Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Author: Daniel Midgley (page 1 of 15)

D&C Lesson 17 (Tithing)

The Law of Tithing and the Law of the Fast

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 59:13–14, 21; 119; 120.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Objective

To show that the church has changed its interpretation of tithing in a way that benefits itself most.

Overview

This lesson is about tithing. Man, they never miss a chance to ask for money! Didn’t they just do a lesson on this?

There are a few things I’m thankful about, with regard to my days of LDS membership. I learned public speaking, and I got to sing in front of an audience. But the main thing I’m grateful for is that I left before I hit peak earning potential. Not everyone is this lucky; my sympathies to those who have paid a lot, and my deepest sympathies if your spouse still insists on giving free money to what is essentially a tax-exempt real estate concern.

It’s amazing that, as a member, I just believed what I told about tithing. Even if I did read what the D&C actually said on this topic, it just bounced off. So it’s been enlightening in the years since my deconversion to read what follows. This is the work of other people, and I’m providing

Reading

Tithing was once on surplus

Currently, Mormons are supposed to pay 10% of their income to the church.

Net or gross? While the official Gospel Doctrine manual don’t come out and say it, you’re not supposed to be a cheapskate about it. The implication is: gross is the word… is the word… is the word.

President Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve explained: “It is remarkable how many excuses can be made and interpretations given as to what constitutes the tenth. … It is written, however, that as we measure it shall be measured to us again. If we are stingy with the Lord, he may be stingy with us, or in other words, withhold his blessings” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2 vols. [1953], 2:92).

Get the picture?

But what does the Doctrine and Covenants actually say? It’s all in Section 119.

D&C 119:1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,
2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.
3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.
4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.
5 Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.
6 And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.
7 And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.

So in the early days, members were supposed to give the church all their extra stuff, and then pay 10% of their “interest”. From the manual:

The First Presidency gave the following definition of tithing: “The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this” (First Presidency letter, 19 Mar. 1970).

Wait… income is very different from interest. It looks like this scripture has become subject to interpretational inflation. The way this scripture reads, it looks like if you make $500 in interest on your bank accounts or investments or what have you, you’re supposed to pay 10% of that. And it looks like that was the understanding at the time.

In the revelation as recorded in Mormon scripture, tithing was explained to mean members would give “all their surplus property” to the bishop at the time, Edward Partridge, and thereafter “pay one-tenth of all their interest annually.”

Current LDS leaders say interest is typically interpreted as “income.” But that’s not what it has always meant.

“Bishop Partridge understood ‘one tenth of all their interest’ annually to mean 10 percent of what Saints would earn in interest if they invested their net worth for a year,” Harper wrote. He cited an example from Partridge who was reportedly in the room when Smith received the revelation.

“If a man is worth a $1000, the interest on that would be $60, and one/10. of the interest will be of course $6. thus you see the plan,” Partridge wrote in a letter just days after the revelation was received.

And when Joseph Smith was adding his unique touch to the Bible, he added the “ten percent of surplus” idea in there.

JST Gen 14:39 Wherefore Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need.

If people paid 10% on their surplus (or their interest), they’d pay a lot less. But then how would the LDS Church build up massive amounts of wealth?

You didn’t have to pay if you didn’t have the means

Lorenzo Snow, president of the church in 1989–1901, said in his 1899 Conference Address:

“…I plead with you in the name of the Lord, and I pray that every man, woman and child who has means shall pay one tenth of their income as a tithing…”

Pay if you can.

Except that’s not how the church renders this comment in their official materials. Check this out:

That’s right; Snow said that it was okay to pay tithing if you had the means. But when the church quotes him, they take that

This wins my award for Dishonest Ellipsis of the Century.

The Malachi scripture may have only applied to priests

When the subject of tithing comes up, you can count on this scripture from Malachi:

Read Malachi 3:8–9 or 3 Nephi 24:8–9 with class members. In what ways do we “rob God” if we do not pay tithes and offerings? (You may want to have class members read D&C 59:21 and D&C 104:14 as they discuss this question.)

Malachi 3:8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
3:9 Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.

It’s stupid to talk about robbing a supernatural being who can create a universe. But it’s possible that this scripture wasn’t directed at the rank and file Israelites, but rather the priests. Malachi chastised them for sacrificing the sick and blind animals, keeping back the good ones for themselves.

Malachi 1:7 Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.
1:8 And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.

Maybe it’s the leaders who are guilty of holding back funds, being stingy with humanitarian aid.

The church tells you to let your family starve so you can pay it

From time to time, the church teaches a truly horrendous ‘family can wait’ idea, where you pay the church, even of that means your family goes hungry.

After reading these scriptures together, Bishop Orellana looked at the new convert and said, “If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.”

And here:

Transcript (source)

After some events related to our civil war in Central America [Cordón grew up in Guatemala], my father’s business went bankrupt. He went from about 200 full-time employees to fewer than five sewing operators who worked as needed in the garage of our home. One day, during those difficult times, I heard my parents discussing whether they should pay tithing or buy food for the children.

If you’re wondering this, you are in a cult.

On Sunday, I followed my father to see what he was going to do. After our Church meetings, I saw him take an envelope and put his tithing in it. That was only part of the lesson. The question that remained for me was: what we were going to eat!

Early Monday morning, some people knocked on our door. When I opened it, they asked for my father. I called for him, and when he arrived, the visitors told him about an urgent sewing order they needed as quickly as possible. They told him that the order was so urgent that they will pay for it in advance. That day, I learned the principles of paying tithing and the blessings that follow.

The dual purpose of tithing

So what’s tithing really for? I see two purposes. The church gets all that delicious money. And because you’ve invested all that money, you’re less likely to want to admit you’ve made a mistake and leave. Especially if you’ve starved your kids. The investment fallacy is powerful.

The manual quotes John A. Widtsoe:

“Doubt retreats; faith advances; certainty and courage buoy up the soul.” (in Deseret News, 16 May 1936, Church Section, 5).

Oh, I’d say doubt retreats, all right! But it’s not for honest reasons.

Of course church leaders try to claim that it’s not about the money. From the manual:

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve said that “the payment of tithing has less to do with money, but more to do with faith” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1990, 41; or Ensign, May 1990, 32). How is tithing more about faith than money?

Fine; in that case, people should pay with faith, and keep their money. Or doesn’t it work that way? Why not?

Some resources

D. Michael Quinn: LDS Church Finances from the 1830s to the 1990s
https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/102-17-29.pdf

MormonThink: Tithing
http://www.mormonthink.com/tithing.htm

Wheat and Tares: Tithing: Have You Considered Paying on Surplus?
https://wheatandtares.org/2015/12/27/tithing-have-you-considered-paying-on-surplus/

An influential post by Rock Waterman, if you’re into him: Are We Paying Too Much Tithing?
http://puremormonism.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/are-we-paying-too-much-tithing.html

Reddit thread by u/TruthAboutTithing
https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/1xb5dx/proof_the_lds_church_hides_truth_about_tithing/

D&C Lesson 16 (Sabbath Observance)

“Thou Shalt … Offer Up Thy Sacraments upon My Holy Day”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 59;
Bible Dictionary, “Sabbath,” pages 764–65.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Overview

So it’s no secret that something’s going on in the LDS Church. It’s having a truth crisis. People keep leaving. Some are finding out about its awful history. Others are feeling at odds with its policy with regard to LGBT people and marriage equality. It seems like every member knows someone who left.

The leadership is surely aware of this, and have tried to patch the problem with essays. But the essays are only intended for members with one eye on the door. What has been the focus for members?

Sabbath observance.

I was mystified by this. They’re facing an exodus, and they respond with a kind of boilerplate response that’s not even related to the problem? That’s the kind of thing you come up with for a stake conference, not for a church in crisis.

“They’re not coming to church? Then let’s tell them to go to church more!”

At first, I thought they’d lost it. Had the Q15 been in church leadership so long that they’d lost touch with humans? Are they in denial? But then I remembered that these guys have been professionally fleecing people for a long time, and the church still exists largely because they’ve made the right moves.

So could there be something behind the whole Sunday thing?

Turns out that this was probably a really good choice. Here’s why.

Informational bubbles depend on strong social networks. If people keep relying on communal reinforcement, people feel like the beliefs of the group are true. Or they don’t mind as much if they’re not true. Or they’ll interpret ambiguous information in the most charitable light. So getting people together is a good move. So is cultivating a group mentality, separate from other people. An emphasis on Sabbath observance does both those things.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Section 59, and see how this works.

Reading

The world is dirty

If you want to have an ideological community, you have to make it look like other communities are wrong. That’s why there’s a very strong anti-world thread running through LDS doctrine.

D&C 59:9 And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;

The world gives you spots. It’s a dirty place.

Do nothing

You’re also supposed to carve off huge blocks of time doing nothing.

D&C 59:13 And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.
14 Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.

Fasting, while not exactly synonymous with rejoicing, is probably a good thing to do for a while. More and more people these days are doing intermittent fasting. That includes Your Humble Gospel Doctrine Teacher; I’m doing alternate-day fasting. Food fads are silly, but there is some science backing this up.

Alternate-day fasting trials of 3 to 12 weeks in duration appear to be effective at reducing body weight (≈3%-7%), body fat (≈3-5.5 kg), total cholesterol (≈10%-21%), and triglycerides (≈14%-42%) in normal-weight, overweight, and obese humans.

This could easily reverse with more research, and if it all turns out to be fake, I’m okay with that; it’s still working for me in the medium term and I’m not going to go overboard on it. Modest claims for modest evidence.

But one thing I’ve noticed is that fasting puts you in a bit of an altered state. My wife comments that I seem slightly more light-headed and intense on fasting days. That must be the ketosis, as my body breaks down long chains of ketones into energy. (It also gives the faster the characteristic ‘temple breath’. How many times did I have to try to remember the Five Points of Fellowship with my arms wrapped around some elderly temple worker with ketosis.)

Religions love their altered states, and if you take a person who’s fasting and put them in a room where all they can do is read the scriptures — voilá! Spiritual experience!

Loud laughter

You might remember how, in an earlier lesson, we saw that some early church members got a bit boisterous in meetings. This must have triggered quite a backlash! Now there’s a huge reaction against anything indecorous, raucous, or indeed interesting. This means that in the 21st century, you can’t bring a drum into a chapel for a musical number, and… they tell you how you can laugh. Controlling much?

D&C 59:15 And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance

The prohibition on loud laughter also pops up in the temple endowment ceremony. So what’s up with this?

I think this has to do with how people support bad ideas. If you’re confronted with flat-earthism, climate denialism, religion, or other silly (or dangerous) beliefs, you could patiently explain why someone is wrong. That can at times be a good strategy. If the person is convincible, or it’s someone you have a relationship with, patient explanation (and at times saying nothing) is a good way to go.

But in other situations, where you’re in a forum with observers, against someone who’s not going to shift, then dropping a bit of sass can be just the thing. It gets people not to take the belief seriously. Ridicule is appropriate for ridiculous ideas.

For religions, respect confers legitimacy. Ridicule undercuts all of that. Mockery doesn’t hurt good ideas, but it’s fatal to bad ones, which is why mockery has been so effective against religion.

Here’s a cartoon I did a while ago. The main point was:

Click on the image to read the whole thing.

Loud laughter is something religions just can’t withstand. That’s why they demand that they be met soberly and seriously. Don’t play into it. Deploy ridicule judiciously.

The earth belongs to humans

Here’s one of the more dangerous ideas: the earth and other animals belong to us.

D&C 59:16 Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;

If we treated things well, that would be fine. Unfortunately, we only seem to exploit public goods. Our effect on the earth has been disastrous. I don’t want to get all cosmic here, but it seems to me that we’d do a lot better if we thought of ourselves as a part of the earth, instead of as owners. People who accept evolution seem to get this; people in the human-supremacy movement (including, apparently, Mormons) don’t.

