Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: contradictions (page 1 of 2)

BoM Lesson 7 (Lehi dies)

“I Know in Whom I Have Trusted”

2 Nephi 3–5

LDS manual: here


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


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

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


The main events in this lesson:

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

Main ideas for this lesson

Joseph Smith writes himself into the BoM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then more about how awesome he is.

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

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

Parental responsibility

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

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

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

Here’s the scripture.

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

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

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

An example from their own retelling:

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

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

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

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

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

Arm of flesh

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

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

What’s behind this?

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

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

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

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

Additional lesson ideas

Nephite swords and temples

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

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

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

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

He what? With how many people?

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

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 9.36.58 AM

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

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

What evidence is there that the Temple of Solomon existed?

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

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

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

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

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

People with dark skin are loathsome

Ask: Is dark skin loathsome and unenticing?

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

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

BoM Lesson 3 (Tree of Life)

The Vision of the Tree of Life

1 Nephi 8–11; 12:16–18; 15

LDS manual: here


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


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

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

I'm happier off the boat

Main ideas for this lesson

Origins of the Tree of Life story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elements of the story

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

The dark and dreary waste

Lehi starts the story.

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

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

The tree of life and its fruit

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

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

The rod of iron

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The story continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't have funny beliefs

People in the story

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

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

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

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

Ah — they succumbed to peer pressure. Losers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is one good thing in the manual, however.

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

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

A better story

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

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

Additional lesson ideas

Is Jesus the Father?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because the writer got confused.

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

NT Lesson 38 (Persecution)

“Thou Hast Testified of Me”

Acts 21–28

LDS manual: here


To encourage skepticism about persecution


This lesson rounds out the book of Acts, including all the persecution Paul went through. It seems that he was always being thrown into prisons, people trying to kill him — and then, instead of actually killing him or letting him rot in jail, they put him in front of big crowds and let him preach! Does that make any sense? The whole thing seems rather plot-driven to me.

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual doesn’t do much to make this interesting, except by exhorting members to stay strong in the face of persecution. In our day, “persecution” means getting married while gay.

And this reminds me of the persecution narrative in the LDS Church. Why was Joseph Smith thrown in jail and handed from state to state? In my church days, this was put down to irrational prejudice combined with Satanic agency. But after leaving the church, I was able to entertain the thought that, no, he was bedding women, starting phony banks that failed, and destroying printing presses.

But let’s get back to Paul. Was all that persecution for real? Let’s take a look.

Main ideas for this lesson

Persecution of Christians?

Well, let’s start with the obvious: There’s no evidence that any Christians were ever thrown to any lions.

There are zero authentic accounts of Christian martyrdom in the Colosseum until over a century after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. In fact, not a single legitimate record exists of the Romans executing any Christians in the Colosseum. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

But it’s possible that there was some undocumented lion-on-Christian action somewhere along the line. Uncle Cecil of the Straight Dope says:

Fact is, while the Romans evidently fed Christians to animals, and people to lions, we have no source stating directly that they specifically fed Christians to lions. So theoretically it’s possible the whole Christians-lions thing was a Christian ploy for sympathy.

But probably not. The Romans did a big business in mass slaughter by and of animals, showing great enterprise in arranging dramatic forms of killing, so if they didn’t throw any Christians to the lions, it was likely an oversight.

The site badnewsaboutchristianity.com states that…

Religious persecution was virtually unknown in the ancient world. The Romans especially were universally tolerant. Their principal reactions to the religions of others were interest and occasional amusement. Their toleration did not extend to cults that acted merely as a cover for sedition or criminality, but all genuine faiths were respected and protected. As far as we know, no one in the classical world hit upon the idea of exterminating others because of the god they chose to worship.

It also mentions the crimes that Christians were guilty of, including arson, treason, and sedition. They may have done some persecuting themselves. Oh, dear. Seems that people who are convinced that they have the truth from God aren’t good at playing nicely with others.

If we were going just by the book of Acts, we’d think the Christians were pretty darn unpopular. Here are some people talking to Paul.

Acts 28:21 And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came shewed or spake any harm of thee.
28:22 But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.

Why would Christianity be “spoken against” everywhere? Paul answers that one for us. Every time he gets the chance to preach, and someone doesn’t believe him, he’s an enormous asshole about it.

Acts 28:23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.
28:24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.
28:25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
28:26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:

It’s not just their behaviour in debates. Throughout history, Christians have been known for their atrocious relations with people of other faiths, as well as between the various sects of Christianity.

Many religions have had a difficult time tolerating other faiths. This is particularly true with Christianity in western Europe. Two of the worse examples of inter-religious hatred and persecution have been:

  • Anti-Semitic teachings and prosecutions over many centuries which directly caused the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent Jews. They indirectly laid the foundation for the Nazi holocaust and the loss of 6 million Jewish lives.
  • A religious genocide conducted during the 15th to 18th centuries. Tens of thousands of innocent people who were believed to be Witches or other heretics, were located, tortured, and burned alive. (After the Reformation, Protestants continued the Witch hunt, but they preferred to hang the innocent victims rather than burn them alive.)

Nowadays, Christians really are the targets of appalling persecution in the Arab world.

For more than a decade, extremists have targeted Christians and other minorities, who often serve as stand-ins for the West. This was especially true in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, which caused hundreds of thousands to flee. ‘‘Since 2003, we’ve lost priests, bishops and more than 60 churches were bombed,’’ Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, said. With the fall of Saddam Hussein, Christians began to leave Iraq in large numbers, and the population shrank to less than 500,000 today from as many as 1.5 million in 2003.

The real problem is religious tribalism. When you have communities of mutually incompatible belief, conflict is very likely. And if there’s no overarching social control mechanism, conflict easily spirals into violence.

In one of the best essays I’ve ever read about the danger of faith, Greta Christina explains the problem: religion is unmoored from reality.

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.

Why don’t people accept the gospel?

The LDS lesson manual asks:

• What impresses you about Paul’s words to King Agrippa? (See Acts 26:2–27.) How did Agrippa respond to Paul’s words? (See Acts 26:28.) What might have kept Agrippa from becoming a Christian? What attitudes or other problems keep people today from accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Rejecting the gospel is actually quite sensible. Often, being in an ideological bubble is the only thing that can make this kind of nonsense make sense. But people who are in a bubble sometimes look around and wonder: If this system is so obviously true, then why aren’t people accepting it? And they usually hit on the same types of answers.

  • People don’t know about it, and we need to tell them. This mistake is what’s behind missionary efforts. Believers — especially Mormons — expend a lot of energy on getting the word out there, apparently unaware that people have already heard it. That’s why they reject it.
  • People are wicked. Their coffee and fornication habit — or what have you — is dulling their minds to the truth.
  • People are too comfortable. This was a common missionary lament in wealthy areas.

Anything but the facts: Religion is a frankly unbelievable fairy tale. Not believing it is the right answer, and it takes hours of talk and pages of writing to make it look anything like other than it is.

If you’re in a real Gospel Doctrine class, and this topic comes up, what reasons do class members give? I’d love to hear your answers in comments.

Additional lesson ideas


Paul gets a lot of chances to tell his conversion story, and that means embellishment. Notice how much bigger this fish story gets in the telling.

Old version:

Acts 9:3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
9:4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
9:5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
9:6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
9:7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

Later version:

Acts 22:6 And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.
22:7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
22:8 And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.
22:9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.
22:10 And I said, What shall I do, LORD? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.

Jesus is remarkably taciturn in these two versions. But his monologue gets a bit of padding in the third version.

Acts 26:13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
26:14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
26:15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
26:16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
26:17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

Fish stories (and fishy stories) grow in the retelling.

Kyroot has been expanding their list of problems with Christianity at a rate I can only describe as “alarmingly exponential”, and here’s how they have it:

Originally, Paul is instructed simply to go to Damascus. But in the latter case, God delivers a sermon of sorts and a holy assignment for Paul to fulfill. This is a classic example of how myths are created and tend to grow in significance over time. Even if the Book of Acts is mostly fictional, as believed by many Biblical scholars, it still reveals an instance where the Bible is internally inconsistent. Only one of these accounts at most can be factual.

