Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Alma 39: Sex is Death

And now poor Corianton, the black sheep of the family, has to sit through three chapters of sanctimonious fatherly philippics.

Alma:  Father of the Year
Alma the Younger starts things off with a slap in the face:
And now, my son, I have somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother; for behold, have ye not observed the steadiness of thy brother, his faithfulness, and his diligence in keeping the commandments of God?  Behold, has he not set a good example for thee?
While it's totally reasonable for a parent to wish one of their children had some of the better qualities of another child, it's not at all reasonable to open a heart-to-heart talk with that sentiment.  Alma basically begins with, "I noticed you're not as awesome as your brother.  Why can't you be more like him?"  Corianton probably tuned out right away and I don't blame him for it at all.

Get Your Priorities Straight
In keeping with his tactless approach to the conversation, the current prophet starts to list his son's sins:  he doesn't listen to dear old dad, he seems to be a little stuck up, he has no interest in being a missionary and, worst of all, he seems to have some kind of libido.  That honestly sounds a lot like me (but luckily my dad has never given me a speech about how I should be more like my sisters).  And then Alma lays this one on him:
Know ye not, my son, that these things [sexual sins] are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?
Yes.  Having sex is almost as bad as murder.  But luckily those are both second fiddle in comparison to the dreaded denial of the Holy Ghost.  Now, in Alma's defense, it sounds like Corianton is just a teenager being a little too wild and irresponsible in his teenagerdom.  Maybe Alma's just trying to scare him a bit so he calms down.  Unfortunately, that is not the popular interpretation of this verse.  According to Mormonism, because of my intimate though dedicated cohabitating partnership with my girlfriend, I am committing the third worst sin that I can possibly commit.  That is, frankly, absurd.

I also kind of resent the way Mormonism sets these sins up in a simplistic order of severity.  Assuming that consensual sex between two people is inherently wrong, it still shouldn't be written in on line three in permanent marker.  Life (as well as the human capacity for evil) is a lot more complex than that.  Stealing seems to fall way below sexual sin on the leaderboards, but are you really going to tell me that Bernie Madoff's thievery still isn't as bad as a healthy and voluntary sexual relationship between two unmarried adults?

It's not all black and white.  Mormon doctrine doesn't seem to grasp that very often.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do
It also seems pretty hypocritical of Alma to lecture his son about doing something almost as bad as murder, considering just 38 chapters ago, Alma was practically bubbling over with exuberance to kill Nehor.  Sure, Nehor was a murderer, and sure, Alma was the ranking government official at the time, but still...he hardly gave the guy a fair trial.
Alma also points out that it's only horrible to kill if the blood is innocent and it's perpetrated "against the light and knowledge of God," whatever that means.  And a very easy argument can be made that, since he was just doing his job as a chief judge and upholding the law established by Mosiah and supported by the people, it's not murder, it's simply one-hundred-percent-kosher capital punishment.  Which is fair.  But when you read Alma's explanation of the need for Nehor's death, it sounds more like one more little part of the Book of Mormon's hard-on for modern American democracy than a doctrinal teaching from God himself.

Anyway.  I have a problem with the death penalty, so this bothers me (although I understand why it doesn't bother others).  And I definitely have a problem with the hypocrisy of a prophet of the Lord with so much blood on his hands (did I forget to mention his mad combat skills?) sitting down to lecture his son about the grievousness of something so comparatively trivial as his sexual exploits.

It's So Easy!
Apparently Corianton finds daddy's claim of a future messiah a little dubious.  Alma tries to explain.
And now I will ease your mind somewhat on this subject.  Behold, you marvel why these things should be known so long beforehand.  Behold, I say unto you, is not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?
Is it not as necessary that the plan of redemption should be made known unto this people as well as unto their children?
Is it not as easy at this time for the Lord to send his angel to declare these glad tidings unto us as unto our children, or as after the time of his coming? 
That's an excellent point.  The worth of souls is great in the sight of God, right?  So clearly he'd want to promulgate his plan of happiness as widely as he can across all periods of time so that as many people as possible can have the opportunity to take advantage of it.  That makes perfect sense.

Oh, except every single person who lived between the years of 33 and 1830.  Screw all of them.  Those jerks don't deserve to learn this stuff.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


The LDS Church has suddenly released another shady, undated essay on its website covering another controversial aspect of its historyThe Big P.  While I suppose this is a win for those championing increased transparency concerning the church's history, there is so much of this essay that is designed to be anything but transparent.  And there is a common thread woven throughout that makes the actions of the church and its leaders appear to be selfish and flawed instead of prophetic and inspired.

Let's start off with this gem:
In Joseph Smith's time, monogamy was the only legal form of marriage in the United States.  Joseph knew the practice of plural marriage would stir up public ire.
Despite the fact that polygamy was illegal, Joseph went ahead and did it.  That might be permissible on its face (God's commandments trump everything else, right?), except that, possibly to try and soothe the "public ire," Joseph wrote in the twelfth article of faith that church members believed in "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law."  The Articles of Faith were penned in 1842.  By the church's own admission in this essay, Joseph took his first plural wife in the "mid-1830s."  Joseph Smith lied.  Publicly.  And his lie is now canonized in Mormon scripture.  That doesn't sound like what would have happened if he were a true prophet representing God's true church.

A Likely Story
Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward.  During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.
And this claim isn't suspicious at all?  Nobody else saw the angel, but he "told associates" that it totally happened.  And why exactly is God threatening to have an angel run his prophet through if he doesn't add to his harem?  Of all the tools available to him, the loving creator who supposedly championed free will during our premortal existence decides to use the threat of physical violence to force his prophet to obey his commands?  I think it's just more likely that Joseph was smart enough to realize that acting like he was taking extra wives under duress would make things a little more palatable for his victims and their families.

Secret Secret, I've Got a Secret
The rumors [of polygamist practices] prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated "celestial" plural marriage.  The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God's living prophet, might do so.
This might be the ugliest, most despicable paragraph in the whole essay.

Those who were practicing polygamy were doing so in secret.  The article is quick to call plural marriage a commandment from God, but it says nothing about whether God commanded polygamists to keep it a secret and lie about it in public.  So apparently, as part of this Lying for the Lord campaign, the church put out "carefully worded denials" that basically condemned people who were doing off-the-books plural marriages.  These statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of the Freaking President of the Same Freaking Church, might do so.

