Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: artificial dependency (page 1 of 2)

D&C Lesson 11 (Missionary Work)

“The Field Is White Already to Harvest”

Reading assignment

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

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

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

Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Boyd Packer:

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

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

“Oh, if could teach you one principle:

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

Dallin Oaks:

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

Brigham Young:

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

More about gaining a testimony through lying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading

Requirements for being a missionary

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

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

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

You also have to be humble and full of love,

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

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

Along those lines, don’t mention Section 33:

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

Feel the lerrrrrrve.

Which no man knoweth

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

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

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

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

What does he say this time? Same fucking thing.

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

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

“The Zinc Drink?” I asked.

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

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

Fucking psychics.

Church of the Devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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BoM Lesson 21 (Nehor and Amlici)

“Alma . . . Did Judge Righteous Judgments”

Mosiah 29; Alma 1–4

LDS manual: here

Reading

With a deep breath, we say adieu to the book of Mosiah, and enter the very long book of Alma.

As for Mosiah, this book ends with this look at the government of the Nephites.

Mosiah 29:6 Now I declare unto you that he to whom the kingdom doth rightly belong has declined, and will not take upon him the kingdom.
29:7 And now if there should be another appointed in his stead, behold I fear there would rise contentions among you. And who knoweth but what my son, to whom the kingdom doth belong, should turn to be angry and draw away a part of this people after him, which would cause wars and contentions among you, which would be the cause of shedding much blood and perverting the way of the Lord, yea, and destroy the souls of many people.

29:25 Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.
29:26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law — to do your business by the voice of the people.

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual explains.

• What did Mosiah propose to limit the power that could be obtained by wicked individuals or groups? (See Mosiah 29:24–26, 28–29. He proposed that they do all things by the voice of the people, appoint judges and make the judges accountable to the people, and have a system of appeals against judges who did not judge by the law.)

That’s strange: they were allegedly people in ancient America, but here they are operating under a system of government with checks and balances. It’s almost like they’re 19th-century Americans!

Main ideas for this lesson

Nether

In this reading, we meet two ideological enemies of the Nephites: Nehor, and Amlici.

Nehor has some unusual teachings. Then as now, it’s not having unconventional views, but expressing them.

Alma 1:2 And it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of Alma in the judgment-seat, there was a man brought before him to be judged, a man who was large, and was noted for his much strength.
1:3 And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.
1:4 And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.

For the writer of the Book of Mormon, it’s a terrible thought that everyone will be saved. Without the losers, how can we have winners? Let’s remember the teachings of the Book of Mormon: that some people will suffer in Hell forever, and that when people don’t get on board, God will be “slow to hear their cries”.

In other words, an all-powerful god will allow people who don’t believe in him to be persecuted and slain in agonising ways, and then punished by him forever… because they refuse to accept his moral superiority.

Alma 1:7 And it came to pass as he was going, to preach to those who believed on his word, he met a man who belonged to the church of God, yea, even one of their teachers; and he began to contend with him sharply, that he might lead away the people of the church; but the man withstood him, admonishing him with the words of God.
1:8 Now the name of the man was Gideon; and it was he who was an instrument in the hands of God in delivering the people of Limhi out of bondage.
1:9 Now, because Gideon withstood him with the words of God he was wroth with Gideon, and drew his sword and began to smite him. Now Gideon being stricken with many years, therefore he was not able to withstand his blows, therefore he was slain by the sword.

Okay, killing someone isn’t good. Nor is defending it.

Alma 1:10 And the man who slew him was taken by the people of the church, and was brought before Alma, to be judged according to the crimes which he had committed.
1:11 And it came to pass that he stood before Alma and pleaded for himself with much boldness.

So he’s condemned to die.

Alma 1:12 But Alma said unto him: Behold, this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among this people. And behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but hast endeavored to enforce it by the sword; and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction.
1:13 And thou hast shed the blood of a righteous man, yea, a man who has done much good among this people; and were we to spare thee his blood would come upon us for vengeance.
1:14 Therefore thou art condemned to die, according to the law which has been given us by Mosiah, our last king; and it has been acknowledged by this people; therefore this people must abide by the law.

But notice what happens before he’s killed:

Alma 1:15 And it came to pass that they took him; and his name was Nehor; and they carried him upon the top of the hill Manti, and there he was caused, or rather did acknowledge, between the heavens and the earth, that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death.

The odd thing about this passage is that Nehor is guilty of murder, but when he’s forced to make a confession, they get him to confess about his teachings, not his actions.

This great post by Mithryn also reminds us that, between charging for blessings, giving General Authorities an income, and lucrative book deals with Deseret Book…

Nehor was just a peanut operation compared to the long sullied history of ‘preaching for profit’ that occurs in the LDS church.

Amlici

Here’s the second enemy: Amlici. Probably should be written Amliçi to make the pronunciation less confusing. Not that he’s French or anything.

Alma 2:2 Now this Amlici had, by his cunning, drawn away much people after him; even so much that they began to be very powerful; and they began to endeavor to establish Amlici to be king over the people.

2:7 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came against Amlici, that he was not made king over the people.
2:8 Now this did cause much joy in the hearts of those who were against him; but Amlici did stir up those who were in his favor to anger against those who were not in his favor.
2:9 And it came to pass that they gathered themselves together, and did consecrate Amlici to be their king.

They had marked themselves

The followers of Amlici had a way of distinguishing themselves:

Alma 3:4 And the Amlicites were distinguished from the Nephites, for they had marked themselves with red in their foreheads after the manner of the Lamanites; nevertheless they had not shorn their heads like unto the Lamanites.

Alma then explains that apostates mark themselves.

Alma 3:14 Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.
3:15 And again: I will set a mark upon him that mingleth his seed with thy brethren, that they may be cursed also.
3:16 And again: I will set a mark upon him that fighteth against thee and thy seed.
3:17 And again, I say he that departeth from thee shall no more be called thy seed; and I will bless thee, and whomsoever shall be called thy seed, henceforth and forever; and these were the promises of the Lord unto Nephi and to his seed.
3:18 Now the Amlicites knew not that they were fulfilling the words of God when they began to mark themselves in their foreheads; nevertheless they had come out in open rebellion against God; therefore it was expedient that the curse should fall upon them.
3:19 Now I would that ye should see that they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation.

I confess that I found myself thinking of this scripture when I saw (Neon Trees’ singer) Tyler Glenn in the terrific video for his song ‘Trash’. Glenn is a gay man who tried to find his place within the LDS Church, only to find that the church despises him — and in fact contributes to a climate of persecution that places young LGBT people at an elevated risk of suicide. ‘Trash’ is an angry video that sees Glenn lashing out at his faith.

Here’s the video.

Notice how, late in the piece, he draws an ‘X’ across his face, apparently in red lipstick.

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You can see why I might have thought: Ooo — Amliçites.

Because it’s not as if Latter-day Saints mark themselves in any ways to identify as members of… wait a minute.

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And don’t even get me started on linguistic markers. One of my relatives actually prayed that some food could — say it with me — “nourish and strengthen our bodies.” I almost cracked up during the prayer, and that wouldn’t have gone over well.

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Fact is, any social group will have markers that they use to identify each other as members of a social group. This is nothing peculiar to Amliçites, Mormons, gay ex-Mormon singers, or any other social group.

Additional lesson ideas

It’s not you

Times become tough for the church. It seems the rank-and-file members are the problem.

Alma 4:6 And it came to pass in the eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.
4:7 Now this was the cause of much affliction to Alma, yea, and to many of the people whom Alma had consecrated to be teachers, and priests, and elders over the church; yea, many of them were sorely grieved for the wickedness which they saw had begun to be among their people.
4:8 For they saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their hearts upon riches and upon the vain things of the world, that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure.
4:9 And thus, in this eighth year of the reign of the judges, there began to be great contentions among the people of the church; yea, there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God.
4:10 And thus ended the eighth year of the reign of the judges; and the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.

Ask: What function does this scripture have?

Answer: This is a way of blaming members if the church doesn’t grow. People not joining the church? It can’t be because it’s more than a little weird, that Testimony Sundays are squirm-inducing cringe fests, and that the church — at a significant cost — contributes little to the lives of its members that couldn’t be obtained in other ways.

No, it’s because the members are… and then fill in the blank.

When I was in a really bad relationship once, different friends would occasionally tell me something that comforted me immensely. They would say: It’s not you. By which they meant that, even though I wasn’t perfect and needed to work out my problems, I wasn’t the real problem here. They were trying to let me know that the real problem was a frankly abusive situation that I was trying to make work.

Eventually I figured out that they’d been right, and I got out of that relationship.

So the message I’d like to leave in this lesson is this: If you’re having a hard time with the church — if you feel unworthy, if you feel frustrated by the difficulty in getting it all to make sense, if the transcendance you seek seems to be driven out by the endless responsibilities and the mechanical worship — it’s not you.

BoM Lesson 17 (Limhi)

“A Seer . . . Becometh a Great Benefit to His Fellow Beings”

Mosiah 7–11

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To point out that prophets are of no real benefit to humanity.

Reading

For this lesson, there’s a subplot. We’re in the city of Zarahemla. Zarahemla was a bustling metropolis teeming with people, which somehow left no traces for modern archaeologists to find. Which is strange, because Joseph Smith told them where it was: Guatemala.

View post on imgur.com

Anyway, some years previous, some of the Nephites left Z-town to find the land of Nephi. Ammon heads up an expedition to find them, and runs across Limhi and his people. Limhi’s problem is that his people are enslaved by the Lamanites.

