not seen.  So when thousands of people touch the wound's in Jesus's hands and side after watching him float down from the sky while a booming voice announced him as the Son of God...none of those people have faith anymore.  They've seen it.  They have knowledge.

Apologists' Adage
Verse 26 contains the phrase "fools mock , but they shall mourn."  My mom brought this up one day after church because she'd heard from someone that one claim against the Book of Mormon's legitimacy is that it lacks the pithy truisms found in other scripture.  My mom pointed to this verse as a wise, memorable quote that could contradict that claim.  In retrospect, this is a pretty weird argument against the Book of Mormon because it's so weak and there's such a surfeit of more powerful approaches.

But it's also such a non-specific adage that, taken out of context, it can be used by anyone.  A Mormon can say it to an ex-Mormon, a Democrat can say it to a Republican, North Korea can say it to South Korea, a Yankee can say it to a Met, and a DC fan can say it to a Marvel fan.  And vice verse, in every single case.  It's meaningless.  And if this is the best example of a profound proverb that my mom could come up with...then maybe the Book of Mormon doesn't have very many.

Weak Sauce
Our second scripture mastery today, verse 27, is an old favorite of mine:
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
I loved this concept because I felt weak.  But this verse made me feel better by explicitly stating that God gave me weaknesses, so it wasn't my fault that I was such an awful, spineless wimp.

More importantly, this verse also taught me that if I remained humble and had faith in God, I could stop being weak.  But looking back, it seems that I was happy to shift responsibility for overcoming my shortcomings away from myself.  I liked this verse because I didn't just feel weak—I felt powerless to change.  Trying was too hard.  This verse made me feel justified because it indicated that I didn't need to summon the power to change from within—it could be provided to me from a benevolent, external source.  It was a vindication of my complacent, hopeless self-image.

I'm still weak in a lot of ways, of course, but I think I've made much greater strides in self-improvement as an ex-Mormon than I ever did as a faithful follower of the Brighamite sect.  Holding the opinion that I'm the one that has to make changes if I expect any changes to happen is daunting, but it's also empowering and motivating. 

Change is more meaningful when it's earned rather than bestowed.  And I never really experienced any strong evidence that the promise in verse 27 worked for me anyway.

Deleted Scenes
Something extraordinary is casually dropped in during this chapter's continued musings on faith (verse 30):
For the brother of Jared said unto the mountain Zerin, Remove—and it was removed. And if he had not had faith it would not have moved; wherefore thou workest after men have faith.
When did this happen??  This is a big deal!  Literally moving a mountain?  If this is such a momentous testament to the power of faith, why is it mentioned so briefly?  Why didn't we go into detail about that event instead of providing a punishingly repetitive and numbingly generic history of kings, lineages, reigns, schisms, and usurpations?  If the whole purpose of this book is to provide another testament of Jesus Christ, why did we spend pages and pages learning names of monarchs we wouldn't need to remember two verses later instead of focusing on the didactic miracles of Christ's prophets?