To dismantle the idea that pride causes societal destruction
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?
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
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.
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.
“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:
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 , 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.
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.
To show the poor reasoning in the LDS response to atheism, and that LDS arguments are designed to invalidate the experience of non-believers
This is one lesson that I’ve been looking forward to. It’s one of the interesting lessons, and it’s all because of Korihor — a character Joseph Smith wrote into the Book of Mormon. Aren’t the villains always the most interesting characters?
Korihor is a character from 1st century BCE Mesoamerica, but who for some reason sounds like a 19th-century Enlightenment-era atheist intellectual — the kind that Joseph Smith might have run across. Funny that.
Let’s get to the reading.
Alma 30:5 And it came to pass that in the commencement of the seventeenth year of the reign of the judges, there was continual peace.
30:6 But it came to pass in the latter end of the seventeenth year, there came a man into the land of Zarahemla, and he was Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies which had been spoken by the prophets, concerning the coming of Christ.
30:7 Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.
30:8 For thus saith the scripture: Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve.
30:9 Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him; but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him.
In Zarahemla, there’s no law saying you have to believe in a God, much like — ahem — modern America. Sounds great to me. I’m anti-Christ myself. And you shouldn’t get special privileges or different laws based on the religion you choose.
Let’s take a look at Korihor’s ideas. Are they quite good, or a cartoony idea of what atheists think? Let’s take a look.
Alma 30:12 And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, (and the law could have no hold upon him) began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ. And after this manner did he preach, saying:
30:13 O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come.
Not quite true. While there’s always some uncertainty about the future, there is something that allows us to make predictions: science.
Sometimes people challenge me on science — or as they’re fond of calling it, “scientism”. They have the idea that science is just one narrative, and it shouldn’t be privileged over other narratives. I’ve been asked: How do you know that science isn’t just one way of thinking that’s internally coherent, but which ultimately has nothing to do with the real world and relates only to itself?
My response: We know that science pertains to the real world because it allows us to predict the future. Or to use other words: by observing what we can of reality, we can make hypotheses that explain what we’re observing. Then we can use these hypotheses to predict future events. A good hypothesis is one that explains our observations, and which has predictive power.
Religions do not have a good track record when it comes to predicting the future. Here’s one of my favourite examples:
We will never get a man into space. This Earth is man’s sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it.
The moon is a superior planet to the Earth and it was never intended that man should go there. You can write it down in your books that this will never happen.
Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith at Stake Conference in Honolulu, May 14, 1961
Oh, but he was just an apostle at the time. Why would expect him to know anything about that? You might as well ask the cat.
Alma 30:14 Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers.
I think Mormon teachings are foolish traditions. I’m very grateful for the work of NewNameNoah, who has taken the LDS temple ceremonies, and exposed them to a wider audience. Mormons hate it — and I think that’s in part because they know that their ceremonies are ridiculous. They act like someone who feels silly because they’ve been caught doing something foolish.
I mean, who dresses like this?
One point for Korihor.
Alma 30:15 How do ye know of their surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.
Can you know of things that you don’t see? This was a question posed to me by a well-meaning bishop who came for a visit.
It depends on your definition of “know”. If you’re an intuitive type who thinks knowing means “believing very strongly”, then you might say yes.
But if you’re an empiricist — and empiricism is the bedrock of science — then you’d say that evidence has to be observable. Feelings are evidence of how you’re feeling — your internal state — but not for anything external, or outside yourself.
Alma 30:16 Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.
Frenzy and derangement are strong words. I prefer the term delusion — a fixed belief, contrary to fact.
Alma 30:17 And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.
Whoa — that’s not a good reflection of my views. I think whatsoever a man does is no sin. Crime is another matter.
I do think, however, that people should prosper according to their genius. Look at someone like Elon Musk, who’s using his intelligence and vision to change our system of transport and energy, taking us away from fossil fuels and into a future of renewable power. That’s a huge benefit to humankind.
Alma 30:18 And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms —
LOL — men too? That really is whoredoms.
Alma 30:18 …telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.
Does anyone have any evidence of a life after death? Not near-death experiences — they can be induced in people who aren’t near death.
Seriously, which story seems more straightforward to you?
To say nothing of the secret passwords and handshakes.
And how was Korihor’s teaching received? Not very well.
Alma 30:19 Now this man went over to the land of Jershon also, to preach these things among the people of Ammon, who were once the people of the Lamanites.
30:20 But behold they were more wise than many of the Nephites; for they took him, and bound him, and carried him before Ammon, who was a high priest over that people.
30:21 And it came to pass that he caused that he should be carried out of the land. And he came over into the land of Gideon, and began to preach unto them also; and here he did not have much success, for he was taken and bound and carried before the high priest, and also the chief judge over the land.
WTF? Even though the writer (presumably Alma) made a big deal out of saying that there was no law against a person’s belief, the minute someone says something contrary, they get tied up and ejected. Twice! And Alma comments on how wise this was, so he evidently approves.
Alma 30:22 And it came to pass that the high priest said unto him: Why do ye go about perverting the ways of the Lord? Why do ye teach this people that there shall be no Christ, to interrupt their rejoicings? Why do ye speak against all the prophecies of the holy prophets?
Here’s something that people say to skeptics: Why are you bothering us?
One night recently, I was outside a psychic event handing out bingo flyers.
You wouldn’t believe how easy this is. All you have to do is identify people who are attending the event, hand them a flyer, and say, “I hope you enjoy the show.” And they just take the flyers!
I know this sounds terrible, but there are two kinds of people at these events:
groups of women aged 40–65, and
isolated men who are being dragged along.
Men as a rule simply do not seem to go for the psychic mediums. If I ever tried to hand a bingo card to men, they’d say “Oh, I’m not actually going to that.” (Perhaps they were just embarrassed.)
Anyway, on this particular evening, a women saw what I was handing out, and we had this conversation:
Her: The thing is — Why do you care?
Me: Because I think people need to have good information when they’re making choices.
Her: It’s entertainment! It’s in a theatre.
Me: Well, if someone is just here for a bit of a laugh, then there’s probably no harm done. But if they’ve lost someone, and they’re hurting, and someone takes their money — they’re playing with something they shouldn’t.
Her: But we tell kids about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. It’s fun!
Me: I think people deserve informed consent.
Why do I care? I care about people having good information, and so should everyone.
Alma 30:23 Now the high priest’s name was Giddonah. And Korihor said unto him: Because I do not teach the foolish traditions of your fathers, and because I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words.
Good for him — what else can we call it when humans claim authority over other humans because of some imaginary power?
Alma 30:24 Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage. Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.
In an earlier lesson, I mentioned a time when someone asked me: what if I was wrong, and the church was true? What I didn’t say at the time was this: If somehow in a complete evidentiary vacuum, the church turned out to be true, God existed, and Jesus and everything was just as they say — even if despite all probability they guessed everything right — then Mormons do not know they’re right.
They don’t know they’re right. The only way you can be sure you’re right is by observation of publicly available reality and evidence. And it’s darn hard to know something even then! So if you’re not even doing that, what chance do you have of getting it right? As I’ve said before, there is no other way of knowing. And if you know another way, please tell me about it. (Mathematics might be a good answer. But even that needs some empirical backup to make sure the results apply to our universe.)
Alma 30:25 Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents.
Point goes to Korihor again. God unjustly punished Adam and Eve (so the story goes) because they committed an action before they knew right from wrong. Now we’re living in a world affected by their actions. The chapter never returns to this idea to answer Korihor’s criticism.
Alma 30:26 And ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ. And ye say also that he shall be slain for the sins of the world —
30:27 And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges.
30:28 Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God — a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.
With a few exceptions, this depiction of rational atheism / skepticism is pretty good.
But Korihor gets hauled up before the authorities — for the third time! — for teaching his brand of hedonistic anti-clerical atheism.
Alma 30:29 Now when the high priest and the chief judge saw the hardness of his heart, yea, when they saw that he would revile even against God, they would not make any reply to his words; but they caused that he should be bound; and they delivered him up into the hands of the officers, and sent him to the land of Zarahemla, that he might be brought before Alma, and the chief judge who was governor over all the land.
Alma 30:37 And then Alma said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
30:38 And he answered, Nay.
30:39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
No, you don’t. See above.
Alma 30:40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.
Alma is trying to turn the tables here. He’s saying “I say there’s a god, you say there’s no god; so it’s all a wash because all beliefs are equivalent.”
But it doesn’t work like that. Alma is shifting the burden of evidence. The burden of evidence rests with the claimant. Alma is the one claiming that a god exists, so it’s up to him to provide evidence for that claim. Watch out when people try to shift the burden of evidence. By asking Korihor for evidence that something doesn’t exist, Alma is asking him to prove a negative. It may not be possible to prove that gods (or leprechauns, or unicorns) don’t exist — when the concept of a god is not well-defined.
On the other hand, if the god in question is well-defined, and we fail to see the kinds of things we should be able to see if such a god exists, then we can say that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
Neil deGrasse Tyson explains.
That doesn’t mean that believers aren’t creative when it comes to shifting the goalposts, as James Randi points out.
Alma 30:41 But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
30:42 Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God.
This is one of the really annoying things believers say: I think you really do believe, even though you claim not to.
My response is: How about I tell you what I believe.
Now Korihor makes a perfectly reasonable request: Show me the evidence.
Alma 30:43 And now Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words.
30:44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.
