Thursday, January 17, 2013

Representation Among the Leadership

Out of morbid curiosity, I spent some time poking around the church's website, looking through the little bios they have on the general authorities.  I'd been thinking again about how the church was run by old white men, and I wondered how many of these old white men were also from Utah.  I started counting, and counting turned into full-blown research, and before I knew it, I'd embarked on a project whose scope was spiraling wildly out control.

But eventually, I came up with this:
Mormon Info Graphics is better at this stuff

This crudely-created Microsoft Paint graphic depicts the general authorities of the church (in descending order of seniority), color-coded by birthplace.  I managed to confirm my suspicion that there is, mathematically speaking, a buttload of general authorities from Utah and its surrounding areas.  And the Big 15 almost entirely consists of Americans (especially Utahns), with the sole exception of Dieter F. Uchtdorf.  

So then I poked around on the Mormon Newsroom to get some membership statistics.  I was curious about how well the different parts of the world were reflected among the church leadership.  Here's what I found:

So almost thirty-five percent of the church's general authorities hail from a state which only contains thirteen percent of the worldwide membership.  That seems pretty skewed to me.  What's more interesting, however, is that the three regions of the world that are over-represented (Utah, its bordering states and Europe) are all regions that have predominantly caucasian inhabitants.  South America, for example, provides the church with almost a quarter of its total membership yet merits only eleven percent of its leadership.  Asia and Africa also have a lower share of the leadership than of the membership.  

It's weird that a church that is criticized for its racism over-represents Europe and under-represents Africa.  You'd think they'd want to do the exact opposite to support the claim that the church is not racist (especially since only one of the two authorities born in Africa is even black).  It's also strange that worthy Priesthood holders seem to be found in such higher concentration near the church headquarters than anywhere else in the world.  

I suppose, to be fair from a statistical standpoint, some of these parts of the world aren't really under-represented.  Africa's variance between membership share and leadership share is less than half a percent--but that translates to less than one general authority.  If one more African general authority were to be called, the continent would suddenly be over-represented.  When it's close enough to come down to only one individual, it's not really fair to say that Africa doesn't have its share.  But you'd still think the church, which is so focused on outward appearances, would want to appoint a few more leaders of less-white backgrounds to shed its image of racism.  

Joseph Sitati, the lone black general authority, is not the first.  The first was Helvecio Martins, who was called in 1990 and released in 1995--fourteen years before Sitati was called.  It's like the church really isn't even trying to appear racially unbiased.  Or, based on the other information, geographically unbiased.  There's clearly a gender bias, since a full hundred percent of the general authorities are, well, male. Considering only two of the general authorities are under the age of fifty (because nobody's ever heard of a religious leader under the age of forty who ever amounted to anything), there's a pretty obvious age bias. And if I had more information at my fingertips, I might be able to demonstrate that the church is also economically biased.  

After judging prospective leaders based on where they live, what sex they are, what race they are, what age they are and how rich they are, what's left to judge?  Has anybody done a statistical analysis on the apostles' shoe sizes?  Because that seems about as relevant.

Considering the church claims to be the same one established by a penniless Jew from the middle east who died before he hit forty and restored by a poor farm boy from the other side of the globe who also died before he hit forty, you'd think they'd be less selective when they call general authorities.  I guess I don't have a good historical example to counter the sexism thing, but the point is that the church is not only an oligarchy of mostly rich old white Utah men, but it's also separated itself from its own examples of leadership.

And, as a closing thought, I'd like to point out that, due to some mathematical discrepancies I found in the membership statistics provided by the Mormon Newsroom, I can only assume that the church has a burgeoning colony of eighteen thousand five hundred forty-three believers in Antarctica.

Monday, January 14, 2013

No Blood In Heaven

Out of nowhere, I suddenly remembered one of the weirdest doctrines I ever heard taught from the pulpit by a semi-reputable authority figure--that our bodies would not have blood in them in the spirit world.  Or in heaven.

I heard this as a teenager from an eccentric but well-respected high council speaker in sacrament meeting.  That night, at dinner, my family was discussing sacrament meeting.  Since my dad was the stake president, he'd attended a different ward that day and my mother and I were filling him in on our church experience.  My mom mentioned that Brother Buford's talk had some pretty heavy stuff in it.  Thinking that she was being critical of him, I agreed.  "Yeah, some of it was pretty out there," I said.  "Like that whole no-blood-in-heaven thing."  I shook my head in slight disgust that someone would teach such absurd things over the pulpit.