First of all, that's not implicit, it's just dishonest.  When you say your church practices no marital law other than monogamy, it really sounds like all the members would have a maximum of one spouse.  It sounds like a straight-up denial, not an implied reference to the possibility of the exact opposite of what you just said.  Secondly, the church is used semantics to deflect criticism.  Plural marriage and polygamy may not be one hundred percent identical concepts, but for practical purposes, they're the same thing.  When early church critics railed against polygamy, everybody knew what they meant.  Polygamy, celestial plural marriage, potato, potahto.  It's pretty appalling that the church members and leaders could just play dumb and proclaim to condemn polygamy (while silently hoping nobody asks them if they practice this "celestial plural marriage" thing).  This is not the behavior of a true church.

"Pedophile" is Such an Ugly Word...
The youngest [of Smith's wives] was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph's close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday.  Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today's standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens.
Yes, everyone noticed that you cleverly avoided explicitly stating that the poor girl was a 14-year-old bride.  Good job.

Okay, so the basic argument here is that, despite the fact that it's "inappropriate by today's standards" for a 37-year-old man to wed a 14-year-old girl, it's okay because it was legal at the time?  Lots of things that are legal are still wrong.  If saying it wasn't against the law almost two hundred years ago is your best argument for the legitimacy of a certain event, you're kind of grasping at straws.  I guess the good news is that I finally have a reason to use this:
Wait, polygamy was against the law, so legally he's still wrong.  And ethically even more of an ass.
It also bears mentioning that "some women" marrying "in their mid-teens" is pretty irrelevant.  Some women get tramp stamps too.  Just because something is condoned or permitted by society doesn't mean it's a good thing.  The Mormon Church taught me that.

Oh, and Helen Mar Kimball wasn't in her mid-teens anyway.  There are seven "teen" years.  Fourteen is the second one.  I think it's fair to say that if she were going to get married in her mid-teens, she should have waited those "several months" until her fifteenth birthday.

Limited Ease of Access
Another possibility [as to why Joseph was sealed to so many women] is that, in an era when life spans were shorter than they are today, faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed by priesthood authority.  Several of these women were married either to non-Mormons or former Mormons, and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages.  Living in a time when divorce was difficult to obtain, these women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not other wise receive in the next life.
So, because these panicky women who married idiot husbands were silly enough to think that God won't let them into Heaven unless they're sealed to a man (stupid, right?), Joseph just married 'em in the temple really quickly to make sure their minds were at ease?  Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

Of course, it doesn't explain why so many of these women were sealed to Joseph after 1836, when, as this article informs us, Elijah appeared in the Kirtland temple to restore "the priesthood keys necessary to perform ordinances for the living and the dead, including sealing families together."  Couldn't Joseph have just pointed out that future generations would perform sealings for these women and their original husbands, making them eligible for all the blessings they so desperately desired?

VERY Easily Misunderstood
The women who united with Joseph Smith in plural marriage risked reputation and self-respect in being associated with a principle so foreign to their culture and so easily misunderstood by others.
Correction:  very easily misunderstood, by pretty much everybody.

The essay about it on the official website of God's own church doesn't even understand it.  Look at the church spin theories about why certain elements of polygamy were conducted in certain ways and catch all the weasel words and the missing citations on significant claims.  Observe the nameless, faceless author struggle to reconcile why Joseph didn't follow the rules of polygamy revealed to him in D&C 132.  Watch the writer attempt to describe postmortal sealing relationships between families despite acknowledging he has no idea how they might work in the afterlife.

The article gives a murky explanation of how and why the practice began and offers no analysis of how and why it ended.  The people who oppose the practice don't understand why it should be allowed and the people who defend it don't understand anything about any of it.

Oh...and do I feel really bad for the women who were so tortured by their decisions to acquiesce to their Prophet's requests for marriage.  But, unfortunately, suffering for something doesn't make it noble or right.  All it really means is that it induces suffering.

This essay was less clueless and less embarrassing than the earlier one about the Book of Abraham.  But it still admits a lot of cluelessness and still fails to paint Joseph and his polygamy in a positive light, despite all the careful phrasing.

But, overall, the church is basically using a tiny bucket to bail water out of a slowly sinking ship.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Alma 38: Bad God

Now Alma imparts his fatherly wisdom to Shiblon.  The problem is that Shiblon is pretty righteous, and that makes him boring.  So instead of two long chapters, he only needs fifteen verses, much of which is simply a rehashing of what was said to Helaman.

It's So Hard to Trust
Alma makes another dubious promise on God's behalf in verse 5:
And now my son, Shiblon, I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
This is kind of a corollary to what Alma said two chapters ago.  He told Helaman that keeping the commandments would lead to prosperity, and here he tells Shiblon that trusting God will also bring relief from your problems.

I mean, just look at Abinadi.  He had unfailing trust in God, and it's not like he was captured, imprisoned and burned to death or anything.  And take the People of Alma as another example.  After escaping from King Noah's army and starting their own little town, it's not like God failed to reward their faithfulness by keeping them from being discovered by the Lamanites and put under the heel of the former leader of King Noah's wicked priests.  And let's not forget the Martin and Willie handcart companies.  God definitely didn't allow any of those people who were literally dedicating their lives to following him and his prophets to starve, freeze, and die in the wilderness.

God always makes things okay as long as you trust in him.  The Book of Mormon and early church history are full of examples.

Dear Heavenly Father, I Suck
Alma reminds Shiblon to pray, but to make sure he doesn't pray the way the Zoramites didpublicly and with pompous, flowery language to elicit the accolades of men.  He also reminds his son to pray humbly (verse 14)
Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercyyea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times.
Whoa.  I mean, not praying like a conceited jerk I get, but you lost me at "acknowledge your unworthiness at all times."

Mormonism is fond of painting God as a loving father who just wants what's best for his children.  This verse does not support that depiction.  This verse points to a God who has no intention of treating us as equals and wants us to be perpetually aware of our own hideous insignificance.

It's no wonder Mormonism is such a stressful religion to believe in.  We're constantly being told that the natural man is an enemy to God and that we are free to choose liberty or death.  We have a long list of things to check off in order to qualify for the highest degree of glory, but there's always that pesky enduring to the end that means no outcome can ever be certain.  We're taught to be happy because we're supposed to be happy if we're doing the right things.  We're taught to feel responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of everyone around us and that not going that extra mile in fellowship or home teaching might make the difference required to keep a wayward member from gaining exaltation.  And on top of all that, we should acknowledge our unworthiness before God at all times.

