Sunday, April 2, 2017

Notes on the Sunday Afternoon Session

Okay, we're on the home stretch, ladies and gentlemen.

Sometimes those who raise a warning voice are dismissed as judgmental.  Paradoxically, however, those who claim truth is relative and moral standards are a matter of personal preference are often the same ones who most harshly criticize people that don't accept the current norm of "correct thinking." 
—D. Todd Christofferson
Make no mistake—this is nothing better than a very calm temper tantrum.  He thinks he's being so sly by pointing out some kind of paradoxical thinking, but all he's really doing is trying to lob criticism back at his critics while trying to give himself the appearance of being above it all.

Not to buck your trend here, Todd, but I dismiss your religion as judgmental, except I don't think truth is relative or that moral standards are a matter of personal preference.  And while I don't believe that you accept "correct thinking," I don't think that "correct thinking" should be accepted because it's the current norm.  It's because I think it's correct or further progress in the direction of correctness—at least insofar as the issues you're getting all butthurt about are concerned.

The guilt culture may be harsh, but at least you can hate the sin and still love the sinner.  The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and those who don't fit in.
—D. Todd Christofferson, quoting David Brooks Christofferson advocating a guilt-based culture?  What the hell?  It's especially confusing considering that he's clearly using this quote to attack the shame culture, except that his own organization is guilty of the exact things that Brooks is condemning.  The modern LDS church allegedly values inclusion and tolerance but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and those who don't fit in.  This is why it tries to excommunicate the Dehlins and the Runnellses in its midst and this is why it disciplines members in homosexual relationships and demands that their children disavow their parents' lifestyles.

So that's a nice heaping two-thousand-calorie bowlful of hypocrisy there....

How much better it is to have the unchanging law of God by which we may act to choose our destiny rather than being hostage to the unpredictable rules and wrath of the social media mob.  How much better it is to know the truth than to be tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.  How much better to repent and rise to the gospel standard than to pretend there is no right or wrong and languish in sin and regret.
—D. Todd Christofferson
Props for getting out the words "unchanging law of God" with a straight face.  Should we discuss polygamy?  The law of consecration?  The prophetic and apostolic reasoning provided for the priesthood ban against blacks?  The fact that the Word of Wisdom was more of a suggested guideline until the 1920s?   The church's waffling over its stance on oral and anal sex?  Or there's also the well-documented fact that the Lord's laws did change, once, pretty significantly.  Something about a savior fulfilling the law of Moses or something.

And I really don't understand how following the law of God allows us to act to choose our destiny but somehow following the rules of the "social media mob" doesn't.  Having an active Twitter account doesn't restrict one's free agency.  How, exactly, is following the rules of the social media era classified as being held hostage but following the rules of God isn't?  Don't we still get to choose which set of rules we want to follow?  Isn't the level of enslavement the same whether we choose to follow the social media madness or the Mormon mania?  And how on earth did we get from talking about social media to talking about pretending there is no right or wrong?

Christofferson is aggressively trying to paint everyone who disagrees with him with a broad brush of mischaracterization, and it's getting to the point where I have no ungodly idea what the hell he's talking about anymore.  And since he gets to quote secular writers without naming the source, let me just follow suit by saying that his rabid philippic is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Elites get and stay married and make sure their kids enjoy the benefits of a stable marriage.  The problem however, is they tend not to preach what they practice.  They don't want to impose on those who really could use their moral leadership.  But it is perhaps time for those with education and strong families to stop feigning neutrality and start preaching what they practice pertaining to marriage and parenting and help their fellow Americans embrace it.
—D.  Todd Christofferson
Oh, you smug, supercilious snob.

The level of arrogance in this statement could bring down a grizzly bear at one hundred yards.  He's appealing, I suppose, to some kind of silent majority that will stand up for the family unit.  I thought he was going into a lecture against gay marriage, but he never mentions it.  It could be aimed at those who choose to have families without entering into legal (and lawful!) marriage, but he never really says that either.  But whatever he's getting at, you can bet that it's time for people to start standing up for it.

He even uses the word "elites" multiple times.  He calls on those who have "education" to provide "moral leadership."  So basically, what I'm understanding here, is that rich, educated people have strong morals and they need to start teaching it to the indigent simpletons who think it's okay to have atypical non-nuclear families or something.


Because wealthy, educated people don't get divorced, right?  They never mess up their kids, right?  I keep reviewing this, trying to figure out if there's something else he's getting at here, but it sure looks like he wants the moral upper class to teach the common people how to do things right.

And to top it off, his statements on the subject are blatantly America-centric.  I thought he was a leader of a worldwide church.  Surely the weakening of the family unit isn't a problem only seen within the borders of the United States.

Through following the promptings of the Holy Ghost, President and Sister Tataoka and all missionaries were safely assembled.  They were out of harm's way and miles from the devastation of the tsunami and the nuclear fallout.
—Gary E. Stevenson
That's a pretty terrific story.  One person's prompting to hold a larger-than-necessary gathering of the missionaries kept everyone in the mission out of harm's way.  But the disaster itself wasn't averted.

Which makes me wonder...what about all the people living in the affected areas who hadn't had an opportunity to hear the message of the gospel?  I understand that the missionaries were protected because they were followers of Christ and their leaders were inspired.  But what about everybody else?  What about all the people who were killed or injured because they had no opportunity to receive promptings from the Spirit—it's not that they chose to ignore the promptings, it's just that they didn't have access to the spiritual apparatus required to receive them.  So God chose to save the people he'd already made contact with and then left those he hadn't yet contacted to fend for themselves?

Stevenson's story relates what could be a great miracle.  But when you read between the lines, it kind of points to a callous god who shamelessly plays favorites and allows people to suffer so that he can teach his favorite people more about how to be his favorite people.

