Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Getting there

Hey, all.

I’m having some trouble getting lessons out this past couple of weeks. I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be unloading a bunch of lessons on Conference Weekend, and then I’ll be mostly caught up. Sorry to those of you trapped in Gospel Doctrine with nothing to read. I’m thinking of you.

This post might disappear next week, as might any associated comments. Just so you know.

BoM Lesson 33 (Remember)

“A Sure Foundation”

Helaman 1–5

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To help readers build on a solid foundation of science

Reading

Having escaped the book of Alma, we’re spiralling into the book of Helaman. More wars. More armies. So many armies that fought and died without leaving any physical traces.

Helaman 1:14 And it came to pass in the forty and first year of the reign of the judges, that the Lamanites had gathered together an innumerable army of men, and armed them with swords, and with cimeters and with bows, and with arrows, and with head-plates, and with breastplates, and with all manner of shields of every kind.

This wasn’t just an army of hundreds of thousands of men. This army was “innumerable”. Apparently an infinite number of people were armed with swords and shields and armour, and no one can find any traces of them.

Meanwhile — oh, look — another Viking sword just last week.

A group of Icelandic goose hunters got more than they bargained for during a recent outing – they didn’t catch a single bird, but stumbled upon a Viking sword thought to be more than 1,000 years old.

The five men were in Skaftarhreppur in southern Iceland when they found the sword, which they think may have washed up during a recent flood, the Visir news website reports….

The agency’s director, Kristin Huld Sigurdardottir, says only 20 swords of this age have been discovered in Iceland before, making it a significant find. It didn’t take much effort on the hunters’ part, though. “It was just lying there, waiting to be picked up – it was obvious and just lying there on the ground,” one of them, Runar Stanley Sighvatsson, tells Iceland Monitor.

Again, fictional people don’t leave archaeological traces.

Pride

There’s another warning against pride.

Helaman 3:33 And in the fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church — not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God —
3:34 And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction.

Ask: Think of a time when you felt proud. When you felt this way, did you want to persecute anyone?

Probably not, if you felt proud of yourself or of something you did. Nationalism or insecurity have that effect, but not pride.

Pride is forbidden, not because it makes you persecute people, but because in a system where you must always be subordinate, it’s not okay to feel good about yourself or anything you do.

I think the Book of Mormon was written by someone who didn’t understand how feelings work.

Main ideas for this lesson

What is a sure foundation?

Latter-day Saints promote the idea that their ideology is built on a firm foundation. They even sing a rousing hymn called “How Firm a Foundation”. Every kid in Nursery knows that song about the wise man who built his house upon a rock. And there are scriptures like this one:

Helaman 5:12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

And the LDS Gospel Doctrine Manual says this:

After the hymn or song, explain that today’s lesson shows the difference between people who build on weak foundations, such as people who place their trust in wealth or physical strength, and people who build their foundations on “the rock of [their] Redeemer, . . . which is a sure foundation” (Helaman 5:12).

I’m led to think, however, that this emphasis on having a strong foundation is simply wishful thinking, or trying to make it so by repeating it over and over.

If the LDS Church is true, then

  • it was brought about by a known con-man who had a thing for underage girls
  • its foundational document is plagued with anachronisms, and has no evidence to support it
  • it has prophets, seers, and revelators who avoid revealing anything, except when it comes to anti-LGBT policy
  • it worships a god who could demonstrate his existence unambiguiously but doesn’t, and also worships his son, whose evidentiary basis is flimsy
  • it requires a small army of apologists and thinkers to make up explanations for why we don’t see what we expect to see
  • it encourages its members not to engage with people or materials that could disprove its claims
  • it teaches its members that the strongest evidence for its truthfulness is emotional reasoning, one of the worst kinds of evidence
  • it exists side-by-side with similar churches, but is much less successful at building and maintaining its population, even though it uses similar methods

Ask: Does this seem like a firm foundation?

Ask: What would be a better foundation to build on?

My answer is science. We have the combined knowledge of millennia, and the methods and techniques to get more. Occasionally we find that the things we’ve learned are wrong or incomplete, but we can discard those things without harming the whole structure, because we understand that they have a human origin. At any given point in time, we have the best repository of knowledge that humanity is capable of, and we’re always updating it.

Read this poem by the Digital Cuttlefish.

Two Books
There was a man who had a book
Of Things Which He Believed;
He followed it religiously—
He would not be deceived.

The story in its pages was
The Truth that he adored—
The world outside its ancient script,
He faithfully ignored.

When someone found a falsehood
Or a small mistake inside it
(Or even some tremendous flaw)
He eagerly denied it.

The Truth was there inside his book
And never found outside
If something contradicted it
Why then, that something lied

And when he met another man
Who had another book,
He fell not to temptation—why,
He didn’t even look.

And, surely, there are other men
With other books in hand
Who walk, with views obstructed,
Here and there across the land

****

There was a man who had a book
(I find this quite exciting)
Who looked upon a tangled bank
And then… he started writing.

He wrote about the things he saw
And what he saw them do
And when he found mistakes he’d made
He wrote about them, too

He shared his book with other men
And women that he met—
They found the catch is bigger, when
You cast a wider net.

They shared their observations
So that everyone could read;
They worked as a community,
The better to succeed.

They found they saw much further,
And discovered so much more
When they stood upon the shoulders
Of the ones who’d gone before

It’s a book that keeps evolving,
Always growing, as we learn.
Many people help to write it:
Would you like to take a turn?

Obsession with secret societies

The Book of Mormon reflects the conditions of its time. At the time, secret societies were all the rage. The Masons, the Druids, and even a group called the Society of Flagellants! And of course, the Illuminati.

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By the 1830s, frontier America was reacting with alarm to these secret societies. The Anti-Masonic Party formed in 1828, with a view to stopping these supposedly subversive elements, and combatting the danger they represented.

And predictably, the Book of Mormon laments the secret societies — here, secret combinations — that bring down the Nephites.

Helaman 1:11 And he went unto those that sent him, and they all entered into a covenant, yea, swearing by their everlasting Maker, that they would tell no man that Kishkumen had murdered Pahoran.

Helaman 2:2 And it came to pass that Helaman, who was the son of Helaman, was appointed to fill the judgment-seat, by the voice of the people.
2:3 But behold, Kishkumen, who had murdered Pahoran, did lay wait to destroy Helaman also; and he was upheld by his band, who had entered into a covenant that no one should know his wickedness.
2:4 For there was one Gadianton, who was exceedingly expert in many words, and also in his craft, to carry on the secret work of murder and of robbery; therefore he became the leader of the band of Kishkumen.

Did anyone notice the “flaxen cord”, back in 2 Nephi?

2 Nephi 26:22 And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.

Flaxen cord? That’s a reference to a Masonic symbol known as the “cable tow“.

The Cable Tow is a symbol of the First Degree and represents the candidates bond to his guide. In some esoteric circles it represents the umbilical cord.

The Masonic Library elaborates.

The word tow has another significance, in addition to pulling or dragging, it also means the fiber of flax, or hemp, or jute. A cable might be made of plaited wire, or of metal links, or of manmade fibers, but the combination “cable-tow” which seems to be of purely Masonic usage, implies almost certainly the natural fiber from which the rope is to be made.

In other words, the Book of Mormon perpetuates the anti-Masonic feeling that was current at the time, by comparing one of Freemasonry’s symbols with satanic enslavement.

Remember, Masonry doesn’t go back to Solomon. It’s a recent thing. It goes back no farther than the 1500s. So this really is a tip-off to the Book of Mormon’s recent origins.

What’s really weird (and hypocritical) is how much like a secret society Mormonism became. It had obscure rituals (cribbed from Freemasonry, btw), a tradition of quietly embedding itself in politics, and secret oaths and codewords. They keep their finances pretty secret, too. Check out this post from Redditor curious_mormon for the full story.

Remember

This Book of Mormon reading places a great deal of emphasis on remembering.

Helaman 5:4 And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days, and his brother Lehi also, all the remainder of his days;
5:5 For they remembered the words which their father Helaman spake unto them. And these are the words which he spake:
5:6 Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.

So does the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual.

In the Book of Mormon there are over 240 instances of the word remember or forms of the word (such as remembered, remembrance, or forget not). Fifteen of these instances are in Helaman 5. What must we remember? (See Helaman 5:9; see also Mosiah 3:17.) Why is it important to remember?

Mormons have the idea that if people leave the church, it’s because they’ve somehow forgotten about how wonderful it is. They’ve simply forgotten about testimony-building experiences.

Take it from Dieter Uchtdorf.

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What he’s actually describing is not forgetting. It’s a normal reaction when you stop believing that something’s true, which you’d carefully conned yourself into believing for years. When you can finally see things without the Mormon filter, you sort of shake your head in amazement at all the crazy things you’d believed.

One day recently, a pair of Mormon missionaries came over for dinner. I like to have them over because they’re usually quite nice. Also — let’s face it — I also feel kind of bad for them, because I remember what it was like. And finally, I want them to see that you can leave the church and live a good, ethical life as an unbeliever, and apostasy doesn’t have to spiral into drug abuse and cannibalism. (Those are optional.)

So on this particular night, in our after-dinner discussion, the younger of the two thought he’d explain why I left. I wrote it down afterwards because it was so perfect. He said,

I think what happened is:
you stopped praying
you stopped reading the scriptures
and over the course of time, you stopped going to church
and then you stopped believing it was true.

It was amazing. Four complete misses! I was pleased to let him know that he was quite wrong on every point. If anything, he had it in reverse order in my case.

When you’re going through deconversion, and you recognise that you’ve been utterly, terribly wrong on everything, and you’re wondering what it all means, and one of those things is the loss of your social group and your status in a community and your mental model of the entire universe — not to mention all the time and money you’ve invested — you don’t just drift away. In my case, I prayed harder! I read the scriptures with a new intensity. I went to church for a good solid six months after I no longer believed. (That’s what finally finished my testimony off.)

So when this young elder told me what he thought my reasons were… I was secretly glad. Why glad? Here’s why.

Mormons simply do not understand why people leave, or what deconversion is like. They could ask someone who’s been through it, but they never do. That might open up an unwanted conversation — and besides, they know already! It’s because we forgot.

Except we don’t just forget. I could tell you the details of all my biggest and most convincing spiritual experiences. I remember everything. I just don’t think they mean what I used to think they mean. I’ve reordered my evidentiary model.

But Mormons don’t get this. And because they don’t understand why people leave, they won’t be able to stop it. The die-off will continue. And that makes me very glad, even though I know Mormons won’t be able to help someone who’s hurting. That’s where I come in. And not just me — a whole lot of other ex-Mormons who have formed supportive communities of disbelief.

Sadly, there’s another consequence of Mormons not getting it when it comes to apostasy. They blame themselves for their church’s failures. Here’s a scripture that lets them do that.

Helaman 4:22 And that they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people; and they saw that their laws had become corrupted, and that they had become a wicked people, insomuch that they were wicked even like unto the Lamanites.
4:23 And because of their iniquity the church had begun to dwindle; and they began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face.
4:24 And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples

That’s right; when you’re bad, you get abandoned by the Holy Spook, your supposed source of spiritual strength. And then the church collapses. But it’s not because of the lack of evidence, the sinister leaders, or the lack of tangible benefit. It’s you.

I really hope that church members today aren’t blaming themselves for the failure of the church and the current on-going final apostasy. But this scripture might have that effect.

Additional lesson ideas

Cement

I always thought cement was an anachronism in the Book of Mormon.

Helaman 3:3 And it came to pass in the forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land.

3:7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.
3:8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east.
3:9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.
3:10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.
3:11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.

3:14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.

But it looks like I was wrong. Cement — or something like cement — has been found in Mesoamerica.

They most often utilized limestone, which remained pliable enough to be worked with stone tools while being quarried, and only hardened once when removed from its bed. In addition to the structural use of limestone, much of their mortar consisted of crushed, burnt, and mixed limestone that mimicked the properties of cement and was used just as widely for stucco finishing as it was for mortar.

Not actual houses of cement, which the Book of Mormon says there were apparently so many as to cover “the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east”. Ideally you’d want to find the houses, but we do see something like cement, so the Book of Mormon gets this one on a technicality.

I think this is the real problem with the Book of Mormon. If so many people were building cement buildings, ships, and temples in such abundance, then we should be able to find them. Shoot — we should be able to see them from Google Earth. But we don’t. And instead, by way of defence, apologists say, “Well, something like cement has been found in a few places.”

The other problem is that things that we know existed don’t appear in the Book of Mormon. It would have easy to write,

Behold, they did construct walls hewn of stone with such exactness that a hair would not fit between the stones.

That’s something we do observe, but not in the Book of Mormon.

7-manmade-wonders-sacsayhuaman

If it’s true, it should be obviously more true. But it’s not. That’s God, you know. Always operating on the margins of credibility.

BoM Lesson 32 (Stripling Warriors)

“They Did Obey . . . Every Word of Command with Exactness”

Alma 53–63

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage readers to throw off intellectual docility and employ critical thinking.

Reading

We’re finally to the end of Alma!

Gaston bom

For this reading, we continue with the Lamanite/Nephite wars. But now we get a new set of characters: 2,000 young men who were descended from the pacifist Ammonites, but who had never taken an oath of pacifism themselves. That’s right folks: it’s the Stripling Warriors!

Alma 53:22 And now it came to pass that Helaman did march at the head of his two thousand stripling soldiers, to the support of the people in the borders of the land on the south by the west sea.

“Stripling”? I don’t think I’ve ever strippled in my life.

But of course this is an old word.

stripling (n.)
“a youth,” late 14c., of uncertain origin, possibly from strip (n.1) “long, narrow piece,” on the notion of “one who is slender as a strip, whose figure is not yet filled out” + -ling.

