Monday, July 31, 2017

Ether 11: More Jaredite Nonsense

The uninteresting, unimaginative history of the Jaredite people continues just as uninterestingly and unimaginatively as before.

Continuity Error
Considering that this whole book is supposed to be another testament of Jesus Christ, it's pretty weird that this chapter seems to forget a huge event in the Christian narrative (verse 7):
And they hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord, because of their wicked combinations; wherefore, there began to be wars and contentions in all the land, and also many famines and pestilences, insomuch that there was a great destruction, such an one as never had been known upon the face of the earth; and all this came to pass in the days of Shiblom.
Just in case you weren't keeping track, the days of Shiblom were pretty long after the days of an insignificant Old Testament prophet you may not have heard of.  He was called Noah.  He presided over the greatest destruction ever recorded in scripture.  No matter how great the destruction was during Shiblom's time, it was clearly not as great as the destruction during Noah's time, when the entire earth was flooded and only one family survived.

Good to Know
A strange and unnecessary detail crops up in verse 17:
And it came to pass that there arose another mighty man; and he was a descendant of the brother of Jared.
Why is it important to know that this guy is a descendant of the brother of Jared?  He's never named and neither he nor his ancestry are even mentioned again.

And this is especially weird considering that everybody in Jaredite society can trace their lineage back to a relatively small group of people who survived in those wooden submarines together.  After scores and scores of generations, how many of these people wouldn't be descendants of the brother of Jared?  We could have learned that this "mighty man" was right-handed too and that would have been just as significant.

Crime and Punishment
So I probably should have complained about this much sooner in the Book of Mormon, but since this chapter kind of showcases God's attitudes on this point, I'll whine about it here.  Look at verse 20:
And in the days of Coriantor there also came many prophets, and prophesied of great and marvelous things, and cried repentance unto the people, and except they should repent the Lord God would execute judgment against them to their utter destruction;
This is an obvious reference to the arrival of Lehi's family around 600BC.   Lehi's descendants, of course, would split into two camps, the Nephites and the Lamanites, who would war with each other for centuries.  They received many reminders over the years that God would destroy them for their wickedness, and the Nephites were essentially exterminated by the Lamanites.  The Lamanites received their punishment (ostensibly) by surviving just long enough for Europeans to come in and slaughter them—although not to extinction, at least.

But what I don't understand is why God threatens the Jaredites, Nephites, or Lamanites with destruction in the first place.  I mean, the whole Plan of Salvation is set up in such a way that we receive eternal rewards (or punishments and withheld rewards) for our obedience (or disobedience) to God's laws.  So the system is already integrated with penalties for the wicked.  Why, then, does God think it's necessary to enact temporal punishment for violation of spiritual laws?  Especially when those punishments are often visited generations after the fact, when the originators of the iniquities have long since died?

If you murder someone, then you're breaking both societal and spiritual laws.  So society will discipline you by throwing you in prison, and God will discipline you by not allowing you access to the highest degrees of eternal glory.  Doesn't God killing you because of this constitute some kind of spiritual double jeopardy?  And isn't it especially cruel of God to do so, considering that death will deny you any opportunity for repentance or redemption?  After all, according to Alma, "that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world."  This is precisely why he exhorted us not to "procrastinate the day of [our] repentance."  So if God controls how much time we have to procrastinate anything and chooses to cut that time short as a punishment for wickedness even though he's planning to punish us for our wickedness anyway during our post-mortal does that not make God an unjust, overzealous, vindictive asshole?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ether 10: King-Mart, Kings R Us, Kingboxes Etc.

The woes of the Jaredites continue, but they continue in an imperceptible blur of genealogical summaries.

Father of the Year

King Shez has a son who apparently did not inherit the righteousness gene from his dad.  Take a look at verse 3:
And his eldest son, whose name was Shez, did rebel against him; nevertheless, Shez was smitten by the hand of a robber, because of his exceeding riches, which brought peace again unto his father.
Okay, the first and simplest problem is that this verse does a terrible job of differentiating between Shez Sr. and Shez Jr.  You'd think if it were really the word of a perfect God, he would have had Joseph play around with the phraseology a bit so that we didn't need to rely on context halfway through the sentence to figure out which Shez got mugged.