It makes prayer sound like an embarrassment.  Like we're malnourished orphans tugging at God's robe to beg for a morsel of scrap.  That's not a healthy father/child relationship.  And considering that God has chosen to frame the relationship that way by use of his prophet Alma, it makes God seem like a stuck-up prick instead of a benevolent, perfected being.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Alma 37: Wisdomy Wisdom

Still addressing his son Helaman, Alma begins to discuss the importance of preserving the scriptural records.

Why is this Even a Thing?
Verses six and seven have been committed to memory by me and countless other seminary students.  Reading it now, I can't help but wonder why it's even a Scripture Mastery.  Take a look:
Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. 
Verse six is pretty much a fortune cookie.  It's a nice little thought that, while profound, doesn't really seem like the kind of thing that God really needs to make sure his children know.

Verse seven is, appropriately, confounding.  It seems to be telling us that God works subtly, behind the scenes, and without grand theatrical gestures.  This kind of contradicts the story of Noah, the Tower of Babel, the walls of Jericho, the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the many miracles of Jesus, the story of Daniel, the story of Nephi's sea voyage, the fighting prowess of Ammon, the miraculous escape of the people of Alma, as well as (spoiler alert!) the survival of the Stripling Warriors, the protection of Samuel the Lamanite, and, of course, the dramatic arrival of Christ on the American continent.  You know, just to name a few.

And apparently God uses all these "small means" to save "many souls," which is a load of hooey.  God should not be bragging about how many souls he's saving, considering his vehicle for salvation is basically a crapshoot.  Why is this a Scripture Mastery again?

Yes, "Wisdom" is What That's Called...
There's a second Scripture Mastery in this chapter (verse 35):
O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.
That's not wisdom.  That's obedience.  That's self-preservation.  That's self-consignment.  Alma's just reinforcing the value of brainwashing:  son, the sooner you start toeing the line, the easier things will be for you.

A Liahona is Better than an 8-Ball
Alma concludes by comparing the Liahona to the word of Christ.
And now I say, is there not a type in this thing?  For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.
 Let's examine the differences between the words of Christ and the Liahona.

The Liahona was a tangible object that could relate very simple and clear instructions.  It pointed the direction in which Lehi's family was supposed to travel and it contained written messages that were specifically intended for them.  Its services were also unavailable when any member of the group did something wrong, like pick on God's favorite person.

The words of Christ (in the context of Mormonism) are intangible and relate very complex, sometimes contradictory instructions.  They offer no literal direction and leave the user to rely on vague emotions and indefinable feelings to make decisions. Its services are supposedly available to anyone who is faithful and has a sincere desire to know the truth (see Moroni 10), regardless of how murderous their family members may be.

So is the Liahona a physical representation of the value of the scriptures?  Sure, maybe a sloppy one.  I mean, I can see where the comparison is drawn from, but the problem is that the Liahona, in its capacity as a tangible, specific and personalized object, was far more useful than the scriptures ever were. With the Liahona, when God says, "go south," you go south.  With the scriptures, when God says, "don't drink hot things," you know coffee is bad but you're not sure if herbal tea is okay because hot chocolate is clearly acceptable.

The comparison is too simple.  It doesn't really work.  But it was a nice try, Alma.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Alma 36: More Fatherly Advice

We're now entering a section in which Alma gives all his fatherly advice to his sons.  His first victim is Helaman, to whom he devotes two chapters.  Helaman must have been a very patient man to sit through all of this.

Prosperity is Next to Godliness
Okay, right off the bat, we have a problematic claim in verse 1:
My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.
I feel like this can be pretty easily disproved.

Of course, I guess it depends on your definition of "prosper."  Alma doesn't explicitly say that keeping the commandments will result in financial prosperity.  Or perhaps prosperity, in this sense, refers to happiness.  Regardless, it seems like a horrible thing to tell a believer, because of the unspoken inverse:  if you're not prosperous, wealthy or happy, it's because you're not doing a good enough job keeping the commandments of God.

Way to feed the Mormon guilt factory, Alma.  Like we needed any more help.

Apparently, I'm Suicidal
In a flashback that J.J. Abrams would have been proud to include on Lost, Alma finally recounts the details of what happened to him back in Mosiah 27 when he was basically paralyzed for three days by an angelic temper tantrum.  In the midst of Alma's description of the guilt he suffered during his coma, he discusses the fact that he had torn down the testimonies of believers:
Yea, and I had murdered many of [God's] children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
Nobody's responsible for their own beliefs or their own salvation, because you can just spiritually murder them and take their eternal fate into your own hands!  Also, if you believe a certain thing and want someone else to believe the same thing, you better be sure it's right, because you might be murdering them!

And that also means that, since I governed my own exit from the church instead of following some silvertongued troublemaker, what I did was suicide.  Interesting.

God Always Has Your Back, Bro
Alma recounts his "exquisite" joy when he cried out for forgiveness, was absolved of his sins, and restored to health.  Then he explains that he's spent the rest of his life working tirelessly for God and telling his son how God always bails his people out of tough spots.
And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.
...Yea, and he has also brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem; and he has also, by his everlasting power, delivered them out of bondage and captivity, from time to time even down to the present day; 
There are some problems with this.  Alma is telling Helaman that he can trust God to deliver him from all kinds of horrible situations.  What he doesn't mention is that Alma was in most of these situations specifically because he was trying to do God's work.  Which sounds less like "You can trust God to help you out" and more like "You can trust God to clean up the messes he makes."

Then he goes on to praise the power of God in delivering his people from bondage, citing pretty much the entire length of the Book of Mormon thus far.  But what he doesn't mention is that God allowed many of these situations to happen because his people were unrighteous and that the freedom the people experienced following God's mercy has always been temporary.  That sounds less like "God will always rescue his people" and more like "God will let his people get screwed when he's dissatisfied with them and after they've learned their lesson he'll rescue them but not necessarily protect them for much longer."

Alma's just seeing God through rose-colored glasses, I guess.  Although from his perspective, it makes a little bit more sense, because God actually did come through for him pretty much every time.  But if Alma had been one of those people God callously let burn to death in Ammonihah with the flimsy reasoning that they could be witnesses against their murderers in the last day, I doubt he'd be singing the same tune.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How Mormonism is like Supernatural Fandom

In honor of this week's tenth season premiere of Supernatural, I finally finished a post I've been kicking around for a while.

I'm a big fan of Supernatural. I don't cosplay or go to comic-con panels or anything, but I consider myself a loyal follower.  I've bought all the available seasons on DVD despite the fact that I can watch them anytime on Netflix.  I've watched each season several times and then forced my girlfriend to watch them with me again.  I stream new episodes to stay caught up and I participate in online discussions of the show.

And I've noticed some similarities between my Supernatural fandom and my former Mormon fandom.

