Saturday, October 5, 2019

Notes on the Saturday Sessions

Considering that this general conference is seeing Sam Young and his followers host a protest march and also follows on the heels of the announcement that women and children are now permitted to serve as ordinance witnesses, I thought perhaps we might hear some more interesting topics discussed this time around.  I was correct, at least so far.  Here's what I've noted from our first few sessions:

In matters of faith and conviction, it helps to direct your inquiry toward those who actually have some.  "Can the blind lead the blind?" Jesus once asked.
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday morning session
Okay, so we're like thirty seconds into the first talk of the first session and we're already telling people not to listen to doubters.  Sure, that seems super-healthy and totally open-minded.  

Faithless people aren't necessarily blind.  They may not have wonderfully complete doctrinal answers, but they may have other insights.  Just because someone doesn't see things the way you'd like to see things doesn't mean they're blind.

And plenty of people have faith.  So perhaps if you're doubting Mormonism, you can direct your questions of faith to someone who has conviction in a different religious system and they may provide you with more satisfying answers.  Elder Holland is advising you to go to your Catholic, Muslim, and Bahai friends to resolve your concerns—not just your Mormon friends.

Protesters shout from their favorite soapbox.
—Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday morning session
The audience laughed.  How wonderful it must feel to be able to shrug off your detractors as ridiculous and have thousands of people validate your humorous dismissal.  Look, there's a reason Sam Young has a favorite soapbox.  He sees an issue that has negatively affected numerous people and the organization that has permitted the issue isn't taking the proper steps to address it.  Even if you disagree with what he's suggesting, you should be able to see that his passion comes from a place of sincere concern for other people.  It's too bad this church's teachings aren't structured around a central deified figure who was renowned for showing concern for his fellow human beings or anything like that. 

 What we need here is less WiFi and more Nephi.
—Terence M. Vinson, Saturday morning session

This is attributed to an unnamed missionary and while it's a clever turn of phrase, I really don't like how it implies that a connection to the internet is a negative thing.  Sure, you can be too obsessed with social media and you can waste a lot of time on the internet, so it can be a bad influence in people's lives, but so can Nephi.  If the church isn't true, obsession with it is unhealthy and it's also a huge time waster.  Plus, the book of Nephi teaches us that it's cool to kill people because God says so. 

It's not our successes, but rather our sacrifices and our efforts that matter to the Lord. 
Terence M. Vinson, Saturday morning session
God, this is fucking toxic.  Our successes don't matter to God—the level at which we have personally suffered in our effort to conform to his commandments is what matters.  

I feel like, more and more, it's becoming necessary to point out how unloving our Father in Heaven is by comparing him to mortal parents.  My parents are always happy to hear when I've succeeded at something.  My parents are circumspect about sacrifices I make.  They would react with concern when I'd complain about the long hours I've worked at previous jobs, and now they frequently ask about my much longer commute to my current job.  Because they worry that my sacrifices are outweighed by the successes, even though my efforts to provide for myself and further my career are goals that they absolutely support.

Once again, God is a terrible father.  Ordinary, imperfect, human parents perform far better than this on a routine basis.

It is possible for young people to be raised in a Latter-day Saint home, attend all the right church meetings and classes, even participate in ordinances in the temple, and then walk away into forbidden paths and become lost.  Why does this happen?  In many cases, it is because while they may have been going through the motions of spirituality, they were not truly converted. They were fed, but not nourished.  In contrast, I have met many of you young Latter-day Saints who are bright, strong, and faithful.   
 —Stephen W. Owen, Saturday morning session
Okay, first of all, screw you.

He's sort of right in that there's a difference between being fed and being nourished.  There's a difference between going through the motions and fully committing.  But to state that "in many cases" people who leave the church were never really converted to it is extremely unhelpful.  I'm sure sometimes this is the case, but when this is the only explanation he offers and he implies that it happens commonly, he's encouraging his followers to ignore the complexities of why most people leave.