But did you notice the contradiction? It’s the old “seeing, not hearing / hearing, not seeing” problem.

Acts 9:7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

Acts 22:9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.

It always amazes me how little God cared for the job of being an editor. It’s almost as though people are making this stuff up.

NT Lesson 29 (Saul / Paul)

“The Number of the Disciples Was Multiplied”

Acts 6–9

LDS manual: here


To encourage readers not to “leave it alone”.


This lesson is where we meet a young upstart by the name of Saul / Paul. (We’ll call him Spaul for convenience.) Spaul never met Jesus in person, but he would take over his racket. With his penchant for telling people how to live their lives, his hatred of women, and his boorish style of declamation, he would be the most influential Christian of all time (Jesus not excluded). He would also serve as a model for thousands of the asshole evangelists who plague college campuses in our day.

Main ideas for this lesson

The stoning of Stephen

We start this reading with a disciple named Stephen, who was doing stuff.

Acts 6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.

But then he ran afoul of “certain of the synagogue”. Side note: it really looks like anti-Jewish sentiment was firmly entrenched by this time in Christianity’s history.

Acts 6:9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
6:10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

Stephen is hauled up before the council, and makes his defence. This takes up all of chapter 7 (it’s long, too), and is essentially an entry for a “Summarise the Old Testament” contest. In a synagogue. Where he says stuff like this:

Acts 7:51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

“Not bad summarising, Stephen. But you could have tightened it up a bit by saying, ‘Moses did a bunch of stuff… and YOU SUCK!'”

By the way, it would have been difficult for them to have resisted the Holy Ghost; according to Jesus, the Holy Ghost hadn’t been sent yet.

And then Stephen gets stoned.

Acts 7:54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
7:56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
7:57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
7:58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.
7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
7:60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

And this takes us up to where we meet Spaul.

Saul’s transition

Saul is traveling to Damascus, when the Big Guy puts the hurt on him.

Acts 9:3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
9:4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
9:5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
9:6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
9:7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

Ask: Did the men who were with Spaul hear a voice or see anyone?
Answer: According to Acts 9:7, yes to the voice and no, respectively. But when Spaul tells the story again later, he’s forgotten some details because now the answers are “no to the voice, and yes to the light.”

Acts 22:7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
22:8 And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.
22:9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.

Stories can change in the retelling, especially if they’re fictional stories.

Should we fight error?

Let’s talk about “kicking against the pricks”.

When people leave the church, members have a range of strategies to minimise their credibility. Many of these could have been used against Spaul.

Ask: If you have left the church, how many of these have been used against you?

The “can’t leave it alone” idea is especially rank, coming as a criticism from Mormons. When you believe it, you’re supposed to shout it from the housetops, but if you no longer believe it, you’re supposed to… what… disappear? This is a way of silencing people who disagree.

And it’s not like the church leaves people alone. It doesn’t leave people alone when missionaries come around to knock on their door. It doesn’t leave member kids alone when they turn 19, and it’s time to serve a mission. (Did I say 19? Now it’s 18. Apparently they were losing too many kids during that first year of learning at uni.) And they haven’t left gay people alone — they’re still spreading their homophobic message, as ever. So this “can’t leave it alone” thing is just silly. Members need to knock it off.

Even in the post-Mormon community, there’s this idea that it’s not healthy to keep fighting the church, or to keep talking or writing about it. There’s some expectation that you leave the church, you start your blog, and then after a while, you’re supposed to “move on”.

Me, I hope I never get out of the scene. I got reasons.

  • Mormonism is interesting! And with the ongoing revelations of polygamy and magic rocks, it’s never been interestinger! So who wouldn’t want to keep talking and writing about this slow-motion trainwreck? (Hey, maybe that’s what ‘continuing revelation’ means — the church keeps revealing things about its history to its members.)
  • I need to remember that sometimes I can be wrong — really wrong! When you get a wrong idea, it’s possible to build up defences around it. I did that once, and I don’t want to do it again. My Mormon experience helps me to remember my human fallibility.
  • The church is a pernicious entity that harms people. Once it gets its hooks into someone — with all the attendant logical loops and thought-stopping clichés — it’s hard for them to get out. And they’ll be paying the church all the while. If you’re concerned about scam artists and bad reasoning, then the LDS Church (as with religion in general) is definitely something to be concerned about.

And besides, we used to belong to a faith that taught that it was important to keep old wrongs and injustices firmly in mind.

D&C 123:13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—
14 These should then be attended to with great earnestness.

Additional lesson ideas


You never know who the church is going to attract. A lot of people who are poor thinkers in one area tend to be poor thinkers in another. (It may have a lot to do with intellectual character.)

Anyhow, one of the early converts was a magician named Simon.

Acts 8:18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
8:19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
8:20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

Simon’s contribution to the language is that of simony, the sin of selling church offices, or taking money for spiritual things.

In the LDS Church, simony takes the form of requiring that tithing be paid in order to get a temple recommend so that one can maintain their temple covenants and attain salvation thereby.

If you decide to mention this in a real Gospel Doctrine class, please let us know how it went in comments. See you next week.

NT Lesson 27 (Resurrection)

“He Is Not Here, for He Is Risen”

Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20–21

LDS manual: here


To show contradictions in the resurrection story, and to encourage readers to seek evidence for extraordinary claims.


This lesson is about the pivotal event of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus. I say it’s pivotal because if it didn’t happen, then there’s no point to Christianity at all. And Paul says as much.

1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

This really came home to me when my father passed on. I realised that I was the grown-up now, and I had to decide how I was going to live. And if there was a life after this, or no life after this, I wanted to know it. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you don’t care about defending the story you’ve always lived by, and you just want to know if you’re right or wrong. Well, at this point, I wanted to know if I was right or wrong.

So for me, the crucial question became: Did the resurrection of Jesus happen?

And my answer: Of course not. Why would it? Don’t be a credulous nincompoop. People don’t just get up from being totally dead. When has that ever happened in all of human experience? Never. So if someone wants to convince me that it really happened, thry’re going to need better evidence than copies of documents. And as Sam Harris points out, that’s all we got.

Bible scholars agree that the first gospels were written decades after the life of Jesus. Decades.

And of course, we don’t have the original manuscripts. We have copies of copies of copies of ancient Greek manuscripts which have thousands — literally thousands — of descrepancies between them, many of which show signs of later interpolation, which is to say that people added passages that then became part of the canon. There are whole books of the canon, like the book of Revelation, which for hundreds of years were not included because they were deemed false gospel. There are other whole books, like the Shepherd of Hermas, which you probably haven’t heard of, but for centuries it was considered part of the canon, and then was later jettisoned as false gospel.

Generations of Christians lived and died being guided by gospel that is now deemed both incomplete and mistaken. Think about that. This process, this all too human process of cobbling together the supposed authoritative word of god is a very precarious basis to assert the claims of Christianity. But the truth is, even if we had multiple contemporaneaus claims of the miracles of Jesus this would not be good enough. Because miracle stories abound even in the 21st century. The devotees of the South Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba ascribe all of the miracles of Jesus to him. He reads minds, he fortells the future, he heals, he raises the dead, he was born of a virgin. Sathya Sai Baba is not a fringe figure. You may not have heard of him, but they had a birthday party for him a few years ago and a million people showed up. There are vast numbers of people that think he is a living god.

So Christianity is predicated on the claim that miracle stories — exactly of the kind that today surround a person like Sathya Sai Baba — become especially credible when you place them in a pre-scientific religious context of the first century roman empire, decades after their supposed occurance, as attested to by copies of copies of copies of ancient Greek and largely discrepant manuscripts. We have Sathya Sai Baba’s miracle stories attested to by thousands upon thousands of living eye witnesses and they don’t even merit an hour on cable television. And, yet, you put a few miracle stories in an ancient book and half the people on Earth think it a legitimate project to organize their lives around. Does anyone else see a problem with that?

Actually, yes, I do.