(...spoiler alert...)

1.  I cheer for the arrival of my favorite recurring guest stars.
"You chuckleheads tried to kill me last time."
The return of the Trickster was a great moment.  He's not one of the central characters of the show, but he has such panache and he's always fun to watch.  His contributions shake up the usual rhythms of the Supernatural mythos in refreshing ways.  Whenever he appears in an episode (which, sadly, isn't as often as I'd like), I get pretty excited about whatever is about to happen.

That moment is not unlike this one:
*person in twenty-fourth row coughs loudly*
A member of the Quorum of the Twelve is leaving the podium during General Conference.  Who's walking up next?  Could it be my sister's old mission president, who despite being only a Seventy, has a positive attitude and a cool accent?  He's spoken in General Conference several times now, and I used to hope he'd speak when I watched as a faithful member of the church.  Sure, he's not one of the Big Fifteen, but his delivery of important doctrines is a refreshing break from the measured intonations of Richard G. Scott and the authoritative firmness of Dallin H. Oaks.

2.  I love seeing outside sources verify the awesomeness that I know to be awesome.
Kurt Fuller as Zachariah, Mark Pellegrino as Lucifer, Mark Sheppard as Crowley, Felicia Day as Charlie and DJ Qualls as Garth
Over the course of its nine seasons, Supernatural has been graced with many quality guest stars, but the ones that feel most rewarding are the actors I'm already familiar with.  A show with this many awesome supporting actors must be doing something right.  It's a testament to the awesomeness of Supernatural that actors from Firefly and Dexter and Battlestar Galactica and Leverage and so many other great shows just seem to pour in.  Sure, they could have just signed on for the paycheck, but the sheer number of cool actors being involved can't be a coincidence.  Right?

In very much the same way, every time I heard a non-Mormon speak well of the Mormons, I felt validated.  Sure, that guy may be a Methodist, but his acknowledgement that he knows a Mormon lady who seems nice is every bit as fulfilling as Felicia Day returning to portray Charlie Bradbury despite the demands of her other work. If even non-Mormons have good things to say about us, then we must be really great.  Right?  Remember how cool it was when you realized that Jimmy Freaking Stewart starred in the LDS film, Mr. Krueger's Christmas?  He probably knew the church had something special and that's why he wanted to be involved.

It's silly in both contexts, of course, but somehow, outside sources contributing to the quality or enhancing the image of the object of your devotion is oddly gratifying.

3.  I'm duped by the seeming purity of self-sacrifice.
When Sam died and Dean sold his soul to bring him back to life, I was impressed by how easily he forfeited his own wellbeing for the benefit of his brother.  He would have only one year to live before spending an eternity in Hell just so Sammy could have another chance for a long and happy life.  Eventually I realized that Dean's actions were selfish and even somewhat pitiful, stemming from a deep-seated sense of worthlessness and an inability to cope with a life without his brothereven though he was about to force Sam to live alone.

In Mormonism, I was raised to be in awe of Joseph Smith, Abinadi, the righteous of Ammonihah, and so many other Mormon figures who sacrificed their personal safety or their lives for the things they believed in. But that was before I realized that Joseph was armed and shot some of his attackers, Abinadi was fictional and the deaths in Ammonihah depict a vicious, merciless God.

They're practically the same guy.
None of these sacrifices was as pure or as selfless or as poignant as I originally thought.  In each case I felt silly for blindly buying into the first representation of it and not discovering the underlying impurities sooner.

4.  It's supposed to be about the story, but sometimes I forget and worship the founder.
The important things about Supernatural are its substancethe themes of family and loyalty and friendship and trust, the characters' struggles, the constant battle between black-and-white morality and the blurring line between good and evil, the on-screen chemistry, the comedic timing, the classic rock and the self-indulgent metafictional weirdness.  But sometimes, as fans, we decide that it's more important to discuss how much of a supposed genius Eric Kripke is.  As the show's creator and showrunner for the first five seasons, Kripke introduced us to the characters we love and led them on an epic journey which culminated in a battle against Lucifer himself.  In various online communities dedicated to Supernatural, there are occasional jokes made about Eric Kripke being God, both inside and outside of his fictional universe.
Yes...that is Eric Kripke's face on God's body.
Similarly, the church is supposed to be about the atonement and the family and achieving celestial glory.  But sometimes, Sunday School lessons are all about how fantabulous Joseph Smith was.  We're taught that he did more for the salvation of mankind than anyone (other than Jesus, of course).  We study his life and make movies about him and do everything possible to make him sound (and look) better than he actually was.  We ignore or downplay his polygamy, gloss over his brushes with the law, and glorify him as a tragic, defenseless martyr.
dat glow of righteousness tho
But that's not really what's supposed to be important, is it?

5.  I take obvious missteps on faith. 
Exhibit A:  hot and awesome Ruby.  Exhibit B:  still hot, but with artificially sweetened caffeine-free awesome.
Ruby, a demon introduced in season 3, returned in season 4but she was played by a different actress that wasn't nearly as popular with the viewers.  The bitchy attitude and the sense of danger and in-your-face risk-taking wasn't quite right in the new portrayal.  Season 6 struggled without a big villain that could rival the previous season's climax and fell flat because Sam Winchester's character was completely gutted.  Despite these flaws, I continued watching faithfully.  Most of the core elements I loved had been preserved, so Supernatural was still the best show ever, right?

Through all the time I spent in the church, I never understood the supposed rationale behind polygamy.  And no matter which way I looked at it, the priesthood ban always seemed fishy to me too.  But I didn't learn of those things right away.  I was raised on a simple but steady diet of "Jesus loves us," "Joseph Smith was a prophet," and "the Book of Mormon is true."  And those easily digestible core beliefs were still being taught, so the church was still true, right?
Why the church used to apparently be racist is not an important question,
therefore, the church is still true!

