Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: gender

OT Lesson 26 (Solomon)

King Solomon: Man of Wisdom, Man of Foolishness

1 Kings 3; 5–11

LDS manual: here

Reading

Abishag

This chapter certainly starts off with a bang: Kind David is old and cold, so they throw a girl into bed with him. Her name is Abishag, or as it is sometimes rendered — rather amusingly, given the situation — Avishag.

1 Kings 1:1 Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat.
1:2 Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.
1:3 So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.
1:4 And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.

Pedro_AMérico_1879_Davi_e_Abisag
Davi e Abisag by Perdo Américo, 1879

All kinds of questions here. What does cherishing involve? Was Abishag kind of a hot name for a girl back then? Was the past tense of get really gat?

But we do know that the word shunamitism derives from this practice, meaning ‘throwing a young girl into bed with an old man to extend his life’. Believe it or not, it was encouraged in the 1800s.

In the 17th century, Francis Bacon approved King David’s practice, suggesting, however, that puppies might serve as well as young virgins.

Puppies? Forgive me, but this — while very cute — hardly seems an appropriate substitute. On the other hand, let’s have a moment of sympathy for this Shunammite girl, tossed into bed with a dusty old man. She probably didn’t want to be there.

Succession woes

The young Abishag, for her part, finds herself at the centre of a succession struggle, wonderfully summarised here.

David’s son Adonijah wants to be king after David dies, but Bathsheba wants the throne for Solomon. The prophet Nathan’s on board — Adonijah’s not that into him. So Bathsheba and Nathan bring David around.

1 Kings 1:29 And the king sware, and said, As the LORD liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress,
1:30 Even as I sware unto thee by the LORD God of Israel, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne in my stead; even so will I certainly do this day.

Meanwhile, Adonijah and his friends is celebrating his accession to the throne.

1 Kings 1:9 And Adonijah slew sheep and oxen and fat cattle by the stone of Zoheleth, which is by Enrogel, and called all his brethren the king’s sons, and all the men of Judah the king’s servants:

But when they hear the news that David has backed Solomon, all of Adonijah’s friends bail, like Bob Alexander’s campaign event at the end of the movie Dave.

1 Kings 1:49 And all the guests that were with Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way.

Adonijah knows he’s in trouble, so he heads to the temple and grabs the horns of the altar. That’s a safe zone.

1 Kings 1:50 And Adonijah feared because of Solomon, and arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.

Solomon tells him to knock it off; he’s not going to kill him.

1 Kings 1:52 And Solomon said, If he will shew himself a worthy man, there shall not an hair of him fall to the earth: but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die.

Now you’d think Adonijah would lie low after this, but no, he decides he wants to marry Abishag the Royal Hottie.

1 Kings 2:17 And [Adonijah] said, Speak, I pray thee, unto Solomon the king, (for he will not say thee nay,) that he give me Abishag the Shunammite to wife.

Even Bathsheba thinks this is uncontroversial.

1 Kings 2:18 And Bathsheba said, Well; I will speak for thee unto the king.

But Solomon is a little smarter than your average bear, and sees this as a power play. If Adonijah marries Abishag, who was in a way the last partner David had, it could be a claim to his legitimacy to the throne. Sorry, Adonijah, but you have played the game of thrones badly.

1 Kings 2:23 Then king Solomon sware by the LORD, saying, God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah have not spoken this word against his own life.
2:24 Now therefore, as the LORD liveth, which hath established me, and set me on the throne of David my father, and who hath made me an house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this day.
2:25 And king Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he fell upon him that he died.

In killing Adonijah, Solomon is only following in the ways of his father David, who used his last moments to settle some old scores. He commands Solomon to kill Joab and Shimei.

1 Kings 2:1 Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying,
2:2 I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man;

2:5 Moreover thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner, and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet.
2:6 Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace.

2:8 And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword.
2:9 Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.

Dispute over a baby

This is the story everyone’s familiar with, but even my highly educated never-Mo girlfriend/wife had never heard it! So here it is.

Two women — sex workers — live together and have a baby each. In the night, one baby dies, and so now both are claiming the same live baby. Solomon considers, and instructs a nearby minion to cleave the living baby in twain, and distribute half to each women. Before the axeman can carry out this eminently fair proposition, one of the women bursts out, telling Solomon to keep the baby alive and to give it to the other woman.

1 Kings 3:26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.

King Solomon halts the proceedings, and delivers the baby to the mum that wanted to keep it alive.

1 Kings 3:27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.

Everyone’s really impressed.

1 Kings 3:28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.

It’s even more impressive when you realise that it doesn’t matter if the woman was the real mother. The child would do best with whichever woman wanted it to be alive, regardless of maternity.

Since I can never resist a bit of Twain, here’s Huckleberry Finn and Jim arguing over this story. Please excuse the n-word as a product of language use at the time.

“WELL, den! Warn’ dat de beatenes’ notion in de worl’? You jes’ take en look at it a minute. Dah’s de stump, dah — dat’s one er de women; heah’s you — dat’s de yuther one; I’s Sollermun; en dish yer dollar bill’s de chile. Bofe un you claims it. What does I do? Does I shin aroun’ mongs’ de neighbors en fine out which un you de bill DO b’long to, en han’ it over to de right one, all safe en soun’, de way dat anybody dat had any gumption would? No; I take en whack de bill in TWO, en give half un it to you, en de yuther half to de yuther woman. Dat’s de way Sollermun was gwyne to do wid de chile. Now I want to ast you: what’s de use er dat half a bill? — can’t buy noth’n wid it. En what use is a half a chile? I wouldn’ give a dern for a million un um.”

“But hang it, Jim, you’ve clean missed the point — blame it, you’ve missed it a thousand mile.”

“Who? Me? Go ‘long. Doan’ talk to me ’bout yo’ pints. I reck’n I knows sense when I sees it; en dey ain’ no sense in sich doin’s as dat. De ‘spute warn’t ’bout a half a chile, de ‘spute was ’bout a whole chile; en de man dat think he kin settle a ‘spute ’bout a whole chile wid a half a chile doan’ know enough to come in out’n de rain. Doan’ talk to me ’bout Sollermun, Huck, I knows him by de back.”

“But I tell you you don’t get the point.”

“Blame de point! I reck’n I knows what I knows. En mine you, de REAL pint is down furder — it’s down deeper. It lays in de way Sollermun was raised. You take a man dat’s got on’y one or two chillen; is dat man gwyne to be waseful o’ chillen? No, he ain’t; he can’t ‘ford it. HE know how to value ’em. But you take a man dat’s got ’bout five million chillen runnin’ roun’ de house, en it’s diffunt. HE as soon chop a chile in two as a cat. Dey’s plenty mo’. A chile er two, mo’ er less, warn’t no consekens to Sollermun, dad fatch him!”

I never see such a nigger. If he got a notion in his head once, there warn’t no getting it out again. He was the most down on Solomon of any nigger I ever see.

The temple is built and dedicated

Solomon wants to build a temple. This is a positive sign: instead of war and conquest, Solomon is channeling the Israelites’ efforts into architecture. Not only would this be very beautiful, but also a sign of stability besides.

1 Kings 5:2 And Solomon sent to Hiram, saying,
5:3 Thou knowest how that David my father could not build an house unto the name of the LORD his God for the wars which were about him on every side, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet.
5:4 But now the LORD my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent.
5:5 And, behold, I purpose to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD spake unto David my father, saying, Thy son, whom I will set upon thy throne in thy room, he shall build an house unto my name.

Old habits die hard, though; the opening ceremony involved the slaughter of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. How long would that have taken‽

1 Kings 8:63 And Solomon offered a sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered unto the LORD, two and twenty thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of the LORD.

Whatever. I’m just glad that Mormons don’t sacrifice animals anymore. Instead, they just wave handkerchiefs around in an awkward and slightly dorky way.

Solomon marries foreign women

There has to be some conflict here, and it relates to Solomon’s choice of wives.

1 Kings 11:1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites:
11:2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.

That sounds great. That would have meant that the formerly warring kingdoms were integrating. But Jehovah/Jesus isn’t happy with that. He sees his monotheistic hold slipping away.

1 Kings 11:11 Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.
11:12 Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son.

The real lesson manual chastises Solomon for the sin of — having lots of wives? no — interfaith marriage, equating it with ‘turning away from God’.

How did Solomon’s choice of wives show that he had turned away from God? (See 1 Kings 11:1–2. He married out of the covenant.)

Ask: How do members in part-member families feel about this?

Main points from this lesson

Did Solomon’s temple exist?

We’ve seen a bit of a pattern here in the Old Testament. We read about the Flood — and then see that there’s no evidence for it. We read about the Exodus — and then find that there’s no evidence that the Hebrews were ever in Egypt at all.

And by the way, while I’m thinking of it, did you catch this bit of the church’s terrible new Book of Abraham essay?

But even this evidence of ancient origins, substantial though it may be, cannot prove the truthfulness of the book of Abraham any more than archaeological evidence can prove the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt or the Resurrection of the Son of God.

Comparing the Book of Abraham with two other fictitious events. That’s cute.

Anyway, while it may have been a bit of shock to find that these Bible stories have no evidentiary basis, it’s equally surprising to find that the trail of evidence never really gets started the further you go. And so it is with Solomon’s temple. The book of 1 Kings was written way after the fact — about 400 years after the temple was allegedly built — and no evidence for it exists.

Could Solomon’s temple have existed anyway? Well, much of 1 Kings is taken up with very specific detail that gives the whole thing an air of verisimilitude. Then again, fiction can be very detailed. Some works of fiction even come with their own constructed languages (which you can hear me talking about in Episodes 161 and 162 of my language podcast Talk the Talk).

Skeptic Brian Dunning, for his part, feels that we should believe the Solomon’s temple story until it’s disconfirmed

Since we can’t verify that the temple existed, we certainly can’t say that the Holy of Holies did, and we can’t say that there was an Ark inside of it. However, there is a wealth of non-empirical evidence supporting the idea that Solomon, his temple, and the Ark within probably did exist. Historians going back through ancient Rome, such as Josephus, and ancient Greece, such as Herodotus, have all provided accounts that are generally consistent with the Biblical history of Solomon’s temple. I believe it’s fair to say that the existence of Solomon’s temple, and a gilt wooden ark hidden inside of it, are the null hypothesis. We’ve no compelling reason to doubt it.