To my astonishment, my mom informed me that Brother Buford was probably right.  He wasn't just making stuff up and there was actually something to his claim.  That was one of the first times I can remember thinking my parents were flat-out wrong on a religious issue.  I didn't take it as a blow to my testimony, though--I just figured a couple members (including my parents, who I realized weren't perfect) got some stupid ideas in their heads.  But despite my mother's assurance that Brother Buford wasn't making stuff up, I disregarded that particular piece of information as completely false.

Upon remembering this experience, I got curious.  And I consulted Google.

Turns out, Brother Buford may not have been totally off-base in teaching us that we'd have no blood in heaven.  The prophet Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
After the resurrection from the dead our bodies will be spiritual bodies, but they will be bodies that are tangible, bodies that have been purified, but they will nevertheless be bodies of flesh and bones, but they will not be blood bodies, they will no longer be quickened by blood but quickened by the spirit which is eternal and they shall become immortal and shall never die.
You know he's said something totally off-the-wall when the biggest problem with that statement is not the fact that it's an egregious run-on sentence. Brother Buford was teaching church-approved doctrine and he couldn't get it from a higher source on the food chain--unless, I suppose, it was a more recent source.  Still, he was apparently teaching legitimate "truth" to the congregation.  There is, indeed, no blood in Mormon heaven.

The weird thing about this, of course, is that in the celestial kingdom, we're supposed to be having lots of celestial sex to create spirit children.  And that brings to mind this little anti-Twilight gem:

This has a beautiful symmetry to it because Twilight was written by a Mormon...

If you have no blood in your veins and you can't get it up, how can you be expected to eternally procreate?  I couldn't help but wonder how faithful members who are into these weirder, more nebulous doctrines could reconcile this teaching with reality.

And this is what I found:  A four-page thread on the forums dedicated to this exact principle.  My two favorite theories proposed by the posters there were the idea that "pure spirit" will flow through our veins in the afterlife and the last idea proposed--that after we're resurrected we'll just have our blood replaced with water (which could have magical properties currently unknown to science).

Yes, I'm mocking these people, and yes, this might be particularly mean-spirited.  But I just wish that people (including myself, years before I left the church) would apply Occam's Razor a little more often.  When you have to bend over backwards and apply bizarre metaphysical terminology or repeatedly invoke the claim that there's too much we don't know just to make your beliefs fit into the nice, neat box you've been struggling to keep them in, maybe you should be looking for a simpler explanation.

Maybe we don't have pure spirit in our veins in our post-resurrection bodies.  Maybe Joseph Fielding Smith was just talking out his ass.  

On a final note, it was encouraging to see that there were at least two posters in that thread that have since been banned.  I noticed one in particular was less accepting of Fielding's word as gospel than the others were.  Perhaps those two posters apostatized and attempted to share their findings with the forum before getting booted?  

Snow and Moksha, wherever you are, I hope you're out.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Choose the Right...Reaction

While I was at work a few months ago, Janet, one of my coworkers received a call from her mother-in-law.  Her mother-in-law was freaking out because she'd just found her middle-aged son dead.  Janet instantly became a wreck and I didn't really know what to do about it.

Janet used to complain about her brother-in-law a lot.  Everything from his finances to his personal hygiene was scrutinized and criticized.  She didn't like him but she put up with him because he was family.  When she received the call, Janet went from happy-go-lucky to bawling-her-eyes-out in a matter of seconds.  Suddenly she was frazzled and inarticulate.  She was both asking me for permission to leave work and telling me she was leaving, or maybe she was switching back and forth.  She'd apologize for having to leave, but then she'd ask if I would let her.  She forgot her purse and then came back a second time for her phone.  She was suddenly so different from her usual self.  It was weird.

For some reason, I was reflecting on that memory today and I wondered how much of my reaction was a result of patterns of behavior that were ingrained in me because of--wait for it--my Mormon upbringing.
Yeah, it always comes back to that.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2 Nephi 29: A Bible! A Bible!

To further bolster his rep as a legitimate prophet of God, Joseph Smith decided to devote these fourteen verses to an explanation of the Book of Mormon's divine authenticity.  Hilarity ensues.