6.  I get really angry with critics, whether they spit on one small piece or the entirety.
While the show has had its ups and downs, some people have reacted to the less awesome parts a little worse than others.  I've seen a few posts on Reddit from people who loved the first few seasons but have nothing but hatred and vitriol to dispense about the recent ones.  And, of course, I've had a few people think I was weird for liking Supernatural because they thought it was just a cheesy horror show with plenty of eye candy for the ladies.  These kinds of comments make me want to rage because, even if they're accurate or only a matter of opinion, they simplify and devalue the things I hold dear.  
Some reactions to criticism are a little less advisable than others.
When it came to dealing with criticism of Mormonism, I was even more thin-skinned.  I had a friend who used to occasionally tease me for believing in such far-fetched things (he particularly liked to say something about a rock in a hat, which of course he was just making up).  I found it difficult to shrug his mockery off.  Luckily, he never used the big C-word, because I discovered later how much someone labeling the church as a cult would set me off.  
Say cult again...I dare you.
When polygamy was discussed outside of a church setting, I tended to get kind of riled up.  It was a source of endless frustration to me that, after more than a hundred years of a zero-tolerance policy on polygamy, it was still the first thing people associated with Mormonism.  When people would talk about it like it was the stupidest thing a church could teach, I'd want to scream at them, "But you're ignoring all the great stuff about Mormons!  Eternal families?  Come on, who doesn't want that!"  I got very tired of people simplifying my religion and dismissing it as foolish.  After a while, the slightest less-than-positive comment would make my blood boil.

7.  I make the mythology hold continuity because I need the mythology to hold continuity.
In the fourth season, there's an episode in which the Winchester brothers (and their angel friend, Castiel) investigate the murders of several angels.  In the climax of the episode, as the angel Uriel prepares to destroy Castiel, he reveals that only angels are capable of killing angels.  Lending credence to his claim, the angel Anna shows up and kills Uriel, saving Castiel.  It was all very dramatic and exciting.  Except that in season five, Dean, a mere human, kills the angel Zachariah by stabbing him through the jaw.  That shouldn't have been possible, right?

"The only thing that can kill an angel...is another angel."
I quickly reasoned that, to do the deed, Dean had used one of the special blades that angels carry.  Which was true.  But you'd think Uriel would have said "the only thing that can kill an angel is an angel's blade."  (Although that would have been discredited later, too.)  With a little bit of circuitous reasoning and mental gymnastics, I decided that since Uriel was such a self-assured and arrogant character with little respect or regard for humankind, perhaps it never would have occurred to him that a human would be able to get his hands on an angel blade, let alone use it to deliver a fatal blow to a heavenly being.  So that's why he phrased it that way and that's why it wasn't a continuity error when Dean killed Zachariah.

With nine full seasons of detailed mythology and complicated back stories, this kind of thing has to happen from time to time (although some seasons are better at avoiding it than others).  I don't want to see perceived plot holes as flaws because I've been so loyal to this show for so long, so I do what I have to do to convince myself that it all lines up perfectly.

When I was eighteen and starting to realize that I'd have to go on a mission soon, I decided I couldn't bear to spend two years preaching about something I wasn't one hundred percent sure of.  So I put Moroni's promise to the test and prayed to know if the Book of Mormon was true.  After all, I'd been taught in many church lessons that I could receive a personal witness of its truthfulness with the simple act of kneeling down in earnest prayer.  So I prayed.  And I prayed.  And I prayed some more.

*Not all prayers may qualify.  Subject to credit approval.
Do not use the power of the Holy Ghost if you are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant.
After several days of trying and receiving no answer, I wondered how that could possibly be.  I quickly reasoned that my answer from God was that I didn't need an answer.  By ignoring my supplication, he was telling me that I already knew the Book of Mormon was true.  That made perfect sense, I decided.  That's why I didn't get an answer and that's why Moroni chapter ten wasn't lying to me.  

With almost two hundred years of doctrines and prophets, this kind of thing had to happen from time to time (although some topics required much less of it than others).  I didn't want to see failings of the gospel as flaws because I'd spent my whole life in the church and invested so much of myself in it, so I did what I had to do to convince myself that it all lined up perfectly.

If it all lines up so well, why do I still have this knot in my stomach?

When I look back, that's what being a devoted Mormon felt like.  Fandom.  Fanaticism.  Obsession.  An avid follower of a TV show or a brand or a sports team or a religion can get so wrapped up in their love and their loyalty for the object of their obsession that they lose a certain amount of objectivity.  We can lie to ourselves, lose focus on things of central importance when it suits us, ignore troublesome fringe issues when we want to, and get caught up in the experience rather than assessing the value that experience has.

When I finally managed to step back and assess the value and the validity of Mormonism, I knew I wanted nothing to do with it.  I can only hope that Supernatural doesn't let me down as catastrophically as the church did.

I say these things in the name of Eric Kripke, amen.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Creating a Dependence on the Church

My mind has been stuck on one particularly baffling statement made from the pulpit last weekend by Quentin L. Cook:
Some postpone marriage until education is complete and a job obtained.  While widely accepted in the world, this reasoning does not demonstrate faith, comply with counsel of modern prophets and is not compatible with sound doctrine.
I keep thinking:  why would anyone give that kind of advice?

And I finally have a theory.   It's another strategy designed to keep people from leaving the church.  The missionary age was lowered to keep youth from having the time to experience life away from home and questioning what they've been taught.  This is the same kind of thing, only it's targeted at a slightly older age group.

Let's say a returned missionary gets married in his first or second year after coming home.  He'll still have two or three years of school left before he even gets his bachelor's degree and longer before he finds gainful employment.  But because he's followed the counsel of Quentin L. Myopic, he'll spend at least the next few years in exhaustion, attempting to finish his education, keep a job to pay for his education, fulfill his church callings and still trying to find the time to be a husband and father.  His wife will be in a similar boat, trying to maintain the household and take care of the children while trying to stretch her husband's meager income (minus ten percent) and receiving little assistance from her burnt-out spouse (and don't forget her church callings).

The result?  I think Cook is hoping that, in the midst of all the stress this couple has flung themselves into headlong, the church will become their most important source of emotional support.  They'll call it their "harbor in the storm" in testimony meetings.  Surrounded by others going through the same crises and some who have gone through them before, the couple will look forward to Sundays as a time to finally feel peace...even though it was the church they attend that created the need for such respite.  The church is trying to turn people into junkies so that the only thing that gets them through the day is a good strong hit of Mormonism.

I can't think of a single practical reason for why Cook issue this admonishment.  To demonstrate faith?  I think everyone's experience can speak for itself that not all faithful Mormons who marry before being financially stable wind up with good incomes and happy families.  If there is no guaranteed reward for the faith, why does God expect his children to do it?  At least when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, he was rewarded by not actually having to go through with it.  But here, people can suffer for decades with debt and stress and generally spreading themselves too thin because they demonstrated their faith and received nothing for it.

It's another control tactic.  It's a doctrinal lobster trap.  It's irresponsible and reprehensible.