…but it doesn’t work that way. Unspecified ‘non-empirical evidence’ might be okay for ordinary propositions, but I think I’d like a bit more before I sign off on this.

I feel the same way about Solomon’s temple as I feel about Jesus. It’s fine with me if it existed, and if more details come to light that confirm their veracity, I have no problem with that. On the other hand, I’m not holding my breath, and if the LDS Church wants people make important life choices based on this elaborate narrative, then it needs to support it with publicly verifiable evidence.

Temples, Solomon, and Freemasonry

Just about every Latter-day Saint has heard unflattering comparisons between Freemasonry and the Mormon temple ceremony, with the implication that Joseph Smith ripped off the Masonic ritual and incorporated it into the endowment.

While I’d always heard talk of such things, it wasn’t until I read a leaked copy of the Master Mason Degree ritual (PDF) that I fully understood the extent of Joseph Smith’s plagiarism (a representative slice is at right). I went through the LDS temple for the first time before the 1990 changes, so I remember the penalties and the Five Points of Fellowship, and they’re all there. It’s a wholesale transplant. What a spin-out. I found myself thinking, “Was there anything original that Smith did?”

See also Richard Packham’s convenient chart.

How do Mormons explain away the similarities? One common line of reasoning involves Solomon’s temple. The argument goes something like this:

  • The LDS temple ceremony was practiced in Solomon’s temple.
  • Solomon’s temple was built by stone masons, who had access to the temple ceremony.
  • Those same masons formed Freemasonry.
  • They therefore pilfered the temple ceremony from Solomon’s temple, and used it for their own.

As a believer, I accepted this explanation for a while, until I became aware that Freemasonry does not go back to the time of Solomon’s temple, supposedly about 900 BCE. In fact, organised Freemasonry starts in the 1700s, and probably goes no farther back than the 1200s or 1300s. Even that might be a bit generous — Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope pegs it at the 1500s. By the way, Uncle Cecil’s description of Masonic handshakes might raise a tremor for an endowment holder.

In shaking hands, for example, a Master Mason will press his thumb between the other guy’s second and third knuckles, thereby identifying himself to initiates while leaving others clueless.

And more handshakes and drawings here. Beware, though: evangelical Christianity.

To say that Freemasons borrowed the temple ceremony from proto-Mormons is to get it exactly backwards. It was Joseph Smith that remixed the Masonic ritual into what is now the LDS temple endowment.

Additional ideas for teaching

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba: Is it true about those two?

The book of 1 Kings has this little subplot about a powerful woman — the Queen of Sheba — who came to visit Solomon.

1 Kings 10:1 And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions.
10:2 And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.
10:3 And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for this supposed meeting; it sounds like a meeting between two intelligent people who found an intellectual kinship. And when people bond in this way, things can get… well… a little bit hot.

1 Kings 10:13 And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.

So… did they have a thing?

Certainly film and artwork have had no trouble filling in the gaps in the narrative.

At this point, we need to look back on the Bible and see the two similar stories we’ve run across: David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Boaz. In both of these, the Bible is maddeningly circumspect in its details. But are we to believe that nothing went on there? Were these rough and semi-barbaric people secretly the inventors of Victorian morality? Even though the text doesn’t explicitly sanction such a reading, you have to look at this and say, come on.

Another thing: when there’s no sex, as with David and Abishag, the text specifically says, “He knew her not.” If that’s not there, some bets are off.

So my take, as Gospel Doctrine for the Godless teacher: They totally did it.

pi = 3

As we all know, the value of pi (π) — the ratio of the circumference of a circle and its diameter — is 3.141592… and on and on and on.

And if you didn’t know the value of π, just remember this sentence: “Boy, I wish I could calculate pi.” The number of letters in each word corresponds to each digit. Science moment of the day.

But a common atheist criticism is that the Bible puts the value of π at just plain 3. How so? Well, 1 Kings 7 gives some measurements of the ‘molten sea’, which was a vessel of some kind.

1 Kings 7:23 And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

That makes π = 30/10, or just plain 3.

I actually think this is not a good argument against the Bible. Remember, π is a transcendental number, so the flow of digits never stops and never repeats. That means that any value of π given in the Bible could be considered insufficiently precise to anyone who decided to think so. Bible says 3? That’s not accurate. Bible says 3.1? Also inaccurate.

So this is on my list of Arguments Atheists Shouldn’t Use.

And yet… this is a bit of a missed opportunity for Jehovah/Jesus. He could have stuck an easter egg in the text, something like “The number thereof never endeth.” That way, when people found out more about π (and it wouldn’t have taken long), they could have been amazed by the Bible’s accuracy, instead of patting the ancient Hebrews on the back and saying, “There, there; you weren’t to have known about geometry.” Too bad.

OT Lesson 24 (David and Bathsheba)

“Create in Me a Clean Heart”

1 Samuel 18–20; 23–24

LDS manual: here

Reading

For today’s lesson, we’re blasting through all of 2 Samuel, and that means it’s all about David. In terms of kingliness, David was the apex. Israel had never seen anything like him. Imagine if John F. Kennedy, in addition to being a handsome president and a war hero, was also a rock star who wrote his own songs. That’s David for you.

And predictably, David collected a harem of women. Chapter 3 starts off with six of them.

3:2 And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;
3:3 And his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
3:4 And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
3:5 And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.

It wasn’t all slippery intercourse for David, though. There was also murder.

4:12 And David commanded his young men, and they slew them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them up over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ishbosheth, and buried it in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron.

He wasn’t too keen on lame and blind people.

5:8 And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind that are hated of David’s soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.

But he did like the women.

5:13 And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.

And one point, he danced — perhaps even cavorted — while not wearing very much.

6:14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.

Saul’s daughter Michal thought David was showing more of his body than was proper. So she complained at him.

6:15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
6:16 And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

6:20 Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!

So David cursed her to be childless for the sin of sarcasm.

6:21 And David said unto Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD.
6:22 And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.
6:23 Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.

Except she did have children. But David took care of that by killing them. More on that later.

He killed off two thirds of the Moabites, and took the rest as servants.

8:2 And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.

We saw in the last lesson that the Israelites had a saying: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” When you get a reputation like that, you have to keep it up, and David does, with the murder of tens of thousands of people — with Jehovah’s explicit encouragement.

8:5 And when the Syrians of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer king of Zobah, David slew of the Syrians two and twenty thousand men.
8:13 And David gat him a name when he returned from smiting of the Syrians in the valley of salt, being eighteen thousand men.
8:14 And he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all they of Edom became David’s servants. And the LORD preserved David whithersoever he went.
10:18 And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the men of seven hundred chariots of the Syrians, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote Shobach the captain of their host, who died there.

And now the famous story of Bathsheba. David sees her bathing, and invites her over for a bit.

11:2 And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
11:3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
11:4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.

But whoops, she’s pregnant. Now David has to invite Uriah back, to establish plausible paternity.

11:5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
11:6 And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David.
11:7 And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered.
11:8 And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet. And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king.

“Wash thy feet.” After the story of Ruth and Boaz, I’m wondering if this means feet, or if it means feet.

But Uriah frustrates David’s plan by refusing to sleep with his wife. Twice! Curses!

11:9 But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.
11:10 And when they had told David, saying, Uriah went not down unto his house, David said unto Uriah, Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house?
11:11 And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.
11:12 And David said to Uriah, Tarry here to day also, and to morrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow.
11:13 And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk: and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house.

So David gets Uriah killed by stratagem.

11:14 And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
11:15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.

11:26 And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.
11:27 And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.

Instead of reading all this, you can just listen to the Pixies song, “Dead”, which is a micro version of David and Bathsheba. The song is something of a miracle of economy, conveying the frenzy of David’s adultery, with each chorus pounding in a single word — dead — conveying the emptiness of the whole tawdry affair. Notice also how the rhythmic structure is built around groups of 3, and not 4. I think this makes the song more unresolved and unsettling.

You crazy Bathsheba, I wancha
You’re suffocating, you need a good shed
I’m tired of living, Sheba, so gimme,

Dead

We’re apin’ rapin’ tapin’ catharsis
You get torn down and I get erected
My blood is working but my
My heart is,

Dead

Hey, what do you know?
Your lovely tan belly
Is starting to grow

Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper
Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper
Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper
Dead

The prophet Nathan chastises David in epic fashion, with a particularly scorching metaphor.

12:1 And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
12:2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
12:3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
12:4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
12:5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
12:6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
12:7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

He explains that David’s wives will be given to other men, who will have outdoor intercourse with them.

12:11 Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.
12:12 For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.

The child of their union dies.

12:15 And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.

12:18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died.

But Solomon springs from their loins. More about him in future lessons.

12:24 And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.

Now a subplot about Absalom. Apparently, he was a handsome guy, with hair that weighed 2.2 kilograms.

14:25 But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
14:26 And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year’s end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king’s weight.

Absalom conspires against his father David.

15:10 But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron.
15:11 And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.
15:12 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.
15:13 And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.
15:14 And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.

and even goes in unto his father’s concubines.

16:21 And Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Go in unto thy father’s concubines, which he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel shall hear that thou art abhorred of thy father: then shall the hands of all that are with thee be strong.
16:22 So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

Absalom is killed in battle with David, when he’s devoured by a hungry tree.

18:8 For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.

Well, no, the tree didn’t kill him, but he got stuck in one of its branches. And then run through with a dart. Very GoT.

18:9 And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.
18:10 And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.
18:11 And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle.
18:12 And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king’s son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom.
18:13 Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me.
18:14 Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak.

David’s grief is “characteristically intense“.

18:33 And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

And the concubines? David punishes them by keeping them under house arrest for the rest of their lives.

20:3 And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.

For all this, David sings about how righteous he is.

22:21 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness: according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
22:22 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22:23 For all his judgments were before me: and as for his statutes, I did not depart from them.
22:24 I was also upright before him, and have kept myself from mine iniquity.
22:25 Therefore the LORD hath recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness in his eye sight.

Main points of this lesson

God punishes people for arbitrary things that they haven’t even done

There are loads of things in these chapters that deserve punishment — murder being the main one – but as usual, the god of the Bible chooses to punish people, when the blame more properly belongs to someone else.

