Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: god is the author of confusion

D&C Lesson 12 (Gathering of Israel)

“The Gathering of My People”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 29:1–8; 33:3–7; 37; 38:24–41; 52:2–5, 4243; 57:1–3; 110:11;
Articles of Faith 1:10;
Our Heritage, pages 16–23, 37–39.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Overview

I’m approaching this lesson with a bit of nostalgia. Here’s the thing: Mormon doctrine used to be so weird and cool! But then they dumped a lot of the weird bits, once it became clear that they were embarrassing or unpalatable. This is why President Newsroom says you no longer get your own planet, even though prophets said that you do. (Blame that musical.)

And there used to be absolutely bonkers ideas about the gathering of Israel, and about how everyone would eventually have to go to Jackson County, Missouri. Well, these ideas came out of this time in church history.

But they’ve been deprecated. So now Mormon doctrine is still weird, but boring.

Reading

The gathering of Israel

Okay, so one of the core tenets of the church is that Israel will be gathered during the last days before Jesus comes again.

Article of Faith 10: We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

It’s in this reading as well.

D&C 29:7 And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;
8 Wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked.

D&C 33:6 And even so will I gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, even as many as will believe in me, and hearken unto my voice.

Gather? How were they scattered? Well, as this lesson explains, the ten northern tribes of Israel were used as a punching bag by a succession of kings, until they were dispersed into the lands northward.

So where are the ten lost tribes of Israel now? Ah, well, that brings us to our first crackpot theory:

They’re all together on a planet somewhere.

This planet is actually a big hunk of the earth that God tore off, and threw into space. Hey, don’t look at me like that. There’s a precedent: the city of Enoch, which God took up to heaven.

D&C 38:4 I am the same which have taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom

And this idea seems to have circulated among the members of the early church. This bit from Eliza R. Snow was once in the hymnal:

Thou, Earth, was once a glorious sphere
Of noble magnitude,
And didst with majesty appear
Among the worlds of God.

But thy dimensions have been torn
Asunder, piece by piece,
And each dismember’d fragment borne
Abroad to distant space.

When Enoch could no longer stay
Amid corruption here,
Part of thyself was borne away
To form another sphere.

That portion where his city stood
He gain’d by right approv’d;
And nearer to the throne of God
His planet upward moved.

And when the Lord saw fit to hide
The “ten lost tribes” away,
Thou, Earth, wast sever’d to provide
The orb on which they stay.

And thus, from time to time, thy size
Has been diminish’d still
Thou seemest the law of sacrifice
Created to fulfil.

Before you say, “That’s not how planets work,” remember that God can do anything.

They’re somewhere else

They’re all in one place, unobserved somewhere, waiting for the signal to come on down. After all, didn’t Jesus go and visit them? How could he do that — the logic goes — if they’re not all in one place?

3 Nephi 15:21 And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
3 Nephi 16:1 And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister.
16:2 For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them.
16:3 But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them.

Okay, so if they’re all together waiting for the bat-signal, where are they?

Hollow Earth

For a while, Mormonism partook of a crackpot hypothesis that was going around in the 1820s: the earth is hollow and you can go inside. There’s a lot of stuff in there, including its own sun. (Some people have thought that we’re actually on the inside of it now, and we don’t know it.)

Joseph Smith allegedly taught this idea.

“I was then really ‘the bosom friend and companion of the Prophet Joseph.’ … Sometimes when at my house I asked him questions relating to the past, present and future; … one of which I will relate: I asked where the nine and a half tribes of Israel were. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘you remember the old caldron or potash kettle you used to boil maple sap in for sugar, don’t you?’ I said yes. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘they are in the north pole in a concave just the shape of that kettle. And John the Revelator is with them, preparing them for their return.”
– Benjamin Johnson, My Life’s Review, 1947, p. 93

“I heard Joseph Smith preach baptism for the dead…. I heard him say, ‘the Ten Tribes were not on this globe, but a portion of this earth had cleaved off with them and went flying into space, and when the time comes when the “earth reels to and from like a drunken man and the stars from heaven fall,” it would join on again.’”
– Bathsheba W. Smith, “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith, The Juvenile Instructor, June 1, 1892, v. 27, p. 34

“The Prophet Joseph [Smith] once in my hearing advanced his opinion that the Ten Tribes were separated from the Earth; or a portion of the Earth was by a miracle broken off, and that the Ten Tribes were taken away with it, and that in the latter days it would be restored to the Earth or be let down in the Polar regions. Whether the Prophet founded his opinion upon revelation or whether it was a matter of mere speculation with him, I am not able to say.”
– Apostle Orson Pratt, Letter Box of Orson Pratt, LDS Church Historian’s Office, letter to John C. Hall, December 13, 1875; see Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, p. 529, footnote 101

This idea is fact-free lunacy, but it hasn’t stopped some Mormons from taking it seriously. Rodney Cluff has written generous amounts about it.

The Ten Tribes then continued north over the Caucasus Mountains and encamped north of the Black Sea, where many stayed. But a sizeable group continued their trek north into Russia, Mongolia and Siberia, where some of their remains have been found to this day. But they didn’t stay there either. Their trek took them even further north through the northern aperture of the earth led by a prophet of God where they live today in the “North Countries” of Our Hollow Earth.

Sadly, plans for an expedition to find the hole have hit some setbacks. Ripping stuff!

God’s way: the highway

So if the ten tribes of Israel are hidden away up in the frozen north, how will they get down here when it’s time to return? A highway. This idea appears in Isaiah (sing the Handel if you know it):

Isaiah 40:1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
40:2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
40:3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

And then it appears in the D&C. This lesson has a lot of scriptures, but why is it that they don’t mention D&C 133? They’ve left it right out, and it’s enormously relevant for us Israel-watchers! Especially the part about the highway.

Mountains turn into valleys; valleys into mountains.

D&C 133:22 And it shall be a voice as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, which shall break down the mountains, and the valleys shall not be found.

This would require a quake of about 7 billion on the Richter scale, but let’s keep going.

Then the ocean flows up the the north for some reason.

D&C 133:23 He shall command the great deep, and it shall be driven back into the north countries, and the islands shall become one land;

Before you say, “That’s not how water works,” remember that God can do anything.