And this attitude is just making it harder for us to survive.

God gets pissed

Was this one of the sections that was dictated in one big stream of consciousness? Because you can tell that Joseph Smith was totally free-styling here.

D&C 59:21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.

Isn’t it strange that this is the all-powerful creator of the universe, and what really ticks him off is not getting acknowledged by puny mortals? Why would an omnipotent being need humans to obey him? And what’s with the wrath?

Talk to the Spock.

Conclusion

A renewed focus on Sabbath observance may help shore up members in the short term. The church will still have considerable issues in the medium- to long-term, however, and these won’t be so easily dealt with

There’s a major problem with using church meetings as a tool: they’re terrible. Even as a Mormon, I had to acknowledge that going to church was the worst part of church. Meetings are dour, boring, and repetitive. And why would it be necessary to use communal reinforcement if a belief is true? It’s been years since I studied (let’s just pick an example) continental drift. Yet I still think it’s as true as I ever did.  It’s only nonsense that needs to be constantly shored up. This should be a warning to church-goers.

D&C Lesson 15 (Spiritual gifts)

“Seek Ye Earnestly the Best Gifts”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 46;
Articles of Faith 1:7;
1 Corinthians 12–13;
Moroni 10:8–18;
Our Heritage, pages 42–43, 47–48, 63.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Overview

Wouldn’t it be great to have superpowers? Invisibility, super speed, or magic are the stuff of human imagination.

On the other hand, maybe some non-traditional powers could be in the running.

As for me, I think this superpower is a strong contender.

But if God — the all-powerful creator of the universe, not limited to merely human imagination — were behind it all, then you’d think he would have an inventory of spiritual superpowers that would blow your mind!

Well, get ready for disappointment, because this lesson is about the saddest list of spiritual gifts you’ve ever seen.

Reading

Section 46 came at a time when Mormons were getting pretty enthusiastic in meetings. They would flop around, yell and scream, and have a great time. Then Joseph Smith told them to knock it off.

In early January 1831, Levi Hancock met three young men named Edson Fuller, Heamon Bassett, and Burr Riggs, who introduced themselves as elders of the Church of Christ. According to Hancock, these young elders engaged in “all manner of doings” during worship services. Burr Riggs would “jump up from the floor, strike his head against the joist . . . swing some minutes, then fall like he was dead.” He would then rise and relate visions he had while unconscious. “Edson Fuller would fall and turn black in the face. He[a]mon Bassett would behave like a baboon.”

I’m kind of glad, though. Growing up Mormon was weird enough without this kind of thing going on.

No, God’s gifts are just sort of quiet.

Before we get to the list of unimpressive gifts, God reminds us that we’re not supposed to use them to impress anyone (not to worry, God) or provide evidence for anything.

D&C 46:9 For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.

And he tells us that everyone gets a gift.

D&C 46:11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

List of gifts

Anyway, here’s the list. Brace yourself.

D&C 46:13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

Wow. You don’t usually think of that as a gift. Because it’s not. The ability to sit there and believe fictional things is honestly not that great of a superpower.

D&C 46:14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

Again: wow. The ability to be gullible. That’s not a gift; that’s a curse.

D&C 46:15 And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men.

What’s that one about? The Gospel Doctrine manual says:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve said that this gift is “used in administering and regulating the church” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 278).

So it’s like being a cleric, but a really boring cleric. From God, I was expecting a little more D&D, but I guess this is Mormonism, the world’s most boring religion.

D&C 46:16 And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal.

The manual again:

(Discernment “to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God.” This gift helps us discern whether a teaching or influence comes from God or from some other source.)

That one’s easy. Mormons already know that a teaching comes from God if they already believe it. I HAVE THE GIFT.

D&C 46:17 And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom.
18 To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge.

I like those things. Unfortunately these gifts, in my church experience, were a bit thin on the ground.

D&C 46:19 And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed;
20 And to others it is given to have faith to heal.

Now we’re getting somewhere! Every party needs a healer.

Except… why would this be a spiritual gift? Is this supposed to be something that… certain people are good at? But why would that be? You want someone to be healed, you pray to God, he heals them. Why would he hold out on someone and not heal them just because the wrong person was doing the praying? If the healing comes from God anyway, then this doesn’t make any sense.

Unless what happens is that people are getting better randomly, and people are mistakenly attributing prayers as the cause. Maybe we’d better listen to that Tim Minchin song again.

Ask: What are some reasons why people mistakenly think God is healing their loved ones?

Ask: How does this play into narcissism?

D&C 46:21 And again, to some is given the working of miracles;

Non-specific miracles.

D&C 46:22 And to others it is given to prophesy;
23 And to others the discerning of spirits.

Let’s talk about prophecy and discernment. Mormons often talk about the “gift of discernment”, which is where the bishop can tell if a teenager is lying when they claim that they’re not beating off. If the gift of discernment is a real power, then surely the leaders of the church would be the most discerning of all. Are they? What kind of test could we devise?

Perhaps there could be a situation where someone was lying repeatedly, directly to them. Surely they’d be able to detect it.

Apparently not, because this actually happened. Here’s a photo of document dealer, forger, and convicted murderer Mark Hofmann, discussing church documents with church leaders.

Hofmann was selling them fake documents related to church history, and they bought them. All they had to do was to use the Holy Ghost to detect the forgeries, but at no point did they suspect that they were getting played. What’s worse, if they had been good at fortelling the future, they could have saved a few lives. As public skepticism mounted around the supposed finds, Hofmann planted bombs to divert the investigation. These bombs ended up killing two people, and injuring Hofmann.

Arguably the most famous of these fake documents was the White Salamander letter, in which Martin Harris supposedly reported that the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in the form of a white salamander.

in the fall of the year 1827 I hear Joseph found a gold bible I take Joseph aside & he says it is true I found it 4 years ago with my stone but only just got it because of the enchantment the old spirit come to me 3 times in the same dream & says dig up the gold but when I take it up the next morning the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole & struck me 3 times

I remember when this was being talked about. The oddest part for me was that Dallin Oaks seemed to believe the whole thing was legit (in all of its oddness), but for him that was okay. See, a “salamander” was a being that could, according to legend, appear in the midst of fire and not get burned. Like an angel! See? It all works.

“Another source of differences in the accounts of different witnesses is the different meanings that different persons attach to words. We have a vivid illustration of this in the recent media excitement about the word ‘salamander’ in a letter Martin Harris is supposed to have sent to W.W. Phelps over 150 years ago. All of the scores of media stories on that subject apparently assume that the author of that letter used the word ‘salamander’ in the modern sense of a ‘tailed amphibian.’

“One wonders why so many writers neglected to reveal to their readers that there is another meaning of ‘salamander,’ which may even have been the primary meaning in this context in the 1820s…. That meaning… is ‘a mythical being thought to be able to live in fire.’...

A being that is able to live in fire is a good approximation of the description Joseph Smith gave of the Angel Moroni:… the use of the words white salamander and old spirit seem understandable.

“In view of all this, and as a matter of intellectual evaluation, why all the excitement in the media, and why the apparent hand-wringing among those who profess friendship or membership in the Church?”

(“1985 CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium,” pages 22-23)

This is a favourite tactic of apologists: when confronted with disconfirmation, just start redefining words until you get the answer you want. It’s totally reasonable that Joseph Smith would see an angel that had a very bright but very human-looking body, and say, “Well, now, that’s a salamander!” At least Dallin Oaks thought so.

Until the Salamander letter was shown to be a fraud and then Oaks was like, Pssh, forget what I said about salamanders and angels, it’s totally a hoax now. And everyone went along and just kind of forgot that explanation.

What a weird and sad episode. But it does show that, at the highest level, church leaders fail when it comes to discernment. And if you need further evidence, look no further than the manner in which New Name Noah can walk unimpeded through temples — with an actual recommend and a camera, no less! — and no one is the wiser.

Especially check out this video, where NNN infiltrates a ward, and during Gospel Doctrine, the teacher actually mentions this blog! I’m so pleased to be noticed.

(Spooky how the bishop knew I was lying, though.)

Back to the list.

D&C 46:24 And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues;
25 And to another is given the interpretation of tongues.

This was no doubt a reference to glossolalia, or babbling away in a made up language. That was a known thing at this point in church history. But now Mormons kind of bleach it out and say that it’s about learning languages. And they often go on to claim that missionaries are really good at learning languages, and this is a manifestation of the gift of tongues. Whoops — missionaries don’t learn languages all that well. See this lesson for more.

There really isn’t anything amazing or helpful in this list of spiritual gifts — or if there is, there’s no evidence that any of them are real.

And when people extend the list of gifts, it’s even more mundane. See if you find anything inspiring in the manual:

Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve said some “less-conspicuous gifts” include “the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; … the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; … the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 23; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 20).

Almost all of these are things that normal people can do. It’s like they’re describing personality traits, and not actual abilities.

However, there are some spiritual gifts that would really be useful in the church today.

  • The ability to sit quietly
  • The ability to bite your tongue for three hours
  • The ability to sing harmonies tunelessly
  • The gift of casual misogyny

If spiritual gifts were real, wouldn’t they be a bigger deal? It would be obvious that God’s magical powers were having some effect. Mormons would be the best at healing, at predicting the future, and “miracles” (whatever that means). Instead, there’s no really discernable effect beyond anecdotes.

Counterfeit

Counterfeit is a word that’s come up recently in conference talks.

As a church, we want to assist in all that we can to create and support strong marriages and families. That is why the Church actively participates in and provides leadership to various coalitions and ecumenical efforts to strengthen the family. It is why we share our family-focused values in the media and on social media. It is why we share our genealogical and extended family records with all nations. We want our voice to be heard against all of the counterfeit and alternative lifestyles that try to replace the family organization that God Himself established.

— L. Tom Perry, Why Marriage and Family Matter—Everywhere in the World, 2015.

Explain that Satan can try to deceive people with counterfeit spiritual gifts. Concerned about some false manifestations of these gifts among Church members, the Prophet Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord and received a revelation that is now recorded as D&C 50.

Apparently a counterfeit is when something good exists, but with no connection to the church.

In the April 2017 Ensign (h/t John Dehlin), Larry Lawrence of the Seventy demeans other people’s relationships as counterfeit, and says that:

Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, but same-sex marriage is only a counterfeit. It brings neither posterity nor exaltation. Although [Satan’s] imitations deceive many people, they are not the real thing. They cannot bring lasting happiness.

Jerk. This is an insult to people who have a relationship that is committed, loving, and valid. And there’s something else: I’ve been married twice. Once was in the temple, with only part of our family able to attend, and almost no friends. It was officiated by someone I didn’t know, and it was a dour affair, meant primarily to affirm the organisation.

The second time I got married was in a city hall, a lovely historic building. There were friends, there was family, there was an officiant that we chose. We got to decide what would happen in our ceremony. And there was an amazing choir, because my wife and I have mad connections in the Perth music scene. Then there was a dinner, and music and dancing all night. We were surrounded by good wishes and people who loved us. We’ll never forget it.

Which marriage ceremony was authentic, and which could best be described a sad and joyless counterfeit?

The LDS Church offers counterfeits. It presents a counterfeit history, counterfeit facts, a counterfeit idea of the end of the earth, counterfeit authority, counterfeit happiness, counterfeit linguistics, counterfeit archaeology, counterfeit anthropology, counterfeit genetics, and most crucially, a counterfeit method to find out if all of the above is true.

D&C Lesson 14 (Law of Consecration)

The Law of Consecration

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 42:30–42; 51; 78; 82; 104:11–18;
Our Heritage, page 26.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Overview

Ah, the days when I could get a rise out of a Sunday School class by cheekily suggesting that the Law of Consecration (aka the United Order) was a form of socialism.