Curiously, the phrase “stripling warrior” never occurs in the Book of Mormon. It’s only “stripling soldiers” (as in the above instance), and “stripling Ammonites”:

Alma 56:57 And as we had no place for our prisoners, that we could guard them to keep them from the armies of the Lamanites, therefore we sent them to the land of Zarahemla, and a part of those men who were not slain of Antipus, with them; and the remainder I took and joined them to my stripling Ammonites, and took our march back to the city of Judea.

No, not those Ammonites.

omanyte

Anyway, these young soldiers did very well, and how could they not, when they’re buffed up like this?

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Nothing homoerotic about that.

There’s a lot of back and forth with taking cities and whatnot. I thought it was interesting that wine doesn’t seem to be a problem for the righteous Nephites. They’re happy to imbibe — as long as a Lamanite tests it first for poison.

Alma 55:28 And it came to pass that the Nephites began again to be victorious, and to reclaim their rights and their privileges.
55:29 Many time did the Lamanites attempt to encircle them about by night, but in these attempts they did lose many prisoners.
55:30 And many times did they attempt to administer of their wine to the Nephites, that they might destroy them with poison or with drunkenness.
55:31 But behold, the Nephites were not slow to remember the Lord their God in this their time of affliction. They could not be taken in their snares; yea, they would not partake of their wine, save they had first given to some of the Lamanite prisoners.
55:32 And they were thus cautious that no poison should be administered among them; for if their wine would poison a Lamanite it would also poison a Nephite; and thus they did try all their liquors.

There’s some pathetic Paulean plagiarism.

Alma 58:40 But behold, they have received many wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come.

 

Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Hagoth

And then there’s this story about a curious man called Hagoth.

Alma 63:5 And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.
63:6 And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.
63:7 And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.
63:8 And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not.

Hagoth never appears in the narrative again, but Mormon tradition holds that he and his crew made it to the Pacific islands, and became the ancestors of the Polynesians.

The idea was taught by President Joseph F. Smith, who told a group of New Zealand Maoris:

“I would like to say to you brothers and sisters… you are some of Hagoth’s people, and there is NO PERHAPS about it!”

And also:

In the April General Conference of 1962, Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Council of the Twelve said, “As Latter-day Saints, we have always believed that the Polynesians are descendants of Lehi and blood relatives of the American Indians, despite the contrary theories of other men.”

However, this view has been flatly contradicted by advances in genetics.

In an analysis of the DNA of 1,000 individuals from 41 Pacific populations, an international team of scientists found strong evidence showing that Polynesians and Micronesians in the central and eastern islands had almost no genetic relationship to Melanesians, in the western islands like Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck and Solomons archipelagos.

The researchers also concluded that the genetic data showed that the Polynesians and Micronesians were most closely related to Taiwan Aborigines and East Asians. They said this supported the view that these migrating seafarers originated in Taiwan and coastal China at least 3,500 years ago.

Simon Southerton’s been doing great work in this area.

Polynesians trace their molecular roots back to Asia. The first survey of Polynesian mitochondrial DNA found that most of the people they surveyed (90%) from the islands of Samoa, New Zealand, Niue, the Cook Islands, and Tonga had mitochondrial DNA belonging to the B lineage, which is common among Southeast Asians (Hertzberg et al. 1989).

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What does this mean for the average Mormon?

I remember how, on my mission, many Samoan and Maori missionaries told great stories of how Hagoth dovetailed into the origin stories of their people, and this proved the Book of Mormon was true.

I wonder how they feel upon learning that they’d been sold a bizarro-world alternative narrative about their heritage.

Probably not great.

As a Māori woman I’m called upon to carefully navigate the terrain of my religion, my intellectual pursuits, and my cultural identity and none of them are a neat fit. As I resist the popular representations of my religious tradition I risk rendering myself a ‘spiritual’ outsider by neglecting or even challenging what has become a sacred and beloved account of my origins. The hardest part of this is that the centre is oblivious to the tensions their historical pronouncements have created. Nobody can hold them to account for the pronouncements and they simply don’t have a ‘those guys were wrong’ or ‘perhaps they spoke hastily’ in their religious vernacular.

Main ideas for this lesson

Exactness

Mormonism is a very demanding religion. There’s a lot to do (especially as wards *ahem* empty out). And take a look at how the church uses the Book of Mormon to pile on. This one’s from the Gospel Doctrine manual.

• How did the young Ammonites respond to the commands they received? (See Alma 57:21. Write on the chalkboard Follow the prophet “with exactness.”) Why is it important to be exactly obedient to the teachings of the Lord’s prophet? (See the quotation on the next page.) What are some specific things we must do today to follow the prophet “with exactness”?

My heart sinks when I read something like this, because I remember the pressure of having to do everything “with exactness”. You can try your hardest to be exact, but you can always be exacter.

Ask: What function might this have for the church?

I can think of two possible answers:

1. Being scrupulous in religious practice is very time-consuming! So demanding exactness from members can be a way of keeping them so busy that they don’t have time to think about what they’re doing.

2. With intense effort comes the expectation of some kind of benefit. But the promised blessings of the Mormon gospel are empty. So how could one explain the failure of promised blessings to eventuate? Simple: you weren’t exact enough.

The demand for exactness is actually an out-clause for failed promises of blessings. How many times has this conversation happened?

Member: Bishop, I’m just not getting anything in my spiritual life.
Bishop: Well, are you reading the scriptures? Paying tithing? Serving in your callings?
Member: Yes, all those things.
Bishop: Saying prayers? Having Family Home Evening?
Member: Yes.
Bishop: Home teaching?
Member: I could be doing better on home teaching.
Bishop: Well, there you have it.

And if it weren’t home teaching, it could be any other of a number of things one isn’t doing “with exactness”. This is especially difficult when doctrines are unclear or ambiguous.

Ask: What psychological effect does this demand for exactness have on members?

There are a lot of ex-Mormon boards that treat this topic, but we don’t even have to go that far. Check out the Amazon reviews for a horrendous little book called The Not Even Once Club.

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It actually gets worse. Here’s another quote from the Gospel Doctrine manual.

President Harold B. Lee taught:
“The power of Satan will increase; we see it in evidence on every hand. . . .
“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; . . . as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ (D&C 21:4–5.) There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.’ (D&C 21:6.)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 126).

Ask: According to President Lee, what should you do if there’s a conflict between your political or social views, and those held by elderly men in Salt Lake City?

Ask: Is it right for someone to tell us what to think? If someone claims this right over you, how should you respond?

Benign misogyny

Whenever there’s a discussion of the “stripling soldiers” in Alma, the topic of motherhood comes up. That’s because of this scripture:

Alma 56:47 Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
56:48 And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.

That’s right — these soldiers learned it from their mothers. And that means — according to elderly men in Utah — that mothers should be primarily responsible for the home, and not taking an equal role in the workplace or the church or anything.

To emphasize the influence that mothers can have on their children, you may want to read the following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball:
“To be a righteous woman during the winding-up scenes on this earth, before the Second Coming of our Savior, is an especially noble calling. The righteous woman’s strength and influence today can be tenfold what it might be in more tranquil times. She has been placed here to help to enrich, to protect, and to guard the home—which is society’s basic and most noble institution. Other institutions in society may falter and even fail, but the righteous woman can help to save the home, which may be the last and only sanctuary some mortals know in the midst of storm and strife” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 326–27).

Ask: If you were a female in the LDS Church, were you advised to stay in the home, and define yourselves mostly in relation to men? Did this factor into your life’s choices? How do you feel about this now? Please let us know in comments.

Again, from the lesson manual:

• The young soldiers did not doubt their mothers’ testimonies (Alma 56:48). Why is it important for children to know the strength and certainty of their parents’ testimonies? In what ways can parents share their testimonies with their children?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not encouraging my kids to simply believe anything I say! After all, I could be wrong. (And I tell them this.) Instead, I encourage them to find out new things, tell me about them, and then we can evaluate them together using principles of rationality.

Little death ray of truth

Ask: What traits are encouraged when we place value on belief without evidence?

Answers: Intellectual docility, subservience to authority, reliance on others.

Ask: Why is it important to doubt the testimony of others?

Answer: Testimonial evidence is among the worst kinds of evidence.

This also goes for anecdotal evidence.

anecdotal

But in reality…

NmYuyId

Executions

There’s something altogether dark going on in the Nephite world. There are two factions: the so-called “king-men” led by Pachus, and the so-called “free-men” led by Moroni.

In most political conflicts, no side is completely right or wrong. But we work together to achieve consensus through debate and negotiation.

War has a way of changing that, though. When there’s a crisis, clear thinking is the first thing to go. Here’s what happens in this instance.

Alma 62:7 And it came to pass that Moroni and Pahoran went down with their armies into the land of Zarahemla, and went forth against the city, and did meet the men of Pachus, insomuch that they did come to battle.
62:8 And behold, Pachus was slain and his men were taken prisoners, and Pahoran was restored to his judgment-seat.
62:9 And the men of Pachus received their trial, according to the law, and also those king-men who had been taken and cast into prison; and they were executed according to the law; yea, those men of Pachus and those king-men, whosoever would not take up arms in the defence of their country, but would fight against it, were put to death.
62:10 And thus it became expedient that this law should be strictly observed for the safety of their country; yea, and whosoever was found denying their freedom was speedily executed according to the law.
62:11 And thus ended the thirtieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; Moroni and Pahoran having restored peace to the land of Zarahemla, among their own people, having inflicted death upon all those who were not true to the cause of freedom.

This may have been a case of sedition — or it could have been an opportunity for Moroni to murder his political opponents.

What’s really worrying is that this episode of state-sanctioned murder comes from a character who, for Mormons, is a spiritual hero. How are Latter-day Saints to hold the political ideas of others in any regard, when political discourse is reduced to such black-and-white terms?

Additional lesson ideas

Pronouns in the Book of Mormon

Latter-day Saints say that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct book” of any. In fact, it is not even a correct book. It gets so many things wrong. This is very clear in its use of language.

Joseph Smith (or whoever wrote the Book of Mormon) opted for an archaic way of speaking that hadn’t been in common use for over a hundred years. This means that Smith (or whoever) was writing pronouns that he wasn’t familiar with.

Pronouns are a shorter way to refer to people or things. I don’t have to say Daniel every time Daniel wants to refer to Daniel. I can just say I or me.

But enough about me; let’s talk about you. Or rather, thou.

Thou is a pronoun that’s changed a lot. In Old English days, before 1066, there were two ways of referring to you: you could use thou for one person, and you for more than one.

However, from about 1450 to 1650, thou was reanalysed as a familiar pronoun. You was formal and polite.

Then by about 1650, people simply stopped saying thou. Its use seemed antiquated, and people came to think of it as formal, as we do today.

So what about you and ye?

In Shakespeare’s time, in the early 1600s, ye was for the subjects of sentences and you was for objects. So it was correct to say:

Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.

But this usage evaporated at about the same time that thou didst. Er… did.

Just to make things even more confusing, ye has at times been plural for you, but let’s keep it simple for now.

All of this would have been lost on someone from Joseph Smith’s time, where thou had mostly disappeared, and the you/ye distinction was no longer a thing. And that means that whoever wrote the Book of Mormon made a terrible hash of the pronouns. Let’s take a look at scriptures from this lesson. I’ll put a or a after each on to show the correct or incorrect usage.

Alma 54:5 Behold, Ammoron, I have written unto you ✔ somewhat concerning this war which ye ✔ have waged against my people, or rather which thy ? brother hath waged against them, and which ye ✔ are still determined to carry on after his death.

Here, ye and you are in place, but why did Moroni switch from you to thou? Did he think your brother didn’t sound as good as thy brother?

Alma 54:8 But as ye ✔ have once rejected these things, and have fought against the people of the Lord, even so I may expect you ✘ will do it again.

Whoops — wrong you!

Alma 54:10 But, as the Lord liveth, our armies shall come upon you except ye ✔ withdraw, and ye ✔ shall soon be visited with death, for we will retain our cities and our lands; yea, and we will maintain our religion and the cause of our God.
54:11 But behold, it supposeth me that I talk to you ✔ concerning these things in vain; or it supposeth me that thou ? art a child of hell; therefore I will close my epistle by telling you ✔ that I will not exchange prisoners, save it be on conditions that ye ✔ will deliver up a man and his wife and his children, for one prisoner; if this be the case that ye ✔ will do it, I will exchange.

Again, why the switch to thou?

Alma 56:4 Now I need not rehearse unto you ✔ concerning their traditions or their unbelief, for thou ? knowest concerning all these things —

Another inexplicable switch to thou.

There’s a lot more here in this Reddit thread.

All of this is understandable if the Book of Mormon was simply written in the 1800s. However, if someone believes that the words in the Book of Mormon were dictated word for word by reading off of a stone in a hat, they have some explaining to do.

There are other examples of inaccurate grammar elsewhere in the Book of Mormon.

Jacobean English in Book of Mormon

And that’s not even mentioning the odd grammar for our time.

Jacobean English 2

The scriptures tell us that the Lord speaks after the manner of our understanding. Unfortunately, even his understanding of our language is wonky. He doesn’t speak after the manner of our language; he speaks in a stilted and inaccurate form of Jacobean English.

period_speech

And what’s more absurd, he expects US to use it back. Dallin Oaks made a big deal about using the “special language of prayer”.

Modern English has no special verbs or pronouns that are intimate, familiar, or honorific. When we address prayers to our Heavenly Father in English, our only available alternatives are the common words of speech like you and your or the dignified but uncommon words like thee, thou, and thy which were used in the King James Version of the Bible almost five hundred years ago. Latter-day Saints, of course, prefer the latter. In our prayers we use language that is dignified and different, even archaic.

Brothers and sisters, the special language of prayer is much more than an artifact of the translation of the scriptures into English. Its use serves an important, current purpose. We know this because of modern revelations and because of the teachings and examples of modern prophets. The way we pray is important.

Surely if there is a god who’s concerned with humanity, he has better things to do than expect us to speak to him in English archaisms.

