Thursday, January 23, 2020

D&C 11: Paradoxical Revelations

Joseph is getting some more revelation by way of the Urim and Thummim, which have an ambiguous identity when you factor in the seer stones and the hat and the breastplate and the spectacles.  Who knows what aids he's claiming to use in his translation efforts now?

True Wealth is Friendship or Something
Verse 7 sounds like Confucius mixed with Jesus:
Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.
I was okay with this up until the semicolon, but I was hoping the follow-up would indicate that he who has wisdom is rich.  But instead, it's eternal life—something that someone can't actually possess in the here and now beyond a few vague promises of the future—that makes one rich.  That also kind of makes it sound like God is saying we're not going to have regular monetary wealth as mortal beings.

This kind of clashes with the gospel of prosperity taught in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 1:9-11; Jarom 1:9; Mosiah 1:7; Alma 36:1; Alma 37:13; Alma 49:30; Alma 50:19-20; Helaman 12:1-2; 4 Nephi 1:23), which frequently indicates that material wealth can be a sign of divine favor.  But that's okay because modern Mormonism clashes with the gospel of prosperity too, since Oaks railed against it in General Conference.  So it's not like a little contradiction on this front should be unexpected.

Hurry Up and Stop
God gives Hyrum some more mixed signals in this section (verses 15-16):
Behold, I command you that you need not suppose that you are called to preach until you are called.
Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine.
Just a few verses ago it was "even as you desire of me it shall be done unto you" and "speak nothing but repentance unto this generation" and "assist to bring forth my work."  And now it's "whoa, whoa, hold your horses, there, eager beaver.  You're not really ready to publicly represent the church until you're given explicit instructions to do so.  Y'know, on account of your weak-ass testimony."

God's not really walking a line here so much as straddling a hemisphere.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

D&C 10: Evil Schemes

God is still kind of bent out of shape about the missing 116 pages.  

The section header reveals the ingenious plotting of the nameless, faceless men who supposedly stole the manuscript from Martin Harris:
The evil design was to await the expected retranslation of the matter covered by the stolen pages and then to discredit the translator by showing discrepancies created by the alterations.  That this wicked purpose had been conceived by the evil one and was known to the Lord even while Mormon, the ancient Nephite historian, was making his abridgment of the accumulated plates, is shown in the Book of Mormon.
Jesus, someone's editorializing a bit.  I mean, obviously this is Mormon scripture, so the Mormon publisher has every right to editorialize within its pages, but as I'm going through the Doctrine and Covenants, I'm noticing more and more that these headers are designed to get the reader in the "right" mindset to interpret the subsequent chapters the way the church would prefer.  But the assurance here that this was all foreseen by God creates a few doctrinal sticky wickets.

First, what an asshole.  God knew this was going to happen and made Mormon add an extra section of his abridgment to cover a period of history that had already been addressed.  That can't have been easy, considering Mormon was etching this into metal and then lugging the somewhat-larger-than-necessary plates around.

Second, God could have made all of this, y'know, not happen.  Remember, this isn't something Martin Harris did on his own.  He asked Joseph Smith if he could take the pages home with him three times and Joseph asked God three times.  Eventually, God gave permission for the course of action that led to our heroes' current predicament.  So God made Mormon's life that much more difficult just to teach Joseph and Martin a lesson about taking no for an answer fourteen hundred years later?

Third, this opens the free agency can of worms.  I'm not sure how much I buy into the reasoning that God's foreknowledge means free will is an illusion.  There have been times when I've known exactly how someone would react to something I've done or said, but that didn't mean they didn't have a choice to react differently.  Of course, two key differences between me and God (among many, obviously), are that God created us and that he has perfect knowledge.  But, considering the Mormon doctrine that we're the result of celestial sex, I'm not sure how finely tuned God's control over our nascent identities was.  It's a very different concept than God molding our spirits, minds, and bodies from the primordial clay of creation.  Based on LDS doctrine, I think God's omniscience is more a matter of predicting a behavior than of having predetermined any behavior.

But if he can predict that behavior, especially millennia in advance, then why for the love of Pete didn't he see Lucifer's rebellion—the thing that the whole Plan of Salvation kind of hinges on—coming a mile away?  And why would he agree to Jesus's plan for us when he should have been able to foresee that such a paltry few of his beloved children would have mortal access to his gospel and that so many millions or billions of those same beloved children would ultimately fail to obtain the eternal life he desired for them?

So this means God is either utterly incompetent or a traitor to his own cause.  Or maybe he's just lying through his servant here when he claims he saw this missing manuscript problem coming eons in advance.