Then for the finale: The reversal of continental drift! That’s right; Pangea and Gondwanaland together again like they’ve never been before!

D&C 133:24 And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided.

Before you say, “That’s not how plate tectonics works,” remember that God can do anything.

Finally after all that: a gigantic ice highway! (Sorry: an highway.) They’ve lived in the North for so long that they’ve absorbed its powers and become icebenders! So Frozone.

D&C 133:25 And the Lord, even the Savior, shall stand in the midst of his people, and shall reign over all flesh.
26 And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence.
27 And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep.

Slippery, but effective.

Orson Pratt bought it.

To show that they come with power they come on a highway cast up for them; and ice feels the power of God and flows down, making room for them; and the barren deserts of the north, wherever they may go and need water, will yield forth pools of living water to quench their thirst. As they come to sing in the height of Zion, the everlasting hills, this great Rocky Mountain range, extending from the arctic regions south to the central portions of America, will tremble beneath the power of God at the approach of that people. . . . But where have this great company been, where has this mighty host come from? They have come from their hiding place in the north country; they have been led thence by the Prophets of the Most High God, the Lord going before their camp, talking with them out of the cloud, as he talked in ancient days with the camp of Israel, uttering his voice before his army, for his camp will be very great.”

Some Mormons have speculated about this.

The scriptures clearly teach that Israelites will someday return from the north countries. The Lord has revealed that they will do so on a highway that is cast up in the great deep. If that is interpreted literally, science has no explanation of where they might be located, much less for the sudden appearance of a land bridge across a deep ocean. Therefore, if the prophecy in D&C 133 of their return as a group along a highway is fulfilled literally, it would be a miracle. Such an event could cause many more to believe in the restoration, and others to vow to fight against it more vehemently. Time will tell just how literally the Lord meant this prophecy of a highway to be interpreted, but in any case it should be a marvelous event to witness.

Alas, the church nowadays doesn’t go for anything like that. The remnants of Israel aren’t in one place, but mixed. Says Bruce McConkie:

But, says one, are they not in a body somewhere in the land of the north? Answer: They are not; they are scattered in all nations. The north countries of their habitation are all the countries north of their Palestinian home, north of Assyria from whence they escaped, north of the prophets who attempted to describe their habitat. And for that matter, they shall also come from the south and the east and the west and the ends of the earth. Such is the prophetic word.

And instead of coming back en masse, the gathering of Israel has a much more mundane meaning. From the Gospel Doctrine manual:

• Read the tenth article of faith and D&C 45:71 with class members. What is the gathering of Israel? (Explain that the gathering of Israel has a spiritual meaning and a physical meaning, as outlined below.)

a. Spiritual gathering. The spiritual gathering of Israel occurs as people learn the gospel, come unto Christ, are baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and keep their covenants. In this way they are gathered from the world into the Church, or the kingdom of God on earth.
b. Physical gathering. The physical gathering of Israel occurs as Church members come together in a particular location or in the stakes of Zion throughout the world.

In other words, the gathering of Israel is basically “everyone going to church”. Boring! Not nearly as momentous as the scriptures would make it sound.

This is like when the scriptures talk about the gift of tongues, and over time, this has been watered down into “learning languages at the MTC”. How disappointingly ordinary.

Zion is in Jackson County, Missouri

One of the ideas that was going around in my LDS background was that one day the prophet would tell the Saints that it was finally time to move to Jackson County, Missouri. But not drive. Walk. With handcarts.

It was sometimes referred to jokingly — once when someone left the ward, someone else joked “See you in the handcart company!” — but the belief was definitely back there. This scripture explains the importance of Jackson County for the early saints.

D&C 57:1 Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.
2 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.

Sadly, the promise didn’t stick — Mormons had to flee Missouri, but the mythos surrounding Jackson County remained. So another narrative was built, in that Mormons thought they were going to have to make a trek to Missouri and reclaim Zion.

What did they think would happen once they got there? You don’t just own a place because you squat there. But before you say, “That’s not how real estate works,” remember that God can do anything.

Anyway, how did this belief work its way into Mormon lore? Might be a quote from Joseph F. Smith in 1882 (cited here, but also sadly hosed down):

“When God leads the people back to Jackson County, how will he do it? Let me picture to you how some of us may be gathered and led to Jackson County. I think I see two or three hundred thousand people wending their way across the great plain enduring the nameless hardships of the journey, herding and guarding their cattle by day and by night. … This is one way to look at it. It is certainly a practical view. Some might ask, what will become of the railroads? I fear that the sifting process would be insufficient were we to travel by railroads.” (Journal of Discourses, 24:156–57.)

And that’s how Brother Hickendorfer in a suburban ward in Idaho Falls thought he might need to get some cattle and a handcart.

You really get the picture that the leaders of the early church were just bursting with zany ideas, which people later had to get rid of when their crackpottery became clear. But it’s weird for an apologist to try and pull rank on a past prophet, like so: “Oh, don’t listen to that guy — he’s just an apostle who knew Joseph Smith. He didn’t know anything about the gospel; you might as well ask the cat. Listen to me — I’m some guy writing in the Ensign!”

United Order

Did you know that the United Order — in which members were expected to give the church all their stuff and then get some of it back — was floated as early as 1831?

D&C 42:30 And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken.
31 And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose.
32 And it shall come to pass, that after they are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church, that they cannot be taken from the church, agreeable to my commandments, every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family.
33 And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants.
34 Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council;

This idea was deprecated when it turned out not to work. No doubt the idea strikes many politically conservative members as socialism.

So there you have it. Three big ideas in the early church — Israel’s literal return, the handcart trek to Missouri, and the United Order — that came to nothing. They were watered down or dropped entirely. And what we can conclude from this is that God is a bit of a loser who isn’t good at making things happen.

By the way, LDS Church: Evangelical Christians still can’t stand you, even though you’ve dropped some of the weird stuff. If someone makes you change your doctrines, they’re not your friend.

Other suggestions for teaching

Orson Hyde

Orson Hyde was tasked with the important calling of dedicating the so-called Holy Land for the return of Israel. Joseph Smith said it was super important.

