Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Moroni 10: All Bad Things Must Come to an End

And here we are.  The final chapter.  The last words imparted to us from an ancient prophet.  Let's see what concluding gems of wisdom Moroni has for us.

Cruel to be Kind
Moroni decides to write a few words of his own after spending so much time quoting his dad and quoting his Messiah.  Here's one of his first original comments (verse 3):
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
Okay, what?  God has been merciful?  He flooded the entire planet and only allowed one family to survive.  That's not merciful, that's sadistic.  But since this is really supposed to be criticism of the Book of Mormon, let's stick to things that have happened in the last five hundred thirty pages or so.

Moroni is way off the mark here.  The God he's talking about has done some absolutely horrific shit.  Admittedly, there have been moments of mercy, but overall, it's grossly disingenuous to characterize that guy as "merciful unto the children of men."

Reality Determined That was a Lie
And here we have the two verses that drove me out of the church.  It's another scripture mastery, for you ex-seminary students who have been keeping a tally.  I'm referring, of course, to Moroni 10:4-5.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
I know I've told this story before and I know it's far from a unique story.  But when I was at BYU and dreading the possibility of being called to serve in some faraway place for two years, I latched onto this scripture and decided that, since I kind of had to serve a mission, I could at least make sure that I knew the church was true before I did it.  I was looking for confirmation that this religion I was about to devote two years of my life to was every bit as true as I hoped it was.

I don't know how I could have had a more sincere heart or more real intent.  My faith was imperfect, sure, but I prayed with faith in Christ because I wanted to know he was real as an absolute certainty instead of relying on a testimony built on my parents' faith in Christ.  I desperately wanted to receive the answer that the church told me I'd receive.  I wasn't praying for a no.  I absolutely wanted a yes and everything I'd believed in my whole life told me that I'd receive that yes.

Guess what—I didn't even get a no.  After a few weeks, I finally gave up and began to slowly and sadly draw the series of conclusions that led to my apostasy.  Moroni's Promise didn't work.  The Holy Ghost didn't manifest the truth of anything.  And this scripture is a relatively straightforward if...then statement.  I reread this chapter tons of times trying to figure out if there was some missing ingredient to my prayer that was inhibiting my ability to receive the desired response.

These verses are among the best-known, most frequently quoted, most dutifully memorized scriptural passages in all of Mormondom, but because of how useless they turned out to be and how colossally they let me down, they're also among my least favorite scriptural passages in all of Mormondom.

Whatsoever Thing is a Thing is a Thing
Here we have some more faux wisdom in verse 6:
And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
Good, just, and true are all different things.  This is why they have different definitions.  Pizza is good, but how can you make any appraisal of pizza's justness or truthfulness?  Sentencing a man to prison for rape is just, but how does truthfulness factor into that action?  Can it really be said that having to imprison someone is good?  Isn't it more of a necessary evil?  The fact that the Book of Mormon exists is true, and while people may argue over whether that's a good thing, the factual statement has no bearing on any kind of justice.  This verse is utter nonsense.  It may sound cool, and it may seem wise when you read it, but if you stop and think about what it means, it's actually a completely useless thing for a prophet of God to say.

I take issue with the black-and-white claim in the second half of this verse too.  There are plenty of good things accomplished by people who deny the Christ.  Ricky Gervais is an outspoken atheist who is also outspoken against animal abuse.  Keira Knightley calls herself an atheist as well, and she's been busy with activism for human rights and against domestic abuse.  Neither one of these people would have testified of Christ, but these actions are generally considered "good."  These actions also have absolutely nothing to do with religion, which is another reason why Moroni's blanket statement falls somewhere between inaccurate and irrelevant.

And, based on Mormon's convoluted reasoning in Moroni 7, we can't really know whether deeds are good or not good anyway, so telling us that everything good acknowledges Christ is totally pointless.

The Spirit of Giving
The other big reason why this chapter gets so much attention in Sunday school is because it discusses Gifts of the Spirit.  These gifts were taught reverently like they were the prescribed spiritual superpowers that we could possess.  All we had to do was be righteous and faithful and God could grant us any from the following list of supernatural abilities:
  • teach the word of wisdom
  • teach the word of knowledge
  • exceedingly great faith
  • healing
  • working of mighty miracles
  • prophesying concerning all things
  • beholding of angels and ministering spirits
  • all kinds of tongues
  • interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues
There are a lot of problems with this list.  First of all, Moroni is trying to pad it with gifts that are essentially the same thing so that the list seems longer (teaching wisdom versus teaching knowledge, all kinds of tongues versus interpretation of tongues).  