We’ve already seen how Jehovah/Jesus kills the baby of David and Bathsheba for his father’s sin.

But later, there’s a famine, and Jehovah/Jesus blames the famine on… David? No, Saul, who’s already dead. Why is he punishing people for the actions of a dead man? Who can fathom the divine mind?

21:1 Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.

So David asks the Gibeonites what he can do for them. Answer: kill the supposedly non-existent sons of Michal from chapter 6.

21:6 Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD did choose. And the king said, I will give them.

21:9 And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest.

And then God punishes Israel for taking a census — that he moved David to take!

24:1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

24:9 And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
24:10 And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

God hates stats.

So what’s going on? I think there’s something we can learn here about the way religious people attribute causation. When something bad happens, like a famine or a death, it’s normal for us to try and figure out why it happened. That might help us avoid the problem. But we humans, with our monkey brains, have trouble attributing causality.

I know a voice teacher who tells everyone to gargle with zinc when you get a sore throat. Every time she gets the first sign of a sore throat, she’s hitting the zinc. And she always gets better — or at least she hasn’t died yet. Is the zinc helping, or is she getting better by herself? Well, in the absence of a carefully designed experiment, it’s hard to say. She’s certainly convinced. But she could be falling for a very compelling illusion: the placebo effect.

Theism adds another layer: When you believe in a mysterious being who does things for his own reasons, and who isn’t directly available to answer questions, it’s easy to pick up and use the supposed motives of this being as an explanation for everything. This makes people think that:

It’s a very convenient form of reasoning. The cause of the trouble is always something the religious person doesn’t like.

Thomas Gilovich has an interesting case from Israel in his book, “How We Know What Isn’t So“.

“A flurry of deaths by natural causes in the northern part of the country led to speculation about some new and unusual threat. It was not determined whether the increase in the number of deaths was within the normal fluctuation in the death rate that one can expect by chance. Instead, remedies for the problem were quickly put in place. In particular, a group of rabbis attributed the problem to the sacrilege of allowing women to attend funerals, formerly a forbidden practice. The remedy was a decree that subsequently barred women from funerals in the area. The decree was quickly enforced, and the rash of unusual deaths subsided — leaving one to wonder what the people in this area have concluded about the effectiveness of their remedy.”

Religious reasoning. It’s not for nothing that they think God is the answer to everything, because to them it is.

Steadying the Ark

Here’s the story of Uzzah, who Jehovah/Jesus killed because he tried to help. Unfortunately, helping in his case meant trying to touch God’s favourite piece of furniture.

6:6 And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.
6:7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.

And God’s all: NO TOUCHING MY FURNITURE! *Zap.*

This is the way the god of the Bible works: kill tens of thousands of people, and you’re a hero; try to keep the Divine Toybox from tipping, and you’re dead.

Uzzah’s death seems unnecessarily harsh, even to Mormons, who have to explain why it was actually okay for God to kill him. For Latter-day Saints, Uzzah’s story is most often employed as a cautionary tale about not correcting the leaders of the church. It’s always seemed odd and self-serving to me that leaders of the church warn against correcting or criticising leaders of the church.

Brian Ricks’ symposium talk about Uzzah is fairly representative of the Mormon view and the Mormon arguments:

We live in a day when we are bombarded with temptations to leave the path of obedience to follow the path of good intentions. There are those who criticize the Brethren, thinking this loyal opposition will help the Church.

This interpretation of Uzzah’s death worked its way into the Doctrine and Covenents:

85:8 While that man, who was called of God and appointed, that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God, shall fall by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning.

The real Gospel Doctrine manual skips Uzzah, but the D&C manual says,

In modern revelation the Lord referred to this incident to teach the principle that the Lord does not need the help of men to defend his kingdom (see D&C 85:8). Yet even today there are those who fear the ark is tottering and presume to steady its course. There are those who are sure that women are not being treated fairly in the Church, those who would extend some unauthorized blessing, or those who would change the established doctrines of the Church. These are ark-steadiers. The best intentions do not justify such interference with the Lord’s plan.

Yes, let’s talk about women being treated fairly in the church, shall we?

For decades, the LDS leadership has engaged in double-talk regarding the role of women in the church. They’re equal. But separate! Which means “not equal”.

And while there’s a lot of sexism in our society, we don’t tend to take kindly to ‘old boys clubs’, of which the LDS priesthood is a glaring example. Every male from the age of 12 gets the priesthood, and no woman does.

It was inevitable that there would be a movement to ordain women, and lawyer and feminist Kate Kelly spearheaded just such a movement. Her subsequent excommunication has opened up a huge problem for the LDS Church. With more and more people resigning, converts down, and alternative communities becoming more available, the LDS Church can ill afford to alienate half of its membership. If I cared about the church, I’d be very concerned right now.

And yet it’s the same old story: when you think you speak for a god, it often means you’re not good at listening. Mormons think the church will never fail, and overreach is impossible. And so, predictably, LDS leaders and members are throwing up Uzzah’s ark-steadying story as a way of shutting down the discourse.

The leadership of the LDS Church wants to convince people that they know what they’re doing, it’s all under control. But as the church lurches from PR crisis to PR catastrophe, this becomes harder to believe.

Additional ideas for teaching

The manual conflates premarital sex and sexual assault

We’ve already seen in Deuteronomy how rape is just another way of getting a wife. This lesson tells of the sexual assault of Tamar by her brother Amnon.

13:1 And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her.
13:2 And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do anything to her.

13:10 And Amnon said unto Tamar, Bring the meat into the chamber, that I may eat of thine hand. And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.
13:11 And when she had brought them unto him to eat, he took hold of her, and said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister.
13:12 And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly.
13:13 And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee.
13:14 Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her.
13:15 Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.
13:16 And she said unto him, There is no cause: this evil in sending me away is greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her.

Amnon pays with his life.

13:28 Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant.
13:29 And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded.

A very sad story. But now here’s the kicker: the real lesson manual takes the story of this sexual assault, and uses it for a discussion about extramarital sex.

2 Samuel 13 contains the story of David’s son Amnon and David’s daughter Tamar. Amnon was attracted to Tamar and forced her to commit fornication with him.
• 2 Samuel 13:1 says that Amnon loved Tamar. How did Amnon’s feelings for Tamar change after he had sinned against her? (See 2 Samuel 13:15.) Why does hatred, rather than love, often result between people who violate the principles of morality?
President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “I heard Elder John A. Widtsoe . . . say,
It is my observation that a young man and a young woman who violate the principles of morality soon end up hating one another.’ I have observed the same thing. There may be words of love to begin with, but there will be words of anger and bitterness later” (“True to the Faith,” Ensign, June 1996, 5).

If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that rape is not the same as sex. But the lesson manual conflates them. This is inexcusable.

Lest we think this is isolated, let’s remember the story of Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and was forced to live and travel with the rapist. She commented on why she didn’t try to escape:

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.” Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.” . . . Smart says children should be educated that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.”

I heard the ‘chewed gum’ analogy growing up in the church, and it was designed to induce sexual guilt, but in the context of consensual sex. It’s awful that this gets rolled into rape. This attitude harms people, and this part of the manual needs to be retracted immediately.

Interesting language note

This passage caught my attention:

17:29 And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.

What’s with the word kine? It’s a rather unusual plural because it shares no letters with its singular companion, cow. How did it get to be this way?

Back in the early days of English, there were a lot of ways to pluralise things. There was the occasional plural -s that we know so well, but there was also a lot of vowel-raising going on, too. For this, you would swap the vowel for one that was higher in your mouth. That’s why we have

  • manmen, or 
  • tooth → teeth.

But there was another method, and that was to put an -n on the end. That’s how we get oxen and brethren. Some people still say eyen for eye.

For its part, cu appears to have gotten a double shot of plurality: both the vowel raising and the -n on the end. But nowadays, we find it much easier to just put a plural -s onto cow.

If you’re curious about English plurals, you can hear me talking about them with Ben Ainslie on my podcast ‘Talk the Talk’, episode 158.

I also found this construction to be a little unusual: “The people is hungry”. While in American English usage, collective nouns like team or organization are considered singular (as in ‘the team wins’, not ‘the team win’), the noun people is almost always plural. This verse is evidence that, at least in the Jacobean English of the 1600s, people could take a singular verb. A singular observation, to my way of thinking.

OT Lesson 20 (Ruth)

All the City… Doth Know That Thou Art a Virtuous Woman

Ruth; 1 Samuel 1

LDS manual: here

Reading

After the last few blood-soaked lessons, we now arrive at the Book of Ruth. You could be forgiven for checking to make sure you’re still reading the same book. The Book of Ruth was supposed to have been written at the same time as Judges, but there’s no murder or bloodshed anywhere. There is, however, a scintilla of seduction, as we’ll see.

It’s a very short book. It’s also a very nice book. That’s the one thing about Ruth; she’s nice. She’s known for her loyalty, and for being the first convert to Judaism. Here’s a little photo collage of Christian materials about Ruth, that I got from an image search for “book of ruth”. See if you can catch any themes.

Wow — people market this like it’s a romance novel. Which, for the Bible, I suppose it is. It’s kinda hot stuff. I mean, it’s not the full-frontal Adam and Eve thing; it’s far more circumspect. Which means it’s perfect for modern Christians.

This is not to say that there’s no sex about it. Ruth is a bit of — if not a scheming little hussy — someone who keeps her eye on the ball and knows what kind of man she wants to nab.

I think this Christian treatment is a bit more on point, even though it’s a little less delicate.

The summary for Ruth doesn’t take long:

Ruth, Ch. 1: We meet Naomi. Famine has carried off her husband and two sons. She’s left with her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah (whose name you always have to read twice) and Ruth. With limited options for them, she tells them to scram; she can’t give them husbands. Well, she could, but it would take too long.

Ruth 1:10 And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.
1:11 And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?
1:12 Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons;
1:13 Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.
1:14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.

Ruth, Ch. 2: Boaz comes on the scene. He notices Ruth gleaning (hence all the wheat imagery above). One of the nice bits of the Mosaic law was that you weren’t supposed to harvest every single grain from your fields; you were supposed to leave some for poor people to glean. He notices Ruth, and tells her to stay in his field. He even tells the workers to drop some of the wheat on purpose. Nice guy. But can you base a relationship on gleaning?