It also twists the knife a little bit to praise the faithful by contrasting them as bright and strong—so you're saying that the people who have left the church are dim and weak?  Wow, thanks.  I'm sure that won't color the way members see us. 

Whether you are a leader, a neighbor, a quorum member, or simply a fellow saint, if you have the opportunity to touch the life of a young person, help him or her connect with heaven.  Your influence might be exactly the church support that young person needs.
Stephen W. Owen, Saturday morning session
If it's support coming from an individual who's not in a leadership position, then it's not church support.  It's personal support.  The church is decreasing its support by shortening church and pushing more of the burden of religious instruction onto the parents.  If a ward member reaches out to a struggling youth to touch that person's life in a positive way, don't let the church minimize the virtue of that member by calling it "church support."    

In a remarkable night vision, she was shown two buildings: a chapel, and what she now realizes was a temple. 
D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
This was just weird.  A remarkable night vision is called a dream, Todd.  It's right there in the dictionary.   

To be fair, he calls it a dream later on, but his phrasing sounds like it's meant to play up the miraculous nature of someone else's unconscious experience.  This is a fun miracle because there is absolutely nothing we can actually cling onto as evidence for it except for the word of the missionary herself.  The miracle had an audience of one and she wasn't even awake.  But it sure was remarkable.

Maybe my dreams just aren't lucid enough, but I find it pretty hard to believe that the architecture of the temple building would be distinctive enough in a dream for her to identify it in real life without ever having seen one before.

I think the point is that if our faith is strong that when bad things happen—which they will—we'll be able to deal with them. 
—D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
This is a quote attributed to a man who was paralyzed after a surfing accident.  That accident sounds tragic and anyone would need help coping with something like this.

But there are a variety of coping mechanisms.  If your religion helps you deal with something that drastically and unexpectedly affects your quality of life like that, great.  That doesn't mean your religion is true, though.  Some people attribute their success in dealing with personal setbacks to other religions, familial relationships, creative outlets, therapists, or meditation.  We all need ways to keep ourselves keeping on.  We all find things that are valuable to us.  But they're not necessarily valuable to everyone.

People deal with bad things that happen to them all the time.  Mormonism is not the only way to do that.

I believe that the ultimate joy of the Saints comes in knowing that the Savior pleads their cause.
D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
So after all this talk about finding joy through the gospel, it ultimately comes down to something that is in no way unique to Mormonism.  Basically any Christian denomination can lay claim to this.

Why do we need Christofferson and his friends, then?

No matter who you are and what you're dealing with, you are invited to the Lord's table. 
Michelle Craig, Saturday morning session
Then explain why excommunication is a thing.  Explain why Holland just laughed off protesters and soapboxes.  Explain why ordinances were postponed for children of gay parents.  Explain why ordinances were restricted from black people.

It's easy to say you're inviting everyone and I know the church likes to present itself as a big tent, but the fact is that it's only welcoming to specific subsets of humanity.  The tent is bigger than it once was, but it's still pretty small.

The only way faith grows is for an individual to act in faith.  These actions are often prompted by invitations that are extended by others, but we cannot grow someone else's faith or rely solely on others to bolster our own.  For our faith to grow, we must choose faith-building actions such as praying, scripture study, partaking of the sacrament, keeping the commandments, and serving others.
Dale G. Renlund, Saturday morning session 
This line of reasoning is such a mess.  This is a chicken-and-egg thing.  You need to act in faith to get more faith, but where does the original faith to act in faith come from?  How does someone with zero faith start building it if they need to use it to get more?

What makes it more confusing is that the faith-building actions he lists don't require any faith whatsoever.  I have done every single one of those things faithlessly.  But let's say for the sake of argument that they only count if they're done by a faithful person in the spirit of faith.  If that built faith, then how could I possibly have lost mine after doing all that stuff over and over for 20 years?  My faith should have been massive and formidable by that point.