Secondly, some of these things are borderline heresy in the modern church.  Bear your testimony sometime about how you beheld an angel and were ministered unto by spirits and watch how uncomfortably the LDS congregation squirms.  Angelic visitations to the common man are a fringe teaching in today's Mormonism—the typical Mormon neither expects nor accepts the concept when it arises.  And prophesying concerning all things basically is one hundred percent straight-up heresy because only the President of the Church and sometimes his Apostles have the right to do that.  We're taught repeatedly in church meetings that we can receive revelation for our stewardships (i.e. our families and those we serve in our callings) but that for big-picture revelation and prophecy we need to rely on the Prophet himself.

And thirdly—arguably most importantly—a lot of these gifts are not a thing anymore.  Healing, mighty miracles, angelic visions, the gift of tongues...these are either rare, poorly documented occurrences or watered-down versions of the gift.  I've heard Mormons make an argument for the gift of tongues, for example, but it usually amounts to someone having a natural aptitude for learning languages instead of the miraculous ability to speak and understand without prior study, which is how the gift of tongues was traditionally presented.  So if these spiritual gifts are mostly gone and largely downplayed wherever they may exist, according to verse 19, this does not bode well:
...all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.
Not that I'm suggesting everybody packs their bags and shifts from the Brighamite sect to the Snufferite sect or the Community of Christ, but...I feel like Moroni 10 is a pretty decent argument that, at the very least, the LDS branch of Mormonism isn't the right branch because their lack of spiritual gifts means they've fallen away from the truth.

Also, how lame is the gift of having great faith?  It's like being blessed with preternatural credulity.  Whoop-dee-doo, I believe everything the prophet says immediately, without question, and way more fervently than you do.  What kind of spiritual superpower is that?  It seems like the doctrinal equivalent of a degree in comparative literature—good for you and all, but...what the hell do you do with it?  You can't raise people from the dead like that mighty miracles guy or cure someone's cancer like the healing guy and you can't even prepare really awesome Sunday school lessons like the teaching the words of wisdom guy. And doesn't it seem like it contravenes free agency if the Spirit makes you inherently more inclined than others to believe in the gospel?

Faith Hope Love Remix
In verses 20 through 22, Moroni demonstrates how he wasn't actually paying attention when his dad gave sermons and stuff.
Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope. 
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
Well, he skipped meekness in this convoluted chain of philosophizing.  Meekness was a pretty big part of the equation when Mormon was talking about this in Moroni chapter 7.  What's more confusing is that, according to Mormon, hope is both the cause and the effect of faith.  But in this chapter they're kind of strung together with charity as parallel characteristics.  And Moroni also throws despair and iniquity into the mix, stating that despair—which is the antithesis of hope—is caused by iniquity, which honestly might be the only part of this that makes any sense whatsoever.

Anyway, my point is that this slightly contradicts Moroni 7 although it shares an almost identical tone—it sounds reasonable enough if you're reading it casually, but if you try to pick it apart, it crumbles.  It's meaningless, useless, pseudophilosophical nonsense.  Moroni could have just said, "wherefore, ye must needs have faith, hope, and charity or you can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God" and left it at that.  But he felt like trying to grandstand a bit, only he didn't have the chops.

That's just embarrassing.

The Bar of God
And Moroni wraps things up with a thinly veiled threat (verse 27):
And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?
Joseph Smith did have a knack for writing a badass turn of phrase here and there.  This one isn't quite as memorable as 2 Nephi 33:13's "as the voice of one crying from the dust," but it packs a pretty decent punch.  However, the image of Moroni standing next to God at the judgment seat with a petty "I told you so!" smirk on his face is...a little amusing.