Now how did they come to be enslaved? Simple. God allowed it because they killed someone (and that someone turned out to be Abinadai).

Mosiah 7:25 For if this people had not fallen into transgression the Lord would not have suffered that this great evil should come upon them. But behold, they would not hearken unto his words; but there arose contentions among them, even so much that they did shed blood among themselves.
7:26 And a prophet of the Lord have they slain; yea, a chosen man of God, who told them of their wickedness and abominations, and prophesied of many things which are to come, yea, even the coming of Christ.
7:27 And because he said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth —
7:28 And now, because he said this, they did put him to death; and many more things did they do which brought down the wrath of God upon them. Therefore, who wondereth that they are in bondage, and that they are smitten with sore afflictions?

Okay, killing someone is bad, even if it is a trinitarian. But there’s something revealing in this passage.

Mosiah 7:29 For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them.

Let’s think about this. God’s a big guy; he’s bigger and smarter and stronger than those puny humans whose worship he demands. But if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to subject them to suffering, slavery, and affliction. What kind of being is this?

But there’s more: He didn’t just afflict them for their transgressions — he also put them through a famine for being “slow to remember” him.

Mosiah 9:3 And yet, I being over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers, collected as many as were desirous to go up to possess the land, and started again on our journey into the wilderness to go up to the land; but we were smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.

It’s like you’ve got to focus your attention on him all the time. What a demanding narcissist! (I was going to say attention whore, but I realised that I didn’t want to demean sex workers by comparing them to God.)

Main ideas for this lesson

Prophets, seers, and revelators

Limhi has a problem: He has these gold plates — everyone did back then — and he needs them to be translated.

Mosiah 8:12 And I say unto thee again: Knowest thou of any one that can translate? For I am desirous that these records should be translated into our language; for, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed, from whence these records came; or, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed; and I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction.

Then there’s a bit of back-and-forth where Ammon and Limhi try to figure out who outranks whom in God’s hierarchy. Just the kind of thing enquiring minds want to know!

Mosiah 8:13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
8:14 And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.
8:15 And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.
8:16 And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.
8:17 But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.
8:18 Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.

Glad they sorted that out.

So, given that prophets / seers can translate documents, how have prophets done at this job?

Since Joseph Smith, the translation history has been, shall we say, scarce. And that’s funny, because Joseph Smith was an avid translator. And by translate, I mean ‘make stuff up’. You couldn’t wave an ancient papyrus under his nose without him attempting to come up with a translation.

Take the Kinderhook plates. They were fakes, but Smith didn’t seem to recognise that. He offered a translation anyway.

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And then there’s the Book of Abraham.

Back in 1835, Smith declared that some ancient documents that had fallen into his possession were written by none other than Abraham himself, and he produced a translation. Champollion’s decipherment of Egyptian, while published until 1832, wasn’t well-known, and it would have been difficult for anyone to catch Smith out on his inventions.

However, we know now the contents of the papyri, which turned out to be ordinary funerary documents. Smith’s supposed translation turned out to be wrong on everything.

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Imagine how amazing that would be if God had provided a correct translation. What a stunning confirmation of Smith’s prophetic powers! But no.

Enough about translation. How about seeing the future? Even here, church leaders get it wrong.

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual says:

“[Many years ago] the Brethren warned us of the disintegration of the family and told us to prepare. . . . “

I suppose they’re talking about The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It says:

“Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”

Many things could be described as “the disintegration of the family”, but subsequent LDS Church rhetoric would strongly suggest that we’re talking about gay marriage.

Since the publication of the Proclamation, gay marriage has become the law of the land in many countries. So are they suffering “the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets”?

Not quite. They’re actually doing quite well. Many are on this year’s list of World Happiness Report.

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Say what you want about correlation and causation, but we don’t even need to go there. The fact that the most “troubled” nations (in LDS terms) are doing quite well is enough to defeat the predictions of prophets (ancient and modern) that the “disintegration of the family” causes calamities.

And let’s just make a point here:

The world’s happiest countries are also the world’s least religious countries according to a new report released by the World Happiness Index.

Science Alert reports that every year, the World Happiness Index surveys numerous people from various countries around the world in search of, as the name implies, which country has the happiest population. This year’s winner is Denmark, followed closely by Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway. The US ranked 13th.

The report shows that the world’s happiest countries are also the world’s least religious countries. The happiest countries also tend to be fairly homogeneous nations with strong social safety nets.

What else did prophets fail to foresee? Well, I don’t think they foresaw the slowdown of conversion rates.

RNS: What do you make of the 2015 Statistical Report which shows a slowing rate of LDS growth?

Martinich: Annual membership growth has steadily declined in the last 25 years. It used to be 4-5% a year, and now it’s only 1.7%. I don’t think it will decrease much more than to 1.5%, though.

This was supposed to be the rock that rolled out of the mountain to fill the whole earth. And instead it’s like this slinky.

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So let’s get real here. A prophet — seer, what have you — is not “a great benefit to his fellow beings”. He’s a parasite who teaches wrong things, creates nothing useful, and bills people 10% for the pleasure.

Additional lesson ideas

Things that didn’t exist

This reading contains a lot of things that simply didn’t exist in this place at that time.

Swords and cimeters

Mosiah 9:16 And it came to pass that I did arm them with bows, and with arrows, with swords, and with cimeters and with clubs, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons which we could invent, and I and my people did go forth against the Lamanites to battle.

No swords or cimiters dating from this era have been found.

Apologists like to say that swords didn’t have to be metal. They could have been obsidian or wood. But obsidian and wood don’t rust, do they?

Mosiah 8:9 And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.
8:10 And behold, also, they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.
8:11 And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no one in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates. Therefore I said unto thee: Canst thou translate?

Plants

Mosiah 9:9 And we began to till the ground, yea, even with all manner of seeds, with seeds of corn, and of wheat, and of barley, and with neas, and with sheum, and with seeds of all manner of fruits; and we did begin to multiply and prosper in the land.

Wheat and barley did not exist in the Americas at this time. It’s as though Joseph Smith (or whoever) didn’t bother to do any research, and just threw in the names of things he was familiar with — along with some made-up words.

Ziff

Mosiah 11:8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;

I threw this one in because I like saying ziff. Let’s hear it for neologisms!

BoM Lesson 15 (King Benjamin 1)

“Eternally Indebted to Your Heavenly Father”

Mosiah 1–3

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To show how the gospel sets up impossible, confusing, and damaging expectations for people

Reading

From all my years of teaching Gospel Doctrine (either here or in church), there’s a principle I’ve learned about prophecy:

It’s crap.

Wait, that wasn’t the principle! The principle is this:

All prophecies either

  • turn out false (but become plausible if reinterpreted creatively enough)
  • turn out true, but in ways that anyone could have known at the time
  • turn out true, because they were written after the thing happened.

All the stuff about Jesus in the Book of Mormon is in the latter category. The Old Testament (contra Jacob) doesn’t mention Jesus at all. It’s so vague about him that the people who knew the scriptures best resisted him the most. But how about the Book of Mormon, which was written after people had heard of Jesus? Suddenly it’s all about teh Jesus! They can’t stop talking about Jesus. How about that?

Mosiah 3:5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
3:6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.
3:7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
3:8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.

I mean, check that out — the Book of Mormon writers practically had his damn mobile number. They’re calling him by name, they’re calling themselves Christians — and strangely, they’re still living the Law of Moses, so that must have been confusing.

“Why are we sacrificing animals again?”
“Just do it; don’t worry about it.”
“But this won’t matter in a few years.”
“That’s why we’re not writing any details down in the Gold Plates.”

What’s more likely: that Book of Mormon prophets were so amazing that they knew stuff that other Bible prophets didn’t know — or that someone in the 1820s sat down and wrote it?

It’s not just the knowledge of Jesus that marks the Book of Mormon as a 19th century document. It’s the subject matter that the Book of Mormon presents. Check out this odd reference to the status of infants, which preoccupied theologians in the 1800s, and precisely no one in Biblical times:

Mosiah 3:17 And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
3:18 For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

Isn’t that kind of a 1830s thing?

When I was at the dear old Brigham Young U, I found that you could read forbidden documents at the library. Well, they weren’t forbidden; you could give your student ID to someone in the Special Documents collection, and while they were sending your details to the Strengthing the Members Committee in Salt Lake, you could read the documents there.

I decided to check out the “Position Papers”, a set of documents generated by the Reorganised Church of JCoLDS when they were making their break from traditional Mormon theology in the 1960s. For some reason, I was interested in Chapter 11, about their reasons from shifting away from the Book of Mormon.

As we examine the Book of Mormon, shorn of any intention solely to amass data in support of preconceived notions about it, we must honestly admit that there arises an awareness of certain problems concerning traditional understandings of the Book. The problems include:

3. Its propensity for reflecting in detail the religious concerns of the American frontier. Alexander Campbell in 1832 pointed out that every major theological question of the frontier was covered in the Book of Mormon, including infant baptism, ordination and ministerial authority, the Trinity, regeneration, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, and even the burning questions of Freemasonry, republican government and the rights of man.

It certainly did seem to me as though the Book of Mormon did have a preoccupation with issues as they were in the 1800s. It seems that what they say in General Conference is true: the Book of Mormon is “written for our day” — but this is because it was written in our day.

Main ideas for this lesson

Unprofitable servants

King Benjamin is giving his great address to an improbably large crowd.

Mosiah 2:19 And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!
2:20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another —
2:21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another — I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

I’m remembering back to my LDS days, and thinking about all the effort the church took. Three hours every Sunday is just a start. For many, there are extra meetings during the week, including ward and stake leadership meetings and Seminary. Then there’s temple attendance. Oh, and cleaning the buildings.