But the bigger problem, of course, is that when his son is apparently killed—or at the very least robbed, injured, and traumatized—this brings peace to Shez.  Yet, in the sentence immediately preceding this one, Shez is described as "[walking] in the ways of the Lord."  So this is a righteous guy.  A good guy.  A guy relieved that his rebellious son has been brutalized?

Listen, if that's your definition of righteousness, then...well, I guess that does kind of fit the theme of the Book of Mormon so far.  Righteous Nephi decapitated a guy, righteous Ammon cut off a bunch of people's arms, righteous Alma calmly let hundreds of people burn to death without even attempting to raise a finger, righteous Captain Moroni relied on battle strategies designed to inflict maximum death upon his enemies and liked to require unreasonable terms for surrender that resulted in more get the idea.

But those situations at least involved strangers.  This one involves family, which makes it just a smidge more heartless.  The scriptures don't say that this brings peace to the society or stability to the government or tranquility to the church.  Peace to the father.  This man is comforted by the fact that his son was murdered, even considering that his son died in his iniquity and probably has no good prospects for the afterlife.  That's not righteousness.  That's depraved indifference.  If that's walking in the ways of the Lord, then we have a terrible Lord.

Weirdest Government Ever
King Kim gets overthrown by his unnamed brother in verse 14, but instead of killing Kim or driving Kim out of the land like all the other usurpers in Ether, the brother sets him up as some kind of puppet instead.  Because, in the next verse, Kim's son Levi succeeds him and "[serves] in captivity" for forty-two years.  And then Levi overthrows the king, which is kind of weird, because it sounds to me like Levi was the king.  This puppet regime or suzerainty or potemkin monarchy or whatever the hell it is doesn't make a lot of sense.

What also doesn't make much sense is that, four generations later, somebody else does the same exact thing.  Hearthom has his throne "taken away from him" and "[serves] many years in captivity."  In this particular instance, the wording seems a little more vague about whether or not Hearthom was still some kind of king or figurehead or whatever.  But it still uses the word serve, which hearkens back to verse 15, which states that Levi "did serve in captivity after the death of his father."  (Emphasis is mine, of course.)

If the service starts after the death of his father, that doesn't sound to me like serving a sentence in prison.  It sounds like public service.  Like he inherited a job only upon his dad's demise.  And the use of the same word in Hearthom's case leads me to believe that Hearthom too was a puppet king.  It's weird that this should happen twice, especially since it backfired so horribly the first time.

And, what do you know, it backfires the second time too.  In verse 32, Hearthom's great-great-great-grandson steals half the kingdom from his overlords, bides his time, and then goes to war and steals the rest of it.

It's not just a weird government with weird writing.  It's lazy storytelling.

Not a Good Drinking Game for Ether
By my count, there are fifteen rulers named in this chapter as well as a handful who aren't.  This chapter is only thirty-four verses long, so there's a different monarch every two paragraphs or so.  Do not take a shot every time a new king is crowned.

And this is really one of my biggest problems with the book of Ether as a whole.  This is a (purportedly) historical summary.  We learn nothing from this chapter that we can't learn from other parts of the Book of Mormon.  The only doctrine here is that when you're not righteous, God gets pissy.  This is essentially the mission statement of the whole book, and if you haven't learned that lesson by the time you get to Ether, then you're never going to learn it.  Honestly, you can just read the chapter summary written wayyyy after the fact and not miss a single important item:
One king succeeds another—Some of the kings are righteous; others are wicked—When righteousness prevails, the people are blessed and prospered by the Lord.
See what Bruce R. McConkie did there?  He kept everything that you needed to know but condensed it down to a much shorter bit of text.  It's brilliant!  But wasn't abridging the scriptures originally supposed to have been done by someone else?  Man, that guy really sucked at his job.