My answer is that faith can indeed grow by repeating the cycle of confirmation bias, but if the foundation of that faith is a fraud, then it doesn't take a whole lot to topple it.  Isn't there some obscure object lesson about building houses upon foundations of rock or sand and the disparate stability of those two structures?  Well, anyway, the church is sand.  And not the luxurious tropical paradise kind.

Our commitment to keep our covenants should not be conditional or vary with changing circumstances in our lives.  
Dale G. Renlund, Saturday morning session
Okay, again, God is a terrible parent.

Have you ever had a friend or family member so demanding that they will not understand if a circumstance arises that precludes your keeping of a commitment?  If anything, a perfect being should be more prone to understanding the restrictions of circumstance.  A perfect being would not expect unconditional observance of his imposed requirements in lives that have so many variables.  

A good parent knows sometimes you won't do your chores the way they wanted but they also know that doesn't mean you aren't committed to keeping the house clean.  A good math teacher knows sometimes you won't get an A on your tests but they also know that doesn't mean you aren't committed to learning.  A good boss knows sometimes you'll call out sick but they also know that doesn't mean you aren't committed to your job.   But a good Father in Heaven, apparently, doesn't understand any of that.

They knew that baptism in the restored church of Jesus Christ would have consequences.  They would be stripped of their scholarships, their visas would be revoked, and they and their two young children would be required to leave Switzerland.  They chose to be baptized and confirmed in October 1979.
Dale G. Renlund, Saturday morning session 
Stop glorifying this shit.

Yes, let's all marvel at the pioneers of the church in Zaire who accepted the gospel at huge and likely devastating personal cost.  Let's all engage in this sort of self-sacrifice porn so that we can fetishize the concept of suffering for the good of the organization.

I think maybe God doesn't understand love.  See, when you love somebody, you try not to inconvenience them.  If you need a loved one to do something and it requires them to set their personal goals aside and run the risk of never being able to achieve them, then you withdraw the request until a time at which less will be at stake.  And if this person steps up and offers to make personal sacrifices of their own free will, you don't go parading it around like this so that other people will do similar one-sided favors for you.

If God really loved us, he would not have his chosen apostles preaching things like this.  He'd accept these Congolese members' sacrifice if they were willing to make it, perhaps, but he wouldn't spread this around and imply that what they did is a desirable pattern of behavior we should all follow.  The fact that he is spreading this around should indicate to us that our relationship with God is toxic and is designed to feed his ego and his needs. 

Would she be able to have her own house in the next life, or would she have to live with her husband and his first wife? [laughter from audience]  I just told her to trust the Lord.  [more laughter from audience]
 —Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
This shouldn't be funny.  The church claims to offer the real answers about what happens when we die, but it leaves a lot of gaping holes when it comes to details that people with atypical situations will be concerned about. And then the church laughs at them when they ask questions about how their families will be impacted by the structuring of the afterlife.  Listen, you're promising these post-mortal rewards and expecting people to dedicate their lives to attaining them, so I think it's completely understandable for them to want to know what the promises you're giving will entail.  If you're not able to answer their questions, at least pay them the respect of taking those questions seriously.

After hearing the reasons for their objections, which focused on conditions and relations in the spirit world or in the kingdoms of glory that follow the final judgment, this leader said, "You are worried about the wrong things.  You should be worried about whether you will get to those places.  Concentrate on that.  If you get there, all of it will be more wonderful than you can imagine."
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
There are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese.

This is essentially a non-answer with a heavy dose of fear.  Don't worry about whether the destination will be worth it, just worry about making sure you're good enough to get there.  Okay, point taken, but let's say I get there...then what? 

Many members of the church have had visions or other inspirations to inform them about how things operate or are organized in the spirit world, but these personal spiritual experiences are not to be understood or taught as the official doctrine of the church.
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
So, basically, members' personal revelations are wrong.  Because if we receive accurate personal revelations, then that should match official church doctrine, right?  If the Holy Ghost can tell us the truth of all things, why should we not share further light and knowledge with our fellow Saints?