Listen, God, if the best you could offer me to believe in your gospel was a voice crying from the dead and speaking out of the dust, I don't think you've done your due diligence.  The church in my day is ripe with hypocrisy, secret combinations, Pharisaical culture, dishonesty, and an unforgivable inability to overcome the bigotry that other parts of society are trying to put behind us.  If you expect me to believe this stuff, you need to give me something better than a voice crying from the dust.  If your strongest argument to kindle my faith is really a centuries-old record from a civilization that, by all accounts, can't even be confirmed to have existed, it isn't me who's failed.  It's you.  Your job is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  If you can't give your creations the tools to find the truth, if you couch the truth in such a repugnant organization led overwhelmingly by old bigoted white men who behave more like business administrators than divinely appointed prophets, then you're just not very good at what you've chosen to do with eternity.  And that's not on us.

And on that note, I'll add one final quote from the Book of Mormon:
The End
And that's all, folks.  The entire Book of Mormon, all 239 chapters of it, analyzed, criticized, and, admittedly, mocked.  It's not a book of scripture.  It's nothing more than a charismatic and imaginative con man's novel, and while it definitely has its moments, it reeks of amateurism. The effect it's had on the world is astonishing and kind of horrifying.  And it's bizarre to consider that the massive corporate religion that's reared up as its legacy bears little resemblance to what's described in its pages.

These are all things I think I've effectively pointed to over and over again, and while I admit that not every single argument I've made necessarily holds water, I think that the sheer number of legitimate criticisms should give any serious reader pause.  There are enough internal contradictions, disagreements between Book of Mormon doctrines and doctrines from both the present-day and the historical LDS church, examples of absurdly over-the-top storytelling, recycled plot devices, frightening glorifications of violence, despicable justifications of racism, pointless chapters of filler, and bits of laughably incompetent writing that it should be patently clear that this book is not the word of any real god.

Thanks to those of you who have followed along.  Your comments and occasional discussions were fascinating!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Moroni 9: Mormon's Final Wish

And now we're treated to another letter from Mormon to his son Moroni, and at least this time it covers a somewhat important topic—evil and destruction.

Shock Value
Mormon goes into a surprising amount of detail as he tells his son about the worsening depravity of both the Lamanites and the Nephites.  We're down to the last few dozen verses of the Book of Mormon and as Moroni is throwing this all together, he's not choosing to spend the final chapters on the central doctrines of salvation or the essential truths that will be most needed for the era in which this record will be unearthed.  So far it's doom and gloom.  He's discussing how the Lamanites are forcing their prisoners to eat the flesh of their dead loved ones to survive.  He's talking about Nephites raping, torturing, murdering, and cannibalizing Lamanite women.  He isn't discussing faith or atonement or even the commandments.  He's trying to cram in as many awful taboos as possible.

While this may make for a compelling plot point on an envelope-pushing HBO series, it does not make for good scripture.  And it doesn't make any sense considering that, as far as the modern day is concerned, these are basically Mormon's dying words—and Moroni's dying words as he shares them.

A Father's Prayer
Mormon makes a really creepy wish for his son's future in verse 22:
But behold, my son, I recommend thee unto God, and I trust in Christ that thou wilt be saved; and I pray unto God that he will spare thy life, to witness the return of his people unto him, or their utter destruction; for I know that they must perish except they repent and return unto him.
Okay, first of all, Mormon, did you even read all that crap you spent a lifetime compiling and abridging?  Do you really think there's any hope for your civilization?  After all the references to the Nephite covenant with God that they will inhabit the land as long as they remain righteous, after all of your own failed preaching and lamentations about the state of your society, after Nephi's vision of the future in which the Lamanites defeat the Nephites, how in the hell do you think there's any hope that your people will return unto God?

But enough about that.  The weirdest part is that he hopes that his son will live to see the Nephites return to their former pious glory...or to see them completely annihilated?  He's praying to God that his son has a 50/50 chance of winding up completely alone as the only surviving member of his people.  That's messed up.

Pay No Attention to the Apocalypse Behind the Curtain
But Mormon doesn't want all this bad stuff to bring his boy down (verse 25):
My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.
He just talked about children eating the flesh of their fathers to avoid starving to death.  He just said that most likely all of Moroni's friends and acquaintances will be exterminated.  He just discussed rape, torture, and more cannibalism.  And then he adds, "But don't let it bother you, keep thinking happy thoughts!"

Mormon is a terrible father.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Moroni 8: Priority Mail

Now Moroni shares a letter that his father wrote to him years earlier.  Interesting how this is the Book of Moroni but so far most of it has been things that Jesus said and things that Mormon said.