Not to mention going on a two-year mission, and giving 10% of your income for the whole of your life. There’s more, but it all works toward the same point: The LDS Church has a really high bar to be considered basically active.

But even after all of this, what this scripture tells us is that no matter what you do, you’re still unprofitable.

Ask: How does this make someone feel, if they’re trying to do their best in the church?

It’s such a glaring scripture, and I think it calls for some kind of explanation. What is it doing here? What kind of function does this idea serve?

You could argue that it’s designed to motivate people who aren’t doing all they can. But what about people who are knocking themselves out, and get so little in return?

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I think it goes beyond the motivational. I see this as an out-clause. Here’s how:

Religion is a con. It makes phoney promises that fail. And when those promises fail, there has to be a way of getting the mark (the person being conned) from blaming the religion. How to divert their disappointment? By setting up impossible conditions for success.

“Oh, you’re not feeling fulfilled? Bad things happening anyway? Well, have you been you coming to church? You have?

“Have you been praying? Oh.

“How about reading the scriptures? Attending the temple? Having Family Home Evening…?

“How’s your home teaching? Aha… home teaching a little spotty? That was probably it. Bring those stats up, and I’ll bet you’ll be in line for some blessings pret…ty soon.”

It’s a fantastic way of explaining away failures — it’s not the church’s fault; it’s yours, you unprofitable servant, you.

And of course there’s the usual benefit: if the church asks for more, it gets more. And the investment fallacy means that members who have given their all will be less likely to question their belief — you must believe it, or you wouldn’t have given so much, right? And if you walk away, you’ll lose everything you’ve invested!

Mosiah 2:22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
2:23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
2:24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

Again, the church doesn’t want just some of your time and attention. It claims the right to have it all. Forever and ever.

Mosiah 2:25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.

No matter what you do, you’ll never be worthwhile under this system. You are less than the dust of the earth.

God-Abuse

But of course, if you’re running a church, you can’t just heap this kind of abuse on people all the time. That’s why there’s a parallel narrative: I am a child of God. You’re a chosen people, a special generation held in reserve, etc. The church can pull out this story when it needs to, and this makes people feel bonded to the organisation. But if people feel too special, the church can remind them of the “dangers of pride” (which is only really dangerous to the church itself), and it can hit them with the “less than the dust of the earth” story. It can switch between these two stories whenever it needs to.

Seen this way, the church resembles nothing more than an abusive and narcissistic partner, for whom this hot-and-cold tactic is typical (see point 3 on that link). The abuser builds you up if you do what they tell you, but they also remind you that you’ll never be good enough.

Benjamin continues by talking about the “natural man”. Repeat it with me, if you remember it.

Mosiah 3:19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Ask:

  • What has the Lord inflicted upon you?
  • Why does Benjamin think it’s okay for the Lord to “inflict” things upon us?
  • Why is it important for us to feel helpless like a child in this situation?

Have a read of this commentary from the LDS Lesson Manual:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “After the fall of Adam, man became carnal, sensual, and devilish by nature; he became fallen man. . . . All accountable persons on earth inherit this fallen state, this probationary state, this state in which worldly things seem desirable to the carnal nature. Being in this state, ‘the natural man is an enemy to God,’ until he conforms to the great plan of redemption and is born again to righteousness. (Mosiah 3:19.) Thus all mankind would remain lost and fallen forever were it not for the atonement of our Lord. (Alma 42:4–14.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 267–68).
How can we “[put] off the natural man”? (See Mosiah 3:19. Discuss answers as shown below.)
a. Yield to “the enticings of the Holy Spirit.” How does this help us “[put] off the natural man”? (See 2 Nephi 32:5; Mosiah 5:2; 3 Nephi 28:11.)

What Benjamin is telling us is that the way you are is wrong, and if you want to be saved, you have to act other than the way you are.

Now I agree that sometimes, I am a bag of slop. Like everyone, I can gravitate to a level that isn’t the best for me. I eat too many Doritos, I can be self-absorbed, and if I want to be my best self, I have to exert some energy and overcome some of my slouchy bad habits.

But there’s a difference between saying, “Sometimes I’m a bit lazy or uncaring, and I need to work on that,” and saying “The way that I am is essentially broken, and I need someone else to make me whole.” The first one points to, and enables, self-improvement. The second one instills a sense of permanent inferiority that offers the church as a solution. It is not a way to build self-reliant people. It’s a way to build broken people.

Why the Gospel is terrible

Now we’ve seen enough of the gospel’s program to understand why the gospel does not work. Just for a reminder, according to the church’s “plan of salvation”, we are here on earth in a kind of probationary state. Our ability to return to God depends on the choices we make here.

But this plan is stacked against us at every turn.

1. We have been created with an inbuilt tendency to sin.

As King Benjamin says, “the natural man is an enemy to God.” God inexplicably made us want to sin.

But God could have made it so that we wouldn’t want to do anything wrong. This wouldn’t have involved a curtailment of our agency. He had to make us some way or another, and it would have been just as simple to make us in a way that didn’t involve a preoccupation with things he doesn’t like. For example, I have never been curious about alcohol or drugs — not that I think those are wrong anymore, but trying those things out has never been a part of my nature. I still have agency; I’m just not interested in them.

It would have been possible for a super-smart God to think of a way to make humans that aren’t interested in sin, without curtailing their agency. Why didn’t he? Why did he make a decision to stack the deck against us?

2. We can’t trust our own moral compass.

Having given us a tendency to want to sin, God also created us with faulty moral intuition. Not only is the “natural man” an enemy to God, but he tells us that we can’t trust the answers we get from our own moral reasoning.

Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

Let’s think through this, because this one thing unhinges the entire contraption.

My ability to return to God relies on me making good choices. But God gave me a brain that provides faulty moral intuitions. If I can’t trust my own ideas of what’s right and wrong, then I have no way of knowing what “good choices” are.

You could say, “That’s the point. You’re not supposed to trust your own moral instincts. You’re supposed to obey God and ‘yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.'”

But if I can’t trust my own moral compass, then I can’t even be sure if that’s the right thing to do. If God gives us a faulty ethical lens and says “Go to it”, then the whole thing stops right there. How could I even tell the difference between good and bad choices if I can’t trust my own ethical filter? Unless I have a reliable moral compass, the whole task becomes impossible.

3. Satan

On top of all this, God allows a perfectly evil being to tempt us. If I knew of an evil being, I would keep them far away from my kids, but God’s like “Go for it,” which is another way that he’s a terrible parent. To help us, the Holy Spirit gives us signals that are indistinguishable from emotions, impressions, or dyspepsia. (That’s if we don’t offend him, in which case, he buggers off.)

R4nNOXu

Even prophets get it wrong in this process, so what chance do the rest of us have?

HWZYelB

Ask: Could you convict even the worst criminal under this system?

4. Self-esteem sniping

And after all this — a sinful nature, a broken compass, and access to bad influences — our self-efficacy is constantly being undermined and belittled by the gospel itself. We’re reminded that we’re less than the dust of the earth, that we owe God everything, and that there’s nothing we can do to be considered worthy.

Ladies, gentlemen, and everyone: the gospel is a terrible system. It’s a set up. God could have made it any way he wanted, but he chose to put us in a situation with impossible, contradictory, confusing, and demeaning expectations. This contemptible god belittles us, and expects us to praise him in return.

The appropriate response is the same as it should be for any abuser: we must cut him off entirely, and work within a loving and supportive community to build our own lasting self-respect. Our morality isn’t perfect, but we can work to improve it without the petty sniping of a demanding and jealous father figure.

Additional lesson ideas

Every pore?

Now here’s a linguistic curiosity. When Jesus (allegedly) prayed in Gesthemane,

Luke 22:44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Was there really any blood? The wording is “as it were”, which usually signals a turn of phrase, not a fact.

But fast-forward a couple thousand years, and Mormons will tell you that Jesus bled “from every pore”. This wording appears in our reading.

Mosiah 3:7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.

I seem to remember many church talks where the speaker solemnly asserted that if you were in extreme agony, you might bleed from one pore, but Jesus bled from all of them.

I guess there’s a condition where people bleed from their pores, but I got curious as to whether this might be a linguistic artefact. What I mean is that the wording “he bled from every pore” seems to roll off the tongue very easily. Could it be that it was just a phrase that people were accustomed to saying, and Joseph Smith (or whoever) simply wrote the well-known idiom into his book, which Mormons then took as gospel?

If the phrase “bleed * every pore” were in common usage around Smith’s time, this would explain how it worked it way into the Book of Mormon, and why Mormons now think Jesus had a particularly gory night of it in a garden.

In fact, this is exactly what we see if we look up “bleed * every pore” in Google’s Ngram Viewer.

Follow the link at the bottom to ‘bleed at every pore’ from 1768 – 1832, and you’ll find lots of examples, some of which I’ve copied and pasted here. Note that these examples use the idiom ‘bleed at every pore’ even when no actual bleeding is going on, which confirms that this was an idiom that people were accustomed to using in various situations.

1821: And, when they sicken and die, the hearts of their parents bleed at every pore.

1796: still there are circumstances in his situation wHich cause the heart of humanity to bleed at every pore.

1820: Thus this unhappy nation, by a miserable and mistaken policy, is doomed to bleed at every pore

1812: whether we stand by them, or whether we forsake them, those gallant nations will still continue to bleed at every pore.