“Socialism is Satan’s counterfeit for the United Order!” Brother Grumpus would always say. The classfull of Mormon-Americans would nod along. They probably didn’t understand socialism (or communism), and they sure didn’t understand the United Order, but I doubt they would have been thrilled with any of these systems. So it’s funny that this lesson tries to sell communitarian utopianism to what is very likely to be a very conservative class of members.

The Law of Consecration is not communism or socialism. It is, however, the mark of an incredibly demanding religion. Briefly, it is an economic system in which members place all their property and worldly goods into the hands of the same church leaders who ask if they masturbate.

It is the system that the Lord has ordained for looking after the welfare of his Saints… and it is something that always fails. It never works, but God doesn’t seem to know this.

There is, however, something that does seem to be working where it’s been tried so far: Universal Basic Income. I’ll plug that a bit later on.

Reading

How it started

The chapters for this lesson are revelations from the creator of the universe, and definitely not Joseph Smith, in which people are told to give Joseph Smith their money. Edward Partridge was supposed to work it out.

D&C 51:3 Wherefore, let my servant Edward Partridge, and those whom he has chosen, in whom I am well pleased, appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.
4 And let my servant Edward Partridge, when he shall appoint a man his portion, give unto him a writing that shall secure unto him his portion, that he shall hold it, even this right and this inheritance in the church, until he transgresses and is not accounted worthy by the voice of the church, according to the laws and covenants of the church, to belong to the church.

Here’s God giving poor deluded Martin Harris the business…

D&C 104:24 And again, let my servant Martin Harris have appointed unto him, for his stewardship, the lot of land which my servant John Johnson obtained in exchange for his former inheritance, for him and his seed after him;
25 And inasmuch as he is faithful, I will multiply blessings upon him and his seed after him.
26 And let my servant Martin Harris devote his moneys for the proclaiming of my words, according as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., shall direct.

and again…

D&C 58:35 It is wisdom in me that my servant Martin Harris should be an example unto the church, in laying his moneys before the bishop of the church.
36 And also, this is a law unto every man that cometh unto this land to receive an inheritance; and he shall do with his moneys according as the law directs.
37 And it is wisdom also that there should be lands purchased in Independence, for the place of the storehouse, and also for the house of the printing.
38 And other directions concerning my servant Martin Harris shall be given him of the Spirit, that he may receive his inheritance as seemeth him good;

…while calling Martin sinful at the same time!

D&C 58:39 And let him repent of his sins, for he seeketh the praise of the world.

Joseph Smith was really something, wasn’t he?

I want to recommend Mithyn’s Law of Consecration Timeline, with loads of information about how it all went down. Mithryn’s breakdown of this lesson is also required reading. It explains the failures of 1830s-era consecration, but also of Brigham Young’s attempts in the 1850s.

This arrangement was supposed to be permanent.

D&C 78:3 For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold, and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion
4 For a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church, to advance the cause, which ye have espoused, to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven;
5 That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
6 For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;

And despite the Law of Consecration being discontinued, the manual says it hasn’t changed.

Explain that the principles of the law of consecration have not changed since it was revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. However, the application of those principles changes from time to time. The current prophet helps us understand how to apply these principles in our day.

Obviously, it’s one of those “policy changes” rather than a “doctrinal change”.

So what really happened? Why did consecration fail? Predictably, the Gospel Doctrine manual blames the people, because God never fails, and if his plans don’t work, it’s because you were bad. (Just ask Eve.)

Some Saints lived it well, to the blessing of themselves and others, but other members failed to rise above selfish desires, causing the eventual withdrawal of the law from the Church. In 1838 the Lord revealed the law of tithing (see D&C 119), which continues today as the financial law of the Church.

In other words, God had to call it off because he didn’t realise that people were going to be selfish and mean. He just didn’t see that coming. Consecration was the victim of nothing more than God’s failure to grasp human nature.

Think about it: Joseph Smith had God himself giving detailed instructions on how to make it work, and it still failed? God could knock up a universe in six days, but it seems that figuring out an economic system that works was too hard. Which makes one conclude that God is a bit of a loser. Or consecration never works. Or both.

There’s another possibility: God is a really good engineer, but a really shitty economist. His all-knowingness only extends to certain areas. Which makes sense because he isn’t that great at other things, like moral reasoning. Many times, I’ve asked religious people, “Just because God is smart enough to make a universe, why does that make him a moral expert? Why would that mean that he gets to tell us how to live?” It always confuses them, because they’re not used to thinking that someone who’s good at one thing isn’t automatically good at everything.

The response you can expect from members is “Just wait until God is in charge of it, though. Then it will work.” But this makes no sense. In what way was God not in charge of it the first time? He was dictating entire sections of the D&C, explaining who should do what, and it still didn’t work. How will next time be any different? At some point the buck has to stop.

What are class members supposed to take away from this?

What else? Give the church everything.

We must be willing to make the sacrifices that the Lord requires of us at the present time. These include sacrifices of time, talents, and possessions. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve give us direction regarding how we implement the principles of the law of consecration in our day.

• How can we consecrate our time, talents, and possessions to help build the kingdom of God today? (Answers may include those listed below.)
a. Pay tithing and fast offerings and give generously in other ways to those in need. By doing these things, we can help the Church care for the poor and carry on the important activities necessary to build the kingdom of God on earth. Elder Marion G. Romney asked: “What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1966, 100; or Improvement Era, June 1966, 537).
b. Serve willingly in the Church. The Lord has admonished each person to “learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence” (D&C 107:99). We should fulfill the callings we receive to the best of our ability. In addition to specific Church callings, we can share the gospel with others, do temple work, and seek to strengthen the testimonies of those who are new or weak in the faith.
c. Serve as a full-time missionary. Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve taught: “Going on a mission teaches you to live the law of consecration. It may be the only time in your life when you can give to the Lord all your time, talents, and resources. In return, the Lord will bless you with His Spirit to be with you. He will be close to you and strengthen you” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 50; or Ensign, May 1996, 36).

God: Oh, did I say consecration? I meant fast offerings and going on missions.

It’s worth pointing out that, in the endowment ceremony, members promise to give everything they have to the church — and note: to the church! not to God. Once you’ve promised that, they own you.

And while the purpose of the United Order was ostensibly to care for the poor, getting members to hand over everything was a far more useful goal. After that, what else would you hold back from them? And if the whole enterprise fails, the investment fallacy makes you incapable of admitting that it failed.

George Carlin knew what was up.

What works: UBI

There is a way to make sure everyone has enough, and it seems to work: the Universal Basic Income, or UBI.

Universal Basic Income is a wellknown topic these days, so skip this part if you’re a fan, and read on if you’re not.

Many people worry about the rise of automation displacing jobs. In the past, this hasn’t been a problem because computers have created entire industries to replace the jobs they supplanted. However, with the new wave of driverless cars, robotic automation, and (crucially) AI systems that can do human jobs just as well as a human, there’s no reason to think that there will be a robot technician for every robot. That means a lot of less-skilled workers out of work.

This is all happening at a time when neoliberalism has funnelled a lot of money toward the top 1%, and shrunk the middle class. A lot of people are just not seeing a way out of their money problems, and this is fuelling hopelessness and extremism.

One solution that has been proposed (and tested) is a Universal Basic Income, or UBI. Everyone, no matter how much money they make, gets enough money to live on, and they can work more if they want to. With a bedrock level of economic security, they can make choices:

  • Leave a job they hate
  • Start a business they’ve always wanted to
  • Take care of kids, or someone who’s sick or elderly
  • Not have to do something terrible for little to no money because they have few other choices

With a UBI, people who are doing unpaid but necessary work will be compensated. If we want people to fill unpleasant or distasteful jobs, we’ll need to pay people at a commensurate level. Don’t like porn or sex work? Fewer people will be doing it for the money; you’ll only see the people whose hearts are in it. And people who are still in truly unsavoury careers, like marketing, will be exposed for the kind of people they are.

But with the basics of life taken care of (and how about a national health care system in place), people will be able to get on with things they’d like to do. And there will be a not incidental amount of money rocketing around the economy, increasing the velocity of money, and stimulating demand.

Religious folk will object. There’s an unhelpful protestant ethic that you should starve if you’re not feeding the employment machine.

GOP lawmaker: The Bible says ‘if a man will not work, he shall not eat’

One lawmaker is citing a godly reference to  justify changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) recently quoted the New Testament to question the strength of current work requirements.

The biblical passage, 2 Thessalonians 3-10, was a rebuttal to one of the hearing’s expert witnesses, a representative of the Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON. (He referenced Leviticus.) It is also a familiar refrain to anyone who has watched past debates about SNAP.

House Republicans have historically cited the verse — “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” — as justification for cutting some adults’ SNAP benefits.

But this is just part of another bible-based system created by a do-nothing god that hasn’t worked. Why listen to him? He did a week’s worth of work ages ago, and hasn’t done a damn thing since, except write a couple of books.

Additional ideas for teaching

Why are Mormons so blasted conservative?

I’ll be straight with you. If you’re a Gospel Doctrine teacher in a politically conservative area, this lesson is a hard sell. And there are a lot of conservative areas, because Mormons by and large are not the most liberal people. Far from it.

Mormons Most Conservative Major Religious Group in U.S.

PRINCETON, NJ — Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, are the most conservative major religious group in the country, with 59% identifying as conservative, 31% as moderate, and 8% as liberal.

This is likely getting worse, as liberal members are driven out by the anti-LGBT leanings of the church’s policy makers.

Although batshit conservative John-Birchy members are also leaving, so maybe a bit of a wash. The leaked graphic from Mormonleaks — the one that prompted a takedown notice from the church — identifies threats from the “far left” and the “far right”. Denver Snuffer sits opposite John Dehlin. (Who is Robert Norman?)

Wait, where’s the bubble that says “Church is heavily compromised by its refusal to provide evidence for its claims or come clean about problematic areas of its history, plus it is untrue”? Guess they didn’t have room.

This next part is going to sound dumb. I’m sorry in advance.

For me, the conservative nature of the church was part of my deconversion. Specifically, it was when George W. Bush was re-elected to president in 2004 — county for county in the case of Utah.

I don’t mean that Mormons didn’t vote the way I wanted to, so they must be evil. There’s a lot of scope for political difference, and who knows where our political values come from anyway.

But that was the capper on a long lifetime of confrontation with Mormons, as some of the worst people in the American experiment. We live in a time when some really unapologetically evil people are in charge, and Mormons — the people who claim to have the greatest unfiltered access to the Holy Ghost — are the biggest defenders of the evil.

And yes, I do mean evil. If being evil means causing unnecessary suffering, then throwing people off their health care is a form of evil. Cutting off school lunch programmes so kids don’t get fed is a form of evil. Making sure wealthy people get enough while everyone else doesn’t is a form of evil. At some point, making sure people have enough stops being a political issue, and instead becomes a test of moral rectitude. It’s about whether you’re a Good Person, whether you give in to fascism, or whether you’re willing to turn in your neighbours on a registry.

And now that I seem to be talking about Trump, Mormons — after an initial period of uncertainty, after which they voted for him en masse anywaythink he’s just dandy.

Majority of Utahns now view Trump favorably, poll shows

Washington • President Donald Trump’s approval rating is increasing in Utah — a majority of registered voters now view him positively — even as his numbers nationally have sunk in his first two months in office.

A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll finds that 54 percent of registered voters say they somewhat or strongly approve of Trump’s job performance while 41 percent disapprove. In January, just before Trump took office, a Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll found 46 percent favorability for the incoming president and 52 percent unfavorable.

Does that sound like a group of people that have the Holy Ghost? Or are they willing to overlook a pussy-grabber when he does what they like?