And it certainly doesn't seem right to me.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Notes on General Conference, Part II

Either I was getting tired of listening, or I didn't catch as much awful stuff during the Sunday sessions.  At least, it didn't feel that way until I finished typing this up and realized I'd used exactly the same number of quotations from Sunday as I had from Saturday.  Anyway...let's jump right in:

Prophets testify of Jesus Christ, of his divinity, and of his earthly mission and ministry.
--Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session
Oh, so that's all they do?  They just tell us that Jesus is real?  Because that explains why Monson didn't do any prophesying this Conference.  I guess if you're going to define "prophet" as "one who testifies of Christ" instead of "one who prophesies" then yes, Monson is definitely a prophet.

No prophet or any other leader in this church, for that matter, has ever called himself or herself.
--Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session 
What about Alma?   With no access to Priesthood keys, he took it upon himself to start his own little church, prayed for the authority to baptize and got right on dipping people into the Waters of Mormon.  He didn't ask God who should be in charge of the church and he wasn't ordained by anyone who had authority (which is a direct contradiction to a quote Nelson reads later in his talk).  He just knelt down and said, "Hey, gimme some authority so I can start baptizing."

You and I do not vote on church leaders on any level.  We do, though, have the privilege of sustaining them.
--Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session
This is because it gives us confidence and shows faith, as he explained earlier.  It's such a smarmy way of wording this, though.  If we have zero choice in the matter, how is it anything other than someone else emphasizing their control over us by giving us the "privilege" of signing off on it?  It's like coming home to a note on your door that says, "I stole your TV.  All those in favor, please make it manifest by the raising of the right hand.  All those opposed, by the same sign."  Maybe you'd been meaning to get the TV replaced anyway and it doesn't really bother you or maybe it was brand new and now you're out five hundred bucks.  But either way, it just feels like a massive and unnecessary taunt by the person who is in control and knows you can't do anything to change what has already been decided. In the church, it's supposed to make us feel more involved, but if we were really involved we'd have had a say in it in the first place.  Physically sustaining leaders when they're announced isn't a privilege, it's gesture of compliance, voluntary disenfranchisement and willful subjugation.

As President J. Reuben Clark explained, he [the prophet] alone has the right to receive revelations for the church or change in any way the existing doctrines of the church.
--Carol F. McConkie, Sunday morning session
Boy, that was a poorly selected citation.  I wonder how many red flags this set off.

What do you mean, change the existing doctrines?  I thought God's word was the same yesterday, today and forever and that our church is the same exact church teaching the same exact principles as the church that Jesus established during his ministry.  Why would the prophet ever need to change a doctrine if we already have the fullness of the gospel?

We're not out of touch, brothers and sisters, with your lives.
--M. Russell Ballard, Sunday afternoon session
As part of his soon-to-be-quoted-in-Sunday-School speech on "staying in the boat" instead of jumping ship when you start to have doubts, Ballard reassures us that he's rubbed shoulders with people all over the world.  While I doubt he's ever shared a meager meal in a filthy hut with a malnourished family in the wilderness of a third world country, he seems to think he has a pretty good grasp on the common man.   He may not be out of touch with our lives, but he's out of touch with reality if he thinks this "stay in the church at all costs" shtick is actually working.  I think it may delay the inevitable, but if members are really looking for answers that the church isn't giving them, there's always going to be a point at which staying in the boat simply because you've been warned to stay in the boat by someone who's never left the boat himself won't be enough.  Despite Ballard's extended metaphor, people will still take their chances with the water.

Sometimes Latter-Day Saints and sincere investigators begin to focus on the appendages instead of on the fundamental principles.  That is, Satan tempts us to become distracted from the simple and clear message of the restored gospel.
 --M. Russell Ballard, Sunday afternoon session
Because there's nothing about the restoration that's suspect.  You can worry about the Kinderhook Plates and the  Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Evergreen Program all you want, but if you don't keep your focus on the fundamental principles of the gospel, like how the Plan of Salvation is inane and cruel, or how the Book of Mormon contains exact quotes from flawed translations of the King James Bible or how the first modern-day prophet married dozens of wives while publicly denying it despite a clear condemnation of such a practice in the book he supposedly translated by the power of God a few years earlier...wait, what was I saying?

Oh, yeah.  If you focus on the basics of the gospel instead of getting bogged down in troublesome appendages, you'll see there's absolutely no reason to leave the boat because it's all wonderful and makes perfect sense.

Of course having questions and experiencing doubts are not incongruent with dedicated discipleship.
--M. Russell Ballard, Sunday afternoon session
This is one of those times when I feel like the church hires professional speechwriters to comb through these talks beforehand and tweak some wording.

He could have just said "having questions is congruent with dedicated discipleship."  But instead, he opted for "having questions is not incongruent with dedicated discipleship."  It's subtle, but I think this was worded in a way calculated to make questions and doubts sound negative and undesirable, like a frustration you must abide because there's simply no way to completely eradicate it.  Like pests in a garden or having to get an oil change.  Here, Ballard is saying that having questions and experiencing doubts shouldn't happen, but you don't need to feel too awful about it when it does.

The best paths in life are rarely the easiest.  Often, it is exactly the opposite. ... Are we willing to pay the price for our decisions?  Are we prepared to leave our comfort zones to reach a better place?
--Carlos A. Godoy, Sunday afternoon session
It's like he's in my head.  This is brilliant.  Except that he's saying it from a believer's perspective, which is a little problematic for me, but other than that, this might be the best quote from the entire conference.

He intends this to mean that staying faithful and enduring in the gospel will take hard work and sacrifice.  But its parallels to my disaffection from the church (and countless other stories like mine) are uncanny.  I was willing to do what I knew was right, despite the cost.  It was difficult and I suffered, but I reached a better place.

 Why would I turn away from that which had brought me such great comfort?
--Larry S. Kacher, Sunday afternoon session
It depends on your priorities in life.  If you value comfort over truth, then you'll stay in the church.  But if you value truth over comfort, you'd follow Godoy's advice and leave your comfort zone, pay the price, and reach a better place by leaving the church.  I don't believe life should be so miserable that what you desire above all else is comfort.  If feeling warm and fuzzy is what gets you through the day, I think you should probably take a look at your life and figure out what it is that makes you so desperate for comfort.  It could be a mental health issue.  It could be something amiss in your lifestyle.  Or it could be stress brought on by submitting yourself to an oppressive religion.  But if comfort is what you crave the most, you're dragging some kind of dead weight and you owe it to yourself to shrug it off.

Still, there were many questions I could not answer. How would I address the uncertainty they created?  Rather than allow them to destroy the peace and happiness that had come into my life, I chose to set them aside for a season, trusting that in the Lord's time, he would reveal all things.
--Larry S. Kacher, Sunday afternoon session
You think he coordinated his message with Neil L. Andersen's address from yesterday?

