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.


  1. The "faith not to be healed" crap Bednar came up with is one more excuse the church can use as to why priesthood healing blessings don't work, and we all know they don't. The leaders are trying to redefine what a miracle is in order to claim they happen, because they don't happen.

    I have recommended reading things before, but this podcast by Radio Free Mormon is, I believe, the very best podcast episode of any kind I have ever listened to. It is fantastic and comes with by far my highest recommendation. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. It's about that very teaching of having faith not to be healed.

    1. Wow, that was a lengthy but very thorough discussion of the topic. The fact that he was able to use Bednar's reasoning to discredit Bednar's reasoning is hilarious and a little sad, but also one of the things you'd expect to see if the apostles' messages aren't coming from God. General Conference messages are just made up by regular people and that's why they can be so flawed. That's why there's commonly conflicting information, sometimes even within the same talk. But the podcaster made a great point. Priesthood blessings are totally unnecessary and when they don't work it's everybody's fault except for the priesthood's.

  2. Because of the size of my comments, I'm going to split them up by talk.


    I would agree with you that Ballard's talk had a lot of lip service. He speaks of compassion. I remember recently hearing another "apostle" call the "revelation" not to baptize the children of LGBT married couples "compassionate." That's BS. Therefore, I have a really hard time listening to a lecture from any general authority on the subject of compassion.

    I would agree with him on this quote if it weren't for the fact that's it's an obvious attempt to try to guilt people to stay in the church based on their ancestors hardships.

    "I have a deep conviction that if we lose our ties to those who have gone before us, including our pioneer forefathers and mothers, we will lose a very precious treasure."

    Yes, I had ancestors go through incredible sacrifice and even death for the church. I think about it a lot, but that doesn't make the church's teachings true. I'm very proud of my pioneer heritage and the communities they built, and that will always be dear to me. Cherishing the things they've given me but then making the choice to move beyond their mistakes is something they should be proud of.

    1. Interestingly, I feel absolutely no connection to my pioneer heritage, and I never really did. Maybe it's because I grew up far from Utah and I was the youngest of all my cousins so I didn't know my grandparents well, but for me, my heritage stops at my parents. That's as far back as it goes.

      But I agree with you generally. Whether it's pioneer heritage or just your parents, it's good to be proud and cherish the things you've been given, but it's also important to make progress. It's important to learn from your heritage and live a better life that may not have been an option for your, parents, your grandparents, or your pioneer ancestors. I like that attitude.

  3. To believe such [Book of Mormon critics' reasoning], I would have to accept one unproven assumption after another.
    —Tad M. Callister, Sunday afternoon session

    You are absolutely right. His talk was completely full of unproven assumptions.

    How about these proven facts he failed to mention of which EACH single one disproves the BOM? Elephants, horses, wheat, steel, wheels, chariots, no physical remains of the wars or cities, no corn mentioned, text taken directly from the KJ version of the Bible, etc.

    It may seem a little strange, but I disagree with the church when they use the argument that Joseph was basically an illiterate idiot incapable of speaking or writing a coherent sentence. That is just stupid. How could someone like that ever convince anyone to follow him anywhere? Oh right, God took over his body and made it happen. No! I believe he was super intelligent, resourceful, well-read, creative, influential, convincing, etc. And I will continue to believe that long before I'll believe the Book of Mormon and the formation of the church came about by supernatural means.

    1. I think Joseph's personality is all over the Book of Mormon. There are some really great turns of phrase in there and some clever reasoning that makes me think the author had a knack for words and a talent for persuasion and influence. But there are also plenty of awkward phrases, run-on sentences, and instances of appalling grammar. Which, to me, speaks to an author who was relatively uneducated. But the whole thing seems like it was written by a somewhat uneducated but intelligent and ambitious person. And that's a much more reasonable explanation for the contents of the book. If God took over his body or whatever, why would there be so many glaring errors? I agree with your disagreement!

  4. 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

    He is absolutely wrong about that. There is much to be gained by outside study, and I would dare say Sandra Tanner is way more informed than the average general authority. The only reason she's disenchanted is because she studied the church and knows the truth about it.

    He also said, "We live in a day in which misinformation about our beliefs abounds."

    That's true, but most of it has been spread by the church. Even the Topics at are somewhat misleading and filled with partial truths, which by the church's own definition, would be lies. Telling only part of the truth is intentionally misleading or lying. Bottom line: the church should be more afraid of the truth than misinformation.

    I have a lot of issues with the teachings of the church, but besides them not taking child sexual abuse as seriously as they should, 3 things stand out for me: polygamy, the Book of Abraham, and the Temple Masonic rituals. Sticking with only church approved sources would've kept me in the dark about pretty much all of these things. People being honest about the history of these issues forced the church's hand and made them acknowledge each of those issues.

    When I first started having my most serious doubts about the church, I read the Book of Mormon in 10 days, and then I prayed about it. No answer. I then searched for answers on the internet. What I soon discovered was that the "anti-Mormons" were the ones telling the truth with verifiable sources while the church authorities and apologists were the ones who were not.

    Fawn Brodie's book, "No Man Knows My History" is an excellent example of a book every Mormon should read, but the church doesn't want you to. I just checked and you can buy the Kindle version today for only $2.28.

    1. I can't say enough good things about No Man Knows My History. I'm not really a biography reader, but I found it extremely thorough, very well-written, and surprisingly neutral.

      The misinformation about the church does often come from the church itself. And I think your bottom line is actually more active than passive. It's not that the church SHOULD be afraid of truth more than misinformation. I think they already ARE. And that's why they caution about misinformation in the world, so that they can provide their own misinformation so that members are less likely to find the truth and wander off.