Maybe there’s hope. I went to visit my TBM sister before the 2016 election. She confided that she wasn’t keen on Trump. Didn’t know why. Just didn’t like him. And I thought, Well, maybe there’s a line there that she wouldn’t cross. That election was a test for many people of what they would put up with, and a lot of people failed. At least for her there was a line.

Covetousness

There’s one thing you’re not supposed to do in this lesson, and that’s covet.

Read D&C 19:26 with class members. What warning did the Lord give to Martin Harris in this verse? Why must we overcome covetousness if we are to consecrate our lives to the Lord? How can we overcome covetous feelings?

D&C 19:26 And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon, which contains the truth and the word of God

Wow — you’re not supposed to covet your own property. In the Old Testament, you weren’t supposed to covet someone else’s stuff, but at least you knew that for your own stuff, covet away! But apparently not. That this is part of Joseph Smith’s plan to get Martin Harris to hand over everything as part of a business scam is especially galling.

Also from the manual:

President Brigham Young said: “I am more afraid of covetousness in our Elders than I am of the hordes of hell. … All our enemies … in the world, and all hell with them marshalled against us, could not do us the injury that covetousness in the hearts of this people could do us; for it is idolatry” (in Journal of Discourses, 5:353).

I’m not going to beat the drum for capitalism — not as it exists today, that is. But it seems to be that covetousness is not really a problem when everyone’s finances are unconnected. I like my neighbour’s car. Maybe I’ll work harder or make better choices, and get one. That’s mildly positive.

Coveting is only a problem when everyone’s finances are linked. You only have to worry about someone drawing out all the money when it’s a joint account. So it seems to me that the United Order encouraged covetousness.

John Whitmer recorded that “The time has not yet come that the law can be fully established, for the disciples live scattered abroad and are not yet organized; our numbers are small and the disciples untaught, consequently they understand not the things of the kingdom.” Whitmer further noted that part of the problem was that “some of the disciples who were flattered into this Church… thought that all things were to be in common, therefore they thought to glut themselves upon the labors of others.”

In general, looking after each other is something that needs to happen, even if this isn’t the way to do it.

I like this quote from Louis C.K.

Bind the Lord

There’s an idea in this reading that I find slightly evil. It was promoted on my mission, and it doesn’t work. It led to a lot of disillusionment.

D&C 82:10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.

The idea is: if you’re doing what God says, he has to come through with the blessings. He’s bound. It’s a very mercantile view of spirituality.

So in theory, you could “bind the Lord” and get what you want. In the mission field, it played out like this:

  • Pray and make a covenant with the Lord that you’ll do something (obey the rules) if he’ll do something (send you people to baptise).
  • You do the thing.
  • He doesn’t do the thing back because he doesn’t exist.

This is very confusing. Apparently the Lord wants people to join the church, but he never seems to zap people’s minds and make them want to be Mormons.

With the failure of your covenant, you now have choices:

  1. Be disillusioned
  2. Clap harder
  3. Blame yourself
  4. Reinterpret the outcome in an uplifting way

Only number 1 is unacceptable in the church, and it also happens to be the best answer.

D&C Lesson 13 (Joseph Smith’s work)

“This Generation Shall Have My Word through You”

Reading assignment

The scriptures listed in the following questions and in the scripture chain:
D&C 84:19–25 (Melchizedek Priesthood),
D&C 88:15–24 (Three kingdoms of glory; see also D&C 76:50–112),
D&C 93:29 (Premortal existence),
D&C 107:23, 33, 35 (Apostles and prophets),
D&C 124:37–42 (Temples),
D&C 128:16–18 (Baptism for the dead),
D&C 130:22 (The Godhead);
Bible Dictionary, “Joseph Smith Translation,” 717;
Our Heritage, pages 23–25, 41, 58.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Overview

This lesson is about Joseph Smith, and his impact on Mormon doctrine. (Since he’s the founder, the answer is an unsurprising “huge”.) For Mormons this lesson is kind of a breather, a list of what Smith wrote, along with exhortations to be grateful for it, and invitations for class members to tell what it “means to them”.

For us, it’s a chance to take an all-encompassing look at the full horror, and see how wrong it all is. If somewhere I missed an opportunity to bash away at a volume of scripture, here’s where I make up for it.

Joseph Smith was part story-teller, part con artist, part religious mystic, and all sexual predator. Richard Dawkins’s description of him as “enterprisingly mendacious” is just right. He was a magpie, scanning the frontier culture of his day, picking up anything shiny that crossed his path, and working it into a narrative that he busily constructed for the whole of his life, in hopes that it would be the One Big Sell that would get him money, sex, and power.

We’ll be looking at his major works:

  • The Book of Mormon
  • Doctrine and Covenants
  • The Joseph Smith “Translation” of the Bible
  • Pearl of Great Price

Reading

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon is arguably the most beloved book of scripture for Latter-day Saints, and predictably, it gets everything wrong.

It misidentifies Hebrews as ancestors of Native Americans — a hypothesis that was current in Joseph Smith’s day, but which has been disconfirmed by modern evidence. It mentions plants and animals that did not exist in the ancient Americas, and fails to mention many that did. The Lamanites should have left an extensive archaeological footprint, but would appear to have vanished without a trace.

Joseph Smith plagiarised the Bible in its entirely, even the bits that weren’t supposed to have been written at the time of the Book of Mormon. No one in the church seems to notice this.

Joseph Smith was supposed to have seen God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate individuals — a theological bombshell for Christendom at the time — but then went ahead and wrote the Book of Mormon to reflect a trinitarian doctrine, as though the First Vision had never happened. It also addresses theological, social, and political concerns of the American frontier Protestantism of the 1800s, in a way that would have been entirely foreign to ancient Mesoamerica.

Even more brashly, Joseph Smith inserted himself into the Book of Mormon as a fulfilment of prophecy, in a move that would make any writer with a sense of shame blush. From the manual:

The Book of Mormon
Read 2 Nephi 3:11–15 with class members. Explain that this passage contains a prophecy about Joseph Smith. The writings mentioned in verse 12 are the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

2 Nephi 3:11 But a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins — and not to the bringing forth my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them.
3:12 Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.
3:13 And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.
3:14 And thus prophesied Joseph, saying: Behold, that seer will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise, which I have obtained of the Lord, of the fruit of my loins, shall be fulfilled. Behold, I am sure of the fulfilling of this promise;
3:15 And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation.

Talk about audacity!

Ask: If you were a believer, what did you think about these verses? Did you allow yourself to reflect on how transparent a con this might have been?

Doctrine and Covenants

The manual explains:

The Book of Commandments. This is the first compilation of the revelations given through the Prophet Joseph Smith. These revelations later became part of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Ahem: not in their original form. The chapters from the Book of Commandments were reworked (in some cases, extensively). And the best part:

Interestingly, most of the revelations collected in the Book of Commandments were first printed in the Church periodical The Evening and Morning Star. When Doctrine and Covenants was printed, the first fourteen issues of The Evening and Morning Star were reprinted so as to agree with the revised revelations.

Down the memory hole!

There’s a bit in this lesson about the tensions between the people of Missouri and the Mormon settlers. That’s not cool, and I don’t want to excuse that. But there’s a tendency to think that the opposition facing the church — then and now — is the result of blind, unreasoning (possibly Satanic) prejudice. There are a couple of reasons for that.

  1. It’s a way of explaining opposition. If people are against the church, members must not give in to the idea that they might have a point. Make it seem unreasoning, and thereby invalid. That way, there’s nothing to explain or think about. No self-analysis is necessary.
  2. Blind implacable aggression is frightening. Fear drives members farther into the in-group. It galvanises support.

In fact, there were reasons that the early Saints and the Missiourians didn’t get along. I’d encourage having a read of the relevant entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which surprised me by being pretty even-handed in its treatment, without whitewashing the actions of the Mormons.

Tension between the Latter-day Saints and their neighbors in frontier Jackson County mounted for several reasons. First, marked cultural differences set them apart. With New England roots, most Saints valued congregational Sabbath worship, education of their children, and refined personal decorum. In contrast, many Jackson County residents had come to the Missouri frontier from other states precisely to avoid such interference in their lives. Many held no schools for their children, and Sunday cockfights attracted more people than church services did. Often hard drinking intensified violent frontier ways. In the opinion of non-LDS county resident John C. McCoy in the Kansas City Journal (Apr. 24, 1881, p. 9), such extreme differences in customs made the two groups “completely unfitted to live together in peace and friendship.”

Second, Missourians considered the Latter-day Saints strange and religiously unorthodox. Many LDS Church members aggressively articulated belief in revelation, prophets, the Book of Mormon, spiritual gifts, the Millennium, and the importance of gathering. Some went further and claimed Jackson County land as a sacred inheritance by divine appointment. Even David Whitmer, presiding elder of one branch, thought these boasts excited bitter jealousy. Articles on prophecy and doctrine published in the Church newspaper at Independence, the evening and the morning star, added to hard feelings. In addition, local Protestant clergy felt threatened by LDS missionary activity.

Third, because the Saints lived on Church lands and traded entirely with the Church store or blacksmith shops, some original settlers viewed them as economically exclusive, even un-American. Others accused LDS immigrants of pauperism when, because of diminished Church resources, they failed to obtain land.

A fourth volatile issue was the original settlers’ fear that Latter-day Saints might provoke battles with either slaves or Indians. They accused the Saints of slave tampering. As transplanted Southerners who valued their right to hold slaves, the settlers erroneously feared that the Saints intended to convert blacks or incite them to revolt. They also correctly asserted that the Latter-day Saints desired to convert Indians and, perhaps, ally themselves with the Indians.

Finally, Missourians feared that continued LDS ingathering would lead to loss of political control. “It requires no gift of prophecy,” stated a citizens’ committee, “to tell that the day is not far distant when the civil government of the county will be in their hands; when the sheriff, the justices, and the county judges will be Mormons” (HC 1:397). These monumental differences between the Latter-day Saints and the Missourians eventually led to violence.

The short story: utopian religious groups don’t play well with others. The frontier people of Missouri might have had some valid concerns about people from a strange unknown religious tradition moving in en masse and agglomerating economic and political power — not to mention firepower. But that’s going to figure in later.

That fourth point — “slave tampering” — became an issue at this time. The Mormons published a pro-abolitionist article (<a href=”http://mit.irr.org/joseph-smith-and-abolition-of-slavery”>atypical for Mormons at the time</a>) called “Free People of Color”. Incensed, the Missourians destroyed W. W. Phelps’ printing press, and copies of the Book of Commandments were destroyed. The destruction of the printing press was a move that the Mormons would later reciprocate.

The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible

Ever written a book of fan fiction based on another work, and then found out that it conflicts with the canon? How annoying! But Joseph Smith has the answer — just retrofit the Bible so it works better with your theology. This attempt was the so-called Inspired Version, now called the Joseph Smith Translation.

It’s awful. He rewrites the poetry of the Creation account by sticking “And it came to pass” right up the top! (He doesn’t fix the problem of plants coming before the sun, though.) Instead of the KJV Lot offering his daughters to the men of Sodom,

KJV Genesis 19:8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

he has Lot make a rather unpersuasive detour:

JST Genesis 19:13 And Lot said, Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you; and ye shall not do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes;

Why would the JST need to be a thing? Because Latter-day Saints teach that the Bible has many textual errors. From the manual:

• Read the eighth article of faith with class members. What is the significance of the phrase “as far as it is translated correctly”?

The problem here is that Mormons don’t bother to find out how we would know what a correct translation looks like, or what’s even involved in translation. They don’t want to use a better translation. “Translated correctly” just means “agrees with Mormon doctrine”. It’s a lazy way of dismissing inconsistencies between LDS dogma and the Bible.

I might also add that the word “translation” doesn’t have the conventional meaning to a Mormon. It means something like, “providing inspiration or a jumping-off point for something spiritual that you want to write”.