Speaking of “largely discrepant manuscripts”, we’re going to see how the stories in the gospels are hopelessly confused as to the details of the resurrection. Here’s a helpful infographic.

This was God’s opportunity to report the facts of the case, and it resembles nothing more than a mishmash of human fabrication.

So how does Christianity paper over this? The surprising answer: By expecting you not to demand any evidence for its claims, and by telling you that you’ll be blessed if you believe without evidence. How about that?

Main ideas for this lesson

Rolling away the stone?

Let’s start at the beginning: In the morning, two Marys (and a Salome, if you believe Mark) were heading to the tomb.

Matthew 28:1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

Other Mary: Why do I have to be ‘other Mary’?
Mary: You’re not married to Jesus.
Other Mary: Well, you’re not married to Jesus!
Mary: (silence)

I don’t know what they thought they were going to do; there was supposed to be a huge stone there. But then Matthew reports a second huge earthquake that no one else noticed, and an angel rolls away the stone.

Matthew 28:2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

Already we have a fail. Round tomb stones weren’t really a thing at the time. They wouldn’t be popular until about 70 CE, which supports the idea that this was a later addition. Richard Carrier notes:

There is another reason to doubt the tomb burial that has come to my attention since I first wrote this review: the tomb blocking stone is treated as round in the Gospels, but that would not have been the case in the time of Jesus, yet it was often the case after 70 C.E., just when the gospels were being written. Amos Kloner, in “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” (Biblical Archaeology Review 25:5, Sep/Oct 1999, pp. 23-29, 76), discusses the archaeological evidence of Jewish tomb burial practices in antiquity. He observes that “more than 98 percent of the Jewish tombs from this period, called the Second Temple period (c. first century B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), were closed with square blocking stones” (p. 23), and only four round stones are known prior to the Jewish War, all of them blocking entrances to elaborate tomb complexes of the extremely rich (such as the tomb complex of Herod the Great and his ancestors and descendants). However, “the Second Temple period…ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. In later periods the situation changed, and round blocking stones became much more common” (p. 25).


Jesus then appears to different people in contradictory and mutually exclusive ways. Rather than recount it, I refer to this portion of our infographic.

If that’s not enough for you, I have this PDF file from my good friend David Austin. (He should get a blog.) Click the image to download a copy for yourself.

Thomas and doubt

Jesus appears to the rest of the apostles. And since it’s John, notice the “fear of teh Jooz”. He’s always on about the Jews.

John 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

Good so far, except Thomas wasn’t there. And he won’t believe it until he sees it.

John 20:24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
20:25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Good on him. He’s demanding the kind of evidence that’s required to support a claim. That’s what a person should do.

John 20:26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
20:27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
20:28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.

Thomas believes, but at least he’s doing it right. He wants evidence, he gets it, and he changes his mind.

But now here’s Jesus with the kicker.

John 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Here we have it, folks. This is the one that I count as the worst verse in scripture. Jesus is saying that evidence is fine, but no evidence is just as good. Maybe even better.

By insisting that believing without evidence is somehow on a par with believing with evidence, Jesus takes the metric that rational people use to evaluate claims, and turns it on its head. If we all did this, there’s no limit to the mutually exclusive and contradictory claims we could believe. To accept this way of thinking is to abandon reason.

Imagine how irresponsible it is for a god to demand this. Here we are in our short lives, having to choose the right religion or philosophy or story among tens of thousands, and if you get it wrong, it’s no salvation for you. Those are serious consequences (which God has set out). A responsible parent would spell out the evidence for his gospel fairly clearly. God doesn’t do that. Instead, he expects you to pick one without adequate reasons, and hope you got it right. To be fair, he also is supposed to give out feelings, the nature of which can easily be misunderstood, and which are experienced by followers of all religions. Otherwise, good luck.

This theme of not needing evidence is often taken up by believers I’ve met. When I ask for evidence, they never provide it. Instead, they make excuses for why I shouldn’t expect evidence, or they tell me why I should accept substitutes for evidence (like feelings). Strangely, they don’t seem to see how this is an evasion of the responsibility to back up what they say.

Read this excerpt from The Ethics of Belief, written by William K. Clifford in 1877

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it — the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

Ask: How does the LDS Church encourage people to “avoid the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss” church doctrines?
Answers: By avoiding material that is not “inspiring”, and by labelling books and people who tell the truth about the church as “anti-Mormon”.

Ask: How is the refusing to confront doubts “one long sin against mankind”?
Answer: One of the most important things we can do in life is to advance our collective knowledge. Doing this helps create technologies that can cure illness, sustain life, and improve the quality of living. But this only works if we make reality the metric against which we compare other ideas. Accepting false beliefs means that we stop advancing, and start retreating, and this helps humankind not at all.

I’d like to take a moment and bear my testimony of doubt. Doubt is amazing! Doubt has helped me figure out what’s true and what’s false far better than faith can. Having faith just confirms what you believe, whether it’s right or not. It’s like a compass that always points in the way you’re going. What good is that? It might be okay if you’re trying to feel good about your beliefs, but if you’re trying to find out what’s true, it’s no use at all.

By contrast, doubt won’t hurt true claims (as long as you understand the kind of evidence required to establish a claim). However, it’s lethal to false ones.

Why’s it have to be snakes?

Jesus eventually jet-packed back up to heaven, but before he did, he left this instruction:

Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
16:17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
16:18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Poison aside, let’s talk about the snakes. This scripture has resulted in generations of pastors dying in snake-handling churches of the American South.

Snake-handling preacher Cody Coots got scared when the 6-foot long rattler bit his right hand early Monday.

Just three months ago, his father, Jamie Coots, died within minutes of being bitten by a rattlesnake during a service at his Middlesboro church.

The loss was still fresh for his family and friends, and Cody Coots, who took over for his father, had just been bitten by an even bigger rattler.

At first, “All I could think about — am I going to make it?” Coots said.

Jamie Coots, 42, was handling three rattlesnakes during a Saturday-night service at the church when one bit him on the right hand. Jamie Coots had survived more than half a dozen previous bites, but that night the venom quickly overwhelmed him.

His legs buckled in the bathroom at the church after he murmured “Sweet Jesus,” said Andrew Hamblin, a snake-handling minister from Tennessee who was with him.

People at the church rushed Coots home. He had made clear earlier that he did not want medical attention for a bite; his family sent an ambulance crew away as believers prayed over him.

A deputy coroner pronounced Coots dead about 90 minutes after he was bitten.

This raises all kinds of questions for me.

  • When someone dies from a snake bite in these churches, why don’t they take it as a sign of the victim’s lack of faith?
  • Why do they pray for the person to get better? Is that supposed to be some kind of Plan B, in case of lack of faith?
  • And where are all the poison-drinking churches? Did they used to exist, but poison worked more reliably than snakes?

Then there’s this quote:

If you don’t understand it, don’t knock it,” said Hamblin, who was close to Coots. “We adhere to the literal interpretation of the Gospel.”

I think I do understand it. They believe the Bible, and that is a terrible and costly mistake. However, unlike most believers, they take the claims of the Bible seriously. Well, one of them.

NT Lesson 26 (Trial, crucifixion, etc.)

“To This End Was I Born”

Matthew 26:47–27:66; Mark 14:43–15:39; Luke 22:47–23:56; John 18–19

LDS manual: here


To show contradictions and inconsistencies in the crucifixion story.


It’s just about curtains for Jesus. This lesson focuses on some of the back-and-forth bureaucracy of Jesus’ arrest and torture — all approved by God because you’ve got to torture someone. God’s unyielding sense of justice means that he can’t look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, and that means — by golly — someone’s got to get tortured. Unless torture is also a sin, which would muddy the waters a bit. However, I just checked, and according to the Bible, torture is just fine (especially if God is doing it). Isn’t that lucky.

Unlike in other lessons, where only one or two gospel writers comment on the same part of the story, here we get all four writers chiming in. And that means more contradictions, which we’ll cover in today’s lesson.