And why can't the church leadership just, y'know, find out what these answers are?  What we know about the spirit world was revealed in scripture by God to a prophet.  God still exists, right?  We still have prophets, right?  So why doesn't one of them do the whole prophety thing and get revelation?  Nelson keeps talking about how the restoration of the gospel is ongoing, so let's keep things rolling by learning a little more about the Plan of Salvation from our Father in Heaven.

I think the real reasoning here is the issues are too sticky to have solid answers and it's all too weird and metaphysical for the church to take a public stance on, so they want the members to keep their crazy shit to themselves.   

For all questions about the spirit world, I suggest two answers.  First, remember that God loves his children and will surely do what is best for each of us.  Second, remember this familiar bible teaching which has been most helpful to me on a multitude of unanswered questions:  "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths."
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session 
Let's be clear—these two answers are the same answer.  Advising us to remember that God loves everybody and will do what's best is another way of advising to trust him.  I suspect Oaks is trying to make it sound like he's giving more answers than he actually has.  

For all questions about the spirit world, I suggest two answers.  First, trust God.  Second, don't not trust God.

But let us not teach or use as official doctrine what does not meet the standards of official doctrine.  To do so does not further the work of the Lord and may even discourage individuals from seeking their own comfort or edification through the personal revelation the Lord's plan provides for each of us.  Excessive reliance on personal teachings or speculations may even draw us aside from concentrating on learning and efforts that will further our understanding and help us go forward on the covenant path. 
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
So, you're telling me the processes by which people are receiving personal revelation meet the standards of official doctrine, but that sharing what they've learned through these divinely approved processes does not?  Excessive reliance on the personal revelation that we're so frequently advised to obtain may draw us aside from concentrating on efforts that will further our understanding?  Isn't that exactly what personal revelation is for?  What's the point in God allowing us the ability to receive knowledge this way if we're supposed to ignore that knowledge and focus on the officially correlated church doctrine that stubbornly refuses to fill all the gaps?

Talk about mixed signals.  Oaks is basically saying personal revelation doesn't actually work, so if you happen to think you've learned something about the deeper doctrines, you'd best keep it to yourself. 

There is so much that we do not know that our only sure reliance is to trust in the Lord and his love for his children.
Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday morning session
In case you didn't believe me before that Oaks pretended like one answer was actually two, this should seal the deal.  If there's only one sure reliance on the issue, then there really isn't a dual answer, is there?

One more thing before we move on to the next session—you don't get to talk about how wonderful and perfect the Plan of Salvation is if you don't actually know how it works.  A car can look gorgeous from the outside, but you won't find out it's missing a spark plug and functionally useless until you actually pop the hood and start looking around.

In a paradoxical period when violating the sanctity of human life is heralded as a right and chaos is described as liberty, how blessed we are to live in this latter day dispensation when restored gospel light can shine brightly in our lives and help us to discern the adversary's dark deceptions and distractions.
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
Bro, have you even read the Book of Mormon?  Quit grandstanding about the sanctity of life just because you don't like the way the abortion discussion has shifted in your home country.  Four chapters into your favorite divinely inspired text, God commands his servant to end a human's life.  The prophet Alma personally ordered the execution of Nehor as a sentence for murder (God, apparently, has a fight-fire-with-fire policy on capital punishment).  And let's forget that one of the most righteous men in the Book of Mormon, the illustrious Captain Moroni, spent chapter after chapter threatening to kill people, executing prisoners, and orchestrating battle victories that didn't actually need to be as bloody as he made them.  But yes, continue harping on the sanctity of human life.

Rasband is later going to tell a cute story about advising a child not to eat too much candy.  The moral of his story is that one's advice is only of sufficient power when one practices what one preaches.  I'm not sure I agree with that, but the reason I bring it up is that Rasband should, theoretically, not stand behind Bednar's words.  Because Bednar believes in a book riddled with divinely sanctioned bloodshed and avoidable human death and wants people to take him seriously as an authority on the sanctity of life.