Instead of making a literal translation, as scholars would use the term, he used the Urim and Thummim as a means of receiving revelation. Even though a copy of Abraham’s record possibly passed through the hands of many scribes and had become editorially corrupted to the point where it may have had little resemblance to the original, the Prophet—with the Urim and Thummim, or simply through revelation—could have obtained the translation—or, as Joseph Smith used the word, he could have received the meaning, or subject-matter content of the original text, as he did in his translation of the Bible. This explanation would mean that Joseph Smith received the text of our present book of Abraham the same way he received the translation of the parchment of John the Revelator—he did not even need the actual text in front of him.

More word games from apologists. Translation doesn’t translation, horses don’t mean horses, and steel doesn’t mean steel. And no one knows what the hell a curelom or a cumom is.

But now we’ve wandered into Book of Abraham territory, so maybe it’s best to go there now.

The Pearl of Great Price

The Book of Abraham is the best evidence that Joseph Smith was making stuff up. If there’s a bigger smoking gun, I don’t know what it would be.

Joseph Smith pretended to translate Egyptian papyri that he procured, and — what do you know! — it was written by Abraham’s own hand. At the time that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Abraham, decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics was not well understood. Joseph Smith could have written anything, and no one would have able to tell him he was wrong.

We can now, though. The papyri are ordinary funerary documents. The meanings given to the facsimiles are what you’d expect from someone who was making stuff up, and who was trying to fool people.

Click to follow the links.

More here.

Conclusion

If I wanted to snark, I could say that if God didn’t pick a fact-challenged con-man to lead his church, he sure went to a lot of effort to make it look like he had.

But then my kinder nature kicks in. Joseph Smith was a writer of terrible and historically inaccurate fiction. For most of us, this is uncontroversial. But he and his followers have created a community that thinks it’s fact, and they can’t see their way out of it. Their reasoning is upside-down; they’ve decided it’s true, and reason backward from there. As LDS apologist Kerry Muhlestein said:

“I start out with an assumption that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon, and anything else that we get from the restored gospel, is true,” he said. “Therefore, any evidence I find, I will try to fit into that paradigm.”

Ask: How are you avoiding poor reasoning and confirmation bias in what you think and read?

Are you finding sources that you disagree with? Do you try to understand their arguments, and can you identify the strengths in their arguments, as well as the weaknesses?

D&C Lesson 12 (Gathering of Israel)

“The Gathering of My People”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 29:1–8; 33:3–7; 37; 38:24–41; 52:2–5, 4243; 57:1–3; 110:11;
Articles of Faith 1:10;
Our Heritage, pages 16–23, 37–39.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Overview

I’m approaching this lesson with a bit of nostalgia. Here’s the thing: Mormon doctrine used to be so weird and cool! But then they dumped a lot of the weird bits, once it became clear that they were embarrassing or unpalatable. This is why President Newsroom says you no longer get your own planet, even though prophets said that you do. (Blame that musical.)

And there used to be absolutely bonkers ideas about the gathering of Israel, and about how everyone would eventually have to go to Jackson County, Missouri. Well, these ideas came out of this time in church history.

But they’ve been deprecated. So now Mormon doctrine is still weird, but boring.

Reading

The gathering of Israel

Okay, so one of the core tenets of the church is that Israel will be gathered during the last days before Jesus comes again.

Article of Faith 10: We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

It’s in this reading as well.

D&C 29:7 And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;
8 Wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked.

D&C 33:6 And even so will I gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, even as many as will believe in me, and hearken unto my voice.

Gather? How were they scattered? Well, as this lesson explains, the ten northern tribes of Israel were used as a punching bag by a succession of kings, until they were dispersed into the lands northward.

So where are the ten lost tribes of Israel now? Ah, well, that brings us to our first crackpot theory:

They’re all together on a planet somewhere.

This planet is actually a big hunk of the earth that God tore off, and threw into space. Hey, don’t look at me like that. There’s a precedent: the city of Enoch, which God took up to heaven.

D&C 38:4 I am the same which have taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom

And this idea seems to have circulated among the members of the early church. This bit from Eliza R. Snow was once in the hymnal:

Thou, Earth, was once a glorious sphere
Of noble magnitude,
And didst with majesty appear
Among the worlds of God.

But thy dimensions have been torn
Asunder, piece by piece,
And each dismember’d fragment borne
Abroad to distant space.

When Enoch could no longer stay
Amid corruption here,
Part of thyself was borne away
To form another sphere.

That portion where his city stood
He gain’d by right approv’d;
And nearer to the throne of God
His planet upward moved.

And when the Lord saw fit to hide
The “ten lost tribes” away,
Thou, Earth, wast sever’d to provide
The orb on which they stay.

And thus, from time to time, thy size
Has been diminish’d still
Thou seemest the law of sacrifice
Created to fulfil.

Before you say, “That’s not how planets work,” remember that God can do anything.

They’re somewhere else

They’re all in one place, unobserved somewhere, waiting for the signal to come on down. After all, didn’t Jesus go and visit them? How could he do that — the logic goes — if they’re not all in one place?

3 Nephi 15:21 And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
3 Nephi 16:1 And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister.
16:2 For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them.
16:3 But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them.

Okay, so if they’re all together waiting for the bat-signal, where are they?

Hollow Earth

For a while, Mormonism partook of a crackpot hypothesis that was going around in the 1820s: the earth is hollow and you can go inside. There’s a lot of stuff in there, including its own sun. (Some people have thought that we’re actually on the inside of it now, and we don’t know it.)

Joseph Smith allegedly taught this idea.

“I was then really ‘the bosom friend and companion of the Prophet Joseph.’ … Sometimes when at my house I asked him questions relating to the past, present and future; … one of which I will relate: I asked where the nine and a half tribes of Israel were. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘you remember the old caldron or potash kettle you used to boil maple sap in for sugar, don’t you?’ I said yes. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘they are in the north pole in a concave just the shape of that kettle. And John the Revelator is with them, preparing them for their return.”
– Benjamin Johnson, My Life’s Review, 1947, p. 93

“I heard Joseph Smith preach baptism for the dead…. I heard him say, ‘the Ten Tribes were not on this globe, but a portion of this earth had cleaved off with them and went flying into space, and when the time comes when the “earth reels to and from like a drunken man and the stars from heaven fall,” it would join on again.’”
– Bathsheba W. Smith, “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith, The Juvenile Instructor, June 1, 1892, v. 27, p. 34

“The Prophet Joseph [Smith] once in my hearing advanced his opinion that the Ten Tribes were separated from the Earth; or a portion of the Earth was by a miracle broken off, and that the Ten Tribes were taken away with it, and that in the latter days it would be restored to the Earth or be let down in the Polar regions. Whether the Prophet founded his opinion upon revelation or whether it was a matter of mere speculation with him, I am not able to say.”
– Apostle Orson Pratt, Letter Box of Orson Pratt, LDS Church Historian’s Office, letter to John C. Hall, December 13, 1875; see Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, p. 529, footnote 101

This idea is fact-free lunacy, but it hasn’t stopped some Mormons from taking it seriously. Rodney Cluff has written generous amounts about it.

The Ten Tribes then continued north over the Caucasus Mountains and encamped north of the Black Sea, where many stayed. But a sizeable group continued their trek north into Russia, Mongolia and Siberia, where some of their remains have been found to this day. But they didn’t stay there either. Their trek took them even further north through the northern aperture of the earth led by a prophet of God where they live today in the “North Countries” of Our Hollow Earth.

Sadly, plans for an expedition to find the hole have hit some setbacks. Ripping stuff!

God’s way: the highway

So if the ten tribes of Israel are hidden away up in the frozen north, how will they get down here when it’s time to return? A highway. This idea appears in Isaiah (sing the Handel if you know it):

Isaiah 40:1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
40:2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
40:3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

And then it appears in the D&C. This lesson has a lot of scriptures, but why is it that they don’t mention D&C 133? They’ve left it right out, and it’s enormously relevant for us Israel-watchers! Especially the part about the highway.

Mountains turn into valleys; valleys into mountains.

D&C 133:22 And it shall be a voice as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, which shall break down the mountains, and the valleys shall not be found.

This would require a quake of about 7 billion on the Richter scale, but let’s keep going.

Then the ocean flows up the the north for some reason.

D&C 133:23 He shall command the great deep, and it shall be driven back into the north countries, and the islands shall become one land;

Before you say, “That’s not how water works,” remember that God can do anything.

Then for the finale: The reversal of continental drift! That’s right; Pangea and Gondwanaland together again like they’ve never been before!

D&C 133:24 And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided.

Before you say, “That’s not how plate tectonics works,” remember that God can do anything.

Finally after all that: a gigantic ice highway! (Sorry: an highway.) They’ve lived in the North for so long that they’ve absorbed its powers and become icebenders! So Frozone.

D&C 133:25 And the Lord, even the Savior, shall stand in the midst of his people, and shall reign over all flesh.
26 And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence.
27 And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep.

Slippery, but effective.

Orson Pratt bought it.

To show that they come with power they come on a highway cast up for them; and ice feels the power of God and flows down, making room for them; and the barren deserts of the north, wherever they may go and need water, will yield forth pools of living water to quench their thirst. As they come to sing in the height of Zion, the everlasting hills, this great Rocky Mountain range, extending from the arctic regions south to the central portions of America, will tremble beneath the power of God at the approach of that people. . . . But where have this great company been, where has this mighty host come from? They have come from their hiding place in the north country; they have been led thence by the Prophets of the Most High God, the Lord going before their camp, talking with them out of the cloud, as he talked in ancient days with the camp of Israel, uttering his voice before his army, for his camp will be very great.”

Some Mormons have speculated about this.

The scriptures clearly teach that Israelites will someday return from the north countries. The Lord has revealed that they will do so on a highway that is cast up in the great deep. If that is interpreted literally, science has no explanation of where they might be located, much less for the sudden appearance of a land bridge across a deep ocean. Therefore, if the prophecy in D&C 133 of their return as a group along a highway is fulfilled literally, it would be a miracle. Such an event could cause many more to believe in the restoration, and others to vow to fight against it more vehemently. Time will tell just how literally the Lord meant this prophecy of a highway to be interpreted, but in any case it should be a marvelous event to witness.

Alas, the church nowadays doesn’t go for anything like that. The remnants of Israel aren’t in one place, but mixed. Says Bruce McConkie:

But, says one, are they not in a body somewhere in the land of the north? Answer: They are not; they are scattered in all nations. The north countries of their habitation are all the countries north of their Palestinian home, north of Assyria from whence they escaped, north of the prophets who attempted to describe their habitat. And for that matter, they shall also come from the south and the east and the west and the ends of the earth. Such is the prophetic word.

And instead of coming back en masse, the gathering of Israel has a much more mundane meaning. From the Gospel Doctrine manual:

• Read the tenth article of faith and D&C 45:71 with class members. What is the gathering of Israel? (Explain that the gathering of Israel has a spiritual meaning and a physical meaning, as outlined below.)

a. Spiritual gathering. The spiritual gathering of Israel occurs as people learn the gospel, come unto Christ, are baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and keep their covenants. In this way they are gathered from the world into the Church, or the kingdom of God on earth.
b. Physical gathering. The physical gathering of Israel occurs as Church members come together in a particular location or in the stakes of Zion throughout the world.

In other words, the gathering of Israel is basically “everyone going to church”. Boring! Not nearly as momentous as the scriptures would make it sound.

This is like when the scriptures talk about the gift of tongues, and over time, this has been watered down into “learning languages at the MTC”. How disappointingly ordinary.

Zion is in Jackson County, Missouri

One of the ideas that was going around in my LDS background was that one day the prophet would tell the Saints that it was finally time to move to Jackson County, Missouri. But not drive. Walk. With handcarts.