Here, Alma shows that he does not understand the kind of evidence that is required to support a claim. He does this in two ways:
He claims that words written by prophets in holy books counts as evidence. It does not. The people who wrote those books could have been mistaken, dishonest, or insane. And if we do allow scriptures as evidence, then whose? The Bible? The Quran? The Bhagavad-Gita? They’re all mutually contradictory. Picking one and not another is just special pleading — claiming that one set of scriptures is “different” somehow, but not saying why. Finally, you can’t use scriptures as evidence for a claim. They’re not evidence — they’re the claim. They need their own evidence.
He claims that the earth and the planets are evidence. (This is what I call the “look around” defence, because a young missionary once told me exactly that when I asked him for evidence: Look around!) The earth and the planets are only evidence if we presuppose that a god made them. But there are other explanations that don’t require us to believe in a magical being. This is a big problem for believers: there are better explanations for the kinds of things people cite as evidence.
Korihor pivots a little bit. Perhaps he realises that it’s difficult to prove a negative, so he says:
Alma 30:48 Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.
At this, Alma has had enough.
Alma 30:49 Now Alma said unto him: This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be struck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance.
30:50 Now when Alma had said these words, Korihor was struck dumb, that he could not have utterance, according to the words of Alma.
At this point, it looks like God is frustrated enough to harm Korihor. He doesn’t take call-outs well. On the other hand, while Korihor’s sudden muteness could be taken as evidence of God’s existence (and peevishness), there are other explanations. He could have gotten sudden laryngitis or had a stroke. An evil god could have taken his voice. When it comes to supernatural explanations, one is as untestable as another.
Alma 30:51And now when the chief judge saw this, he put forth his hand and wrote unto Korihor, saying: Art thou convinced of the power of God? In whom did ye desire that Alma should show forth his sign? Would ye that he should afflict others, to show unto thee a sign? Behold, he has showed unto you a sign; and now will ye dispute more?
The chief judge is a bit of a dope; why is he writing? He can speak.
Having forfeited its believability, the story now descends into farce.
Alma 30:52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.
30:53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.
That’s right, folks; Korihor believed in God the whole time. And this is what believers need to think: that critics are secret believers, really. We’re just lying when we say we don’t believe. And we’re literally influenced by the devil.
What a disservice. For believers, not only is there no legitimate reason not to believe, non-believers shouldn’t be trusted when they say they don’t. Maybe believers need to think this because the prospect of a real honest-to-goodness unbeliever with real honest-to-goodness reasons is way too threatening. If there are reasons, then maybe they should stop believing too — and that would mean loss of social group, loss of family, loss of identity, and loss of investment. That would take change, work, and self-analysis. Who wants to do that? And so believers take the lazy way out.
They don’t seem to notice that unbelievers never suddenly go mute. Instead, our voices are growing.
Well, that’s the end for old Korihor, except for his untimely end. Unable to answer his claims, God simply dispenses with him.
Alma 30:58 And it came to pass that they were all convinced of the wickedness of Korihor; therefore they were all converted again unto the Lord; and this put an end to the iniquity after the manner of Korihor. And Korihor did go about from house to house, begging food for his support.
30:59 And it came to pass that as he went forth among the people, yea, among a people who had separated themselves from the Nephites and called themselves Zoramites, being led by a man whose name was Zoram — and as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead.
30:60 And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.
That’s confirmation bias there. Some of us do quite well, post-deconversion. But if anything ever did happen to me, I’m sure the dear old ward members would think of this chapter of Alma and infer some kind of judgment.
And then there’s a pretty humourous description of the Zoramites and their Rameumptom. Doesn’t that name sound like something Roald Dahl might have made up?
Alma 31:12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;
31:13 For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head, and the top thereof would only admit one person.
31:14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:
31:15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
31:16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
31:17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
31:18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.
31:19 Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure.
31:20 For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.
31:21 Now the place was called by them Rameumptom, which, being interpreted, is the holy stand.
31:22 Now, from this stand they did offer up, every man, the selfsame prayer unto God, thanking their God that they were chosen of him, and that he did not lead them away after the tradition of their brethren, and that their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.
31:23 Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner.
The first time I saw it was in the venerable Student Review which operated out of BYU in the early 90s. Any information about the author would be welcome.
Cast: A father and his daughter.
“What’s a Rameumptom, Daddy?”
“Well, the Book of Mormon says it was a place where the Zoramites stood to worship and pray.”
“But my Primary teacher said it was a tower that evil people used.”
“I can see how someone could think that. The Book of Mormon says it was a place for standing which was high above the head’ and only one person at atime could go up there.”
“Was it like the speaker’s stand in the church?”
“A speaker’s stand? You mean a pulpit? Yes, I suppose it was. In fact, the word ‘Rameumptom’ means ‘the holy stand.'”
“What’s so evil about a holy stand, Daddy?”
“Well, it wasn’t the stand that was evil. It was how it was used. The people gathered there in their synagogue. . .”
“What’s a synagogue?”
“Just a different word for chapel or church, honey.”
“They’d gather in their synagogue one day a week.”
“Which day, Daddy?”
“I don’t know, honey. It just says ‘one day,’ and they called it ‘the day of the Lord.'”
“It must have been Sunday.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because Sunday is the Lord’s day.”
“Well, maybe it was. . . Anyway, they’d gather there and whoever wanted to worship would go and stand on the top of the Rameumptom.”
“Could anyone go up there?”
“Well, no, that was part of the problem. Apparently, they had to wear the right clothes. . . ”
“You mean like us when we wear Sunday clothes, Daddy?”
“Well, not exactly, but in a way, yes, I suppose. Some of us might have a hard time accepting certain kinds of clothes or people in sacrament meeting. But we wear our Sunday clothes to help us be reverent, don’t we?”
“So anyway, where was I?”
“They went to the top of the Rameumptom. . .”
“Yes, they would go up and worship God by thanking him for making them so special.”
“Were they bearing their testimonies?”
“Well, uh, I guess maybe they were in a way, but they weren’t true testimonies.”
“Because they were too proud.”
“What do you mean ‘proud,’ Daddy?”
“Well, they would talk about how they were ‘a chosen and holy people.'”
“My Primary teacher said Mormons are the chosen people and we’re a special generation.”
“Yes, honey, but that’s different.”
“Because we are.”
“Besides they were very, very proud about how much better they were than everyone else, because they didn’t believe the ‘foolish traditions’ of their neighbors.”
“What does that mean, Daddy?”
“It means that they believed everyone else was wrong and they alone were right.”
“Isn’t that what we believe?”
“But it’s different.”
“Because we are right, honey.”
“Everyone would stand and say the same thing. . .”
“That sounds like testimony meeting to me.”
“Don’t be irreverent.”
“Then after it was all over, they would go home and never speak about God until the next day of the Lord when they’d gather at the holy stand again.”
To show that God is unjust, and allows unnecessary suffering.
CONTENT WARNING: rape, murder
Is Alma still talking to Zeezrom? Poor guy must be getting bored by now. After all, you can’t spell Zeezrom without ‘Zz’.
Alma 13:1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
And on and on. Check out chapter 13 — it’s a bit of a snore. And there was more beyond that.
Alma 13:31And Alma spake many more words unto the people, which are not written in this book.
Main ideas for this lesson
Part of Alma’s discourse in chapter 13 centers around the Melchizedek Priesthood. (Amazingly, a doctrine from the Book of Mormon seems to have survived unedited in the modern church.)
Let’s browse some questions in the Gospel Doctrine Lesson Manual.
• When are men first “called and prepared” to be ordained to the priesthood? (See Alma 13:3.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 365).
• How did men demonstrate in premortal life that they were worthy to be foreordained to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood? (See Alma 13:3–5.) What must men do in this life to remain worthy of their foreordination? (See Alma 13:8–10.)
And here are the relevant scriptures in the Book of Mormon.
Alma 13:3And this is the manner after which they were ordained — being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
13:4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
In other words, whatever your station in life — whether worthy priesthood holder in affluent North America, or non-member in the benighted third world — you’re in the position you are because of what you did in the premortal life. You were foreordained to this condition.
There’s a narcissistic appeal to this idea. If you’re in the church, it means you’re special somehow. And it’s not just that you’re special because you were chosen; you earned this by your meritorious works before you were born.
We’ve talked a lot about the sunk-cost fallacy: it’s difficult to leave (or even question) the church because of the time, money, and effort you’ve invested. But adding in the premarital life kicks it up to Level One Million. Not only have you invested part of your life, you’ve (supposedly) invested an eternity in the life before this one! Talk about kicking up the commitment — and the cost of abandoning the investment. I remember learning about the premortal life, and thinking, “This life is so short, and if I can just get through it, I’ll be in heaven forever with Heavenly Father!”
Okay. So where’s the problem in thinking that our station in life depends on a premortal life?
It leads to the idea that people who are worse off somehow deserve their situation. And if that’s the case, then one could conclude that…
they deserve their situation
other forms of discrimination against them is justified
Is there reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not a reflection of our worthiness or lack of it in the pre-existent life?…can we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China, or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Latter-day Saints. There are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds….
