Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Author: Daniel Midgley (page 2 of 15)

D&C Lesson 3 (First Vision)

“I Had Seen a Vision”

Reading assignment

Joseph Smith—History 1:1–26; Our Heritage, pages 1–4.

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 one is about what’s become known as the First Vision, when Joseph Smith supposedly saw God and Jesus. The story is a relatively new thing in the church, but it has become an important part of its origin story.

Differing versions of the First Vision

For a long time, I was aware that there were multiple conflicting accounts of the First Vision. But I really didn’t understand why they were a problem. Doesn’t everyone tell the same story slightly differently through time? And doesn’t the way we tell a story depend to some extent on our audience?

Well, yes. But the differences in the “First Vision” accounts go deeper than just highlighting details. The circumstances around the story look less like a matter of emphasis and detail, and more like a bullshit story that has been made up.

Details

Yes, the details of the story differ across the tellings. Sometimes it’s an angel. Sometimes it’s many. Sometimes it’s Jesus. Sometimes it’s God and Jesus.

Change in canon

But wait — couldn’t it be all of the above?

That’s the problem. For years, the story of the First Vision that church leaders learned and taught explicitly excluded everyone except an angel. Like, they explicitly taught that God and Jesus did not visit Joseph Smith, and that there were good reasons for them not to show up. From MormonThink:

In 1854

“Some one may say, ‘If this work of the last days be true, why did not the Saviour come himself to communicate this intelligence to the world?’ Because to the angels was committed the power of reaping the earth, and it was committed to none else.” – Apostle Orson Hyde, General Conference Address, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p.335

In 1855

The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven, in power and great glory, nor send His messengers panoplied with aught else than the truth of heaven, to communicate to the meek the lowly, the youth of humble origin, the sincere enquirer after the knowledge of God. But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith Jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong; that they were following the precepts of men instead of the Lord Jesus; that He had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before Him.” (Journal of Discourses 2:170-171)

In 1857

Church Apostle Heber C. Kimball, speaking Nov. 8th, 1857, was unaware of a vision where Smith saw God and Christ:

“Do you suppose that God in person called upon Joseph Smith, our Prophet? God called upon him; but God did not come himself and call, but he sent Peter to do it. Do you not see? He sent Peter and sent Moroni to Joseph, and told him that he had got the plates.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.6, p.29)

If the story had happened the way it’s taught today, why were church leaders telling it this way as late as the 1850s?

Comparatively late appearance

The answer is that when these church leaders were talking about heavenly beings appearing to Smith, they were talking about Moroni —

— sorry, Nephi — appearing to him. The story of the First Vision isn’t a thing that people started talking about until much much later. This didn’t become an important part of the church’s origin story until the 1880s.

In other words, the church had 50 years to get its story straight.

The more you look into this, the less it looks like simple differing accounts, and more like a cobbled-together story that didn’t happen.

Leg operation

From the manual:

3. Ask a class member to prepare to summarize the account of young Joseph Smith’s leg operation (Our Heritage, pages 1–2).

I always thought this story was bullshit. Joseph Smith gets a leg infection, and heroically (and inexplicably) refuses the trappings of frontier medicine.

The doctor brought cords to bind the boy, but Joseph objected, saying that he would bear the operation without them. He also refused brandy, the only form of anesthetic available to him, and asked only that his father hold him in his arms during the operation.

Why would young Joseph Smith refuse brandy? The Word of Wisdom wouldn’t have been out for another 20 years. Redditor Mithryn suspects that if this did happen, it was Joseph’s reaction to his alcoholic father.

The Apostasy

If there was an organised church in Jesus’ time, this would be God’s chance to get his plan going. But according to the LDS Church, he decided to drop it all and pick it up again later, leaving millions of people in the dark about his plan. This means that, if the Mormon religion is right, very few people in history will ever have been exposed to God’s teachings.

Is that a sensible way of doing things? Or is this a story invented after the fact, as an attempt to explain why Joseph Smith needed to start up a new religion?

D&C Lesson 2 (Jesus)

“Behold, I Am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World”

Reading assignment

Study the scripture passages listed in the following questions and in the scripture chain for this lesson.