It was sometimes referred to jokingly — once when someone left the ward, someone else joked “See you in the handcart company!” — but the belief was definitely back there. This scripture explains the importance of Jackson County for the early saints.

D&C 57:1 Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.
2 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.

Sadly, the promise didn’t stick — Mormons had to flee Missouri, but the mythos surrounding Jackson County remained. So another narrative was built, in that Mormons thought they were going to have to make a trek to Missouri and reclaim Zion.

What did they think would happen once they got there? You don’t just own a place because you squat there. But before you say, “That’s not how real estate works,” remember that God can do anything.

Anyway, how did this belief work its way into Mormon lore? Might be a quote from Joseph F. Smith in 1882 (cited here, but also sadly hosed down):

“When God leads the people back to Jackson County, how will he do it? Let me picture to you how some of us may be gathered and led to Jackson County. I think I see two or three hundred thousand people wending their way across the great plain enduring the nameless hardships of the journey, herding and guarding their cattle by day and by night. … This is one way to look at it. It is certainly a practical view. Some might ask, what will become of the railroads? I fear that the sifting process would be insufficient were we to travel by railroads.” (Journal of Discourses, 24:156–57.)

And that’s how Brother Hickendorfer in a suburban ward in Idaho Falls thought he might need to get some cattle and a handcart.

You really get the picture that the leaders of the early church were just bursting with zany ideas, which people later had to get rid of when their crackpottery became clear. But it’s weird for an apologist to try and pull rank on a past prophet, like so: “Oh, don’t listen to that guy — he’s just an apostle who knew Joseph Smith. He didn’t know anything about the gospel; you might as well ask the cat. Listen to me — I’m some guy writing in the Ensign!”

United Order

Did you know that the United Order — in which members were expected to give the church all their stuff and then get some of it back — was floated as early as 1831?

D&C 42:30 And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken.
31 And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose.
32 And it shall come to pass, that after they are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church, that they cannot be taken from the church, agreeable to my commandments, every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family.
33 And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants.
34 Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council;

This idea was deprecated when it turned out not to work. No doubt the idea strikes many politically conservative members as socialism.

So there you have it. Three big ideas in the early church — Israel’s literal return, the handcart trek to Missouri, and the United Order — that came to nothing. They were watered down or dropped entirely. And what we can conclude from this is that God is a bit of a loser who isn’t good at making things happen.

By the way, LDS Church: Evangelical Christians still can’t stand you, even though you’ve dropped some of the weird stuff. If someone makes you change your doctrines, they’re not your friend.

Other suggestions for teaching

Orson Hyde

Orson Hyde was tasked with the important calling of dedicating the so-called Holy Land for the return of Israel. Joseph Smith said it was super important.

From the Gospel Doctrine manual:

Orson Hyde recalled that when he joined the Church, Joseph Smith prophesied, “In due time thou shalt go to Jerusalem … ; and by thy hands shall the Most High do a great work, which shall prepare the way and greatly facilitate the gathering together of that people” (History of the Church, 4:375). In the April 1840 general conference, Elder Hyde, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, was called on a mission to Palestine (History of the Church, 4:106). About 18 months later he arrived at his destination.

Early on Sunday morning, 24 October 1841, Elder Hyde ascended the Mount of Olives and offered a prayer. In his prayer he dedicated and consecrated the land “for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants, according to the predictions of the holy Prophets—for the building up of Jerusalem again … and for rearing a Temple in honor of [the Lord’s] name.” He also prayed that the Lord would remember the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob forever and “give them this land for an everlasting inheritance” (History of the Church, 4:456).

As a witness of the deed, Elder Hyde erected a pile of stones on the top of the Mount of Olives. He also erected a pile of stones “on what was anciently called Mount Zion [possibly Mount Moriah], where the Temple stood” (History of the Church, 4:459).

Very inspiring! Yet another group lays claim to the land. Wonderful.

What was going on with his wife Marinda, while Orson was away? For some reason, the lesson manual doesn’t mention that Joseph Smith married her.

In the Spring of 1842 she married Joseph. In Joseph’s diary is a list of his marriages. It includes the entry: “Apr 42 Marinda Johnson to Joseph Smith.”. Eight months later, in December, Orson returned from his mission. It is not clear when, or if, Orson learned about his wife’s marriage to Joseph. However, by March, Orson had learned about plural marriage himself and married two additional wives.

This was kind of a pattern for Joseph Smith.

A second method Smith used to get females to say yes to his proposals was to send family males on a mission that might or did object to his advances. For example, unlike his approach of obtaining parental permission of the Whitney’s, Kimball’s, and the Woodworth’s, before asking for their young daughters hand in marriage, Smith directly approached young Lucy Walker only after sending her father, John Walker, on a mission. He also sent Horace Whitney on a mission because he felt that Horace was too close to his sister Sarah Ann, and would oppose the marriage. Smith married Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde, a year before her husband Orson, an Apostle, returned from his mission. He also approached Sarah Pratt while her husband Orson, an Apostle, was on a mission.

We don’t know if this marriage was one of the sexual ones. Maybe he just had a thing for the wives of guys named Orson.

Not to be taught, but to teach

What attitude should missionaries have?

D&C 43:15 Again I say, hearken ye elders of my church, whom I have appointed: Ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands by the power of my Spirit;

Good job, LDS Church. You’ve already taken a pile of Mormon teenagers, given them fake authority, and made them think they were doing the right thing by hectoring normal people into joining their religion. That made them unbearable enough. But with this scripture, you’ve compounded the problem by telling them that they’re not supposed to learn anything from the people they encounter. True, they won’t be able to help learning from people. But this takes an existing superiority complex (it’s our job to save the nations) and combines it with an attitude of unteachable lack of humility (I’m not here to learn from these people) to turn a douchy, arrogant teenager into a truly insufferable know-it-all.

I, um, know this from experience. Sorry to everyone I encountered.

D&C Lesson 11 (Missionary Work)

“The Field Is White Already to Harvest”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 4; 1112; 14–18; 31; 33; 75;
Our Heritage, page 11.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Overview

This lesson is about being a missionary. On an LDS mission, you’re taught that the work is hastening in the run-up to the last days, and people are somehow being “prepared” to accept the gospel.

D&C 4:4 For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;

Which is the biggest crock of bull ever. Nobody out there cares about the church until it annoys them, and the conversion rate is tailing off.

And once more: here’s that pie chart of how the Lord’s missionary effort is going.

This is not a new idea for anyone in Outer Blogness, but missions aren’t for converting non-members into members. It’s to convert the missionary themself.

How do I know? No, it’s not because of the worsening convert baptism numbers. It’s because of the essays.

Yes, those essays — the ones that try to put a positive spin on difficult issues in the church’s history. Members get directed to them when the church’s dodgy relationship to truth or basic decency become apparent.

I’ve talked to many missionaries over the time that the essays have come out, and no missionary I’ve ever spoken to is aware of them.

Isn’t that a bit of a giveaway? They’re not given any notice about them. Then they run into me, and are ill-prepared to answer questions. If a mission were about convincing people of the church, the essays are something they should have at least heard of. Really, they should know them inside and out, if the church is really using them as a well-equipped, well-trained missionary force. But they’re not, because convert baptisms are not the point of a mission. The church can replenish itself well-enough from children of record. Here the stats have hardly changed.

Again, the purpose of a mission is to convert the missionary. The missionary is placed in a situation where they have to tell people the church is true, and face potential opposition from others. Under that kind of pressure, it would be impossible not to start coming up with rationales for why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Remember, the church get people to lie to themselves, saying that they know the church is true. Then, once you’ve said it, you’re more likely to believe it.

From Boyd Packer:

A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!

“It is not unusual to have a missionary say, ‘How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?’

“Oh, if could teach you one principle:

A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that ‘leap of faith,’ as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. ‘The spirit of man,’ is as the scripture says, indeed ‘is the candle of the Lord.’ (Prov. 20:27)”

Dallin Oaks:

Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.

Brigham Young:

At your meetings you should begin at the top of the roll and call upon as many members as there is time for to bear their testimonies and at the next meeting begin where you left off and call upon others, so that all shall take part and get into the practice of standing up and saying something. Many may think they haven’t any testimony to bear, but get them to stand up and they will find the Lord will give them utterance to many truths they had not thought of before. More people have obtained a testimony while standing up trying to bear it than down on their knees praying for it.

More about gaining a testimony through lying.

That’s right — lie to yourself and say that you know it’s true when you don’t. Do you believe it now? You said you believed it, after all.

The LDS Church is built on a foundation of lies, and the most insidious of these is the lie you tell yourself.

It’s all psychology. This ties into something called cognitive dissonance. When there’s a split between what we believe and what we’re doing, it makes us uncomfortable, and we try to reduce the dissonance. That might mean that we change what we do, but if we’re stuck doing something — did I mention that the mission office took our passports off of us, first thing? — then we might try to change our belief, especially when we’re in a group of other people who also say they believe the same thing. This combination of conformity and commitment has a powerful effect on people’s minds, and can form the basis of an ideology for the rest of that missionary’s life.

For more on cognitive dissonance, check out this famous study by the legendary Leon Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith.

At the beginning of the Festinger and Carlsmith experiment, student volunteers were asked to perform a simple and boring task. Before the subjects left the experiment, the experimenter commented that his research assistant would be unavailable to help out the following day. Would the subject be willing to do a small favor for the experimenter? The favor was to take the place of the research assistant, who was supposed to prepare subjects for the experiment by giving them a positive attitude toward it. “Would you please tell the next subject in line that the experiment was fun and enjoyable?” Subjects who agreed to do this were paid either $1 or $20.

Keep in mind that $20 was a lot of money in the 1950s, equivalent to over $100 now. So one group was being paid a lot of money to lie to the next subject about the boring experiment. The other group was being paid much less. Subjects in both groups typically agreed to tell the next subject that the experiment was interesting.

Festinger and Carlsmith were curious about whether the subjects would change their own attitudes, making them more like the attitudes they were expressing (as a lie) to the next subject. The results were surprising. People who were paid $20 to lie showed less change in their own attitudes. When the experimenters asked them later for the truth, the highly paid subjects said the experiment was actually boring. On the other hand, people who were paid only $1 were more likely to say, when asked later, that the experiment was “not bad” or that it was “interesting.”

How do we explain this? Festinger observed that the subjects were put in a psychologically uncomfortable position. They had not enjoyed the experiment, but now they were asked to lie and say they had enjoyed it. How could they explain their own behavior to themselves? Subjects who received $20 had no problem explaining their behavior to themselves. They were paid a lot of money to lie, and that explained why they lied. So they did not have to change their true attitudes.

However, the subjects who received $1 did not really have a good reason to lie. To reduce the feeling of discomfort they might have felt about lying, they had to persuade themselves they actually enjoyed the experiment. Their attitudes changed to fit their behavior, reducing the uncomfortable feeling of dissonance.

As Festinger put it in A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957):

The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance. (p.3)

And if you’d like to see more about conformity and social pressure, check out this video of the Asch Conformity Experiment.

People call the LDS Church a cult. I don’t, because I don’t think that term is well-defined. But I will say this: Mormon missions are as culty as anything I’ve ever heard of. You’re taken away from your family and social group, your name is changed, other people control who you’re with, what you wear (right down to your underwear), what you do, and what information you have access to. That’s a cult by any definition.

Ask: Read this account of Steve Hassan’s BITE model of cults. How many of these criteria are matched by LDS missions?

Reading

Requirements for being a missionary

To be a missionary, you have to have a knowledge of the gospel

D&C 11:21 Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.

but do not read anti-Mormon materials, including the church’s own essays. Keep it simple!

