Friday, February 17, 2017

Mormon 4: Death and Judgment

War, bloodshed, same old story, yada yada yada.

A Dubious Prophetic Assertion
Mormon hasn't read the scriptures he's been compiling very carefully, which he gives away in verse 5:
But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.
Okay, the first part I get:  you can't outrun your punishment.  But the second part doesn't sound right.  I mean sure, in some cases, like the current case of the Nephites, the wicked are punished by the wicked.  But this is certainly not one of God's immutable procedural rules.

I mean, when Nephi zapped his brothers, was that not punishment?  When God zapped Sherem and struck Korihor dumb was that not punishment?  When Ammon hacked off the arms of the sheep thieves, was that not punishment?  When God destroyed basically the entire American continent because of the rampant wickedness...was that not punishment?

Bad Writing Alert
Verse 18 is evidence of poor writing (or, to be fair, poor translation from the original Reformed Egyptian):
And from this time forth did the Nephites gain no power over the Lamanites, but began to be swept off by them even as a dew before the sun.
"Swept off" speaks to a swift, harsh motion.  But "as a dew before the sun" implies...gradual, gentle evaporation?  I mean, "as a dew before the sun" is a halfway decent turn of phrase, but the imagery clashes like it's the work of—and I'm just spitballing here—a writer who has benefited neither from a wealth of experience nor from the services of a proper editor.

He might as well have written, "they began to be vacuumed up by them even as tresses before a blowdryer."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Ex-Mormon Object Lesson

This hangs on the wall in my apartment.

It doesn't function as a timekeeping device because I have plenty of phones, computers, microwaves, stoves, and coffee machines to tell me what time it is.  Also I keep forgetting to change the batteries.  But it serves an important function to me even when it's not ticking.

I first learned of a binary number system (and octal, and hexadecimal, and basically any non-base-ten system) in high school, maybe five years before my eventual disaffection from the LDS church.  It took some doing to wrap my brain around how to manage numerical values with only ones and zeroes, but once it clicked I was absolutely flabbergasted.

Binary numbers are shockingly similar to the base-ten numbers I'd been using my whole life.  There's no mysterious, incomprehensible force at work behind them.  They can express all the same values and they follow the same rules (except without using 2 through 9).  It's just that many of those rules were rules I'd followed without stopping to really understand the mechanisms behind them.  I'd never thought to interpret some of those rules in such a different way before.  So many things about using numbers—about things as fundamental as counting—rearranged themselves in my brain in newly three-dimensional ways.  It was astonishing.  I'd learned more about how numbers worked by delving deeper into the details and acquiring new knowledge about what I'd previously taken for granted.

A few years later, when I was discovering the contradictions inherent to church doctrine, I experienced a similar—if more lengthy—realization.  The mechanics of life hadn't changed.  I was still bound by all the same physical laws and practical limitations, but so many familiar things were suddenly visible from different angles.  All these freshly discovered concepts and ideas and possibilities had been there all along, hidden somewhere between the cross-sections of reality I'd allowed myself to see.  All it took to uncover the concealed potential in the world was the willful ability to examine it from a new perspective with an adjusted set of expectations.  I learned more about myself and my life by delving deeper into the details and acquiring new knowledge about what I'd previously taken for granted.

And that's why I like to keep that stupid clock.  It's a daily reminder that it's worth looking at familiar things in new ways.  That numbers and lives can both be expressed and understood through a variety of valid methods.  That searching for unknown vantage points broadens our horizons in ways that can be enriching and illuminating.

There's a corny joke among computer scientists that there are 10 types of people in the world:  those who understand binary and those who don't.  As far as my ability to grasp new perspectives goes, I always want to be the kind of person who understands binary.

Hence the clock on my wall.  It's not working right now.  But in another sense, it functions perfectly.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mormon 3: Down the Toilet Bowl

During a decade-long hiatus to the slaughter,  Mormon tries to protect his people against the likelihood of another Lamanite attack. 

Are You There, God?  It's Us, Everybody
In verse 2, God finally does something about the rampant wickedness:
And it came to pass that the Lord did say unto me: Cry unto this people—Repent ye, and come unto me, and be ye baptized, and build up again my church, and ye shall be spared.
Well, what the hell took you so long?  These people are beating each other's brains out while sinning up a storm in their downtime, and now you decide to send one solitary missionary out to call them to repentance?  It's been years.