Official Statement of First Presidency issued on August 17, 1951
“The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes….. “Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgression. If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain’s transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world.“
It’s hard to overstate how callous this belief is. I know lots of Latter-day Saints are good-hearted people who care about others, but this belief does not contribute to such a mindset. It provides a divine justification for why some people are worse off. If we can’t solve problems of poverty and injustice in the world — well, how can we, when such a condition is God-ordained? And the belief contributes to the narcissism that is general in religious circles: God helps me; finds my car keys, finds me parking spots, arranges things for me — and not only that, but he placed me here with benefits not afforded to others.
It puts a rather sinister pall on the Primary song:
I am a child of God
And he has sent me here…
I’ve come to a different view since my deconversion. I now think that every person on earth is a human much like myself, with a body, a brain, and a limited lifespan. We face unequal situations and unequal opportunities because of where and how we’re born. There are no gods, as far as I’m aware, that are going to work to fix this. So it’s up to us. The idea that we lucky few with enough to eat and the “right” ideology get to live this way because of some hypothetical premortal history is a terrible and unjust distraction.
The Problem of Evil (again)
But now here’s the interesting part: this long discourse doesn’t seem to have put the audience to sleep. Instead, it got them so riled up that they start burning people.
Alma 14:8 And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire, and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
14:9 And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
Amulek thinks what any normal human would, and suggests stopping the horror.
Alma 14:10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
Alma says no. It’s okay, because God is whisking them all to heaven, and he needs the bad people to do bad things so he can judge them.
Alma 14:11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.
It’s said that with great power comes great responsibility, so with infinite power comes infinite responsibility. If I’d had the power to stop the fiery deaths of all those people, I would have done so. So would anyone. Anyone, that is, except God, who allows them to suffer and die. And why? So that he can find out what he already knows — bad guys are bad.
The Book of Mormon says that it’s all okay because God is taking them all to heaven. Would that be a good enough reason for you or me to fail to prevent their deaths? Let’s return again to the Tale of the Twelve Officers, in which a woman is raped and murdered over the course of several hours, while officers look on.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” said the ninth officer. “Moments after Ms. K. flatlined, I had her resuscitated, and flown to a tropical resort where she is now experiencing extraordinary bliss, and her ordeal is just a distant memory. I’m sure you would agree that that’s more than adequate compensation for her suffering, so the fact that I just stood there watching instead of intervening has no bearing at all on my goodness.”
No one would accept this kind of justification from me, and yet many people are willing to give God a pass. They shouldn’t.
After this, Alma and Amulek knock the walls down, in a rehash of Paul’s escape in Acts 16. All the bad guys die, in a rehash of Samson in Judges 16.
Alma 14:26 And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them.
14:27 And it came to pass that so great was their fear that they fell to the earth, and did not obtain the outer door of the prison; and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof.
Fortunately, Zeezrom is healed and converted, so it was all worth it.
Alma 15:5 And it came to pass that they went immediately, obeying the message which he had sent unto them; and they went in unto the house unto Zeezrom; and they found him upon his bed, sick, being very low with a burning fever; and his mind also was eexceedingly sore because of his iniquities; and when he saw them he stretched forth his hand, and besought them that they would heal him.
15:6 And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?
15:7 And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.
15:8 And Alma said: If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.
15:9 And he said: Yea, I believe according to thy words.
15:10 And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.
15:11 And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom.
He still felt annoyed at everyone’s inability to pronounce his name, though.
Amulek felt his pain — his phone always tried to autocorrect his name to ‘Amulet’.
Additional lesson ideas
The Book of Mormon talks about Ammonihah, a Nephite city that was destroyed by the Lamanites.
Alma 16:1 And it came to pass in the eleventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, on the fifth day of the second month, there having been much peace in the land of Zarahemla, there having been no wars nor contentions for a certain number of years, even until the fifth day of the second month in the eleventh year, there was a cry of war heard throughout the land.
16:2 For behold, the armies of the Lamanites had come in upon the wilderness side, into the borders of the land, even into the city of Ammonihah, and began to slay the people and destroy the city.
16:3 And now it came to pass, before the Nephites could raise a sufficient army to drive them out of the land, they had destroyed the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, and also some around the borders of Noah, and taken others captive into the wilderness.
16:9 And thus ended the eleventh year of the judges, the Lamanites having been driven out of the land, and the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness.
16:10 But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness.
Of course, no site has been found that corresponds to the city of Ammonihah, though all due props to ‘Captain Kirk’ for actually trying to suggest one. The problem is going to be that there’s no place with all the bones and human remains that would have been the result of such a slaughter.
It’s possible to discover remains of people from that time. Check out this article from Science showing the remains of a battle between just a few hundred people, about a thousand years before this passage in the Book of Mormon. You really should click through to see the photo of just how close together the bones are.
In 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a single upper arm bone sticking out of the steep riverbank—the first clue that the Tollense Valley, about 120 kilometers north of Berlin, concealed a gruesome secret. A flint arrowhead was firmly embedded in one end of the bone, prompting archaeologists to dig a small test excavation that yielded more bones, a bashed-in skull, and a 73-centimeter club resembling a baseball bat. The artifacts all were radiocarbon-dated to about 1250 B.C.E., suggesting they stemmed from a single episode during Europe’s Bronze Age.
Yes, we can find piles of bones from ancient battles. We don’t find remains of Book of Mormon peoples because they didn’t exist.
To show that ex-Mormons behave with much greater courage and strength of conviction than LDS leaders.
At the tail end of our last reading, a character named Abinadi popped up. He was a bit of a scold, but a plucky one. This lesson’s about him.
It seems that King Noah (invariably portrayed as obese) is wicked, and we know he’s wicked because he does the one thing you’re never supposed to do:
Mosiah 11:1 And now it came to pass that Zeniff conferred the kingdom upon Noah, one of his sons; therefore Noah began to reign in his stead; and he did not walk in the ways of his father.
11:2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart….
Ooo — bad move! Remember, what you want is either evil or inconsequential because of that whole “natural man” thing.
What else does this wicked king do?
Mosiah 11:2 …And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.
Wow, the Book of Mormon is really anti-polygamy. It’s amazing that early LDS people were able to accommodate both. What else?
Mosiah 11:3And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain.
Taxing their ziff? NOW HANG ON
This passage feeds into a lot of anti-taxation sentiment running about in the USA. I’m not a taxation specialist, but it seems to me that 20% is on the low side, as far as things go. It tends to run in the thirties for the USA, and they hardly cover anything.
Bottom line: Churches have a lot of nerve incorporating anti-tax sentiment into their theology.
Mosiah 11:8And 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;
11:9 And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things.
Buildings and thrones that no one can find.
And we do keep finding artefacts from other civilisations. Here’s a team that found a 9,200 year-old settlement in Sweden. They were able to find fermented fish. Think about that. Archaeologists are able to find 10,000-year-old fish, but they can’t find enormous gold and silver buildings? (To say nothing of the ziff.) A civilisation capable of producing this would have left mountains of evidence, but no one can find anything. And Joseph Smith practically gave them the address of the Guatemalan neighbourhood it all took place in! Once again: fictional people don’t leave traces.
Mosiah 11:20And it came to pass that there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi; and he went forth among them, and began to prophesy, saying: Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, Go forth, and say unto this people, thus saith the Lord — Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.
After talking some trash, Abinadi gets away.
Mosiah 11:26 Now it came to pass that when Abinadi had spoken these words unto them they were wroth with him, and sought to take away his life; but the Lord delivered him out of their hands.
But two years later, he comes back in disguise.
Mosiah 12:1And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying — Abinadi…,
Well, you just blew your cover there, didn’t you? I mean, all you had to do was not say your damn name.
I don’t care how many people have pointed this out — it never gets any less hilarious.
Mosiah 12:1 …go and prophesy unto this my people, for they have hardened their hearts against my words; they have repented not of their evil doings; therefore, I will visit them in my anger, yea, in my fierce anger will I visit them in their iniquities and abominations.
12:3 And it shall come to pass that the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace; for he shall know that I am the Lord.
12:4 And it shall come to pass that I will smite this my people with sore afflictions, yea, with famine and with pestilence; and I will cause that they shall howl all the day long.
12:5 Yea, and I will cause that they shall have burdens lashed upon their backs; and they shall be driven before like a dumb ass.
Let’s just take a second and consider that the god of the Book of Mormon will kill people for not doing what he wants. Again, it seems that we have a god who kills people to get his way. Good old Jehovah.
Ask the class:
How does this relate to free agency?
Mormons (and theists) often argue that God can’t prevent people from doing evil things, because that would curtail their agency.
If agency is so important, why does God then kill people for exercising it?
How plausible is God’s punishment for the wicked, in a world where people routinely commit evil acts?
Abinadi is captured and hauled up before the king and his priests. Obviously the first thing they would do is… grill him about Old Testament scriptures!
(Sorry; I didn’t mean to say grill him. Poor choice of words. #toosoon)
Mosiah 12:20 And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying:
12:21 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;
There follows quite a discussion of feet. But the striking thing is that the discussion centres around a passage from Isaiah 53, which — you guessed it — wouldn’t have been available to the Nephites. It was written by Deutero-Isaiah, some hundred years after Lehi supposedly left Jerusalem.
Sadly, fictional Abinadi is put to death.
Mosiah 17:1 And now it came to pass that when Abinadi had finished these sayings, that the king commanded that the priests should take him and cause that he should be put to death.
17:2 But there was one among them whose name was Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man, and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken, for he knew concerning the iniquity which Abinadi has testified against them; therefore he began to plead with the king that he would not be angry with Abinadi, but suffer that he might depart in peace.
