Friday, May 18, 2012

"I'll Pray For You"

I had a pretty rough night at work a few days ago.   It was one of those days when everything was going wrong, and my crew was frustrating me with their inability to handle it.   I've worked there for eight years, which is about the equivalent of one zillion in fast food years.  Most of my crew has worked there between six and twelve months.  I can do everything they do, only faster and better, and I was annoyed by their inability to be as good as I am (even though they have nowhere near the same level of experience).  As my crew slowly but dutifully attempted to perform to the best of their ability, I got more and more exasperated.

Seeing my frustration, one of the guys (this guy, actually) gave me a sympathetic smile and said, "When I go to church tomorrow, I'm gonna add you to my prayer list."

Monday, May 14, 2012

2 Nephi 8: Poetic Filler

More Isaiah.  Again.

I've already mentioned that I think the Isaiah-quoting is filler, an attempt to lend the Book of Mormon some (much-needed) credibility, and pretty much unnecessary.  But I think I figured out why Joseph Smith decided to use Isaiah as his unnecessary, credible filler:  Nobody gets Isaiah.

Let's use this verse from 2 Nephi Chapter 8 as an example (which is extremely similar to Isaiah 51:22):
Thus saith thy Lord, the Lord and thy God pleadeth the cause of his people; behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again.
By way of comparison, let's look at Leviticus 12:2:
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity she shall be unclean.
So, why did Smith decide to quote Isaiah and not something else, like...Leviticus?  Because Leviticus actually means something.  Isaiah sounds good.  It speaks metaphorically of God's broad plans.  Other parts of the New Testament are very literal and very specific.  And...kind of shocking to the modern-day reader.  Quoting Isaiah is a good way of sounding like you're relating important, detailed doctrines without ever really saying anything of consequence.

Which makes it very useful as filler in a new book of scripture.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vain Repetitions

Early morning seminary wasn't worth it.

I've heard many different members of the church bear their testimonies about how much early morning seminary helped them "start the school day off on a spiritual high" and how it benefited them spiritually, personally and scholastically.   It's crap.  The church membership has a bad habit of latching onto certain phrases and concepts and learning to parrot them back in coherent sentences at a moment's notice.  I doubt this is only a phenomenon of Mormonism, but as with any other problematic facet of organized religion, I have a feeling that Mormonism has taken it to the next level and made it...much, much worse.

Monday, May 7, 2012

2 Nephi 7: Filler

More Isaiah.

As if having Isaiah just once in the standard works wasn't boring enough.

Joseph Smith apparently just went through Isaiah chapter 50 and reworked some of the punctuation, changed some wording here and there, and added a little bit of unnecessary emphasis (because Isaiah is already repetitive enough) on a few points.  The only significant difference between the two chapters is an omission in verse ten of some advice to "trust in the name of the Lord."  I'm not sure why Smith omitted that, considering it might be the most straightforward teaching in the chapter, but it doesn't radically change any kind of doctrine.  The two chapters are still pretty much the same conceptually, tonally, and doctrinally.

Maybe his reasoning for siphoning off so much Isaiah by this point is becoming less about building credibility for his manuscript as the word of God and more about filler.  If it were possible to make a movie that was to be considered direct revelation of God, this chapter would be the equivalent of a massive explosion going off repeatedly from various camera angles, followed by the protagonist walking out of the blast radius in slow motion.  He'd put on a pair of sunglasses, raise his gun, and exchange a few meaningful glares with the antagonist--all still in slow motion.  Except at least that kind of filler would still be kind of fun to watch.

So maybe it's more like a remake of a classic film--let's use Gone With the Wind as an example.  In Joseph Smith's remake of Gone With the Wind, he'd periodically utilize footage from the original movie as some kind of flashback material, cutting these scenes in at odd intervals until he'd gotten his remake to come reasonably close to the almost-four-hour running time of the classic.  The Bible is huge, and it covers thousands of years of history.  If Joseph Smith had come up with his own book of scripture spanning more than a thousand years of history and it came to a measly 150 pages...maybe he was worried he'd get laughed at.  How can you take a book claiming to be a second Bible seriously if it's hardly the size of a decent novel?

Hence the filler.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

2 Nephi 6: The Former Latter Days

In this chapter, Jacob, the brother of Nephi, addresses the people.  He quotes Isaiah, testifies that Jerusalem has been destroyed, and teaches about the coming Messiah.  The power of this chapter is derived from a very strong theme in Mormonism:   the hope of future vindication.