First Order of Business

So, Mormon is writing this letter at some point during his adult life, when the Nephite civilization is in its final downward spiral.  Wars rage with the Lamanite nation, iniquity abounds, and there's at least one point at which Mormon throws up his hands and refuses to help his people because they're just too damn wicked.  So when he writes his son to address some key concerns for their failing society, what subject does he kick things off with?  Well, infant baptism, of course.  What could possibly be more important?  Here's what Mormon says in verse 6 concerning the misconception that infants need to be baptized:
And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle.
Gross error?  People are being killed!  Have some perspective!  Isn't war one of the grossest errors there is?!  Surely there's something else with a higher priority in the prophet's mind than infant baptism.

Mormon is an Idiot
Moroni's father tries to explain why it supposedly makes so much sense that little children have no need of baptism.  This brilliant argument comprises verses 12 and 13:
But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism! 
Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.
But...doesn't that mean that being a respecter of persons is exactly what God is doing?  Because Mormon is basically saying that children are a protected class who are not held accountable for the law that baptism is required for salvation.  If God really weren't a respecter of persons, that same rule would apply equally to everyone.  God has partiality based on age or accountability.  And it's also a little silly to claim that, within Mormon theology, God is not changeable.  The behavior of God and the word of God have both evolved significantly.

And the doctrine of God has evolved significantly as well, to the point at which verse 13 has become false doctrine.  These children won't go to an endless hell, because, according to Doctrine and Covenants 137:10, "all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven."

God is an Idiot
Mormon examines our creator's eternal justice in a bit more detail (verse 15):
For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism. 
So it's wickedness to suppose that God will save one child because of baptism and condemn another because of no baptism, but it's not awful to say that about adults?  In my eyes, this points out the silliness of performing ordinances of any kind.  Shouldn't it be awful wickedness to suppose that God will save one adult because of secret signs and tokens and will condemn another adult because he does not correctly perform the secret signs and tokens?  Isn't it utterly absurd that, when being judged according to our works by an omnipotent God who knows our hearts, there is a checklist of ceremonial deeds that need to have been accomplished for us to gain entry into his kingdom?  Because if you concede that it's silly to discriminate between two otherwise similar children based on whether one ritual has been performed, shouldn't it be just as silly to require other rituals from adults?

But the next verse ratchets up the absurdity quotient:
Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.
Mormon claims to speak with authority from God when he says that people who believe that infant baptism is necessary—and especially people who actually perform infant baptisms—are doomed to Hell, barring some serious repenting.  What kind of messed-up concept of morality does this god have?

Ostensibly, the reason that these people are baptizing little kids is because they don't want these kids to go to Hell. As it turns out, the baptisms are unnecessary, but these people are still trying to protect children from eternal misery—which is something that most of us should agree is an honorable pursuit.  All these ordinances would constitute, then, is a mistake made with good intentions.  This isn't one of those misinterpretations of the scriptures that inspires someone to murder non-believers.  Literally no one has been harmed.  It's just someone trying to do a good thing operating under a mistaken understanding.  And that will put this person in danger of hellfire.

The Book of Mormon is more unequivocally against infant baptism than it is against violence or rape or bigotry.  And this is the fullness of the gospel.  The Mormon God has his priorities all screwed up.

Oh, and by the way...DOOM
Continuing with the theme of this chapter Mormon, closes his epistle by demonstrating further how out of whack his priorities are.  After rambling for dozens of verses about ordinances for kids, he finally gets to something of a little more immediate importance—and something that's more universally relevant—with only four verses remaining in the letter (verse 27):
Behold, my son, I will write unto you again if I go not out soon against the Lamanites. Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction except they should repent.
Hey!  Here's an idea!  If you know what's going to destroy the whole friggin' civilization, why don't you spend more time preaching about that than about other, infinitely more frivolous offenses? Mormon goes on and on about a doctrinal clarification that should basically amount to an administrative announcement and then ends this lengthy letter to his son by basically stating, "Oh, and our people are too proud, so we're all gonna die.  Love you, bye!"