17:4 But he fled from before them and hid himself that they found him not. And he being concealed for many days did write all the words which Abinadi had spoken.
17:5 And it came to pass that the king caused that his guards should surround Abinadi and take him; and they bound him and cast him into prison.
17:13 And it came to pass that they took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death.
17:14 And now when the flames began to scorch him, he cried unto them, saying:
17:15 Behold, even as ye have done unto me, so shall it come to pass that thy seed shall cause that many shall suffer the pains that I do suffer, even the pains of death by fire; and this because they believe in the salvation of the Lord their God.
17:20 And now, when Abinadi had said these words, he fell, having suffered death by fire; yea, having been put to death because he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death.
We’ll see more about that Alma later.
Just to close out our discussion of Abinadi’s story: people make a big deal out of dying for their beliefs. It’s considered to be some kind of final statement that verifies their view. But I don’t think dying for a belief is worth much if your beliefs are nonsense. To me, that seems more like a fatal case of mental inflexibility. I respect someone who changes their beliefs in the face of evidence a hell of a lot more.
Main ideas for this lesson
Who is the Lord?
When Abinadi escapes the first time, he leaves King Noah with a lingering question.
Mosiah 11:27 Now when king Noah had heard of the words which Abinadi had spoken unto the people, he was also wroth; and he said: Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him, or who is the Lord, that shall bring upon my people such great affliction?
That’s supposed to be a horrifying question: “Who is the Lord?” Why would I worship him? What right does he have to tell me how to live?
You’re just not supposed to ask those things. But really, if someone is demanding your worship, then asking who he is is a perfectly reasonable question!
If I came to you and told you that you ought to worship Burunfa, you’d be perfectly within your rights to ask who that is. As it turns out, Burunfa is a god that my six-year-old son invented. He has the form of a dog, and he pooped out the universe. If I told you that this was an insignificant detail, and you should worship him without knowing any of that — well, you might be justified in thinking that I was a bit embarrassed about those details, and I was trying to shut you down.
If I told you that you should worship Jehovah, but I didn’t want you to know that he’s a genocidal sexist homophobe, then I might not like it if you asked to know his true character, but that’s a question you should ask all the same.
Prophets v apostates
There’s something stirring about the story of Abinadi. It’s one man, up against those in power. Like the painting by Arnold Friberg.
It’s a very inspiring scene, even if it is a bit crowded in there. There’s barely any space to put the leopards. No wonder they’re testy.
That’s how we picture prophets. Boldly testifying of the truth.
So why is it that when you take a modern LDS prophet, and you question them, they turn into mice?
Q: You are the president, prophet, seer and revelator of the Mormon Church?
A: I am so sustained, yes.
“I am so sustained”?
Why not “Yes”?
Essentially he’s saying, “That’s what they say.” Yes, but what do you say? Now’s your chance to testify of your power. “That is what I am, and the world should be paying attention because I am the Lord’s mouthpiece.” But instead we get this funny little dance.
Mr. TAYLER. What official position do you now hold in the church?
Mr. SMITH. I am now the president of the church.
Mr. TAYLER. Is there any other description of your title than mere president?
Mr. SMITH. No, sir; not that I know of. Mr. TAYLER. Are you prophet, seer, and revelator? Mr. SMITH. I am so sustained and upheld by my people.
Mr. TAYLER. Do you get that title by reason of being president or by reason of having been an apostle?
Mr. SMITH. By reason of being president. Mr. TAYLER. Are not all the apostles also prophets, seers, and revelators? Mr. SMITH. They are sustained as such at our conferences. Mr. TAYLER. They all have that title now, have they not? Mr. SMITH. Well, they are so sustained at the conferences. Mr. TAYLER. I want to know if they do not have that title now. Mr. SMITH. I suppose if they are sustained they must have that title.
Mr. TAYLER. Are they sustained as such now?
Mr. SMITH. I have said so twice, sir.
Mr. TAYLER. Who were your predecessors in office as president of the church?
Mr. SMITH. My immediate predecessor was Lorenzo Snow.
Mr. TAYLER. And his predecessor?
Mr. SMITH. Wilford Woodruff.
Mr. TAYLER. And his?
Mr. SMITH. John Taylor.
Mr. TAYLER. Yes; go on back through the line.
Mr. SMITH. Brigham Young.
Mr. TAYLER. Yes.
Mr. SMITH. And Joseph Smith. Mr. TAYLER. You are possessed of the same powers that they were possessed of? Mr. SMITH. Yes, I am supposed to be possessed of the same authority that they were. Mr. TAYLER. You believe yourself to be, do you not? Mr. SMITH. I think I do believe so.
Mr. TAYLER. I do not know that there is any significance in your use of the word “think,” Mr. Smith, but one hardly thinks that he has a belief. He either knows or does not know that he has a belief.
Mr. SMITH. I think I do.
Mr. TAYLER. According to the doctrine of your church, you have become the successor of your several predecessors as the head of the church?
Mr. SMITH. Yes, sir. Mr. TAYLER. And are supposed to be endowed with all the powers that they were possessed of? Mr. SMITH. That is my understanding.
It’s infuriating! You want to grab him by his old-fashioned collar and say “Are you a prophet or aren’t you‽” Why is he playing coy?
Same deal when Tom Phillips tried to haul Thomas Monson into court for fraud. No way did Monson go to testify on his own behalf. Instead, he was represented by a very un-prophetic legal team (who couldn’t get the name of the church right).
If there’s a model for how modern prophets behave, it’s not Abinadi. Abinadi represented himself in person, took the fight straight to his accusers, and made no apologies for what he was saying.
On the contrary; modern prophets use legal teams and PR flacks, instead of acting on their own behalf. They give comfy speeches in General Conferences for receptive audiences, but when it’s time to answer the tough questions, they hide behind anonymous undated essays. They’ve (allegedly) funded apologetics groups to make up excuses for them. President Newsroom seems to have more power than the Q15 themselves. And all of this architecture is to protect the leadership from having to say anything they can later be pinned down on. It’s all to maintain plausible deniability and to say as little as possible.
You know who speaks out boldly on their own behalf? Apostates.
In the last couple of years, members of the church — including Kate Kelly and John Dehlin (mp3 of John speaking at the Exmormon Foundation)— have been called into excommunication hearings for the sin of making themselves heard. Of all these, the one that seems most like Abinadi is Jeremy Runnels, creator of the CES Letter.
The proceedings of his excommunication hearing are a must read, and Zelph on the Shelf has all the info you need.
Jeremy: Cool, Thank you very much. Um, Okay, Uh, President Ivins can you read the rest of the apostasy definition? Like you read the definition, but there’s more to it.
Ivins: I’d like you to make a statement.
Jeremy: Okay, you’re not going to answer that?
Ivins: No, I’m not.
Jeremy: K, um, my experience with President Ivins unfortunately the past year and a half, is that he has never answered my questions. Not a single question. I’ve asked you three questions over and over and over and over and over and over and over 28 times and a specific question that I asked you is, What errors or mistakes in the CES letter or in the website is incorrect so that I can publically correct it? The second question I asked you is, if there are no errors or mistakes, why am I being punished for speaking and sharing the truth? Now the third question I asked you is, What question am I being punished for? And you have not answered a single one of them. Can I ask you why you are not answering them?
Ivins: You’re gonna make a statement.
Jeremy: So you’re not going to answer any questions this evening.
Ivins: I’m not. No. I’ve stated my evidence, you make a statement.
Jeremy: Okay. So do I have here, would you agree that I
Ivins: You make a statement Jeremy. Jeremy: Why are you not answering any questions? Ivins: This is not the time for that. Jeremy: When is the time? Ivins: We’re not going to get into a debate. You’re going to make a statement. Period.
Jeremy: I’m just going to make a statement. Why won’t you answer my questions? I’ve asked and they’re very reasonable questions that I’ve asked over and over. Like I don’t know what, if there are errors or mistakes, I want to correct them. I don’t understand why you are spiritually executing me over something, I don’t know what’s wrong. You claim I’m in opposition to the church. The church’s essays are in public opposition to the church. Out of curiosity, by a show of hands, how many of you have read the church’s essays? Nobody here? Okay, um. By the show of hands, how many of you have read the CES letter? Nobody here tonight has read the CES letter? Wow. And by the show of hands, has president Ivins prepared you tonight for this council by reading the CES letter carefully?
Ivins: Jeremy, make a statement.
When I read this, I picture someone fronting up against a bunch of silent priests. And the one in the centre, taking up the spot held by Abinadi, isn’t the stake president. It’s Jeremy.
Apostates act far more like Old Testament prophets than church leaders do. But this is the nature of calcified institutional religion.
Additional lesson ideas
If you were sitting in the middle of the 19th century, and you’re telling a big story about the past, you might be expected to make a mistake in tense once in a while — especially if the events you were describing happened before your time, but after the time of your characters.
Jospeh Smith (or whoever) has exactly this problem when writing for Abinadi.
Mosiah 16:6 And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption.
Whoops! Nice save there.
Seriously, though, what do you do when you’re talking about a counterfactual hypothetical for something that hasn’t happened yet, but that you’re sure will happen eventually? English isn’t really set up for this. Clearly, this is a linguistic situation crying out for a solution.
Well, as a linguist, I can help. Ladies and gentlemen, the expectant future pluperfect.