Contradictions should weaken a person’s confidence in the Bible. After all, if the people best-equipped to tell us what happened can’t get the story straight, then what chance do we have of finding out the details of the story? Which writer should we believe, or should we go with ‘none’? This was God’s opportunity to get his message to humankind, so how could it be that his writers muffed it? Shouldn’t this put paid to the veracity of the Bible?

According to many Christians I’ve spoken with, the answer is no — contradictions actually enhance the credibility of the Bible. The argument goes like this: even eyewitnesses see different parts of the same story, so some differences would be expected, and that’s what we’re seeing in the Bible. The real problem would be if all the versions of the gospels were written the same, because that would mean all the writers were copying over each others’ shoulders. But the accounts differ, so that makes the Bible more credible. Isn’t that something? The more contradiction, the more credibility. Which means that the Bible would be most credible if the four gospels contradicted each other completely.

Naturally, this is not how it works. When I rob banks with my friends and get rounded up by the police, we often tell them that we were out together at the time of the crime. But then when I say we were shooting pool, Lefty says we were eating at a diner, and Shorty says we were over at his place, this does not increase their confidence that we are telling the truth. (Please note: I have never robbed a bank, and this is a fictional example.) The more contradictions we find in a story, the greater the likelihood that we’re hearing a fictional story that grew in the retelling. Multiple versions of the Jesus stories wove their way through the early Christian communities, and ended up being compiled in the books we have now.

Main ideas for this lesson

Why would Judas have needed to identify Jesus?

This is odd: Judas has promised to reveal Jesus’ identity to the chief priests, Pharisees, and soldiers.

Matthew 26:48 Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.
26:49 And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.
26:50 And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus and took him.

“You know that guy you’ve been talking to and arguing with day after day? The guy that you’ve tried to kill on numerous occasions? I know you suddenly have no idea what he looks like, so I’ll point him out to you.”

Seriously, it’s very odd. One week ago, Jesus was coming through the gates of the city with everyone celebrating him by waving palm fronds. Now, no one can recognise him.

And what was the deal with kissing? You don’t have to kiss him!

Robe colour

Did the soldiers put a purple robe on Jesus?

John 19:2 And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,

or was it scarlet?

Matthew 27:28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.

Judas’ death

In the book of Matthew, Judas hanged himself.

Matthew 27:5 And he [Judas] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

But in Acts, he died from falling down and bursting, which is a revolting problem that thankfully doesn’t happen very often these days.

Acts 1:18 Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.

Thief banter

What did the thieves say to Jesus on the cross? Matthew and Mark say they both reviled him.

Matthew 27:44 The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

Mark 15:32 And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

But Luke rewrote one of the thieves as a sympathetic character who got his own turn-around arc.

Luke 23:42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

I could go on about the contradictions involved in shuttling Jesus back and forth between Annas, Caiaphas, and Pilate, but instead I’ll just refer you here for this and many other contradictions.

No custom of releasing a prisoner

Pilate is trying to get Jesus released, so he falls back on the old ‘release one prisoner at Passover’ custom.

John 18:39 But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
18:40 Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

The problem here is that there’s no record of the Romans releasing prisoners at Passover (some discussion here). Or could it be that this is a Hebrew custom? If so, it’s not recorded anywhere in the Old Testament.

But there is absolutely no evidence that the pardoning or release of a prisoner had ever occurred, even once, before the time of Pilate. Certainly it would have been mentioned somewhere in the Old Testament if it had been a rite connected with the celebration of the Passover.

The function of this verse appears to be to shift the blame for Jesus’ death from the chief priests and onto the Jewish people generally. And that’s unfortunate, as we’re about to see.

Blaming the Jews

We’ve mentioned John’s anti-semitism, but the real prize goes to Matthew.

Matthew 27:24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
27:25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

This one verse has been instrumental in the persecution of the Jewish people for centuries. If they’re the ones responsible, then persecution begins to look less like bigotry and hatred, and more like God’s judgment. Convenient, isn’t it?

Kyroot comments:

Over the centuries, the blame for Jesus’s death grew from the people who were present at the sentencing and their children, to all of the Jews alive on earth at that time, to all Jews who have ever lived. It paved the way for antisemitism, discrimination, ostracism, and ultimately to the Holocaust. And all of this, or at least a very large share of it, because the author of Matthew saw fit to add this obviously fictional statement.

The writer of Heretication adds an interesting angle to this: Have you ever wondered why Jesus is always portrayed as a white dude? Probably because Jews had been vilified for so long that portraying Jesus as “one of those Jews” was unthinkable.

The justification for Jewish persecutions through the centuries has been a passage from the Matthew gospel. After Pilate has denied responsibility for sentencing Jesus to death, the Jewish people are quoted as saying “…His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). A similar theme may be found at 1 Thessalonians 2:15. In Christian eyes this meant that the Jews as a race were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. In time, the principle of collective guilt would open the way to the assignment of other imaginary forms of guilt. The fact that Jesus had been a Jew, as his parents and his followers had been, was overlooked. In Christian art the Jews were depicted as ugly and deformed, while Jesus was a handsome European.
In Western European art Jesus’ family were often depicted with blond hair and blue eyes. The suggestion that Jesus might have looked anything like a typical Mediterranean Jew was tantamount to blasphemy. He was invariably depicted wearing at least a loincloth, not only to protect emerging concepts of Christian modesty, but also to hide the uncomfortable fact that he had been circumcised, as all Jewish boys were (and still are), at the age of 8 days (Luke 2:21).

And that’s how a guy who probably looked like this:

ended up looking like this.

No, seriously, I actually know someone who’s selling the above image as a picture of Sexy Jesus.

Hmm — not so many funny memes in this lesson. Unleash the floodgates!


Here’s one that’s topical:

You know, it’s not just Jesus. Santa’s a white guy, too.

Of course, this really speaks to how our conception of God (Jesus, religious heroes, etc.) is really just a projection of how we perceive ourselves. Michele Bachmann didn’t say this, but it’s the next stop on the train.


What’s behind this cry from the cross?

Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Was he feeling down? Was he quoting Psalm 22, in an effort to be literary?

My friend David Austin (personal communication) has pointed out something I hadn’t known about before.

There was a concept concerning Jesus known as “Adoptionism“. In this scenario, Jesus was “chosen” to be “adopted” as god’s son because he was a “sinless” person. God somehow “entered” Jesus at his baptism, and allowed him to perform amazing miracles etc. However when dying on the cross, god had to leave Jesus (because gods are immortal, and cannot die) and let Jesus die as a normal human. This accounts for Jesus’ final words “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?”, as god left his mortal body.

An intriguing twist.

Earthquake and zombies

Ah, Matthew. The things he comes up with. When Jesus dies, he writes in a huge earthquake, and people coming out of their graves — events not reported by anyone else, either in the Bible or out of it.

Matthew 27:51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
27:52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
27:53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

Don’t you think that if this had really happened, it would be kind of a big deal? Wouldn’t someone have noticed, and reported it somewhere outside of the Bible?

Additional lesson ideas

Thy speech bewrayeth thee

There’s a little piece of English language history in Peter’s denial of Jesus.

Matthew 26:73 And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.

Bewrayeth? Surely that’s betrayeth, ¿no?

No. The two words seem kind of similar in sound and meaning, but bewray is a bit different. It’s archaic, and it meant “to reveal, expose,” as with a secret.

That’s something that happens in language: when words are passing out of fashion, other similar words can step up and take over. Or a healthy word can push another word out of the way.

Well, I think that’s all the time we have for this week. Let’s have a hymn. This was one of the Thompson Twins’ best songs — see if you can spot the relevance to this lesson.

See you next week.

NT Lesson 23 (Last Supper)

“Love One Another, As I Have Loved You”

Luke 22:1–38; John 13–15

LDS manual: here


To show readers that Jesus is neither the way, the truth, nor the life.


Things are starting to come apart for Jesus and the Disciples. One member of the group is thinking of going solo, due to creative differences. The rest of the disciples are hiding out with Jesus during Passover, which — as you’ll remember — is a celebration of the time Jehovah killed a bunch of children because he disagreed with Egypt’s immigration policy.