Monday, July 24, 2017

I'm a Crackpot Lately

During a recent bout of insomnia, I turned on the TV and browsed through my Netflix account to find that the Fox special about moon landing conspiracy theories was available for streaming.  I remembered watching it in eighth grade and I figured it would be an amusing little flashback.

It was not that amusing.  It was honestly kind of scary.

See, I believe that we landed on the moon.  I've always believed that we landed on the moon.  But the way the documentary was framed was so vividly reminiscent of the critic-versus-apologist format I've become so familiar with that it kind of felt like watching a televised summary of the CES Letter interspersed with snippets from FAIR's rebuttal.  And in that sense, I was on the side of the apologists.  I was the one stubbornly clinging to a long-held belief in the face of mounting evidence against it.  And the whole time I was watching Bill Kaysing explain why NASA must have faked the moon landing, I was this how crazy we look to Mormons?

I'd been spectacularly mistaken about my long-held religious beliefs.  If I was wrong once, why should I assume I was right when it came to the moon landing?

Of course, there are a few logical reasons why this show elicited these reactions from me.  For starters, it was about the conspiracy theories, so much of the time was devoted to explaining the reasons why it may have been a hoax.  NASA representatives were interviewed, but in most cases their explanations simply boiled down to "That's just absurd!"  And some of the explanations for these apparent clues would have required some technical scientific background that a 45-minute show would not have had time to include.

Additionally, I'm not well-versed in physics and astronomy.  I don't know much about radiation belts and launch craters and how things behave in a vacuum.  So while I instinctively scoffed at almost every argument made by conspiracy theorists, I couldn't directly refute them.  I just knew that they, for one reason or another, felt wrong.  And how could I be sure that the reason they felt wrong wasn't merely because I really wanted them to be wrong?

I'm far more knowledgeable about Mormonism.  Though I can't tear every single apologist's rebuttals to pieces, I've studied a lot of the issues in depth for myself to the point where I feel pretty confident that my dismissal of most apologetics is founded in solid reasoning.  And I'm continuously discovering more issues that would require some truly earth-shattering context to be fairly interpreted in any other way.

Rest assured, I did some Googling after the show ended and I decided that the NASA apologists had responses that, to my lesser scientific mind, seemed plausible enough and exhaustive enough to support my lifelong belief that an American flag has flown from the moon since 1969.  So I'm still firmly in the it's-not-a-hoax camp, at least when it comes to NASA.  When it comes to Mormonism, I'm still decidedly of the are-you-kidding-of-course-it-was-a-hoax school of thought.  I guess one man's crackpot is another man's crusader.  And I'm still not sure what would have been more troubling—discovering that the moon landing really was a hoax or discovering that I didn't have the intellectual honesty to consider and research a compelling idea that threatened my worldview.

Luckily, the truthfulness of NASA is not essential to my salvation.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ether 9: Good Kings, Bad Kings, Sane Kings, or Mad Kings

The lengthy string of kings and crises in the Jaredite record continues.  

The Creative Juices are Not Flowing
Verse 3 provides a familiar scenario to even the most casual scriptorian.  King Omer is warned by God in his dream that he and his family need to pack up and leave for their own safety.  This is something we've seen before with Lehi way back in the beginning of the book and also—more famously—with Jesus's stepdad.

I guess I'm a little disappointed that God couldn't be more creative.  He did produce a universe out of nothing, after all, so creativity should be one of the ultimate divine characteristics.  Obviously, God is more than welcome to continue using methods that have worked for him in the past.  And obviously, the fact that plot devices have been reused doesn't prove anything about the origins of the Book of Mormon.  But I do think that recycling bits of stories from earlier scripture is exactly the kind of thing we should expect to see if some guy is making this up and trying to get people to think it's from the same source as the Bible.

And speaking of a lack of creativity, the king Jared is killed in this chapter in a tired fashion.  Why is it that so many ancient American monarchs get murdered while literally seated on a throne?

