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 offering 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.