1815: without reviving the ferocious and appalling doctrine of constructive treason, which once made England bleed at every pore

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 3.45.12 PM

And that’s how (I suspect) a common expression worked its way into Mormon doctrine. A metaphorical statement graduated into a literal belief.

This is something of a one-off in my experience. We already know that believers re-interpret literal statements as metaphorical ones when they’re deemed implausible. This is the only case I can think of where a belief went the other way.

EDIT: Redditor Elijah_Unabel made a point that was too good not to share: there simply isn’t enough blood in a human body to bleed from every pore.

Yesterday my young son asked me how many pores are in the human body. I wasn’t sure off-hand, but the most common answers on Google are 2 billion or 3 trillion (although 3 trillion pores seems pretty high given that there are 37.2 trillion cells in the entire body). I asked my son why he was interested, and he referred to Jesus bleeding from every pore. From that aspect, we might just include sweat glands, of which there are about 2 million. My son and I then ran the math and came up with the following.

We can assume there are about 90,000 drops are in a gallon (about 20 drops per ml). At the extreme of 3 trillion pores, this gives us over 33 million gallons of blood. That’s going to be a bit messy. If we go with 2 billion pores, we get about 22,000 gallons, still enough to fill a couple backyard swimming pools.

Finally, if we just count sweat glands, we get 22 gallons. Not nearly as impressive as the numbers above. However, the average person only has about 1.5 gallons of blood, so bleeding out 22 gallons is still a pretty impressive trick.

BoM Lesson 8 (Quoting Isaiah 1)

“O How Great the Goodness of Our God”

2 Nephi 6–10

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage readers to partake in all that life has to offer

Reading

Oh, no. Are we into the part where they start quoting Isaiah?

2 Nephi 6:4 And now, behold, I would speak unto you concerning things which are, and which are to come; wherefore, I will read you the words of Isaiah.

Aaargh!

And the worst bit: it’s not even the right kind of Isaiah. Remember, Isaiah wasn’t one person, he was three people writing at different times.

  • Proto-Isaiah, chapters 1–39, writing about the 8th century BCE
  • Deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40–55, writing about 550–539 BCE
  • Trito-Isaiah, chapters 56–66, writing about 500-401 BCE

So does the Book of Mormon quote the wrong Isaiah? Yep:

2 Nephi 6:18 And I will feed them that oppress thee, with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood as with sweet wine; and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

 

Isaiah 49:26 And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.

Nephi and Jacob wouldn’t have had access to those writings, as they were written too late. But Joseph Smith (or another author) didn’t know this, and dutifully copied them into the book.

Of course, the real problem goes way beyond Isaiah. In making his explanation of Christianity, Jacob has to pull a lot of text from the New Testament and from sermons and speeches that were going around the Christian community of Joseph Smith’s day. Check out this post by churchistrue for more explanation.

Main ideas for this lesson

Believe or die

First the bad news: God’s going to allow the Jews to get killed because they don’t believe in him.

2 Nephi 6:10 And after they have hardened their hearts and stiffened their necks against the Holy One of Israel, behold the judgments of the Holy One of Israel shall come upon them. And the day cometh that they shall be smitten and afflicted.
6:11 Wherefore, after they are driven to and fro, for thus saith the angel, many shall be afflicted in the flesh, and shall not be suffered to perish, because of the prayers of the faithful; they shall be scattered, and smitten, and hated; nevertheless, the Lord will be merciful unto them, that when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance.

6:15 And they that believe not in him shall be destroyed, both by fire, and by tempest, and by earthquakes, and by bloodsheds, and by pestilence, and by famine. And they shall know that the Lord is God, the Holy One of Israel.

Blaming Jewish people for their own persecution is so old and tiresome.

That goes for everyone else. If you don’t believe, God will burn you.

2 Nephi 9:16 And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire; prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end.

But if you do believe, then everything’s great.

2 Nephi 9:18 But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.
9:19 O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

Which he created.

2 Nephi 9:24 And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptized in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it.
9:25 Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.
9:26 For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel.

Ask: Does this sound like the Mormon view of the afterlife?

Mormon theology downplays the idea of a fiery hell with literal torment. But this would have been news to Nephi / Jacob, who spend many verses detailing the pains of the damned.

The best explanation, I think, is that the Book of Mormon contains Mormonism 1.0, but this would get updated later. Apparently God didn’t have the foresight to get it right the first time.

Being learned

There are parts of Mormonism that are kind of inspiring, as far as learning goes. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to learn “Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass”, and so on. They’re taught about the unity of spiritual and temporal knowledge.

And yet, when it comes to learning, there’s a strict hierarchy, with religious obligation at the top.

2 Nephi 9:28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
9:29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

Knowledge must always be subordinate to faith. But why? Why must the Book of Mormon regard knowledge as subversive to faith?

And the answer: Well, because it is.

The church promotes false teachings about the origin and age of the earth, the history of the world, and the makeup of the people and language of the Americas, to name a few. Knowing the facts about these things evaporates faith, except for someone with a great tolerance for cognitive dissonance who can believe mutually incompatible things.

And so facts must be kept on the leash. Facts must be cherry-picked to support faith, never to challenge it. Such is the nature of faith.

It's called faith because it's not knowledge

Are the Q15 liars?

Jacob tells us about liars.

2 Nephi 9:34 Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell.

One of the perennial questions in ex-Mo-world is: Do the top church leaders know that the church is not true? Are they, to put it bluntly, liars?

The more charitable view says that they really do believe that they’re special witnesses of Jesus, and they believe the whole thing.

I take the other view. How could they believe that they’re “special witnesses of Jesus” when they know they have the same kind of witness that any believer has?

And why would they say things like Russell Ballard said at a recent Fireside?

“Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it!’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue. Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the Church.”

Those were good times.

And this:

“It was only a generation ago that your young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the church. Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life. Our curriculum at that time, though well-meaning, did not prepare students for today – a day, in which students have instant access to virtually everything about the church from every possible point of view.”

This is someone who knows that facts are not amenable to his faith. No wonder they teach that learning should be carefully kept in check. Someone who has the facts on their side has no need to express such “intellectual reserve”.

Someone who knows all of this, and continues to teach his faith, is spreading lies.

I think they know, and they’re having to scramble.

Cake or death, pt 2

Again, we’re presented with a false dichotomy:

2 Nephi 10:23 Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves — to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.
10:24 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

Again, it reminds me of the great script: Kissing Hank’s Ass. Do you want a million dollars, or do you want to get the shit kicked out of you? So simple!

And so depressing. God could have set up the system any way he wanted, but he set up a system where you’re not capable of saving yourself. You’re dependent on him. Deviation from his will results in (from these chapters) hellfire. So you’d better resign yourself — sorry! reconcile yourself — to his will, and try to fight your flesh for as long as you live.

Life offers us many more choices than salvation or damnation. Real life offers love, art, learning, food, relationships, and fun. Let’s enjoy all that life offers.

BoM Lesson 7 (Lehi dies)

“I Know in Whom I Have Trusted”

2 Nephi 3–5

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage readers not to use authoritarian parenting tactics, or racism.

Reading

I’ve just realised these readings are really short. Back in the Old Testament lessons, the readings were huge! We had to cover so much ground that we would sometimes leave out entire books *cough Leviticus*. But the Book of Mormon is so short that a typical reading is two or three chapters.

And even for its small size, the Book of Mormon still feels padded out. As Mark Twain said:

Mark_Twain_pamphlet

The main events in this lesson:

  • Lehi gives everyone interminable sermons, dies
  • Nephi agonises about how terrible he is
  • Team Nephi flees Team Laman
  • Lamanites are cursed with dark skin

Main ideas for this lesson

Joseph Smith writes himself into the BoM

There are a lot of Josephs in this story. Here, Lehi speaks to his son Joseph… about another Joseph, the one in Egypt.

2 Nephi 3:3 And now, Joseph, my last-born, whom I have brought out of the wilderness of mine afflictions, may the Lord bless thee forever, for thy seed shall not utterly be destroyed.
3:4 For behold, thou art the fruit of my loins; and I am a descendant of Joseph who was carried captive into Egypt. And great were the covenants of the Lord which he made unto Joseph.
3:5 Wherefore, Joseph truly saw our day. And he obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of the fruit of his loins the Lord God would raise up a righteous branch unto the house of Israel; not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless, to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord that the Messiah should be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light — yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.

Not sure what Lehi’s talking about here, since all we have from Joseph-in-Egypt is this:

Genesis 50:24 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
50:25 And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.
50:26 So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

Oh, wait, Joseph Smith made a creative rewriting of this passage that underwent — ahem — considerable expansion.

JST Genesis 50:24 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die, and go unto my fathers; and I go down to my grave with joy. The God of my father Jacob be with you, to deliver you out of affliction in the days of your bondage; for the Lord hath visited me, and I have obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of the fruit of my loins, the Lord God will raise up a righteous branch out of my loins; and unto thee, whom my father Jacob hath named Israel, a prophet; (not the Messiah who is called Shilo;) and this prophet shall deliver my people out of Egypt in the days of thy bondage.

And on and on and on, for pages. Man, nobody ever dies in SmithWorld without giving a long speech!

But Smith couldn’t resist the urge to write himself into the narrative:

JST Genesis 50:33 And that seer will I bless, and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise I give unto you; for I will remember you from generation to generation; and his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father; and he shall be like unto you; for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand shall bring my people unto salvation.

Yes, Joseph Smith Jr’s father was also named Joseph.

Holy crap — that’s a lot of hubris! What kind of chutzpah does it take to insert yourself into the Bible? “You know Joseph from Egypt? Yeah, well, he was really talking about me.” On the one hand, yes, Smith was willing to go all out. On the other, what a bullshitter. It’s embarrassing.