Spiritual thoughtlessness invites great danger into our lives.  Nephi described how, in the latter days, Satan would attempt to pacify and lull the children of God into a false sense of carnal security, that they will say "All is well in Zion, yea, Zion prospereth, all is well.  And thus the devil cheateth their souls and leadeth them carefully away down to Hell."  
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
Uh-huh.  Compelling stuff, Dave.  Tell me, how similar is the phrase "all is well in Zion" to the phrase "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never been stronger"?  Are you calling out your fellow apostle on his spiritual complacency? 

All day, every day, a cheetah is a predator. 
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
I've been hesitating to condemn Bednar's talk as fearmongering because I feel like I use that word too frequently, but at this point, what else can you call it?  In his savanna-themed extended metaphor, the cheetahs represent the Adversary, or the Deceiver, or the Destroyer, or whatever ominous appelation we're using for Satan at the moment.  All day, every day, an unseen entity of ultimate evil is stalking you.

Anyway, sweet dreams!  Don't have any nightmares!

Because of his rebellion, Lucifer has denied himself all of the mortal blessings and experiences made possible through a tabernacle of flesh and bones.
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
Lucifer didn't deny himself shit.

God asked for ideas, Lucifer had the one that God didn't like, and when Lucifer stuck to his guns, God decided to condemn him for eternity over one philosophical disagreement.  Regardless of whether Lucifer was wrong, the punishment does not fit the crime.  God took those things away and God decided he would never give them back.  Lucifer got shafted by his daddy's arbitrary, draconian sense of justice.  No wonder the dude is so pissed off.

One of the ultimate ironies of eternity is that the Adversary, who is miserable precisely because he has no physical body, invites and entices us to share in his misery through the improper use of our bodies.  The very tool he does not have and cannot use is thus the primary target of his attempts to lure us to physical and spiritual destruction.  
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session
Wow, that's such a juicy irony, Dave, that's a really fascinating insight.  Should we be comforted to know that God's plan has such a developed sense of irony?  I feel like that should be concerning.  These are his children's eternal fates he's playing with.  Irony is better suited to fiction.

But if anyone needed more evidence that Mormonism is weirdly obsessed with sex, here it is.  The harm that you can do to other people through greed and dishonesty—and, oh yeah, murder—is secondary to the harm that you can do with sex.  To be fair, it might not just be all about sex since Bednar also used a quote from Nelson that references eating and drinking bad things.  But it sure sounds to me like Bednar is saying that if you're a pyramid-scheme running misogynistic white supremacist with a couple of armed robbery convictions under your belt but you avoid coffee and premarital sex, you still have more moral character than those filthy tea-drinking masturbators.

I enjoy Come Follow Me as it provides an opportunity to testify of the Savior to my children. 
Mark L. Pace, Saturday afternoon session
The dude could have been reading the five-star section of Amazon reviews.  He read ten of them in a row.  This was the first example of a member's reaction that he shared, and it's my favorite because it seems so unnecessary.  Why does the father Pace is quoting here need an opportunity to bear his testimony to his children?  If you spend time with your kids and talk to them, how are you not able to work your most closely held beliefs into the conversation?  If you're holding Family Home Evening, how are you not able to mention that you know Jesus died for our sins?  If you're driving your kids home from church, why were you not able to discuss with them what they learned in their classes?  If you have any relationship with your kids whatsoever, why were you not talking to them before Come Follow Me came out?  It just seemed like a baffling response.  But, okay, ten people really like the new program, so that's nice, I guess.

To parents with children who have left the covenant path, gently go back, help them comprehend the gospel truth.  Start now.  It's never too late.
Jorge M. Alvarado
It's never too late!  Wow, that's really reassuring, because my understanding was that time is running out.  The reason I felt that way is because that is the exact phrase that was used by the prophet in the very last general conference.  If time is running out, that means eventually there will be no time left.  Please explain to me how it will not be too late after the time has run out.  Because it's really confusing when two people pretending to be messengers of the same God directly contradict each other.