While there, Jesus starts a tradition called the sacrament, which was originally Jesus’ flesh and blood, but thanks to latter-day revelation is now white bread and room-temperature tap water.

The centrepiece of this reading is a rambling, incoherent discourse in which Jesus lies to his followers about the power of prayer, says some nice things about love, and opens up about his relationship with his dad. So let’s get to that.

Main ideas for this lesson


Here’s where Jesus encourages ritual cannibalism.

Luke 22:17 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:
22:18 For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
22:19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
22:20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

You might remember that Jesus explained this earlier, in more blood-curdling terms.

John 6:53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.
6:54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
6:55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
6:56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.

Mormons quite sensibly refrain from interpreting this literally.

Unlike our Catholic friends, who think it’s very literal. Some Catholics threatened noted atheist PZ Myers with violence when he floated the idea of desecrating a cracker.

That’s right. Crazy Christian fanatics right here in our own country have been threatening to kill a young man over a cracker.

I find this all utterly unbelievable. It’s like Dark Age superstition and malice, all thriving with the endorsement of secular institutions here in 21st century America. It is a culture of deluded lunatics calling the shots and making human beings dance to their mythical bunkum.

So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart.

The episode became known as Crackergate, and the resulting brouhaha surrounding the disrespect of a cracker is indicative of the fervour that believers are able to generate, and the madness of supernatural belief.

Washing of feet and the Second Anointing

Washing someone’s feet seems like a strange thing to do, though it could be symbolic of an act of service. Jesus strips down, and makes with the towel.

John 13:4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
13:5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
13:6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
13:7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
13:8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
13:9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
13:10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.

The JST erroneously claims that this was a Mosaic ritual, but no record of this exists.

Some Latter-day Saints may not realise this, but foot-washing is part of a semi-secret (sorry, sacred) and recently rebooted ritual called the Second Anointing. One man who has undergone this ritual, Tom Phillips, has spoken out about it. His interview with John Dehlin is long, but worth the listen.


Modern Christians agree: If there’s one thing Jesus was all about, it was the lerv.

John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Love, love, love. (Except when Jesus is condemning people to eternal punishment for not believing in him.)

I like love, and I’m glad there’s something in the Bible about loving people. But in the end, it doesn’t matter to believers. Whenever you have a common belief or practice that contradicts scripture, the common belief or practice wins every time.

There’s a function to these ‘love’ verses. I liken it to poison. If you want to poison an animal, you can’t just throw it the poison and hope it eats it. You have to hide the poison in some kind of food the animal will like. In the same way, these ‘love’ scriptures provide cover for the nastier bits — of which there are plenty — so that people will gulp them down while they’re gulping down the good bits.


Ask: Were there any restrictions or conditions on what Jesus would let people do if they believed in him?
Answer: Nope.

John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
14:13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14:14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.


John 15:6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
15:7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

It would only be later, when people realised that it wasn’t working, that they would lard Jesus’ promise up with conditions and out-clauses. We’ll see those in future lessons.

Friendship and obedience

Jesus continues:

John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

I think this might be true, and we can search for lots of heartbreaking examples of heroic people who have paid with their lives to try to rescue others. Click this link for a Google search of all the latest examples of human courage in action.

What’s different is that, unlike Jesus, many of these people died without a belief that they would live again, and they did it anyway. It makes Jesus, with a knowledge of his immortality, seem cheap by comparison. (We’ll see in a following lesson how Jesus’ sacrifice would not have been a sacrifice at all.)

But then Jesus cheapens the moment further with this gem:

John 15:14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

“If you want to be my friend, you have to do everything I command you.” Seriously, what kind of friendship depends on one-sided obedience? That’s not a friendship; that’s a master-and-servant relationship.

Persecution complex

Many people belong to organisations or movements they consider to be “true”. That leads to a conflict: If the movement is so obviously true, why don’t more people accept it? For conspiracy theorists, the answer usually has something to do with sheeple being stupid and so on. But Jesus has an answer: they hate you because they hated me.

John 15:18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

And if they hate Jesus, then they hate God.

John 15:23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

So that means that by the transitive property: if they hate you, they hate God. Get the picture? And so Christians comfort themselves by thinking, “They don’t hate us; they hate God.”

Unless you’re a very special kind of stupid, in which case you take it to the next level: Rejection of God = hatred of God = evidence that it’s true!

I don’t hate concepts, but if I did, it would be because they’re noxious and harmful. Gods are a lot more harmful than leprechauns — partially due to the fact that more people believe in them — and that’s why I single out theism for special treatment.

Actually, I do hate leprechauns.

Additional lesson ideas

Then why did you tell me?

If someone hears the word and rejects it, then they’re condemned.

John 15:22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.

That means missionaries — by their own logic — are doing little more than walking around condemning everyone they communicate with. What kind of irresponsible jerk does that?

Contradictions: Cock

Jesus said that the cock would crow once before Peter denied him.

John 13:37 Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.
13:38 Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.

Unless you’re in Mark, in which case the cock would crow twice.

Mark 14:30 And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.

There have been attempts to explain this, but this is just papering over the contradiction.

I do not care whether ancient readers would have considered the cock crowing stories contradictory; I care whether we can regard all four as consistent with reality.

Contradictions: Demonic possession

Funny thing about John: he never mentions Satanic possession. In the other three gospels and Acts, you’ve got evil spirits infesting people all the time — it was how they explained mental illness. Not in John. No exorcisms there.

But there is one story with a good old-fashioned possession: when Satan “enters into” Judas. The only problem is when this happened. In Luke, it happens early on, when Judas first meets with the chief priests.

Luke 22:3 Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.
22:4 And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them.
22:5 And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money.
22:6 And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude.

But in John, it happens at the Last Supper.

John 13:23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
13:24 Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake.
13:25 He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?
13:26 Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
13:27 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.


The story of Judas raises the question of theological determinism, which asks: If God knows what’s going to happen, do we still have agency?

God’s willing that Allison take the dog for a walk is thus necessary and sufficient for Allison taking the dog for a walk. But if this is true, it is hard to see how Allison could have free will.

So is Judas responsible for betraying Jesus, when that event was foretold by a god who can’t be wrong? Foreknowledge precludes agency.

People sometimes tell me: No, it doesn’t. Just because God knows what’s going to happen doesn’t mean that he’s making it happen. It could just be that God knows our tendencies perfectly well, and so can predict with perfect accuracy what we’re going to do, without causing us to do it.

To which I would respond: It doesn’t matter how he knows it. If he knows for any reason that Allison will walk her dog, and he is never wrong, then Allison will be unable to not walk her dog. Agency is curtailed by foreknowledge.

In Judas’s case, the problem is especially vexing because not only was it (supposedly) predicted that someone would betray Jesus, the entire plan more or less depended on Jesus being betrayed. Judas was helping the whole plan come off.

As for this latter point, the Bible has it covered. It seems that even if you do what was prophesied — something which someone had to do — you’ll still get punished if it’s you.

Luke 22:22 And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!

What we have, then, is a god who punishes people for enabling a plan which the god himself put into motion. This is unjust.

That being the case, it seems that Judas’s image is undergoing a renovation.

As a result of this, many within the Church (and a significant number within the Roman Catholic Church) are now calling for Judas to be finally made a saint. Of course, there is still great controversy over this but one day this may well happen. However, whether or not Judas is made a saint on earth, there are a significant number of Christians who believe that, along with the rest of the disciples, he is now in God’s nearer presence as a result of God’s grace and forgiveness, and as a result of his doing God’s will, at great cost to himself – and his reputation – over the last 2000 years.

Let’s finish with a closing hymn. There’s a very sweet image in this reading, depicting the relationship between Jesus and John.

John 13:23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.

So it seems fitting to listen to “John My Beloved” by Sufjan Stevens. Not that it’s that topical, but it’s a really beautiful and sad album, and I happen to be listening to it with my son as I’m typing this. Happy Sunday.