D&C 19:16–19
D&C 88:14–18; 93:33
D&C 18:11–12; 19:16–17, 20; 58:42; 76:62–70
D&C 6:20–21
D&C 6:32–37
D&C 19:1–3
D&C 29:1–2
D&C 38:1–3
D&C 45:3–5
D&C 50:44
D&C 93:5–19
D&C 133:42–52

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 Jesus, whose job was to fill in for the inadequacies that God built into his system. God created a system where he decided that there were some actions that he didn’t like, and if anyone did those things, they’d have to be punished forever. (This probably involves eternal isolation from loved ones.)

Even so, he insists that people are his thing.

D&C 18:10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
11 For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.

This scripture says that “the worth of souls is great”, and yet God decided to create an awful lot of people who he knew in advance would not accept the gospel, and who would therefore be stuck in a lower kingdom or in outer darkness for eternity.

Punishing people for eternity is a bit harsh, so God made a loophole (for a rule that he created): an innocent person could be tortured and killed instead.

This means that, instead of simply forgiving everyone, God decided to kill his son Jesus, and then forgive people.

However, he will only forgive those few people who decided (on the basis of no evidence) to believe that such a nonsensical mechanism was a good idea.

He will then force everyone else to suffer torment like Jesus did.

D&C 19:16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

Translation: “I will torture my son, so that I don’t have to torture you. Then I will torture you.”

Why would a God demand suffering from his creations? This is unnecessarily sadistic.

Sacrifice

From the manual:

Read D&C 122:8 with class members.
D&C 122:8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

Actually, yes — all of us are greater than Jesus, if we don’t teach that hell is real, and we don’t intend to kill billions of people at our return.

Remember also how, in the Book of Mormon, Jesus levelled entire cities full of people, and then bragged about it from the sky.

In what way has the Savior “descended below” all things?

Not in any meaningful way. He had a bad weekend, knowing in advance that he would be promoted to Godhood. That’s not a sacrifice; that’s a career move. Anyone who has suffered from a lengthy terminal illness has suffered more than Jesus.

Resurrection

The manual says:

Through the Atonement, we will all be resurrected
• Read the following passages with class members: D&C 88:14–18; 93:33; Alma 11:42–44. What can we learn about the Resurrection from these passages? (Answers could include those listed below.)

a. Resurrection is the redemption of the soul. The spirit and the body are reunited, inseparably connected in a perfect form (D&C 88:14–16; 93:33; Alma 11:42–43).
b. Resurrection prepares us for the celestial glory (D&C 88:18).
c. Resurrection is necessary for us to receive a fulness of joy (D&C 93:33).
d. All people will be resurrected (Alma 11:44).

Resurrection seems to be a pretty important principle to Mormons. “Getting a body” is thought to be an absolute must. But this is weird for a couple of reasons.

1. Bodies are meatbags. They are fiddly and susceptible to poor reasoning when they get tired or hungry. If you already have a spirit that can reason, think, perceive, and so on, then why do you need a body?

A common explanation would be something like “To be like God, who also has a physical body.” So God is a meatbag. That explains why he was acting so crazily in the scriptures.

But wait — he’s not a meatbag like us. He’s a perfected meatbag.

None of this makes any sense.

2. God created a system where we get bodies. But he also created death, in which we lose our bodies. He then needed Jesus to do his thing, so that we can all get bodies again. Why go through the back-and-forth rigamarole? Why not just let everyone keep their bodies?

Throughout this process, God is putting everyone through a lot of silly things that didn’t need to happen in this way. He creates sin, which we can’t avoid committing. He creates death, which we can’t avoid undergoing. Then, to undo the problems that he himself created (and blames us for), he tortures and kills his son, so that he can stand to have a relationship with us again.

Advocacy

The manual again:

2. Our “advocate with the Father” (D&C 45:3)
Write Advocate on the chalkboard. Explain that several times in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord says that He is our Advocate (D&C 29:5; 45:3; 62:1; 110:4).
• What is an advocate? (Someone who pleads the cause of another.)
• Read D&C 45:3–5 with class members. Why do we need an “advocate with the Father”? In verses 4 and 5, what evidence does the Savior present to the Father to show that we should receive everlasting life? (First He speaks of His Atonement—His sufferings, death, and blood. Then He refers to our belief in Him.)

Apparently, there’s going to be a scene where God is about to cast us into the abyss, and then Jesus-as-lawyer pops up and convinces him not to.

D&C 45:3 Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him
4 Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
5 Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.

