Sunday, March 31, 2013

2 Nephi 32: Spirits and Answers

Two more chapters of Second Nephi to go!

All Things?
Nephi makes an interesting promise in verse 3:
Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
And again in verse 5:
For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
I gotta say, I entered in by the way (was baptized), received the Holy Ghost (was confirmed) and feasted upon the words of Christ through high school and at BYU...and I didn't find that I was told or shown all things that I should do.  I wasn't told where to look for the key when my sister and I locked ourselves out of the house.  I wasn't told what to major in at school.  And I definitely wasn't told whether or not I should serve a mission.  I think Nephi's overselling the usefulness of his religion.

Stiffneckedness and Ignorance
Nephi makes an odd comment in verse 7:
And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.
Two things immediately occur to me upon reading that verse.  First, this sounds like a condemnation of apologetics.  FAIR and FARMS, it can be argued, do not search knowledge in order to draw their conclusions.  Nor do they understand knowledge, when it's provided to them as plainly as possible.

Secondly, it makes me think of the currently heightened debate surrounding gay marriage.  I definitely mourn because of the ignorance and stiffneckedness of my countrymen.  I feel ya, Nephi.  I mean, I'm probably in the category that you'd mourn, and the believers you champion are probably among those who I mourn, but at least I get where you're coming from.

Learning Not to Pray
Nephi preaches about prayer in verse 8:
For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.
You know what taught this man not to pray?  Not getting answers to his prayers.  Or it could have been the evil spirit (whatever that is) but mostly it was just a pattern of disappointing experiences.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

More About My Dad

During a recent conversation with my father, I learned a shocking detail about his past.

Are you sitting down?

The shocking detail is that my dad dropped out of seminary when he was a kid.  Okay, so it's not that earth-shattering.  But it was pretty surprising.  My dad, at least as far as I'd known, is as close to the Mormon ideal as you can get.  He's a BYU graduate.  He served a foreign mission.  He was married in the temple and had four well-behaved children.  He was a young men's president, a high councilor, a bishop and a stake president.  But he never finished seminary.  It's appalling to have such an unfortunate mar on an otherwise sparkling record.

He had a reason, though.  When he was in high school, he attended an early morning seminary class.  But he didn't grow up on the Wasatch Front, so the LDS population in his area was relatively sparse.  This meant that he had to attend seminary half an hour away from home.  His aging father, who worked long hours at a physically demanding job, would get up early every school day to drive my dad to seminary.  Then he'd sit out in the car and wait so that he could drive my dad to school as soon as seminary was over.  My dad told me that he eventually stopped attending because of the toll it took on my grandfather.  

I think that's a decent reason.  Rather than deprive his dad of his much-needed rest, he stopped going to early morning seminary.  I don't see a problem with that.  My dad, however, clearly regrets his decision.  He seemed embarrassed to admit to me that he didn't finish seminary, despite the fact that he was justified.  

But what happened to that kind of practical thinking?  At what point did my dad stop making decisions about the church based on what made sense?  Why did he pay tithing as he struggled to raise his kids?  Why, once he was a little more financially established, did he continue to pay tithing even as the company he worked for inevitably spiraled toward bankruptcy, eventually putting him out of a job for almost a year?  Why did he serve so tirelessly in his church leadership positions even though it decimated the time he could spend with his family?  A lot of Sundays, he'd leave for church before I woke up and he wouldn't be home until I was already in bed--or he'd make a brief appearance around dinner time before heading off to do more church stuff.  Somewhere along the line, he started doing whatever the church needed him to do and the justifiable, reasonable decision he made in his youth became an embarrassment to him.
That doesn't seem right to me.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

2 Nephi 31: The Plain of Our Endurance

Nephi's winding down his written record, and he's only got three chapters left to say anything else he needs to say.  Here's what he spends chapter 31 on.

Delighting In Plainness
Take a look at verse 3:
For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men.  For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.
Um, no.

Nephi's soul delights in plainness?  Then why did he just spend like a dozen chapters quoting Isaiah, who may have the distinction of being the least plain of the Old Testament prophets?  And if God speaks to men "according to their language" so they can understand, why would God ensure that a book of scripture written specifically for the modern age feature so much Isaiah, riddled with ancient references?

And beyond that, this verse flies in the face of an old adage championed by members of many religions,  including Mormonism:  God works in mysterious ways.  But according to Nephi, God works with plainness.  What you see is what you get with the Mormon god, right?  The Mormon god doesn't do things like deny an entire race priesthood blessings and then reverse his decision without explanation.  The Mormon god doesn't make sure his church keeps its financial information as private as possible.  The Mormon god doesn't avow a milk-before-meat missionary effort.  The Mormon god works in broad daylight with all information offered openly and up front.  At least that's what the religion's primary book of scripture seems to claim.