NT Lesson 19 (Prayer)

“Thy Faith Hath Saved Thee”

Luke 18:1–8, 35–43; 19:1–10; John 11

LDS manual: here


To show the futility of prayer, and the contradictory and convenient rationales used to explain away its failure.


Ask the class: According to this reading, which of the following is a reason to pray?

  1. To ask God for things we need
  2. To pester God into giving us stuff
  3. To feel better about not getting stuff
  4. To remind ourselves of how unworthy we are
  5. As a way of displaying our relationship with God to other people

    Answer: All of the above, except the first one.

    Surprised? Let’s just do a bit of review.

    Back in the early days of Jesus’ ministry, prayer was simple. You asked God for stuff, you got stuff — just like in that first answer above. If you only had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could have it all. There was no indication from Jesus that it was supposed to be any other way.

    Matthew 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
    7:8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
    7:9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
    7:10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
    7:11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

    Mark 11:23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
    11:24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

    But as anyone who’s ever prayed for a pony — or a loved one to get better — knows, it really doesn’t work. People started noticing that God was giving out a lot of serpents. So Jesus added this dodge:

    Matthew 17:19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
    17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

    If you didn’t get it, it was because you didn’t have enough faith. Which is a great way of blaming the victim when prayer fails. Nice move, Jesus.

    And now, Christianity and Mormonism are teeming with qualifications, hedges, and rationales to explain why prayer really works — just not how you think. If prayer doesn’t seem to work — well, it’s because:

    • you didn’t blah blah blah…
    • you’re not supposed to blah blah blah…
    • God doesn’t blah blah blah…

    Here’s the complete chart, just for reference.

    That being the case, this lesson is about some of those other — in my view, less worthwhile — reasons for prayer.

    Main ideas for this lesson

    Pestering God into giving us what we want

    Here we have the parable of the Unjust Judge and the Widow.

    Luke 18:1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
    18:2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
    18:3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
    18:4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
    18:5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.

    This is one dodge to justify why prayers don’t get answered: Oh, well, they will eventually.

    The LDS lesson manual elaborates.

    • How is persevering in prayer an act of faith? What should we do when we have persevered in prayer and feel that we have not received an answer?

    Elder Richard G. Scott said:
    “It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately. Some prayers require considerable effort on our part. . . .
    When we explain a problem and a proposed solution [to our Heavenly Father], sometimes He answers yes, sometimes no. Often He withholds an answer, not for lack of concern, but because He loves us—perfectly. He wants us to apply truths He has given us. For us to grow, we need to trust our ability to make correct decisions. We need to do what we feel is right. In time, He will answer. He will not fail us” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 38; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 30–31).

    Ask: How does Mr Scott justify the lack of answers to prayers?

    • God will answer your prayer. Just not yet. Well then, when? Juuuuust a little longer.
    • Prayers require effort. Submit your request again, and continue paying tithing.
    • Sometimes God answers no.

    But what good are these excuses? We could get the same results by praying to a jug of milk.

    You might as well ask a rock! Which some people do, and they think it works great.

    Pick up your stone and hold it firmly in your hand to feel its power and purifying abilities. Ask it to soak up any negativity from your office space and send out strong, positive energetic rays around your computer to keep it virus-free.

    You may chuckle, but at least rocks exist.

    By the way, why would we need to ask an omniscient god for anything, when he already knows what we need? Blonde Hot Surfer Jesus has an answer:

    To sum up, the moral of this parable is that you should keep asking. Weary the Lord with your pleadings.

    Except when you’re not supposed to keep asking. You might remember the story of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, which were lost by investor Martin Harris.

    The seminary guide for the Doctrine and Covenants relates the story:

    By mid-June 1828, the Prophet Joseph Smith, with Martin Harris as scribe, had translated 116 pages of manuscript from the gold plates. Martin asked Joseph to allow him to take the manuscript to “read to his friends that [perhaps] he might convince them of the truth” (Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844, vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers [2012], 15). Joseph approached the Lord with Martin’s request but was told not to let the manuscript out of his possession. Martin convinced Joseph to ask again—which resulted in a second refusal from the Lord. Martin prevailed upon Joseph to ask once more and, on this third request, the Lord gave permission for Martin to take the manuscript if he agreed to show the manuscript only to his wife and a few select family members. However, Martin broke his oath and the manuscript was lost. Because Joseph had not accepted the Lord’s initial counsel but delivered “that which was sacred into the hands of a wicked man” (D&C 3:12), Moroni took the plates and the Urim and Thummim from the Prophet.

    Considering what you know about Martin Harris and all that he had done for Joseph Smith, why do you think Joseph persisted in asking God if Martin could take the manuscript even though God had already given a clear answer the first two times he asked?

    I don’t know; maybe because Jesus said to persist in asking? The rules of whether to persist in prayer or leave it alone are confused and contradictory. This is not the work of a god who’s all that bright.

    Reminding ourselves of how unworthy we are

    You know what people tell me when I say that religion is harmful? They tell me about the comfort it brings them. So comfort. Wow.

    Well, how comforting is it when you’re told what an unworthy wretch you are? That’s the next purpose of prayer in this lesson, as in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican.

    Luke 18:10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
    18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
    18:12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
    18:13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
    18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

    In other words, you’re supposed to proclaim your unworthiness at all times. This graphic is an actual meme that Christians are sharing with each other.

    This is not a system that builds confident people. It celebrates and encourages brokenness.

    Displaying your relationship with God to others

    Lazarus gets sick and dies. Like the man born blind, it’s an example of God making people sick so that he can show how great he is for making them well.

    John 11:4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

    Then Jesus says something a little unusual in his prayer to raise Lazarus:

    John 11:41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
    11:42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

    From the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual:

    • What can Jesus’ prayer before he raised Lazarus teach us about his relationship with his Father? (See John 11:41–42.) How can we follow Jesus’ example in our personal and family prayers?

    Answer: By praying as ostentatiously as possible. Suggestion: Over food in restaurants.

    On that: Would you believe that some restaurants offer discounts for customers who make a display of mumbling over their food?

    A diner on business travel received a 15 percent discount on her check for simply praying over her meal at a Winston-Salem, North Carolina restaurant Wednesday.

    Jordan Smith stopped for breakfast with two colleagues at Mary’s Gourmet Diner where they publicly prayed for their food, and later were surprised with the deduction.

    ” … The waitress came over at the end of the meal and said, ‘Just so you know, we gave you a 15% discount for praying,’ which I’d never seen before,” said Smith, according to HLN TV.  “The three of us at the table talked about how wonderful that is and what a cool thing it is that they do as business owners.”

    Except that Jesus said we’re not supposed to make a show for others.

    Matthew 6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    Again, the advice on prayer is confusing and contradictory.

    Does prayer do anything?

    As we’ve seen, believers have taken Jesus’ original instruction to pray for things, and larded it up with justifications and out-clauses for when it doesn’t work.

    So does prayer actually do anything? Well, it’s pretty good for making you feel better.

    I will pray for you

    My favourite passive-aggressive Christian jibe is when people say “I’ll pray for you.”

    Do I answer in the way that this guy does? No, I do not.

    Often I say, “And I will reason for you.” But here are some other ways to respond.

    The God of Small Things

    Many people will say yes, prayer works. They base this on personal anecdotes, and I have to say, some of them are pretty trivial.

    That’s not a pretty picture, I know, but there are a lot of starving kids in the world. If God is helping wealthy Westerners find parking spaces, while choosing to leave problems of massive systemic suffering alone, then he truly is the God of Small Things.

    The Divine Plan

    Of course, when prayer doesn’t work, people try to make themselves feel better by saying it “wasn’t in God’s plan”.

    As always, George Carlin had the best answer to this.

    Again, on Bill Maher.

    And of all people, Mr Deity knows what’s up. He’s got a plan! And when doing nothing gets people to believe in you, why screw it up?

    Can’t answer ’em all

    Complicating the whole prayer idea is the fact that people send millions of contradictory prayers and requests that are mutually unfulfillable.

    Ask: What does John Steinbeck mean by this quote?

    All of which should be enough to tell us that prayer is futile.

    If, as people say, prayer is really for you, then there are better things for you to be doing.