The next verse explains that it didn't work anyway.  Apparently God wasn't feeling merciful enough to soften their hearts.  So bang-up job there.  Although that begs the question of why God commanded Mormon to preach in the first place if he wasn't going to make any headway.  Is God really not prescient after all, or was he just giving his servant some pointless busywork?

Mormon is an Idiot
In a strangely civilized move, the King of the Lamanites sends Mormon a letter in which he states his intent to stage a military attack on the Nephite nation.  So what does Mormon do?  Look at verses 5 and 6:
And it came to pass that I did cause my people that they should gather themselves together at the land Desolation, to a city which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward. 
And there we did place our armies, that we might stop the armies of the Lamanites, that they might not get possession of any of our lands; therefore we did fortify against them with all our force.
Okay, that's great and all, but...

In verse 1, Mormon explains that he was directing his people in "preparing their lands and their arms against the time of battle."  How is it that nobody said, "Hey, guys, since the treaty with the Lamanites gave us the land northward and them the land southward, and those two regions are separated by a narrow neck of land, why don't we make sure we have a strong military presence somewhere down there?  You know, since it's the most direct avenue of attack and a pretty handy choke point to boot?"

In ten years, nobody came up with this appallingly fundamental strategy.  It's only after a declaration of war that Mormon says, "Oh, crap, let's make sure we fortify the border we share with a belligerent nation which has historically been hell-bent on annihilating us."  I know there are lots of stupid characters in the Book of Mormon, but Mormon himself is giving them all a run for their money here.  Say what you want about Captain Moroni—he may have been a monster and a war criminal, but even he wouldn't have made a blunder this egregious.

However...the Lamanite King is about to march directly into this rather obvious setup not once but twice without considering an investment in some boats for his army to circumvent the choke point, so...I guess we'll add him to the list of morons, too.

Hissyfits Galore
Frustrated with his army's wickedness and boastfulness, Mormon resigns his post in disgust.  Why?   He begins in verse 12:
Behold, I had led them, notwithstanding their wickedness I had led them many times to battle, and had loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them; nevertheless, it was without faith, because of the hardness of their hearts.
Mormon loves his soldiers so much that he's going to remove himself from the equation, leaving them without a righteous, inspired leader, and thereby dramatically increasing the probability that they will all die in battle.  If that's love, I hope everyone hates me.

But that's not even as harsh as God's temper tantrum of explicit violence in verse 15:
Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth.

Damn, son. Not only is that harsh, but, given God's identity thus far as a weak communicator, I'm betting he didn't give the Nephites much of a reason to think that their victories in war were not merely the result of their own strength or perhaps of Mormon's leadership. Apparently, they just should have known. But since they didn't, it's time to sprinkle on a dash of death and two tablespoons of destruction.

Standing Idly By
Before ending the chapter with an impassioned plea for repentance aimed at just about everyone except for these two self-immolating societies, Mormon describes himself as "an idle witness" to the inevitable eradication of his people.  This brings to mind the famous quote that "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

But it wasn't just Mormon doing nothing.  God was sanctioning his inaction and thereby suborning the triumph of evil.  Which is immeasurably worse, I think.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mormon 2: War and Peace

An unprecedented event thus far in the Book of Mormon takes place in this chapter:  war.

Stop Complicating Agency!
The society degrades to the point at which some of the Nephites are overcome with misery and desperation.  This leaves Mormon positively giddy (verse 12):
And it came to pass that when I, Mormon, saw their lamentation and their mourning and their sorrow before the Lord, my heart did begin to rejoice within me, knowing the mercies and the long-suffering of the Lord, therefore supposing that he would be merciful unto them that they would again become a righteous people.
Okay, exactly is it fair that God's mercy should play so directly into whether or not people are righteous?  Shouldn't that be, you know, mostly up to the individual?  Does this mean God is arbitrarily choosing not to extend his mercy to me by allowing me to be a coffee-drinking, f-bomb-dropping, Sabbath-working apostate?  That's not fair at all.

If God can simply sprinkle a bit of his mercy on people to make them righteous, doesn't that fly in the face of the Plan of Salvation, which places a huge emphasis on free agency?  Doesn't that mean that this life is a test, but only insofar as he chooses not to give us the answers?

