Cruel to be Kind
Moroni decides to write a few words of his own after spending so much time quoting his dad and quoting his Messiah. Here's one of his first original comments (verse 3):
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.Okay, what? God has been merciful? He flooded the entire planet and only allowed one family to survive. That's not merciful, that's sadistic. But since this is really supposed to be criticism of the Book of Mormon, let's stick to things that have happened in the last five hundred thirty pages or so.
- God allows hundreds of Ammonihahites to die in a fire because reasons
- God lets more than one thousand Anti-Nephi-Lehies sacrifice their lives in the name of missionary work
- God destroys a whole bunch of American cities because a completely different civilization has just murdered his son
- God forbids Mormon from preaching the gospel so that the Nephites can just become more and more wicked until they're destroyed
Moroni is way off the mark here. The God he's talking about has done some absolutely horrific shit. Admittedly, there have been moments of mercy, but overall, it's grossly disingenuous to characterize that guy as "merciful unto the children of men."
Reality Determined That was a Lie
And here we have the two verses that drove me out of the church. It's another scripture mastery, for you ex-seminary students who have been keeping a tally. I'm referring, of course, to Moroni 10:4-5.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.I know I've told this story before and I know it's far from a unique story. But when I was at BYU and dreading the possibility of being called to serve in some faraway place for two years, I latched onto this scripture and decided that, since I kind of had to serve a mission, I could at least make sure that I knew the church was true before I did it. I was looking for confirmation that this religion I was about to devote two years of my life to was every bit as true as I hoped it was.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
I don't know how I could have had a more sincere heart or more real intent. My faith was imperfect, sure, but I prayed with faith in Christ because I wanted to know he was real as an absolute certainty instead of relying on a testimony built on my parents' faith in Christ. I desperately wanted to receive the answer that the church told me I'd receive. I wasn't praying for a no. I absolutely wanted a yes and everything I'd believed in my whole life told me that I'd receive that yes.
Guess what—I didn't even get a no. After a few weeks, I finally gave up and began to slowly and sadly draw the series of conclusions that led to my apostasy. Moroni's Promise didn't work. The Holy Ghost didn't manifest the truth of anything. And this scripture is a relatively straightforward if...then statement. I reread this chapter tons of times trying to figure out if there was some missing ingredient to my prayer that was inhibiting my ability to receive the desired response.
These verses are among the best-known, most frequently quoted, most dutifully memorized scriptural passages in all of Mormondom, but because of how useless they turned out to be and how colossally they let me down, they're also among my least favorite scriptural passages in all of Mormondom.
Whatsoever Thing is a Thing is a Thing
Here we have some more faux wisdom in verse 6:
And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.Good, just, and true are all different things. This is why they have different definitions. Pizza is good, but how can you make any appraisal of pizza's justness or truthfulness? Sentencing a man to prison for rape is just, but how does truthfulness factor into that action? Can it really be said that having to imprison someone is good? Isn't it more of a necessary evil? The fact that the Book of Mormon exists is true, and while people may argue over whether that's a good thing, the factual statement has no bearing on any kind of justice. This verse is utter nonsense. It may sound cool, and it may seem wise when you read it, but if you stop and think about what it means, it's actually a completely useless thing for a prophet of God to say.
I take issue with the black-and-white claim in the second half of this verse too. There are plenty of good things accomplished by people who deny the Christ. Ricky Gervais is an outspoken atheist who is also outspoken against animal abuse. Keira Knightley calls herself an atheist as well, and she's been busy with activism for human rights and against domestic abuse. Neither one of these people would have testified of Christ, but these actions are generally considered "good." These actions also have absolutely nothing to do with religion, which is another reason why Moroni's blanket statement falls somewhere between inaccurate and irrelevant.
And, based on Mormon's convoluted reasoning in Moroni 7, we can't really know whether deeds are good or not good anyway, so telling us that everything good acknowledges Christ is totally pointless.
The Spirit of Giving
The other big reason why this chapter gets so much attention in Sunday school is because it discusses Gifts of the Spirit. These gifts were taught reverently like they were the prescribed spiritual superpowers that we could possess. All we had to do was be righteous and faithful and God could grant us any from the following list of supernatural abilities:
- teach the word of wisdom
- teach the word of knowledge
- exceedingly great faith
- working of mighty miracles
- prophesying concerning all things
- beholding of angels and ministering spirits
- all kinds of tongues
- interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues
There are a lot of problems with this list. First of all, Moroni is trying to pad it with gifts that are essentially the same thing so that the list seems longer (teaching wisdom versus teaching knowledge, all kinds of tongues versus interpretation of tongues).
Secondly, some of these things are borderline heresy in the modern church. Bear your testimony sometime about how you beheld an angel and were ministered unto by spirits and watch how uncomfortably the LDS congregation squirms. Angelic visitations to the common man are a fringe teaching in today's Mormonism—the typical Mormon neither expects nor accepts the concept when it arises. And prophesying concerning all things basically is one hundred percent straight-up heresy because only the President of the Church and sometimes his Apostles have the right to do that. We're taught repeatedly in church meetings that we can receive revelation for our stewardships (i.e. our families and those we serve in our callings) but that for big-picture revelation and prophecy we need to rely on the Prophet himself.