What then, has the Lord revealed to President Monson that we need to continue doing so our light can be a standard for the nations? ... The Lord has always revealed his will to us, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, therefore we should not be surprised by what may seem like small things because of their simple and repetitive nature. For the Lord has already counseled us, telling us "blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto he that receiveth, I will give more."
—Benjam√≠n De Hoyos
...and that's the end of that.

De Hoyos gets startlingly real when he flirts with the possibility that the Lord hasn't really revealed anything important to the current prophet.  But after asking what those things might be, he essentially avoids the question.  The most specific he's able to get is that the things the Lord has revealed to President Monson may be simple and repetitive.

Long gone are the days when God would reveal specific things to individual members, as canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Gone are the days when angels appeared to minister unto prophets, as in the Book of Mormon and early church history.  Gone even are the days when the prophet revealed important shifts in doctrine like the manifesto on polygamy or the abrogation of the priesthood ban.  And so all we're left with as far as revelation is concerned are the very things that are most easily confused with no revelation at all—little things and redundant things.

That's not very helpful, De Hoyos.  If that's how revelation works, just about any idiot could pretend to receive regular revelation.

...we concluded that [my brother's] decision on whether to serve a mission depended on three issues:  one, was Jesus Christ divine; two, was the Book of Mormon true; and three, was Joseph Smith the prophet of the restoration.
—Quentin L. Cook
Notice that none of these issues has anything to do with Cook's brother.  There's no talk of whether serving a mission might strain an already tense family relationship.  There's no discussion of whether the family had the resources to send him.  And even the assessments of the gospel's veracity are laid out in impersonal terms—it's not about whether Cook believed these things, it's about whether these things are true.  It sounds as though his brother made a decision to give up two years of his life by removing himself entirely from the equation.

Which, from a perspective of faith, is admirable.  But too many decisions made based on admirable faith have too many disastrous consequences.  I think it's healthy for a little reason to enter the mix.  Even if the faith is justified, it's too easy for people to get carried away with devotion and make life-altering choices without weighing all of the variables.

What about the aids to translation—the Urim and Thummim, the seer stones?  Were they essential, or were they like the training wheels on a bike until Joseph could exercise the faith necessary to receive more direct revelation?
—Quentin L. Cook
There's some nice little apologetic footwork here.  But what I really despise about this comment is the casual delivery that not-in-so-many-words tries to imply that the Urim and Thummim and the seer stones are the same thing.

They're not.

Stop trying to gloss over problematic issues.  Stop trying to bring them up slyly to pretend like you've made the information public.  Stop whitewashing your church's origin story.

I believe weekly participation in sacred sacrament meetings has spiritual implications we do not fully understand.
—Quentin L. Cook
Um...isn't it kind of your job to understand that sort of thing?  If you're just here to share some individual beliefs and some doctrinal guesswork, what's the point of claiming to be an apostle of the Lord with the spirit of revelation?  If your personal trainer offered you a new protein shake and said that it has nutritional implications that we do not fully understand, wouldn't you be a little wary of following his advice to drink it?

And that's all, folks.  Another edifying and uplifting General Conference has come and gone.  It was interesting and kind of sad to see subtitles on Monson's addresses to compensate for his slightly slurred speech.  And it was a little creepy the way so many of the general authorities began their talks by expressing love for, gratitude for, and prayers on behalf of the aging prophet.

I really wish they'd let that poor man become an emeritus church president.


  1. Based on what you wrote here, I just went online and read the talk by De Hoyos. What a poorly written talk full of talking points. It jumped all over the place. It is interesting that he mentions modern day revelation but doesn't list any. I just recently, a couple of weeks ago, went back and printed and quickly looked through every conference talk by Pres Monson. He has never once prophesied. He did announce new temples which I guess members might count as revelation when they decide where to put them. The only other "revelation" I could find was changing the mission ages. I consider that more of a policy change, though. Finally, Nelson said the policy on the children of married gay people was a revelation to Monson. I don't believe it came from Monson, though. I was interested in more than that, though. In his talks, Pres Monson rarely mentioned Joseph Smith and never once testified that Joseph was a prophet. He has never once in that time borne direct testimony of the restoration. And this conference is the only time he has said anything close to a firm testimony of it, and that was only about the Book of Mormon. It was his only time bearing testimony of that during conference talks for his entire presidency.

    "If it is true—and I solemnly testify that it is—then Joseph Smith was a prophet who saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ."

    He used this same logic in an earlier talk but notice he dances around a testimony of Joseph. I don't understand why the current "prophet" and successor to Joseph Smith won't bear firm testimony of Joseph in the standard way: "I know that..., or I testify that..., or God revealed to me that..."

    I have finally started to read No Man Knows My History, which is an excellent book and is currently only $2.10 for the Kindle version on Amazon. Everyone should buy and read it. It's interesting that Joseph used "revelations" as a way to manipulate people. At first it was Martin Harris, but since people were actually believing them, he just kept on making them up. I guess it's a good thing the current president doesn't use the same method of using revelations to get personal gain.

    1. I read No Man Knows My History for the first time last year, and I can't agree with you enough. It's a fantastic book, and it's a lot fairer to Joseph Smith than it has to be...but it still manages to paint a pretty clear picture of his flaws.

      I'm pretty sure a lot of people would point to the missionary age change as an example of Monson's revelation. I too consider it a policy change, but more importantly, it's not a prophecy. I don't know of any examples of Monson making specific predictions of things he has no control over. And I definitely am unaware of any time he may have made such a prediction that turned out to be true. He's heralded as a prophet, seer, and revelator, but if he can't be bothered to live up to the basic definition of his first title....