    Additional lesson ideas

    Faith healing

    On his way somewhere, Jesus healed another blind guy.

    Luke 18:42 And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.
    18:43 And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.

    Perhaps you’re not impressed by this story, written down as it is in this 2,000-year-old book. Would you be impressed if you saw it in real life? Many people are; these so-called miracles are duplicated by fakes and con artists everywhere.

    SCEPTICS are warning people to be wary of a self-proclaimed “miracle healer” who claims to have cured blindness and is bringing his “healing” tour to the southeast.

    Hungarian pastor Laszlo Magyari, who has claimed to have healed people of conditions from cancer to blindness, will perform his “healing” services in Bentleigh, Springvale, Noble Park, Narre Warren and Endeavour Hills over the next two weeks.

    But Australian Skeptics Victorian Branch president Chris Guest said it was important to remain vigilant of the claims of faith healers.

    Even faith healers who are sincere in their beliefs and offer their services without fee are still capable of doing harm,” he said.

    Their followers may be dissuaded from getting timely medical attention from serious illnesses or continuing with promising orthodox treatments.”

    Derren Brown explains how they do it.

    Until next week, I hope you are well.

    NT Lesson 8 (Sermon on the Mount 1)

    The Sermon on the Mount: “A More Excellent Way”

    Matthew 5

    LDS manual: here


    To show that some of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are terrible, and that it allows believers to selectively jettison inconvenient doctrine from the Old Testament


    This time, we’re starting on the Sermon on the Mount

    Matthew 5:1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

    which was actually taught on a plain.

    Luke 6:17 And he came down with them, and stood in the plain

    Seriously, were any of these Bible writers actually there? Oh, wait; no, they weren’t. This was probably written 30 or 40 years after Jesus would have died. As mentioned in this Thinking Atheist podcast, it was written originally in Greek — not Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken — which points to a later writing date.

    Main ideas for this lesson

    Some of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are terrible

    People just love the Sermon on the Mount because many of its teachings are nice. They’re all about the lerv. A closer reading shows that many of these teachings are nonsense, and a real supernatural being could do a lot better.

    The Sermon on the Mount has been thoroughly fisked a number of times, and here are some of my faves.

    You should definitely check them out. But here are a few of my ideas.

    Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
    5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
    5:6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
    5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
    5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
    5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

    Well, those are just lovely. One problem: while being meek works out great for those in power, it doesn’t do much to help to help you out of a bad situation. Does a belief that God will sort everything out comfort you, or just put you back to sleep? Frank Zappa suggests that helping each other out would be a better way to turn things around.

    Frank Zappa- The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing… by WarGodIII


    Here’s another one:

    Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
    5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

    In my upbringing, this meant: Everyone knows you’re a Mormon, and they’re watching you. Don’t let your behaviour reflect badly on the Church.

    This has a number of effects: It controls your behaviour, serving as a kind of panopticon where you’re always being observed. It also gives you the idea that how you feel about what you’re doing is less important than how others feel about what you’re doing. And that means that you can’t really trust your own moral instincts, because it’s always someone else evaluating your behaviour. You have to imagine what morality looks like to some external observer, guess what they expect, and then do that. It’s like giving someone an moral-sense-ectomy, so that you can replace it with whatever you want.

    It’s one tiny scripture, but the church does this in lots of ways, and the effect is cumulative.

    Let your light shine?

    When you do good things, you’re supposed to let them be seen.

    Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

    Oh, wait; no, you’re not. Very next chapter:

    Matthew 6:1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

    It’s very difficult to know how publicly righteous you’re supposed to be.

    Is the Old Testament still valid?

    How many times have you had a discussion with a believer about the barbarity of the Bible, and they say, “But that’s the Old Testament!”?

    Well, in this section, Jesus sets out the relationship between his teachings and those of the Old Testament.

    Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
    5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
    5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    This sounds to me like the kind of thing that would have been written way later, once the early Christians were trying to allay criticism that they were getting away from their Jewish base.

    Anyway: So what’s the deal? Is the OT still in force? The OT certainly says so; in numerous places it says it was intended to last as a perpetual statute forever.

    Lev. 23: 14it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
    Num. 19:21 And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them…

    And Jesus says as much: Things things won’t be done away “till heaven and earth pass”.

    But Christians argue that the OT has been superseded. In the words of the Jehovah’s Witness guy that came to my house yesterday, Jehovah gave us the Ten Commandments in the OT, and the Two Commandments (love God, love your neighbour) in the New. Sort of a version update. This seems to be what they mean by Jesus ‘fulfilling’ the law. (Which is confusing, because “heaven and earth” haven’t passed away yet, and here it is fulfilled already. Oh, well.)

    If that’s the case, and the OT has been deprecated, then why do Christians still cherry-pick laws from it that they like?

    As mentioned in this lesson, some Christians like to cite the homophobic scriptures in Leviticus, but ignore the shellfish prohibition in the very same book.

    A fact lampooned in “Prop 8: The Musical”. Remember that?

    While there are mountains of explanations from Christians trying to sort this out, the fact remains: The relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament is confusing, and this confusion allows Christians to play it both ways. They can pull anything they want from the Old Testament that suits their purpose because Bible, but they can selectively disavow chapters and chapters full of stuff they find unpalatable. This should, however, cast some doubt on just how much they “believe” the Bible.

    And what’s often forgotten in this discussion is that (for Mormons and Trinitarians) Jesus is Jehovah. Why wouldn’t he be okay with what he commanded earlier? It makes no sense in terms of a coherent narrative from an unchanging god, but it makes loads of sense in terms of human cultural evolution, which Christianity is a prime example of.

    Thinking is not doing

    Jesus gives a teaching from the School of Emotional Repression:

    Matthew 5:21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
    5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

    Being angry is nowhere near as serious as killing someone. This teaching is ridiculous.

    Note also that atheists are called ‘fools’ in the OT. Man, Jesus sure could use some help from a modern Christian to get himself sorted out!

    Adultery in your heart

    Matthew 5:27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
    5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

    Seriously, Jesus? Impulse control is a fine thing, but this crosses the line into thoughtcrime. In my youth, I wasted a lot of effort trying to stop naughty thoughts from crossing my mind, and feeling bad when I couldn’t. As an adult, I enjoy my sense of eroticism at baseline levels. We are sexual beings, and while we put it on background for much of our day-to-day lives, trying to deny this aspect of our personality is damaging, and makes us act like sexually repressed weirdos. What a terrible lack of perspective to equate sexual desire with unconstrained rutting.

    There’s more. If thinking about sex is equated with doing it — if there’s no line between the two, then it eradicates the line between normal stuff people do (like hugging, smooching, etc) and things that are truly messed up (like sexual assault). Have a read of this treatment of the toxic purity culture of American Christianity (as it pertains to the notorious Duggar family), and how it makes inappropriate sexual behaviour not only possible, but likely.

    The huge problem with this teaching is that it does not distinguish between having thoughts and desires, and acting on them in an inappropriate way. To the young person, just developing (one hopes) critical thinking skills, this can and does lead to problems in making decisions. After all, if one has already fallen into sexual sin in the realm of thought, why not at least get some satisfaction for the trouble. All the guilt and shame is already there, so why not try to at least get a little gratification.

    Needless to say, this worldview is not very good at addressing the issue of consent. Since all sexual sin is the same…, then the difference between lusting and sexually assaulting someone is blurred.

    More extreme beliefs follow.

    Matthew 5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
    5:30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

    It’s off with the hands and eyes for a lot of you.

    (Funny that it mentions the right hand specifically, by the way.)

    Just one more thing from this bit: this is the first time we’ve seen where Jesus mentions ‘hell’. He’ll have more to say about this — including actual fire! — but let’s make a note of this and move on.


    And now we’re to one of Jesus’ teachings that Christians happily ignore: his teachings on divorce.

    Matthew 5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
    5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

    And thank goodness they ignore it! Yes, divorce can be unfortunate and disruptive, but it can also give you your life back.