O That Cunning Plan of the Evil One
In the 11th and 12th verses of the revelation itself, God shares some details about the brilliant plot against him:
And behold, I say unto you, that because they have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written; 
And, on this wise, the devil has sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work;
Okay, first of all, the plan is not that cunning.  It's not a bad plan, but it's probably what a lot of mere mortals could have come up with.  Discredit the translation process from the very beginning?  Seems like a good way to go.  But what kind of cracks me up is that God's brilliant solution is for Joseph to translate the same material from a different point of view.  He assures us in this section that there's more doctrinal richness in Nephi's version than in Lehi's but that it covers the same narrative time frame.

Except that the lost 116 pages are still lost today.  Nobody ever came forward with them.  See, if wicked men under the tutelage of the cunning devil had really stolen these pages, God's solution should not have solved anything.  What should have happened was, once the Book of Mormon had been published, the wicked men would have come forward with the doctored manuscript, presented it as unaltered, and pointed to the fact that, in the Book of Lehi, the Jews traveled to the Americas by riding dragons instead of by sailing in boats—and therefore this shipbuilding business in the Book of Nephi is a significant change to the story and Joseph Smith is making all this up.

Obviously, this is an exaggerated example, but that's the kind of thing these wicked men would have done if they were as wicked as God describes them.  But nobody ever came forward.  God didn't even bother to, I dunno, give his prophet a revelation about how to get the manuscript back, which would have come in handy—and I'm sure that Mormon and Moroni would have preferred that solution.

It's also interesting that God kind of...overexplains.  He lays out the basic plan in verses 10-13, but then comes back to it again in verses 15-19, and rehashes it in verses 31 and 32.  These three versions are all slightly different and each contains nuances not covered in the others, but if a real live person were doing this, it would not feel genuine.  It would seem like panicked babbling.  It would make the listener wonder whether the speaker was trying to convince the audience or himself.

Unlike in the Book of Mormon, verbosity in the Doctrine and Covenants is not necessarily an absurdity.  Nobody had to carve these words into metal and schlep across a continent with them.  But the Doctrine and Covenants has already been a colossal disappointment as far as textual efficiency goes.  All flowery scriptural poeticisms aside, I would expect a perfected being to be much more frugal with his words instead of talking in circles for seventy verses.

I Bless the Lands Down in Zarahemla
Interestingly enough, verse 50 reveals a discrepancy with the forthcoming Book of Mormon:
And thus they did leave a blessing upon this land in their prayers, that whosoever should believe in this gospel in this land might have eternal life;
"They" refers to the Nephites here, but the prayers of the Nephites were not responsible for the blessing on America.  That was a covenant God made with Nephi and his family.  Maybe this is a subtle change made between the Book of Lehi and the Book of Nephi.  Maybe this is exactly the kind of thing Joseph was hoping no one would notice.  Maybe this is why Joseph didn't re-translate the lost pages.

And, actually, while we're talking about blessings and eternal life, what kind of sense does it make to bless people who live in a specific geographical area with a higher likelihood of exaltation?  Does this mean that members of the church in, say, the Philippines are less likely to gain eternal life because, in spite all their faith, they don't live in the land God blessed in the Book of Mormon?  Because that's some nonsense.

Light is the Best Disinfectant
In verse 61, God reveals that he wasn't really paying attention while the gold plates were being compiled:
And I will bring to light their marvelous works, which they did in my name;
Sure, on some occasions, yeah.  But lengthy portions of the Book of Mormon are devoted to heinous works, some of which were also done in God's name.  Remember Nephi vs. Laban, Ammon vs. The Flock Thieves, and Captain Moroni versus Basically Everybody?  These are awful, awful things that God is about to bring to light.

Although, to be fair, I suppose these works may still satisfy the definition of "marvelous."  Because I can't help but marvel at the staggeringly amoral authoritarian brutality of Captain Moroni, for example.

Keep It Simple, Stupid
In this section, Jesus-God or whichever convoluted iteration of the doctrinal godhead is speaking at the moment oversimplifies the gospel in a very confusing way (verses 67 and 68):
Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
Okay, so less than "this" could be something like "whosoever repenteth, the same is my church." I guess I can see how that's an incomplete doctrine. But more than "this" could be something like "whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me and endureth to the end, the same is my church."

But is someone who teaches that you must repent, come unto Christ and endure to the end really against Christ? I get that perhaps this is supposed to be less literal and more illustrative—as in, don't make up your own shit—but God sure picked some weird literal phrasing for his figurative warning against false doctrine.  Especially since, in verse 69, God himself added enduring to the end into the mix. He just broke his own rule.

Thursday, January 9, 2020


Since my commute is considerably longer than it once was, I've recently spent a lot of time in my car rediscovering music on my iPod that I haven't listened to in a while. Last week, a particular song cropped up in my shuffle that took me back to the tumultuous days when my departure from Mormonism was still fresh. 