Summary: God has created a flawed system in which humans will inevitably suffer. He then offered Jesus as a workaround for the flaws in his system.

D&C Lesson 1 (Preamble)

Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History

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.

Reading assignment

Explanatory Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants; Doctrine and Covenants 1; introduction to Our Heritage.

Links

Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Overview

This year, we’re rounding out our Gospel Doctrine program with the Doctrine and Covenants.

There are a few themes to keep in mind.

  • Joseph Smith wrote the Doctrine and Covenants as a way of manipulating people into doing what he wanted. Hey, that’s one of the things about getting people to think you speak for God. We’re going to keep track of times that “God” tells people to do things for Joseph Smith, or give things to Joseph Smith, or be nice to Joseph Smith.
  • It’s possible to go through Sunday School — or even teach Sunday School — and be completely oblivious to what’s going on in these chapters. You just kind of read through it. Then when you find out what it’s really talking about, you slap your forehead. So we’re going to take a look behind the scenes, delving into the history and the Book of Commandments, which was altered to create what we now know as the Doctrine and Covenants. Prepare for forehead slaps.

Reading

Section 1 is a preamble that was attached to the Book of Commandments. It’s the Supreme Leader of the Universe — he’s back with a message for mankind! So what does he do?

Threaten people.

D&C 1:11 Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear:
12 Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh;
13 And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth.
14 And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;

Sin

D&C 1:31 For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;

Apparently, the Lord looked upon Joseph Smith’s adulteries with a great deal of allowance.

Can a prophet ever be wrong?

In our course of study, we’re going to be keeping track of the times when (putative) prophets were wrong, or made predictions that didn’t come true. You’d think this would mean that they’re not prophets, but Mormons are sanguine about prophetic blunders.

Ask: What rationalisations have you heard to excuse prophet fails?

  • He spoke as a man.
  • Prophets are human.
  • The Lord works with them through their imperfections.

Gordon Hinckley once wrote:

“We recognize that our forebears were human. They doubtless made mistakes. . . . There was only one perfect man who ever walked the earth. The Lord has used imperfect people in the process of building his perfect society. If some of them occasionally stumbled, or if their characters may have been slightly flawed in one way or another, the wonder is the greater that they accomplished so much.”
(“The Continuous Pursuit of Truth,” Ensign, April 1986, p. 5)

This is quite something! If a church has a prophet who speaks to God, that would have consequences. But if you ask a Mormon, “What consequences are there for having a prophet?” their answer will be: “Nothing in particular.” It doesn’t mean that the prophet has to get it right. It doesn’t mean they have to have solutions to any problems (least of all the church’s own problems).

And yet, this verse appears in the Doctrine and Covenants:

D&C 1:37 Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.
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.

If you say that you are a prophet whose words are the same as those of God, then that means that you don’t get to be wrong. Ever.

Especially when you claim 10 percent of believers’ income, you claim the right to tell people when they get to have sex, and you claim the sealing power over their families.

No. You don’t get to be wrong and then fudge it, claiming you’re still a prophet.

BoM Lesson 35 (Samuel the Lamanite)

“Repent and Return unto the Lord”

Helaman 13–16

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage skepticism and critical thinking

Reading

This lesson is about Samuel the Lamanite. You know — this guy.

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Helaman 13:2 And it came to pass that in this year there was one Samuel, a Lamanite, came into the land of Zarahemla, and began to preach unto the people. And it came to pass that he did preach, many days, repentance unto the people, and they did cast him out, and he was about to return to his own land.
13:3 But behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people whatsoever things should come into his heart.
13:4 And it came to pass that they would not suffer that he should enter into the city; therefore he went and got upon the wall thereof, and stretched forth his hand and cried with a loud voice, and prophesied unto the people whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart.

Samuel is calling the Nephites unto something called “repentance”, which is a twisted concept. See if this quote from the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual doesn’t make you agree.

President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
“Repentance means more than simply a reformation of behavior. Many men and women in the world demonstrate great will-power and self-discipline in overcoming bad habits and the weaknesses of the flesh. Yet at the same time they give no thought to the Master, sometimes even openly rejecting Him. Such changes of behavior, even if in a positive direction, do not constitute true repentance. . . .
“ . . . True repentance is based on and flows from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way. True repentance involves a change of heart and not just a change of behavior (see Alma 5:13)” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 71).