Mormon:  Selfish, Arrogant Bastard
This book's namesake is really, really broken up about the fate of his society:
And wo is me because of their wickedness; for my heart has been filled with sorrow because of their wickedness, all my days; nevertheless, I know that I shall be lifted up at the last day.
Yeah, he's really bummed about how they're all doomed in the afterlife, right up to the point at which he comes dangerously close to gloating that he's on track for eternal celestial glory (neener neener neener).  I think if he really had legitimate compassion for these people, his own salvation wouldn't be much of a consolation.  Shouldn't he at least be experiencing some kind of survivor's guilt?

Peace:  I've Never Heard of That, is it New?
After turning the tide in a long campaign against the Lamanites, Mormon introduces a brand new concept into ancient American political theory:  the treaty.

Not only did the Nephites draw up a treaty with the Lamanites, but they also included the Gadianton Robbers.  The territory was then divided between these three volatile societies—and we learn in the next chapter that what followed was a full ten years of peace.

Hey.  Morons.  Maybe you should try doing that kind of thing more often instead of having both your armies beat each other senseless until one is annihilated or flees in terror.  Good thing Captain Moroni is long gone or he'd have just gone on a rampage, taken a whole bunch of prisoners, and then staged executions when his captives refused to adopt his political beliefs.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mormon 1: Iniquity Abounds, as Iniquity is Wont to Do

Mormon himself finally makes an appearance at a time when the descendants of Lehi have reached what seems to be their numerical zenith and their moral nadir.

Where Have All the Buildings Gone?
Verse 7 makes a statement that seems difficult to reconcile with modern knowledge:
The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea.
With that many edifices erected and that many people populating the continent, shouldn't there be a lot more evidence of the urban sprawl remaining today? Like, a lot?  I know it's a common argument against the validity of the Book of Mormon.  But because of verses like this one, it certainly bears repeating.

God Ceases to be God
Mormon describes a civilization festering in spiritual putrescence, a kind of moral post-apocalypse in which he is the only righteous inhabitant—even The Three Nephites have been whisked away by God.  But does Mormon try to influence his wicked countrymen for good?  Nope.  Look at verse 17:
But I did remain among them, but I was forbidden to preach unto them, because of the hardness of their hearts; and because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake.
Okay, so apparently these people were really wicked.  (How wicked were they?)  They were SO wicked...that God completely gave up on them and specifically forbade the one believer in the entire society from preaching the good word.  That doesn't sound like the God Mormons teach about, does it?  You know the God I mean...the one who famously said this:
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
...unless, of course, that man and all his friends and family are too wicked.  In that case, screw 'em.

There's no talk here of divine strategy.  There's no discussion of not teaching them the gospel to spare them further punishment or simply waiting for the right missionary who could have the most powerful impact or anything like that.  It's just that they were too hardhearted.  As opposed to God, who is apparently quite coldhearted. 

It's an important distinction.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

4 Nephi 1: Social Decline Montage

After the ascension of Jesus, the American continent is transformed into an absurdly fictional utopia.  

Somebody Call Guinness
Verse 2 lays it out for us:
And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
How the dickens is this even remotely possible?  Didn't these people have free agency?  Did they really have no disputes, whatsoever for any reason at any time?  I mean, even Captain Moroni, who was so righteous that if all men were like him the devil would have no power (see My Heart Swoons for Moroni), stirred up contention with Pahoran.  How could an entire society experience a 100% conversion to the gospel and then behave with 100% compliance with the commandments?

That's not how people behave.  That's not how long spiritual ecstasy lasts.  That's not something that could have happened.

Three Cheers for Racism
Verse 17 intimates an unprecedented unity among the descendants of Lehi to the point that there was not "any manner of -ites".  But of course this was too good to last (verse 20):
...and there was still peace in the land, save it were a small part of the people who had revolted from the church and taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land.
Great, so not only is the term Lamanite applied to a lineage-turned-ethnic-group-because-of-God's-curse-for-their-wickedness, but now it's also the name apostates choose for themselves, legitimized by the narrator's unnecessary editorial comment at the end.

Is anyone still contending that this book is not racist?

The Gospel of Communism
During the Utopian phase of their history, the people had "all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor" (verse 3).  But after a while, a few started to spoil everything by becoming prideful and indulging themselves in the most abhorrent of Book of Mormon evils:  the wearing of costly apparel.  This leads to an inevitable result in verse 25:
And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.
So, it seems pretty damn clear here that in the perfect, conflict-free society pretty much initiated by Jesus Christ himself, the prevailing economic theory was...communism.  It sounds like it was essentially a theocratic communist government.