BoM Lesson 31 (Wars)

“Firm in the Faith of Christ”

Alma 43–52

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To explain why apostates are so dangerous to the church, and to investigate whether a common criticism of the Book of Mormon has any validity

Reading

Man, if this reading isn’t a stinker. The Book of Alma has a reputation for being tough to get through, and this reading is part of the reason why. It concerns the Nephite/Lamanite wars, and would really only be of interest to someone from that area and time.

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual seems to sense the tension in the room for this lesson, and tries to forestall it by asking:

• Why do you think Mormon included so much information about war in the Book of Mormon?

Because war stories are easy to write?

1. Mormon knew that the Book of Mormon would be read and studied in a time when war would be common throughout the world. These writings teach us how to remain Christlike during times of conflict.

Actually, war is less common now than at any time in earth’s history.

“War” is a fuzzy category, shading from global conflagrations to neighborhood turf battles, so the organizations that track the frequency and damage of war over time need a precise yardstick. A common definition picks out armed conflicts that cause at least 1,000 battle deaths in a year — soldiers and civilians killed by war violence, excluding the difficult-to-quantify indirect deaths resulting from hunger and disease. “Interstate wars” are those fought between national armies and have historically been the deadliest.

These prototypical wars have become increasingly rare, and the world hasn’t seen one since the three-week invasion of Iraq in 2003. The lopsided five-day clash between Russia and Georgia in 2008 misses the threshold, as do sporadic clashes between North and South Korea or Thailand and Cambodia.

And:

In fact, virtually all the war in the world is now confined to an arc stretching from Nigeria to Pakistan, which contains less than a sixth of the world’s population. We are hardly, as pessimists like to say, a “world at war.” Of course, the world continues to suffer from other forms of violence: terrorist bombings that kill dozens, drug gangs that kill thousands, and homicides that kill hundreds of thousands. But the latest inroads against a major category of violence — war — after five years in which it had lurched in the wrong direction, deserves our attention and gratitude.

What else you got, LDS manual?

2. Mormon recorded Nephite history preceding the Savior’s appearance in great detail. We can read of the Nephites’ experiences and be prepared for similar events occurring in our day prior to the Second Coming of Christ.

Ah, yes — the Second Coming. Seems like they’ve been saying it’s on its way ever since I was a young tacker. The last and chosen generation before Christ’s triumphant return, and all that. When is that going to happen?

Oh, look: not for a while yet.

The end is not near, senior LDS apostle Boyd K. Packer said Saturday.

Today’s youths can look forward to “getting married, having a family, seeing your children and grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren,” Packer told more than 20,000 Mormons gathered in the giant LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

Isn’t that a hoot? The name of the church has “Latter-day” in it, and now one of its leaders says the Second Coming has been called off due to lack of interest. Or maybe it’s because they’ve just built a mall and they’ve got to recoup.

I see these war chapters as a missed opportunity. Remember, the Book of Mormon was God’s best shot at re-establishing his revelatory link with humanity. He could have told us anything! There we were, at the cusp of the humankind’s great leap into the Scientific Age, and God could have dropped in some nuggets that we were about to discover. What if the Book of Mormon had gotten the jump on Einstein and Bohr? That would have made believers out of a great many people.

Instead, we get pointless war stories.

Alma 49:24 There were about fifty who were wounded, who had been exposed to the arrows of the Lamanites through the pass, but they were shielded by their shields, and their breastplates, and their head-plates, insomuch that their wounds were upon their legs, many of which were very severe.

Was severe leg injuries really the best God could come up with?

Main ideas for this lesson

Why do we fight?

There’s a lot in this reading, but it’s so boring, I’m not going to go through it like a regular lesson. Instead, this lesson will touch on a pertinent question from the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual.

• Some of the strongest opponents of the Nephites had once been Nephites themselves, including the Amalekites (Alma 24:29–30; 43:6–7), the Zoramites (Alma 30:59; 31:8–11; 43:4), Amalickiah (Alma 46:1–7), Morianton (Alma 50:26, 35), and Amalickiah’s brother Ammoron (Alma 52:3). Why do those who have left the Church often fight so strongly against it? (See Mosiah 2:36–37; Alma 47:35–36.)

The Prophet Joseph Smith made the following statement to a man who wondered why those who had left the Church often fought so fiercely against it: “Before you joined this Church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant” (in “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, 15 Aug. 1892, 492).

“And you shall be in my power! Muhahahahahaaaa!!!”

hqdefault

No, but seriously.

Let me try to explain why I fight the church so hard after being devoted to it for so many years.

I was raised in the church. For thirty-eight years, I went to weekly three-hour meetings, served a two-year mission, served in callings, and went to early-morning seminary classes. (How many years is that? You do the math.) Through it all, the church carefully wove a web that influenced the whole of my life. It taught that it was the Lord’s kingdom on the earth, and that if I was obedient, I could have an eternity with my family in heaven.

Sometimes things wouldn’t make sense. There would be contradictions. And when that happened, I didn’t worry, and I didn’t doubt. I would simply invent a workable explanation. Or I would place the item on my shelf, reasoning that I would find out after I died. Because, no matter what else, I knew the church was right. That was the one thing I knew.

In 2005, when I was struggling for answers, and everything appeared in shades of gray instead of black and white, I still believed. The idea that the church might be wrong was the last thing I wanted to think. I tried every other option, through every contradiction.

But when I allowed myself to serenely and honestly contemplate that last and final possibility — that the church was wrong — all the contractions folded up and disappeared, resolved at last. There were no contradictions. The complex and byzantine tower of faith that I had spent years constructing simply collapsed into a pile of dust at my feet.

The next few weeks at church were strange. In discussions about Noah’s Ark, the Millennium, the Creation — every time some doctrine was taught, I thought: All the people in this room are wrong about this.

The church was not what it taught me it was. It held itself up as the One True Church with living prophets, and it was just another human-made organisation.

And when you realise that — once you get past the shock — then comes the anger.

the-truth-will-set-you-free-but-first

Because once you really grasp that the church isn’t what it claimed, you realise that someone’s been doing a whole lot of lying.

But who? Parents? The missionaries? No, they probably believe it. They’re not to blame.

The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve? (We have this discussion a lot, we exMo’s.) Does the Q15 really believe it, or are they fooled as well?

One thing’s for sure: whoever wrote the Book of Mormon knows that they sat down and wrote it. And if the Q15 don’t know it’s wrong, they’re in a position to. Not knowing seems like criminal negligence.

What I’m saying is there’s a lot of anger, and it’s not clear whom to put it on.

And the wasted time and money! And the guilt they used on me. The way they shamed me about my body, my sexuality, and my desires. They claimed authority over the things that were closest to me. And the way they gave me a fake moral system to follow instead of something based in the real world. And the bad choices I made based on bad information. And on and on. You never really get through it. You just sort of keep rediscovering ways in which the worldview you cultivated was fake.

The closest thing I can imagine to it is discovering your spouse has been unfaithful. I’m not saying that’s a deal-breaker for everyone or anything. But imagine: you thought it was one way, and it was another. The reality you based your life on was a lie. And now you have to rediscover what reality is.

So that’s why I do what I do. I don’t have any delusions that I can bring the church down, but I do hope to contribute to the hollowing-out that I think is happening. And if someone finds themselves in my position, maybe they’ll see me and I can encourage them.

This stuff is kind of personal, and I can see we’re going over time. So I’ll end this bit here.

Let me ask the opposite question, just to finish off: why does the church fight its apostates so hard — to the point where they say that we’re enlisted with the evil one, and we’re his servants? Why are church members conditioned to shut down whenever one of us speaks?

Easy. Because we’re dangerous to the church. We know their mind games, because we’ve seen them all — and used them on ourselves. Who could be more dangerous to the Wizard of Oz than the ones who know all his tricks, and are happy to call them out for anyone listening?

IMG_0209

Damn straight, JD.

I want to give a special shoutout to NewNameNoah, who has been happily exposing the secrets of the LDS Church to anyone who would like to see them. Through the magic of hidden video, he has recorded the temple ceremonies, and placed them onto YouTube. People who were about to join the church have watched them, and said “No, thanks.” You can strike a blow for transparency and openness of information by linking to them here.

Additional lesson ideas

Book of Mormon place names

There’s an argument against the Book of Mormon that I’ve never been fond of. It’s that Joseph Smith (and co.) simply grabbed a lot of local place names when they were trying to come up with place names in the Book of Mormon. This idea is stated most clearly in the CES Letter (which is fantastic, and which has helped a lot of people).

It shows up on page 9.

names

Here are the maps.

mormonmap

modernmap

The CES Letter continues:

p10

Like I say, I’ve never been fond of this argument. Here’s why:

1. How close is close, for place names? Sure, the list looks compelling by the ol’ eyeball method, but can we use such a metric? Isn’t that what Mormon apologists do when they look at an inscription that says NHM and claim a match for Nahom?

2. There are a lot of similarities. But that’s to be expected when you cherry-pick. How many modern names were left off? How many Book of Mormon names? It would be easy to assemble a list of matches from just about anywhere.

That’s the root of my argument: It would be easy to take any random place, and match up Book of Mormon place names to it. To show this, I’m going to pick a random spot on the map, compare the place names to a list of Book of Mormon place names, and match as many as I can. I predict that I’ll get a healthy list of matches, no matter where I plop down a pin, which would mean that the plagiarism charge is not really reasonable. If, however, I can’t get a list of matches, I’ll have to admit that maybe there’s something to this.

But back to my first question: how close is close? Well, let’s keep in mind that different places are going to have their own ways of making words. There may be different suffixes that might get in the way. So I’m going to play this loosey-goosey. I’m going to be super tolerant of differences in the vowels, and I’ll probably even allow some consonants to drop out. It seems to me that only the first two or three consonants are significant. If there’s a place name like Bunbury, I’ll be looking for anything with B*n*b, or even B*n. For Adelaide, I’ll be happy if I get any vowel up the front, plus D*L. After all, that’s about as rigorous as what I think the inventor of our chart did.

So here we go: Malaysia. Here’s the zone.

mal1

Let’s zoom in for some detail on place names.

mal2

I should be able to find something. Hmm…

mal3

I can’t find one crappy name that looks even remotely close. Bintangor and Bethabara ain’t exactly a match.

But that’s just one place. I bet I’ll have better luck with some of the former Soviet republics.

Here’s the long view, in case you want to try.

kaz1

and the zoom in.

kaz2

And the result:

kaz3

Seventy freaking place names, and I can’t find a good match. Although Kishlakidzon at least has a Kish– in it. I’ve been as generous as I can, but the matches are pathetic.

Let’s give it one more try, this time in South America. This is the one place where we could expect a few decent matches, right?

I’m putting the pin down here:

sud1

sud2

And the result:

sud3

We get Annai and Ani-Anti, which is less-than-inspiring, given the lack of complexity. I matched Cunani and Cumeni, which I think was pretty generous. Other than that, there’s nothing. Check the list and let me know if you disagree. If you can do a better job, go for it.

I tried. I really tried. I thought I could get lots of matches for Book of Mormon names, no matter where I looked. Instead, the list from the CES Letter is way better than mine. I have to admit that this angle on Book of Mormon place names is more viable than I thought.

Did Joseph Smith (and/or friends) pull local place names when writing the Book of Mormon? I’m listing this as:

plausible

BoM Lesson 30 (Plan of Salvation)

“The Great Plan of Happiness”

Alma 40 – 42

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To show Joseph Smith’s tendency to plagiarism, and to encourage readers to take time for things that matter.

Reading

For this reading, Alma continues his discussion about the Plan of Happiness. That means it’s time for this chart again (taken from the Gospel Doctrine manual). Maybe you’ve seen it.

pos

It’s lovely, isn’t it. As a kid, I always felt grateful that we had the Full Plan of What Life Was All About. And it was as simple as drawing circles on a board! (Which I did many times in teaching discussions to investigators.)

However, as basic as this plan is, it looks like the Book of Mormon contains no trace of it. How about that! Is this a case of God revealing things “line upon line”? Or had Joseph Smith not made it up yet?

Or perhaps Joseph Smith hadn’t yet run into the work Emanuel Swedeborg, a visionary and occult mystic from the 1700s? Swedeborg’s 1784 book Heaven and Hell and Its Wonders has a vision of heaven, and it comes in three flavours.

Swedenborg insisted: “There are three heavens,” described as “entirely distinct from each other.” He called the highest heaven “the Celestial Kingdom,” and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the “sun, moon and stars.”

Celestial Kingdom, eh? That sounds familiar.

Not only that, but Joseph Smith probably became familiar with his work.

A library near the Smith home carried the book, Sibly’s Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences. Historian Michael Quinn has already demonstrated that this book is the likely source for the Smith family’s magic parchments.

Joseph himself acknowledged his familiarity with Swedenborg. In 1839, Edward Hunter, a convert from Swedenborgianism, recorded a conversation with Joseph:

“I asked him if he was acquainted with the Sweadenburgers. His answer I verially believe. ‘Emanuel Sweadenburg had a view of the world to come but for daily food he perished.’” (William E. Hunter, Edward Hunter: Faithful Steward, pg. 316, original spelling).

And would you believe that the ideas of the three heavens was incredibly controversial in Smith’s time?

In fact, Smith’s description of the “Celestial Kingdom” was not only a copy from earlier written works, but also very controversial to the Latter-Day Saints.

The diaries of Orson Pratt and John Murdock from the 1830’s record their efforts to reassure members who questioned the 1832 vision of heaven. The two men described countless excommunications of Mormons, including branch presidents, who denounced “the degrees of glory” as a “satanic revelation.” Even Brigham Young had a hard time with it at first and described it as “a trial to many.”

Why were faithful Mormons choking on this idea of three heavens?

Quinn explains that it’s because members correctly recognized it as coming from the occult. The only other sources of separate degrees in heaven came from occult writers of Smith’s time.