From the Gospel Doctrine manual:

Orson Hyde recalled that when he joined the Church, Joseph Smith prophesied, “In due time thou shalt go to Jerusalem … ; and by thy hands shall the Most High do a great work, which shall prepare the way and greatly facilitate the gathering together of that people” (History of the Church, 4:375). In the April 1840 general conference, Elder Hyde, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, was called on a mission to Palestine (History of the Church, 4:106). About 18 months later he arrived at his destination.

Early on Sunday morning, 24 October 1841, Elder Hyde ascended the Mount of Olives and offered a prayer. In his prayer he dedicated and consecrated the land “for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants, according to the predictions of the holy Prophets—for the building up of Jerusalem again … and for rearing a Temple in honor of [the Lord’s] name.” He also prayed that the Lord would remember the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob forever and “give them this land for an everlasting inheritance” (History of the Church, 4:456).

As a witness of the deed, Elder Hyde erected a pile of stones on the top of the Mount of Olives. He also erected a pile of stones “on what was anciently called Mount Zion [possibly Mount Moriah], where the Temple stood” (History of the Church, 4:459).

Very inspiring! Yet another group lays claim to the land. Wonderful.

What was going on with his wife Marinda, while Orson was away? For some reason, the lesson manual doesn’t mention that Joseph Smith married her.

In the Spring of 1842 she married Joseph. In Joseph’s diary is a list of his marriages. It includes the entry: “Apr 42 Marinda Johnson to Joseph Smith.”. Eight months later, in December, Orson returned from his mission. It is not clear when, or if, Orson learned about his wife’s marriage to Joseph. However, by March, Orson had learned about plural marriage himself and married two additional wives.

This was kind of a pattern for Joseph Smith.

A second method Smith used to get females to say yes to his proposals was to send family males on a mission that might or did object to his advances. For example, unlike his approach of obtaining parental permission of the Whitney’s, Kimball’s, and the Woodworth’s, before asking for their young daughters hand in marriage, Smith directly approached young Lucy Walker only after sending her father, John Walker, on a mission. He also sent Horace Whitney on a mission because he felt that Horace was too close to his sister Sarah Ann, and would oppose the marriage. Smith married Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde, a year before her husband Orson, an Apostle, returned from his mission. He also approached Sarah Pratt while her husband Orson, an Apostle, was on a mission.

We don’t know if this marriage was one of the sexual ones. Maybe he just had a thing for the wives of guys named Orson.

Not to be taught, but to teach

What attitude should missionaries have?

D&C 43:15 Again I say, hearken ye elders of my church, whom I have appointed: Ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands by the power of my Spirit;

Good job, LDS Church. You’ve already taken a pile of Mormon teenagers, given them fake authority, and made them think they were doing the right thing by hectoring normal people into joining their religion. That made them unbearable enough. But with this scripture, you’ve compounded the problem by telling them that they’re not supposed to learn anything from the people they encounter. True, they won’t be able to help learning from people. But this takes an existing superiority complex (it’s our job to save the nations) and combines it with an attitude of unteachable lack of humility (I’m not here to learn from these people) to turn a douchy, arrogant teenager into a truly insufferable know-it-all.

I, um, know this from experience. Sorry to everyone I encountered.

BoM Lesson 16 (King Benjamin 2)

“Ye Shall Be Called the Children of Christ”

Mosiah 4 – 6

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To show how the vagueness of commandments sets us up to fail, and to become neurotic.

Reading

King Benjamin’s speech (from our last lesson) has had its intended effect. People feel horrible, like they’re less than the dust of the earth. To compensate, God blesses them with skill at shouting in unison.

Mosiah 4:1 And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
4:2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men
4:3 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.

Shout stuff, get forgiven for sins. What a great meeting.

They shout stuff in unison again, a bit later.

Mosiah 5:1 And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them.
5:2 And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

That’s amazing! They all shouted the same thing, thought about it a bit, realised they all hadn’t shouted it quite right, and then all shouted a slightly differently-worded version of the same idea. If Synchronised Shouting were an Olympic sport, I’d give them a perfect 10.

You have to wonder if there was like one guy who wasn’t really feeling it, but shouted the same thing as everybody else, just because he didn’t want to rock the boat.

mr-bean-singing-o

Main ideas for this lesson

Should we believe in a god?

Benjamin gives some strange advice.

Mosiah 4:9 Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.

Why should we believe this? Like a lot of things in the Book of Mormon, it sounded like a good idea before we had any better ideas.

Let’s take this one by one:

  • Believe in God; believe that he is,

That’s not something I’m prepared to believe until I get adequate evidence. I don’t exactly know what that would be, but God does, and he’s not showing it to me. I must therefore conclude that God doesn’t really care if I believe in him or not.

  • and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth;

As far as we know, everything in our universe has come about by natural means. There’s no need to postulate a magical being.

I still love this apocryphal story about Laplace:

“While speaking with L…… I congratulated him on a work which he had just published and asked him how the name of God, which appeared endlessly in the works of Lagrange, didn’t occur even once in his. He replied that he had no need of that hypothesis.”

  • believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth;

All wisdom and all power? He can’t even help to solve his church’s own problems. It seems to keep stepping in its own ordure on a weekly basis.

  • believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.

God doesn’t seem to comprehend things that people do. In recent years, people using science have performed amazing feats that go far beyond anything the biblical god is rumoured to have done, including healing diseases, eradicating parasites, growing food to feed millions, causing the blind to see, and maybe someday restoring limbs — an area God steadfastly refuses to touch.

Benjamin is wrong on every count. There’s no need to believe in any gods — either that they exist or that they’re worth worshipping. I would never worship such an incompetent nuisance as the biblical god.

Helping the poor

Now here’s something good in the Book of Mormon.

Mosiah 4:16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
4:17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just —
4:18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

From experience, I’ve found that this part of the class is always a challenge in conservative areas!

Ask: If you’re in a real Gospel Doctrine class, does anyone start back-tracking on this by focusing on the conditions under which you should give, or tying one’s giving to the “deservingness” of the poor person? Do they start talking about how it might be “harmful” to give a homeless person money?
How do they take it when you point out that King Benjamin offered no such conditions?

Your answers in comments?