Tell that to Ezra Taft Benson and other leaders of the 20th century church who railed against the evils of communism.  Tell that to faithful members who were vehemently opposed to Bernie Sanders's primary run and his desire to narrow the gaps between rich and poor. Of course, I suppose the theocratic angle also means that Mormons shouldn't necessarily be too keen on things like the First Amendment and its recently re-emphasized freedom of religion. 

Basically nothing about this perfect society in this chapter should make any sense to a believing Mormon in 2017.

The Old False-Narrative Trick
As things fall apart, rival religions sprout up—because diversity is pretty much always bad news in the Book of Mormon.  4th Nephi has some nasty things to say about some of these churches, but I'd like to focus on verse 29:
And again, there was another church which denied the Christ; and they did persecute the true church of Christ, because of their humility and their belief in Christ; and they did despise them because of the many miracles which were wrought among them.
I think this verse might be something modern-day Mormons who labor under the delusion that their beliefs and their way of life are constantly assailed by the wicked world might latch on to a little too hard.  And that's disheartening, because this verse has no actual correlation to today's LDS church.
By and large, Mormons are not persecuted.  And when they are, it's not because of their humility or their faith in Christ.  It's for the way they treat LGBT people and their attempts to push their beliefs on others and even legislate according to their beliefs.  It's when their creeds begin to negatively affect those outside of their own sphere that people get angry and push back and behave in ways that can be easily interpreted as persecution.

And even more absurd (and more insidious) is this verse's final implication that other religions are merely jealous of Mormonism for its miracles.  Listen—I was a Mormon in an overwhelmingly non-Mormon location for eighteen years.  I had plenty of discussions with my friends about religion and not once did any of them express jealousy or even acknowledge a miracle of Mormon origins.

The world is not jealous of Mormons.  Most of the world ignores them.  A small part of the population despises what they stand for, but most of us keep pretty quiet about it.  But nevertheless, I get the sense that this verse is discussed in many Gospel Doctrine classes as a portent of the modern church's social standing.  I fear that it's used to reinforce the persecution complex and to encourage members' further entrenchments into flawed and ultimately damaging ideologies.

Gadianton Returns
As things go from bad to worse, what should crop up again but our favorite recurring cabal of iniquity (verse 42):
And it came to pass that the wicked part of the people began again to build up the secret oaths and combinations of Gadianton.

How is this possible? 

Okay, so there was this massive cataclysmic event during which entire cities were flooded or earthquaked into oblivion.  Two hundred years later, how exactly is someone going to find a preserved copy of the ancient American Anarchist's Cookbook and begin learning all the signs and oaths of the old Gadianton Robbers?  Surely if the Robbers kept written records, they were long gone by this point.

And if they weren't, that means that the records of this evil organization sat around for two centuries in a righteous, near-perfect society and nobody said, "hey, let's burn this parchment or melt down these plates so that nobody ever decides to resurrect Satan's pet terrorist cell."

How is this possible?  This should not have been possible.

Monday, February 6, 2017

3 Nephi 30: Low-Fat Filler

This chapter comes to us in a total of two verses.  Here's the skinny on this gaunt entry in the Book of Mormon:

Repent and be baptized.

Apparently it was really important for the ancient prophets to painstakingly preserve a somewhat lengthy but mostly non-specific list of sins that must be repented of.  Instead of, you know, paring it down to the essentials.  When God says "repent" in the scriptures, we kind of already know what kinds of things he wants us to stop doing.  But sure, let's slave away etching superfluous lists of possible offenses into metal plates.

It's also worth pointing out that several of these sins can be considered characteristic of the present-day church, such as lyings and deceivings, secret abominations, and, of course, priestcrafts.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

3 Nephi 29: Mormon Gets Dark

Mormon decides to forecast a little doom and gloom upon the non-believers.  But first, he decides to kind of call God a slowpoke.
And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled.
So the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in the modern day should be considered evidence that God's master plan for the gathering of Israel is already well under way.  But the Book of Mormon was published among the Gentiles in 1830.  It's been one hundred eighty-seven years and there hasn't been much in the way of incontrovertible progress.  That doesn't really speak to God's claim that he "will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel."   I think maybe he forgot.

And then the rest of the chapter is vague threats against any and all who doubt the divinity, reality, power, or identity of God.  And wo unto any who make problems for his chosen people.  You know, the ones he's completely forgotten about.