Shoot, they knew Smith had been dabbling in the weird occult stuff.

Plagiarised or no, it’s not like having more circles on your chart makes any more sense. What it all really means is this:

planOfHappiness

Main ideas for this lesson

No one knows

Alma does his best to explain the resurrection.

Alma 40:4 Behold, there is a time appointed that all shall come forth from the dead. Now when this time cometh no one knows; but God knoweth the time which is appointed.
40:5 Now, whether there shall be one time, or a second time, or a third time, that men shall come forth from the dead, it mattereth not; for God knoweth all these things; and it sufficeth me to know that this is the case — that there is a time appointed that all shall rise from the dead.

Gee, he doesn’t know very much. The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual excuses Alma’s ignorance thus:

• Alma mentioned several things that he did not know about death and resurrection (Alma 40:2–5, 8, 19–21). What can we learn from the fact that Alma testified of the doctrine of resurrection even though he did not know all the details about it? (Help class members see that it is not necessary to understand every detail of a doctrine or event before receiving a testimony of its truthfulness.)

Ask: If someone claims to be a prophet, and have a direct line to God, then is their ignorance really excusable?

In the absense of a reliable source, I’ll go with this, which has the advantage of being observably true.

tyd_003

Click here to see the full comic.

But Alma soldiers on.

Alma 40:11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection — Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.

Wait — an angel told him? That’s what Korihor said.

Alma 40:12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
40:13 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil — for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house — and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.

This all sounds like Christian heaven and hell to me. Of course, this would later clash with Joseph’s newfangled three-degrees idea — to say nothing of “outer darkness” — so it was necessary to retool this into “spirit paradise” and “spirit prison”. It’s all very clever how things work out in the long run.

Alma 40:14 Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.

Joseph Smith is plagiarising the author of Hebrews.

Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
10:27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

Ask: Freaking heck — did Joseph Smith plagiarise everything?

Probationary state

Alma says that this life is a probationary state.

Alma 42:2 Now behold, my son, I will explain this thing unto thee. For behold, after the Lord God sent our first parents forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground, from whence they were taken — yea, he drew out the man, and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden, cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the tree of life —
42:3 Now, we see that the man had become as God, knowing good and evil; and lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, the Lord God placed cherubim and the flaming sword, that he should not partake of the fruit —
42:4 And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.

In this lesson, I gave some reasons why this life being a “probationary” state was a silly and wrong-headed idea. Here’s the short version:

God sent us to earth, having wiped our memory, so already the deck is stacked against us. Then he punishes Adam and Eve for taking a piece of fruit when they didn’t know it was wrong to do so. Or they wanted knowledge of good and evil, which is supposed to be a good thing. God punishes them and all of us by having us born into a fallen system. So already this is a set-up.

Alma 42:5 For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated.
42:6 But behold, pit was appointed unto man to die — therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth — and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man.
42:7 And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.

42:12 And now, there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience;

Brought upon himself? God set this system up. If he hadn’t wanted it to be this way, he could have arranged it differently. Why didn’t he?

God would “cease to be God”

Alma 42:13 Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.

Would God cease to be God if he did something unfair or wrong? This raises an interesting theological conundrum.

I’m no theologian, but in discussions I’ve had with believers, God’s position seems pretty much set. After all, if he’s the Almighty One and some kind of moral expert, then what standard would we use to say he was doing something wrong? That’s if he’s the one making the rules.

But on the other hand, what if he weren’t? What if there were rules or principles that God had to obey? This is the view we’re taking if we say that God could “cease to be God”.

But if that’s the case — if God doesn’t make the rules, and he’s bound to principles that he has to obey — then why worship him? We could save a step and just worship the principles. Cut out the middleman. Clearly the principles are higher than he is, since he has to obey them.

Back to the first hand. If we’re wrong, and whatever God says goes, then we have another problem. He could declare by divine decree that murder was okay. Or that chocolate ice cream was wrong.

In other words, is a thing good because God says it’s good, in which case we’re bound to a moral tyrant who declares things sinful for arbitrary reasons? Or is the goodness in the thing itself, in which case God can safely be ignored? This is Euthyphro’s Dilemma, and it’s a game-ender for claims to theistic “objective morality”.

Cake or death

And finally, God gives us a choice: either we partake of the waters of life, or “evil shall be done unto” us.

Alma 42:27 Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.
42:28 If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God.

Remember, you’re not compelled — but if you don’t, torment forever. This is God’s idea of a free choice.

For more about why Jesus’s atonement makes no sense, check out New Testament Lesson 25.

Additional lesson ideas

More about ‘God would “cease to be God”‘

There’s something else strange about this verse.

Alma 42:13 Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.

This is a funny sort of expression. It doesn’t seem to come up anywhere else in my experience. And whenever that happens, it makes me wonder if that was an idea that was floating around at the time Joseph Smith was working on the Book of Mormon. This is the same thing I found when I investigated the Mormon teaching that Jesus “bled from every pore”. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for more about that.)

So let’s investigate. We’ll do a quick Google Ngram search for “would cease to be God”. Here’s the chart.

Wow, look at that spike in 1820! This was clearly an idea that people were writing about in Joseph Smith’s time. No wonder it found its way into the Book of Mormon.

And if we zoom in on some of the books, we find a discourse about — what a coincidence! — the state of the soul after the dissolution of the body.

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The full text:

And this one:

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Again, the full text:

I have no idea if Smith or his friends would have had access to these books. But the idea that God could “cease to be God” if he did something wrong was clearly going around. The Book of Mormon is not a product of pre-Jesus Central America. It’s very much a product of 19th-century frontier-American theology. Whatever they were talking and writing about, that’s what got in.

Joseph Smith was a kind of cultural magpie. He borrowed whatever was at hand to construct an increasingly elaborate — and at times, contradictory — theology.

Wickedness never was happiness

Here’s a very popular verse.

Alma 41:10 Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.
41:11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are pin the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual says this:

• Alma explained that Corianton could not be restored from sin to happiness because “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Why can’t wickedness bring happiness? (See Alma 41:10–13; Helaman 13:38.) How would you respond to the argument that some people seem to find happiness in activities that are against the commandments?

Latter-day Saints are in a strange position. They claim that the Gospel makes them happy, while they more or less admit that actual church is kind of unenjoyable. And so they tolerate the unnecessary and self-inflicted strictures, while gazing enviously at those on the outside.

They have to invent some kind of narrative to explain this, and very often, it’s that other people aren’t “really happy”. Glenn Pace made that the title of a General Conference talk.

When our children were younger and we would be on our way to Sunday church meetings, occasionally we would pass a car pulling a boat. My children would become silent and press their noses against the windows and ask, “Dad, why can’t we go waterskiing today instead of to church?”

Sometimes I would take the easy but cowardly way out and answer, “It’s simple; we don’t have a boat.” However, on my more conscientious days, I would muster up all the logic and spirituality available to a patriarch of a family and try to explain how much happier our family was because of our Church activity.

I first realized I wasn’t getting through when on a subsequent Sunday we saw a family laughing and excited as they loaded their snow skis onto their car. One of my teenage sons said with a sly grin, “They’re not really happy, huh, Dad?” That statement has become a family joke whenever we see someone doing something we cannot do. When I see a teenager driving a beautiful, expensive sports car, I say to my sons, “Now there’s one miserable guy.”

It’s funny in that Mormon Dad way, but it’s also kind of tragic. How many hours did we spend in meetings, instead of having great times together? How many hours did we spend away from home in Stake Meetings, propping up a system that wasn’t true? How much money and effort did we expend on something that didn’t really matter? Were we really happy doing so? Or were we putting up with it so we could have happiness in the “next life”?

President Ezra Taft Benson said: “While [people] may take some temporary pleasure in sin, the end result is unhappiness. . . . Sin creates disharmony with God and is depressing to the spirit” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 91; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, 65–66).

This from a person who made a living from creating unnecessary guilt for people who were doing normal things.

Here’s a chart you can refer to when you need to understand the Mormon logic surrounding this area.

Mormon logic

When they said that living a secular and responsible life was “wickedness”, when they denigrated it as simply “fun”… they were wrong. As they were wrong about everything else.

I think it’s important to call this what it is — sourness — and reject it.

Listen to this performance of Roderick Williams singing George Butterworth’s song ‘Bredon Hill’ (from A Shropshire Lad).

Ask: How do you think he felt when she ignored the church bells and stayed with him? Have you had the opportunity to have a lie-in with someone wonderful on a Sunday morning? How did it compare to sitting in church? Which gave you a better opportunity to feel like you were enjoying what life was really about?

Ask: How does he feel at the end of the song? Why is it important to spend time with those you love?

Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet from his Tony acceptance speech.

Ask: What are we promised in this life? Why is important to not waste one day?

We can live good, ethical, responsible lives as unbelievers. It’s the only life we know we’re getting. Let’s not waste a single day on unreason or smallness of spirit.

BoM Lesson 29 (Alma’s fatherly advice)

“Give Ear to My Words”

Alma 36–39

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage parents to give better parental advice than Alma does

Reading

There’s a bit of a lull in the action for this reading. Time for Alma to give one of his trademark fatherly chats! He speaks to his three sons — Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton — and gives really terrible advice. Let’s see how bad it gets.

Main ideas for this lesson

Helaman

In his chat with Helaman, Alma explains that God’s love is unconditional… but with conditions.

Alma 37:13 O remember, remember, my son Helaman, how strict are the commandments of God. And he said: If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land — but if ye keep not his commandments ye shall be cut off from his presence.

Ask: Would a good parent cast off children for not doing everything they say?

Musical number: Sing this song with the class. (CW: language, possible casual misogyny)

Free will and divine hiddenness

When you ask a theist why God doesn’t resolve his apparent lack of existence by just appearing to everyone, a common answer is that God wants people to believe in him in faith, without needing evidence. If God were to prove his existence, it would essentially force us to believe in him and remove the need for faith.

But what about Alma and his friends? They saw an angel, and that didn’t remove their free will.

Alma 36:5 Now, behold, I say unto you, if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things; but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me, not of any worthiness of myself.
36:6 For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.
36:7 And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us.

But Alma’s certain that God will resurrect him. He’s just as certain as he is about the Exodus, and the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea… which also didn’t happen.

Alma 36:28 And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory; yea, and I will praise him forever, for he has brought our fathers out of Egypt, and he has swallowed up the Egyptians in the Red Sea; and he led them by his power into the promised land; yea, and he has delivered them out of bondage and captivity from time to time.

Whoops.

And if you say that Alma is dumb for believing in fairy tales, then he has an answer for you. His belief makes him smarter than wise people.

Alma 37:6 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.
37:7 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.

So what does all this mean for Helaman? It means that when he writes about how wicked everyone is, he’s supposed to hold back on information.

Alma 37:29 Therefore ye shall keep these secret plans of their oaths and their covenants from this people, and only their wickedness and their murders and their abominations shall ye make known unto them; and ye shall teach them to abhor such wickedness and abominations and murders; and ye shall also teach them that these people were destroyed on account of their wickedness and abominations and their murders.

In the LDS Church, there’s a pattern of incomplete disclosure. The church is cagey about its finances. It tells only one side of its history. Its higher-level ordinances (like the endowment) are not explained to people who have not already accepted a series of commitments — and who are therefore less likely to disengage from their investment.

Ask: What kind of organisation relies on incomplete informational disclosure to “protect” its membership from facts?
Answer: Check out Steve Hassan’s BITE model, under “Information Control”. While this model is not well-accepted by psychologists, it is interesting to see how many of the LDS Church’s practices it describes.

1. Deception:

a. Deliberately withhold information
b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
c. Systematically lie to the cult member

2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:

a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
b.Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking

3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines

a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
b.Control information at different levels and missions within group
c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when

4. Encourage spying on other members

a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
b.Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group

5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:

a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
b.Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources

6. Unethical use of confession

a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories

Ask: If the church is true, why would it need to roll out unpalatable information carefully?

There’s a scene from the Australian TV show Offspring that describes this situation.

***SPOILERS AHEAD for season 5***

Also don’t mock me for watching Offspring, I have a wife.

Here’s the short version:

In Wednesday night’s explosive episode of the popular Network Ten series Nina, played by Gold Logie-winner Asher Keddie, is confronted with the fact her new lover Thomas (Ben Barrington) is not only married, but had been cheating on his heavily pregnant wife.

His secret came out when a birth complication forced Thomas and his unknowing wife to Nina’s hospital instead of the maternity ward they had planned.

Quite a scene: Nina attends what she thinks is a routine delivery, and finds… her new boyfriend acting as birth coach to his wife.

When Thomas speaks to Nina later, he claims that his wife was actually his ex, and defends his lack of disclosure, saying:

Would you have started something with me if you knew my ex was pregnant?

Nina responds:

Well, shouldn’t that have been up to me?

And there it is. Maybe members would bail if everything were public. Maybe investigators wouldn’t like it if they knew that Joseph Smith had 30 wives, some as young as 14. But isn’t that up to them? How are we supposed to make good choices if the facts aren’t available?

Shiblon

Shiblon’s the middle child, so nothing interesting happens in his chapter. Alma tells the same conversion story that he just told Helaman, tells him to keep being good, yada yada yada.

Next!

Corianton

We all know Coriander because he’s the only character in the Book of Mormon who got any sex. This was, of course, with the legendary harlot Isabel™, who is one of only six women mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, and the only one with an occupation.

Alma 39:2 For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.
39:3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron, among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.

Trivia: Who were the other five women? Answers are at the bottom of this post.

FB-Corianton-is-in-a-Relationship-with-Isabel

Observation about two names in the Book of Mormon: Corianton. Morianton. Discuss.

Alma’s parental counsel is terrible on so many levels. Let’s list them.

Alma blames Isabel.

Alma 39:4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.

Why, that scheming hussy!

Alma wigs out, blowing sex all out of proportion

Alma 39:5 Know ye not, my son, that these things 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?

