Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: intended literally

BoM Lesson 12 (Polygamy)

“Seek Ye for the Kingdom of God”

Jacob 1–4

LDS manual: here


At this point in our story, the Nephites are becoming wealthy. And you know what that means: wickedness.

Jacob 2:13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.

I don’t think that wealth makes a society worse, though I do think that inequality of wealth can bring a whole lot of problems. But why does the church promote this story? It’s pretty baseless; I can’t think of a society that became more wicked as it became more prosperous.

I can think of lots of societies that became more secular and/or atheist as they became more prosperous, though.

The world’s poorest nations are also some of its most religious – but does that mean religion can’t flourish in a prosperous society?

Gregory Paul doesn’t think it can. After constructing a “Successful Societies Scale” that compared 25 socioeconomic indicators against statistics on religious belief and practice in 17 developed nations, the Baltimore-based paleontologist concluded in a 2009 study that “religion is most able to thrive in seriously dysfunctional societies.”

There’s no situation where you have a really highly religious nation that’s highly successful socially.”

Ask: If you served a mission, were your most successful areas the wealthy ones, or the poor ones? Why might that be?

And that’s the rub. The church mistakes “people rejecting it” for “people being wicked”.

Religion doesn’t really have anything to offer someone who’s doing pretty well, but it has a lot to offer someone who’s miserable. So it follows that religions would benefit from increasing the amount of misery as much as possible.

There’s a lot of stories in the Bible of Jesus being generous and prescribing that his followers give up their possessions to the poor, but the Christian right is good about ignoring those verses and digging around for one or two to argue that actually, Jesus was on their side about the importance of starving the poor out. When Republicans were trying to cut the food stamp program and Democrats pointed out how that runs against even the most basic reading of the Christianity they claim to hold so dear, Rep. Stephen Fincher petulantly quoted 2 Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

On the other hand, Jacob does have some pretty good ideas about what to do with wealth.

Jacob 2:19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good — to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

Main ideas for this lesson


Polygamy is one of those funny areas for the church. No matter how much time has gone by since the Salt Lake church practiced it, and no matter how remote the issue seems to most Mormons, it’s still the one thing anyone knows about the church. “Oh, wow! Do you have a lot of wives?”

Serves the church right — there’s been so much double-talk surrounding this issue that I hope the church gets saddled with it for the duration of its existence. Mormons steadfastly deny polygamy, but secretly think it’s coming back one day.

Brother Jake explains.

So let’s see what Jacob has to say about it.

Jacob 1:15 And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.

Jacob 2:23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
2:24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

Really? The Lord never said anything about David’s and Solomon’s wives and concubines before.

1 Kings 15:5 Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

As far as the Bible was concerned, it was all G, so this is a bit of an innovation.

Jacob 2:27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
2:28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.

Delights in the chastity of women, says nothing about the chastity of men. God’s a huge sexist.

Jacob 2:29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
2:30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

Ask: Under what conditions is polygamy acceptable?
Answer: To raise up seed.

So that means that polygamy was a really good way to increase the population, right?


But scientists have now uncovered an odd fact about 19th-century Mormons: the more women in a household, the lower the average birthrate. In other words, the more sister-wives a Mormon woman had, the fewer children she was likely to produce.

“Although it is great in terms of numbers of children for successful males to have harems, the data show that, for every new woman added to a male’s household, the number of children that each wife produced goes down by one,” said biologist Dr Michael Wade, of Indiana University.

Did God not know this?

What about Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy? We now know (and the LDS Church has had to admit) that Joseph Smith married up to 40 women, including women who were married to other men at the time.


When I bring this up, Latter-day Saints tell me that these marriages were simply symbolic or “dynastic”.

First up, this is untrue in many cases. While there’s not enough evidence that Smith had sex with all the women he was married to, there are loads of heart-rending accounts confirming it. For example:

Lucy Walker: “I gave myself up as a sacrifice, for it was not a love matter, so to speak, in our affairs, at least on my part it was not”

Helen Kimball: “I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.”

See more in curious_mormon’s amazing post on this.

Second, even if that were true, and Smith had the need to marry all those women for some symbolic reason, doesn’t the Book of Mormon say that this is an abomination, unless it’s for “raising seed”?

Dark skin

Jacob 3:8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.
3:9 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.

Ask: Is it acceptable to consider skin colour a mark of sin, even as a metaphor?


Jacob 3:11 O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death.

I’m putting Jacob down as a believer in literal hell with fire and ouches.