Marathon, Not a Sprint, Blah Blah Blah
As Nephi very un-plainly repeats himself multiple times during this chapter, he stumbles upon a key teaching of Mormonism--enduring to the end.

This is something that I actually kind of like about Mormonism.  I think enduring to the end makes a lot more sense than the I've-accepted-Christ-so-now-I'm-saved thing.  When best explained, Mormon theology is kind of a clever balancing act between works and faith--because you need both to reach the highest degree of glory in Mormon heaven.  But, sadly, this is not best explained in the Book of Mormon.  Observe verses 19 and 20:
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path [baptism], I would ask if all is done?  Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.  Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
It seems that Nephi has oddly emphasized the grace aspect of baptism and downplayed its role in the enduring-to-the-end part.  Just a few chapters ago, in 2 Nephi 25:23, it was "by grace...we are saved, after all we can do."  Now, the story is that Christ's grace allows us to be baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost...and then we have to endure to the end.

Seems to me that grace is jumping around on Nephi's timeline a bit.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

2 Nephi 30: Every God's a Little Bit Racist

Unnecessary Delineation--Five Yard Penalty
In verse two, Nephi inadvertently reveals another facet of God's racism:
For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel.
The Jews are referred to as the "chosen" or "covenant" people throughout the scriptures.  But here Nephi explains that if the Jews fail to repent, they will no longer be God's favorites.  Furthermore, if the Gentiles do repent, they'll be among God's favorites.  So if the real qualification for finding favor with God is whether or not you repent, why bother mentioning the Jew/Gentile thing at all?  It clearly doesn't matter whether you're a Jew or a Gentile so long as you repent.

Delighting in Physiognomy
Nephi then prophesies about the Book of Mormon being made available to his family's descendants.  In verse six, he writes:
And then shall [their descendants] rejoice; for they shall know that [the Book of Mormon] is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.
That word "pure" near the end there was actually the word "white" until the 1981 edition.  It's verses like these that gave way to the theory, espoused by more than one prophet of the church, that dark-skinned people who accept the church eventually become whiter.

This verse also seems to say that Native Americans will join the church in droves and that multiple generations of them will stay faithful, and, of course, be white/pure and delightsome.  I suppose this could be one of those prophecies that simply hasn't been fulfilled yet, but I think it's worth saying that the overwhelming majority of Native Americans today are non-Mormon and, of course, still have their normal skin color.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Petty Response to Petty Comments

This morning, I was greeted with a rash of angry comments on my blog.  And by "a rash of" I mean "three."  They seemed to have all been written by the same angry faithful Mormon.  And because I'm not yet mature enough to withstand personal criticism without trying to get the last word in, I think I'll post a little rebuttal.

The first comment was posted on My Un-Missionary Experience and I'm not entirely sure if it was a direct response to my post, to Andrew's comment, or to both of us.  Here's what my new best friend said:
Your an idiot the reason it felt more comfortable was because you were telling him what he wanted to hear, so you don't have to worry about him judging you, rather than what you believed to be true. for example taking things to the extremes I would feel a lot more comfortable telling a man who has a gun up to my head and says "if you don't tell me 2+2=5 ill shoot" that 2+2 does indeed equal 5
I'd said that it felt easier to discuss the church as a non-member because I was embarrassed of it as a member.  Andrew had said that he'd felt it was easier because he no longer felt responsible for the church.  Apparently at least one of us is an idiot.

I can't speak for Andrew's experiences, of course, but in my case I didn't feel like I was telling my coworker "what he wanted to hear" about the church.  He was genuinely curious and had no knowledge of the church. He had no preconceptions.

And, of course, I find it amusing that my new buddy has used the "2+2=5" example, which was featured prominently in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Similarities between the church and the Party of that novel have been drawn many times.  The LDS church doesn't teach the doctrine of eternal progression and we've always been at war with Eastasia.

The second comment was posted on I'll Pray for You and it seems to be a direct response to Jewelfox.  Jewelfox had posed the question, "What's so great about going to heaven, and why does he assume that you want to go there? :P"  Our hero's response:
This has to be the dumbest thing I've ever read. Why would you not want to live eternity in a happiness humans can't even fathom with eternal glory. But you shouldn't have to worry too much I'm sure god will send you along with every other dumbbutt blogging faggot(and I say faggot in a slang sense of the word and not be cause I hate gays or believe they're going to hell) hipster straight to hell
Okay, first of all--the dumbest thing you've ever read?  Somebody's never been to Yahoo Answers.  Secondly, she was clearly being playful and facetious, as evidenced by the sticking-your-tongue-out thing at the end of her comment.  And third--dumbbutt?