Ruth, Ch. 3: Now Naomi instructs Ruth in the Art of Getting a Man.

Ruth 3:2 And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor.
3:3 Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.
3:4 And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.

Sounds a little smutty, but this is essentially a marriage proposal.

Ruth 3:5 And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.
3:6 And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her.
3:7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.

He wakes up at midnight, and whoa! A woman at his feet.

Ruth 3:8 And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
3:9 And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.

Bit of a sub, that Ruth. With a foot thing.

Boaz is amenable.

Ruth 3:10 And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
3:11 And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.

Ruth, Ch. 4: There’s a bit of horse-trading. There’s someone more related to Ruth than Boaz is, so he has the right of refusal. Which he does. Boaz says:

Ruth 4:10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.

And so Boaz and Ruth are married, and have seed.

The lesson manual also runs through the first bit of Samuel. God’s being a bit of a prat again, shutting up women’s wombs for the lulz.

1 Samuel 1:4 And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions:
1:5 But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.

Hannah says, “How about we make a deal, Jehovah — if you give me a son, I won’t cut his hair.”

1 Samuel 1:11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.

She really knows what God’s into.

1 Samuel 1:20 Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.

Main points from this lesson

So, did Naomi and Boaz do it on the first date?

Let’s get into this.

Naomi knows Boaz will be alone on the threshing floor, and she tells Ruth to “go in, and uncover his feet”. And work your way up from there. The salacious connotation isn’t hard to spot.

It becomes especially interesting when you learn that some versions translate feet as legs. Feet is sometimes used as a euphemism for genitals; for example,

Judges 3:24 Surely he covereth his feet

is sometimes rendered

He is only relieving himself

Also consider: Boaz tells her to stay until the morning.

Ruth 3:13 Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning.

On the other hand, she seems to leave without doing the deed.

Ruth 3:14 And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another.

All the same, he wants to keep the matter covered up.

Ruth 3:14 And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor.

So? Did they or didn’t they?

Well, I’m sorry to do this, but it’s kind of ambiguous. Many biblical scholars pooh-pooh the notion, but I think the text leaves an opening for Ruth and Boaz to have had slippery intercourse. The uncovering of the ‘feet’, the spreading of the ‘skirts’ — how else would you say it in a book like this?

These are supposed to be models for LDS women

I confess that I’ve had some trouble finding the point in this lesson, and I’m glad I’m not alone. It seems to me that whoever wrote the real lesson manual had the same problem.

Naomi:

How did Naomi show love and concern for her daughters-in-law when they offered to return to Bethlehem with her? (See Ruth 1:7–13.)

By telling them to go away.

What can we learn from Naomi’s concern for her daughters-in-law that can help us in our family relationships?

Make sure that you give them good advice vis-a-vis man-ensnarement.

Ruth:

Naomi counseled Ruth to perform a ritual that she hoped would result in the marriage of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 3:1–5). By lying at the feet of Boaz, Ruth would be, in effect, proposing marriage to him. What did Ruth’s obedience to Naomi’s counsel reveal about her feelings toward Naomi?

She was willing to perfume up and shag a relative.

Hannah:

What promise did Hannah make to the Lord in 1 Samuel 1:11? What can we learn about Hannah from this promise? (She was a woman of great faith; class members may suggest additional answers.)

That she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get a child, no matter how arbitrary or unrelated. Including giving him away to a priest, which we’ll see in the next lesson.

Seriously, that’s the lesson. Sorry, Mormon women. You can have a whole book of the Bible named after you, but it’s all about getting a man or becoming a baby-making machine. Like so many books, the Book of Ruth fails the Bechdel Test.

Additional ideas for teaching

Ruth clave unto Naomi

The folks at Would Jesus Discriminate think that there might have been a Ruth/Naomi thing going on, based on the use of the word clave.

The same Hebrew word that is used in Genesis 2:24 to describe how Adam felt about Eve (and how spouses are supposed to feel toward each other) is used in Ruth 1:14 to describe how Ruth felt about Naomi. Her feelings are celebrated, not condemned.

Right, because words can only mean one thing.

Except they don’t. My copy of Strong’s renders this verb any number of ways, including following closely, staying with, and so forth.

So no, I can’t give it to them. Love your work, folks, but this is really stretching things.

Although now that I’ve seen this image of Ruth cleaving, I’m no longer so sure.

Even Orpah’s like, “Hmm…”

OT Lesson 16 (Genocide)

“I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord”

Numbers 22–24; 31:1–16

LDS manual: here

Reading

Let’s start with a bit of review, just to see where we are in the narrative.

God’s been on a particularly blood-thirsty tear lately. He’s already commanded the slaughter of the Amorites, kicking off the waves of genocide that will typify this part of the Old Testament. But he hasn’t just caused violence against outsiders; he’s also killed the men of Korah by swallowing them up in a great hole, and then killed those who questioned it.

Let’s just pause for a moment, and look at the purpose for this lesson in the real manual:

Purpose: To encourage class members to submit to God’s will without hesitation.

Ponder that for a moment. “Submit to God’s will without hesitation.” Perhaps because of what God’s going to do to you if you hesitate to submit.

I can’t help but think there’s some Stockholm syndrome at work here on the part of believers. What else could be going on in your mind when you worship a murderous jerk who’s got a hair-trigger and a reputation to protect? You hear stories in church every week about how he kills people who get in his way, and you know that unbelievers are going to cop it, but you just try to make sure it’s not you. You’ll be happy eternally in heaven, while others are going to be suffering, but it’s good and just that they’ll be suffering, and God wouldn’t make that happen unless it were the right thing. There’s got to be some numbness going on in the part of your brain that does empathy. There’s a brokenness.

Add in the fact that “submitting to God’s will” translates into “submitting to the will of leaders” and you’ve got a potentially toxic formula. Psychologically, it would be a lot healthier to tell this god to fuck off. Have nothing to do with him and his works of murder.

Ch. 22: Balaam was a prophet, but he was copping some flak from his boss, the Moabite king Balak. Balak had gotten the news about the Ammonite genocide, and wanted Balaam to curse Israel. But Elohim appeared to Balaam, and put a little heat on him. Balaam was no fool and saw which way his bread was buttered; He decided to bless them instead.

Now to the famous story: In the morning, Balaam saddles his ass (LOL semantic shift) and heads off to see the king. Standing in the way is an angel that only donkeys can see, apparently. Balaam thinks the donkey’s just being an ass. After three smotes, the donkey’s had enough, and complains to Balaam using human speech, asking why it’s getting beaten. Balaam takes this with equanimity, and has a bit of discourse with the animal.

This is, of course, not the first inter-species communication in the Bible; that would be the talking snake in the Garden.

Chs. 23 & 24: Balaam refuses to curse Israel, even when the king offers him a houseful of dosh. Instead, he predicts a win by Israel, in bloodthirsty terms:

23:24 Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.

And:

24:8 God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.

Ch. 25: God’s brand is threatened, so it’s time for more murders. He plans a plague…

25:3 And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
25:4 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.
25:5 And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.

But then someone puts a spear through a couple who are (one supposes) having sex. God thinks that’s pretty cool, so he calls off the plague.

25:6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
25:7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
25:8 And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

The guy who committed the murders gets a special treat: the Priesthood! (Gee, all I had to do was turn twelve. It’s like God gives it to everyone these days.)

Didn’t this happen in one of the Friday the 13th films? I forget which one. No, wait, it was “Bay of Blood”. If you don’t like horror, don’t watch this link, but remember: it’s fine to throw a Bible with the exact same scene to children because it makes them more moral.

Brother Brigham felt that such a course would in some cases have salubrious effects.

Possible irksome question for those trapped in a real Gospel Doctrine class: Ask if this is a justification of body piercing.

Chs. 26, 27, 28, 29: God is going to show Moses all the land he’s giving to the Israelites, and then Moses will die. But not before some more burning lamb! Mmm… smell that sweet savour.

28:6 It is a continual burnt offering, which was ordained in mount Sinai for a sweet savour, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD.

Ch. 30: Any vow a woman makes has to be okayed by her husband or her father.

Ch. 31: The Midianite massacre: see below.

Chs. 32 and 33: Aaron dies. God tells Moses that they have to conquer people and destroy their religions, or else…

33:55 But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.
33:56 Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them.

Ask: If you were the supreme being of the universe, would you be a little more secure in your supremacy? Wouldn’t you think you could ease up on the brand dominance? After all, since you knew everything, you’d know that other gods were non-existent. Yet, Elohim doesn’t seem to know this. He acts like he’s the number-two dog. It seems likely, then, that at this point that’s what he was.

Main points for this lesson

Balaam, unlike modern LDS prophets, rejected the profit

You can say what you like about Balaam’s state of mind, talking to donkeys and all, but what you have to admire is his refusal to say what the king wants. Balak offers him loads of dough if he’ll curse Israel, but he won’t.

Compare this to modern so-called prophets, who are willing to tone down unpleasant doctrines if it keeps people coming in. In 1988, when church leaders were mulling about changing some of the stranger and more off-putting parts of the endowment session, they sent around a survey to thousands of Latter-day Saints.

Discussion at Mormon Curtain | Exmormon | LDS-Mormon | MormonThink

We don’t have access to the results of the survey, but we do know that the penalties — in which temple attendees would mime their own murder in various grisly ways — disappeared in the 1990 revision.

We’ve seen the same pattern more recently: tone down the anti-gay rhetoric when it doesn’t fly, adapt doctrines about race that are distasteful, and do whatever it takes to keep the bottom line from being affected.

So Balaam certainly had more integrity than prophets today. Too bad he doesn’t survive past chapter 31.

The Midianite genocide

God commands the wholesale slaughter of the Midianites. First, they kill the men — including boys.

31:7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.

They take captives, burn the cities, and take the booty.

31:9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
31:10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
31:11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.

But Moses is pissed, because they didn’t kill the women.

31:14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
31:15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
31:16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

So they kill all the male children, and all the non-virgin women.

31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

The female children become sexual slaves, or at best, victims of forced marriages.

31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Verse 34 counts 32,000 women.

For as long as I’ve been an atheist, people have asked me where I get my morals from — even wondered how someone could be moral without religion. And religion is often recommended as a way of instilling ‘good moral values’.