In other words, what you do doesn’t matter so much. It’s what you believe. This is in line with the presumed character of God, who will forgive misdeeds, but punishes people for misbelief.

Helaman 13:6 Yea, heavy destruction awaiteth this people, and it surely cometh unto this people, and nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely shall come into the world, and shall suffer many things and shall be slain for his people.

Somehow, he knows Jesus’s name, way in advance.

Helaman 13:7 And behold, an angel of the Lord hath declared it unto me, and he did bring glad tidings to my soul. And behold, I was sent unto you to declare it unto you also, that ye might have glad tidings; but behold ye would not receive me.

If a guy was standing on a wall, babbling about how an angel was telling him stuff, I’d have reservations about believing him, too. Sorry — receiving him.

Helaman 13:8 Therefore, thus saith the Lord: Because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of the Nephites, except they repent I will take away my word from them, and I will withdraw my Spirit from them, and I will suffer them no longer, and I will turn the hearts of their brethren against them.

As we’ve seen, societies are more peaceful and prosperous when they become secular and ignore gods.

Helaman 13:9 And four hundred years shall not pass away before I will cause that they shall be smitten; yea, I will visit them with the sword and with famine and with pestilence.

A prophecy. I wonder if that will come true later on in the same book.

Helaman 13:12 Yea, wo unto this great city of Zarahemla; for behold, it is because of those who are righteous that it is saved; yea, wo unto this great city, for I perceive, saith the Lord, that there are many, yea, even the more part of this great city, that will harden their hearts against me, saith the Lord.
13:13 But blessed are they who will repent, for them will I spare. But behold, if it were not for the righteous who are in this great city, behold, I would cause that fire should come down out of heaven and destroy it.

Religious people think they’re acting as superheros, saving the rest of us. A better metaphor would be that God is a terrorist, and they’re human shields.

Slippery riches

Joseph Smith, in his pre-cult-leader days, got paid — and arrested — for trying to find lost treasure. Basically, it was a con job. You got people to pay you to find buried gold. You could use a magic rock. Smith did — the same rock that he later used to write the Book of Mormon.

Of course, you don’t find any gold because you have no special powers, but you’ve got to find a way to string your patron along, so you have to say, “We got awfully close — I’m sure if you give me just a little more money, we’ll find the treasure!” Then you have to invent some story, like maybe a witch or a spirit is protecting the treasure.

Or — you could say that you almost got it, but the treasure slipped away. It moved! Just like Bugs Bunny travelling underground, the treasure scooted away somewhere else. Darn that slippery earth!

It was a common enough dodge back in those days. (See, for example, Early Mormonism and the magic world view by D. Michael Quinn.) And wouldn’t you know, it makes an appearance here in the Book of Mormon.

Helaman 13:30 Yea, behold, the anger of the Lord is already kindled against you; behold, he hath cursed the land because of your iniquity.
13:31 And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them.
13:32 And in the days of your poverty ye shall cry unto the Lord; and in vain shall ye cry, for your desolation is already come upon you, and your destruction is made sure; and then shall ye weep and howl in that day, saith the Lord of Hosts. And then shall ye lament, and say:
13:33 O that I had repented, and had not killed the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out. Yea, in that day ye shall say: O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us.
13:34 Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle.
13:35 Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land.

A good excuse works in a multitude of situations.

When did Jesus come?

The time of Jesus’s birth (if it happened at all) has been the source of speculation. Samuel (in 6 BCE) declares:

Helaman 14:2 And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.

He was probably off by a few years. According to the Bible, Jesus was born during the time of Herod, who died in 4 BCE. Samuel probably should have said “one more year cometh”. Whoops.

Helaman 14:5 And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.

14:20 But behold, as I said unto you concerning another sign, a sign of his death, behold, in that day that he shall suffer death the sun shall be darkened and refuse to give his light unto you; and also the moon and the stars; and there shall be no light upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death, for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the dead.

The Bible has it as three hours of darkness; the Book of Mormon extends this to three days. No reason for the extension is given.

Helaman 14:23 And behold, there shall be great tempests, and there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great.

Can you imagine how much energy it would take to turn a mountain into a valley? Surely this would leave some kind of geological record.

Helaman 14:25 And many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many.