And thirdly—arguably most importantly—a lot of these gifts are not a thing anymore. Healing, mighty miracles, angelic visions, the gift of tongues...these are either rare, poorly documented occurrences or watered-down versions of the gift. I've heard Mormons make an argument for the gift of tongues, for example, but it usually amounts to someone having a natural aptitude for learning languages instead of the miraculous ability to speak and understand without prior study, which is how the gift of tongues was traditionally presented. So if these spiritual gifts are mostly gone and largely downplayed wherever they may exist, according to verse 19, this does not bode well:
...all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.
Not that I'm suggesting everybody packs their bags and shifts from the Brighamite sect to the Snufferite sect or the Community of Christ, but...I feel like Moroni 10 is a pretty decent argument that, at the very least, the LDS branch of Mormonism isn't the right branch because their lack of spiritual gifts means they've fallen away from the truth.
Also, how lame is the gift of having great faith? It's like being blessed with preternatural credulity. Whoop-dee-doo, I believe everything the prophet says immediately, without question, and way more fervently than you do. What kind of spiritual superpower is that? It seems like the doctrinal equivalent of a degree in comparative literature—good for you and all, but...what the hell do you do with it? You can't raise people from the dead like that mighty miracles guy or cure someone's cancer like the healing guy and you can't even prepare really awesome Sunday school lessons like the teaching the words of wisdom guy. And doesn't it seem like it contravenes free agency if the Spirit makes you inherently more inclined than others to believe in the gospel?
Faith Hope Love Remix
In verses 20 through 22, Moroni demonstrates how he wasn't actually paying attention when his dad gave sermons and stuff.
Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.Well, he skipped meekness in this convoluted chain of philosophizing. Meekness was a pretty big part of the equation when Mormon was talking about this in Moroni chapter 7. What's more confusing is that, according to Mormon, hope is both the cause and the effect of faith. But in this chapter they're kind of strung together with charity as parallel characteristics. And Moroni also throws despair and iniquity into the mix, stating that despair—which is the antithesis of hope—is caused by iniquity, which honestly might be the only part of this that makes any sense whatsoever.
Anyway, my point is that this slightly contradicts Moroni 7 although it shares an almost identical tone—it sounds reasonable enough if you're reading it casually, but if you try to pick it apart, it crumbles. It's meaningless, useless, pseudophilosophical nonsense. Moroni could have just said, "wherefore, ye must needs have faith, hope, and charity or you can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God" and left it at that. But he felt like trying to grandstand a bit, only he didn't have the chops.
That's just embarrassing.
The Bar of God
And Moroni wraps things up with a thinly veiled threat (verse 27):
And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?Joseph Smith did have a knack for writing a badass turn of phrase here and there. This one isn't quite as memorable as 2 Nephi 33:13's "as the voice of one crying from the dust," but it packs a pretty decent punch. However, the image of Moroni standing next to God at the judgment seat with a petty "I told you so!" smirk on his face is...a little amusing.
Listen, God, if the best you could offer me to believe in your gospel was a voice crying from the dead and speaking out of the dust, I don't think you've done your due diligence. The church in my day is ripe with hypocrisy, secret combinations, Pharisaical culture, dishonesty, and an unforgivable inability to overcome the bigotry that other parts of society are trying to put behind us. If you expect me to believe this stuff, you need to give me something better than a voice crying from the dust. If your strongest argument to kindle my faith is really a centuries-old record from a civilization that, by all accounts, can't even be confirmed to have existed, it isn't me who's failed. It's you. Your job is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. If you can't give your creations the tools to find the truth, if you couch the truth in such a repugnant organization led overwhelmingly by old bigoted white men who behave more like business administrators than divinely appointed prophets, then you're just not very good at what you've chosen to do with eternity. And that's not on us.
And on that note, I'll add one final quote from the Book of Mormon:
The EndAnd that's all, folks. The entire Book of Mormon, all 239 chapters of it, analyzed, criticized, and, admittedly, mocked. It's not a book of scripture. It's nothing more than a charismatic and imaginative con man's novel, and while it definitely has its moments, it reeks of amateurism. The effect it's had on the world is astonishing and kind of horrifying. And it's bizarre to consider that the massive corporate religion that's reared up as its legacy bears little resemblance to what's described in its pages.
These are all things I think I've effectively pointed to over and over again, and while I admit that not every single argument I've made necessarily holds water, I think that the sheer number of legitimate criticisms should give any serious reader pause. There are enough internal contradictions, disagreements between Book of Mormon doctrines and doctrines from both the present-day and the historical LDS church, examples of absurdly over-the-top storytelling, recycled plot devices, frightening glorifications of violence, despicable justifications of racism, pointless chapters of filler, and bits of laughably incompetent writing that it should be patently clear that this book is not the word of any real god.
Thanks to those of you who have followed along. Your comments and occasional discussions were fascinating!