Oh, but he’s not done. Not content to write himself into Genesis, Smith now heads back to 2 Nephi to talk himself up some more.

2 Nephi 3:6 For Joseph truly testified, saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins.
3:7 Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers.
3:8 And I will give unto him a commandment that he shall do none other work, save the work which I shall command him. And I will make him great in mine eyes; for he shall do my work.
3:9 And he shall be great like unto Moses, whom I have said I would raise up unto you, to deliver my people, O house of Israel.

He name-checks his father again, as in the Genesis rewrite:

2 Nephi 3:14 And thus prophesied Joseph, saying: Behold, that seer will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise, which I have obtained of the Lord, of the fruit of my loins, shall be fulfilled. Behold, I am sure of the fulfilling of this promise;
3:15 And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation.

And then more about how awesome he is.

2 Nephi 3:24 And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.

Can anyone — even a believer — read this, and not feel just a twinge of incredulity? What’s more likely: that an Old Testament patriarch had a prophecy about someone, and no one noticed — or Joseph Smith simply wrote himself in?

Parental responsibility

Parenting is tough. You worry about your kids, and you do everything you can to give them a good start in life.

When my boys were small, I told them,”When you become a grown-up, you’ll be making all the decisions for yourself. My job is to help you learn to make good choices.” That’s why I’ve always tried to give them age-appropriate choices. In the early days, it was about what to wear — the blue shirt, or the red shirt? Then they had pocket money, which they could spend on what they liked. (Except when Oldest Boy threw a rock through the window of a neighbouring house. He thought it was abandoned, when it was simply untenanted. Then he had to use a good chunk of his pocket money on that. His interest in rock-throwing quickly waned.)

Every parent is going to parent differently, and this includes LDS parents. Some are responsible, great parents. Some are terrible authoritarians. And the Book of Mormon gives LDS parents the ammunition to parent terribly.

Here’s the scripture.

2 Nephi 4:5 But behold, my sons and my daughters, I cannot go down to my grave save I should leave a blessing upon you; for behold, I know that if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it.
4:6 Wherefore, if ye are cursed, behold, I leave my blessing upon you, that the cursing may be taken from you and be answered upon the heads of your parents.

This, along with other verses, gives the message that parents will be held responsible for the actions of their children.

A bishop I knew took this very seriously. Of course, he didn’t want to be punished if his children left the church. After all, “No success can compensate for failure in the home,” and for him apostasy was the ultimate failure. So his approach was to take over the job of making choices for his children — perfectly acceptable for a patriarchal authoritarian to do — and make all the choices for them until they were 18.

An example from their own retelling:

Him: You have a choice. You can do the school play, or you can do church baseball.
Kid: I think I’d like to be in the play.
Him: That was the wrong choice. Now I will choose for you. You’re going to do church baseball.

And then his conscience was clear. He had done the right thing, and he wouldn’t be punished for the actions of his children.

What reader of the Book of Mormon could tell him he was wrong? Certainly not someone who believed in penal substitution, that guilt could be shuttled from person to person.

But this is an awful way to treat an apprentice choice-maker. Practiced consistently, this will take a whole bunch of kids with no decision-making experience, and unleash them into adulthood unprepared.

Or you’ll get a bunch of little sneaks who make their own choices behind your back. Either way, not good.

Arm of flesh

Here’s an idea that pops up in Mormon scripture and thought.

2 Nephi 4:34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

What’s behind this?

Well, what kind of ideas have been made by people? Humanism, for one. Science, for another. And I think what these two things have in common is

a: they work pretty well
b: in principle, they’re not very authoritarian.

As such, they stand in marked contrast to the Mormon religion which a) is very authoritarian, and b) doesn’t work.

It’s a bit silly for a religion to say “Don’t trust people, trust God.” It’s people all the way down. You’re trusting a prophet who claims to speak for God, but who makes mistakes anyway. I’d rather listen to someone who can own their mistakes, and can update accordingly.

Additional lesson ideas

Nephite swords and temples

This lesson contains two things that have never been found. One is swords.

2 Nephi 5:14 And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people.

And the other is an entire temple. Blimey, you’d think that’d be hard to lose.

2 Nephi 5:16 And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.

He what? With how many people?

Remember, the temple of Solomon took seven years to build.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 9.36.58 AM

But hey, it’s Nephi. If he can knock up an intercontinental ocean liner in a couple of verses, then surely an enormous building with exceeding fine workmanship must have been a piece of cake.

Solomon’s temple and Nephi’s temple do have one thing in common, though. There’s no archaeological evidence for either one.

What evidence is there that the Temple of Solomon existed?

The only evidence is the Bible. There are no other records describing it, and to date there has been no archaeological evidence of the Temple at all. What’s more, other archaeological sites associated with King Solomon – palaces, fortresses and walled cities that seemed to match places and cities from the Bible – are also now in doubt.

There is a growing sense among scholars that most of these archaeological sites are actually later than previously believed. Some now believe there may be little or no archaeological evidence of King Solomon’s time at all, and doubt that he ruled the vast empire which is described in the Bible.

And there’s something else to notice here. It appears that whoever was dictating the Book of Mormon lost track of what he was saying from one verse to the next.

2 Nephi 5:15 And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.
5:16 And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.

Everyone built buildings because there was so much gold and silver and precious ores around — in great abundance. But Nephi couldn’t build a temple out of those things, because they weren’t around in great abundance. Whoops — that’s a clanger.

People with dark skin are loathsome

Ask: Is dark skin loathsome and unenticing?

2 Nephi 5:21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
5:22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
5:23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
5:24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

While the LDS Church has tried to disavow its institutional racism by publishing an uncredited essay, scriptures like this are the reason that it will never be able to do so convincingly. The idea that dark skin can sometimes be a punishment for sin, or that it’s loathsome, is woven into the very plot of the Book of Mormon. It can’t be disavowed. The only way to get around it is not to think about it.

BoM Lesson 6 (Free to choose)

“Free to Choose Liberty and Eternal Life”

2 Nephi 1–2

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage readers to use agency

Reading

This reading is an exploration into Lehi’s discourse on agency. Agency — the ability to think and act — is a complex topic… that gets completely subverted by Lehi and the lesson manual. And that makes sense for the LDS Church.

It wants people who will work tirelessly… in ways that benefit the organisation.

It declares obedience “the first law of heaven”, but still wants you to be an agent… as long as you only use your agency to obey.

It wants you to investigate the truthfulness of the Church… as long as you decide that it’s true.

As my uncle Richard used to say in the BYU religion classes he taught, “God gave us agency to see if we’d give it right back.” Which is terribly Mormon, isn’t it?

And that’s why the centrepiece of the lesson — and its title — is a very one-sided view of agency.

2 Nephi 2:27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

Got that? You can choose

  • liberty and eternal life, or
  • captivity and death.

Wow, when you put it that way, that really makes the choice clear! It’s almost like you’re asking me to choose between cake, or death.

Whoops, there’s a flag down on the play.

GArQrtB

Yep, it’s a false dichotomy. The church would love to paint itself as the bringer of life and liberty — so that leaving the church is death — but in reality there are a lot of other choices. Life outside the church can be messy sometimes; choosing your own course can be messy sometimes. But it can also be good, moral, and fulfilling.

This is news to many of us who grew up in the church. We told each other over and over again that we didn’t know what we’d do without the church; we’d probably be in jail or dead. Many of us weren’t free. We were indoctrinated as children.

We were carefully led from program to program, from age bracket to age bracket, from Primary to Young Men/Women’s. Then to a mission — too many of us were getting away, so they lowered the age limit to prevent that first year of uni. Then we were encouraged to get married young, to someone we scarcely knew.

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That’s because married people with kids are easy to control.

There we went, from bubble to bubble, from investment to investment, until the years of indoctrination had taken effect.

012-indoctrination

I want to say: They wanted to make us miserable like they were. But maybe that’s unfair. Were they unhappy? Some were. Some thought the church was just great. That was the thing: the church didn’t care if we were miserable or not, as long as we stayed in.

So are you free in the church? Yes, you’re free, but it’s the kind of free where you’re in the temple for the first time. There’s a bit where they tell you that if you want to go, you’re free to go without taking on all the promises and covenants. But they don’t tell you what the they are. There you are, ready to make an eternal commitment, but you don’t know what it is yet. The transparency and informed consent are severely lacking.

Thankfully, more and more of us are breaking free and learning to use our own agency for real.

R_Evolution-761x580

There’s another idea introduced in this reading.

2 Nephi 1:20 And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.

Ask: What kind of parent abandons their children if they are disobedient?
Answer: A parent with conditional love.

Main ideas for this lesson

Empty continent

The Book of Mormon has a major problem, which I call “The Incredible Vanishing Lehites”. Lehi and his family are supposed to have come to the New World, proliferated to truly exponential levels, and built a huge civilisaton. Surely a group of this size would have left some evidence of their existence, either from archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, genetics, or any other way. Yet we never find anything.

The apologists’ answer is that the Lehite group was quickly subsumed into a large local population… that Nephi never mentions.

The reason Nephi never mentions running into anyone else is that the Book of Mormon holds that no one else was there on the continent. We’ll be coming back to this idea a few times during our study, but here’s the first indication.

2 Nephi 1:6 Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.
1:7 Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.
1:8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
1:9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.

This passage says:

  • No one would come into the land unless God brought them
  • Knowledge of the land was being withheld from others
  • If people from Jerusalem who moved there were good, they’d prosper
  • These people (from Jerusalem) would have the land all to themselves.