This infuriates me.  If you come into possession of some new piece of information that could threaten the foundation upon which you've built your life, the materials with which you've structured the way you see the world and the guidelines you've used to direct virtually every action you take, don't you owe it to yourself to investigate this information as thoroughly as possible?  Is it really wise to discard possible evidence of a large-scale fraud perpetrated against you onto a shelf and cross your fingers that it works itself out?  The uncertainty is uncomfortable, sure, but it beats the hell out of devoting yourself to an organization that manipulates you and lies to you.

When we invite you to listen to the missionaries or to learn with us, we are not trying to sell you a product.  ...We are not seeking simply to increase the numerical size of the church.  And most importantly, we are not seeking to coerce you to believe as we do.
--David A. Bednar, Sunday afternoon session 
Ho boy.

We're not seeking to coerce you to believe as we do, but we're pretty sure you're going to miss out on the pinnacle of eternal happiness if we can't convince you to join us.  And we might be wracked with guilt for not giving you a fair shake if we don't take every conceivable opportunity to convert you, but at least we're not going to twist your arm.

We're not trying to increase the numerical size of the church, but we do kind of stress our legitimacy partially based on the notion that we're rolling forward to fill the whole earth and the numbers have been flagging lately, so we could really use a few more wins on the board right now.

We're not trying to sell you a product, but if you're interested in being involved with the non-product, you'll have to pay ten percent of your annual income to get the full version.

Absolute truths exist in a world that increasingly disdains and dismisses absolutes.
--David A. Bednar, Sunday afternoon session
Well if you can't demonstrate your proposed truth as being truth, much less absolute, what business do you have getting pissy when people dismiss it?

This line is short and sweet and the way he said it made me think he wrote it specifically to be that one kickass quote from his talk that everybody would be sharing on Facebook. But mostly all it does is sound cool.

Personally, I find a world that dismisses absolutes to be preferable.  Some great examples of things that tend to be absolute?  Racism and other forms of bigotry.  Capital punishment.  Religious fervor.  Zero degrees Kelvin.  I'd be totally fine without those things in my life.

Sure, I know he's talking about absolute truth, but I'm also happy to live in a world that admits it doesn't have access to all truth.  Scientific exploration can build upon truth we've already learned and broaden our opportunities in a way that the church's claim to a monopoly on truth cannot.  So if it's all the same to you, Bednar, I'll be over here in my corner, disdaining and dismissing.

In closing, I'm a little worried about all the discussion about questioning and leaving the church.  I said after the last conference that I was expecting a flurry of concerned emails from my family.  It didn't happen, but I feel like the chances of it this time are slightly greater.  My dad texted me during the first session to remind me that it was on, suggest that I watch it, and tell me that "it might also be good for [my girlfriend] to hear what the church teaches."

My girlfriend and I had a good laugh about that one.  Because in four and a half years, I've never brought up anything about what the church that I used to belong to and now have an active hatred for teaches.

Anyway, it was an interesting weekend.  A couple of these talks in particular will probably be popular in Sunday School discussions for a while (STAY IN THE BOAT).  I guess we'll see what happens.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Notes on General Conference, Part I

Three sessions of General Conference have come and gone, and for the second time since leaving the church, I tuned in.  I was surprised that, at least in my view, there was less objectionable content this time around than in April.  So props to the brethren (and one sister) for being less awful than they were six months ago, I guess.  Although there are still two sessions left and Bednar hasn't spoken at all, so there's still plenty of time.

Here, again, are my scattered thoughts.  All the quotes I use may not be one hundred percent verbatim, but I got them as close as I could.  (YouTube was being really mean about letting me go back and listen to stuff I hadn't typed up in time.)

Because we're concentrating our efforts on completing temples which were previously announced, we're not at the present time announcing any new temples.
--Thomas S. Monson, Saturday morning session 
Obviously, this is a completely subjective observation, but this sounded like spin.  Hinckley built temples like crazy and I'm betting that temple sessions these days are not as packed as the leadership had hoped.  But rather than admit to having overreached and to having a membership that doesn't attend the temple as devotedly as preferred, Monson is saying that they're just not going to announce any new temples yet because they're "concentrating [their] efforts" on trying to chew what they shortsightedly bit off.  He also mentions that they'll need to "identify needs" and "locate properties" as believable reasons why the temple-building frenzy might appear to have slowed down.

Prophets through the ages have always come under attack by the finger of scorn.  Why?  Well, according to the scriptures, it is because "the guilty take the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center."  Or, as President Harold B. Lee observed, "the hit bird flutters."  Their scornful reaction is, in reality, guilt trying to reassure itself.
--Lynn J. Robbins, Saturday morning session 
In a fiery speech that was only implicitly directed at those who sympathize with the Ordain Women movement and gay rights movements, Robbins spewed forth eleven minutes of passive-aggressive  vitriol.  Here he states that when people disagree with the prophets, it's because the prophets are right and the dissenters are guilty of something they don't want to accept fault for.  Never mind the fact that past prophets have staunchly clung to teachings that are no longer accepted by the church.  Never mind that some policies of the church have changed due to pressure from both inside and outside the membership.  If you disagree with the leadership, you're guilty of something.

Lowering the Lord's standards to a standard of society's inappropriate behavior is apostasy.
--Lynn J. Robbins, Saturday morning session 
So you think women should have the priesthood?  You're an apostate. You think the church has no right to encourage legislation against same-sex marriages?   You should be glad we don't excommunicate your sorry ass on the spot.  Robbins's entire discourse was designed to remind the worldwide church "which way he faces."  He reminded his audience that the church leadership serves God, not the general membership. He'll only listen to what God tells him and it's not his job to listen to the concerns of the peons.  Although I have to give him a little credit for speaking vaguely.  I don't think he ever mentions exactly what "inappropriate behavior" in society he's referring to, so I guess I can't fairly label him a homophobe or a sexist.  Just a self-righteous jerk.

Resenting the law of gravity won't keep a person from falling if he steps off a cliff.
--D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
Very true, but not very wise.

The problem is that there is a huge difference between the law of gravity and the purported laws of God's church that Christofferson is advocating.  We witness the results of gravity every single day of our lives.  We don't have the same evidence for the laws of the church.  Sure, there are plenty of stories of people who have benefitted from following the commandments.  But it doesn't have the same reliability or the same specificity.   Every time you drop an object, it falls.  But every time you pay your tithing...?  The effect that's supposed to follow the cause is vague.  You're supposed to receive blessings for paying your tithing, but "blessings" are unquantifiable, difficult to observe and often subjective.  In contrast, every time you drop a plate in your kitchen, it accelerates toward the center of the earth at 9.8 meters per second squared. No sane person expects to step off a cliff and not fall.  Plenty of sane people understandably expect no negative consequences for not giving ten percent of their money to a church.

