Friday, November 29, 2019

D&C 6: Oliver!

In this section, God provides Joseph Smith with revelation specifically for Oliver Cowdery, although I'm not sure why this has to happen considering that this chapter mentions repeatedly that Oliver can receive revelation from God himself and has even had prayers answered. Notwithstanding, Joseph produces this banal gem of personalized inspiration to be later codified as scripture.

Motive is Important
Either God doesn't understand empathy and altruism or Oliver is one supremely self-absorbed asshole.  Almost everything is framed by how Oliver can be personally rewarded or punished according to his actions.  Verse 27 is a prime example:
And now I command you, that if you have good desires—a desire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven—then shall you assist in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity.

Oliver should thrust in his sickle (that's a reference to missionary work, not sex) so that he can ensure everlasting salvation for his soul—never mind about the other souls he's saving.  He should seek for wisdom, not riches, because wisdom will grant him the mysteries of God and the greatest wealth of all.  God commands him to assist in bringing forth the gospel because of his good desires—which God explicitly states means a desire to be personally exalted—without much acknowledgement of fellow human beings other than as avenues to exaltation.

Considering that this is already becoming a recurring theme in the Doctrine and Covenants for these targeted revelations, I don't think this selfish approach necessarily reflects poorly on the subject of the revelation.  And since selfishness is generally considered to be a human trait and not a divine characteristic, it sounds to me like either Joseph Smith doesn't understand true charity or he's more concerned about having God spew threats and promises to keep his followers following than about making sure God actually speaks in terms that a truly benevolent creator would.

Are You There, Oliver?  It's Me, God
Perhaps to try to really sell his point that this is totally coming from God, Joseph makes sure to have two badass personal introductions in this section.  In verse 2, it says, "Behold, I am God."  But even after repeating a bunch of solemn catchphrases of divinity, he oversells it by reintroducing himself in verse 21 with the statement, "Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Wait.  Hold up.  Who's talking?

Then, without giving any indication of a change in speaker, the section slides right into discussing Oliver praying to the speaker and receiving an answer from the speaker.  But...we don't pray to Jesus and we don't receive answers from Jesus.  God is in charge of all that.  Who the hell is narrating this chapter?

Oh, but wait, remember this is pretty early on.  It's 1829 and the Book of Mormon isn't even finished.  The finer details of Mormon theology have yet to be hashed out, so Trinitarianism is still kind of a thing here.  Apparently.

Man, that's embarrassing.

Some Witnesses
Verses 22 and 23 set another precedent for how we determine truth within Mormonism:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?
That's the best you got??  Angels are running around with ancient golden plates and the only confirmation you're offering Oliver Cowdery that any of this bullhockey is real is a feeling of peace that he can't logically trace back to the god Joseph claims to speak to with any kind of a surety?  That's weak, man.  Weak.

And you do tend to hear this a lot in testimony meetings (or at least I did, ten years ago, when I regularly attended testimony meetings).  People struggle with questions, with unanswered prayers, with the cognitive dissonance of their personal suffering juxtaposed against their belief in all their personal blessings, but they will often fall back on the undeniable spiritual experiences they've had to hold themselves level with the gospel horizon as they fly through their turbulent lives.  The peace that people feel from their prayers and from their faith is real, but that does not mean that they have correctly judged the source of that peace.  It's a wonderful feeling to know that an omnipotent benevolent being is watching your back but it's completely possible—and common, considering all the different religions and different deities—to get that feeling even when your chosen god doesn't exist.

Did Oliver feel peace in his trials?  I'm sure he did.  But that could have come from him, from the strength of his own misplaced faith, or from the placebo effect of prayer.  God-slash-Joseph is using the intensity of Oliver's own convictions against him.  By having him focus on the peace he felt, he's hoping Oliver doesn't notice that he really doesn't have much in the way of direct evidence to tie that feeling of peace to the current speaker.
That's kind of manipulative, isn't it?

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