Okay, maybe not hilarity, but there's definitely some amusingly bad logic involved.

A Bible!  A Bible!
The single most entertaining use of punctuation in the entirety of Mormon scripture is probably verse 3:
And because [God's] words shall hiss forth--many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible!  We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.
Probably because of the bizarre wording and the rare use of  multiple exclamation points, I've always found this verse to be entertaining.  I've always envisioned some Southern Baptist throwing up his hands in confusion and hysterically shrieking, "A Bible! A Bible!  We have got a Bible!" when the missionaries try to give him a Book of Mormon.

But of course, Smith's point here is that the claim that there shouldn't be an additional book of holy scripture is some kind of devil-inspired coping mechanism for poor, misled souls who can't face the truth that they're in the wrong religion.  Because a secondary volume of divine text appearing unexpectedly after hundreds of years of sole reliance on the Bible is a completely logical idea.

Remembering What Isles of the Sea Now?
During this chapter, God/Nephi/Smith tries to make the point that multiple books of scripture make sense because multiple civilizations exist around the world.  The Bible was for the Jews and the Eurasia crowd, and the Book of Mormon was for the Nephites and the New World crowd.  Take a look at verses 7 and 8:
Know ye not that there are more nations than one?  Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word?  Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another?  Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another.  And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. 
So if God remembers those who are upon the isles of the sea and speaks the same words unto one nation like unto another, why don't we have books of LDS scripture from every part of the world?  What about places that largely escaped intervention from Christian nations until relatively later in history, like Hawaii, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea?  According to verse 12, we should have scripture from those places and all others:
For behold, I [God] shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.
So if all nations of the earth have written down revelation from the same god that Mormonism worships...where are these writings?

God Secures His Right to Creative License
In verse 9, God sounds kind of snippy as he asserts his right to say whatever the hell he wants:
And I do this [allow more scripture] that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure.  And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
So the Book of Mormon is supposed to prove that God is the same yesterday, today and forever?  The fact that there are large chunks of the Book of Mormon that mirror the Bible isn't proof of anything.  A more likely explanation is that Joseph Smith copied parts of the Bible.  And what about the things from the Book of Mormon that directly contradict established scriptures?  "Thou shalt not kill--Nephi, chop that guy's head off?"

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

David Twede's Post-MormonThink Internet Presence

Why did nobody tell me that David Twede, a former editor of MormonThink--and now a former Mormon--started a blog?

I mean, I'm not insanely active in the ex-Mormon internet world, but I read several blogs, peruse Main Street Plaza and post semi-regularly on Recovery from Mormonism.  How did this escape my notice?

I thought the guy was pretty awesome.  He seemed interested in a complete, balanced assessment of facts, and when the church made it clear to him that they were not interested in a complete, balanced assessment of facts, he resigned.

He's titled his blog A Paisley Perestroika in reference to his late-September post calling for LDS members to wear paisley to church as a means of showing support for a push to influence the church to stop hoarding money and start living up to its claim of Christian generosity.  (That sounds pretty dumb in summary, but he explains it a little more eloquently than I did--it actually makes sense.)

Anyway, if this bit of news has somehow eluded your awareness as well, I'd recommend checking David's blog out.  He's a knowledgeable and reputable (at least in my opinion) source and he knows how to write and he definitely knows how to do his research.  There's some good stuff on there.

And I didn't know about it until today.  Maybe it was the spirit in action, trying to preserve the last shreds of my testimo--hahaha, who am I kidding?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2 Nephi 28: Their Works Shall Be in the Dark

Nephi has (finally) grown tired of quoting Isaiah, so now he decides to editorialize for a bit concerning the last days--and mostly how dangerous it will be to live in the last days.

False Churches?!  Where?!
Throughout this chapter, Nephi warns repeatedly against false churches and false teachings in the modern day.  He warns (among other things) against churches that claim to be of God but are not, people who teach based on their own understanding as opposed to the power of the Holy Ghost, those who teach foolish doctrines, and prideful church leaders who gouge the poor for their own financial gain. 

Sound familiar?