This one lesson, all by itself, obliterates any claim that the Christian god is a moral being. Not only is he not the source of all morality, he’s not even a moral being. There are not many moral decisions that are easier to make than “Is genocide okay?” The Bible gets that wrong. And if it gets such an easy question wrong, how is it going to do on the hard ones?

Naturally, Christians have many explanations for why Old Testament genocide is actually fine. Christians of many denominations have cheerfully explained to me that God commanded it, and that means it’s just fine by them. Here’s what happened when I brought the issue up with a couple of very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Here are some of the arguments apologists offer for this repugnant deity:

  • The Midianites were bad people! They sacrificed their children to Molech.

There’s some disagreement as to the extent and the origin of child sacrifice in Canaan, but it’s hardly a remedy for child sacrifice if one kills every available male child. I find it highly likely that just as Bible writers demonised the Moabites as the result of incest, they demonised the Canaanites as child murderers. This allows a community to externalise their enemies as subhuman ‘others’, at which point you can do as you like to them.

  • ‘Destroy’ doesn’t mean ‘entirely eradicate’.

This is a case of redefining words, a favourite apologetics tactic. If the Israelites didn’t wipe out tribes person for person, it was contrary to the commands of Jehovah, and that’s the real problem here.

  • It was better than other cultures at the time.

This is an odd argument. Is God a transcendent being, outside of space and time, presenting an unambiguous and absolute moral code? Or is he not? This line of reasoning reminds me that sometimes if you push a religious absolutist, they inexplicably turn into a moral relativist. They have to. There’s no other way to justify this slaughter.

  • God gets to judge. Everything he commands is right, and he made us, so he gets to decide what to do with us. I’m just going to keep believing, and trust that he knows all.

This is chicken shit. It’s moral abnegation. If someone takes this view, they’re trying to feel okay about something that strikes a normal person as deeply wrong. They are in the process of removing the part of themselves that feels compassion, and replacing it with submission. To say, as in the title of this lesson, “I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord” is really a form of moral cowardice.

I had an experience when preparing for this Godless Doctrine lesson.

I’ve always been kind of haunted by a sense that I wouldn’t have handled moral controversies in the church very well. I’ve never had the chance to be tested in a big way though; I was too young for the ‘Race and the Priesthood’ issue, and I was out of the church by Prop 8. So would I have passed the test? Or would I have sung myself to sleep, convinced that the church was right, no matter what?

Well, when preparing for this lesson, I found something. I went through my old Sunday School notes on the computer, and found the file for this lesson when I taught it in Gospel Doctrine so long ago. And I noticed this sentence:

Does anyone else have a problem with the genocide besides me?

And then I remembered how I agonised over this issue as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. I really didn’t have an answer for it, and it really bothered me. Usually I was good at coming up with rationales, but this one was so obviously wrong.

So this was the question I dropped right in the middle of the lesson.

Does anyone else have a problem with the genocide besides me?

It caused the class to shift uncomfortably in their uncomfortable seats. A few people volunteered that, yes, they did. Others offered weak explanations. One RM ventured that the winners write history, which I suppose is true in this case. In the lesson, I left it as unresolved.

So when I read that entry in my lesson plan, I felt relieved. I almost cried, in fact. No, I hadn’t left the church over this issue, but it was a crack in my Mormonness. I knew the Bible was wrong on this issue, and in time I would find more things wrong. The religion had not dulled my sense of what a normal person would see as right. I felt like I was not ‘utterly cast off’.

The other thing I noticed from my lesson notes is that we used to do a whole lesson on Leviticus, but it’s been cut from the current manual. Obviously they didn’t do any of the bits I talked about in the previous lesson.

Additional ideas for teaching

‘Revelation’ can come by petition

The ‘Ordain Women’ movement has been on my mind and in the news lately. Again this year, women asked to be admitted to the Priesthood Session of General Conference, and again they were turned away.

The response to ‘Ordain Women’ from many Mormon men has been a colossal ‘harrumph!’ Why, those women think they can counsel the Lord. They think that revelation comes through them, and not through the prophet. And so on.

I don’t think Mormon women need the priesthood; they need atheism. But things would certainly be better for many Mormon women if they were taken seriously on an administrative level, on an equal footing in the priesthood.

So it was interesting to see this story where women petitioned Moses for property rights for daughters.

27:1 Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.
27:2 And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,
27:3 Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons.
27:4 Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.

And God says “Oh, that’s a good idea; I hadn’t thought of that.”

27:5 And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.
27:6 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
27:7 The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.
27:8 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.

Actually, Mormons should be able to think of lots of cases where a revelation has come because someone asked a question. This is one of the earlier cases that worked to the benefit of women.

Unfortunately, women are put back in their place in chapter 30, when God says that any vow they make has to be approved by their husband (or father).

Unicorn?

This is the first Bible verse where unicorns are mentioned —  the first of nine times in the Bible. With nine mentions, this is something to deal with.

23:22 God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

So did the biblical unicorn exist? Come on down to the Unicorn Museum and find out!

Oh sure, we could explain the biblical unicorn away by saying it’s a fictional beast, like God or Satan.

But the folks at Answers in Genesis think that since it’s in the Bible, it’s totes real.

The Bible describes unicorns skipping like calves (Psalm 29:6), traveling like bullocks, and bleeding when they die (Isaiah 34:7).

It might be extinct now:

The absence of a unicorn in the modern world should not cause us to doubt its past existence. (Think of the dodo bird. It does not exist today, but we do not doubt that it existed in the past.).

or it might have described a real animal.

The elasmotherium, an extinct giant rhinoceros, provides another possibility for the unicorn’s identity. The elasmotherium’s 33-inch-long skull has a huge bony protuberance on the frontal bone consistent with the support structure for a massive horn.

This post shows two of the biggest tricks that apologists use when confronted with something foolish in their scripture:

1) Appeal to ignorance: Just because you can’t find a unicorn doesn’t mean it’s not real!

I suppose there might have been unicorns and they might have pooped Lucky Charms,

but with no evidence — no photos, no sightings, no bones, no scat — there’s no reason to believe in them. The same thing goes for leprechauns, genies, or gods.

2) Redefine words until they mean what you want. A unicorn can be a rhinoceros, and a horse can be a tapir.

Isn’t it nice to know that apologists are pretty much the same everywhere you go?

OT Lesson 10 (Eternal families)

Birthright Blessings; Marriage in the Covenant

Genesis 24–29

Links to the reading in the SAB: Genesis 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29
LDS manual: here

Background

This lesson is about Abraham’s son Isaac, and grandson Jacob. Strangely, Jacob’s story is almost a complete rehash of Abraham’s story, in fine detail.

You can read my great summary, or you can watch this video. (Language, casual misogyny, unpleasant depictions of birth.)

Ch. 25: Isaac has two sons, Esau (hairy guy) and Jacob (smooth guy). Esau is starving, so Jacob convinces him to sell his birthright.

Ch. 26: Isaac goes to Abimalech, king of the Philistines, and tells him that his wife Rebekah is his sister. Abimalech believes him, even though father Abraham told him the exact same lie. Won’t he ever learn?

Ch. 27: When Isaac is old, Jacob manages to trick his father into giving him the blessing intended for his older brother. Jehovah approves because he loves a good prank.

Ch. 29: Laban sells his daughter Rachel to Jacob for seven years of indentured servitude. But Laban pulls the ol’ switcheroo on the wedding night, and it’s the older daughter Leah in the sack instead. If Jacob wants Rachel, he’ll have to work another seven years. Since honesty isn’t really Jacob’s thing, I think he’s going to fit right into this family.

Again as with Abraham, there’s polygamous conflict when Rachel turns out barren. The whole thing turns into a baby-making competition, as housemaids are pulled into the action. Hilarity ensues.

What’s the theme for this lesson? I would have thought ‘honesty in your dealings’ was a good candidate, but no; everyone in this story lies like a rug, and they’re all doing fine. Instead, it’s ‘the importance of marrying people who think like you do’. Which for Jacob is… actually very fitting, yes.

Main points from this lesson

Marriage ‘in the covenant’ is intended to create ‘ideological bubbles’.

From the real lesson manual:

• Both Isaac and Jacob were instructed by their fathers to marry women of their own faith. Esau brought sorrow to his parents by marrying wives who did not believe in the God of Abraham. Why is it important to marry a person of our own faith?

Ask: Good question, manual. Why would the church think it’s important for Mormons to marry each other?

Short answer: When Mormons marry each other, it affords the opportunity to create ideological bubbles.

I remember being in the Mormon Bubble. It was great. It consisted of my family, the people at church, and pretty much everyone I knew. Inside the Bubble, it was soft and gentle. Everyone affirmed the group’s beliefs, told you how wonderful the Church was, and how wonderful your life was — but only if you were Inside the Bubble.

Sometimes ideas would get in from Outside the Bubble, but there were ways to cope with that. We were encouraged to evaluate external information against the principles we’d learned in the Bubble, which were considered the only reliable principles.

Then I went on a mission, and that was a real bubble. After the mission, I went to BYU, and that was an even bigger bubble! BYU exists to get young Latter-day Saints together so they’ll marry each other, and form their own bubbles. Eventually, you settle into a ward and join your bubble into a bigger church bubble. The church hopes that by doing so, you’ll be in that bubble for the rest of your life.

Purveyors of delusion have found it very useful to construct ideological bubbles. Religious communities rely on them. It’s why we see fundamentalist religions out in rural areas. Sometimes a religious leader will even move the entire group to a foreign country where it’s easier to control the information.

Here’s a primer on religious bubbles, but with a special focus on the Mormon Bubble.

Bubbles are fragile. Believing in things that aren’t real puts you in a tenuous position. To believe in a delusion is to construct an alternative to reality.

In order to seem plausible, delusional beliefs must be handled specially, in communities that are trained to treat the beliefs deferentially and uncritically. Those in the community may also take offence as a way of protecting the belief, or refusing to examine it themselves.

Essentially, religions are support groups for reality deniers.

True beliefs do not need bubbles to exist. Truth isn’t harmed by reality, but delusions sure are. And because reality is available to everyone all the time, it’s easy for delusions to get knocked down. Which is why religion hasn’t done well on the Internet, with its free flow of information.