Why the hell is this chapter not a sermon about pride so that Moroni can go back to his town and proclaim the word of God's prophet calling the Nephite people to repentance? Wouldn't that make so much more sense?  Wouldn't that theoretically help a whole lot more people?  Wouldn't that seem like your first priority?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Moroni 7: Contradictation

Moroni now shares an old sermon from his father's journal of discourses.  Apparently there was a time during poor Mormons's tumultuous existence when there were actually enough righteous people among the Nephites that he had a church to preach in and a congregation to preach to.  Apparently he had one good week in there between all the war and wickedness.

Say It Ain't Not Isn't Not Not So
Early in his address, Mormon alludes to a classic teaching of Christ (verse
For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.
And then he goes on to confusingly deconstruct—or maybe enhance?—this Sermon on the Mount reference.  He basically says that even though you can tell if someone's good by seeing their good works, you may need to redefine good.  And works.  Or maybe know.
For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. 
For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. 
For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. 
And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such. 
Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.
Seriously, what's the point in saying you can know someone by their works if you have to clarify that works can look good but not actually be good depending on the doer's disposition and therefore won't count as righteousness only you can't know that because it's due to internal intent instead of the face value of the act itself no matter how pious it may seem because even though the work itself was good it actually wasn't because—

See what I mean?  I'm not a believer in Jesus, so normally I'm fine disagreeing with the Bible.  And normally I'd say that Jesus's version is a bit naive.  But Mormon looks like such an idiot trying to piggyback on Jesus while actually contradicting him that I kind of want to side with Jesus on principle.  "By their fruits shall ye know them" may be naive, but at least it's pithy, memorable, know...not rife with internally contradictory hogwash.

Mormon is an Idiot
This chapter is starting to make me angry (verses 16-17):
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. 
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Like it's really that friggin' easy! If it were that dead simple there would be a lot less evil in the world. One of the many problems with this concept do you define evil in the convoluted moral calculus that plagues even the most ordinary person? Obviously building a homeless shelter is good and slaughtering your family is bad. But the overwhelming majority of human decisions are far more complex. Lying is bad. Being mean is bad. Do you tell someone the truth if it will cause hurt feelings? Mormon's perfect solution can't even provide a good answer to a relatively simple problem that every single person in the history of everything has faced. What use is it if the obvious questions are easy and the slightly more nuanced questions are impossible?

It's also kind of weird that the Book of Mormon refers to the devil's followers as "his angels."  That makes the Mormon mythology murkier.  What the hell is an angel then, anyway?  According to the LDS Bible dictionary they're messengers of God.  Except when they're not, because this entry also alludes to "the devil's angels," and then gives a few references to the possibly-incorrectly-translated Bible.  It doesn't mention that the devil's angels show up here in the good ol' Book of Mormon, perhaps because you'd think the most correct book that had been translated by the power of God would be able to keep its doctrinal terminology straight.  This is hardly something that's essential to our salvation, but it sure fits well with the theory that Joseph Smith was making this stuff up.

Angels Among Us
Slightly less infuriating, but maybe enough for a groan and an eye roll, is Mormon's clearly outdated teaching about miracles and angels (verses 29 and 30):
And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men. 
For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
According to the church-approved narrative of Joseph Smith's life, verse 29 contains a question that Mormonism is uniquely suited to answer. The church is supposed to be proud that miracles and revelation continue in the modern day just like with prophets of old. Except that scriptural-style miracles don't happen anymore. There are no unending loaves and fishes, there are no resurrections of dead friends, there are no missionaries delivered from captivity by dark smoke and loud voices. There are some arguably apocryphal anecdotes from early church history, but miracles—as most people think of them—have least where Mormonism is concerned.

Apostles don't directly claim to speak with God and they don't claim to have been visited by angels. According to Mormon, as long as these prophets are firm in the faith, there isn't really an explanation for why angels don't appear to them—or to other worthy church members. And this is kind of insulting, considering that Alma the Younger, Laman and Lemuel, and Saul of Tarsus were given angelic visitation despite clearly not meeting Mormon's godliness requirements.