That’s about as likely as the mountain and valley thing. That was lifted from Matthew, by the way, and no other Bible writer corroborates it (to say nothing of anyone else).

Helaman 14:28 And the angel said unto me that many shall see greater things than these, to the intent that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men

Wait, so God is going to make provide evidence so that we won’t have any reason to disbelieve? From my chats with Mormons, that’s something that God strenuously refuses to do! What changed his mind?

Helaman 14:30 And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

If the choice is between belief and punishment, then we’re not free. Any choice that results from a threat is not a free choice. That’s coercion.

Reactions to Samuel’s preaching were varied. Some people believed him.

Helaman 16:1 And now, it came to pass that there were many who heard the words of Samuel, the Lamanite, which he spake upon the walls of the city. And as many as believed on his word went forth and sought for Nephi; and when they had come forth and found him they confessed unto him their sins and denied not, desiring that they might be baptized unto the Lord.

Others were predictably less impressed at first.

Helaman 16:2 But as many as there were who did not believe in the words of Samuel were angry with him; and they cast stones at him upon the wall, and also many shot arrows at him as he stood upon the wall; but the Spirit of the Lord was with him, insomuch that they could not hit him with their stones neither with their arrows.
16:3 Now when they saw that they could not hit him, there were many more who did believe on his words, insomuch that they went away unto Nephi to be baptized.

Good for them; they updated with new evidence.

But others thought Samuel’s force field was of Mephistophelian aetiology.

Helaman 16:6 But the more part of them did not believe in the words of Samuel; therefore when they saw that they could not hit him with their stones and their arrows, they cried unto their captains, saying: Take this fellow and bind him, for behold he hath a devil; and because of the power of the devil which is in him we cannot hit him with our stones and our arrows; therefore take him and bind him, and away with him.

This isn’t a crazy conclusion to reach. Honestly — if you saw someone with a supernatural force field, how could you tell if it was coming from God, the Devil, Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? All supernatural explanations are untestable and indistinguishable.

Helaman 16:7 And as they went forth to lay their hands on him, behold, he did cast himself down from the wall, and did flee out of their lands, yea, even unto his own country, and began to preach and to prophesy among his own people.
16:8 And behold, he was never heard of more among the Nephites; and thus were the affairs of the people.

So he went.

Time passed.

Helaman 16:13 But it came to pass in the ninetieth year of the reign of the judges, there were great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled.
16:14 And angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled.

It’s Christmas! Too bad Jesus had been born four years previously.

Helaman 16:15 Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them, both of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites, and began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom, saying:
16:16 Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken.

This shouldn’t be dismissed. If someone makes a sufficient number of blind guesses, some of them will come true by coincidence. This is a principle that mediums use. They throw out a large number of suggestions, counting on us to remember the hits and forget the misses.

This, from the late Robert Todd Carroll:

The fact is, psychics may know certain things about you in the same way that many people know many things about others by knowing their age, sex, occupation, education, where they live, how they dress, what kind of jewelry they’re wearing, or their religion. Does anyone have perfect knowledge of others based on what are sometimes called warm reading techniques? Of course not. We’re dealing with probabilities, not absolute certainties here, but it doesn’t matter. The psychic is not obligated to stop the reading when she makes a mistake. If she misinterprets your wearing black as a sign of grieving for someone who has died, she doesn’t have to say “oops, wrong again.” No, she just slithers on to the next question or statement, ignoring her “miss” and counting on you to ignore it as well. Eventually, she’ll hit something that resonates with you, that you can validate. The key to a psychic reading is not the psychic’s ability to tap into a world you are not directly privy to. The key to a psychic reading is your willingness to find meaning or significance in some of the statements she makes or questions she asks. If mentioning the death of a loved one evokes no response from you, the psychic will move on to another statement, another question.

Helaman 16:17 And they began to reason and to contend among themselves, saying:
16:18 That it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come; if so, and he be the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, as it has been spoken, why will he not show himself unto us as well as unto them who shall be at Jerusalem?

Is it reasonable that Jesus would come? Consider: God, who could make any plan he wanted to save the souls of his children, decided on a barbaric and repugnant plan that inexplicably involved getting his son killed, which humans wouldn’t be able to understand, and that a very few would accept.

Yes, I find that quite unreasonable. But I shouldn’t be like that: it’s almost Christmas! In the next lesson, we’ll see the circumstances leading up to the birth of Jesus.