    People tell me that fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. I always respond: Fifty percent of marriages should end in divorce. All my life in church, people treated divorce like the worst thing in the world. That and apostasy. Then I found that they were wrong about both those things. And everything else.

    A bit of context, though: Divorce is good, except where it leads to poverty for women, which, in a patriarchal society where men have all the power and money, is very likely. So let’s take that into account. But this is an argument against patriarchy, not divorce.

    The other good thing about Christians ignoring Jesus’ teachings on divorce is that Christians can learn to ignore the bullshit in their Bible. And that’s a good thing, if only they were aware that’s what they’re doing.

    On the other hand, I sometimes wish modern Christians weren’t so selective.

    Additional lesson ideas

    Luke’s additions

    Boy, did Luke have a different take on this sermon!

    Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
    6:21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
    6:22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
    6:23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
    6:24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
    6:25 Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.

    Message: if you’re a wealthy, well-fed laughing person, you’re hosed in the afterlife.

    Love your enemies

    Well, we’ve been tough on the Sermon on the Mount/Plain today. But there are some good bits, and here’s one.

    Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
    5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

    I think this might be a good idea, unless you’re someone who’s learned to be fatally compromised in relationships. In some cases, it would be better to cut your enemies out of your life, instead of being commanded to love them. (And what’s with being commanded to love? Geez.)

    Even then, there are some weird inconsistencies in this part of Jesus’ message.

    And this is the same Jesus who sends people to hell. But more on that later.

    Let’s just say that loving your enemies is good if you can manage it. It’s an advanced move.

    Matthew 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

    This reminded me of a poem by Charles Bowen:

    “The rain it raineth on the just
    And also on the unjust fella;
    But chiefly on the just, because
    The unjust hath the just’s umbrella”

    See you next time.

    NT Lesson 4 (Jesus: Early ministry)

    “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”

    Matthew 3–4; John 1:35–51

    LDS manual: here


    For this reading, Jesus is getting started on his ministry. He’s about 30 years old, which means that for the last 18 years, he’s been doing things that Christians have tried hard to hush up. (Mormons aren’t the only ones who can sanitise a history, you know.)

    This lesson covers the following:

    • Baptism of Jesus
    • The temptation of Jesus
    • The marriage at Cana
    • Driving the money-changers from the tample

    Main ideas for this lesson

    John the Baptist

    John the Baptist is a prophet from the Old Testament tradition. Those guys were great. They’d get naked and prophesy, they’d cook bread on a fire made from their own dung. John would have fit right in; he wears hairy clothes, and eats locusts and honey.

    So John baptises Jesus, and then God speaks from heaven, and the Holy Ghost comes down in Bird Mode.

    Matt. 3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
    3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

    But Jesus is not unique in that regard. The same thing happened to Robert Plant. God was a huge Zep fan back in the day.

    Little known fact: Space Moose was also there.

    (Disclaimer: No one should read Space Moose comics. They are terribly offensive and weird.)

    This experience seems to have made quite an impression on John,

    John 1:36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!

    but later on when he’s in prison, he doesn’t seem so sure. He sends a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus if he really is the Lamb of God.

    Matt. 11:2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,
    11:3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

    I’ve heard people explain this away by saying that John knew Jesus was the Messiah, but he wanted his disciples to meet Jesus in person. That’s a bit silly; lots of people met Jesus, and not everyone was into him. Actually, people went hot and cold on Jesus in amazingly short periods of time, depending on where in the story we are. But more on that later.


    There’s something interesting here: Satan, who hasn’t been seen since Job, is back, and he’s here to tempt Jesus three times, for a few minutes. This is in contrast to the rest of us, who Satan is apparently working on more or less full time.

    There’s a contradiction in the two versions of this story. Notice the verse numbers. The two parts of the story are flipped.

    Matthew 4:5–10 Luke 4:5–12
    Satan takes Jesus to the top of the temple 4:5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,
    4:6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
    4:7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
    4:9 And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence:
    4:10 For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee:
    4:11 And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
    4:12 And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
    Satan takes Jesus to the top of the mountain 4:8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
    4:9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
    4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
    4:5 And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
    4:6 And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.
    4:7 If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.

    The supposed existence of Satan in the world is a bit of a puzzle. What in the world is Satan doing roaming about? As parents, we try as hard as we can to reduce our children’s exposure to harm. God’s just the opposite; he’s like, “Go for it, Satan!”

    Why is God allowing this? Apparently it’s so that we can have agency. He is truly a kind and wise creator.

    Actually, Satan isn’t all bad. He was really just trying to help.

    Turning water into wine

    At a wedding in Cana — plot twist: apostle Orson Hyde taught that the wedding was Jesus’ own! — Jesus performs his first conjuring trick / miracle: turning water into wine. That’s kind of an old one. Dionysus was supposed to have done it, and devotees of Sai Baba say he once turned water into petrol. (One would suppose that with that power, it might be incumbent on one to solve problems related to the world energy supply, but I digress.)

    Wine: Was it just grape juice?

    With the Mormon prohibition on alcohol, members have a hard time accepting that Jesus drank wine. Some go so far as to insist that the ‘wine’ Jesus drank at various periods was nothing but non-alcoholic grape juice.

    I remember this bit from a terrible book called Day of Defense (PDF), which was handed around my mission, and was my introduction to proof-texting and quote-mining. Such legalistic line-by-line cherry-picking — done not to find out what’s true, but solely to establish one’s own pre-conceived view — is the stock in trade for so much apologetics. It was this approach that helped me to see that religious reasoning was not an honest way of getting answers to questions, for which I’m very grateful.

    Here’s what Day of Defense says about wine:

    The wine used in the Lord’s Supper was nothing more than grape juice, or as the scriptures stated it “fruit of the vine”.

    Womp womp. As discussed in this Reddit thread, grape juice starts to ferment almost immediately, and it wasn’t until 1869 that Thomas Welch figured out how to pasteurise grape juice to stop the fermentation. Unfermented grape juice wouldn’t have been possible in Jesus’ day.

    Anyway, the Bible has people calling Jesus a ‘wine-bibber‘, which seems unlikely in the absence of wine.

    Activity for readers stuck in a real Gospel Doctrine class: See if anyone tries the ‘grape juice gambit’. Do they resist the facts when you point them out? Put your experiences in comments!

    Flipping tables in the temple

    I always liked the story of Jesus driving out the money-changers.

    John 2:13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
    2:14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
    2:15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
    2:16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

    It puts a new spin on an old acronym. Who would Jesus lash?

    On the other hand, it doesn’t make him much of a “job creator“.

    Additional lesson ideas

    40 days and 40 nights = Hebrew idiom for “a long time”?

    There are a lot of examples of things happening for “40 days and 40 nights”, including the Flood and the starvation of Jesus. The repeated appearance of this number, combined with the fact that it’s not really possible to survive 40 days without water, has made people suppose that “40 days and 40 nights” is some kind of idiom for “a long time”. I haven’t found anything conclusive, although some writers agree.

    At a late stage in my deconversion, I was talking to one of the counsellors in the Stake Presidency — a good guy, BTW — and he told me that he thought it was just an idiom. I must have assumed that everyone was as literal-minded about the scriptures as I was, because this came as kind of a surprise to me.

    “Doesn’t this weaken the claims of the Bible for you?” I asked.

    “The Holy Ghost tells me what to believe,” he replied.

    Partial credit to him, I guess, for moderating the amount of nonsense he was willing to swallow, but it seemed to me — both then and now — that if one is willing to take this view, it makes the job of understanding the scriptures well-nigh impossible. Everyone can have their own view because every every every detail can be understood multiple ways. God is the author of confusion.

    Jesus abuses his mum

    Jesus has this bad habit of giving his mother some sass. Here he is at the wedding of Cana.

    John 2:3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
    2:4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

    Joseph Smith tries to save the situation, unconvincingly.

    “What wilt thou have me do for thee? that will I do” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 2:4)

    The LDS manual has this under the heading: “Jesus shows respect and love for his mother”. Way to turn it around, chaps. But no, Jesus is being kind of a dick again.

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