Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mormon 9: Don't Stop Believin'

Moroni now levels his unwieldy rhetorical weapon at the non-believers.  I guess maybe it's time for me to sit up and start paying attention.

Asking the Important Questions
Rather than ease the reader into it gently, Moroni dives right into the deep end of the poppycock pool (verses 2-3):
Behold, will ye believe in the day of your visitation—behold, when the Lord shall come, yea, even that great day when the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, yea, in that great day when ye shall be brought to stand before the Lamb of God—then will ye say that there is no God? 
Then will ye longer deny the Christ, or can ye behold the Lamb of God? Do ye suppose that ye shall dwell with him under a consciousness of your guilt? Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy Being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt that ye have ever abused his laws?
What a ridiculous line of questioning.  Yeah, I suppose that if God revealed himself and if Jesus Christ returned and stood before me, I may rethink my apostasy.  Because I like to think that my beliefs are based on supporting evidence.  But that doesn't change the fact that I think that the Second Coming of Christ is incredibly unlikely and that the concept of the Mormon version of God is utterly preposterous.  So what, exactly, do these questions accomplish?  I'm just as set in my ways as I was before because you've asked me to address a situation that, to me, is one hundred percent hypothetical and has no bearing whatsoever on reality.

And the reason that I would not want to dwell with Heavenly Father in the hereafter may have less to do with the consciousness of my own guilt and more to do with the fact that I'd be really pissed at God if it turns out he exists.  If he hadn't made his truth so abstruse and his religion so unenlightened and his presence so indefinable, maybe I'd have made a lot of different decisions in my life that wouldn't have sent me on the fast-track to lesser glory—or, rather, on the fast-track to the "damned souls in hell," since the degrees of glory weren't a part of Mormon theology yet.  So I'd probably want to go off and sulk outside of God's kingdom for a while because I would deeply resent the way I was thrust into a system designed for failure.  You don't generally go fishing every weekend with the dad who used to slap you around when you were a kid.

But getting back to Moroni's inept attempts at persuasiveness, how is this chapter of any use to me so far?  All he's throwing at me is theoretical situations and fear-mongering.  He's asking me whether I'd deny Jesus if he were right in front of me and if I expected to be happy as a sinner before God, but none of this does anything to address the causes of my unbelief.  This isn't persuasion.  This is a fundamental failure to understand where his audience is coming from.

Moroni is asking, "What if?"  But what he should be asking is "Why?"

Until he understands why people don't believe, he can't possibly address how they can be brought back into the fold.  Obviously, he can't ask us why, but considering that he's spent a lifetime fighting a society made up entirely of non-believers, it's depressing that he still doesn't know why these people do not share his faith.

If you don't make an effort to understand the problem, you can't fix the problem.

Old Reliable
Moroni tells a little white lie in verse 9:
For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?
Sure.  That's in the scriptures.  Except that God has vacillated significantly concerning things like polygamy, violence, black people, blood atonement, the law of consecration, and teachings about his own identity.  I'd say those few things off the top of my head represent a pretty long shadow of changing.

Cease to Cease Ceasing
To make matters even worse, in verse 19, Moroni's circular logic twists itself into a pretzel:
And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
Considering this is supposed to be the word of God, there's a lot of interdependent, unproven nonsense in there.

Okay, so here's a list of central concepts that Moroni has not provided independent evidence to support:
  • Miracles were wrought in the time of Jesus
  • God is unchangeable
  • Changing would make God cease to be God
  • God has not ceased to be God
  • God is a God of miracles
So, essentially, most things in this verse rely on accepting a previous premise in order to interpret them as true.  Others refer back to scripture.  The only argument that might be considered strong is that miracles were a reality when Jesus walked the earth, as that is extensively supported by scriptural accounts.  But from a logical standpoint, that's hardly sufficient to back up everything that Moroni is trying to say here.

Do You Believe in Miracles?
Apparently the adage of "quit while you're ahead" was not a part of Nephite culture, because Moroni stubbornly blunders headlong into verse 20:
And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.
First of all, I'm not crazy about the microscopically fine semantic line he's walking here—it's not that God has ceased to be a god of miracles, it's just that he's ceased to perform miracles.  Okay, fine.  We'll concede that argument.  Perhaps when you're an eternally exalted being, breaking a habit for a few quick centuries doesn't count as a fundamental change in character.

But my bigger issue with this verse is that Moroni seems to suffer under the delusion that massive societal trend is required for miracles to take place.  But looking back through the scriptures, there are plenty of stories in which miracles happen with only a small number of faithful believers present.  An angel appeared to rebuke Laman and Lemuel with the only righteous people in attendance being Nephi and Sam.  An entire royal household slipped into spiritually resorative comas with Ammon being the only member of the church within shouting distance.  Three hundred murderous Lamanites experienced the miracles of darkness, earthquakes, and then a vision of the hosts of heaven when they stormed the prison containing the only two righteous people in the area—Nephi and Lehi.  And let's not forget that Alma the Younger and Saul of Tarsus were given fantastic heavenly visitations despite being publicly and vehemently opposed to God's church. has a lack of believers ever been a reason for miracles to cease?  Oh, I get it, this explanation currently serves the plot, so we'll just keep going and hope that nobody notices the continuity error.

Language Barrier
Moroni, who seems to be really bent out of shape about possible flaws in the manuscript, harps on the issue one last time (verse 33):
And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.
Ah, yes, the old blame-it-on-the-Reformed-Egyptian excuse.

I suppose, looking back on the many imperfections in the Book of Mormon, some of them may have been the result of unavoidable linguistic limitations.  Maybe that could explain the plentiful grammatical errors and the occasional humorous run-on sentence.  It does nothing, of course, to address the fact that the Book of Mormon quotes directly from New Testament and Old Testament passages that had not yet been written at the time Lehi left Jerusalem.  And it certainly does not address the violence, racism, contradictory doctrines, and divinely-sanctioned atrocities that pepper the pages of the modern-day book.  Even if you claim that Hebrew is somehow such a perfect language that it would have made accurately translating the ancient record into English a snap, it would not have resolved all the imperfections that were etched into the gold plates.

The Book of Mormon is flawed in any language.

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