And now if Christ will not be to have come into the world
You’re welcome. But the fraudulent prophet stuff — I can’t really help with that.
To show how the vagueness of commandments sets us up to fail, and to become neurotic.
King Benjamin’s speech (from our last lesson) has had its intended effect. People feel horrible, like they’re less than the dust of the earth. To compensate, God blesses them with skill at shouting in unison.
Mosiah 4:1 And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
4:2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men
4:3 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.
Shout stuff, get forgiven for sins. What a great meeting.
They shout stuff in unison again, a bit later.
Mosiah 5:1 And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them.
5:2 And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.
That’s amazing! They all shouted the same thing, thought about it a bit, realised they all hadn’t shouted it quite right, and then all shouted a slightly differently-worded version of the same idea. If Synchronised Shouting were an Olympic sport, I’d give them a perfect 10.
You have to wonder if there was like one guy who wasn’t really feeling it, but shouted the same thing as everybody else, just because he didn’t want to rock the boat.
Main ideas for this lesson
Should we believe in a god?
Benjamin gives some strange advice.
Mosiah 4:9 Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.
Why should we believe this? Like a lot of things in the Book of Mormon, it sounded like a good idea before we had any better ideas.
Let’s take this one by one:
Believe in God; believe that he is,
That’s not something I’m prepared to believe until I get adequate evidence. I don’t exactly know what that would be, but God does, and he’s not showing it to me. I must therefore conclude that God doesn’t really care if I believe in him or not.
and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth;
As far as we know, everything in our universe has come about by natural means. There’s no need to postulate a magical being.
“While speaking with L…… I congratulated him on a work which he had just published and asked him how the name of God, which appeared endlessly in the works of Lagrange, didn’t occur even once in his. He replied that he had no need of that hypothesis.”
believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth;
All wisdom and all power? He can’t even help to solve his church’s own problems. It seems to keep stepping in its own ordure on a weekly basis.
believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.
Benjamin is wrong on every count. There’s no need to believe in any gods — either that they exist or that they’re worth worshipping. I would never worship such an incompetent nuisance as the biblical god.
Helping the poor
Now here’s something good in the Book of Mormon.
Mosiah 4:16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
4:17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just —
4:18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
From experience, I’ve found that this part of the class is always a challenge in conservative areas!
Ask: If you’re in a real Gospel Doctrine class, does anyone start back-tracking on this by focusing on the conditions under which you should give, or tying one’s giving to the “deservingness” of the poor person? Do they start talking about how it might be “harmful” to give a homeless person money?
How do they take it when you point out that King Benjamin offered no such conditions?
Your answers in comments?
The Unwritten Order
Benjamin says that there are so many sins, that it’s not possible to number them.
Mosiah 4:29 And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.
4:30 But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.
If God has that many ways that we can offend him, then maybe he should chill out! That would be better than turning us all into stressballs, relentlessly monitoring ourselves.
Without being told what the list of sins is, knowledge will be incomplete, and implantation will be uneven. Which brings me to a story about leadership roulette.
I was lucky to have some fairly liberal bishops in my small college town. But the neighbouring ward that shared our building had a bishop who (I was told) was very much against birth control, and counselled ward members thusly. And why wouldn’t he? It was church doctrine for years.
Until the late twentieth century, Mormon apostles and presidents consistently taught that birth control was wicked and sinful.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, writing in Mormon Doctrine: “Those who practice birth control are running counter to the foreordained plan of the almighty. They are in rebellion against God and are guilty of gross wickedness.”
Apostle and future President Joseph Fielding Smith, writing in Doctrines of Salvation: “Birth control is wickedness. The abuse of this holy covenant has been the primary cause for the downfall of nations. When the sacred vows of marriage are broken and the real purpose of marriage abused, as we find it so prevalent in the world today, then destruction is inevitable.” (Emphasis in original.)
The LDS Church could resolve all this trouble by releasing a list of sins. “Here are all the things you’re not supposed to do.” It would certainly make for interesting reading! It’s the kind of thing that a prophet could do, if they had one. And you have to admit it’s kind of important to know what not to do, with our salvation depending on it and all. But instead the list is kept vague.
This is wrong. As a parent and as a teacher, one thing I’ve learned is the importance of conveying expectations clearly. Otherwise, how are people going to do what you want? If there are rules that God expects us to follow, they need to be written down.
Interestingly, this pattern of not conveying expectations clearly has continued into our day. Consider this talk by Boyd Packer in 1996: The Unwritten Order of Things
The things I am going to tell you are not explained in our handbooks or manuals either. Even if they were, most of you don’t have handbooks—not the Melchizedek Priesthood or Relief Society handbooks and the others—because they are given only to the leaders. I will be speaking about what I call the “unwritten order of things.” My lesson might be entitled “The Ordinary Things about the Church Which Every Member Should Know.” Although they are very ordinary things, they are, nevertheless, very important!
Ask: How is one supposed to become aware of “unwritten rules”? Answer: The process of learning seems to rely less on understanding a known body of regulations and more on noticing the behaviour of the group. In other words, knowing the rules is a less of a spiritual process, and more of a cultural one.
Ask: Who is privileged by an “unwritten order of things”? Answer: This kind of system privileges
those who have been raised in the cultural milieu of Mormonism
those who have a lot of experience in the church
and importantly, those who are already good at navigating within a culture that Mormonism is closely tied to: the White middle-class culture. Being good at that definitely gives someone a leg up when it comes to Mormon culture. Everyone else has to rely on their ability to assimilate.
Notice also in Packer’s speech a reference to the Church Handbook of Instructions. It contains the rules that affect members, but is explicitly not available to them. It has been leaked, though, and links can be found here.
Maybe there’s one insight we can pull from this speech, though:
But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds
Let’s acknowledge the creepy panopticon connotations.
Even so, after you’ve embraced rationality and skepticism, all is not done. You have to keep challenging your own received wisdom, and (when you can) go back through all the stuff you still believe. Some baloney might have snuck in. It can be facts you thought you knew, or it can be attitudes and opinions you hold.
Skepticism as video game: Religion is End Boss of Level 1. Then come Sexism and Libertarianism, but most declare victory & quit after 1.
Continuing to play is a real challenge. But it is enlightening. How many times have I slapped myself on the forehead and said, “You mean that wasn’t true either?” And then felt glad that I no longer had to believe that wrong thing. But it takes the ability to stay skeptical. Keep the instinct.
Additional lesson ideas
Why does King Benjamin take the names of members?
Mosiah 6:1 And now, king Benjamin thought it was expedient, after having finished speaking to the people, that he should take the names of all those who had entered into a covenant with God to keep his commandments.
From the LDS manual:
• King Benjamin saw that all his people (except those who were too young) had entered into the covenant to obey God’s commandments (Mosiah 6:1–2). Why was it important to record their names?
The church has a creepy focus on tracking people down. This isn’t so much a problem for me, but many people have had the experience of having unwanted people call around.
Talk with neighbors, a building supervisor, manager, or owner, if known or available.
Contact other family currently living at the member’s last known address.
Contact the new individual or family living there.
Contact neighbors adjacent to the member’s last known address.
Facebook is the most effective way to find someone. There may be many entries but you can sometimes narrow it down by their friend list i.e. known family members or friends. Be certain to try searching by the member’s email address as well. If you don’t have their email address, try finding it by using their address on Melissadata.com below.
CrimCheck offers over 1,000 state, county, city and federal (court) web sites where you can search free public records. Most search services are free.
In many states you can check voter registration records online. This method tends to be THE BEST way to find members.
A really, really good thing to have is online property tax records. They vary a lot on what you can do with them. Some even let you enter the VIN for a car and it will show you the progression of owners. This can be used to find a relative since cars are often sold to family members.
Worse still, it’s not clear whether formally resigning ends the pursuit.
The Book of Mormon is consistent with the Bible… in that it insults left-handed people.
Mosiah 5:9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
5:10 And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
To show how the gospel sets up impossible, confusing, and damaging expectations for people
From all my years of teaching Gospel Doctrine (either here or in church), there’s a principle I’ve learned about prophecy:
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
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?
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.
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 3:19For 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.
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. , 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.
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.)
Even prophets get it wrong in this process, so what chance do the rest of us have?
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
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
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.
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.
To show that religious discourse slanders Jewish people and unbelievers alike.
My relationship with olives is complicated.
The first time I tried olives, it was at a family gathering. All the other kids had stuck pitted olives on all of their fingers. It looked like fun, so I got two handfuls. Then I ate one of the olives. It did not agree with my young taste buds. So now I had olives on all my fingers (but one), and no desire to eat any of them. What to do? Flicking them at family members was, in retrospect, not a great idea, and brought swift remonstration. History does not record what happened to the olives.
I once lived at a place that had an olive tree. It was a fairly spindly affair, but it made olives with annual regularity. I didn’t know what to do with them. I heard that you could pick them and soak them in brine for a long time, and they would become edible. But if even one of the olives had a bad spot, you’d have a whole jar of bad olives. It seemed like an awful lot of work for something that, as I say, you wouldn’t want on your fingers. The boys used them for olive fights. Olives can sting.
Anyway, this one time I got home, and there was a rotund Italian lady up in the tree, picking olives. Wearing an apron, a house dress, the whole bit. I don’t know how she got up there because it really wasn’t a big tree, and it didn’t look like it could support her considerable bulk. She must have been really keen to get at those olives. Apparently she’d asked my housemate if she could harvest them, and my housemate said yes. The same house had a grape arbor, and the grapes were nice sometimes, but mostly the rats would eat them. So I had rats scrambling around in the arbor and old Italian women up in the olive trees. I didn’t know what to do about it all. I mean, the rats you could poison.