BoM Lesson 34 (Pride cycle)

“How Could You Have Forgotten Your God?”

Helaman 6–12

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To dismantle the idea that pride causes societal destruction

Reading

Now we’re to one of the parts of the Book of Mormon when the Lamanites are more righteous than the Nephites. How strange! Those dark, filthy, and unenticing Lamanites are actually more righteous than the light-skinned Nephites. That’s certainly unexpected — if you see race as a reflection of righteousness.

Helaman 6:1 And it came to pass that when the sixty and second year of the reign of the judges had ended, all these things had happened and the Lamanites had become, the more part of them, a righteous people, insomuch that their righteousness did exceed that of the Nephites because of their firmness and their steadiness in the faith.

When I read this, I feel like I’m listening to Mormons describing non-Mormons as “good people…”. Is it my imagination, or do I hear an “…even though they don’t have the Gospel” in there somewhere?

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The hero of this story is Nephi₃. He’s so righteous that God gives him the smiting power.

Helaman 10:6 Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.

Wow, the power to kill people who do things that God doesn’t like!

Also teleportation, just like Jesus. You’ll remember that he was able to “convey” himself out of the clutches of his enemies. Well, Nephi₃ has this too.

Helaman 10:15 And it came to pass that when Nephi had declared unto them the word, behold, they did still harden their hearts and would not hearken unto his words; therefore they did revile against him, and did seek to lay their hands upon him that they might cast him into prison.
10:16 But behold, the power of God was with him, and they could not take him to cast him into prison, for he was taken by the Spirit and conveyed away out of the midst of them.

Apparently when you’re sufficiently Godlike, it’s a superpower you can unlock.

Nephi₃ sees the wickedness of the people, so rather than let them kill each other, he suggests a famine instead.

Helaman 11:3 And it came to pass that in this year Nephi did cry unto the Lord, saying:
11:4 O Lord, do not suffer that this people shall be destroyed by the sword; but O Lord, rather let there be a famine in the land, to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God, and perhaps they will repent and turn unto thee.
11:5 And so it was done, according to the words of Nephi. And there was a great famine upon the land, among all the people of Nephi. And thus in the seventy and fourth year the famine did continue, and the work of destruction did cease by the sword but became sore by famine.

You might think from this that Nephi₃ is some kind of ghoul. But really, he’s a bit of a softie. God would have taken things in hand himself, and put the big smite on people. But then, what do I know? I’m such a pushover, I probably wouldn’t have tried to kill anyone. I probably would have let them ignore that destructive “God” maniac, and let them get on with living their lives, free of the fear of such a being.

Main ideas for this lesson

Pride cycle

This lesson identifies pride as one of the big no-nos for humanity. And a recurring theme in the Book of Mormon is known as the “pride cycle”. Here’s the graphic that appears in the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual.

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Latter-day Saints see this pride cycle as a real pattern.

The problem is that it isn’t. This is something that has never happened in the history of the world. Nations do not decline because they don’t adhere to religious principles. If they did, we would expect to see the least religious countries become cesspools of misery. Surprise — they’re actually doing quite well.

The theory is simple: If people become less religious, then society will decay. Crime will skyrocket, violence will rise, and once-civilized life will degenerate into immorality and depravity. It’s an old, widespread notion. And it’s demonstrably false.

If it were true that when belief in God weakens, societal well-being diminishes, then we should see abundant evidence for this. But we don’t. In fact, we find just the opposite: Those societies today that are the most religious — where faith in God is strong and religious participation is high — tend to have the highest violent crime rates, while those societies in which faith and church attendance are the weakest — the most secular societies — tend to have the lowest.

This dovetails into the other side of the pride cycle — not only do less-religious countries not fail, but religiously zealous countries don’t do better. It’s when the religious crazies take over that countries do the worst. This shouldn’t be surprising, when God himself shows so little concern for people around the globe. Something about yearning for an afterlife seems to be incompatible with improving this one.

If you want to see an example of someone advocating humility and repentance, think of this guy.

There’s more: he’s convinced that — as the Book of Mormon says — God gave up on people and left them to themselves.

“Why do homosexuals murder homosexuals?” he asked. Because, according to Romans 1, “God gave them up to vile passions.” “Violence” and “murder,” he said, are deeply tied to homosexuality.