Mormons say that sex is “the sin next to murder”, and this verse is why.

Fancy that: a bit of casual boinking — even when pursued responsibly and consensually — is almost as bad as murdering someone. This is a kind of — excuse the gendered term — hysterical anti-sex attitude that turns the concept of morality upside-down. Sex harms no one when it’s done well, but it can be awful when done badly. Ironically, it’s this kind of attitude that causes it to be done badly. You cannot have a normal sexual life with priorities as screwed up as this.

A lot has been said on the futility of teaching abstinence. It does not prevent kids from having sex, but that’s only part of the problem. It also promotes rape culture.

Purity culture and rape culture are two sides of the same coin. Prior to marriage, women are instructed that they must say no to sex at every turn, and if they do not they are responsible for the consequences. This method of approach—“always no”—creates situations in which women are not equipped to fully understand what consent looks like or what a healthy sexual encounter is. When the only tool you’re given is a “no,” shame over rape or assault becomes compounded—because you don’t necessarily understand or grasp that “giving in” to coercion or “not saying no” isn’t a “yes.”

That’s from the girl’s perspective. From the boy’s side, you never learn what’s okay and what’s not okay because nothing is okay. Consent is a subtlety that doesn’t make the curriculum. This is not to excuse failure to obtain informed consent — you might have your own ideas about what’s twisted and what’s not, but they’ll have to be your own ideas; you won’t get them from the wider culture. Or you will, but it will be mixed up with a lot of other stuff.

This unrelenting sex-negativity is one of the most harmful things about the church. It fills people up with shame for their innermost desires. It tampers with who they are on a basic level.

For a better way, check out what I teach my kids about sex. I wrote this lesson a couple of years ago, and in the meantime, my youngest boy started dating. So I told him, “That means I have to tell you the things.”

“No,” he said, “you don’t have to tell me the things!”

“I do have to tell you the things, because it’s my job to tell you the things.”

So I told him the things, and afterward he said, “That wasn’t too bad.”

That’s how I broke the curse.

Alma blames Coriander for his own lack of success

Alma 39:11 Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing; suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots. Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.

Oh sure, it’s not because Alma’s selling a shit product. It’s Coriander.

Why would Coriander’s actions have this effect on the Lamanites? They weren’t even Christians yet, and therefore unlikely to be puritanical ninnies.

Testimonies are not good evidence

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual asks:

• Alma 36 contains Alma’s testimony as expressed to his son Helaman (see especially verses 3–5 and 26–28). Why is it important for children to hear their parents bear their testimonies? In what ways have your parents’ testimonies influenced your life?

I can tell you. My father told me lots of good things, but probably the worst information I got in life was given to me by him. It was when he sat me down, and very earnestly told me that if I had a question about anything, I could ask my Heavenly Father in prayer, and get an answer. And I believed him.

That was the worst thing anyone ever told me.

Rather than understanding that knowledge comes through careful, controlled observation, he taught me that knowing something was simply asking a deity and then sorting through your feels.

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Knowledge doesn’t come from feels. Basically he turned me into an an amateur intuitive. And that leaves people vulnerable to scammers and charlatans. Goodbye, critical thinking; hello, mysticism.

What parent tries to disable their child’s brain? Who tries to defeat their kid’s truth-finding mechanism? That’s not normal, but on religion it is.

I’m raising my kids with the Latin phrase nullius in verba. I’m telling them, “Don’t believe anything just because someone says it’s so — including me, because I could be wrong. Don’t believe anyone’s testimony.”

Additional lesson ideas

How to share?

The Gospel Doctrine manual asks:

• Alma counseled Shiblon to continue teaching the word of God, being “diligent and temperate,” using “boldness, but not overbearance” (Alma 38:10, 12.) How can we follow this counsel as we share our beliefs with others?

In fact, overbearance isn’t such a big problem, but backfire effect is. Telling someone correct information they don’t like can make them believe incorrect information more.

To avoid this, check out the Debunking Handbook by John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky. It’s a must for anyone who needs to communicate ideas.

Answer: Mary, Eve, Sarah, Sariah, Abish, Beyoncé.

BoM Lesson 28 (Faith as a seed)

“The Word Is in Christ unto Salvation”

Alma 32–35

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage readers not to engage in wishful thinking and emotional reasoning

Reading

What is faith?

That was the question posed by my Stake President. He called me into his office one Sunday. I think he’d heard that I’d been having concerns. It was a great meeting! I was finally able to tell a church leader — to his face — that I thought the church’s claims lacked evidence.

“But that’s why there’s faith,” he said. “What do you think faith is?”

I knew I had an answer — I’d thought about this just a couple of days before — but I didn’t say it.

He pressed. “What is faith? I’m asking you.”

Well, he was asking. So I hit him with it.

I said, “Faith is the willingness to suspend critical reasoning facilities… in the service of a belief for which there’s no adequate evidence.

He stopped for a second. Then, to my surprise, he sort of agreed.

The discussion went on, but I think that discussion said everything about faith from a Mormon and an ex-Mormon perspective.

(Incidentally, I wrote a blog post shortly after the incident, and you can read it here. I didn’t go back and re-read it before I wrote this. Did I remember it accurately? Did I embellish? We all know memory is constructed. Here’s a chance to see how memory changes.)

In this lesson, Alma talks about faith. In religion, faith is considered a wonderful virtue that makes all things possible. I think faith is a terrible reason to believe something, and we need to stop thinking that faith is some kind of virtue.

Main ideas for this lesson

Preying upon the poor

As our story begins, Alma comes across the people who were kicked out of their synagogues for being poor.

Alma 32:5 And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our eexceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?
32:6 And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them and that they were in a preparation to hear the word.

Humility

Ask: If you went on a mission for the LDS Church, which neighbourhoods were your most successful: rich ones or poor ones?

I don’t think anyone sees a great deal of success in areas where people are comfortable. That’s mirrored in this passage.

Alma 32:12 I say unto you, it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom; for it is because that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble.
32:13 And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.
32:14 And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual asks:

• Why was it a blessing to these Zoramites that they had been compelled to be humble? (See Alma 32:12–13.) Why is it better to humble ourselves than to be compelled to be humble? (See Alma 32:14–16.) How can the word of God lead us to humble ourselves?

Ask: Why does the church promote humility?

Humility is a good thing generally. There’s an awful lot we don’t know, and we need to acknowledge as much. Otherwise, we won’t be open to new knowledge, and who couldn’t use a little of that?

This is precisely why I find it so galling that there’s a church whose leaders claim to know the mind and will of God. It’s the opposite of humility.

Arrogance of Faith

Atheists, by contrast, don’t think the universe was created for humans, and don’t think their moral system was handed to them by a god.

atheist arrogance

Ask: What’s the function of these verses? Why does a church that thinks it has God’s mobile number demand humility from its members?

A person with intellectual and emotional independence can ask questions and expect reasonable answers. That’s a disaster for a church that has none. But if you can inculcate a kind of intellectual docility in your members, you can use that as a fallback. “Have humility” is like saying “Have faith”. They’re an escape hatch for when the questions get too pointy. Sure, it’s okay not to know stuff, but if a church claims to have a prophet who reveals things to his servants the prophets, then why would there be gaps in knowledge? Is it that the Lord hasn’t revealed that yet, or is it a plot hole that will never get filled? It sure looks like the second. And why would God work to build a church with so many problems?

Ask: Why do well-off people not accept the gospel?

People who have enough don’t seem to need religion. The church pushes this as an indictment of rich people, but it’s actually a reflection on the church. In economic terms, religion is an inferior good. Just like you stop buying the generic ice cream when you can afford better, religion seems to work well enough until you get a better set of intellectual tools.

Christianity doesn’t have much to offer someone who’s doing well. But it has a lot to offer someone who’s at the end of their rope — a clean slate on sins and misdeeds, a second chance in life, promises of becoming a new person. (Too bad the promises are empty.)

If I were a church, I’d be in the business of promoting misery. Making people’s lives fall apart is a sure way to encourage dependence.

What is faith?

I often discuss faith with believers. But of course you need to define what faith is. I’ve given my definition above, but a more concise definition is this:

Faith is belief without evidence.

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Aron Ra elaborates.

Faith requires that we literally make-believe, that we presume, presuppose, and pretend; that we ignore what we really do see, and imagine something is there when it apparently isn’t.

Not everyone likes this definition, but Mormons should, because the Book of Mormon argues for it! Here’s the relevant passage.

Alma 32:17 Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.

Not exactly, Alma. But if you can show evidence for any of theism’s fundamental claims, then I’ll change my mind about that thing in the blink of an eye. That’s how reasonable people do it. But let’s continue.

Alma 32:18 Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.

There it is. If you know something — if you have evidence for it — then you don’t need to have faith in that thing, or “believe” as Alma says. If you have evidence, you know it. Before the evidence, you simply believe — you have faith. Once you have evidence, you don’t need faith — it’s “dormant” (see v. 34).

So according to the Book of Mormon, faith is belief without evidence.

It's called faith because it's not knowledge

Alma reiterates.

Alma 32:21 And now as I said concerning faith — faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

Well, you hope they’re true, right?

There are lots of things that I hope are true, but hope’s not a good reason to believe that they’re true, is it? But for Alma, hope is a gateway drug to faith.

Alma 32:26 Now, as I said concerning faith — that it was not a perfect knowledge — even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
32:27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

Look at how terrible this is. Even if you don’t have any evidence for an idea, you’re supposed to take whatever desire you have and convert it into hope, and then faith. Then later in a testimony meeting, you’re supposed to say that you “know” that thing.

This is known as “wishful thinking”. It’s one of the worst ways to decide what’s true, and yet Mormons want to lead you along bit by bit until you accept their ideas as true — in an evidentiary vacuum.

This is a terrible way to find out what’s true. Anything will seem more true if you want to believe it. If something is true, you don’t need to “hope” in it.

The seed, or: the experiment that wasn’t

Alma asks us to conduct an “experiment upon [his] words”. But is it a good experiment? Let’s see.

Alma 32:28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves — It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
32:29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
32:30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.

Alma’s experiment — as promoted by LDS missionaries, say — differs from a good experiment in at least two respects.

  • A good experiment attempts to be unbiased.

By contrast, the missionaries begin by loading the subject up with a wide array of vaguely expressed expectations. Galatians 5:22 is typically used: the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, and many others. If you feel any of those, this is taken as evidence for the truthfulness of the message. It would be difficult not to have some emotion that could be counted as a confirmation.

  • You have to count the negative cases as well as the positive.

However, when someone gets no answer, the experiment isn’t considered to have failed. Instead, the subject is assumed to have gotten the “wrong” answer, and is encouraged to try again until they get the answer that the missionaries want.

Here’s the short version of how you do it in church:

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I’ll have more to say about this when we get to Lesson 48, but for now, I’ll say this:

Emotional reasoning and wishful thinking are two of the worst methods of finding out what’s true. As forms of evidence, they’re at the bottom. But Mormons hold them up as the best and most reliable sources of evidence that there is.

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The LDS Church has taken these psychological devices — these failings of human cognition — and parlayed them into a large membership — and a vast financial empire. It’s not just wrong. It’s an especially pernicious form of intellectual evil. Alma’s “seed” is that of an invasive plant. If you have it, consider rooting it out of your breast. Critical thinking is the dandelion-digger. Reading is the weed-killer.

Additional lesson ideas

Vicarious sacrifice for sin is immoral

Jesus was supposed to have given his life for the sins of the world. He got it back three days later, which why it’s very important to save your receipt.

Alma 34:9 For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
34:10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
34:11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.

Tell ’em, Alma. It’s wrong to put the responsibility for one person’s crimes onto an innocent person. So why is it okay for God to do this with his son?

Alma 34:12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

Why? If God decided that he didn’t like certain actions, but made it possible for us to do them — in fact, gave us an inclination to want to do them — and then for some reason made it impossible for us to fix it ourselves…

…then why would getting his son killed help matters?

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For more on why vicarious sacrifice for sin is immoral, see NT Lesson 25 (Gethsemane).

BoM Lesson 27 (Korihor)

“All Things Denote There Is a God”

Alma 30–31

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To show the poor reasoning in the LDS response to atheism, and that LDS arguments are designed to invalidate the experience of non-believers

Reading

This is one lesson that I’ve been looking forward to. It’s one of the interesting lessons, and it’s all because of Korihor — a character Joseph Smith wrote into the Book of Mormon. Aren’t the villains always the most interesting characters?

Korihor is a character from 1st century BCE Mesoamerica, but who for some reason sounds like a 19th-century Enlightenment-era atheist intellectual — the kind that Joseph Smith might have run across. Funny that.

Let’s get to the reading.

Korihor

Alma 30:5 And it came to pass that in the commencement of the seventeenth year of the reign of the judges, there was continual peace.
30:6 But it came to pass in the latter end of the seventeenth year, there came a man into the land of Zarahemla, and he was Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies which had been spoken by the prophets, concerning the coming of Christ.
30:7 Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.
30:8 For thus saith the scripture: Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve.
30:9 Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him; but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him.

In Zarahemla, there’s no law saying you have to believe in a God, much like — ahem — modern America. Sounds great to me. I’m anti-Christ myself. And you shouldn’t get special privileges or different laws based on the religion you choose.

Let’s take a look at Korihor’s ideas. Are they quite good, or a cartoony idea of what atheists think? Let’s take a look.

Alma 30:12 And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, (and the law could have no hold upon him) began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ. And after this manner did he preach, saying:
30:13 O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come.

Not quite true. While there’s always some uncertainty about the future, there is something that allows us to make predictions: science.

Sometimes people challenge me on science — or as they’re fond of calling it, “scientism”. They have the idea that science is just one narrative, and it shouldn’t be privileged over other narratives. I’ve been asked: How do you know that science isn’t just one way of thinking that’s internally coherent, but which ultimately has nothing to do with the real world and relates only to itself?