Dumbbutt.  I can honestly say I've never been called that.  Way to ruin what was otherwise a decently scathing insult by chickening out of full-on swearing and making it sound silly.  Everyone reading knows you meant "dumbass," so if you think you were being virtuous by insulting someone without actually swearing, I don't think you succeeded.  It's the meaning behind the words that carry more weight than the words themselves.  If you told someone to go fetch himself with a rusty razor, you wouldn't expect him to laugh it off simply because you didn't actually use the f-word.

And what's the deal with the faggot business?  The bigoted epithet against gays is the slang sense of the word "faggot."  And it's kind of passive-aggressive to include a parenthetical statement about not believing gays go to hell when you're telling someone that God's going to send her to hell anyway.  So, Jewelfox, when you die, and you find yourself in hell, rest assured that it's not because you're a faggot, it's because you're a dumbbutt blogging hipster.  

The third comment was posted on 2 Nephi Chapter 7 and, despite its clear animosity toward me, is actually my personal favorite.  Our anonymous crusader for truth says:
Why is anyone taking advise on their eternal being from some loser blogger who's thirty years old and works in fast food? Do people read this crap and think "yeah this guys got his stuff together and knows what he's talking about. he's a genius philosopher and I am going to put my fate in some dumb posts he puts on the internet that are very sarcastic and cynical"?
Awesome, dude.  Very classy.  Also, I think you may have some severe misconceptions about how widely-read this blog is.  This is my 134th post and I have only 91 comments scattered throughout--and a decent number of those comments are mine.  I don't have people writing glowing reviews about what I write.  I don't know that I've ever changed anyone's mind about anything.

But moving on to the more important issue--people taking advice on their eternal fates from a loser blogger who's thirty years old and works in fast food.  You know, that's an excellent point.  Why did anyone take advice on their eternal fates from some loser farmer who was twenty-four years old and liked to look for buried treasure?  Why should anyone take advice on their eternal fates from two fresh high-school graduates who've never lived away from home before?

You'd think Mormons in particular would be smart enough not to judge a guy's capacity for greatness based on his profession.  The two most important people in all of Mormondom had famously humble beginnings--Jesus was a carpenter and Joseph was a farm boy.  Of course, I will never have the same level of impact on the world as either one of them had, but my point is that a Mormon attempting to use the glamourless quality of my profession to imply that my words are meaningless is inherently hypocritical.

In conclusion, though, I'd like to mention that I do get where this guy is coming from.  As tempting as it is to say "if you have a problem with my blog, why keep reading," I've felt the same morbid curiosity reading things from his side of the fence. I've made my share of futile arguments on YouTube videos.  When you're confronted with something you so passionately disagree with, I think there's a natural inclination to want to see more--if only to prove to yourself that someone can actually be this stupid.  And, then, of course, you feel obligated to try and change his mind--or at least discredit him so that he doesn't mislead anyone else.

So hey, New Best Friend, it happens.  I mean, I don't think it had to get quite so nasty, but I get it.  If it turns out all of us hipster bloggers do go to hell, maybe I'll see you there.  We'll get a cup of coffee and laugh about how ironic it was that, after all this acid and vitriol, it turned out that both of us were wrong.

Yes, they have coffee shops in hell.  Because I've been told that's where you go if you drink it. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

What a Waste

Over the past few years, I've been slowly eliminating a lot of my Mormon Facebook friends.  I now have only six left:  three former BYU roommates, two people I grew up in the church with, and my sister.  These are pretty much the bare minimum.  These are the people who I still care to interact with and who, because of our friendships, can conceivably get past the idea that I'm no longer a member.

The two that I grew up with are brother and sister.  We came from similar families--both faithful ward staples.  The three of us were also very academically-minded.  While most of the other kids at church would talk with their friends about video games, television shows and other normal stuff, the three of us would be engaged in animated discussions about classic literature, American history or English grammar.  It was more than a little dorky, but we had fun.  I still respect them for being intelligent, analytical and academically well-rounded.

The other day, the sister posted a picture on Facebook.  It was a photo of herself, shot in profile, showing off her pregnant belly and grinning like an idiot.  It was kind of disappointing.  She was a capable, independent woman who'd breezed through admission to BYU on a bucketful of AP credits and an astonishing SAT score.  And here she is, a few years later, a homemaker for her new husband, posting pictures on Facebook that proudly display the culmination of her life's achievements to be accepting her role as a breeder.

It's depressing to see just how much potential was utterly quashed.