Joseph Smith was warning us against...himself and his successors, it seems.  After all, it's his church that claims to be of God but seems to receive no actual prophecy anymore, gives celebrated object lessons about pickles and airplanes and often tries to simply reinterpret or spin anew existing doctrines, enacts policies and practices surrounding sacred underwear and baptism for the dead, and extorts a flat ten percent of all members' incomes--including those who can't afford it--to build multi-billion dollar malls.

Yeah, I think it sounds familiar.

...And Their Works Shall Be in the Dark
In verse 9, Nephi warns against those who deal surreptitiously:
Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.
It seems painfully contradictory to me that a church whose most lauded book of scripture contains a warning against people and organizations who keep secrets can allow itself to become so notorious for keeping its financial records from the public.  Did they not read their own book?

All Had Better Not Be Well or We're Out of a Job
Verse 25 speaks to a prominent feature of Mormon culture:
Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!
There's always another commandment.  There's always a threat against the family or the sanctity of marriage.  There's always an apocalypse looming on the horizon.  There's always something else that needs to be done, whether it's family home evening, food storage, home teaching, magnifying your callings, protecting your children from the ways of the world, remaining worthy of your covenants, or whatever else.  There is no room for contentment in Mormonism (although this is hardly unique to Mormonism, I think it's unusually prevalent).  There can be no sitting back and enjoying what you've accomplished, because you just can't be sure that what you've accomplished is enough. 

No wonder so many Mormons are eternally stressed and perpetually frazzled.  Claiming things to be acceptable, even for the time being, is basically a sin.  It makes sense, though--if Mormons were permitted to stop and think for a moment, maybe they'd realize that all this worrying and hurrying to become worthy of salvation was simply a tactic to keep them under the heel of their esteemed leadership.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2 Nephi 27: The One With the Sealed Book

The unpublished subtitle of this chapter is "In Which Joseph Tries to Manufacture the Fulfillment of a Prophecy."

In my opinion, the biggest issue in this chapter is easily the "I cannot read a sealed book" thing.  In verses 15 through 19, the Book of Mormon relates (with some extra fluff) a prophecy from Isaiah, chapter 29, verse 11:
And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
 Apparently Joseph Smith had some plans to get an expert to validate the authenticity of the partially sealed records he was translating.  In Joseph Smith--History, verses 64 and 65, Martin Harris relates his experience showing a copy of some of the characters from the plates to Professor Charles Anthon.  As the story goes, Anthon declared the characters and their translations to be legitimate and signed a note stating such, until Harris mentioned that the characters were of an angelic source.  Harris wrote:
He then said to me, "Let me see that certificate."  I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them.  I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them.  He replied, "I cannot read a sealed book."
 The idea is that this story validates Joseph Smith and Mormonism as a whole because it is a direct fulfillment of a prophecy found in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  But if you think about it, and maybe filter out a little bit of the airy nineteenth-century mannerisms, the exchange doesn't make much sense.
ANTHON:  There's no such thing as the ministering of angels.  If you bring me the actual plates, I can translate them for you.
HARRIS:  Part of the plates are sealed and also there's no way my buddy is going to let the plates out of his sight.
ANTHON:  Well, I can't read a sealed book.
I find it highly suspect that Professor Anthon would have said that.  The biggest impediment to his personally examining the golden plates was not that a part of them were sealed.  As long as he had a little bit of unsealed material to work with, he could easily verify its linguistic validity.  The biggest impediment to his personally examining the golden plates was that Joseph Smith would refuse to show them to him (because they didn't actually exist).  This scenario seems more likely:
ANTHON:  There's no such thing as the ministering of angels.  If you bring me the actual plates, I can translate them for you.
HARRIS:  Part of the plates are sealed and also there's no way my buddy is going to let the plates out of his sight.
 ANTHON:  Well, I can't translate it if you won't show it to me.
Not only does Martin Harris' account not really make sense, but Charles Anthon apparently denied writing anything for Harris concerning the authenticity of the characters.  Admittedly, the issue is muddied by an earlier statement from Anthon, in which he claimed that he wrote a note to let Smith know his fraud was obvious and to let Harris know he'd been duped.  Either way, Anthon denies claiming that the characters were valid Egyptian writings.

Of course, I'm pulling that information off of Wikipedia, which we all know is prone to misinformation and vandalism.  But, come on--who are you going to believe?  Wikipedia, which labors to present accurate and unbiased information and despite its faults is almost always correct?  Or Martin Harris, the bumbling idiot who lost the 116 pages and fell for every little trick that Joseph Smith pulled on him?