Here’s a Facebook post by a bubble advocate. It’s Kim Clark, the president of BYU-Idaho, and he thinks ideological bubbles are a fine thing. This post is an elaborate justification for living in a bubble, and I think this is highly instructive.

Here’s the text from the post.

I often have heard students talk about the “bubble”… referring to BYU-Idaho, the campus, and maybe even Rexburg. They have in mind the fact that there is a different feeling on this campus than they find in what they call “the real world”, a different Spirit, and that they feel protected here, surrounded by people who share their faith. Let me share with you a couple of thoughts about what I have heard:

1) The nickname “bubble” has a negative connotation and seems to indicate that what is inside of it is not real. As President John Groberg taught us about the temple, the real world — the world that will endure forever when everything in the mortal world is gone — is actually what you feel and experience inside the “bubble” — Zion, the Holy Ghost, the Kingdom of God.

Ask: How does he justify living in a bubble?
Answer: He has flipped the situation, and now believes that the universe we live in is not real, and the Mormon universe is. His acceptance of the alternate reality is complete.

2) You are a big part of what you feel inside the “bubble”. It really is the faith and devotion and goodness of the people who study and work here that makes the difference.

3) You can take it with you — you can make your own powerful, protective, enduring, eternal “bubble” in your own home and you should. You can build your own little Zion, first in your heart and then in your home, and then in your wards and stakes.

Ask: Why would it be useful to the Church to have its members in a bubble of their own creation?
Answer: You don’t have to monitor your members if the members monitor themselves, and the family can be utilised for this purpose.

Ask: When you find someone who is an advocate of ideological bubbles, what are they telling you?
Answer: They know their beliefs can’t compete with reality.

Ask: How can we stay out of ideological bubbles?
Possible answers:

  • By being willing to update and change our minds when new knowledge and evidence comes along.
  • By engaging honestly and openly with sincere and intelligent people who hold different views.

I’ve formed a book club with Christians, atheists, and a few undecideds. We’re working our way through one Christian book and one atheist book. If I’m wrong about my ideas, I know I’ll hear about it from them. So far, a lot of arguments, but nothing conclusive.

The doctrine of eternal families means the LDS Church owns your family

If someone were to ask me what the most evil LDS doctrine was, I wouldn’t hesitate a second in saying, “Eternal families”.

The church pretends to have to power to reunite families after death. That sounds like a great promise, but it didn’t sound so good to Stephen Fry on his trip through Temple Square.

Ask: How does Fry explain the appeal of this doctrine? Who is it especially meant to appeal to, and why?

The idea of “being with” one’s family for eternity falls apart for anyone who thinks about it for five minutes. How exactly is this meant to work? I love my family, and we always have a great time on our extended visits, but after a couple of weeks, we’re all glad to go away again and return to our own ways and routines. Being available for eternity seems grindingly tedious, even for family members who get along. What if there’s conflict? What if there’s a family member who loves you, but whom you detest? It wouldn’t be very heavenly for you if they’re always around, so would there be some way to block them? That might not be very heavenly for them. The whole idea raises so many problems, I can scarcely believe no one seems to mention them.

But there’s a much more sinister side.

Read this quote from the real Gospel Doctrine manual.

President Gordon B. Hinckley told of a family who joined the Church in Australia and then sold all their possessions so they could travel to New Zealand and be sealed as a family. The father of this family said: “We could not afford to come [to the temple]. Our worldly possessions consisted of an old car, our furniture, and our dishes. I said to my family, ‘We cannot afford not to go. If the Lord will give me strength, I can work and earn enough for another car and furniture and dishes, but if I should lose these my loved ones, I would be poor indeed in both life and in eternity’ ”.

Ask: What did this man think would happen if he didn’t engage in farcical temple ceremonies, a prerequisite of which is paying ten percent of his income to the church?
Answer: He thought he would lose his family. Consider this.

Ask: What do we call it when someone threatens you with the loss of your family if you don’t do what they say (including paying them)?
Possible answers: Kidnapping, extortion, holding to ransom.

This doctrine is vile. It is emotional hostage taking. A normal person should be disgusted by it.

This doctrine plays out in ways that are destructive to the working of a healthy married relationship, and to the development of a person.

From the real lesson manual:

• After two people have been married in the temple, what must they do to ensure they have a truly eternal marriage?

What, indeed.

They both have to stay in the church and keep all the church’s rules (again, including paying buckets of money for the rest of their lives). But if one partner stops believing in the Mormon religion — or in other words, recognises they’ve been conned — then they’re the bad one. Supposedly, they’re the one throwing the relationship into disarray, jeopardising their eternal future together, and so forth.

A Mormon friend of mine once confided in me. He’d thought thoughts that couldn’t be unthought, and now he was uncertain that there was a god. I congratulated him, offered support, and suggested some online communities where he could talk to people in the same situation.

Finally, desperate to get his struggle off his chest — out of a very human wish to be known by those we’re closest to — he told his wife about what he was going through. She didn’t take the news well.

Over the next year or so, he was hauled in for meetings with the bishop, chided for his lack of belief, and systematically bullied back into the Church, because that was the cost of his relationship with his family.

The former Mormon in me can empathise with his wife. Here you think you know someone, you have the same goals, and then your partner explains that they don’t share your heretofore shared values. That must throw you into a tailspin.

Or at least, it would, if your relationship were based on the church, and not on each other. It would, if your relationship is predicated on always believing the same things.

I still don’t know what’s going on for my friend; he doesn’t write me anymore. If he’s happy participating in and enriching that — here’s a loaded word, but I promise I’ll only use it when I think it’s deserved — cult, then that’s fine. It’s his life, not mine. But I hope that he and his wife can finally get to a place where he’s accepted and valued as himself, and not just as a role.

How can a couple make it? There are a few ways this can play out.

  • The believing partner might follow the deconverted one out.

These are the happiest stories.

  • The deconverted partner can stay in the church, but under deep cover.

You can participate in church, and keep going to keep the peace. (Hello, reader.)

I don’t blame anyone for taking this course, but it seems to me the least desirable option, and the one most destructive to one’s integrity. Is this the kind of relationship where your views can be respected? Or will your disbelief in nonsense be taken as evidence that you’re in league with Satan? Believers can have a hard time with negotiation and compromise when they see it as giving in to the Evil One.

  • One stays in, one stays out, and they work it out in an atmosphere of respect.

This one is a tough row to hoe. The LDS Church doesn’t make it easy for disbelieving spouses. Because of its emphasis on having a ‘righteous priesthood holder’ at the head of the family, it’s difficult not to feel like damaged goods. There are a thousand unintended insults. “Yeah, they’re a great person even though they’re not a member.”

There’s a photo of me at my son’s baptism, before I was out publicly. There’s my son, dressed in white. There’s a friend my age, also dressed in white. And then there’s me in a dark suit (obviously not doing any baptising that day), trying to smile. I’m sure that suit was the talk of the ward.

Free advice to those who have deconverted

Place the relationship before deconverting your partner.
Both partners have to recognise in themselves the tendency for evangelism.

I happen to think this is less of a problem for ex-Mos. Yes, there are some preachy ex-Mos out there, but I think this tendency is mitigated by a few factors:

  • Latent guilt
  • An aggressive church culture that thinks nothing of treating a non-believing spouse as second-best
  • A recognition that your partner won’t be punished in the eternities for believing the wrong thing.

Resist the tendency to feel like you’re damaged or diminished.
You got the right answer. You are now able be moral in a way you never could be when you were getting your moral choices handed to you — and frankly, that morality was often terribly immoral.

Develop boundaries and differentiation
You don’t have to believe the same things or have the same goals. You married a person, and not a role. Or if you did marry a role, now’s your chance to forge a new deal with your partner as a person. See if you meant it the first time, when you said you’d stick it out. You get a second chance to choose your partner.

Divorce is not the worst thing, and keeping it together may have too high a price.

Live a good moral life as an unbeliever, as you define it.

What’s been your experience, and how is it going? What advice would you give? Please leave a comment; I’d love to hear what you think.

Additional ideas for teaching

The church still teaches against interracial marriage.

Since we’re talking about dubious morality, here’s a quote that appears in the LDS Church’s Aaronic Priesthood Manual, both in print and online.

We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question” (“Marriage and Divorce,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 144).

Is this an organisation that has any business telling anyone who to marry?

No camels.

Camels as a means of transportation abound in the Old Testament. When Abraham sends a servant to look for a bride for his son Isaac, that servant chooses Rebecca. And why? Because of her kindness in offering to water the camels. That’s just one of dozens of camel cameos in the Bible, mostly in the book of Genesis, but scholars have long suspected that those camel caravans are a literary anachronism. And now more evidence from two Israeli archaeologists. Their radio carbon technology dated the earliest known remains of domesticated camels. And yes, they came along after the time of Abraham.

Camels? Oh, well, clearly they meant tapirs.

This is new research, and it may be overturned by more information. But isn’t it nice to know that it’s not just the Book of Mormon that has anachronism issues?

The Bible gets genetics wrong

It also has genetics issues. Laban promises Jacob all the striped and spotted goats, so how does Jacob make as many of them as possible? By having the goats look at striped sticks while mating. Yep, that will do it.

OT Lesson 7 (Abrahamic religions)

“The Abrahamic Covenant”

Abraham 1:1–4; 2:1–11; Genesis 12:1–8; 17:1–9

Links to the reading in the SAB: Abraham 1, Abraham 2, Genesis 12, Genesis 17
LDS manual: here

Background

For this lesson, we’re looking at Abraham, a nomadic herdsman with a tendency to hear voices in his head. Schizophrenia is a serious condition, and fortunately in our day people can get the help they need. But at the time of the alleged Abraham, you were much more likely to either harm yourself or start a religion, or both. That Abraham gave rise to three major world religions speaks to the severity of his condition.

The three Abrahamic religions are:

  • Judaism, essentially an ethnic/tribal religion whose foundational doctrine is that God likes them a lot
  • Christianity, which as a universalising religion is open to everyone, and so is the world’s most commercially successful death cult
  • Islam, which for historical reasons has been tightly aligned with law and government, and for this reason it has a record of oppressing women, gay people, apostates, and religious minorities that Judaism and Christianity can only dream about.

Ask: What’s the difference between the Abrahamic religions?