The Unwritten Order

Benjamin says that there are so many sins, that it’s not possible to number them.

Mosiah 4:29 And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.
4:30 But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.

If God has that many ways that we can offend him, then maybe he should chill out! That would be better than turning us all into stressballs, relentlessly monitoring ourselves.

Without being told what the list of sins is, knowledge will be incomplete, and implantation will be uneven. Which brings me to a story about leadership roulette.

I was lucky to have some fairly liberal bishops in my small college town. But the neighbouring ward that shared our building had a bishop who (I was told) was very much against birth control, and counselled ward members thusly. And why wouldn’t he? It was church doctrine for years.

Until the late twentieth century, Mormon apostles and presidents consistently taught that birth control was wicked and sinful.

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, writing in Mormon Doctrine: “Those who practice birth control are running counter to the foreordained plan of the almighty. They are in rebellion against God and are guilty of gross wickedness.”

Apostle and future President Joseph Fielding Smith, writing in Doctrines of Salvation: “Birth control is wickedness. The abuse of this holy covenant has been the primary cause for the downfall of nations. When the sacred vows of marriage are broken and the real purpose of marriage abused, as we find it so prevalent in the world today, then destruction is inevitable.” (Emphasis in original.)

The LDS Church could resolve all this trouble by releasing a list of sins. “Here are all the things you’re not supposed to do.” It would certainly make for interesting reading! It’s the kind of thing that a prophet could do, if they had one. And you have to admit it’s kind of important to know what not to do, with our salvation depending on it and all. But instead the list is kept vague.

This is wrong. As a parent and as a teacher, one thing I’ve learned is the importance of conveying expectations clearly. Otherwise, how are people going to do what you want? If there are rules that God expects us to follow, they need to be written down.

Interestingly, this pattern of not conveying expectations clearly has continued into our day. Consider this talk by Boyd Packer in 1996: The Unwritten Order of Things

The things I am going to tell you are not explained in our handbooks or manuals either. Even if they were, most of you don’t have handbooks—not the Melchizedek Priesthood or Relief Society handbooks and the others—because they are given only to the leaders. I will be speaking about what I call the “unwritten order of things.” My lesson might be entitled “The Ordinary Things about the Church Which Every Member Should Know.” Although they are very ordinary things, they are, nevertheless, very important!

(And then he lists a lot of bullshit things that are stupid.)

Ask: How is one supposed to become aware of “unwritten rules”?
Answer: The process of learning seems to rely less on understanding a known body of regulations and more on noticing the behaviour of the group. In other words, knowing the rules is a less of a spiritual process, and more of a cultural one.

Ask: Who is privileged by an “unwritten order of things”?
Answer: This kind of system privileges

  • those who have been raised in the cultural milieu of Mormonism
  • those who have a lot of experience in the church
  • and importantly, those who are already good at navigating within a culture that Mormonism is closely tied to: the White middle-class culture. Being good at that definitely gives someone a leg up when it comes to Mormon culture. Everyone else has to rely on their ability to assimilate.

Notice also in Packer’s speech a reference to the Church Handbook of Instructions. It contains the rules that affect members, but is explicitly not available to them. It has been leaked, though, and links can be found here.

Watch yourselves

Maybe there’s one insight we can pull from this speech, though:

But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds

Let’s acknowledge the creepy panopticon connotations.

Even so, after you’ve embraced rationality and skepticism, all is not done. You have to keep challenging your own received wisdom, and (when you can) go back through all the stuff you still believe. Some baloney might have snuck in. It can be facts you thought you knew, or it can be attitudes and opinions you hold.

Continuing to play is a real challenge. But it is enlightening. How many times have I slapped myself on the forehead and said, “You mean that wasn’t true either?” And then felt glad that I no longer had to believe that wrong thing. But it takes the ability to stay skeptical. Keep the instinct.

Additional lesson ideas

Taking names

Why does King Benjamin take the names of members?

Mosiah 6:1 And now, king Benjamin thought it was expedient, after having finished speaking to the people, that he should take the names of all those who had entered into a covenant with God to keep his commandments.

From the LDS manual:

• King Benjamin saw that all his people (except those who were too young) had entered into the covenant to obey God’s commandments (Mosiah 6:1–2). Why was it important to record their names?

The church has a creepy focus on tracking people down. This isn’t so much a problem for me, but many people have had the experience of having unwanted people call around.

The church has ways of finding you. Here are some of their techniques, from their own website. (Credit.)

To find members, visit the last known address:

Talk with neighbors, a building supervisor, manager, or owner, if known or available.
Contact other family currently living at the member’s last known address.
Contact the new individual or family living there.
Contact neighbors adjacent to the member’s last known address.

Facebook is the most effective way to find someone. There may be many entries but you can sometimes narrow it down by their friend list i.e. known family members or friends. Be certain to try searching by the member’s email address as well. If you don’t have their email address, try finding it by using their address on Melissadata.com below.

CrimCheck offers over 1,000 state, county, city and federal (court) web sites where you can search free public records. Most search services are free.

In many states you can check voter registration records online. This method tends to be THE BEST way to find members.

A really, really good thing to have is online property tax records. They vary a lot on what you can do with them. Some even let you enter the VIN for a car and it will show you the progression of owners. This can be used to find a relative since cars are often sold to family members.

It goes on and on. Are they looking for the one lost sheep? Or is it the dreaded tentacles of Divine Providence?

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Worse still, it’s not clear whether formally resigning ends the pursuit.

Left-hand prejudice

The Book of Mormon is consistent with the Bible… in that it insults left-handed people.

Mosiah 5:9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
5:10 And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.

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BoM Lesson 11 (Goodbye, Nephi)

“Press Forward with a Steadfastness in Christ”

2 Nephi 31–33

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To point out the way in which believers disparage and threaten non-believers

Reading

This is the last reading from the putative Nephi. After this reading, it’s Jacob, Omni, Himner, and Just-Make-Uppa-Name-from-Local-Geography.

I’ll say this: Nephi was a self-righteous pain in the ass, but he knew how to tell a good story. In this, he was quite unlike other Book of Mormon writers. So let’s us unbelievers send him off — not with the same finger he gives us in this reading — but with a vote of thanks. All those in favour signify with the uplifted hand.