In his speech, Jacob stresses the benefits of waiting for and believing in the Lord.  He promises destruction during the Savior's second coming to those who did not believe and protection to those who did.  While not exclusive to Mormonism in any way, this concept is played upon heavily in the church.

The similarities between the Nephites awaiting Jesus's first coming and modern-day Mormons awaiting Jesus's second coming are emphasized--the movie The Testaments stands as a good example.  The Nephite society is depicted as having believed in the Messiah for so long that most people have lost faith.  Similarly, Mormons have been in it's-almost-the-end-of-times mode for a very long time.  The church wants us to hold out and continue assuming that the day of our vindication is just around the corner.

Not only does this strategy keep people scared and obedient, but it gives them hope that a lifetime of being peculiar and removed from the mainstream will be rewarded when Jesus returns.  This will be accompanied by all those self-righteous evangelicals who hated Mormonism suddenly realizing that they've been wrong the whole time...right before they're destroyed for their wickedness.

Jacob subtly pitches a similar idea to his people (and, therefore, Joseph Smith subtly pitched the idea to his followers)--hold out, remain obedient, and one day everybody will know you were right, God will destroy them, and you will be rewarded.

But it's just a way to keep the people in line.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Name Removal Policy

I've been perusing the Church Handbook of Instructions for Bishops and Stake Presidents.  I've learned some interesting things about church policy.

Apparently, if you decide to have your name removed from the church records, it nullifies any baptism, priesthood or temple blessings you may have received.  That part makes sense.  But the bizarre part is that, according the Handbook of Instructions, if you rescind your request for name removal within thirty days, you can keep your membership, and, ostensibly, all the blessings you were this close to throwing away.  I guess everyone is entitled to a crisis of faith, so long as that crisis persists for an amount of time not exceeding one month.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2 Nephi 5: Beauty, Thy Name is Loathsomeness

In the wake of Lehi's lengthy demise, his family members are left with an important decision--do they follow the arrogant prick Nephi who's always telling everybody what to do, or do they follow the conniving Laman and Lemuel, who have recently and repeatedly attempted fratricide?  Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the fledgling American civilization splits into two factions.

Nephi Sets a Dangerous Precedent
It appears that the first tradition Nephi's half of the civilization inherits is his awful naming convention.  When Nephi and his righteous followers pack up and leave, they call themselves "The People of Nephi."  And when they find a new place to live, they decide to name that place--you guessed it--"Nephi."

This means that the people of Nephi live in Nephi while their leader, Nephi, makes a record of their civilization on two sets of plates, one called the Plates of Nephi and the other called the Plates of Nephi.  It's a miracle that when the Europeans moved onto the continent centuries later they didn't discover a civilization of millions of men named "Nephi."

Nephi Shows More Humility
In verse 18, Nephi mentions that this new society wanted him to be their king.  He, of course, in his infinite humility, declined.  

Nephi wasn't their king.  They only named themselves (verse 9) and their homeland (verse 8) after him, and he only taught them to build things (verse 15), took credit for things that he surely must have required their help to accomplish (verse 16), made sure they were well-armed (verse 14) and made sure they kept busy (verse 17).  But it's not like he was in charge or anything.  He was way too righteous and non-manipulative to want anything like power.  

The Book of Mormon is RACIST
Something I hadn't noticed before (or more likely had ignored and quickly read past) was the reason given for God's curse of dark skin upon the Evil Lamanites.  As stated in verse 21:
And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity.  For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
It looks like God wasn't too keen on his righteous clan getting it on with the unrighteous clan, so...he made their skin darker?  I can totally see why.  There's just something so...unenticing about dark skin:

Halle Berry—Bond girl, sex symbol

Beyonce Knowles—People magazine's most beautiful woman of 2012
Gabrielle Union—a personal favorite

And I can totally understand why, in verse 23, God warns the righteous (AKA "white and delightsome") people not to intermarry with  the unrighteous (AKA "dark and loathsome") people.  I mean, look what kind of monstrosity that could create:
Alicia Keys.  Your argument is invalid.
So it seems that, either God sucks at his job or perhaps Joseph Smith wrote a few of his own prejudices into the Book of Mormon.  Considering the popular concept of God includes things like omnipotence and infallibility, I think it's probably safe to say the Book of Mormon is just plain racist.