Pain of Salvation's "Undertow" was my favorite song for many years because it spoke to the conflicted, melancholic, self-loathing, self-flagellating, resigned state of mind that I inhabited before I was able to find some peace and some independence.  It was reassuring to hear this song and realize that its content brought back memories but didn't stir much in me as far as my current feelings are concerned.

I still enjoy the music itself and I still hold that Daniel Gildenlöw's performance on this track is an excellent example of why he deserves to go down in history as one of rock music's all-time greatest vocalists, but listening to this piece no longer entails the same raw emotional ravaging for me that it once did. 

Here's Pain of Salvation playing an arrangement of the song live:

And for anyone not particularly interested in the music, these are the lyrics:
Let me go
Let me go
Let me seek the answer that I need to know
Let me find a way
Let me walk away
Through the Undertow
Please let me go

Let me fly
Let me fly
Let me rise against that blood-red velvet sky
Let me chase it all
Break my wings and fall
Probably survive
So let me fly
Let me fly

Let me run
Let me run
Let me ride the crest of chance into the sun
You were always there
But you may lose me here
Now love me if you dare
And let me run

I'm alive and I am true to my heart now, I am I
But why must truth always make me die?

Let me break!
Let me bleed!
Let me tear myself apart I need to breathe!
Let me lose my way!
Let me walk astray!
Maybe to proceed...
Just let me bleed!

Let me drain!
Let me die!
Let me break the things I love I need to cry!
Let me burn it all!
Let me take my fall!
Through the cleansing fire!
Now let me die!
Let me die

Let me out
Let me fade into that pitch-black velvet night
There is so much about this song that felt like a perfect representation of what I felt.  The concept of an undertow, of course, illustrates the feeling that a strong negative influence beyond my control was carrying me to an undesirable destination.  But this song also expresses the sentiment that maybe I deserved what was happening to me.  Maybe I'd be okay, but it probably wouldn't matter if I wasn't.  Perhaps the suffering I was going to experience was my penance for whatever I'd done to put me in this position (a key line in this song is why I named a fictional death metal band "Cleansing Fire" in my book Their Works Shall Be in the Dark).

But all of this anguish and self-devaluation encapsulates a theme of optimistic searching that, notably, doesn't have the chance to become fully fleshed out in the song.  Though in the opening stanzas the narrator sings about seeking answers and flying and riding the crest of chance, the desires for punishment and abandonment and even death are what dominate the song through its climax.  And that was very much the headspace I was in during that year or so when I still lived with my parents, didn't attend church with them, and barely spoke to them.  As much as I wanted to frame my new life as a search for my own answers and an exciting foray into a fresh philosophical frontier, my daily existence was so depressing that I kept coming back to thoughts of worthlessness and of a desire to break, bleed, drain, and fade—especially since I thought I was being true to my heart but the truth I was discovering felt like (to again blatantly reference the lyrics) it was making me die.

Pain of Salvation has, as far as I know, zero connection to Mormonism whatsoever.  So of course these kinds of emotions are not unique to people who have had their faith in the Mormon god come crashing down around them.  It's both tragic and absurd that any human being ever experiences feelings like these.  I don't know who or what may have prompted Daniel Gildenlöw to write this song, but any person or organization that elicits these kinds of sentiments should have some serious explaining to do.

And I hope I make this point as often as I think I do, but I didn't actually have it as bad as others have.  LGBTQ members or other stigmatized demographics within the church can suffer to the point of suicide.  Victims of abuse can be retraumatized by teachings that shift blame onto them or by policies that demonstrate a deafness to the realities they've endured.  Other members  confronting new truths they've learned have the added strain of possible separation from spouses or children if they follow where they believe their consciences guide them.  This song may speak to the bleakness and complexity of my emotional state circa 2007, but there may be plenty for whom the concepts conveyed in these lyrics are of a lower magnitude or a lesser intensity than what their personal stories contain.

When an organization can so often put its members into these kinds of crushing, devastating emotional conditions, it's wise to scrutinize that organization.  It won't always mean that the organization is inherently flawed (although that's precisely what I'd argue in the case of Mormonism), but it will likely mean that there are critical aspects that need to be improved, removed, or corrected.  The LDS church's black-and-white, uncompromising doctrinal dogmatism and its stifling, pharisaical culture are both in dire need of revision when the emotional content of a song like this one is far from the worst that can be inflicted on those who struggle to survive in the church and on those who struggle to survive an exit from it.

The undertow may be metaphorical, but that doesn't mean its effects aren't real to the people caught in it.  A church that hails its prophets as watchmen on the towers should really do a better job of posting lifeguards in the towers too.