You also have to be humble and full of love,

D&C 12:8 And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.

which you’ll need a lot of when you’re telling people that their way of life is wrong, and they’ll need to join yours.

Along those lines, don’t mention Section 33:

D&C 33:3 For behold, the field is white already to harvest; and it is the eleventh hour, and the last time that I shall call laborers into my vineyard.
4 And my vineyard has become corrupted every whit; and there is none which doeth good save it be a few; and they err in many instances because of priestcrafts, all having corrupt minds.

Feel the lerrrrrrve.

Which no man knoweth

Someting amazing happens in this reading. Joseph Smith, channeling the ghost of Jesus Christ, tells John Whitmer something that he couldn’t possibly have known.

D&C 15:1 Hearken, my servant John, and listen to the words of Jesus Christ, your Lord and your Redeemer.
2 For behold, I speak unto you with sharpness and with power, for mine arm is over all the earth.
3 And I will tell you that which no man knoweth save me and thee alone
4 For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you.
5 Behold, blessed are you for this thing, and for speaking my words which I have given you according to my commandments.
6 And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.

WOW! That is some next-level psychic phenomena going on there, I can tell you.

Then in the next section, he does it again for Peter Whitmer, Jr.

What does he say this time? Same fucking thing.

D&C 16:1 Hearken, my servant Peter, and listen to the words of Jesus Christ, your Lord and your Redeemer.
2 For behold, I speak unto you with sharpness and with power, for mine arm is over all the earth.
3 And I will tell you that which no man knoweth save me and thee alone
4 For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you.
5 Behold, blessed are you for this thing, and for speaking my words which I have given you according to my commandments.
6 And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.

It reminds me of the time me and a couple of friends went to a naturopath, and he considered my symptoms and gave me the Zinc Drink.

“The Zinc Drink?” I asked.

“The Zinc Drink,” he said. “Many people are deficient in zinc.”

Afterwards, I asked my friends what he recommended for them. Guess what it was. Sure enough: Zanc Drank.

Fucking psychics.

Church of the Devil

I was never sure what the Church of the Devil was. An angel told Nephi:

1 Nephi 14:10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.

That’s a pretty expansive categorisation, but okay Nephi! Only two churches. But now we see this:

D&C 18:20 Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil.

which makes it seem like there’s at least three: the Lord’s church, the church of the devil, and then some other churches that you’re not supposed to contend with. So what were they?

It would have saved me a lot of time if someone had just pulled me aside and said, “Look, this is all made up, and this term is not well-defined. They just use whatever term to mean anything they want, whenever it suits them. Don’t expect any consistency here.”

I wish someone had told me this! So now I’m telling you.

D&C Lesson 10 (Emma Hale Smith)

“This Is My Voice unto All”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 25

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Overview

This lesson is about Emma Smith Hales, Joseph Smith’s first wife (but not the first one he was sealed to).

In the church days of my youth, we didn’t talk much about Emma. I’d heard that she didn’t follow the Saints west, married someone else, and joined the Reorganised Church. So that sounded a bit shady. On the other hand, she had helped act as scribe for the Book of Mormon, even showing a remarkable lack of curiosity when she allegedly saw the “gold plates” left unattended, wrapped in a tablecloth.

The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him [Joseph Smith, Jr.] to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book. … I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. … I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.” (The Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290; spelling modernized.)

By the way, isn’t this kind of odd? I was always told that evil people stopped at nothing to get their hands on the plates, and that the plates had to be moved about all the time. But no, they’re just over there on the table.

So who was Emma Smith? Co-conspirator? Wronged woman? Infidel? What a fascinating range to choose from! But talking about her in church was fraught with peril — who knew what would come out from under that rock if you lifted it a little?

Well, for this lesson, the church constructs a much more wholesome image for her, and one that’s much more in line for what the church wants its female members to be: Emma as loving and supportive spouse.

Remember how I said that the Doctrine and Covenants really only makes sense if you think of it as Joseph Smith telling everyone what God wants them to do for Joseph Smith? This manipulation is evident in Section 25 — though, as we’ll see, this is not the most manipulative section. Not by a long shot.

Reading

Support

Emma married Joseph in 1827, over the objections of her father, who saw Smith as a dishonest character. From Mormonism Unvailed:

When we arrived at Mr. Hale’s, in Harmony, Pa. from which place he had taken his wife, a scene presented itself, truly affecting. His father-in-law (Mr. Hale) addressed Joseph, in a flood of tears: “You have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for money — pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive people.” Joseph wept, and acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false.

Let’s see what the manual has to say about the happy couple.

In July 1830, the Lord directed a revelation to Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith (D&C 25). Display a picture of Emma Smith. Explain that this lesson focuses on three themes from the Lord’s revelation to Emma.

1. Husbands and wives should support and comfort each other.

D&C 25:5 And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.

Joseph says that God says to be nice to Joseph.

The manual again.

The Prophet taught husbands, “It is the duty of a husband to love, cherish, and nourish his wife, and cleave unto her and none else; he ought to honor her as himself, and he ought to regard her feelings with tenderness” (Elders’ Journal, Aug. 1838, 61).

What a shame that he didn’t keep this advice. Somewhere between 1833 and 1835, Joseph Smith  diverted his attention to Fanny Alger, who had worked for Joseph and Emma as a maid. William McLellin alleged that Joseph and Fanny had been caught by Emma in flagrante delicto.

“Again I told her [Emma] I heard that one night she missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!! She told me this story too was verily true.”

– William McLellin, 1872 letter to Joseph Smith III, see In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton, p. 35

Oliver Cowdery spoke of the…

dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger’s … in which I strictly declared that I had never deserted from the truth in the matter, and as I supposed was admitted by himself.”

Oliver was excommunicated in 1938, apparently for not shutting up about it.

The church essay on this topic  tries to paper things over.

Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger.

Calling it a “marriage” seems a stretch. Fanny moved on and married Solomon Custer in 1836, which is kind of what you do when you’ve had an “affair”, not a “marriage”.

On all of this, the Gospel Doctrine manual simply says:

Joseph and Emma Smith were a great support to each other during the many times of affliction they faced.

Not a word about Joseph’s sexual predation on other women.

(h/t: Redditor Juggler_Vain)

Activity: If you are in a real Gospel Doctrine class, please let us know if the instructor mentions the other women without being prompted by class members.

Pride

Here’s a theme that will be of no surprise to those who have read the Book of Mormon.

2. We should be meek and avoid pride.
The Lord commanded Emma Smith to “continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride”

Read the following verses with class members:

a. D&C 23:1 (to Oliver Cowdery): “Beware of pride, lest thou shouldst enter into temptation.”
b. D&C 38:39 (to the Saints in a conference of the Church): “Beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.”
c. D&C 90:17 (to the First Presidency of the Church): “Be admonished in all your high-mindedness and pride, for it bringeth a snare upon your souls.”
d. D&C 98:19–20 (to the Saints in Kirtland): “I, the Lord, am not well pleased with many who are in the church at Kirtland; For they do not forsake their sins, and their wicked ways, the pride of their hearts, and their covetousness.”

Ask: Why did Joseph Smith tell so many people to avoid pride?

A major threat for a movement’s leaders is that people lower in the hierarchy will usurp them. You have to teach them to know their place. Convincing those people to be humble can help to tamp that down.

So many things about the church seems calculated to instill into its members a sense of docility and timidity in the face of unquestionable authority.

Rejoice

Here’s point 3 in the manual:

3. We should rejoice and be of good cheer.
The Lord admonished Emma Smith, “Lift up thy heart and rejoice”

Well, it does say that, kind of. But let’s read the whole verse.

D&C 25:13 Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.
14 Continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him.
15 Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.

So what it actually says is: rejoice. And be meek, humble, love your husband, or else!

No idea whether being threatened like this made Emma feel joyful. Guessing not.

The picture that I get from this lesson is: Joseph Smith was gross. If God didn’t pick a womanising conman as his chosen prophet, he certainly showed a startling disregard for the fact that his chosen prophet looked an awful lot like a womanising conman.

Additional lesson ideas

A better world?

D&C 25:10 And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.

Horrible advice. This life is the only life we’re sure that we get. But the church tries to convince us to use up our life in the service of perpetuating itself, and furthering its cause. Don’t worry, they say; you get another life — if you give us this one.

This is one of the more evil beliefs in the church. The only better world that we’re ever going to see is the better world that we create ourselves right here, and it’s not going to happen if we’re ignoring it in favour of an illusory afterlife.

Did Emma try to kill Joseph?

There’s a story about how Emma tried to put poison in Joseph’s coffee. Steve Benson dismisses this as Brigham Young’s paranoia, and I tend to agree.

There is such a thing as justifiable homicide, and if she had succeeded — or more effective still, if someone had smothered an infant Joseph Smith in his cot — it would have spared her the lies and deceit of her philandering guru husband, and perhaps spared the world the dreary, dishonest, and self-serving religion known as Mormonism.

D&C Lesson 9 (LDS Church is organised)

“The Only True and Living Church”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 20:1–36, 68–69, 75–79; 21; 27; 115:1–4;
Our Heritage, pages 14–16.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Overview

The Church of Christ Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially reorganised on 6 April 1830. Members partook of the Sacrament. From the manual:

• Explain that at the meeting in which the Church was organized, members partook of the sacrament (History of the Church, 1:78). Why do you think it was important to have the ordinance of the sacrament performed at the first meeting of the restored Church?

This sacrament meeting happened on a Tuesday. How weird would that seem to Mormons today? Never mind, they’re always at church.

Reading

Without the church

The lesson begins with a perennial question:

How might your life be different if the Church had not been restored or if you were not a member of the Church?

I remember members of my ward telling big stories about how they didn’t know where they’d be without the church. They’d probably be dead or in jail.

Sound familiar? It’s all part of a “scary external world” narrative in which life outside the religion is made to look unappealing.

I did learn a few good things from my time in the church. I got good at public speaking and giving lessons. I had lots of music in my background, and even though LDS music isn’t particularly good, it paved the way for better music later. I don’t mind that I didn’t drink alcohol.

The best thing about my church upbringing was that I learned to value truth. Truth mattered. That’s why the church was great: because it was true. This was what got me out of the church when it no longer appeared to be true. Leaving was an act of integrity.

In some ways, I would have been better off without the church. I wouldn’t have had to make up excuses for an organisation that was human, but that claimed to be divine. The LDS Church teaches false history, false morals, and (most important) a false method for finding truth. I could have done without all of that.

Now I’m finding that life without the church is kind of great.

Wine swap

God soon changed the sacrament, substituting water for wine.

• In D&C 27, the Lord gave further instructions to Joseph Smith regarding the sacrament. What was Joseph doing when he received this revelation? (See the heading to D&C 27.) What did Joseph learn about the sacrament in this revelation? (See D&C 27:2.) How can we partake of the sacrament “with an eye single to [Christ’s] glory”?

This is kind of odd. Why would God not have told the Saints to use water from the start? Did he forget? Or is this someone making it up as they go?

From mine own mouth

Mormons teach that they should obey the president of the church as though he were God.

D&C 1:38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

D&C 21:4 Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

Sufficient time

Section 20 says that converts should have “sufficient time” to teach about the church. (I note that “sufficient information” is not a priority.)

D&C 20:68 The duty of the members after they are received by baptism—The elders or priests are to have a sufficient time to expound all things concerning the church of Christ to their understanding, previous to their partaking of the sacrament and being confirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders, so that all things may be done in order.
69 And the members shall manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of it, that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures—walking in holiness before the Lord.

This advice has been ignored where convenient. Here’s a story (PDF | Text) about the disastrous “baseball baptism” era, in which kids were hurriedly baptised, knowing nothing about the church. Henry Moyle, the architect of this plan, told missionaries:

You elders need have no concern, no matter from what source the criticism comes, as to whether your baptisms are too fast. . . . If you think that President McKay does not know what is going on and that Brother Moyle and Brother Woodbury, and Brother Brockbank are “pulling a fast one,” so to speak, why you are mistaken about that. . . . I have noted a little apologetic tone in some of your voices about baptizing too many young people. Well don’t put on the brakes.