All those opposed.

Hey, you’re not supposed to oppose.

Main ideas for this lesson

Why does God use language?

God, if he exists, has all power. He can do anything. He can communicate through our thoughts and our emotions.

But when it’s time to officially convey his perfect message to humankind in a book that could never be mistaken as something that a regular person would say, what does he use? Human language, just like a regular person of the the time would say. Nephi explains.

2 Nephi 31:3 For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.

That’s right — God could communicate clearly, but when it’s time to write the Book of Mormon, God decided to use a stilted form of Jacobean English — just like a person of the time. Because he communicates to us after our manner of understanding.

This is kind of stupid. With all the tools at his disposal, why would a god use human language? Don’t get me wrong — it’s a great tool. But it’s ambiguous and imprecise. It changes meaning with time, and the problem gets even worse over long distances. In either case, you need people to translate and interpret the holy writings, and that introduces more ambiguity. And some things will be incomprehensible anyway, to people who don’t share the context.

Let’s also remember: this is a god who cares so much about being clear to us — and yet when we ask believers why he allows evil, they tell us how incomprehensible his ways are.

Okay, the believer might respond, but what else could an all-powerful God use to communicate, if not language? Possibly telepathy. Maybe something else. I don’t know. But an all-knowing god would know, and yet he chooses to communicate poorly, vaguely, and ambiguously to humans.

Again, I love language, but this is not evidence of a transcendent being. This is a being that is indistinguishable from people. And a god that’s indistinguishable from a person is probably a person.

Baptism

Isn’t baptism kind of weird? Dunking yourself in water to join a group. Does it actually do anything cosmic? Or is it just to show that you’ll do something foolish to show the group that you’re a member?

Nephi says it’ll help you to speak other languages.

2 Nephi 31:11 And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
31:12 And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
31:13 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism — yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.

Sounds a bit like that speaking in tongues to me.

But there’s a catch. If you join, don’t ever leave.

2 Nephi 31:14 But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.

I’d put it a bit differently: After you’ve been a member, and done the secret handshakes and all that jazz, it’s better to get out immediately than to waste five more minutes in that silly group.

But members HATE that! They’ve got to make it so that being an ex-member is worse than being a non-member.

Ask: Why do members fear ex-members so much?

Possible answers:

  • For occult religions (occult meaning “having hidden doctrines that are only revealed to initiates”), ex-members are sources of inside information about the inner workings.
  • Non-members may have no particular knowledge about the church, but ex-members do.
  • When you know the game, it’s easy to explain the problems.

Keep on grinding

But for Nephi, baptism isn’t all.

2 Nephi 31:19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
31:20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

“Enduring to the end”, or timing your church burnout to coincide with your death, is a priority for church members. But the use of the word endure does raise some eyebrows. It’s not the most appealing way to describe church activity, is it?

Even some church leaders have taken issue with the use of the word endure.
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This was something going around my stake just before my deconversion. My stake leaders (great men, some of them) recognised that the call to simply “endure” church membership was not very appealing, and they encouraged us to “enjoy to the end!”

Somehow this was not very convincing. Enjoy hours of repetitive meetings? Enjoy hours of arcane and repetitive temple sessions? Enjoy needless behavioural restrictions? Enjoy unnecessary sexual guilt? Enjoy ugly and dehumanising underwear? Enjoy forcing family members into an unrealistic structure? Enjoy misogyny? homophobia? cleaning the buildings for a church that bills you 10% for the pleasure?

Enjoy the cognitive dissonance of having to believe things that were manifestly untrue?

What exactly was the enjoyable bit again?

No, I think the word endure was well-chosen. Enduring is what long-term members have to do, if they’re going to stay in it.

And the way that members speak about this is rather strange. I have heard people say, “Hang on to your testimony! Don’t let it fade!”

But when something is true, you don’t need to keep pumping yourself up to keep believing it.

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Activity: Think of a scientific idea that you learned once — perhaps something you studied in school — but that you haven’t thought about for a long time. Do you still believe it? How is this different from a religious idea that you haven’t thought about for a long time?

For me, I haven’t thought of continental drift for a long time. It’s been literally decades since I studied it. Yet I still believe it’s true. My belief in this idea has not faded with time. How can that be?

Well, it’s simple — continental drift is supported by evidence (the last I heard), and I haven’t heard a better theory, so I still believe it. And if I wanted to pick it up again and remember more about it, I could do so — but this wouldn’t make me any more devoted to the idea.

Contrast this with religious ideas which have no evidentiary basis. If I ignore them, they become less credible because either contrary evidence pushes in, or the artificial pumping-up of faith loses its effect. Good! That’s what should happen.

Ideas need advocates, but only fake ideas need constant propping up against the tide of reality.

Distinguish Reality From Fiction

What Nephi says about unbelievers

I’ve given some answers as to why people stop believing. But Nephi has some different answers. Instead of blaming the bad ideas (like I’ve done), he puts the blame on the unbelievers. And the way he does this looks a lot like what Latter-day Saints say about unbelievers.

They don’t ask sincerely.

2 Nephi 32:4 Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.
32:5 For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

Once there was a guy named Jeremy. He had questions about the church, and he decided to ask them to an authority in the Church Education System. But he didn’t just ask them in private. He turned his questions into an open letter. It’s informally called the CES Letter.

Since then, many people have read the CES Letter, and have decided to make the break from the LDS Church. And Jeremy has been threatened with excommunication. (The hearing has been indefinitely postponed.)

Think about this for a second. Jeremy asked, and got no answers. He got threatened instead.

A member could raise the objection — as the fictional Nephi might have — that in putting together his letter, Jeremy wasn’t asking sincerely, and was just trying to make the church look bad. I’m not a mind-reader, so I don’t know. But consider this: the church could have stopped the CES Letter in its tracks by providing answers to his questions. Instead, they chose to threaten him. Which suggests to me that they have no answers.

They don’t pray

2 Nephi 32:8 And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.
32:9 But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.

As I’ve said in an earlier lesson, prayer does nothing. Is an evil spirit telling me this? Or is it just long years of mumbling to the ceiling?

They have hard hearts

2 Nephi 33:1 And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.
33:2 But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught.