Side note: I did a radio interview with a priest recently (cool guy, BTW), and he wasn’t a believer in hell. All metaphorical, he said. How about that.

The problem there is that, if you were looking for evidence in the Bible either way, you’d find six or eight scriptures where Jesus says Hell is a place of torture with fire, and he says it with a totally straight face. But you’d find exactly zero scriptures where Hell isn’t described that way. Jesus never says, “I was just kidding about the fire. It’s totes metaphorical.” So I think this priest has rather an uphill battle trying to make that case.

The Book of Mormon partakes in that tradition, while modern Mormonism does not.


Jacob 3:13 And a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, which now began to be numerous, cannot be written upon these plates; but many of their proceedings are written upon the larger plates, and their wars, and their contentions, and the reigns of their kings.

They “began to be numerous”. That’s an understatement.

One of the big problems with the Book of Mormon narrative is the improbably explosive population growth. To go from a group of perhaps 30 in Nephi’s day to the (perhaps) hundreds of thousands or millions in 600 years requires a heretofore-unheard-of level of fecundity, or some pretty creative explanations. We’ll consider this in a later lesson, but let’s just bookmark that for now.

Did Nephites keep the Jewish laws?

Jacob 4:3 Now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents.
4:4 For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
4:5 Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.

A puzzling thing about the Book of Mormon is that the Nephites were supposed to have “kept the law of Moses” with all its ceremonies, sacrifices, and ordinances — while never mentioning anything about them. If they were doing all that stuff, they sure were vague about the details. Perhaps Moroni didn’t think those things were important, and filtered them all out. Too bad. It would have been interesting to hear about their spin on Jewish traditions.

If they’d existed, I mean. Which is very unlikely given the lack of any Hebrew writing, Jewish iconography, or anything Hebraic in the ancient American archaeological record.

Additional lesson ideas


As Jacob is talking about sex, the LDS lesson manual has some words to say about “immorality”. I hate how they use that term to apply almost exclusively to sex, which of itself is not moral or immoral (although the motivations of those who engage in it can be), while ignoring all kinds of immorality that the church engages in (like lying to people, concealing facts, wielding authority over people, and so on). But here it is.

• What must a person do to be forgiven of immorality?
President Ezra Taft Benson suggested five steps to be forgiven of unchastity (“The Law of Chastity,” in Brigham Young University 1987–88 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [1988], 53–54). Discuss these steps with class members:
“1. Flee immediately from any situation you are in that is either causing you to sin or that may cause you to sin.”
“2. Plead with the Lord for the power to overcome.”
“3. Let your priesthood leaders help you resolve the transgression and come back into full fellowship with the Lord.”
“4. Drink from the divine fountain [the scriptures and words of the prophets] and fill your lives with positive sources of power.”
“5. Remember that through proper repentance you can become clean again.”

I just want to take a second and reiterate something I said in a previous lesson. There’s something extremely inappropriate that Mormons do. Because they’re a religion, they fill each other up with sexual guilt. That’s more or less expected, and sadly it wrecks people’s lives. But even worse, parents allow their children to undergo closed-door interviews with adult men. In these meetings, the young people are encouraged to disclose details of their sexual experiences — including masturbation, sex, and everything in between — without parents present.

From a article in The Exponent:

In my LDS upbringing in Utah, these “chastity interviews.” as they were called by my bishopric, were conducted every six months between the ages of 12 and 18. I and my fellow youth were interviewed by the bishop or one of his counselors about our adherence to the law of chastity. The leader may feel inclined to define chastity further in these interviews and question the youth about genital exploration or self-arousal and romantic and sexual practices with others. This created a norm beginning in the sixth grade for children to talk to untrained older men about sexual practices, a type of behavior that is grooming the child for abuse.

This predatory grooming behavior of interviewing children about sex behind closed doors is alarming. Minors (age 18 and under in Utah) cannot legally consent to sex. Because all sexual relations under the age of 18 are defined as non-consensual under the law, chastity interviews are completely inappropriate screenings of the sexual experiences of children. They are also ineffective for detecting any sexual abuse experienced by the child interviewed as they violate protocol for how trained professionals interview children where suspected abuse has taken place, including side-by-side positioning and placing the child in a higher position than the interviewer. The clergy member, attired in business uniform and sitting across a desk creates a physical position of power, which can convey a feeling of shame to the interviewee, even one who has very little sexual experience to discuss with this lay leader.

If we are serious about protecting children from abuse, we must stop all private interviews of minors by lay clergy behind closed doors. As members, we must demand that the Church stop interviewing children about their inherently non-consensual sexual experiences and mandating repentance.