What's the point in teaching something in the scriptures if it's not actually going to work out that way? What's worse is the way the next verse begins:
And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance...
So they show themselves to those who are firm in the faith and those who need to be called to repentance? What about the rest of us? What about the middle of the spectrum, where people struggle with what they believe and pray for signs and answers? What kind of sense does this angel policy make, and why does it not seem to apply anymore?  Verse 37 answers part of that question:
...and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
This makes no sense! If angels appear by faith, how were they calling faithless scriptural apostates to repentance? And it's obnoxious the way this chapter tries to cover its bases. The past few verses basically boil down to "Of course miracles haven't ceased! Oh, but just in case they have, here's probably why—it's your own fault." How quintessentially Mormon of Mormon.

Faith Hope Love
Remember when the Star Wars prequels came out and we were all disappointed with, among other things, Yoda's terrible dialogue? Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering? Except that it isn't as wise as it initially sounded because the ordering of all these terms can be scrambled and it still makes the same amount of sense? Well, Mormon is about to pull a Yoda and crank the dial up to eleven. Verses 38 through 47 is his convoluted masterpiece of solemn-sounding nonsense.  I'll summarize to save you some time:

You can't be saved without faith. You can't attain faith without hope. But without faith there can be no hope. You can have neither faith nor hope without meekness. If you don't have meekness then your faith and hope are not acceptable to God. If you're going to be meek and faithful, you'll need to have charity. Without charity, you are nothing.

Wouldn't it have been simpler and less contradictory to just skip right to the preaching about charity? Because this is really just a pointless moebius strip of semantic self-indulgence.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Moroni 6: Idealized Flashback

Moroni continues explaining how things were way back when the Nephites were still basking in the post-Messianic-visitation afterglow.

Tear 'em Down to Build 'em Up
Verse 2 paints an interesting vision of the baptismal ordinance that doesn't exactly jive with the present-day Mormon version:
Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
I can absolutely guarantee that when I was baptized I had neither a broken heart nor a contrite spirit.  It was a rite of passage.  I was excited, not heartbroken.  I had a proud spirit, not a contrite one, because I was doing what my family and my ward leaders wanted me to do.  I was eight and had yet to really commit serious sin, but I don't recall any public affirmation I had to make detailing the renouncing of my iniquitous ways. 

With the church's continuing obsession with growth, this scriptural teaching has almost definitely fallen by the wayside.  Missionary discussions push for baptismal commitments so early on that there's no way the elders have time to really assess the brokenness of an investigator's heart or the contriteness of an investigator's spirit.  The numbers-driven mission culture has resulted in Japanese "baseball baptisms" and South American "soccer baptisms."  The church is not following the pattern set forth in scripture by the Mormonism the Nephites observed immediately after Jesus Christ appeared to them.

Plus I don't love the concept of a convert needing to be broken down to a piteously devastated level—I mean brokenheartedly contrite level—to be worthy of God's saving ordinances...buuuuut that's a different discussion.

Pharisaical Paradise
A possible precursor to today's courts of love crops up in verse 7:
And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ.
Does that not sound eerily like "every member a thought policeman" or what?  And it seems to imply excommunication, which I despise.  It seems that the Nephites were even more liberal with the spiritual guillotine than the Monsonites are, because all it took was an unregenerate member with three people willing to tattle.

But another difference here between ancient and modern churches is less flattering to today's Mormonism.  I'm not sure it's fair to say that the LDS church is so strident in its opposition to iniquity as its predecessor.  Financial fraud, sexual predation, and other forms of abuse are far too common in the church and far too poorly penalized.  If the church were following the example of this short-lived Nephite utopia, excommunications would be more common and they would be applied more commonly to damaging, traumatizing, and predatory iniquity than to any threats posed by doubt or homosexuality.

Monday, November 20, 2017

View of View of the Hebrews

I got curious browsing around Amazon a few weeks ago and wound up ordering a copy of View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith.  I'd read in a few places, including the CES Letter, that this book was evidence that the Book of Mormon was fictional to the point of plagiarism.  I was kind of disappointed.  I don't think that accusation really holds up.

There is a comparison chart attributed to B. H. Roberts in the CES Letter that delineates the similarities between these two early 19th century publications.  It seems like a generally accurate chart, but there are a lot of points that aren't particularly damning.  And some are too vague, like "settlers journey northward" and "religion a motivating factor."  Settlers travel north all the time in history and in fiction and religion is a common factor in a lot of people's motivations.  The Samuel the Lamanite connection is the most compelling, I believe, but even that is introduced very early and you're still left with more than a hundred pages of material that can be interpreted as having flimsy correlations to the Book of Mormon.