That’s really kind of it, isn’t it? No one else was there.

There may be some wiggle-room in the wording, language being what it is. I don’t think any passage in the Book of Mormon (or anywhere else) is so airtight that someone couldn’t wedge in a semantic crowbar and open a crack of ambiguity. But I think this passage makes it clear that whoever wrote the Book of Mormon wrote the American continent as a wilderness. I don’t think anyone could make the opposite case — that the place had a pre-existing population — because the Book of Mormon just never says anything to that effect.

Again, this is a huge problem for the Book of Mormon because there’s just no trace of these people.

Opposition in all things

Lehi offers this tidbit of wisdom:

2 Nephi 2:11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

Well, I guess that makes sense, kind of. Salty and sweet and all that.

But that’s not the intersting bit. What’s interesting is how the author ties it into a discussion about the existence of God.

2 Nephi 2:10 And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement
2:11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
2:12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
2:13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

I just want to focus on this last verse, because it’s a really terrible justification for theism.

Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement —

God has to punish people in order for justice to happen? Why did God have to create people if he knew in advance that he was going to punish them for eternity? That’s not just.

And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin.

I do say there’s no sin, if by “sin” you mean “actions that God doesn’t like”. God doesn’t exist, and sin is a made-up concept.

sin-comes-from-the-bible

If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness.

Wrong again! Many people do good actions, without believing in sin.

And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness.

Lehi’s really getting into ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’. Arrr.

And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God.

God can’t exist without misery or punishment. Got it.

And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

Whoops! That might have been valid in the 1830s, but now we have a much better idea of how our universe was formed. No god was involved in the making of this video.

People tell me science and religion are compatible, but this scripture tells me the opposite. As Jerry Coyne points out in his book Faith Versus Fact,

Science and religion… are competitors in the business of finding out what is true about our universe. In this goal, religion has failed miserably, for its tools for discerning “truth” are useless. These ideas are incompatible in the same way, and in the same sense, that rationality is incompatible with irrationality. (p. xvi)

Adam

Lehi continues:

2 Nephi 2:22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
2:23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
2:24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
2:25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
2:26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

I’ve mentioned before that I like to debate evangelists. When I ask them why God had to get his son killed to forgive us, you know what thy do? They invariably take it back to Adam and Eve. And there’s a reason why they do this. Without a literal Adam and Eve, the gospel story falls apart.

So I tell them: There was never an Adam or Eve. They are fictional characters.

  • And if there was no Adam or Eve, there was no Fall.
  • And if there was no Fall, there is no sin.
  • And if there is no sin, then there is no redemption necessary.
  • And if there is no redemption necessary, there is no need for a saviour.

Sorry, Jesus.

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Additional lesson ideas

Hamlet plagiarism?

People sometimes say that this verse…

2 Nephi 1:14 Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.

…looks a lot like Hamlet.

“That undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1)

It’s a well-known quote, which I suppose the author of the Book of Mormon would have been familiar with. But it’s also the kind of turn of phrase that a writer might indulge in.

Do I think this rises to the level of plagiarism? Nnnah. But it does tell me that the Book of Mormon is a remix, and whoever wrote it had a lot of modern influences going on undr the hood.

I’m rating this one as “not a very serious criticism”. Change my view in comments!

BoM Lesson 4 (Nephi’s Vision)

“The Things Which I Saw While I Was Carried Away in the Spirit”

1 Nephi 12–14

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage readers to question the morality of the material in the Book of Mormon.

Reading

In our last reading, Nephi saw his father’s vision of the Tree of Life. But would you believe it, Nephi one-ups his father by getting special bonus content! (It’s almost like Nephi was trying to make himself look good in this narrative.)

This director’s-cut version of Nephi’s vision contains prophecies of future events that, by sheer coincidence, had already happened by Joseph Smith’s time. And nothing that happened after. And that’s the big lesson of prophecy:

  • Prophecies fail
  • If they succeed, either they were’
    • extremely vague, or
    • written after the fact.

Not only that, but isn’t it curious that prophecies given by God — a being so trancendental that he’s outside of space and time — reflect in precise detail the kind of knowledge, opinions, and prejudices held by people of the time? We’ll see an example of this in this lesson.

Seed

The Book of Mormon is the story of people who (allegedly) came from the Middle East, started a civilisation, clashed in a series of wars — and left no physical traces.

Erase all evidence - Lamanites

They didn’t even leave any DNA — Native Americans are the descendents of Asians, and not Middle Easterners.

Mormon apologists surmise that the DNA of Lehi’s family was “swamped”.

swamped

But in Nephi’s vision, the angel tells him that his ‘seed’ — his physical progeny — will be numerous.

1 Nephi 12:1 And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Look, and behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren. And I looked and beheld the land of promise; and I beheld multitudes of people, yea, even as it were in number as many as the sand of the sea.
12:2 And it came to pass that I beheld multitudes gathered together to battle, one against the other; and I beheld wars, and rumors of wars, and great slaughters with the sword among my people.
12:3 And it came to pass that I beheld many generations pass away, after the manner of wars and contentions in the land; and I beheld many cities, yea, even that I did not number them.

So why can’t we find anyone in the Americas with Middle Eastern DNA?

This is a huge issue in Mormonism, and I’m only going to touch lightly on it here. But we’re going to be delving into it more deeply in future lessons.

Dark and filthy vs. white and beautiful

Nephi sees that Laman and Lemuel’s progeny are dark, loathsome, and filthy…

1 Nephi 12:23 And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.

whereas white people are beautiful.

1 Nephi 13:15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.

Brian Dalton — aka Mr Deity — rightly calls out Mormonism for this racist doctrine.

In recent years, the LDS Church has tried to tamp down this idea, but they’ll never be able to completely disavow the racism in its foundational document. The idea that dark skin could be a punishment for sin is at the heart of the Book of Mormon. The only way to purge racism from the church is for it to disavow the Book of Mormon completely. And that’s not going to happen.

Main ideas for this lesson

The Great and Abominable Church

Nephi sees something curious — the formation of the G&A.

1 Nephi 13:4 And it came to pass that I saw among the nations of the Gentiles the formation of a great church,
13:5 And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.
13:6 And it came to pass that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it.

Its founder is the devil.

1 Nephi 14:9 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look, and behold that great and abominable church, which is the mother of abominations, whose founder is the devil.
14:10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.

As a Mormon, I tried to make sense of what exactly the G&A was, but I was confused by the hopelessly contradictory descriptions. Was it a specific church? or just some kind of generalised ‘evil church’?

In the early days, Orson Pratt has it all figured out: It’s all of Protestantism and Catholicism.

The Roman Catholic, Greek, and Protestant church is the great corrupt ecclesiastic power, represented by great Babylon which has made all nations drunk with her wickedness, and she must fall, after she has been warned with the sound of the everlasting gospel. Her overthrow will be by a series of the most terrible judgments which will quickly succeed each other, and sweep over the nations where she has her dominion, and at last she will be utterly burned by fire, for thus hath the Lord spoken. Great, and fearful, and most terrible judgments are decreed upon these corrupt powers, the nations of modern Christendom; for strong is the Lord God who shall execute His fierce wrath upon them, and He will not cease until He has made a full end, and until their names be blotted out from under heaven.”
– Apostle Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, p.84 – p.85

But later, Bruce R. McConkie, the unofficial church doctrinarian gave his view: It’s the Catholic Church.

It is also to the Book of Mormon to which we turn for the plainest description of the Catholic Church as the great and abominable church. Nephi saw this ‘church which is the most abominable above all other churches’ in vision. He ‘saw the devil that he was the foundation of it’ and also the murders, wealth, harlotry, persecutions, and evil desires that historically have been a part of this satanic organization. (1 Nephi 13:1-10)”
– Mormon Doctrine, p. 130 (1958)

and:

“Harlots. See Church of the Devil, Sex Immorality.
Literally a harlot is a prostitute; figuratively it is any apostate church. Nephi, speaking of harlots in the literal sense and while giving a prophetic description of the Catholic Church, recorded that he ‘saw the devil that he was the foundation of it.‘ … Then speaking of harlots in the figurative sense, he designated the Catholic Church as ‘the mother of harlots’ (1 Nephi 13:34; 14:15-17), a title which means that the protestant churches, the harlot daughters which broke off from the great and abominable church, would themselves be apostate churches.”
– Mormon Doctrine, pp. 314-315 (1958)

Fancy calling some other religion a whore.

McConkie had to walk that back, but when a young Steve Benson asked McConkie about it, he said his statement was right, but unpopular.

I asked McConkie why, in fact, his reference to the Roman Catholic Church as the “Church of the Devil” had been removed from the 2nd edition of his book, Mormon Doctrine.

McConkie insisted to me that it was excised not because it was not doctrinally sound but because it was too difficult for people to accept.

Which brings us up to the present definition of the Church of the Devil: It’s everything

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The titles church of the devil and great and abominable church are used to identify all churches or organizations of what- ever name or nature—whether political, philosophical, educational, economic, social, fraternal, civic, or religious—which are designed to take men on a course that leads away from God and his laws and thus from salvation in the kingdom of God” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 137–38).

It’s Protestantism, it’s Catholicism, it’s Communism, it’s secularism — everything that isn’t Mormon is the church of the devil. Which stretches the definition of church, wouldn’t you say? By including everything, Mormons make this scripture meaningless.

The colonization of the Americas

If the last part of this reading is disturbing, this part of the Book of Mormon should have alarm bells ringing for anyone with a social conscience.