This is blaming the listener when the speaker doesn’t make any sense.

So what to do with unbelievers? Predictably, threaten them.

2 Nephi 33:10 And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good.

I don’t think these words are from anyone called Christ. I think someone sat down and wrote them. What evidence can someone give?

2 Nephi 33:11 And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye — for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness.

Boy, then you’ll be sorry!

This is known as the argumentum ad baculum, or argument from threat.

I love this one! Members use it all the time. “You’re going to be in big trouble if you don’t mend your ways,” said a long-standing member to me.

“I don’t like being threatened,” I said.

“It’s not a threat,” he responded. “It’s just a simple statement of what’s going to happen.”

Get that? I’m not threatening you; I’m just telling you what my invisible friend is going to do to you if you don’t believe like I do.

It’s a threat all the same.

Additional lesson ideas

Inadvertent trinity

We’ve seen that the author of the Book of Mormon was a pretty solid trinitarian, and here’s another scripture where he steps in it.

2 Nephi 31:21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.

One in purpose! Harrumph, harrumph.

See you next week.

BoM Lesson 9 (Quoting Isaiah 2)

“My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah”

2 Nephi 11–25

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To show the mistakes in the (supposedly) “most correct book”, the Book of Mormon.

Reading

Oh, frigging hell, more Isaiah. Clearly the writer blew his wad on the story of Nephi, and has decided to plagiarise his way out of the slump. That’s one way to pad a book out.

And notice the size of the reading for this lesson! Other lessons have focused on two or three chapters — not here. Even the lesson writers knew there wasn’t much here.

I’ve said it before: people who believe in Isaiah’s prophecies are… shall we say… lacking in rigour. Here’s a tip from the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual about understanding Isaiah.

Many of Isaiah’s writings seem difficult to understand because they refer to a wide range of past and future events described in symbolic language.

Let’s break that down. If I make a prediction about the weather tomorrow (rainy, sunny), or the stock market this year (it’ll go up, it’ll go down), it’s only a useful prediction if I manage to foretell what happens within the specified time frame.

On the other hand, Isaiah fans are happy to claim a hit if the things written by Isaiah (all three of him) happen either in the past or the future — and it’s okay if it happens symbolically instead of literally.

What couldn’t be counted as a fulfilment, using this sloppy criterion?

And that’s not even counting all the stuff that ‘Isaiah’ knew about because it had just happened. Sez the manual:

For example, in 2 Nephi 20:28–34, Isaiah named the cities the Assyrian army would pass through and how it would be stopped just as it reached Jerusalem. The events happened exactly as he prophesied.

Yes, because they were written after the fact.

Note that this is a bit of a giveaway: The writer of Isaiah is perfectly capable of writing clearly when it comes to things that the writer could have witnessed and then written down. But for events in the distant future (or past), it’s all a bit hazy and obscure.

Main ideas for this lesson

Christ is God

Remember, the Book of Mormon is Mormonism v1.

2 Nephi 11:6 And my soul delighteth in proving unto my people that save Christ should come all men must perish.
11:7 For if there be no Christ there be no God; and if there be no God we are not, for there could have been no creation. But there is a God, and he is Christ, and he cometh in the fulness of his own time.

Suddenly trinitarianism!

Well, sputters the Latter-day Saint, Christ is a god. That’s one way to get around it. But remember, this was God’s big chance to restore his wonderful perfect doctrine, and he muffs it. God is the author of confusion, and the BoM writer didn’t foresee the later Mormon doctrine.

Translation mistakes

Curt Huevel of infidels.org has written an article detailing Nephi’s Isaiah problems — and they go beyond the little problem with quoting a too-late Isaiah. It seems that, when the King James Bible makes a translation mistake, the Book of Mormon dutifully follows right along.

In several cases, the Book of Mormon follows King James Version translation errors. In the verse just cited, for example, Isaiah 9:1 should read ‘honor’ in the place of ‘grievously afflict’. The Book of Mormon makes the same mistake.

Here’s the passage.

2 Nephi 19:1 Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.

KJV Isaiah 9:1 Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

Now here’s a more appropriate translation.

NIV Isaiah 9:1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The Book of Mormon also throws in some mistakes of its own.

In general, most of the changes occur in the italicized portions of the King James version (which the King James Translators employed to indicate that the translation is not original to the text). Smith either dropped or modified the italicized phrases. In some cases, the changes made to the text result in impossible readings. For example, II Nephi 19:1 adds the phrase ‘red sea’ to Isaiah 9:1, which makes no sense in the geographical context.

Let’s have a look at those passages.

2 Nephi 19:1 Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.

Isaiah 9:1 Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

Which sea was Isaiah talking about?

Ellicott’s commentary: The way of the sea . . .—The context shows that the “sea” is that which appears in Bible history under the names of the sea of Chinnereth (Numbers 34:11; Deuteronomy 3:17), the Sea of Galilee, the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1), Gennesaret (Mark 6:53). The high road thence to Damascus was known as Via Maris in the time of the Crusaders (Renan, quoted by Cheyne).

Cambridge Bible: the way of the sea] either “in the direction of the (Mediterranean) Sea,” or “the region along the West side of the Sea of Gennesareth.” In the time of the Crusades Via Maris was the name of the road leading from Acre to Damascus.

Not quite the same sea then.

Creative interpretation of prophecy

The LDS Church would like to show that it is the fulfilment of prophecy. From the manual:

• When the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, he said that chapter 11 of Isaiah (quoted in 2 Nephi 21) was about to be fulfilled (Joseph Smith—History 1:40). How is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ an ensign to all nations? (See D&C 64:41–43; 105:39; 115:4–6.)

Let’s have a look at the reading.

2 Nephi 21:6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
21:7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
21:8 And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den.
21:9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
21:10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek; and his rest shall be glorious.
21:11 And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
21:12 And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

Hang on — let me get this straight. The first part of this bit shows (as I understand it) the conditions at the time of the Millennium — complete cessation of hostilities, lions cavorting with lambs, the whole thing.

And then — at that very same time — the Lord sets the Mormon Church up as an ensign to the nations.