When we keep promises to one another, we are more likely to keep promises to the Lord.
—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session
This sounds like one of those clickbait headlines:  "Studies show people with shorter hair are at lower risk for malaria."  The article can't really say there's a cause-and-effect link between the two things, but it points out one study that found a correlation.

I think what he's saying is that we should keep our promises to each that we'll be better at keeping our covenants with God?  Okay.  I mean, or we could just try to keep our promises to people because that's a nice thing to do, but I guess if you're trying to trick people in honoring their commitments by implying it will make them better at securing an eternal reward, then, sure, go for it, I guess. 

Reflect with me on examples of promises in the scriptures.  Ammon and the sons of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon committed to preach the word of God.  When Ammon was captured by Lamanite forces, he was taken before the Lamanite king Lamoni.  He committed to the king:  "I will be thy servant."  When raiders came to steal the king's sheep, Ammon cut off their arms.  So astonished was the king, he listened to Ammon's message of the gospel and was converted.
—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session
Does...does he...does he seriously think that Ammon keeping his word is why the king listened?

Read the chapter.  King Lamoni was first astonished because this dude cut the arms off a whole bunch of other dudes all by himself and lived to tell the tale.  This led him to believe that Ammon was some kind of god.  When Ammon went to speak with Lamoni, he asked the king if the reason his marvelings were so great was "because thou hast heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants."  Verse 18 indicates that King Lamoni was gobsmacked that Ammon had read his mind.

So, no, although Lamoni was astonished in part by the fact that Ammon was attending to other servant tasks after the slaughter, the reason he was ready to listen was the impressive level of violence Ammon was capable of.

Rasband tries to make this into a scriptural story about how keeping one's word can be so important, but honestly, that kind of teaching should speak for itself anyway.  We shouldn't need any tall tales about maiming and amputating to learn something so simple and so obvious.

The Gathering is the most important thing taking place on the Earth today, President Nelson has said.
—Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session 
Yes, Nelson did say this only a few minutes earlier.  The talks in this conference show an unusually high amount of blatant pre-correlation.

Rasband and Nelson are not talking about the card game.  They're talking about the Gathering of Israel.  They're saying missionary work is the most important thing happening right now.  Which strikes me as either ignorant or dense.  

I don't know what the most important thing taking place on the Earth today is, but I'm not convinced it's one religion's conversion efforts.  We have wars, refugees, genocides, poverty, disease, nuclear threats, and plenty of other problems.  We have movements for equality, for peace, for human rights, for medical advances, for alleviation of poverty and homelessness, and for plenty of other crucial causes.  Sure, if Mormonism is true, missionary work is important.  But just this morning, Oaks reminded us that people will have the chance to accept the gospel in the spirit world.  Since there's a built-in backup for people's spiritual fates, doesn't it make sense to try and help with people's mortal lives—for which there is no built-in backup?  When a child starves to death, they get a second chance to receive the gospel but they don't get a second chance at a mortal life.  Once again, we're focusing on the eternal and ignoring very real human suffering happening around us.

These men have no sense of perspective.

Which, perhaps, explains how excited they were to announce their new changes to youth programs.  Cook explained that ward young men's presidencies will be dissolved, apparently putting more responsibility on the up-and-coming youth and allowing the bishops to focus more attention on the kiddos.  He also announced that the ward budgets for youth organizations will now be "divided equitably" between the boys and the girls, which is probably a big win for harried leaders of the young women.

The whole thing had a very corporate, bureaucratic vibe to it, including not just talk of budgets, but also talk of designating ward and stake officers and talk of who is a direct report to whom.

And, at this point, we'll await the women's session of conference tonight to find out more about how this affects their organization.

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