Indeed. Bad enough that they think they have a right to pry into the sexual behaviour of other adults, but to do this to kids is unconscionable.

Ask: Why does the church conduct interviews of this nature?

I think it’s to facilitate intrusion. If you want an animal or a pet to be compliant and easy to handle, you have to handle them a lot when their young. Make them think that this kind of intrusion into their private business is normal. Then for the rest of their lives, they won’t mind any other kinds of intrusion. Having given them the right to know about your sexual self — that innermost part of you — what other information would you deny them?

This is in part why Mormons have a really terrible sense of boundaries. It makes Mormonism absolutely toxic, as religions go.

If you agree that this practice should be stopped, refuse to let your children take part in these interviews unless you’re present. Join (or revitalise) a Facebook group. Say “no more”.

BoM Lesson 1 (Keystone)

“The Keystone of Our Religion”

Scripture: None

LDS manual: here


To question the credibility of the Book of Mormon


This year we embark on a study of the Book of Mormon, which is a collection of fabrications, plagiarisms, and exhortations that Latter-day Saints think is a volume of scripture.

When I was in the process of deconversion, my Stake President asked to meet. We spent an hour or so in his office, during which I explained that I no longer believed in the truth claims of the church, as they lacked any evidentiary basis. Toward the end of our visit, he pulled out his trump card: “How do you explain the Book of Mormon?”

Now that’s a strange question, isn’t it? But the strangeness isn’t obvious to someone who thinks (as nearly all Mormons seem to) that the Book of Mormon is totes amazing. Dictated in a very short period of time (not necessarily true) by an illiterate farm boy (Smith wasn’t) from gold plates (that no one ever saw).

So how did I explain the Book of Mormon? I told my Stake President, “I think somebody sat down and wrote it.”

It really is as simple as that. People do write amazing books, you know. And they can do it pretty fast, too. Every November during NaNoWriMo, people write 50,000-word novels in a month. The Book of Mormon checks in at 268,033 words, but we could get up to that pretty quickly if we add “it came to pass” 1,353 times (yes, seriously), plagiarise the Bible for a few chapters, and take inspiration from books that are floating around.

I’d suggest a better question: what is it about the Book of Mormon that needs explaining? To me, the book seems not only unremarkable, but also quite wrong in every particular. It’s one of many treatments of the idea that the Native Americans were of Hebraic origin — an idea that was popular in Joseph Smith’s day, but which hasn’t panned out. It contains lists of things that do not appear in the New World (sheep, horses, barley), and omits things that do (avacados, tapirs). On page after page, the Book of Mormon shows the evidence of its all-too-human origins.

Mormons are repeatedly told that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct book” on the earth, when in fact, it is not even a correct book.

Side note: The Book of Mormon is the inspiration for these nerfballs.


Jeez, how sad is that. People need to know about the Book of Mormon if only so they know that it turns you into this.


Main ideas for this lesson

The entire church fails if the Book of Mormon is not true

Read this quote from the LDS manual.

Why do you think Joseph Smith called the Book of Mormon the keystone of our religion?
President Ezra Taft Benson explained, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 6).

This is actually good to see. It annoys me when people are namby-pamby about religious claims. When you say that a thing is true, and then it turns out not to be, too often people say that it’s “intended metaphorically”. So it’s good to see that the church is walling off that kind of dodge. Either it’s true or it’s not. And if the Book of Mormon is not true, the church isn’t.

Except hold on. A shift happened in the last decade. The church is backing away from the view that the Book of Mormon is a historical document, instead describing it a spiritual document.

James Faust: It is important to know what the Book of Mormon is not. It is not primarily a history, although much of what it contains is historical.

The test for understanding this sacred book is preeminently spiritual. An obsession with secular knowledge rather than spiritual understanding will make its pages difficult to unlock.

Ask: Why would Latter-day Saints describe the Book of Mormon as a primarily spiritual document, rather than a primarily historical one?

Mormons in times past had no problem describing the Book of Mormon as historically true. But this view is now less and less defensible, as details from the Book of Mormons are either failing to be confirmed — or are disconfirmed — by findings in archaeology, genetics, linguistics, and so on. In response, the church is kicking the Book of Mormon one rung up the ladder of abstraction so it can’t be disconfirmed on a literal level. This is a very common tactic for religious apologists.