The Curelom Conundrum 

I fully realize that this point is easily among the least original issues I've brought up.  But it still demands an answer so I'm gonna bring it up anyway.  Elephants—that's problematic.  Maybe we can pretend that New World elephants are really mammoths or something.  Any way you look at it, it's a stretch.  But cureloms and cumoms?

The only reason I can think of for an animal in the Book of Mormon to have a nonsensical name in what is supposed to be an English translation is that these animals became extinct before European settlers arrived on this part of the globe, so there never was an English name for them.  But considering that these things were supposed to be particularly useful, probably domesticated, and quite populous, shouldn't there be a pretty blatant archaeological record of them?  Shouldn't American school children be learning about the beasts with three legs and prehensile snouts (or whatever the hell a curelom is) when they study the Native Americans and adobe huts and coup sticks and tumuluses and buffalo?

Maybe Joseph forgot for a moment that he was supposed to be writing a scriptural historical epic and he let a bit of fantasy sneak in.  If he hadn't caught himself and course corrected, maybe we would have seen Coriantumr of the Sky Elves go to battle against the Wizard Clan of Shiz at the end of Ether.

You Old Dog
Coriantum is anointed king in his father's stead.  Emer, his father, is so wonderful that he sees "the Son of Righteousness," which sounds really important but is only mentioned in passing.  Coriantum is described as following in Emer's footsteps, which should mean that he is also righteous. But when his wife dies, this king marries "a young maid" in his twilight years (a little wish fulfillment sneaking into Joseph's writing?).  To be fair, I guess that, depending on the nature of the relationship and the level of the young maid's maturity, this may not be technically wrong, but it's still kind of creepy.  I'd have been a lot more comfortable seeing Coriantum marry a girl a quarter of his age if he were depicted as wicked.  At least then it wouldn't be so easy to interpret this kind of nuptial union as totally normal and totally fine.

Oh, and Coriantum also lived to be one hundred forty-two years old.  I can't decide if that's more difficult to believe than the barges that brought his ancestors to America.

Creating a Problem, Selling the Solution
After society casts out the prophets, bad things happen—drought, famine, a bizarre prevalence of hyperintelligent venemous snakes.  Verse 35 sounds like a happy ending if you don't think about it too much:
And it came to pass that when they had humbled themselves sufficiently before the Lord he did send rain upon the face of the earth; and the people began to revive again, and there began to be fruit in the north countries, and in all the countries round about. And the Lord did show forth his power unto them in preserving them from famine.
Listen, if all God has to do is "send" rain to end the crisis, then he caused it. He allowed the drought to happen by permitting it to continue. The difference between one sunny day and a full-fledged famine is how long God waits to sprinkle some precipitation.

Verse 33 explicitly states that God is the one who sent the serpents that terrorized the people and sent their livestock stampeding off.  This whole thing is God's fault.  He did this.  He didn't "preserve" them from anything—he almost chose to destroy them. He used his unmatched power to coerce the people into behavior he approved of (I wonder how that affects their free agency) and only then did he decide to stop being a sadistic, power-tripping asshole.

This is unrighteous dominion.  This is manipulation.  This is not something a benevolent god would do.  This is not something that someone worthy of our worship would do.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ether 8: Our God is an Awful God

The endless stream of Jaredite names and kings continues, but at least in this chapter we start to get a little more detail.

The Sexism Continues
Yes, we've all heard that there are only three female Book of Mormon characters with names.  But the problem isn't just about the way the narrative is skewed to heavily favor the involvement of men—it's also about the way women are depicted when they're important enough to be part of the story.  

So here's the situation:  the king Omer is overthrown by his son, Jared, who imprisons him and uses him as a puppet ruler.  Omer's other children don't like this, so they go to war against Jared, defeat him in battle, and only spare his life when he agrees to return the kingdom to Omer.  This is when the "exceedingly fair" daughter of Jared hatches a plan to get him back on the throne.  Knowing full well how hot she is, she dances for Akish, who's one of Omer's buddies, and gets him so riled up that he wants to marry her.  Jared's price to approve the wedding?  Bring me Omer's head.