I always pick olives off of pizzas.
I was going somewhere with this. Oh, yeah.
I hate olives. Olives are bullshit.
And so is this reading. The centrepiece of this lesson is an allegory by a prophet named (as the LDS manual says) “Zenos, a Hebrew prophet mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon”.
Ask: If you had to make up some kind of name for a fictional prophet, and you weren’t very good at it, doesn’t “Zenos” totally sound like something you would make up? No wonder Joseph Smith eventually grabbed a map in exasperation, and starting pulling names from it. But more on this in another lesson.
Main ideas for this lesson
God grows, scatters Israel
So here’s the allegory. Israel is an olive tree.
Jacob 5:3 For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.
Can I just stop here and pose a question. This is about olives. But it keeps saying that this takes place in a vineyard.
I’m no viticulturalist, but I had the idea that a vineyard is where you grow grapes, not olives. Isn’t that right? I don’t want to make a big deal out of this if it’s nothing, but I would have said you grow olives in a grove.
“olive grove”: About 618,000 raw Google hits
“olive vineyard”: About 7,520 raw Google hits
I could be wrong, and this usage could have changed from Joseph Smith’s time, but this sounds like a slip-up you’d make if you’d never had anything to do with olives or grapes in your life.
Anyway, the master of the “vineyard” has a severely misbehaving olive tree (symbolic of Israel). By “misbehaving”, I don’t mean that it started growing grapes, although that would be understandable if you’re in a vineyard, FFS. No, this tree is rotting away, symbolic of Jewish people who didn’t install the upgrade to Judaism 2.0: Christianity.
Ask: If you have broken free of religion, would you describe your current state as “decay”?
Why do believers characterise unbelievers in terms of dwindling, perishing, or decaying?
Good thing Jacob didn’t say it wasn’t an orchard; his olive tree would start growing peaches or something.
Great post although I will give the answer I always heard for the “orchard/vineyard” mix up. The Hebrew word for vineyard (kerem) is the same as the word for orchard. The word karmel means both as well. Hugh Nibley suggested this justifies Joseph’s mishap, which I agree is a clever point. Although I also think it’s just a coincidence. A good answer for one error out of thousands is not only possible, but very probable. Still doesn’t mean it’s true.
That is interesting, and I agree — a clever explanation. Then the problem is this: God is a bad translator who picks the wrong words.
<eyes the clock> I want to get into a discussion of loose v. tight translation, but I think I’m going to have to do that in a future lesson. Coming up soon!
Jacob 5:4 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard went forth, and he saw that his olive-tree began to decay; and he said: I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that perhaps it may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not.
5:5 And it came to pass that he pruned it, and digged about it, and nourished it according to his word.
5:6 And it came to pass that after many days it began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches; but behold, the main top thereof began to perish.
5:7 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard saw it, and he said unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, go and pluck the branches from a wild olive-tree, and bring them hither unto me; and we will pluck off those main branches which are beginning to wither away, and we will cast them into the fire that they may be burned.
5:8 And behold, saith the Lord of the vineyard, I take away many of these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will; and it mattereth not that if it so be that the root of this tree will perish, I may preserve the fruit thereof unto myself; wherefore, I will take these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will.
Summary: The man with the olive vineyard doesn’t like the fact that his olives don’t believe in him, so he plans to burn the bad branches, and bring in other branches instead. Much digging, dunging, and cumbering ensues.
Stage 1: The olive tree (Israel) is decaying, so the Vineyard Master scatters its branches everywhere (which as we know, is the best way to fix a sick tree). This is a metaphor for how the Jewish people were driven and scattered for centuries. The Master also grafts in wild olive branches (lets Gentiles join the church).
Stage 2: Results are mixed. The tree is doing well, but some of the remote branches are not.
Stage 3: Now every tree is doing terribly. The fruit is still corrupt, and God is going to burn the whole plantation down and give it up as a bad job.
Jacob 5:49 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Let us go to and hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard, for I have done all. What could I have done more for my vineyard?
5:50 But, behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard: Spare it a little longer.
5:51 And the Lord said: Yea, I will spare it a little longer, for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard.
According to the LDS lesson manual,
What do the many kinds of corrupt fruit symbolize? (Universal apostasy.)
Let’s make a note of that.
Stage 4: Finally, many verses later, the master of the vineyard manages to get some decent olives — like he had at the beginning of the story.
Jacob 5:75 And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.
Let’s say this allegory is all true, and this is God’s big chance to get his message out there, and establish his church for the salvation of all humankind. So he starts with a group of chosen people (who need to kill everyone else in their area), but he explains his plan to them so poorly that they completely fail to recognise Part Two of the plan when it comes along, in the form of Jesus.
Jesus, for his part, appears to a small group of humans, but pretty much allows them to write down whatever they want about him decades later, contradictions and all. He never says, “Mark, Luke, write this down, because I need you to get this absolutely right.”
Then, hundreds of years later, God allows his organisation to fall into ruin and apostasy. He restores it through a tiny idiosyncratic organisation headed by a pedophile with a criminal record. This organisation forms a tiny — and currently shrinking — percentage of the population.
What does it say about God that he has to go through all this rigamarole for so little good, and can’t seem to think of a way to overcome his own problems in a way that doesn’t involve the loss of generations of people?
Ask: What can we take from Zenos’s allegory?
If you are a Mormon, you must believe that the Jewish diaspora, including the persecutions endured by the Jewish people
are ordained by the Abrahamic god, and are therefore just
happened because the Jewish people didn’t believe in Jesus
which is especially unjust when the scriptural accounts for Jesus’ actions are ambiguous and contradictory, and the evidence for Jesus’ divinity is non-existent.
As a parent, one of the most immoral acts I can think of is saving one child over another based on their obedience to me.
Jacob isn’t done. He continues his old-school threats against unbelievers.
Jacob 6:7 For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire?
Jacob 6:10 And according to the power of justice, for justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment.
Ask: Is it just for someone to be tormented/punished/isolated for eternity, for sins of finite duration?
My response to people like Jacob is: I don’t like being threatened.
And their answer is always the same: I’m not threatening you; I’m just telling you what my invisible friend is going to do to you if you don’t admit I’m right and worship him.
One of the evidences that the Book of Mormon is a recent — not an ancient — document is its views on atheists.
You never see any atheist characters in the Bible. Back then, they were kind of hard to find. Yet in the Book of Mormon, we have three atheists/agnostics. It’s as though when the book was being written, people were starting to take a skeptical view of religious horse crap. And so whoever wrote the Book of Mormon felt the need to address this by staging confrontations with them. But the BoM doesn’t do this honestly. It turns its atheist characters into straw men — either stupid or dishonest — who don’t say the things that atheists say,and who are pretty much unlike actual atheists. And then it gets God to end the argument by doing violence to them, which is also something that never happens in real life.
We’re going to take a look at the debating tactics encouraged by the Book of Mormon.
Jacob 7:1 And now it came to pass after some years had passed away, there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem.
This seems odd. A guy just appears out of nowhere? This is only one generation removed from Nephi, but Jacob doesn’t mention where Sherem comes from, or who he’s related to. Wouldn’t everybody in the group still be known to everyone? Why doesn’t anyone say, “Hey, aren’t you Joseph’s kid?”
Apologists cover this by surmising that Lehi’s family quickly ran into other people on the American continent — Jaredite or otherwise — and joined up with them. But no Book-of-Mormon writer ever mentions the existence of other people. It would have been simple for Jacob to have written one verse, saying, “And it came to pass that we did discover an exceeding multitude of people, and we did unite ourselves unto them.” One verse! That’s all it would have taken. But this never happens.
Jacob 7:2 And it came to pass that he began to preach among the people, and to declare unto them that there should be no Christ. And he preached many things which were flattering unto the people; and this he did that he might overthrow the doctrine of Christ.
7:3 And he labored diligently that he might lead away the hearts of the people, insomuch that he did lead away many hearts; and he knowing that I, Jacob, had faith in Christ who should come, he sought much opportunity that he might come unto me.
Hey, that’s great — he’s engaging with someone who disagrees with him. That’s a good thing to do.
Jacob 7:4 And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech, according to the power of the devil.
Ask: In what way does the LDS Church flatter people, or appeal to their sense of importance?
Have you ever heard any of the following?
You have been held in reserve as a chosen generation
The creator of the universe knows your name
You are a child of God
You can become a god and have your own planet(s)
The work and the glory of God is to bring to pass your own personal immortality and eternal life
Your moral system was given to you by the creator of the universe
The entire “plan of salvation” is one gigantic ego stroke.
So much so, that they have to bring you down by telling you you’re less than the dust of the earth. But more on that later.
Jacob 7:5 And he had hope to shake me from the faith, notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things; for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken.
Oh, good for him.
Isn’t it funny how angels only appear to people who already believe in them? You know, if angels were appearing to people — even disbelievers — routinely, it would shake up this whole atheist thing, and make it a lot less plausible. I’m just saying.
Jacob 7:6 And it came to pass that he came unto me, and on this wise did he speak unto me, saying: Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak unto you; for I have heard and also know that thou goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ.