1 Nephi 13:10 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld many waters; and they divided the Gentiles from the seed of my brethren.
13:11 And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren.
13:12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

The spirit of God wrought upon Columbus? Let’s see about the kind of people that the Holy Ghost liks to hang out with.

The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman checks in.

1

Native Americans have their view:

And here’s the history:

Columbus’ rule in Hispaniola was tyrannical and cruel. Unruly colonists were summarily executed and natives were either sold into slavery or worked to death. The death rate for natives under his rule was 80-90%, punishments including cutting off of hands, nose, tongue and ears. Dismembered bodies were regularly paraded about the colony to deter the rebellious. In 1500 he was sent back to Spain in chains for trial under allegations of genocide and cruelty. He was widely hated by both the natives and the natives, however today he is celebrated.

Columbus was a religious maniac and used to justify a litany of cruel and savage practices. He saw conversion to Christianity as the main purpose for his mission, yet freely denied natives baptism so as to sell them into slavery. Towards the end of his life he wrote the ‘Book of Prophecies’ in which he claimed his own role in the discovery of the new world had bee prophesied by the Bible. He also outlined some events that would occur, such as the whole world being converted to Christianity, the last Crusade to the Holy Land to finally defeat Muslim rule, that King Ferdinand of Spain would become the Last World Emperor. In the end, Columbus was a corrupted, disease-ridden and more than a little deluded.

Mormons think that the Holy Ghost is offended if you say “damn” and “hell”, but Columbus gets a pass.

And h still gets a pass from Mormons. Check out how the Ensign references this Book of Mormon scripture on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery.

What, then, do we know of the real Columbus? What were his motives in pursuing his world-changing enterprise? Perhaps the greatest motivating feature of his life was his faith. His writings and the records kept by his contemporaries indicate that Columbus had unshakable faith that he was an instrument in God’s hands.

And, indeed, the Book of Mormon affirms that he was.

The erstwhile prophet Gordon Hinckley refers to this scripture as well.

We interpret that to refer to Columbus. It is interesting to note that the Spirit of God wrought upon him. After reading that long biography, a Pulitzer winner of forty years ago, titled Admiral of the Ocean Sea—I have no doubt that Christopher Columbus was a man of faith, as well as a man of indomitable determination.

I recognize that in this anniversary year a host of critics have spoken out against him. I do not dispute that there were others who came to this Western Hemisphere before him. But it was he who in faith lighted a lamp to look for a new way to China and who in the process discovered America. His was an awesome undertaking—to sail west across the unknown seas farther than any before him of his generation. He it was who, in spite of the terror of the unknown and the complaints and near mutiny of his crew, sailed on with frequent prayers to the Almighty for guidance. In his reports to the sovereigns of Spain, Columbus repeatedly asserted that his voyage was for the glory of God and the spread of the Christian faith. Properly do we honor him for his unyielding strength in the face of uncertainty and danger.

Let’s face it: the LDS Church doesn’t hesitate to stand up for one of the worst and most cruel people that Europe has produced.

Revolutionary War

Nephi sees the American Revolutionary War.

1 Nephi 13:16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.
13:17 And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.
13:18 And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.
13:19 And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.

This seems as good a place as any to mention one of the probable sources of inspiration for whoever wrote the Book of Mormon: The Late War.

The Late War is a history of the USA, written in a high-flown scriptural style. (Sound familiar?) It contains — dare I say — a number of 4-grams (4 words in a row) that match the Book of Mormon (though see here for some criticism).

The interesting thing about the Late War is that telling stories in biblical style was a thing. Try reading some, and see if it doesn’t match the Book of Mormon for tone.

Again, notice that Nephi’s prophecy runs right up to Joseph Smith’s time, and stops. It seems prophets can only see the past.

Additional lesson ideas

Apostasy

True to the Faith, a currently used “correlated” booklet, summarizes the Great Apostasy this way:

“After the deaths of the Savior and His Apostles, men corrupted the principles of the gospel and made unauthorized changes in Church organization and priesthood ordinances. Because of this widespread wickedness, the Lord withdrew the authority of the priesthood from the earth. During the Great Apostasy, people were without divine direction from living prophets.

This would be a weird way for a god to do something. After working to build his church, god decided to give a big middle finger to humanity and sit around for a few centuries.

As one redditor put it,

Heavenly Father was apparently content to let generation after generation pass away without access to true knowledge regarding himself or the authority and rituals his alleged children require to return to him. Now he is super concerned with trying to get the word out?

Disbelief is not dwindling.

To finish out this lesson, I’d like to address a theme we’ve seen a few times already, even in the short readings we’ve done. I’d like to point out the word dwindle, and how believers use it to describe the unbelieving.

1 Nephi 4:13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

1 Nephi 12:23 And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.

What’s all this about dwindling in unbelief?

I had an LDS friend ask me about this once. She knew I didn’t believe, and she was concerned. After all, if you’ve ben told over and over again that disbelief is a prerequisite to dwindling, you might be scoping out the unbelievers you know for signs of dwindling!

So she asked me hesitantly, “Are you okay? and happy in your life and your beliefs?”

I responded, “Yes. I’m fine.

“I’m living a good, happy, ethical life as an unbeliever.”

It’s true. I’m someone who has left the church, and is doing better than ever. I’m flourishing in unbelief. Sure, I know some people who haven’t done so well, and the church was barely enough to keep them (unhappily) in check. But there’s no reason why a reasonably smart person with an internalised moral code needs a cage.

My poor friend, who’d been conditioned by the church to worry about me. How unnecessary. What a burden for our Mormon friends.

I want to say that we should show our LDS friends how well we’re doing after Mormonism, but that isn’t quite right either. I don’t want to put on a display and become an ad for my ideology — that was for then. Some of us aren’t doing well. And some of us avoid saying so to our LDS friends and family because we don’t want to prove them right. Aha! — we told you you’d dwindle.

What’s the answer?

I think the best thing is to be how you are. If you’re flourishing in unbelief, then it could be instructive for members. And if you’re dwindling, don’t go to great lengths to not show it, and be sure to ask for help from understanding people when needed. All of us can dwindle from time to time, belief or no belief.

BoM Lesson 3 (Tree of Life)

The Vision of the Tree of Life

1 Nephi 8–11; 12:16–18; 15

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage a more helpful view of the world than Mormon theology allows

Reading

For this lesson, we’re getting into Nephi’s analogy of the Tree of Life — a big white tree that makes you happy when you eat its fruit. (It’s not drugs, apparently.)

But the real message of the tree is that there’s only one place to be, and only one way to get there. This fits in well with the current message of the church, which pretty much amounts to “stay in the church”. And when your organisation just says “stay in the organisation”, that means the organisation is entirely superfluous.

I'm happier off the boat

Main ideas for this lesson

Origins of the Tree of Life story

Members of the church make a big deal about how Joseph Smith couldn’t have cranked out the Book of Mormon himself in such a short time. Well, he didn’t have a short time. You know what they say: You have your whole life to write your first book.

And so it is here. It seems that Smith borrowed the Tree of Life analogy from a story his dad used to tell. Here’s the story as his mother told it in her book History of Joseph Smith by His Mother.

In 1811, we moved from Royalton, Vermont, to the town of Lebanon, New Hampshire. Soon after arriving here, my husband received another very singular vision, which I will relate:

“I thought,” said he, “I was traveling in an open, desolate field, which appeared to be very barren. As I was thus traveling, the thought suddenly came into my mind that I had better stop and reflect upon what I was doing, before I went any further. So I asked myself, ‘What motive can I have in traveling here, and what place can this be?’ My guide, who was by my side, as before, said, ‘This is the desolate world; but travel on.’ The road was so broad and barren that I wondered why I should travel in it; for, said I to myself, ‘Broad is the road, and wide is the gate that leads to death, and many there be that walk therein; but narrow is the way, and straight is the gate that leads to everlasting’ life, and few there be that go in thereat.’

Traveling a short distance farther, I came to a narrow path. This path I entered, and, when I had traveled a little way in it, I beheld a beautiful stream of water, which ran from the east to the west. Of this stream I could see neither the source nor yet the termination; but as far as my eyes could extend I could see a rope running along the bank of it, about as high as a man could reach, and beyond me was a low, but very pleasant valley, in which stood a tree such as I had never seen before. It was exceedingly handsome, insomuch that I looked upon it with wonder and admiration. Its beautiful branches spread themselves somewhat like an umbrella, and it bore a kind of fruit, in shape much like a chestnut bur, and as white as snow, or, if possible whiter. I gazed upon the same with considerable interest, and as I was doing so the burs or shells commenced opening and shedding their particles, or the fruit which they contained, which was of dazzling whiteness. I drew near and began to eat of it, and I found it delicious beyond description. As I was eating, I said in my heart, ‘I can not eat this alone, I must bring my wife and children, that they may partake with me.’ Accordingly, I went and brought my family, which consisted of a wife and seven children, and we all commenced eating, and praising God for this blessing. We were exceedingly happy, insomuch that our joy could not easily be expressed.

While thus engaged, I beheld a spacious building standing opposite the valley which we were in, and it appeared to reach to the very heavens. It was full of doors and windows, and they were filled with people, who were very finely dressed. When these people observed us in the low valley, under the tree, they pointed the finger of scorn at us, and treated us with all manner of disrespect and contempt. But their contumely we utterly disregarded.