I don't think it's useful to adduce View of the Hebrews when arguing that the Book of Mormon is a fraud.  I think it's very weak evidence.  It fits the narrative that I believe since I've already concluded that the Book of Mormon is not scripture, but it's not strong enough to convince anyone who still follows the prophet.  It's not definitive enough or conclusive enough.  It's one of the arguments that FAIR pounced on most voraciously in their response to the CES Letter, and it's probably because they were excited to have something that could be dismissed with relatively little effort.

View of the Hebrews has one major evidence that may help convince a Mormon who's already begun questioning and researching, though.  It pretty exhaustively indicates that the idea of Native Americans being descendants of ancient Jews was not new in the 19th century.  It always seemed groundbreaking to me when I was a faithful church member because I grew up in an era in which a different origin for Native Americans was almost universally agreed upon as fact.  But back in Joseph Smith's day, the Hebrew-Indian thing was a theory with some popularity.  Fawn Brodie mentioned this in passing in No Man Knows My History, but Ethan Smith's book was written with the sole intent of proving that theory.  He cited numerous other contemporary scholars and thinkers in support of his thesis.  The existence of View of the Hebrews and the breadth of work it references to bolster its claims should at least take some of the shine off the Book of Mormon's mystique.  But again, it only really points to Joseph Smith penning a fictional history if you're already leaning that direction.  It seems easy to minimize or discredit if you still believe the truth claims of the LDS church.  It's not the smoking gun of plagiarism it's sometimes depicted as.

It's a weird read, too.  Very racist to a modern eye.  It's very dry to a modern eye, too, as the prose hasn't aged well.  But it's interesting nonetheless.  The Late War is a totally different story.  I couldn't stomach more than a few chapters of that before giving up.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Moroni 5: Bless and Sanctify 2

...and then we have a separate chapter for the blessing on the wine.  I realize this is not a chapter break that was included in the original 1830 Book of Mormon, so it isn't a criticism of the book's legitimacy.  But it sure is a weird editing decision from somewhere down the line.

The slight differences between the two sacrament prayers are curious.  It's odd that we're making sure that we remember Christ and that we keep the Spirit with us in both but that we promise to keep the commandments and take his name upon us only when partaking of the bread. What I think is even stranger is that the reason for the symbolism is explained immediately in the blessing on the wine.  It represents the blood of Christ, which was shed for us.  But in the previous prayer, we mention that the bread represents the body of Christ and we roll right into what we're doing by partaking of it.

Why is Christ's body important?  Why is it important to attach a symbolic significance to the wine but leave us guessing about the bread?

It also used to bother me, just slightly, that the wording of these two prayers is a little inconsistent. In the blessing on the bread, it says, "that they may eat in remembrance of," and in the blessing on the wine, it's, "that they may do it in remembrance of."  Seems like it should be drink instead of do it.  For such an important pair of prayers, I always felt that there should be a solemner, holier symmetry to them.   

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Moroni 4: Bless and Sanctify

Moroni offhandedly mentions yet another thing that Christ explicitly commanded when he visited the Americas that somehow did not merit a mention in 3 Nephi.  This time it's the sacrament prayer.  And that's kind of ironic, considering that we agree to keep the commandments in that prayer—but when we're commanded to administer the sacrament in a specific way, we almost forget to preserve that method for future generations.

But what really caught my eye about this chapter this time around was the specific phrasing.  The pronouns make me wonder if this is still a leftover of the mostly Trinitarian attitude of the original Book of Mormon.  Look at verse 3:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
So we're speaking directly to God the Father the whole time, which means whenever the words him or his are used, it's a reference to Jesus.  Which means that the commandments we're supposed to keep are Jesus's commandments.  Usually, commandments are attributed to God the Father—at least in Mormonism. But it also means that when we'll have his Spirit to be with us, it's Jesus's spirit.  And I don't ever remember the Holy Ghost being taught as belonging to the Son.  It always belongs to the Father.  The spirit of God like a fire is burning...not the spirit of Jesus.

So perhaps this verse was written with the whole Father-and-Son-are-still-kind-of-the-same-guy mindset, which makes it all the more bizarre that it winds up being one of the things that is repeated most often, most officially, and most stringently in modern-day Mormonism.