7:7 And ye have led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God, and keep not the law of Moses which is the right way; and convert the law of Moses into the worship of a being which ye say shall come many hundred years hence. And now behold, I, Sherem, declare unto you that this is blasphemy; for no man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come. And after this manner did Sherem contend against me.
It’s hard to know what’s going to happen. As Niels Bohr said,
But I do know a good way to predict the future: use the scientific method. By observing what’s happened in the past, we can make testable hypotheses that do predict what’s going to happen in the future.
Jacob 7:8 But behold, the Lord God poured in his Spirit into my soul, insomuch that I did confound him in all his words.
Care to elaborate?
Jacob: “I totally put him in his place with all my great arguments. Yep. Shut him down, I can tell you.”
It’s like that scene in a movie where someone gives a great speech, but the script writers don’t actually write the speech; they just do a montage of the audience nodding thoughtfully.
If Jacob really burned Sherem with so many zingers, why didn’t he write them down? I would have! In fact, I already do that in Facebook posts, and then I read them all to my wife!
Come on, Jacob, you owe us something.
Jacob 7:9 And I said unto him: Deniest thou the Christ who shall come? And he said: If there should be a Christ, I would not deny him; but I know that there is no Christ, neither has been, nor ever will be.
This is an oversimplification; I think most atheists today wouldn’t say they could know that.
Jacob 7:10 And I said unto him: Believest thou the scriptures? And he said, Yea.
7:11 And I said unto him: Then ye do not understand them; for they truly testify of Christ. Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ.
This is revisionism. Certainly Christians have been good at plowing through the Old Testament looking for anything that might possibly apply to Jesus, but this could be done retroactively for Elvis (Presley or Costello, take your pick).
When you have a text in front of you, it’s easy to draw imaginary connections that match nothing but what’s in your head.
Jacob 7:12 And this is not all — it has been made manifest unto me, for I have heard and seen; and it also has been made manifest unto me by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, I know if there should be no atonement made all mankind must be lost.
And here, Jacob falls back on testimony. Sherem should believe it’s true because the Holy Ghost told Jacob. Sorry, Jacob, but your special feels are not publicly verifiable evidence. Bearing testimony is a tactic for shutting down the conversation. Can’t argue with that, as they say.
Jacob 7:13 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Show me a sign by this power of the Holy Ghost, in the which ye know so much.
Okay, so now Sherem has touched the third rail. He’s asked Jacob for evidence for his claims.
Apparently you are never supposed to do this, even though this is how we establish facts in literally every other area of epistemology.
So then God puts the Big Hurt on Sherem. Seem like a bit of overkill, doesn’t it? Really, all that was needed was some kind of evidence, or a convincing explanation. Not to kill him, which after all is not really evidence of anything. People die all the time. Anyway.
Jacob 7:14 And I said unto him: What am I that I should tempt God to show unto thee a sign in the thing which thou knowest to be true? Yet thou wilt deny it, because thou art of the devil. Nevertheless, not my will be done; but if God shall smite thee, let that be a sign unto thee that he has power, both in heaven and in earth; and also, that Christ shall come. And thy will, O Lord, be done, and not mine.
7:15 And it came to pass that when I, Jacob, had spoken these words, the power of the Lord came upon him, insomuch that he fell to the earth. And it came to pass that he was nourished for the space of many days.
7:16 And it came to pass that he said unto the people: Gather together on the morrow, for I shall die; wherefore, I desire to speak unto the people before I shall die.
7:17 And it came to pass that on the morrow the multitude were gathered together; and he spake plainly unto them and denied the things which he had taught them, and confessed the Christ, and the power of the Holy Ghost, and the ministering of angels.
7:18 And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment.
7:19 And he said: I fear lest I have committed the unpardonable sin, for I have lied unto God; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him. And because I have thus lied unto God I greatly fear lest my case shall be awful; but I confess unto God.
7:20 And it came to pass that when he had said these words he could say no more, and he gave up the ghost.
Ever notice how all the really interesting things happened in the distant past? I deny the Christ all the time, and I’m still walking around like God’s imaginary or something.
Ask: What do we learn from the story of Sherem?
1. Believers should just bear their testimonies to critics, and pray for God to strike them down.
2. Doubters secretly do know it’s all true, but they’re being deceived by Satan.
Whoops, there’s a flag down on the play.
Well, I’m going to be sad to see Sherem go, even though he was a bit of a Judaism apologist. It’s just that the Book of Mormon villains are the most fun. We’ll see the same pattern in our other two villains (Nehor and Korihor): the Book of Mormon writer can’t deal with the arguments of unbelievers honestly; he has to present outrageous caricatures of their views, and subject them to dismal ends.
Additional lesson ideas
Jacob signs off with these words:
Jacob 7:27 And I, Jacob, saw that I must soon go down to my grave; wherefore, I said unto my son Enos: Take these plates. And I told him the things which my brother Nephi had commanded me, and he promised obedience unto the commands. And I make an end of my writing upon these plates, which writing has been small; and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu.
People have made much of the word adieu here, but is it really a big deal? Yes, the word is French, which didn’t exist in this time period — and all the other words are in English, which also didn’t exist in this time period.
Even though the French word adieu seems odd in this context, I’m putting this one down as “not a big deal”. Although it does mean God’s a bit of a crap translator, along with everything else he’s not great at.
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.
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.
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?
“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.”
“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.
To encourage intellectual independence, and discourage the intellectual docility and immorality that results from a focus on obedience to “what God wants”
Here we go, into the Book of Mormon, starting with 1 Nephi 1.
This first part is the best part of the whole book. It’s a rollicking adventure tale that really moves. I think the reason that it works so well is that the author (let’s say it was Joseph Smith) had two goes at it. The first draft was probably burnt by Lucy Harris (Martin’s wife), and — mechanical reproduction not being an option in this age — Joseph had to write the whole thing again. The second draft is always better, isn’t it?
• Lehi has a vision that Jerusalem is to be destroyed and he has to leave.
1 Nephi 1:13 And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem — that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.
• He tries to warn the people, but they try to kill him, because Jews. Nice to see some consistency between the anti-Semitism of the New Testament and the anti-Semitism of the Book of Mormon.
1 Nephi 1:19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of the Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.
1:20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.
1 Nephi 2:4 And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.
2:5 And he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family, which consisted of my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam.
• Lehi sends Nephi and his rebellious brothers back to Jerusalem, to get some brass plates containing their scriptures and history.
1 Nephi 3:2 And it came to pass that he spake unto me, saying: Behold I have dreamed a dream, in the which the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brethren shall return to Jerusalem.
3:3 For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.
• After making some long boring speeches to his brothers, Nephi kills Laban and steals the plates. Zoram, a servant, joins the party.
1 Nephi 4:18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.
4:38 And it came to pass that we took the plates of brass and the servant of Laban, and departed into the wilderness, and journeyed unto the tent of our father.
• Lehi tells Nephi to return to Jerusalem for a third time, and bring Ishmael, and his daughters for breeding. Whether the daughters had any say in the matter is unknown. Already it’s not looking great for women in this book.
1 Nephi 7:2 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that I, Nephi, and my brethren, should again return unto the land of Jerusalem, and bring down Ishmael and his family into the wilderness.
Main ideas for this lesson
Mormon role models
Nephi is probably the Book of Mormon’s greatest hero and spiritual role model.
And he’s a pain in the ass.
It’s hard to say this without sounding like Laman or Lemuel — which I suppose is the point of having these two characters in the story — but it’s true. Nephi goes on at length about his own righteousness, and responds to any opposition with sanctimonious hectoring and long religious speeches.
Ask: What unpleasant effects could Nephi-as-role-model have on Mormons? Answers: Poor boundaries, calls to repentance, lack of respect for other people’s life choices, insufferability
It looks like dad is serious about this leaving thing. He says that he had “a dream in which God told him to leave Jerusalem. I guess it couldn’t have had anything to do with the mostaccioli he ate before he went to bed. I always have dreams like that if I eat pizza before I sleep.
Laman and I are resisting, but it looks like we’re going too. We don’t really have to, I guess, but if we don’t, how will we eat? Despair. I have a girlfriend and my own horse. Dad is loaded with gold, which we can’t take into the wilderness because it’s too heavy. of course, that momma’s boy Nephi is eager to go. He makes me sick I think I’ll hurl my lunch if I see him again today.
Nephi kills Laban
I want to focus on the most morally problematic action in this reading: the killing of Laban. That’s because I find it especially revealing of a lot of things I find troubling about the intellectual and moral climate of Mormonism, and theism in general.
As a young missionary, I handed out a lot of copies of the Book of Mormon. Sometimes investigators would actually read the damn thing. And sometimes the conversion process would come to screeching halt when they got to the part where Nephi kills Laban and takes the brass plates.
I’m embarrassed about this now, but at the time I never understood the objection! If God commands something, then you do it, right?
This is what I grew up with. My bishop used to say, “If the Prophet told me to go up to the top of a mountain, stand on my head and peel grapes with my toes, I would do it.” And he was supposed to be some kind of spiritual role model.
Like this guy.
And that’s part of the problem. When “doing what God says” is the most important thing, we have to ask, “How do we know what God says”?
There are two answers. One is “Leaders will tell you”.
But when LDS leaders tell members to obey God, and that they speak for God, they’re really just telling people to obey them.
This sets up a system ripe for abuse and exploitation.