It's a pithy little witticism, sure, but its content is hollow.

If it were not for the reality of fixed and immutable truths, the gift of agency would be meaningless, since we would never be able to foresee and intend the consequences of our actions.
--D. Todd Christofferson, Saturday morning session
Ugh.  See above.

This is totally true for scientific theories.  If the laws of gravity, to use Christofferson's own comparison, were not fixed, we would not be able to act with any kind of specific outcome in mind because we'd never know what direction things would drift when we let go of them.

But gravity is different because we know exactly what to expect when we let go of things.  With the "fixed and immutable" laws of God, we don't know exactly what to expect.  If we do our home teaching, we'll probably be blessed, but we don't know how, where, when or to what degree.  It's entirely possible for us to receive those blessings without even realizing it.  Yet even Todd here would agree that most people can't step off a cliff without realizing they're falling.  The difference is that clear, non-variable, comprehensible and predictable outcomes result from gravity and we have no such guarantees from the laws of the church.

Why is it so difficult to have Christlike love for one another?  It's difficult because we must live among those who do not share our beliefs, values, and covenant obligations.
 --Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday afternoon session
Oaks doesn't like people who are different from him.  Not only does he admit up front that it's apparently difficult to get along with people who aren't Mormon (which really shouldn't be a problem), but he phrases his existence in a not-entirely-Mormon world as a burden.  He uses the word "must."  To me, this implies that he is required to live among people with which he does not wish to rub shoulders.  And that is defeating Christlike love right out of the gate.  If you "must" to live in the same world as people who don't believe what you believe, you clearly don't think very highly of them.  Some love.

We encourage all of us to practice the Savior's Golden Rule: "whatsoever ye would that man should do to you, do ye even so to them."
--Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday afternoon session
Okay, so if a bunch of gay people were trying to make sure it was never legal for you to get married to a woman, what would you want them to do?

Oaks's discussion of the topic of Christlike love just doesn't ring true after his scathing rant against the Ordain Women movement in the last conference.

Suppose a family member is in a cohabitation relationship.  That brings two important values into conflict:  our love for the family member and our commitment to the commandments.  Following the Savior's example, we can show loving kindness and still be firm in the truth by forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong.
--Dallin H. Oaks, Saturday afternoon session
Suppose a family member is in a cultlike religion.  That brings two important values into conflict:  our love for the family member and  our commitment to truth.  Following the Savior's example, we can show loving kindness and still be firm in the truth by forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong.

Oh, wait, except I'm not that kind of asshole.  I do condone my family's religion because I know it's important to them.  I desperately want them to leave it, but I've never sent them the CES Letter and I've never even participated in a religious discussion with them that wasn't started by one of them.  I went to my nephew's baby blessing and I went to the temple to wait outside during my sisters' weddings.  I have never once complained to them about all the religious content of their emails in which they are constantly discussing their various callings, giving each other suggestions for Sunday School lessons, and sharing interesting revelations from their daily scripture study.  I hold my tongue when the church is inevitably discussed at holidays and family gatherings.  But you're right.  They should definitely not condone my cohabitation with the woman I love because they know it to be wrong.

Studying the church through the eyes of its defectors, Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, is like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus.  Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed.
--Neil A. Andersen, Saturday afternoon session
Oh, gimme a break.  Defectors aren't reliable sources of information but cronies and co-conspirators are that much better?   Studying the church through the eyes of its fanatics is like interviewing Eva Braun to understand Hitler.  (Yeah, I went there.  But I figured, since Andersen jumped straight to Jesus, I should go as far as I could in the opposite direction since I was making the opposite point.)

This is why it's helpful to look at both sides of the issue.  You read the five-star reviews and the one-star reviews to find out what's good about it and what's bad about it.  That's a much better method of getting an accurate picture of a situation.  But, of course, Andersen doesn't want you to look at both sides of the issue because he's terrified that the one-star reviews are going to be a little more compelling.

We do not discard something we know to be true because of something we do not yet understand.
--Neil A. Andersen, Saturday afternoon session
Something you read about Joseph Smith on the internet may damage your testimony, but we just don't understand all the details yet.  I'm sure the fact that he was a sex-crazed, power-hungry con man will make sense in context, given enough time.  Keep believing until we figure out how to explain it so it doesn't sound like the church is a fraud.

He's stalling.

...be as generous as circumstances permit in your fast offering.  And other humanitarian, educational and missionary contributions.
--Jeffrey R. Holland, Saturday afternoon session
This whole talk was just uncomfortable.  Holland tearfully discusses how hard it must be to be poor, even though he admits he has no clue because he's never been poor.  And then he reminds everyone that, on top of the ten percent fee, they're expected to pay fast offerings once a month as well (yes, even the poor people he's pretending to defend here).  And the odd wave of his hand as he tacks "humanitarian, educational and missionary contributions" casually onto the end of a sentence he just sobbed his way through seemed very callous to me.  It was kind of a, "by the way, there's several other categories you should donate to, don't forget, but I'm not talking about those right now."  And, of course, it's hard to shake the feeling that the entire talk was about giving the church more money.  All the contributions he mentioned are on LDS tithing slips and he never once mentioned donating to any other organization.  No American Red Cross.  No drives for local food banks.  No soup kitchen volunteering.  No suggestion to donate used clothing.  Not even a nod to throwing your loose change into the Salvation Army bucket around Christmastime.  Be as generous to the church and, implicitly, the church only, as your circumstances allow.

This prophet, seer and revelator is not prophesying, seeing or revealing anything.  He's merely organizing a fundraiser and telling us to call now because operators are standing by.

Some postpone marriage until education is complete and a job obtained.  While widely accepted in the world, this reasoning does not demonstrate faith, comply with counsel of modern prophets and is not compatible with sound doctrine.
--Quentin L. Cook, Priesthood session
You have no right to be so responsible and level-headed!  Why can't you be more like your younger brother, all impulsive and shortsighted all the time?

 Chastising people for waiting to have a family until they're capable of providing for it because it "does not demonstrate faith" is an awful thing to do.  I don't even understand the "doctrine" part of it.  Other than various prophets urging us to get married, I don't remember anything from the scriptures that commanded us to marry before we have an education and a reliable income.