The Book of Mormon is not reflective of LDS doctrine

From the LDS manual:

Write on the chalkboard Doctrine.
In what ways is the Book of Mormon the “keystone of our doctrine”? (See D&C 10:45–46; 20:8–12.)

This is a tricky one. The Book of Mormon contains no mention of many LDS doctrines, including three degrees of glory, temple worship, and the corporeal nature of the Godhead.

The Book of Mormon is really Mormonism v1.

In light of this, many Latter-day Saints view the Book of Mormon, not as a source of doctrine, but as a kind of talisman that proved that Joseph Smith had God’s phone number.

This view is a little silly. God writes a book to restore his church. Here’s his chance to reveal his knowledge to humans for the first time in millennia, and he only includes doctrines that pertain to an early phase of Mormonism that (coincidentally) mirrors the exact time of the book’s publication?

Ask: Why would God hold back on his doctrines?
Possible answer: The world wouldn’t have been ready to accept his deeper doctrines at first.

Ask: Would an all-powerful God have been able to think of a way to express his deeper doctrines in a way that people would have accepted?

  • If so, why didn’t he?
  • If not, he’s not all-powerful.

The Witnesses were not witnesses

The Book of Mormon, the story goes, was written on gold plates — improbably light ones, it would seem — and these plates were allegedly seen by three — and later eight — witnesses. Mormons are fond of saying that none of the witnesses ever denied their testimony.

Have the assigned class members present their summaries of the Testimony of the Three Witnesses and the Testimony of the Eight Witnesses.
• Why was it important to have witnesses of the gold plates? (See Ether 5:2–4.) How do you think having additional witnesses helped the Prophet Joseph Smith?

Ask: Does it matter if eleven witnesses claim to have seen some gold plates, if they’re not publicly available?

Imagine that I’m presenting a paper at a conference. During question time, a member of the audience asks if they can see my data. In response, I say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t show you that. Instead, I’ve shown it to eleven other people, and they promise it’s true.”

While it’s not unheard of to restrict access to data, there has to be a good reason (for example, if it will reveal the identity of an subject). Absent that, refusal to show data is a bit of a red flag. That’s how you catch fabrication.

Evidence must be publicly available to be credible.

Let’s look at some of the problems with the witnesses.

• There’s reason to believe that the witnesses never saw the plates.

The evidence is extremely contradictory in this area, but there is a possibility that the three witnesses saw the plates in vision only, for Stephen Burnett in a letter written in 1838, a few weeks after the event, described Martin Harris’ testimony to this effect: ‘When I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David . . . the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations.'”

From mormonthink.com

Several LDS sources give the eleven men who bore their testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon the special title of eyewitness; however, it appears doubtful that any of them actually saw the plates apart from a supernatural and subjective experience. While they all claimed to have handled what they were told were ancient plates, they did so while the plates were covered up and not visible.

See also: curious_mormon’s excellent post.

• The witnesses joined other religions, and testified of them just as much.

Phineas Young wrote to his older brother Brigham Young on December 31, 1841, from Kirtland, Ohio: “There are in this place all kinds of teaching; Martin Harris is a firm believer in Shakerism, says his testimony is greater than it was for the Book of Mormon” (Martin Harris – Witness and Benefactor of the Book of Mormon, 1955, p. 52)
During the summer of 1837, while in Kirtland, David Whitmer pledged his new loyalty to a prophetess (as did Martin and Oliver) who used a black seer stone and danced herself into ‘trances.'(Biographical Sketches, Lucy Smith, pp. 211-213)

• Some of the witnesses (Martin Harris in particular) had a lot invested in the scheme, and had much to gain if it succeeded.

• It’s difficult to retract a really big lie.

If you were in on a big religious fraud, would be able to take it back? How would that affect others’ confidence in you? Wouldn’t it be easier to just let it ride?

Additional lesson ideas

Bogus prophecy

Another snippet from the manual:

3. The Book of Mormon was written for our day.
Point out that although the Book of Mormon is an ancient document, it was written and preserved for our day (2 Nephi 25:21–22; 27:22; Mormon 8:34–35; Moroni 1:4).

More like in our day, amirite?

Gospel Doctrine teachers are given this teaching suggestion:

• Read with class members Mormon 8:26–41. Explain that these verses contain a prophecy about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. What conditions did Moroni foresee would exist in the world when the Book of Mormon was again brought forth? (Write class members’ responses on the chalkboard. Answers may include those in the list below.) How are these conditions evident in the world today?

a. “The power of God shall be denied” (verse 28).
b. “There shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth” (verse 31).
c. People will “lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts” (verse 36).
d. People will “love money . . . more than [they] love the poor and the needy”
(verse 37).
e. People will be “ashamed to take upon [themselves] the name of Christ”
(verse 38).