My response: We know that science pertains to the real world because it allows us to predict the future. Or to use other words: by observing what we can of reality, we can make hypotheses that explain what we’re observing. Then we can use these hypotheses to predict future events. A good hypothesis is one that explains our observations, and which has predictive power.

Religions do not have a good track record when it comes to predicting the future. Here’s one of my favourite examples:

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We will never get a man into space. This Earth is man’s sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it.

The moon is a superior planet to the Earth and it was never intended that man should go there. You can write it down in your books that this will never happen.

Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith at Stake Conference in Honolulu, May 14, 1961

Oh, but he was just an apostle at the time. Why would expect him to know anything about that? You might as well ask the cat.

Alma 30:14 Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers.

I think Mormon teachings are foolish traditions. I’m very grateful for the work of NewNameNoah, who has taken the LDS temple ceremonies, and exposed them to a wider audience. Mormons hate it — and I think that’s in part because they know that their ceremonies are ridiculous. They act like someone who feels silly because they’ve been caught doing something foolish.

I mean, who dresses like this?

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One point for Korihor.

Alma 30:15 How do ye know of their surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.

Can you know of things that you don’t see? This was a question posed to me by a well-meaning bishop who came for a visit.

It depends on your definition of “know”. If you’re an intuitive type who thinks knowing means “believing very strongly”, then you might say yes.

But if you’re an empiricist — and empiricism is the bedrock of science — then you’d say that evidence has to be observable. Feelings are evidence of how you’re feeling — your internal state — but not for anything external, or outside yourself.

Alma 30:16 Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.

Frenzy and derangement are strong words. I prefer the term delusion — a fixed belief, contrary to fact.

Alma 30:17 And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.

Whoa — that’s not a good reflection of my views. I think whatsoever a man does is no sin. Crime is another matter.

I do think, however, that people should prosper according to their genius. Look at someone like Elon Musk, who’s using his intelligence and vision to change our system of transport and energy, taking us away from fossil fuels and into a future of renewable power. That’s a huge benefit to humankind.

Alma 30:18 And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms

LOL — men too? That really is whoredoms.

Alma 30:18 …telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.

Does anyone have any evidence of a life after death? Not near-death experiences — they can be induced in people who aren’t near death.

And don’t even get me started on those books where a kid dies. (Click on the graphic for the full cartoon.)

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Seriously, which story seems more straightforward to you?

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To say nothing of the secret passwords and handshakes.

And how was Korihor’s teaching received? Not very well.

Alma 30:19 Now this man went over to the land of Jershon also, to preach these things among the people of Ammon, who were once the people of the Lamanites.
30:20 But behold they were more wise than many of the Nephites; for they took him, and bound him, and carried him before Ammon, who was a high priest over that people.
30:21 And it came to pass that he caused that he should be carried out of the land. And he came over into the land of Gideon, and began to preach unto them also; and here he did not have much success, for he was taken and bound and carried before the high priest, and also the chief judge over the land.

WTF? Even though the writer (presumably Alma) made a big deal out of saying that there was no law against a person’s belief, the minute someone says something contrary, they get tied up and ejected. Twice! And Alma comments on how wise this was, so he evidently approves.

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Alma 30:22 And it came to pass that the high priest said unto him: Why do ye go about perverting the ways of the Lord? Why do ye teach this people that there shall be no Christ, to interrupt their rejoicings? Why do ye speak against all the prophecies of the holy prophets?

Here’s something that people say to skeptics: Why are you bothering us?

One night recently, I was outside a psychic event handing out bingo flyers.

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You wouldn’t believe how easy this is. All you have to do is identify people who are attending the event, hand them a flyer, and say, “I hope you enjoy the show.” And they just take the flyers!

I know this sounds terrible, but there are two kinds of people at these events:

  • groups of women aged 40–65, and
  • isolated men who are being dragged along.

Men as a rule simply do not seem to go for the psychic mediums. If I ever tried to hand a bingo card to men, they’d say “Oh, I’m not actually going to that.” (Perhaps they were just embarrassed.)

Anyway, on this particular evening, a women saw what I was handing out, and we had this conversation:

Her: The thing is — Why do you care?

Me: Because I think people need to have good information when they’re making choices.

Her: It’s entertainment! It’s in a theatre.

Me: Well, if someone is just here for a bit of a laugh, then there’s probably no harm done. But if they’ve lost someone, and they’re hurting, and someone takes their money — they’re playing with something they shouldn’t.

Her: But we tell kids about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. It’s fun!

Me: I think people deserve informed consent.

Why do I care? I care about people having good information, and so should everyone.

Alma 30:23 Now the high priest’s name was Giddonah. And Korihor said unto him: Because I do not teach the foolish traditions of your fathers, and because I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words.

Good for him — what else can we call it when humans claim authority over other humans because of some imaginary power?

Alma 30:24 Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage. Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.

In an earlier lesson, I mentioned a time when someone asked me: what if I was wrong, and the church was true? What I didn’t say at the time was this: If somehow in a complete evidentiary vacuum, the church turned out to be true, God existed, and Jesus and everything was just as they say — even if despite all probability they guessed everything right — then Mormons do not know they’re right.

They don’t know they’re right. The only way you can be sure you’re right is by observation of publicly available reality and evidence. And it’s darn hard to know something even then! So if you’re not even doing that, what chance do you have of getting it right? As I’ve said before, there is no other way of knowing. And if you know another way, please tell me about it. (Mathematics might be a good answer. But even that needs some empirical backup to make sure the results apply to our universe.)

Alma 30:25 Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents.

Point goes to Korihor again. God unjustly punished Adam and Eve (so the story goes) because they committed an action before they knew right from wrong. Now we’re living in a world affected by their actions. The chapter never returns to this idea to answer Korihor’s criticism.

Alma 30:26 And ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ. And ye say also that he shall be slain for the sins of the world —
30:27 And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges.
30:28 Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God — a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.

With a few exceptions, this depiction of rational atheism / skepticism is pretty good.

But Korihor gets hauled up before the authorities — for the third time! — for teaching his brand of hedonistic anti-clerical atheism.

Alma 30:29 Now when the high priest and the chief judge saw the hardness of his heart, yea, when they saw that he would revile even against God, they would not make any reply to his words; but they caused that he should be bound; and they delivered him up into the hands of the officers, and sent him to the land of Zarahemla, that he might be brought before Alma, and the chief judge who was governor over all the land.

Alma 30:37 And then Alma said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
30:38 And he answered, Nay.
30:39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.

No, you don’t. See above.

Alma 30:40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.

Alma is trying to turn the tables here. He’s saying “I say there’s a god, you say there’s no god; so it’s all a wash because all beliefs are equivalent.”

But it doesn’t work like that. Alma is shifting the burden of evidence. The burden of evidence rests with the claimant. Alma is the one claiming that a god exists, so it’s up to him to provide evidence for that claim. Watch out when people try to shift the burden of evidence. By asking Korihor for evidence that something doesn’t exist, Alma is asking him to prove a negative. It may not be possible to prove that gods (or leprechauns, or unicorns) don’t exist — when the concept of a god is not well-defined.

On the other hand, if the god in question is well-defined, and we fail to see the kinds of things we should be able to see if such a god exists, then we can say that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Neil deGrasse Tyson explains.

That doesn’t mean that believers aren’t creative when it comes to shifting the goalposts, as James Randi points out.

Alma continues:

Alma 30:41 But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
30:42 Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God.

This is one of the really annoying things believers say: I think you really do believe, even though you claim not to.

My response is: How about I tell you what I believe.

Now Korihor makes a perfectly reasonable request: Show me the evidence.

Alma 30:43 And now Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words.
30:44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

Here, Alma shows that he does not understand the kind of evidence that is required to support a claim. He does this in two ways:

  • He claims that words written by prophets in holy books counts as evidence. It does not. The people who wrote those books could have been mistaken, dishonest, or insane. And if we do allow scriptures as evidence, then whose? The Bible? The Quran? The Bhagavad-Gita? They’re all mutually contradictory. Picking one and not another is just special pleading — claiming that one set of scriptures is “different” somehow, but not saying why. Finally, you can’t use scriptures as evidence for a claim. They’re not evidence — they’re the claim. They need their own evidence.
  • He claims that the earth and the planets are evidence. (This is what I call the “look around” defence, because a young missionary once told me exactly that when I asked him for evidence: Look around!) The earth and the planets are only evidence if we presuppose that a god made them. But there are other explanations that don’t require us to believe in a magical being. This is a big problem for believers: there are better explanations for the kinds of things people cite as evidence.

Korihor pivots a little bit. Perhaps he realises that it’s difficult to prove a negative, so he says:

Alma 30:48 Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.

At this, Alma has had enough.

Alma 30:49 Now Alma said unto him: This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be struck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance.
30:50 Now when Alma had said these words, Korihor was struck dumb, that he could not have utterance, according to the words of Alma.

At this point, it looks like God is frustrated enough to harm Korihor. He doesn’t take call-outs well. On the other hand, while Korihor’s sudden muteness could be taken as evidence of God’s existence (and peevishness), there are other explanations. He could have gotten sudden laryngitis or had a stroke. An evil god could have taken his voice. When it comes to supernatural explanations, one is as untestable as another.

Alma 30:51 And now when the chief judge saw this, he put forth his hand and wrote unto Korihor, saying: Art thou convinced of the power of God? In whom did ye desire that Alma should show forth his sign? Would ye that he should afflict others, to show unto thee a sign? Behold, he has showed unto you a sign; and now will ye dispute more?

The chief judge is a bit of a dope; why is he writing? He can speak.

Having forfeited its believability, the story now descends into farce.

Alma 30:52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.
30:53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.

That’s right, folks; Korihor believed in God the whole time. And this is what believers need to think: that critics are secret believers, really. We’re just lying when we say we don’t believe. And we’re literally influenced by the devil.

What a disservice. For believers, not only is there no legitimate reason not to believe, non-believers shouldn’t be trusted when they say they don’t. Maybe believers need to think this because the prospect of a real honest-to-goodness unbeliever with real honest-to-goodness reasons is way too threatening. If there are reasons, then maybe they should stop believing too — and that would mean loss of social group, loss of family, loss of identity, and loss of investment. That would take change, work, and self-analysis. Who wants to do that? And so believers take the lazy way out.

They don’t seem to notice that unbelievers never suddenly go mute. Instead, our voices are growing.

Well, that’s the end for old Korihor, except for his untimely end. Unable to answer his claims, God simply dispenses with him.

Alma 30:58 And it came to pass that they were all convinced of the wickedness of Korihor; therefore they were all converted again unto the Lord; and this put an end to the iniquity after the manner of Korihor. And Korihor did go about from house to house, begging food for his support.
30:59 And it came to pass that as he went forth among the people, yea, among a people who had separated themselves from the Nephites and called themselves Zoramites, being led by a man whose name was Zoram — and as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead.
30:60 And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.

That’s confirmation bias there. Some of us do quite well, post-deconversion. But if anything ever did happen to me, I’m sure the dear old ward members would think of this chapter of Alma and infer some kind of judgment.

The Rameumptom

And then there’s a pretty humourous description of the Zoramites and their Rameumptom. Doesn’t that name sound like something Roald Dahl might have made up?

Alma 31:12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;
31:13 For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head, and the top thereof would only admit one person.
31:14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:
31:15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
31:16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
31:17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
31:18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.
31:19 Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure.
31:20 For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.
31:21 Now the place was called by them Rameumptom, which, being interpreted, is the holy stand.
31:22 Now, from this stand they did offer up, every man, the selfsame prayer unto God, thanking their God that they were chosen of him, and that he did not lead them away after the tradition of their brethren, and that their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.
31:23 Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner.

Assign two class members to read the following story.

The first time I saw it was in the venerable Student Review which operated out of BYU in the early 90s. Any information about the author would be welcome.

Cast: A father and his daughter.

“What’s a Rameumptom, Daddy?”

“Well, the Book of Mormon says it was a place where the Zoramites stood to worship and pray.”

“But my Primary teacher said it was a tower that evil people used.”

“I can see how someone could think that. The Book of Mormon says it was a place for standing which was high above the head’ and only one person at atime could go up there.”

“Was it like the speaker’s stand in the church?”

“A speaker’s stand? You mean a pulpit? Yes, I suppose it was. In fact, the word ‘Rameumptom’ means ‘the holy stand.'”

“What’s so evil about a holy stand, Daddy?”

“Well, it wasn’t the stand that was evil. It was how it was used. The people gathered there in their synagogue. . .”

“What’s a synagogue?”

“Just a different word for chapel or church, honey.”

“Oh.”

“They’d gather in their synagogue one day a week.”

“Which day, Daddy?”

“I don’t know, honey. It just says ‘one day,’ and they called it ‘the day of the Lord.'”

“It must have been Sunday.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because Sunday is the Lord’s day.”

“Well, maybe it was. . . Anyway, they’d gather there and whoever wanted to worship would go and stand on the top of the Rameumptom.”

“Could anyone go up there?”

“Well, no, that was part of the problem. Apparently, they had to wear the right clothes. . . ”

“You mean like us when we wear Sunday clothes, Daddy?”

“Well, not exactly, but in a way, yes, I suppose. Some of us might have a hard time accepting certain kinds of clothes or people in sacrament meeting. But we wear our Sunday clothes to help us be reverent, don’t we?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“So anyway, where was I?”

“They went to the top of the Rameumptom. . .”

“Yes, they would go up and worship God by thanking him for making them so special.”

“Were they bearing their testimonies?”

“Well, uh, I guess maybe they were in a way, but they weren’t true testimonies.”

“How come?”

“Because they were too proud.”

“What do you mean ‘proud,’ Daddy?”

“Well, they would talk about how they were ‘a chosen and holy people.'”

“My Primary teacher said Mormons are the chosen people and we’re a special generation.”

“Yes, honey, but that’s different.”

“How?”