The other answer is even more problematic. According to LDS theology, revelations from God can come in the form of “promptings” — thoughts or impressions.
Ask: How does Nephi know that God wants him to cut off Laban’s head? Answer: He hears a voice in his head.
1 Nephi 4:10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.
4:11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.
4:12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;
So with this lesson, the LDS Church is essentially teaching millions of people that if you have an spiritual impression to do something (like cut off someone’s head), and you feel okay about this, and it seems like there are some good reasons for doing so, you should go ahead and behead.
(Or not. Church leaders sometimes give contradictory advice about this.)
The whole idea that “doing God’s will” comes first seems calculated to engender a kind of intellectual docility, at best.
At worst, it can give believers a motivation to do any atrocity with divine sanction.
The really frightening thing is that Mormons are being taught this kind of fake morality, and then are released into the public, among the rest of us! Why aren’t there more problems?
Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.
It therefore has no reality check.
And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self-correction. It is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality… and extreme, grotesque immorality.
There’s no reality check saying that their actions are having a terrible effect in the world around them. The world around them is, quite literally, irrelevant. The next world is what matters. And since there’s no way to conclusively demonstrate what will and won’t get you a good place in that world, or whether that world even exists… the sky’s the limit. There’s no way to test the assertion that God wants women to wear burqas and have clitoridectomies… or that God wants us to ban same-sex marriage and teach children dangerous lies about sex. The reality check is absent. The brake lines of morality have been cut.
In light of all this, take another look at the title of this lesson: “All Things According to His Will”.
It has sinister overtones, doesn’t it?
1. Wasn’t there some other way that this could have been accomplished?
2. After the murder, Nephi puts on Laban’s clothes. How much blood would there be in a routine beheading? I imagine Nephi appearing to his brothers in Laban’s gory clothes.
1 Nephi 4:28 And it came to pass that when Laman saw me he was exceedingly frightened, and also Lemuel and Sam. And they fled from before my presence; for they supposed it was Laban, and that he had slain me and had sought to take away their lives also.
Yeah, I’ll bet they fled. “Look, it’s our psychotic delusional brother! What the fuck has he done now?”
3. (And this is the big one.)
Why did Nephi need the plates at all? Couldn’t the Lord just reveal the information again?
I’m not a historian, but others have pointed out that the Book of Mormon events wouldn’t have happened as written. The king that Nephi says was a king wouldn’t have been king.
As per 1 Nephi 1:4 which states:
For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.
Zedekiah was set up as ruler over Judah by Nebuchadnezzar II after Babylonian capture. Jeconiah should have been the king of Judah in the Book of Mormon.
Whoops. Guess that’s what happens when you’re fictional.
To point out the lies and selective omissions of the LDS Church, and to show the danger of faith.
Today’s lesson comes from the Book of Hebrews, which the LDS lesson manual says was written by Paul…
Point out that Paul’s letter to the Hebrews contains scriptures that could be useful in each of the three situations.
Explain that throughout his missionary journeys, Paul sought to convince the members of the Church that they should no longer practice the law of Moses.
… Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews to reemphasize that the law of Moses had been fulfilled in Christ.
The Epistle to the Hebrews of the Christian Bible is one of the New Testament books whose canonicity was disputed. Traditionally, Paul the Apostle was thought to be the author. However, since the third century this has been questioned, and the consensus among most modern scholars is that the author is unknown.
Seriously, no one has believed that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews for about 1700 years. Even at the time of the Bible’s compilation, people were saying, “Hm, this one’s a bit dodgy.” That’s why it’s in the place that it is.
Ask: Why are the Pauline epistles placed in the order that they are? Answer: The Pauline epistles are arranged, not in chronological order as you’d expect, but in order of length. Except for Hebrews. It was placed last, just in case it wasn’t from Paul.
It’s weird that, in the church’s official materials, the scholarship is so far out of date. This should tell us a couple of things:
Mormons say they care about the Bible, but not enough to actually find out or teach about it
The LDS Church has a very low tolerance for any story but the simple, official story. There’s no room for any nuance or complexity.
The epistle to the Hebrews is one of the less offensive books of the Bible. It’s largely taken up by stories of how wonderful faith is — faith is actually a pernicious form of fact avoidance — and how the new Christian covenant is much better than the old Jewish covenant.
Main ideas for this lesson
Milk before meat
When I was a young missionary, one of my fellow elders told a group of us about a baptism he was participating in. He and the convert were seated in the chapel before the baptism, wearing white. The convert glanced at the missionary’s leg, and noticed the outline of his garment bottom, visible through his semi-transparent white pants. “What’s that?” he asked.
“Oh, just a lining,” replied the missionary. Everyone thought that was pretty funny. No one seemed to ponder the wisdom of withholding the information about garments to someone who, all going well, would find out about them himself within the year.
But that was the way it was as a missionary. We commonly withheld information about the church from investigators if it was uncomfortable or embarrassing. And why wouldn’t we? We had information withheld from us about the temple endowment, about church history, and so on. One of the hallmarks of the LDS Church is its ability to dispense information at the levels that it chooses.
And the justification for withholding this information comes from Hebrews, which is where we find this passage about “milk before meat”.
Hebrews 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
5:13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
5:14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
In the LDS Church, the phrase “milk before meat” is used as a way of justifying information control and incomplete disclosure. This is a form of lying by omission. I suppose that — just as my missionary friend hoped that by the time his convert learned about garments, he’d be too invested to quit — the church is hoping that we won’t mind the deliberate withholding of information.
Of course, in our Internet age of copious information, any organisation that maintains its control by limiting information to its members will die a very messy and public death.
Predictably, LDS leaders tell members to avoid looking at the Internet.
His actual quote:
After a recent medical procedure, my very capable doctors explained what I needed to do to heal properly. But first I had to relearn something about myself I should have known for a long time: as a patient, I’m not very patient.
Consequently I decided to expedite the healing process by undertaking my own Internet search. I suppose I expected to discover truth of which my doctors were unaware or had tried to keep from me.
It took me a little while before I realized the irony of what I was doing. Of course, researching things for ourselves is not a bad idea. But I was disregarding truth I could rely on and instead found myself being drawn to the often-outlandish claims of Internet lore.
This “avoid the Internet” strategy is not unique to Mormons. Here’s a clip of Anthony Morris III, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
… and be careful on the Internet. We were talking about that this weekend with friends. Oh my word, how many times do we have to tell you, be careful? You know, going here, going there, they’ll suck you in. Some of the stuff, it can seem so innocent. We’re just warning you. That’s all we can do — is admonish. Stick with what we have authorized. You’ll be safe. You wanna go out there? It’s at your spiritual risk.
People who are telling the truth don’t have to fear outside information.
But these leaders are doing everything they can to keep followers inside of a bubble.
It’s just rare to hear them admit it so bluntly.
Another small point: Having taught Sunday School lessons over and over, I confess that I began to wonder where the ‘meat’ was. The church curriculum seems to be all milk.
If converts don’t stay in the church because of lack of information, they can always count on threats. Here not-Paul mentions the very vague ‘unpardonable sin’, and ties it pretty unambiguously to apostasy.
He starts with guilt…
Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
6:6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
… and moves on to fear.
Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
10:27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
10:28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
10:29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
10:30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.
10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Ask: What does not-Paul threaten us with if we stop believing? Answer: Fire and devourment.
This tactic is known as the argumentum ad baculum, or “argument from the cudgel“. The church uses it in a slightly more subtle manner than not-Paul. Here’s a copy of the first letter you get when you try to resign from the church:
This is a threat. The church is threatening you with eternal consequences if you leave. Myself, I do not like being threatened.
One member tried to explain to me (rather unconvincingly) that it wasn’t a threat — it was just a simple statement of a fact… about what his invisible pal was going to do to me if I didn’t get my ass in line. Yeah, no, still a threat.
Faith and evidence
When I ask religious people for evidence of their god’s existence, they sometimes bust out this scripture:
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
…Yeeees, I suppose that scripture has the word ‘evidence’ in it, but this doesn’t mean that faith is a kind of evidence. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Check out this quote from Matt Dillahunty (at 24:17).
“Faith is the excuse people give for believing something when they don’t have a good reason. ‘Cause if you have a good reason, you don’t need faith.”
So faith is the “evidence of things not seen”? Of course! Because once you’ve seen, you’ve got evidence.
It gets even better: check out this list of murders that were made possible by faith. By faith, children were (allegedly) killed…
Hebrews 11:27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
11:28 Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
…Egyptians were (allegedly) drowned
11:29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.
11:30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.
11:31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
11:32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
11:33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.
Remember Jephthah? Killed his daughter as a sacrifice to Jehovah / Jesus. You’d think not-Paul would be embarrassed about this, but here he specifically name-checks Jephthah as a righteous man who did mighty deeds by his faith.
All of which should be enough to tell us that faith is a terrible thing. It’s a broken compass that points any which way you want it to. You can believe anything — and perform any atrocity — with faith.
Additional lesson ideas
“Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth”
You might think that, if you do good things, you get good things. But this doesn’t always work out, mostly because God is imaginary. But this explanation isn’t available to not-Paul, so what does he come up with?
Hebrews 12:6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
12:7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
That’s right — God will “chasten” you, because he loves you so much. I suppose it’s a plausible explanation, but it does make God into kind of an abusive psychopath. Ah, well — this is a common theme in our lessons.