At least there's good news for this Isaiah chapter--Joseph used it for a purpose other than filler.

Friday, January 4, 2013

How Do I Convince My Family I'm Right?

Shortly after the last General Conference in October, I received an email from my dad.

He'd been thinking about the announced lowering of age requirements for missionaries and he was wondering (hopefully) if I'd have actually gone on a mission at eighteen instead of bowing out at nineteen.

He continued by asking when my feelings about the church began to change, what caused those changes, and whether there was something he could have done then or could do now to help.  Of course, by "help," he means "convince me to come back to the church," but at least he wants to reach some level of understanding.

I don't deny that I have been lucky in many respects--my family hasn't shunned me or anything.  Although they're all pretty awkward about it, at least most of them have tried, in some way or another, to understand where I'm coming from, even if it's all very general and non-specific. 

I emailed him back with a general outline of why I decided to leave, and mentioned that I was glad to no longer be associated with the church and that I still had a lot of anger toward it.  He really latched on to that last part.  He said he was surprised to hear me use the word "anger."  He went on:
A lot of people respectfully disagree with the teachings of the Church.  But, my experience has been that when people are angry with the Church, it's often the result of the actions of people within the Church (hopefully, not the result of my actions), and not the teachings of the Church itself.
To be fair, my dad has a decent amount of experience with people who are angry with the church--if I remember right, it's about six years as bishop and then nine years as stake president.  But all of that experience is colored by a firm belief in the church's truthfulness--which means a deep-seated need to explain other people's malcontent in terms of members' actions instead of in terms of fundamental doctrinal flaws.

I offered to outline my problems with the church so that he could understand why I want nothing to do with it.  I even started writing it all out in a Word document, intending to eventually attach it to an email.  Then I hit a rough few days at work and didn't have time for it.  And I just kind of forgot to finish it.  Similarly, my dad's emails trailed off and the conversation just never got resolved.  I assumed, for a while, that as we got closer to the holidays, my dad postponed the conversation.  I figured he didn't want to bring up a subject so potentially volatile when the whole family would be together (and, hopefully, getting along) so soon.  I hoped that, after the new year, he'd send me another email about it.  I haven't gotten one yet.

I feel like it needs to be him that initiates the discussion again.  Because I have this whole arsenal of stuff to throw at him, and if I initiate the discussion, it will seem like an ambush.  I want him to keep asking me why I'm angry at the church so that it won't seem quite so unfair when I unleash a near-endless wave of reasons.

My dad is a smart guy.  He's no genius, but he has an above-average capacity to understand new and difficult concepts.  He taught me to be practical and analytical.  I feel like he's too good to be a lifelong Mormon.  He should have seen through the lies more easily than the average person.  And I feel like, if I triumphantly trot out my numerous points of evidence and my reasoning and my logic and my analysis and my practicality then he'll get it.  He'll understand.  He'll realize that I'm right and that he's spent half a century living a lie and subjecting his children to it.  He'll be grateful to me for liberating him instead of concerned for my apparent waywardness.

But I know it's silly.

Another of my dad's better characteristics is his ability to empathize with different opinions without being easily swayed from his own.  He's the guy that could say "I understand that you feel that opposing gay marriage limits the basic human rights of an entire section of society, and I get where you're coming from, but I still feel that the most important point here is that homosexuality is morally wrong" with complete sincerity.  I admire his capability to see other sides of an issue without ever letting someone else change his mind for him. But unfortunately, this means that fifty years of brainwashing and self-validating beliefs are going to be particularly difficult to undo.

But I don't want to be the loner in the family anymore.  I'm tired of being the one that's universally assumed to be wrong.  I wish I could show my family that I'm actually right and that they'll be much happier if they follow my lead.  I wish I could show them how little there is in Mormonism that's worth believing in and how much there is in Mormonism that's worth getting the hell away from.

I hope my dad emails me soon.  And I hope I have the balls to finish my epic letter of explanation and send it to him.  But I'm almost positive that nothing I say will convince him.  If any of you have any advice whatsoever on what to say or how to say it to maximize the effect it may have on him, please, please leave me a comment.    

I want to do this right and I need all the help I can get.