“Because we are.”

“Oh.”

“Besides they were very, very proud about how much better they were than everyone else, because they didn’t believe the ‘foolish traditions’ of their neighbors.”

“What does that mean, Daddy?”

“It means that they believed everyone else was wrong and they alone were right.”

“Isn’t that what we believe?”

“But it’s different.”

“How?”

“Because we are right, honey.”

“Oh.”

“Everyone would stand and say the same thing. . .”

“That sounds like testimony meeting to me.”

“Don’t be irreverent.”

“Sorry.”

“Then after it was all over, they would go home and never speak about God until the next day of the Lord when they’d gather at the holy stand again.”

“Isn’t that like us, Daddy?”

“No honey, we have Family Home Evening.”

“Oh.”

BoM Lesson 26 (Anti-Nephi-Lehies)

“Converted unto the Lord”

Alma 23–29

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To show the scriptural sanction for some of the hostile attitudes that Mormons have toward ex-members.

Reading

Last time, we saw that Ammon (etc.) converted a lot of former Lamanites. Having gotten a taste of the Jesus, they don’t want to fight anymore. Which is contrary to a kind of creeping Christianism we’re seeing in the US Armed Forces.

Whether Bibles are kept at registration desks or inside rooms may not seem all that big a deal. But the human stakes are higher in another religious-military row that erupted last month, when an atheist airman at a base in Nevada was denied the opportunity to re-enlist because he declined to say the words “so help me God”. In an older air force regulation, it was laid down that those four words could be omitted on grounds of conscience; but this waiver was removed from a new rule issued last year—you either invoke the Deity or you cannot take up your responsibilities to the nation.

In Mr Weinstein’s view, that change in the rules is a symptom of a new form of religious intolerance that has gained ground in the armed forces to the dismay of mainline Christians, among others. He calls the new religious mentality “dominionism”—a pejorative term for forms of Christianity that want to build religious principles into earthly power structures. One sceptical definition of “dominionism” describes it as “a theocratic view that…heterosexual Christian men are called by God to exercise dominion over secular society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.”

Other signs of that mentality? An increasing number of cases where service personnel are bullied or denied promotion because they refuse to conform to the religious beliefs of their superiors.

And, rather worryingly, this:

Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the U.S. military by a Michigan company, an ABC News investigation has found.

The sights are used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. The maker of the sights, Trijicon, has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army.

U.S. military rules specifically prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan and were drawn up in order to prevent criticism that the U.S. was embarked on a religious “Crusade” in its war against al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents.

One of the citations on the gun sights, 2COR4:6, is an apparent reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament, which reads: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

I guess Jesus affects people differently.

Be that as it may, the group decided that they needed a name. And did they come up with a doozy.

Alma 23:16 And now it came to pass that the king and those who were converted were desirous that they might have a name, that thereby they might be distinguished from their brethren; therefore the king consulted with Aaron and many of their priests, concerning the name that they should take upon them, that they might be distinguished.
23:17 And it came to pass that they called their names Anti-Nephi-Lehies; and they were called by this name and were no more called Lamanites.

Remind me not to let them pick my band name, because it would probably suck. I was going for Sea of Dudes, but apparently it’s taken. :(

Why would they be anti Nephi or Lehi? Well, there have been many explanations. Cue the gymnasts!

If anti is a transliteration, it might come from the EGYPTIAN relative marker nty (Coptic ente) meaning “which is,” which can be nominalized as “that which is”. Since the gentilic of the term is used in the plural, if it were pluralized as EGYPTIAN it should be ntyw. This would mean something like “those who are Nephi-Lehi”.

If anti is a translation, the meaning could be “facing Nephi-Lehi,” from the HEBREW word that means approximately “anti,” (neged), i.e., “facing, opposite, etc.” (HWN).

Hugh Nibley suggested to one of his classes that anti might come from Arabic inda which, like Greek anti, means “opposite”. Since this root is not found in other Semitic languages, it may actually be a borrowing from Greek.

Aren’t they creative? It’s easy to make things up when there’s no way you can be proven wrong.

Name aside, the most distinctive thing about them is that they decide never to fight again. Their king says:

Alma 24:12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.
24:13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.

24:17 And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.

That’s convenient.

no physical proof

Alma 27:21 And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
27:22 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.
27:23 And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.
27:24 And now behold, this will we do unto our brethren, that they may inherit the land Jershon; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.

This is actually interesting: there’s some scriptural justification for Mormons to either be pacifists, or protect pacifists.

Patrick Mason, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies and associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University, knows that Mormons are not pacifists, but he thinks we should be. Writing at Rational Faiths, he contends that “resort to violence” is incompatible with “worship of the Prince of Peace.” Most interestingly, he claims that the Book of Mormon—full of warriors heroes like Mormon and Captain Moroni—is actually a pacifist text hiding underneath a thin veneer of failed militarism. Is it? Does the Book of Mormon teach that pacifism is always superior to defensive war?

Mason’s central argument is that the apparent approval of defensive war in the Book of Mormon contradicts Christ’s teachings. Mason stipulates that—if we are careful in our reading and analysis—we will see that the Book of Mormon text itself undermines its own superficial sanction of violence. After all, writes, Mason, “it’s difficult to conceive of a text more poignantly testifying to the utter futility and folly of violence” than the Book of Mormon.

Religion is a shape-shifter. It teaches whatever believers want it to teach; all they have to do is cherry-pick the scriptures they like, and construct an apologetic to fill in the gaps. But it’s sort of nice that some Latter-day Saints are taking this lesson from the Book of Mormon, when there are so many worse messages they could be getting.

A scene ensues. The attacking Lamanites descend on the ANLs, hack their way through a few of them, and then — WTF? — they recoil in confusion as their victims refuse to fight back.

Alma 24:20 And it came to pass that their brethren, the Lamanites, made preparations for war, and came up to the land of Nephi for the purpose of destroying the king, and to place another in his stead, and also of destroying the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi out of the land.
24:21 Now when the people saw that they were coming against them they went out to meet them, and prostrated themselves before them to the earth, and began to call on the name of the Lord; and thus they were in this attitude when the Lamanites began to fall upon them, and began to slay them with the sword.
24:22 And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay a thousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God.

I know religion is supposed to be comforting, but no, you don’t know that.

And then the attackers have a change of heart. They join the ANLs, and make up the sudden deficit in their numbers.

Alma 24:23 Now when the Lamanites saw that their brethren would not flee from the sword, neither would they turn aside to the right hand or to the left, but that they would lie down and perish, and praised God even in the very act of perishing under the sword —
24:24 Now when the Lamanites saw this they did forbear from slaying them; and there were many whose hearts had swollen in them for those of their brethren who had fallen under the sword, for they repented of the things which they had done.
24:25 And it came to pass that they threw down their weapons of war, and they would not take them again, for they were stung for the murders which they had committed; and they came down even as their brethren, relying upon the mercies of those whose arms were lifted to slay them.
24:26 And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those who had been slain were righteous people, therefore we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved.
24:27 And there was not a wicked man slain among them; but there were more than a thousand brought to the knowledge of the truth; thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people.

The writer is glad because more people have joined than were killed. I know this is fictional and everything, but damn — that’s a really statistical view of things.

Main ideas for this lesson

Never really converted

In this reading, the Book of Mormon shows a really terrible attitude toward ex-Mormons.

Here’s something I’ve been told at times: I left the church because I was “never really converted”.

Alma 23:6 And as sure as the Lord liveth, so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them — yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.

Ask: Why do members need to believe that ex-Mormons were never really converted?
Answer: This comes from fear. It can be threatening for a Mormon to encounter someone who has left and doubtless now thinks that church is a collection of lies, fables, and foolishness. I know that, as a younger member, I might have felt that way to meet a former member, and I would probably have been horrified to learn that one day I would become one. It would have meant a forfeiture of family, money, time, and what I thought would be my eternal future.

In short, I might have tried to find any way I could to prevent myself from thinking that I could become “like that”. And that can mean blaming the ex-member for a perceived lack of sincerity (which missionaries routinely do with investigators who “neg” them), or a perceived lack of integrity (you didn’t “endure to the end”). When really, I finally recognised that it just wasn’t true, and it was my sincerity and integrity that took me out of the church.

If you want a demonstration that Mormons really do believe these things about ex-members, look no further than the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual.

a. They “were converted unto the Lord” (Alma 23:6). Why is it essential that Jesus Christ be at the center of our conversion? For what other reasons might people be drawn to the Church? (Answers may include the personalities of missionaries, the influence of friends, or the appeal of social programs.) Why do these things alone fail to bring about true conversion?

I don’t know what “true conversion” means. I think they just mean “lifelong membership”, in which case any of those three things can get you there. I never hear a problem with those things when they get people into the font. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw anyone get baptised on my mission simply because they read the Book of Mormon and thought it was true. Baptism was always accompanied by elder infatuation or social relationships. I doubt that it can ever happen otherwise. And the church knows this; otherwise they wouldn’t stress friend referrals or co-teaching with the missionaries. It’s got to be about embedding the convert into a social relationship so that leaving will be more costly.

Apostates are worse than non-members

Here the other nasty thing that Mormons teach: ex-members are worse off than non-members. Here’s the scripture:

Alma 24:29 Now, among those who joined the people of the Lord, there were none who were Amalekites or Amulonites, or who were of the order of Nehor, but they were actual descendants of Laman and Lemuel.

Apparently conversion is genetic.

Alma 24:30 And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.

Those terrible apostates!

Ask: Why would the church teach that ex-members are spiritually worse-off than people who didn’t know about the church?

Let’s make one thing clear: it’s not really true that non-members don’t really know about the church. Members (and missionaries) have the idea that non-members don’t know about it, and if they find out about it, then they’ll join.

It’s not true. People know about the church. Even if it’s just as simple as “polygamy” — well, what one issue could be more indicative of the church? It happened, it was shocking, and now members are trying to bury it down the memory hole — while still practicing a form of it (posthumously). Yes, I’d say that’s the essence of Mormon doctrine!

There’s a Christopher Hitchens quote that I can’t find at the moment: People don’t reject Christianity because they don’t know about it; they reject it because they know about it.

Anyway, why wouldn’t they think that ex-members are worse? At lest non-members might become members someday, while it seems unlikely that ex-members will. Why would you, when you’ve seen the man behind the curtain?

And there’s another fiction that Mormons are eager to promote: that if you leave, it’s because you’ve forgotten.

25:6 For many of them, after having suffered much loss and so many afflictions, began to be stirred up in remembrance of the words which Aaron and his brethren had preached to them in their land; therefore they began to disbelieve the traditions of their fathers, and to believe in the Lord, and that he gave great power unto the Nephites; and thus there were many of them converted in the wilderness.

I still remember everything. I remember all the so-called spiritual experiences. I just have better explanations for them now.

BoM Lesson 25 (Lamoni)

“They Taught with Power and Authority of God”

Alma 17–22

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To point out that emotional reasoning is not a good way of finding out what’s true

Reading

This reading concerns the missionary journeyings of Alma and the sons of Mosiah.

It begins with our heroes bumping into each other after 14 years of preaching — what’s meant to be a period covering around 91 to 77 BCE.

Alma 17:1 And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, Behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.
17:2 Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
17:3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.

I get feels from this bit.

In the town where I grew up, there was a medium-sized Mormon presence, and most of my best friends were in the church. Reading this, I could imagine a day when we would get back together and find that we were all still active Mormons — yay!

Now life has moved on, and some of us are still active, and doing churchy things that way. But some of us have realised that the church wasn’t what it said it was, we’ve left, and we’re moving on in that way — in, I think, a better way.

I’m sure that my church friends wish we’d all be in the church again. (One former mission companion told me pointedly that he’d liked me better when I was a believer. Facebook discussions can do that.) For my part, I wish my friends would wake up and get out, as I can see that damage that a demanding religion can do. It’s a shame, and a waste.

I guess the lesson here is that basing your relationships on religious affiliation can bring about a lot of closeness if you stay, but division if you leave. And that’s too bad. Religion poisons everything.

Ask: How have you been able to maintain your friendships with believers, post-deconversion?

Anyway, they take their leave, and go teach those wild, hardened, and ferocious people, the Lamanites. One might say they had a few prejudices, but anyway.

Alma 17:13 And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken.
17:14 And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.

The story moves to Ammon, who goes to the land of Ishmael, and winds up talking to their king Lamoni. Naturally he gets a welcoming committee.

Alma 17:20 And as Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands, and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them into prison, or to cast them out of his land, according to his will and pleasure.
17:21 And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael; and his name was Lamoni; and he was a descendant of Ishmael.

When Ammon tells Lamoni that he wants to live there, the king is impressed, and offers him a daughter.

Alma 17:22 And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
17:23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.
17:24 And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife.

Wow, free daughter — and Ammon doesn’t even have a green card!

When I first got to Australia as a missionary, they gave me free health care, and I thought that was something. Could it be that the Book of Mormon writer has the Lamanites all wrong? They seem quite hospitable.

Alma 17:25 But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

I’m sensing a Joseph-in-Egypt element to this story, but let’s continue.

Now comes the action: when robbers come to steal the “flocks” — of alpaca, presumably — Ammon sees an opportunity. He kills some of the robbers with a sling, and cuts off the arms of others.

Alma 17:26 And after he had been in the service of the king three days, as he was with the Lamanitish servants going forth with their flocks to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus, and all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water —
17:27 Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, Behold, a certain number of the Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon and the servants of the king, and they scattered them insomuch that they fled many ways.
17:28 Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already.
17:29 Now they wept because of the fear of being slain. Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words.

17:36 But Ammon stood forth and began to cast stones at them with his sling; yea, with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them insomuch that they began to be astonished at his power; nevertheless they were angry because of the slain of their brethren, and they were determined that he should fall; therefore, seeing that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with clubs to slay him.
17:37 But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished, and began to flee before him; yea, and they were not few in number; and he caused them to flee by the strength of his arm.
17:38 Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword; and he smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him, and they were not a few.