Bill Maher puts it like this:

Or you could think of it like a movie:

Think of it like a movie. The Torah is the first one, and the New Testament is the sequel. Then the Qu’ran comes out, and it retcons the last one like it never happened. There’s still Jesus, but he’s not the main character anymore, and the messiah hasn’t shown up yet.

Jews like the first movie but ignored the sequels, Christians think you need to watch the first two, but the third movie doesn’t count, Moslems think the third one was the best, and Mormons liked the second one so much, they started writing fanfiction that doesn’t fit with ANY of the series canon.

The Abrahamic religions share some notable characteristics:

  • worship of an all-powerful god, with stories of how he has harmed, or will harm, people who didn’t follow his commands
  • sharp cultural distinctions between in-group and out-group
  • an end-of-the-world scenario that they long for

Ask: How would these characteristics influence the thinking of a believer in an Abrahamic religion?
Answers: fundamentalism, clannishness and parochialism, a desire for an end to this world, accompanied by a failure to appreciate this life.

More seriously, I think, is that the desire for a new world saps the will and the commitment to make this world better now.

Main points from the lesson

Mormons like to pretend they are Jews

Mormons like to borrow Israel metaphors from people of Hebrew extraction, and this metaphorical borrowing goes back a long way. Here’s kind of a fun article from the news agency JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency), looking at Salt Lake City in 1927.

In Utah Mormons Call Themselves Jews and Jews Are Considered “gentiles”

The Mormon people regard them-selves as of Israel, too, if you please, and the term “Israel” as applying to themselves is frequently heard in their congregations. They believe themselves to be of Ephraim, and cousins of the Jews, who are of Judah. To a Mormon those not of their faith are regarded as “Gentiles.” Gentiles in Utah often say, in a bantering way, that everybody in Utah outside of the Mormons is a Gentile, even the Jews!

Not a lot has changed since then; Mormons still sing hymns with titles like “Hope of Israel”, refer to missionaries as “elders of Israel”, and even assign each other to tribes of Israel in patriarchal blessings.

Ask: How does this meme benefit the religion?
Answer: Studying the peculiarities of an ancient tribe would seem pretty remote to a congregation, unless there were some way of making it meaningful. The way the LDS Church makes it meaningful is to say, “This is really all about you, because you’re Israel. Somehow.”

Ask: How do actual Jews feel about this kind of cultural appropriation?
Answer: Strangely, as a Latter-day Saint, I never thought to ask. So recently I asked the good people on the Judaism subreddit what they thought about this. You can read the entire thread here, but here are some of the answers.

– The general consensus where I am is that they are an annoying but ultimately harmless group that we should basically just ignore. Stuff like baptizing Anne Frank posthumously is obviously obnoxious, but since we ascribe no meaning to baptism it has no real effect on us.
So we don’t care enough to do anything about it, but yeah, it’s creepy and annoying.

– Meh – No different than Christians claiming to be the true Jews with the New Testament or Muslims saying they are the true torch bearers of the Abrahamic faith.

– I find it entertaining, to be honest. Kind of like the Black Israelites. But to be frank, it’s just one of the many things I find quite humorous about Mormon beliefs.
Sorry for the condescension, but realize that from a Jewish perspective, Mormonism is yet another religion that claims to inherit and replace ours, and my reaction can only be “Oh, well this time I believe you.”

– I think creepy might be a good way to describe it.

– Gross.

– What’s one more group claiming to be the real us? It’s a little annoying, but whatever.

There you have it, folks: annoying and creepy.

Patriarchal blessings

An interesting ritual in the Mormon Church is the patriarchal blessing, usually received in one’s late teen years. In this ritual, an older man called a stake patriarch places his clammy hands on the recipient’s head, and free-associates some stock phrases intended to be pertinent in their life.

As with any oracle, the pronouncements are usually vague and broadly applicable. A good deal of latitude is encouraged in their interpretation. Check out this bit from the church website:

Similarly, the recipient of the blessing should not assume that everything mentioned in it will be fulfilled in this life. A patriarchal blessing is eternal, and its promises may extend into the eternities. If one is worthy, all promises will be fulfilled in the Lord’s due time. Those promises and blessings that are not realized in this life will be fulfilled in the next.

What an enormous rationalisation. What couldn’t be explained away using this logic? “Your blessing said you’d become a giraffe? Obvs in the next life.”

Patriarchal blessings bear some resemblance to psychic readings. Psychics typically use a technique called cold reading, in which the psychic fishes for information by making general statements (guided by observations about the person), and then following up the ones that get confirmed. For a patriarch, it’s a little more challenging because the subject doesn’t speak or move during the blessing, but the patriarch has the advantage of being acquainted with the subject or the subject’s family, and usually chats beforehand about goals or plans. As such, the patriarch will probably be doing more of a warm reading — a reading with the benefit of prior knowledge of the individual. Either way, for both psychic readings and patriarchal blessings, the subject will say that the oracle knew things they “couldn’t have known”.

A feature of the patriarchal blessings is the lineage, where the subject is told which actual tribe of Israel they’re from. Even though the patriarch could name any lineage, a curious number come up Ephraim, but there are outliers. Again, from the church website:

Because each of us has many bloodlines running in us, two members of the same family may be declared as being of different tribes in Israel.

I imagine this is a hedge in case a patriarch, unaware of the lineage of other family members, stuffs up and announces a different lineage for someone. Next:

Patriarchal blessings are sacred and personal. They may be shared with immediate family members, but should not be read aloud in public or read or interpreted by others. Not even the patriarch or bishop or branch president should interpret it.

Ask: Why would it be to the church’s advantage that we not talk about patriarchal blessings?
Answer: Communicating about blessings would mean that more people would know about possible disconfirming details. Of course, it’s sometimes all right to talk about the details that are ‘faith-promoting’. This is a good example of confirmation bias: members count the hits, and don’t talk about the misses.

Long ago, my friend Liz once told me something surprising about her PB: it contained a statement that, to her understanding, meant that she would only live for a short time. Well, I’m glad to say she’s still around. But what an unnecessary burden. And what a strange way of getting information about your life. To give someone a set of vague pronouncements which are supposed to be Very Important Messages from a god, and then send them out the door saying, “Good luck interpreting that!” — how could you blame someone for whatever they came up with? It seems like spiritual malpractice.

I asked her if she’d write her experience for this lesson, and I was very grateful when she accepted. What I didn’t realise was that there was an added dimension to her story. Here’s what she wrote.

The short story is that I interpreted something that was said in my PB as meaning that I would live a short life. This hung over me for many years and made me sad. What a waste of energy.

I was 17 yrs old. Female. My whole life ahead of me, much ambition. I reread my PB today for the first time in many years recalling the impact it had on me in my youth. In retrospect and with the clarity of experience and one might be bold enough to say wisdom, I see the influence it had. At first this was about the implications my PB made about the length of my life. Which stunned me at 17. However I realise there was actually a more subversive message I carried with me….

I realise that my whole life I had been receiving a message that was about my powerlessness as a female in the LDS church and my PB reinforces that by implying that my whole life, however short, is already determined and as long as I do as instructed I will be rewarded when I’m dead. I hate that. Don’t get me wrong; my PB has many motivating and inspirational words, but clearly instructs me to do A B C whilst obeying whatever else the priesthood says.

I believe that anyone and anything you choose to have in your life should help you to fulfill your hopes and dreams, not limit them. If any religion requires you to give those up for God I question why? Why do religions in particular do that? My answer is control. Control of actions, thoughts, intent. When I got married and didn’t have children right away I was asked by my bishop why? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. After that it was all over for me. I couldn’t bear one more minute of the powerlessness and inability to choose for myself within their walls.

Thanks to Liz for her story.

Additional ideas for teaching

The creation of a “scary external world” narrative

From the real manual:

Explain that the ancient Israelites were surrounded by many nations whose people did not believe in the true God. These nations included the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and others.

And for a short time, the Ammonites and the Midianites.

• Why do you think the Lord put his covenant people in the middle of the ancient world instead of where they could be left alone?

He wanted them to set an example for others and to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant to bless all nations.
As he did with ancient Israel, the Lord has placed us, his latter-day covenant people, in the middle of the world. Our challenge is to influence the world in righteous ways rather than allowing the world to influence us in unrighteous ways.

We’ll see later on how the Israelites tried to “influence the world in righteous ways” through genocide, when we get into the books of Joshua and Judges.

But for now, let’s just take note of a special term: the world. For Latter-day Saints, the world represents everything evil and scary.

Ask: How does the idea of the world benefit the church?
Answer: The Church constructs a “scary external world” narrative to keep members tucked safely inside its ideological bubble. Members reinforce this among themselves by telling each other,

“I just don’t know where I’d be without the church.”

Well, of course you don’t know. You’re terrified to even imagine it. Or:

“If I didn’t have the church, I’d be dead / drug-addicted / a prostitute / lost.”

The purpose is to make the outside world seem insecure and turbulent, and the world inside the church-bubble safe by comparison.

Watch “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled.

Ask: What tactics does Mother use to weaken Rapunzel’s desire to escape her prison?
Answers: Emphasises the dangers of the outside world, offers herself as a loving and safe alternative, tells Rapunzel she’ll regret leaving the tower, emphasises her weakness by telling her she’s not strong enough to survive without her.

Let’s be clear: the world can be a scary place where bad things happen. But it can also be a beautiful place where great things happen, Ignoring this is unhelpful, and is intended to make members dependent on the church for their sense of security. It’s true that one could avoid most of the bad in the world by never venturing out, but this is not a good way to live a happy life. As well, fitting one’s mind into the church’s ideological box will probably keep members from finding out details that the church doesn’t like, but limiting the input in this way will prevent someone from finding the best ideas available.

As for me, I like finding out things and interacting with people all over this amazing world of ours, and I reject anyone who tries to make me feel afraid of “the world” as an entity. Such a meme could only ever work to benefit those who try to frighten us.

Sing along with the class.