April 6th

This part is going to get a little bit Star-Warsy, in the sense that I’m going to pick over the minutia of something that normal people don’t care about. But I’ll make a point along the way.

The question is: Do Mormons think that Jesus was born on April 6th?

People at church in my old home ward sure thought so. They would read about how Joseph Smith received the precise day for the organisation of the church:

The Prophet wrote, “We obtained of Him [Jesus Christ] the following, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to His will and commandment, we should proceed to organize His Church once more here upon the earth.”

And then they’d read Section 20:

D&C 20:1 The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April

and they’d think, “Yep — that’s Jesus’ birthday all right.”

Except it’s not all that clear. It depends on the writer’s intention (and that writer would appear to have been John Whitmer, who wrote a lot of the intros for the sections in the Book of Commandments). Was the writer intending to say that April 6, 1830 was exactly one thousand eight hundred and thirty years to the day, or just to the year?

Well, if he meant ‘to the year’, then he was wrong. Jesus couldn’t have been born in CE 0 (or even CE 1) because Herod was already dead by BCE 4, and the census under Quirinius (mentioned in Luke) wouldn’t have taken place until 6 CE. Problems!

If we can’t get the year right, how could we get the day? All we really know is that December 25th is almost certainly wrong, and was decided on as a way of co-opting the festival of Saturnalia.

However, church leaders have said that, yup, April 6th is Jesus’ birthday.

Harold Lee in 1976:

This is the annual conference of the Church. April 6, 1973, is a particularly significant date because it commemorates not only the anniversary of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation, but also the anniversary of the birth of the Savior, our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith wrote this, preceding a revelation given at that same date:

“The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April.” (D&C 20:1.)

Spencer Kimball in 1980:

My brothers and sisters, today we not only celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the organization of the Church, but also the greatest event in human history since the birth of Christ on this day 1,980 years ago. Today is Easter Sunday.

David Bednar in 2014 (and he’s even scripture!)

Today is April 6. We know by revelation that today is the actual and accurate date of the Savior’s birth. April 6 also is the day on which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized.

But somehow this wasn’t enough for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which says:

The LDS Church has not taken an official position on the issue of the year of Christ’s birth. Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, offers what for the present appears to be the most definitive word on the question: “We do not believe it is possible with the present state of our knowledge-including that which is known both in and out of the Church-to state with finality when the natal day of the Lord Jesus actually occurred” (Vol. 1, p. 349, n. 2).

Ask: Why would the word of prophets not be enough to establish the date?

This should raise some tremors:

Although most Christians celebrate December 25 as the birthday of Jesus Christ, few in the first two Christian centuries claimed any knowledge of the exact day or year in which he was born. The oldest existing record of a Christmas celebration is found in a Roman almanac that tells of a Christ’s Nativity festival led by the church of Rome in 336 A.D. The precise reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25 remains obscure, but most researchers believe that Christmas originated as a Christian substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.

We’ve seen in previous lessons how Joseph Smith failed to write down significant events in the church’s history that were supposed to have happened, and this is probably a sign of a made-up story. Well, it looks like Jesus’ birth falls into that category as well. Were the early Christians just really bad with birthdays? Or was the story invented after the fact?

It’s okay with me if Jesus existed, but the whole thing begins to look like a cobbled-together myth.

D&C Lesson 8 (Restoration of the Priesthood)

The Restoration of the Priesthood

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 13; 20:38–67; 27:12–13; 84:6–30; 107:1–20; 110:11–16;
Joseph Smith—History 1:66–73;
Our Heritage, pages 11–14.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Overview

The Priesthood is the power of God, and so (not coincidentally) it’s exactly like God in two important respects.

One, it’s entirely fictional. And two, it’s immensely sexist.

Reading

Was the world created by the priesthood?

Mormons have the idea that Elohim used the priesthood to create the world and the universe.

• What is the priesthood? (The priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God. It is the power by which He created and governs the heavens and the earth.

This is a bit like using the Force to make a sandwich. You might as well say “A wizard did it.” There’s no difference between Elohim did it and A wizard did it. Both are equally absurd.

We know how something about the universe was formed. We can explain it without invoking a god, a wizard, or The Force. Natural processes are all we need; the priesthood is irrelevant.

A Mormon: “Yes, but a wizard did all of that.”

The restoration of the two priesthoods

So the story goes that Joseph and Oliver wanted to know about the authority to baptise. They prayed in the woods, and who should appear but John the Baptist, who gave them the Aaronic priesthood. Later (but Smith never wrote how much later), Peter, James, and John were supposed to have conferred the Melchizedek priesthood.

The Gospel Doctrine manual says that men are supposed to take this power very seriously.

Talmage:
“The effect of my ordination … entered into all the affairs of my boyish life. … When at play on the school grounds, and perhaps tempted to take unfair advantage in the game, when in the midst of a dispute with a playmate, I would remember, and the thought would be as effective as though spoken aloud—‘I am a deacon; and it is not right that a deacon should act in this way.’ On examination days, when it seemed easy for me to copy some other boy’s work … , I would say in my mind, ‘It would be more wicked for me to do that than it is for them, because I am a deacon’” (Incidents from the Lives of Our Church Leaders [deacons instruction manual, 1914], 135–36).

“Yay — I’m better. Oh, no! I’m not living up to my betterness!”

And this is how you give someone a superiority complex, while keeping their guilt complex alive.

There’s a big problem with the story of the restoration of the two priesthoods — they seem to have been entirely unreported at the time. Joseph Smith didn’t write down this story until five years later, so it must not have made much of an impression on him.

View post on imgur.com

David Whitmer, one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, is reported to have said,

“I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood until the year 1834[,] [183]5. or [183]6—in Ohio.… I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver…” (Early Mormon Documents, 5:137).

Another early convert, William McLellin, stated, I joined the church in 1831. For years I never heard of John the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver. I heard not of James, Peter, and John doing so.” Some time later he repeated that “I never heard of it in the church for years…” (An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, pp.224-25).

So what happened? Joseph Smith wrote it in later. Here’s a screen shot from this page, which shows the differences between the 1833 Book of Commandments (the precursor to the D&C), and the current D&C. On the left, no mention of Peter, James, and John. On the right, a huge after-the-fact update.

But why would they have made up this story later? Well, it was later that their authority was being challenged, so they doubled down. Let’s check in with Grant Palmer, in his book “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins“.

When Joseph and Oliver began mentioning their angelic ordinations in late 1834 and early 1835, they were facing a credibility crisis that threatened the church’s survival. In late 1833 a group in Kirtland, Ohio, denounced Joseph Smith for ministering “under pretense of Divine Authority.” They employed D. P. Hurlbut to investigate Joseph’s past, hoping to bring him down “from the high station which he pretends to occupy.” Hurlbut traveled to Palmyra, New York, and collected affidavits from residents about Joseph’s early treasure seeking and other aspects of his youth. Hurlbut began a lecture tour starting in January 1834 to “numerous congregations in Chagrin, Kirtland, Mentor, and Painesville; and … [he] fired the minds of the people with much indignation against Joseph and the Church.” Finding disillusionment spreading among the Saints, Joseph and Sidney Rigdon began preaching against Hurlbut. It was under these circumstances, exacerbated by problems associated with the failure of Zion’s Camp–the paramilitary trek to assist fellow Saints in Missouri–that Joseph mentioned for the first time in public that his priesthood had “been conferred upon me by the ministering of the Angel of God.”

Unofficial church historian Mithryn has written a terrific post about how Book of Commandments was retconned to make this restoration look legit.

The notable revelations on priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants before referred to–Sections 2 and 13–are missing, and Chapter 28 gives no hint of the restoration which, if actual, had been known for four years. More than four hundred words were added to this revelation of September 1830 in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the additions made to include the names of heavenly visitors and two separate ordinations. The Book of Commandments gives the duties of Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons and refers to Joseph’s apostolic calling, but there is no mention of Melchizedek Priesthood, High Priesthood, High Priests, nor High Councilors. These words were later inserted into the revelation on church organization and government given in 1830, making it appear that they were known at that date, but they do not appear in the original, Chapter 24 of the 1833 Book of Commandments. Similar interpolations were made in the revelations now known as Sections 42 and 68.

From MormonThink:

As pro-LDS historian Richard Bushman admits in his landmark biography on Joseph Smith (Rough Stone Rolling, 75): “the late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication”—even though he doesn’t draw that conclusion himself. Many do raise that possibility, however. In a nutshell, they believe that there are good reasons to doubt that the restoration of the priesthood actually happened in the church, despite Joseph Smith’s later descriptions of the events in his 1838 History of the Church. The actuality of those angelic events and the exclusivity of power/authority which such events would denote, are highly questionable.

If this priesthood restoration really happened, we should expect it to have been discussed by members of the early church, and written down somewhere. But we don’t. That’s a sign of a fishy story.

Moses, Elias, and Elijah?

This part of the reading is unintentionally hilarious. Jesus talks about all the guests he’s going to invite to a massive piss-up. There’s going to be Jesus, and Moroni, and Elias, and John… and Elijah.

D&C 27:5 Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim;
6 And also with Elias, to whom I have committed the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, concerning the last days;
7 And also John the son of Zacharias, which Zacharias he (Elias) visited and gave promise that he should have a son, and his name should be John, and he should be filled with the spirit of Elias;
8 Which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron;
9 And also Elijah, unto whom I have committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse;

This is funny because — as Richard Packham has pointed outElias is simply the Greek version of the name Elijah. It’s like saying, “I was listening to the Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi… and then the one by Joe Green.”

Joseph Smith does it again in Section 110.

D&C 110:11 After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.
12 After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—

LOLs.

So how do Mormon apologists explain this? Simple — just start redefining words! Elias isn’t the name of a person, it’s more like a title. An Elias is a forerunner, like John the Baptist. JtB was an Elias. Noah was an Elias. Elijah was an Elias. Even Jesus could have been an Elias. Or Elias could be Elias. There; doesn’t that make everything clearer? Now you have no idea who the scriptures are talking about in any given verse.

Richard Packham wryly observes:

Moral: all it takes is one stupid mistake to form the basis for an entire complicated theology.

Women and the Priesthood

This is a part of the manual that is “by request only.” Says the manual:

The following material is provided to help you address questions class members may have about women and the priesthood. This topic should not be the focus of this lesson. (emphasis mine)

Translation: Oh, God — please don’t bring this stuff up unless you gotta.

The LDS Church displays its sexism in the way it bans women from having the priesthood, and in the way that it disciplines women who question this ban.

It’s not that I care if women aren’t given a fictional power — the problem is that every 12-year-old male is given more authority in the church than any adult woman. Not incidentally, male leaders get paid (rather a bit, according to leaked pay stubs), and it seems female leaders don’t.

Ask: If you were a young woman growing up in the church, how did the priesthood ban for women affect you? Did it contribute to any sexism that you experienced?

The manual says, not entirely convincingly:

• How are women blessed by the priesthood? How are children blessed by the priesthood? (Review some of the blessings of the priesthood that women and children may receive during their lives. Emphasize that although women and children do not hold the priesthood, they are continually blessed by it. For help in answering these questions, you may want to refer to The Latter-day Saint Woman, Part A, chapters 12 and 13 [31113].)

In a sense, it’s appropriate that the manual lumps women and children into the same category.

Let’s finish with a gross joke that was common around Utah Valley when I was going to church there:

How can women hold the Priesthood?

All night long.

Am I right, ladies?

I need to have a shower now. Let’s close.

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