After this grisly spectacle, Ammon brings in all the severed arms. Needless to say, the king finds his manner disarming.

Alma 17:39 And when he had driven them afar off, he returned and they watered their flocks and returned them to the pasture of the king, and then went in unto the king, bearing the arms which had been smitten off by the sword of Ammon, of those who sought to slay him; and they were carried in unto the king for a testimony of the things which they had done.

The king is even more impressed when he learns that Ammon is feeding the animals, as though nothing has happened.

Alma 18:8 And it came to pass that king Lamoni inquired of his servants, saying: Where is this man that has such great power?
18:9 And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.
18:10 Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished, because of the faithfulness of Ammon, saying: Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.

The real Gospel Doctrine lesson manual puts Ammon’s work ethic down to “giving service and developing trust”.

• How did the king respond when his servants told him how Ammon had defended his flocks? (See Alma 18:2–5.) What was Ammon doing when the king asked where he was? (See Alma 18:8–9. On the chalkboard write Give service and develop trust.) How did this help prepare King Lamoni to be taught? (See Alma 18:10–11.)

People who offer unsolicited help can be genuine. They can also be partaking in a more sinister pursuit: that of loan-sharking. Abusers do this to instill a sense of obligation in their victims.

We’re all familiar with the stranger who offers to help a woman with her groceries; most often he is a fairly unsophisticated loan shark looking to pick someone up. The debt he records in his ledger can usually be paid off quite easily, just a little talk will do it. But he has something in common with the predatory criminal who imposes his counterfeit charity into someone’s life: motive….At its best, loan sharking is on a par with asking a woman, “Do you come here often?” At its worst, it exploits a victim’s sense of obligation and fairness.

Once Ammon establishes trust with the king, it’s time to teach. Strangely, Ammon tells him that God is a Great Spirit, which doesn’t mesh with current Mormon doctrine, but may have been in line with Mormonism v1.

Alma 18:24 And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
18:25 And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
18:26 And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?
18:27 And he said, Yea.
18:28 And Ammon said: This is God.

Maybe Ammon is just holding back on the strong stuff, so the king doesn’t flip out and stop the discussions.

Anyway — what do you know — the king accepts everything, and his mind gives out under the strain of having to believe so much nonsense at once.

Alma 18:40 And it came to pass that after he had said all these things, and expounded them to the king, that the king believed all his words.
18:41 And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people.
18:42 And now, when he had said this, he fell unto the earth, as if he were dead.

But he’s okay, folks! His wife looks after him, and when he comes to, she faints. Ammon faints too, but that could just be peer pressure.

Alma 19:12 And it came to pass that he arose, according to the words of Ammon; and as he arose, he stretched forth his hand unto the woman, and said: Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou.
19:13 For as sure as thou livest, Behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. Now, when he had said these words, his heart was swollen within him, and he sunk again with joy; and the queen also sunk down, being overpowered by the Spirit.
19:14 Now Ammon seeing the Spirit of the Lord poured out according to his prayers upon the Lamanites, his brethren, who had been the cause of so much mourning among the Nephites, or among all the people of God because of their iniquities and their traditions, he fell upon his knees, and began to pour out his soul in prayer and thanksgiving to God for what he had done for his brethren; and he was also overpowered with joy; and thus they all three had sunk to the earth.

Later on, Ammon’s friend Aaron teaches King Lamoni’s father — also a king — and teaches about a Great Spirit.

Alma 22:7 And Aaron answered him and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God? And the king said: I know that the Amalekites say that there is a God, and I have granted unto them that they should build sanctuaries, that they may assemble themselves together to worship him. And if now thou sayest there is a God, Behold I will believe.
22:8 And now when Aaron heard this, his heart began to rejoice, and he said: Behold, assuredly as thou livest, O king, there is a God.

Bad idea, king — that’s not how you verify a claim.

Then the king prays — to a God he doesn’t know — and wouldn’t you know it, he faints!

Alma 22:18 O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead.

Main ideas for this lesson

Fainting

So what’s going on? Why do all these Lamanites turn into fainting goats?

The Book of Mormon has its origins in 1800s American spirituality. So when something appears in the Book of Mormon, it’s a safe bet that it reflects something that was going on at the time. Was fainting a normal part of a religious conversion?

In the early 1800s, it was. The eastern US was the scene of camp revivals — mass delusions that saw the converted fainting by the hundreds.

In August, 1801, Barton W. Stone led a revival in Cane Ridge, Kentucky that became the most famous camp meeting. The meeting lasted a week, and 23,000 people came. The preaching was simple, lively, and persuasive, with preachers from different denominations sharing the platform. The common people were deeply affected, and, as at the Gasper River meeting, strong emotional responses were considered proofs of conversion. Often these produced strange physical manifestations – some people fainted and fell to the ground (were “slain in the spirit”) or suffered uncontrollable shaking (“the jerks”). There was dancing, running and singing – all of which Stone said were manifestations of God’s presence. The noise of the meetings was so great that some said “the noise was like the roar of Niagara.” Revival camp meetings swept through Kentucky, Tennessee and many of the southern states.

Another account.

‘The noise was like the roar of Niagara. The bast sea of human being seemed to be agitated as if by a storm. I counted seven ministers, all preaching at one time, some on stumps, others in wagons and one standing on a tree which had, in falling, lodged against another. …
‘I stepped up on a log where I could have a better view of the surging sea of humanity. The scene that then presented itself to my mind was indescribable. At one time I saw at least five hundred swept down in a moment as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon them, and then immediately followed shrieks and shouts that rent the very heavens‘ (Pratney 1994:104).
The Rev. Moses Hoge wrote: ‘The careless fall down, cry out, tremble, and not infrequently are affected with convulsive twitchings
‘Nothing that imagination can paint, can make a stronger impression upon the mind, than one of those scenes. Sinners dropping down on every hand, shrieking, groaning, crying for mercy, convulsed; professors praying, agonizing, fainting, falling down in distress, for sinners or in raptures of joy! …

You can imagine that these scenes would have had quite the effect on the public imagination for quite some time! Small wonder that it worked its way into the Book of Mormon. And in fact, Christian historian Nathan O. Hatch mentions fainting particularly in connection with early Mormons.

As Jonathan Edwards noted some 60 years earlier, religious ecstasy—trembling, groaning, crying out, panting, fainting—may be signs of God’s power, but you don’t know. In the 1800s, you see these same expressions in the early Mormons and Shakers.

So that’s why these fainting stories appear. It seems that, for early Mormons, fainting upon conversion was sort of a normal and well-accepted thing. I doubt early church members would recognise the rather boring church of today.

Conversion as a phenomenon

Fainting aside, I think these fainting stories have left their mark on modern Mormonism — not because fainting is still a part of Mormonism’s cultural repertoire, but because Mormons still think of conversion as something that “happens”.

I had a couple of missionaries over to the house for dinner recently. I like having them over — it’s good for them to get some food, and I remember what it was like to pound the pavement under less-than-encouraging conditions. The ensuing discussions are quite interesting, as well.

In these discussions, I tend to focus on the need for evidence, when establishing a claim. I often say, “You don’t get knowledge from feels.”

But one of the missionaries — a junior companion — inexplicably challenged me to read and pray about the Book of Mormon. As though that was something I’d never thought of doing before.

I guess if that’s the only tool you have, that’s what you go with.

But it’s a part of this idea that conversion involves some kind of big emotional experience. I can even see this in the eyes of Mormons I talk to; they’re thinking: If I can just say something, then he’ll see the sense of it all, and believe. (Then when I don’t, I’m hard-hearted.)

Of course, if I did pray about the church — never mind that praying presupposes the existence of a being whose existence is one of the claims under consideration — and if I did have a big emotional experience, what would that show? Only that I’m just as susceptible to emotional reasoning as anyone else. That’s something I already know.

I should also point out that not everyone has a big emotional experience. Many people pray and get no answer at all. So if this is a test, that means it failed, right? Nope — Mormons in that situation condition themselves to believe that they “already knew it was true” and that no big experience is necessary.

From a public forum:

I remember trying to get Moroni’s promise to work for me. When nothing happened, I finally decided that I didn’t need it because I already knew it was true.

And another.

This is how my experience went. I remember it quite clearly. My “answer” was that I already knew it was true. It sustained severe activity for fifty years……… Now I have to come to terms with the idea that my own mind just had to have the answer so it gave me one.

It goes to the highest levels.

Ask: How would this quote encourage someone to stay in the church, even if they feel no “spiritual manifestation”?

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This is how the church plays both sides of the epistemological fence. Pray, and you’ll have an experience that will make you believe — but if you don’t, you don’t need a big experience; just believe anyway.

Additional lesson ideas

Horses and chariots

We’ve mentioned the lack of pre-Columbian horses — and here they are again — but now let’s take it farther with chariots.

Alma 18:10 Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished, because of the faithfulness of Ammon, saying: Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.

Did ancient Americans have chariots with wheels?

In a word, no. Wheels don’t appear in the archaeological record.

Did I say “don’t appear”? That’s not quite true. They do appear as kids’ toys.

There are around 100 known examples thus far and they vary in construction according to where they were found. Small solid-bodied examples were found around the Veracruz and northern coastal regions, whilst larger hollow-bodied examples have been found in Veracruz, Michoacan, Geurrero and El Salvador. If putting wheels on an animal wasn’t strange enough, the larger type are often flutes or whistles with the posterior or tail being used as a mouthpiece.

The majority were made by threading an axle through loops formed on each leg, with one between the front legs and another between the hind legs, with a wheel mounted on each end. Another composite type does exist, with the animal mounted on a plinth through which the axles were mounted. Both types result in a fairly robust mobile animal on wheels, which most people liken to a child’s toy – although it is very unlikely that they were given to youngsters to play with.

Okay, so when did they appear?

The majority of examples that exist today are thought to have been made in the Early Post Classic Era (900AD-1250AD), though some do come from the earlier Classic Era (200AD-900AD).

So that’s 200–1250 CE. That’s way too late for king Lamoni, who was strictly a BCE kind of guy.

So why don’t we see wheels on chariots?

Well, toys are one thing, but scaling it up is quite another.

The tricky thing about the wheel is not conceiving of a cylinder rolling on its edge. It’s figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder.

“The stroke of brilliance was the wheel-and-axle concept,” said David Anthony, a professor of anthropology at Hartwick College and author of “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language” (Princeton, 2007). “But then making it was also difficult.”

To make a fixed axle with revolving wheels, Anthony explained, the ends of the axle had to be nearly perfectly smooth and round, as did the holes in the center of the wheels; otherwise, there would be too much friction for the wheels to turn. Furthermore, the axles had to fit snugly inside the wheels’ holes, but not too snugly — they had to be free to rotate.

Uncle Cecil of the Straight Dope points out that the lack of big strong animals was also a problem.

Unfortunately, the New World suffered from a conspicuous scarcity of draft animals. The only beast of burden known in the Americas was the llama, a delicate critter restricted to certain parts of the Andes, which was used solely as a pack animal. Without draft animals you cannot do extensive hauling with sledges, and without sledges it will never occur to you that the wheel would be a handy thing to have.

In the end, the lack of ancient American wheels is a big problem for the Book of Mormon, and not just because it mentions wheels all the time. It’s also because Lehi and family came from the Old World, where wheels had already been in use. If someone traveled to the Americans with this knowledge, it would have taken the New World by storm (problems with animals notwithstanding). What, did Lehi forget?

So Lehi comes over and “forgets” to use the wheel. I’m sure that even a FARMS dude has got to admit that that is about as stupid as forgetting about fire or even forgetting how to eat…or breathe for that matter. As we all know, “forgetting about the wheel” isn’t even in the realm of possibility.

The oldest wheel found in archeological excavations was discovered in what was Mesopotamia and is believed to be over fifty-five hundred years old. The wheel was used extensively in the Greek and Roman civilizations and of course was well established in Jerusalem when Lehi made his supposed journey, (Hell, logic would say that Lehi even used wheels in his “trek” from Jerusalem to the coast.) But then once he arrives in the New world, he forgets all about it!!

Surely we’d see wheels being used in the Americas in some capacity during this time. But we don’t. Fictional people don’t innovate.

What’s the FairMormon answer?

The nature of “chariots” is not clear in the Book of Mormon text. The text nowhere states that wheels were a part of these devices.

We do not know what type of chariots the Nephites used, nor do we know if what they called chariots had wheels.

Aren’t they great, ladies and gentlemen? Chariots without wheels!

“Hey, I feel like a ride in my chariot! Wanna go out for a scrape?”
“Sure; our alpacas are rarin’ to go!”

But here’s the best part: we can’t find the chariots because they just decayed.

It appears that most chariots during Book of Mormon times did not survive, just like during the Exodus which the “six hundred chosen chariots” (Exodus 14:6) and “all the chariots of Egypt” (Exodus 14:6) did not survive in the sea. (Exodus 14:26-28)

Are they saying that the Lamanite chariots are just as real as Pharaoh’s chariots?

nevermind_nathan_fillion

Of course, this is dumb; we can find older wheels than that.

Bronze Age wheel at ‘British Pompeii’ Must Farm an ‘unprecedented find’

A complete Bronze Age wheel believed to be the largest and earliest of its kind found in the UK has been unearthed.

The 3,000-year-old artefact was found at a site dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii”, at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire.

Archaeologists have described the find – made close to the country’s “best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings” – as “unprecedented”.

Still containing its hub, the 3ft-diameter (one metre) wooden wheel dates from about 1,100 to 800 BC.

Unprecedented — but possible.

This wheel is even older than anything from our reading. If something like this were found in Guatemala, LDS apologists would claim it as a win for the Book of Mormon. And rightly so — it would turn Mesoamerican archaeology on its head. But when we don’t find such things, they don’t seem to care. And that’s careless.

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