No, really.  Literally.  This is what Jared says in verse 12:  "I will give her unto you, if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king."  This results in Akish setting up a secret combination (and we all know how bad those things are) so that he and his friends can conspire to murder the king.

So it's safe to say that Jared's daughter is a central figure in the events that unfold in this chapter.  Nevertheless, despite being the originator of a pretty plot-important intrigue, she isn't named.  The men around her all proudly bear monikers preserved into the modern era, but she does not.

And this also continues a slight pattern in the Book of Mormon.  This woman's strength appears to lie primarily in her sex appeal and her ability to manipulate men with it, and it's not the first time this has happened in a book that's almost entirely barren of the female presence.  Remember the harlot Isabel who led away Corianton?  Remember the way the priests of Noah went nuts when they saw those Lamanite daughters dancing?  It's the sex appeal.

But for Abish and arguably Sariah, we'd learn from the Book of Mormon that women are uniformly weak, uninteresting, and only powerful or remarkable in rare intervals due solely to the fact that men like the way they look.

An Un-Level Playing Field
Moroni's narration brings up an odd point when he starts to speak directly to present-day Gentiles (verse 23):
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
Oh, that's nice.  The Book of Mormon will be revealed to us so that we can read this stuff, avoid suffering, and escape eternal destruction.

But where was this sentiment a few chapters ago when God was choosing to withhold the gospel from the Earth?  How is it wisdom to let humanity blunder around in the dark for a millennium or two and then brag about how great it is to suddenly offer to illuminate the way for them?  I mean, if God is specifically showing these scriptures to us in order to help us avoid the sword of justice, doesn't it logically follow that he doesn't actually care if all those other people who lived during the great apostasy avoid the sword of justice?  

Thou Shalt Not Kill
I'm not going through this chapter in order, because this last verse I'm going to address is way too juicy to stick in the middle.  I had to save the best for last (verse 19):
For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man.
The Lord worketh not in secret combinations?  So...when Joseph became a Freemason and then quickly designed Mormon temple ceremonies to closely mirror that organization, including all the ritual secrecy...that wasn't from the Lord?  Even though the highest levels of leadership of his church have no public transcripts, no available financial statements, and hardly any accountability as they amass wealth, buy up properties, and run businesses to—dare I say it—get gain, that's not how the Lord works?

But honestly, that's not even my biggest problem with this verse.  It's that this verse also emphatically states that God has forbidden the shedding of blood in all things.  God damn, Joseph, did you even read the book you wrote?  Because that's one hell of a continuity error.  Let's go back to the beginning, to Nephi 4:10-13:
And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him. 
And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property. 
And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; 
Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

It's pretty safe to say that this took place after the "beginning of man," which means that Ether, a prophet of God, also happens to be a filthy liar.  God specifically told Nephi to shed blood.  He engineered the situation to deliver Laban into Nephi's hands so that he could kill him.  He didn't strike Laban dead like Uzzah or get him conveniently trampled like Korihor.  He arranged for one of his servants to chop his head off.

God is clearly not the same yesterday, today, and forever.  But he certainly is fond of insisting that he is.

And besides, if God is so vehemently opposed to bloodshed, why are his scriptures so littered with violence?  Look at all the faithful Mormons who have shed blood—Nephi, Ammon, Captain Moroni, and the Stripling Warriors on to Joseph Smith (defending himself at Carthage Jail) and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Didn't somebody once famously say something about knowing them by their fruits?  The fruits of this god seem to include a history of violence.

Thankfully, I wouldn't say that there's anything particularly violent about the current LDS church.  But I don't think it's accurate to say that Mormonism worships a god who has forbidden bloodshed since the beginning of man.  But that's exactly what this chapter of the Book of Mormon teaches.