Well, it looks like the first part of the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled. I haven’t seen any cows and bears feeding together, have you? The church is trying to say that it’s fulfilled the second part of prophecy when the first part hasn’t happened, and yet they’re supposed to take place at the very same time.

Believers are always accusing me of ignoring context. “You’re taking that out of context!” they moan. Well, it’s not me. They’re the real cherry-pickers.

Then Nephi goes back to quoting Isaiah, with all the attendant…

Misogyny

2 Nephi 13:11 Wo unto the wicked, for they shall perish; for the reward of their hands shall be upon them!
13:12 And my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they who lead thee cause thee to err and destroy the way of thy paths.

Horror

2 Nephi 19:19 Through the wrath of the Lord of Hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire; no man shall spare his brother.
19:20 And he shall snatch on the right hand and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand and they shall not be satisfied; they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm

God threatening people if they don’t believe in him

2 Nephi 23:6 Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
23:7 Therefore shall all hands be faint, every man’s heart shall melt;
23:8 And they shall be afraid; pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.
23:9 Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.
23:10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
23:11 And I will punish the world for evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay down the haughtiness of the terrible.

23:15 Every one that is proud shall be thrust through; yea, and every one that is joined to the wicked shall fall by the sword.
23:16 Their children, also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled and their wives ravished.

Just plain loopiness

2 Nephi 16:1 In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
16:2 Above it stood the seraphim; each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
16:3 And one cried unto another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.

Nephi decides to go one better and throw in some anti-Semitism.

2 Nephi 25:2 For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations.

People sometimes say that the church helps to build moral values. Well, in this one reading, we’ve seen some of the worst values religion has to offer. Let’s be clear: there are much better values out there.

And remember also: this was the very best God could do. What words to humanity were so important that they needed to be written by Isaiah, and then written again by Nephi? Knowledge about science? A little advice about health? Rules about treating everyone equally? Any one of those would have benefitted humanity greatly. But no, all we get are some relatively minor details about battles between ancient warring tribes, along with a side helping of marginalisation. It’s pathetic for the church to be promoting this.

If you’d like to see more about the Isaiah chapters, here’s the relevant lesson.

BoM Lesson 3 (Tree of Life)

The Vision of the Tree of Life

1 Nephi 8–11; 12:16–18; 15

LDS manual: here

Purpose

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

Reading

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

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

I'm happier off the boat

Main ideas for this lesson

Origins of the Tree of Life story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elements of the story

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

The dark and dreary waste

Lehi starts the story.

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

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

The tree of life and its fruit

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

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

The rod of iron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't have funny beliefs

People in the story

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

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

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

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

Ah — they succumbed to peer pressure. Losers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is one good thing in the manual, however.

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

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

A better story

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

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

Additional lesson ideas

Is Jesus the Father?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because the writer got confused.

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

NT Lesson 34 (Misogyny)

“Keep the Ordinances, As I Delivered Them”

1 Corinthians 11–16

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage readers to avoid theocratic misogyny

Main ideas for this lesson

God > Men > Women

As far as organisations go, religions are the most misogynistic things going. It’s not just Christianity that’s anti-woman.

At least in our day, Christians have learned enough to protest that they’re not anti-woman. “We’re not misogynistic! Jesus taught women!” And for Mormons: “We have the Relief Society, which is a women’s organisation!”

And here, Brother Jake explains how Mormonism is totally not sexist.

To get to the core of Christian sexism, we have to go to 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul lays it out. Here’s his explanation of Why Men Are Better.

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
11:2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

There it is. In Paul’s world (and the Christian world, too), there’s a hierarchy: God, then men, and then women. Sometimes this takes the pretext of protection, as in this graphic.

See — the wife is that tiny umbrella at the bottom. You might wonder, if the big umbrella is doing its job, aren’t the tiny umbrellas a bit superfluous? Anyway.

This “protection” takes a wide range of forms. Have you ever been told that information about Heavenly Mother is purposely limited, as a way of protecting her from blasphemy? If she existed, I’m sure she could take care of herself. (If she ever got off of my face, that is. See, I can blaspheme even with limited information.)

Side note: In Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive or exist in public without a man; a friend who lives there tells me that they think they’re “protecting” women, too. I call this “putting women on a pedestal, so you can look up their dress.”

Paul continues: women should keep their heads covered. Why? Because God is apparently a man, and men are like him. Women, however, are made for the benefit of men. Augh — cover them up!

1 Corinthians 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
11:8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.
11:9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

What is the deal with covering women up? WTF, religions.

Then Paul throws in this weak justification:

1 Corinthians 11:11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
11:12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

This is trying to have it both ways.

Ask: How do LDS church leaders try to have it both ways on this issue?
Answer: In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, where it is claimed that men “preside”, and yet men and women are “equal”.

Paul wraps it up with a commandment to keep women silent in church. If they want to learn something, they can wait until they get home and ask their husbands.

1 Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
14:35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

Ask: How does this play out in modern Christianity?
Answer: They love it. Get a load of this graphic that some Christians are sharing on social media. “Shut ’em down, guys!”

Wow.

You know what I love about not being a Mormon / Christian anymore? I can call out this bullshit, without having to spend one second thinking in a state of conflict, wondering how I can integrate this into my philosophy. It is bullshit, and it has no place in this century.

Let’s give Jimmy Carter the final word.

Spiritual gifts

The concept of spiritual gifts tends to come up in Sunday School lessons from time to time, and here it is now.

1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
12:5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
12:6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
12:7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
12:8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
12:9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
12:10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
12:11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

From the LDS manual:

What are spiritual gifts? (Spiritual blessings or abilities given through the Holy Ghost.)

Some Sunday School lessons offer long lists of “spiritual gifts”, including the gift of healing, prophecy, wisdom, working miracles, and the gift of believing anything anyone tells you.

The concept of spiritual gifts — having certain spiritual “talents” that you’re especially good at — makes absolutely no sense if we’re talking about gifts like healing or miracles. If God is the one who heals people or does the miracle, then why would he make some people “better” at doing those things — and others worse? In other words, why would he hobble some people?

The more you try to explain it, the more it begins to look like the Force and Midi-chlorians.