I presently turned to my guide, and inquired of him the meaning of the fruit that was so delicious. He told me it was the pure love of God, shed abroad in the hearts of all those who love him, and keep his commandments. He then commanded me to go and bring the rest of my children. I told him that we were all there. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘look yonder, you have two more, and you must bring them also.’ Upon raising my eyes, I saw two small children, standing some distance off. I immediately went to them, and brought them to the tree; upon which they commenced eating with the rest, and we all rejoiced together. The more we ate, the more we seemed to desire, until we even got down upon our knees, and scooped it up, eating it by double handfuls.

After feasting in this manner a short time, I asked my guide what was the meaning of the spacious building which I saw. He replied, ‘It is Babylon, it is Babylon, and it must fall. The people in the doors and windows are the inhabitants thereof, who scorn and despise the Saints of God because of their humility.’

I soon awoke, clapping my hands together for joy.”

Anyone familiar with the contents of this Book of Mormon reading will recognise all the salient elements of the Tree of Life story, which Joseph absorbed and repackaged into his own narrative. It seems that Joseph Smith wasn’t the only creative one in the family.

Elements of the story

I’m going to pull the important bits of the story out, and maybe give some ideas about how they contribute to Mormon thinking.

The dark and dreary waste

Lehi starts the story.

1 Nephi 8:5 And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.
8:6 And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him.
8:7 And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.

No clue from the manual as to what this is supposed to be, but I suppose it’s the world. Believers need everyone to think the world is an awful and unfulfilling place without their bullshit.

The tree of life and its fruit

1 Nephi 8:10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
8:11 And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.

Notice that, in this story, there’s only one place to be if you want to be happy: near the tree. In the same way, Latter-day Saints seem to think there’s only one place to be if you want to be happy: stuck in boring meetings for three hours on a Sunday.

The rod of iron

1 Nephi 8:19 And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.

Not only is there only one place to be, there’s only one way to get there: a cold, hard iron bar. You have to hold onto the bar and never let go, if you want to get to the tree.

Ask: What’s wrong with this picture?
Answer: We live in an amazing world, with many options open to us. There are many ways to live and be happy, and they don’t all involve undeviating obedience.

In fact, undeviating obedience is way more likely to lead to committing atrocities than thinking for yourself is.

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So why do Mormons stress that “obedience is the first law of heaven“?

I’ll just leave this video of the Milgram experiment here.

The river of filthy water, the mist of darkness, and the great and spacious building

The story continues:

1 Nephi 8:21 And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
8:22 And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.
8:23 And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
8:24 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
8:25 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
8:26 And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
8:27 And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
8:28 And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.

8:31 And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
8:32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.
8:33 And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.

Boy, the world sure seems like a dangerous place, doesn’t it? And if you let go of that rod for a split second, you could get drowned in a fountain.

This part of the story contributes to a “scary external world” narrative, which keeps many believers from venturing very far outside the confines of the faith.

Notice also that in this lesson, the church is attempting to inoculate its members against criticism and scorn.

I admit it’s not very nice to make fun of people. On the other hand, I think making fun of beliefs and ideas is perfectly acceptable. Ridicule doesn’t harm true ideas, but it’s lethal to false ones, which is why people with false beliefs are incredibly touchy about mockery and ridicule.

Ask: If you’ve been in a science class, did the lecturer warn you that people would mock and ridicule you for accepting a certain scientific idea?
Answer: Such a warning is unnecessary for factual ideas that are demonstrably true. If someone did try to ridicule you for accepting a fact, it would be sufficient to display the evidence for that fact, and then let that person do what they want with that information. But for beliefs that have no evidentiary basis, this is impossible, which is why believers typically resort to an appeal to faith as a fallback position.

Don't have funny beliefs

People in the story

So the LDS lesson manual mentions four kinds of people in the story:

a. 1 Nephi 8:21–23. (Those who start on the path but then become lost in the mist of darkness.)

Not very high achievers, are they? All they had to do was keep hold of that rod, and they couldn’t. Sheesh.

b. 1 Nephi 8:24–28. (Those who hold to the rod of iron until they reach the tree and partake of the fruit, but then become ashamed and fall away.)

Ah — they succumbed to peer pressure. Losers.

c. 1 Nephi 8:30. (Those who hold to the rod of iron until they reach the tree and partake of the fruit, and who then remain faithful.)

Those brave and stalwart individuals who stayed in the boat. And how did they manage it? By ignoring people with contrary opinions.

d. 1 Nephi 8:31–33. (Those who never start on the path but instead go directly toward the great and spacious building.)

So one group ends up believing, and three don’t. There’s something I want to point out about the three groups: They’re all people who succumbed to less-than-worthy motivators, whether apathy, or insufficient stamina, or social pressure. No one ever lets go for a worthwhile reason, like the fact that the iron rod isn’t really going anywhere, or the fruit of the Tree of Life is kind of meh. And what with all the scriptural editing, uncredited essays, and apologetic double-talk in the church today, the iron rod isn’t as firm as it used to be. It’s more like a steel slinky.

Which leads me to a conclusion. All the church knows how to do is devalue the life choices of people who don’t stay in the church. You can blame them or feel pity for them, but in this story, there’s no way to see their choices as valid.

How is a Mormon supposed to respect non-members or ex-members? How is a believer supposed to regard an ex-Mormon partner? How does this story help to build relationships? Or really, to do anything besides keep Mormons in their seats every Sunday?

There is one good thing in the manual, however.

Encourage class members to strengthen each other and to never mock or belittle others.

Hey, that’s fair. If we’re doing that, we need to knock it off. Ideas are fair game, but people deserve respect. That also goes for people who stay Mormon. We may not think it’s a good decision, but we don’t always know their motivations or their situation. Who knows — maybe something could have been different for me, and then I’d still be there.

A better story

Here’s my try at writing a better analogy. It’s more reflective of reality as I see it. From the Book of Daniel (Midgley), chapter 1.

  1. And it came to pass that I saw a world, and this world had treasures wondrous to behold.
  2. There was knowledge to gain, and work to be done.
  3. There were books to read and stories to tell.
  4. There was treasure.
  5. What’s that game where you slash around in the grass and find gems? Is it Zelda?
  6. It was like Zelda.
  7. There was food and people and music and art and love.
  8. There were a lot of dangerous animals and there was disease.
  9. For a lot of people, things sucked pretty much all the time.
  10. But fixing that was part of the work to be done.
  11. Oh, yeah, and there was coffee, too.
  12. And it came to pass that into this land there came a group, all huddled together, with a huge muslin sheet over them.
  13. The Sheet kept them together in a group, like a great amoeba or something.
  14. The Sheet blocked out the light, and kept them from seeing the things in their world as well as they might.
  15. For those closest to the centre, it obstructed their view entirely.
  16. God, were they sensitive about the unkind comments people made about the Sheet; but in fairness, they looked frigging ridiculous under that thing.
  17. And it looked hot and uncomfortable.
  18. But they did not mind being under the Sheet because they felt it was safer then being outside.
  19. Their leaders told them what life was like outside, and their descriptions of the dangers was enough to keep them under the Sheet.
  20. Being under the Sheet made them feel special, like a community.
  21. And some said that they could not imagine life without the Sheet.
  22. And some were not sure about the this whole Sheet thing, but that the Sheet was a part of their identity, and they’d been under the Sheet for this long, so.
  23. And it came to pass that some of them would venture out in pairs to convince others to join them under the enormous Sheet, and some would join them.
  24. And it came to pass that in the course of time, I saw more and more people venture out from underneath the Sheet.
  25. They had seen that the world outside the Sheet had more treasures than they’d been able to imagine, and that life under that Sheet involved a lot of unnecessary crap.
  26. Especially not having coffee.
  27. But when they returned to tell others about life without the Sheet, they found themselves ignored by their erstwhile fellow Sheet-mates.
  28. And it came to pass that Sheet-mates was not intended as some kind of sexual euphemism.
  29. And sometimes they were cut off from their families and partners (who really had been Sheet-mates) and these were the saddest of all.
  30. And it came to pass that some of the People of the Sheet were happy, and some were miserable.
  31. And some of the people outside the Sheet were happy.
  32. And some were miserable.
  33. A fact which the People of the Sheet harped on endlessly.
  34. But sometimes not being under a Sheet is like that.
  35. And the people outside the Sheet ended up, not in one place, but across the whole face of the land, since that was where the action is.
  36. And as the people discovered things about their world, they called unto each other, and shared their discoveries, and used their knowledge to discover more.
  37. And there were many ways to live, and many places to be, and all chose their way as best they could.

Additional lesson ideas

Is Jesus the Father?

The first edition of the Book of Mormon contained these verses:

1 Nephi 11:18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.

11:21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

11:32 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

In current editions, the text of these verses has been changed to read:

1 Nephi 11:18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.

11:21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

11:32 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

It’s a change that goes quite a bit beyond a simple textual edit, and shows that the Book of Mormon was Mormonism v1. Even so, sometimes Mormons double down on this, insisting that Jesus is the Father, if you redefine ‘father’. (Redefining words is the last refuge of a scoundrel.)

• Christ is sometimes called Father because of his role as Creator from the beginning
• Jesus Christ is also known as Father through the spiritual rebirth of mankind (see Born of God). As the foreordained Redeemer, he became the “author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him”
• Furthermore, Jesus is called Father because of the authority God gave him to act for the Father.

So Jesus is the Father, but only when he’s acting as the Father. Unless he’s also the Creator or the Saviour, which is all the time. Totally not confusing.

Sometimes the Savior has spoken both as the Father (Elohim) and as the Son (Jesus) in the same revelation

Because the writer got confused.

At this point, I tap out. It’s like arguing about the Force v Midichlorians with Star Wars nerds. Mormons are basically making their Godhead indistinguishable from the Trinity, so I hope they have fun with that.

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