“What’s the bottom line as we view what’s happening in Orlando today?” he said. “I think it is, again, the Romans 1 scenario, it is that God gives them up.”

The Orlando massacre, Swanson added, shows what happens when God’s “restraints have been lifted entirely and when God doesn’t restrain, people go nuts in their sins.”

Believers think the Book of Mormon sounds entirely sensible, but just try listening to someone who takes these ideas seriously, and who says so. He sounds like a dangerous lunatic. At the very best, his way is unlikely to bring about the model of social cohesion that the Book of Mormon promises.

Enough about nations. Do individual people “dwindle” when they stop believing, as the Book of Mormon says?

Helaman 6:34 And thus we see that the Nephites did begin to dwindle in unbelief, and grow in wickedness and abominations, while the Lamanites began to grow exceedingly in the knowledge of their God; yea, they did begin to keep his statutes and commandments, and to walk in truth and uprightness before him.

My friend Tim on Facebook responds very eloquently. He said I could share this status:

Hey LDS friends and family. One of your leaders said things about me (and others like me) and I’d like an opportunity to set the record straight.
I did not die spiritually. I feel joy, peace, happiness, and am quite alive.
– I did not lose my testimony. I did not lose anything except for that which I already did not have. I learned a new perspective which gave me new insight to what my religious experiences meant. I don’t value those experiences less, I interpret them in a way that is more consistent with reality.
– Sin / guilt did not cloud my mind as I decided to leave. I felt very enlightened as I decided to journey out of LDS activity. It was a matter of earnest prayer and heartfelt study. If there was anything that tried to cloud my mind, I think it would be church apologetics, something which I now find very deplorable and dishonest. I consistently found that the neutral resources were far more honest and direct than those of the apologetics.
– I don’t hate Mormonism, as a whole. I love aspects of it, and dislike others. I love the people, generally, and I think frequently about participating in some form or fashion, but the organization perpetually demonstrates that it is able to change, but on it’s own timeline, not mine. I’m not willing to wait nor do I care to participate in catalyzing the change from the inside. I see what the church does to those people. I find it deeply disappointing and dishonest.
– It is super frustrating that the LDS church tried to place blame on those who leave. “It’s not our fault you didn’t know this stuff before you committed two years of your life as a missionary / all of your resources to building up our definition of the Kingdom of God”. Huh? Maybe. You certainly made it a priority for me to learn the information that served you over that which may have served me to make a choice. The church tasked me with so many church things, and told me what was important to study; I could never fully complete it. I never had time for the “unimportant stuff”. How much time did you task me with Temple Prep? With Mission Prep? Couldn’t have fit it in, huh? “Oh by the way this painting of Joseph Smith using Gold Plates is a farce it was a rock in the hat”. Couldn’t squeeze it in? :/ The church stigmatized the unimportant stuff. The church excommunicated people for saying that which was true but “not uplifting”. And, the church endlessly invents ways to shift blame to me for any behavior the church finds undesirable. This is sickening and abusive. I reject this line of thought.

Advice to other Mormons: I’m observing the LDS church is continuing down a path which values membership retention above honesty. I don’t think it is looking out for your welfare as much as it is it’s own. This may seem fine, but geez, I implore you to gain the perspective to at least be able to see both sides. A perspective which keeps you in control of your faith.
I implore you, READ the “Mormon Challenge”, a document which helps show the “other perspective” on Mormonism using LDS church-approved sources only. It will only help you gain perspective, and you don’t lose anything by gaining perspective:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/…/The%20Mormon%20Challeng…
My only motive and desire for saying any of this is that minds can be free.
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” – Richard Feynman
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” – Thomas Jefferson

So why are prophets so down on prosperity? Probably because it puts no money in their own pocket.

President Ezra Taft Benson said: “The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich. The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them; otherwise, the prophet is just giving his opinion — speaking as a man. The rich may feel they have no need to take counsel of a lowly prophet” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 138).

As I’ve said before, religion doesn’t have much to offer someone who’s content, happy, and doing well. It has a lot to offer someone who’s desperate for a second chance in life.

Contention

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual is quite set against contention.

• What was the first sign that the short-lived period of humility and righteousness was ending? (See Helaman 11:22.) How did Nephi, Lehi, and their brethren put an end to this contention? (See Helaman 11:23.) In what ways can teaching “true points of doctrine” help us put an end to contention?