It’s easy to see how this belief arose. In a population, people get sick — and better again — in seemingly sporadic ways. So if someone seems to be healing two or three people in a row, they get a reputation as a “healer”. Or if someone is good with languages, it’s easy to tag them as having a “spiritual gift”, when what they really have is a kind of aptitude. But it’s a silly way to describe what someone is good at.

Did Jesus appear to 500 people?

Paul spends a lot of time reiterating how much he’s taught the Corinthians, and reminding them that Jesus was resurrected. He even talks about how many people saw Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
15:4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
15:5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
15:6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
15:7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
15:8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

I don’t think any of the above is true, but whenever the topic of the historicity of Jesus, I hear a lot of Christians go on and on about Jesus appearing to 500 people.

Well, did he?

One way we can know if a historical event happened is if it’s corroborated in multiple sources.

Ask: If the Bible didn’t exist, what would we know about Jesus’ life and resurrection?
Answer: Nothing. These events are not corroborated in extra-biblical sources (despite what people claim about Josephus).

But it would have been easy for any of the 500 to write something about the experience. It would have been an amazing experience. Didn’t they bother? Why don’t any sources come up in the historical record? For all these people to have seen Jesus and then leave no record verges on the miraculous.

Christianity says that Christianity sucks if it’s not true.

Paul makes an interesting observation that I quite agree with: that if the gospel is not literally true, that believers are wasting their time.

Ask: Have you ever heard anyone say this? “Even if the church weren’t true, I’d still practice it, because it’s a good way to live.” How would you respond?
Answer: One way of countering this foolishness is to point out that it’s not a good way to live. Misogyny isn’t a good way to live. Lying to people isn’t a good way to live. Fake science isn’t good.

Even if the church’s claims were true, it would be pretty hard to justify this way of living. It offers some benefits (like a social group) that are available by other means, and it offers them at an unacceptably high cost.

But Paul’s the one who comes out and says it: It needs to be true. It’s not enough that it offers a good way of life, or it makes you feel good. If it’s not literally true, then it’s all vain.

1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15:15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
15:16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
15:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
15:18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
15:19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

I agree. The cost of Christianity is too high if it isn’t true. (I’d argue that it’s too high, even if it is true. Worshipping the homophobic, sexist, genocidal monster we call the Christian god is an awful thing to do, and if he were real, I would oppose him because by his own scriptures he’s vile and unworthy of respect. The last thing he’d see of me as he booted my heathen ass down to hell would be my middle finger.)

Paul doesn’t offer the squishy road. I respect that. He knows that if is it isn’t true, it’s actually a terrible way of living.

You know who else doesn’t offer a middle road: LDS church leaders. They know that if it isn’t true, it’s false.

“Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.”
Gordon Hinckley, Loyalty

Additional lesson ideas

God is the author of confusion

Paul says that God is not the author of confusion.

1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

That’s just an odd claim. Just look at the world’s religions and notice how fragmented they are. Here’s an infographic to help.

Now zoom in on Christianity, and all the many varieties to choose from.
Now just Protestantism.
Now just the millennial varieties of Protestantism that grew out of the USA in the 1800s.
Now all the various splinter groups of Mormonism.

And many of these groups inveigh against the others. A joke by the legendary Emo Philips tells it best.

It would be easy for God, who apparently knows how to do anything, to sort out this confusion and unambiguously declare which of all the varieties are his (if any, or all). Instead, we get a rather milquetoasty statement from Paul about the body of Christ, which may or may not apply here.

Religion leads unavoidably to this kind of conflict and confusion because religions get their information from unreliable sources. They use authority, revelation, and tradition — and none of these are based in reality. They essentially let reality go because they trade in fantasy instead. And because they deal in fantasy, reality can never be the court of last appeal for them. So nothing in the real world could ever disconfirm their belief that they’re doing it right. By contrast, scientific ideas get disconfirmed all the time. All scientists are trying to match their ideas to reality as hard as they can — or else they’ll be punished in the court of reality. The practical result: Science converges; religion diverges. Science is the author of consensus; God is the author of confusion.

Three degrees of heaven

This reading is where Mormons get the ‘three degrees of glory’ idea.

1 Corinthians 15:40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
15:41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

That’s a pretty big doctrine for Joseph Smith to hang onto two verses. But it seems that it might not have been Smith. Smith seems to have pulled a lot of theology from one Emanuel Swedenborg, a creative theologian in his own right. In 1784, Swedenborg wrote essentially the same doctrine:

29. There are three heavens, entirely distinct from each other, an inmost or third, a middle or second, and an outmost or first. These have a like order and relation to each other as the highest part of man, or his head, the middle part, or body, and the lowest, or feet; or as the upper, the middle, and the lower stories of a house. In the same order is the Divine that goes forth and descends from the Lord; consequently heaven, from the necessity of order, is threefold.

Check out the rest of this great Reddit thread by Mithryn about many more potential plagiarisms from Joseph Smith.

Long hair is a shame

Somewhat counter-intuitively, Paul claims that even nature testifies of the shame of male hairiness.

1 Corinthians 11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

No, actually Paul, nature teaches me no such thing. It’s hair. It grows. If you don’t cut it using artificial scissors, it keeps growing.

Paul was weird.

So is the LDS Church, which prohibits long hair for its male students, and has recently banned man buns on its Idaho campus.

Put away childish things

Let’s round things off with some good advice.

1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Religion may have had some utility in the infancy of our species, when we didn’t know where the sun went at night. It may have served to explain things (poorly) or to give comfort in the face of death (falsely). It certainly served those functions for me when I was younger. But then it was time to grow up. We figure out the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, but then a lot of us never quite make it all the way to figuring out God.

I think that theistic belief prevents growing up. Two of the main jobs of adulthood are

  1. to learn to think critically, and 
  2. to come to grips with one’s own mortality.

Christianity precludes both of those jobs by

  1. encouraging wishful thinking and extolling fallacious reasoning, and 
  2. telling you that you’ll survive your own death and live forever. 

It short-circuits both of those jobs, and renders us incapable of them. Time to put them away. It’s not easy, but it’s part of being a grown-up.

Handel

It’s time to finish, but before we go, let’s have a hymn. It’s a ripping piece from Handel’s Messiah oratorio, with the text based on this reading from Paul.

1 Corinthians 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

See you next time.