OT Lesson 2 (Pre-mortal life)

“Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born”

Abraham 3; Moses 4:1–4

Links to the reading in the SAB: Abraham 3, Moses 4
LDS manual: here

Background

The Book of Abraham is arguably the most transparent confabulation in LDS scripture. In 1835, Joseph Smith bought some Egyptian papyri from a traveling mummy exhibition, and claimed to translate them into what is now the Book of Abraham. Even at the time, Egyptologists recognised that the papyri were ordinary funerary documents, having nothing to do with Abraham. Mormon apologists have invented many explanations in which the papyri could be the BoA: maybe the real Egyptologists missed something. Maybe Joseph Smith gave a special magical translation of what the papyri were supposed to say. Maybe what Abraham wrote was on a different part of the papyri that we don’t have. Maybe maybe maybe.

Even for the parts we have, it’s not hard to show that Joseph Smith got it wrong. Here’s what Smith’s copy of Facsimile 1 looked like.

But some bits are missing. What was originally in those gaps? Joseph Smith thought it should go like this:

Egyptologists now know it really looked like this:

That’s the jackal god Anubis, and not a priest.

What’s more embarrassing, Smith gives oodles of explanation of what all the facsimile items mean, and they’re all painfully wrong. From hindsight, we can see that Joseph Smith was B.S.ing as hard as he could. Yet believing Mormons still buy it.

More info at mormoninfographics.com

Main points for this lesson

The Pre-Mortal Life

The pre-mortal life (confession time) is actually one of my favourite bits of Mormon doctrine. I really used to enjoy thinking that we all came from realms of glory. I’d be in a big city and see lots of people, and think, “Gee, how amazing it is that we’re all related.” Fortunately, this is a feeling that I still have access to, thanks to biology. I can still enjoy the idea that we’re part of a big human family, without having to imagine that we were once all together in middle-class potpourri pre-mortality. (Our family also includes other animals, and biology can tell us how related we are. Amazing!)

I also don’t have to think, “Gee, all these people used to believe in Heavenly Father, but they’ve forgotten. Now I have to help get them back on track!” That’s a bit self-flattering.

Also self-flattering is foreordination, the idea that you were set up in the life before this one to accomplish great churchy things. Congratulations, you’ve kept your ‘first estate’ — made it through the first round — and now all you have to do is stay active in the church until you die to get the goodies! It makes you feel like you’ve already accomplished something, and it raises the stakes: you don’t want to throw away all that progress, do you?

The appeal of the pre-mortal life is that no matter what you do, you’re still a perfect person underneath all the bad that’s happened. That can be a powerful motivator. But you can imagine a better version of yourself — and work towards it — without buying into self-congratulatory fiction.

Ask: What age were we in the pre-mortal life? (Answer: In our ‘prime of life’. But what does that mean? Explain that it’s not important to your salvation.)

Video: Watch this more-complete explanation of our Heavenly Father’s plan with the class. Boogie down to the funky beats.

Gender identity

Gender is kind of a complicated area. Our gender identity arises from our bodies, social norms and expectations, and our own sense of self. For some people, gender identity aligns with their biological sex, but other people identify as male, female, both, or neither.

Compare this to the rather simplistic view offered by the LDS Proclamation on the Family:

Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

“And purpose.”

Wow — talk about a sweeping and unsupported claim. If you’re a dude, you’ve been a dude since pre-eternity, and you’ll be one forever. This view is sometimes called gender essentialism.

There are a lot of problems here. What about intersex people? What about people with androgen insensitivity? You might have heard of this, but if not: Some of us have a Y chromosome, and some of us don’t, but we’re all girls in the womb. After about 60 days, if you’re an XY, you get a shot of testosterone and it’s genetic boyhood for you. But a few of us have bodies that aren’t sensitive to testosterone. That means that they stay girls in the womb, they’re born as girls, and they grow up as girls, but they’re walking around with a Y chromosome.

Video: Show the class this video of Christy North, a woman with androgen insensitivity.

With a belief in premortal gender essentialism, we have to ask silly and unnecessary questions like:

  • Was Christy a man in premortality?
  • Will she be a man in the hereafter?
  • Is it a fair test for her to have a life experience so different from her supposed pre-mortal gender?

Having this belief could make it difficult to accept her gender identity, and that of trans* and intersex people. And there’s enough suspicion and prejudice against them without reasons for adding more.

Gender essentialism has other nasty effects, like limiting women’s choices by keeping them out of the professional world and in the home, and of course denying them access to ecclesiastical authority and having a real voice in their own church.

Gender is far more complicated than the facile pronouncements of elderly men would allow, and reducing the whole thing to two genders — determined since eternity — is unhelpful and unsupported by evidence.

The War in Heaven

According to the myth, Satan wanted to force people to be good and take the glory for himself, while Jesus was more of a pro-choice kind of guy. He wanted the glory to go to the Father, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Reading: Assign class members to read parts of this hilarious scene by The Rnegade.

God: Listen up everyone; I have an announcement to make.
Everyone: What is it, God?
God: I have a plan to turn all of you into a god, just like me. I call it The Plan of Salvation.
Crowd erupts in applause
God: Ahem. Ok, so here’s how the plan is going down, yo. Before you can be God’s you’ll need bodies. So, we’re going to create a planet for you to live on, where you’ll be born, raised and die. You’ll also have to choose the right.
Nephi: That’ll be easy. I always choose the right.
God: It won’t be easy. Satan will be there to tempt you.
Adam: Who’s Satan?
God: It’s Lucifer.
Lucifer: Me? What did I do?
God: It’s not what you did but what you will do. You’re going to rebel against my plan.
Lucifer: I am?
God: Yep. It’s ok, though because my plan requires you to rebel against my plan so that you can tempt the others and help them grow.
Lucifer: What the fuck? Do I get some kind of compensation?
God: No. In fact, the exact opposite, you get eternal damnation in Outer Darkness
Lucifer: Jesus Christ!
Jesus: Sup homes.

God: Anyway, my plan will require a sacrifice because everyone is going to sin and, for some odd reason, you’re not allowed to pay for your own sins. However, I want a sacrifice who won’t take any credit for his actions.
Jesus: I’ll do it. I’ll tell the humans to give you all the glory. I’m sure they won’t worship me at all, singing praises to my name, dedicating their lives to me and even calling themselves Christians and what not, essentially negating one of the big reasons why you opposed Lucifer’s plan.
God: Awesome.

Read the whole thing on the Exmormon subreddit.

Ask: What was the War in Heaven like, with no physical bodies to fight with?
Answer: We had to fight with opinions, kind of like the Internet. The War in Heaven basically resembled one big web forum, with the GodMod finally bringing down the ban-hammer on 1/3 of everyone. They became sort of like 4chan or the Dark Web.

Race and pre-mortality

Ask: Were people of African descent less valiant in the pre-mortal life?
Answer: Absolutely not. According to the Church’s recent statement “Race and the Priesthood“:

Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.

It gained currency, did it? How did it do that? I can’t imagine where people got this idea, except that it was taught by LDS leaders.

Reading: Have a class member read this excerpt of a letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to Joseph Henderson.

According to the doctrine of the church, the negro because of some condition of unfaithfulness in the spirit — or pre-existence, was not valiant and hence was not denied the mortal probation, but was denied the blessing of the priesthood.”

Be sure to point out that at this time, Smith was not the president of the Church, so really, how could he have known anything about its doctrine? He’d only been President of the Quorum of the Twelve for 12 years; you might as well ask the cat. An important part of the Church is continuing revelation, which means that statements from church leaders — but only important ones — must be taken extremely seriously, until the moment they’re retroactively disclaimed because they’re distasteful or embarrassing.

And in fact, Smith was going against Brigham Young, who earlier said, “No, they were not [neutral], there were no neutral [spirits] in Heaven at the time of the rebellion, all took sides …. All spirits are pure that came from the presence of God.”

Reflect on what a weird and unreliable method of getting knowledge this is. As we saw in the last lesson, this would be easy for a prophet to clear up, but instead we get centuries of contradictory statements.

Additional Teaching Ideas

Foreordination

Teaching idea from the real manual:

Draw 14 blank spaces on the chalkboard to represent the 14 letters in the word foreordination. Explain that the word represented by these spaces relates to the premortal life.
Give class members 14 chances to guess which letters form the word.

It’s Hangman! Are they not allowed to say hangman? Anyway, here’s how this goes in class:

Everyone: It’s foreordination!
Gospel Doctrine Teacher: But you didn’t guess any letters! How did you know?
Everyone: We remember it from four years ago! And four years before that!

Ask: What were you foreordained to do? Perhaps be sexually abused? In 1986, the Ensign magazine ran this item in their “I Have a Question” series, explaining that God may have purposely placed children in abusive families, so that they could break some putative but now-discredited ‘cycle of abuse’. Try this on for size:

So many children are abused, offended, and abandoned. If little children are precious to God, what justification can there be for permitting some to be born into such circumstances?

…Indeed, my experience in various church callings and in my profession as a family therapist has convinced me that God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families. Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation, through the grace of God some find the strength to “metabolize” the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations. Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children’s children will call them blessed.

In a former era, the Lord sent a flood to destroy unworthy lineages. In this generation, it is my faith that he has sent numerous choice individuals to help purify them.

Allow members of the class to give their own explanations for the failure of a loving god to prevent abuse, each one more morally callous than the last. Be astonished at the ease with which they can do this.

Kolob and Kokaubeam

There’s some proto-sci-fi in here, where God (or Jesus) mentions the names of stars (or perhaps planets) such as Kolob, Shinehah, Kokob, Olea, Kokaubeam. This chart by u/narcberry (Reddit thread) explains everything.

Activity: Try to say the names of these stars (or perhaps planets) with a straight face.

Occasionally someone will actually try to figure out where Kolob is (often Sagittarius A), and I always think “Bless their hearts,” as one would with someone who’s slightly ‘touched’.

It also kind of pisses me off. That’s the problem with religious scams: the con artist makes enough off of it to last for their lifetime, but they waste other people’s time for generations. Think of all the human time and effort that’s been dedicated to baloney. Entire lifetimes.

It’s why I say that bad answers are worse than no answers at all. At least when you have no answers, you might look for — and find — a good one. When you have bad answers, you don’t.

Rounding out the Egyptian theme:

Activity: Listen to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ wonderful “Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus”. This tune was borrowed for the LDS hymn, “If You Could Hie to Kolob”.

While listening, try not to think of Kolob and those dorky invented names. Fail.

Ponder how terrible it is that this great music will be forever linked in your mind to some maniac’s bad fiction.

Testify that religion poisons everything.