Ask: Why would the LDS Church warn against contention?

Having a range of available opinions — with the contention that this sometimes engenders — is actually healthy for discussion and learning. It’s not great for managing a group though. If you’re a cult leader, you want a docile group where everyone listens only to you.

Warning against contention, then, is a way of shutting down discussions in which people might have to face unpleasant facts — like the fact that the religion is wrong.

Rather than avoid contention, we should be engaged in discussion with people we might disagree with. It can be a great way to find flaws in your argument. It might force you to examine and change your views.

I’m with this guy.

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Getting there

Hey, all.

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

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

BoM Lesson 33 (Remember)

“A Sure Foundation”

Helaman 1–5

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To help readers build on a solid foundation of science

Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, fictional people don’t leave archaeological traces.

Pride

There’s another warning against pride.

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

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

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

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

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

Main ideas for this lesson

What is a sure foundation?

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

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

And the LDS Gospel Doctrine Manual says this:

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

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

If the LDS Church is true, then

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

Ask: Does this seem like a firm foundation?

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

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

Read this poem by the Digital Cuttlefish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obsession with secret societies

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

illuminaughty_o_2068459

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Masonic Library elaborates.

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

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

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

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

Remember

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

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

So does the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual.

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

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

Take it from Dieter Uchtdorf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional lesson ideas

Cement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7-manmade-wonders-sacsayhuaman

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

BoM Lesson 32 (Stripling Warriors)

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

Alma 53–63

LDS manual: here

Purpose

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

Reading

We’re finally to the end of Alma!

Gaston bom

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

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

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

But of course this is an old word.

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

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

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

No, not those Ammonites.

omanyte

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

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Nothing homoerotic about that.

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

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

There’s some pathetic Paulean plagiarism.

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

 

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

Hagoth

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

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

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

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

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

And also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What does this mean for the average Mormon?

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

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

Probably not great.

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

Main ideas for this lesson

Exactness

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

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

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

Ask: What function might this have for the church?

I can think of two possible answers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benign misogyny

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

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

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

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

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

Again, from the lesson manual:

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

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

Little death ray of truth

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

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

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

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

This also goes for anecdotal evidence.

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But in reality…

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Executions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional lesson ideas

Pronouns in the Book of Mormon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what about you and ye?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoops — wrong you!

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

Again, why the switch to thou?

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

Another inexplicable switch to thou.

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

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

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

Jacobean English in Book of Mormon

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

Jacobean English 2

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

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

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

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

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

BoM Lesson 31 (Wars)

“Firm in the Faith of Christ”

Alma 43–52

LDS manual: here

Purpose

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

Reading

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

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

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

Because war stories are easy to write?

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

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

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

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

And:

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

What else you got, LDS manual?

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

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

Oh, look: not for a while yet.

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

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

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

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

Instead, we get pointless war stories.

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

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

Main ideas for this lesson

Why do we fight?

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

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

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

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

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No, but seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Damn straight, JD.

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

Additional lesson ideas

Book of Mormon place names

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

It shows up on page 9.

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Here are the maps.

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The CES Letter continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I should be able to find something. Hmm…

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

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

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

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and the zoom in.

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And the result:

kaz3

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

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

I’m putting the pin down here:

sud1

sud2

And the result:

sud3

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

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

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

plausible

BoM Lesson 30 (Plan of Salvation)

“The Great Plan of Happiness”

Alma 40 – 42

LDS manual: here

Purpose

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

Reading

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

pos

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

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

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

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

Celestial Kingdom, eh? That sounds familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

planOfHappiness

Main ideas for this lesson

No one knows

Alma does his best to explain the resurrection.

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

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

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

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

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

tyd_003

Click here to see the full comic.

But Alma soldiers on.

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Smith is plagiarising the author of Hebrews.

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

Ask: Freaking heck — did Joseph Smith plagiarise everything?

Probationary state

Alma says that this life is a probationary state.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God would “cease to be God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cake or death

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

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

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

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

Additional lesson ideas

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

There’s something else strange about this verse.

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 2.30.56 PM

The full text:

And this one:

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 2.30.38 PM

Again, the full text:

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

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

Wickedness never was happiness

Here’s a very popular verse.

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

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual says this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mormon logic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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