In other words, the Book of Mormon says that, in the days of its publication, people will be awful… and it was right! Prophecy fulfilled.
Ask: What problems are there with using these Book of Mormon verses as a prediction?


  • This applies to all times and all places. There’s literally no time in history when some people weren’t awful.
  • The opposite of the prophecy is also true, which means that it’s meaningless. The writer could have said that the book would come forward at a time when people were nice, and that would be true, too.

But as a missionary, oh, did I ever lean hard on verse 31 and the “pollutions”. It worked on one of my investigators. (Sorry, Mark, if you’re out there.)

Next week, we’ll get into the actual reading. Great to be back, and see you next week.

NT Lesson 17 (Hell)

“What Shall I Do That I May Inherit Eternal Life?”

Mark 10:17–30; 12:41–44; Luke 12:13–21; 14; 16

LDS manual: here


To encourage readers to reject bad advice given by Jesus, along with the immoral doctrine of Hell.


Here are the main themes for this lesson:

  • It’s bad to be rich
  • Don’t plan for the future
  • You will be tortured with fire forever if you are bad (or rich).

The first one is maybe a bit iffy, the second is just plain terrible advice, and the third one is the most immoral doctrine in all of Christianity.

In other words, the scriptures in this lesson are the blurst. Let’s take them by course.

Main ideas for this lesson

The rich young man

We start with a rich young man who wants to follow Jesus.

Mark 10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.


Mark 10:19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
10:20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
10:22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
10:23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

Christians tend to gloss over this scripture, and they’re certainly not keen to give all their money away, as nonstampcollector has pointed out.

The creator of Russell’s Teapot has also lampooned the Christian tendency to take everything literally, except that one scripture.

And even though I have my views on income inequality and how bad it is for society as a whole, I still have a hard time condemning all wealth as evil. I think of Elon Musk, who’s doing a lot to help humanity in the areas of energy, transport, and space travel, and not coincidentally making a pile of dough off of it. I suppose most rich people aren’t Elon Musk.

But what I really want to point out here — once again — is that this scripture is evidence that Christianity was an end-of-the-world cult. Believers were taught that the end was coming very soon, within the lifetimes of people who were alive then. It makes no sense to say, “Sell everything, give it away, and follow me” if you have to then go on to live a normal life. But it makes a lot of sense if you think the world is going to end in a few years.

The end-of-the-world theme continues in Jesus’ next discourse.

Don’t care for your life, and don’t work

Luke 12:22 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
12:23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
12:24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
12:25 And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?
12:26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?
12:27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
12:28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Again, this advice makes no sense in a normal life plan. It’s terrible advice! But if the world is going to end, it makes a lot of sense.

The good news is that the world isn’t going to end, as least not in ways that doomsday prophets have anticipated. Many have predicted the end of the world (with an unsavoury amount of anticipation), and they’ve always been wrong.

So what are believers supposed to do about this? Again: sell errything.

Luke 12:33 Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.

Cough it up, Christians.

Jesus is come to divide families

Jesus explains that he’s more important than family. This is SMO for a cult leader.

Luke 12:51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
12:52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.
12:53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

We’re even supposed to hate our family — and our own lives.

Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

Is it any wonder that members treat unbelieving family so awfully sometimes?

This is why it’s wrong to say that the church supports the family. As I’ve said before, its aim is to supplant the family. And this goes back to Jesus.

Rich man and Lazarus

But even that’s not as immoral as his teachings about hell. As in many other scriptures, Jesus teaches about torture in hell with actual fire.

Luke 16:19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
16:20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
16:21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
16:23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
16:24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
16:25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

Mormons, like many other denominations who have found the idea of eternal torture distasteful, tend to soft-pedal the doctrine of hell — and ignore the words of Jesus in the process. They say it’s something nebulous like “separation from God”. (Can I just say that separation from God is amazing, and everyone should try it.)

On the other hand, you’d be amazed at how many Christians I’ve talked to who, in confidence, have admitted that they do believe in the reality of hell with fire and torture and ouches. Think of that. They believe that the punishment for lack of belief — not misbehaviour, but misbelief — should be eternal torture. They think I deserve pain for the rest of eternity, because I don’t believe the same as their god does. How moral is that?

And let’s not pretend that the doctrine of hell is entirely absent from Mormonism. It’s still there.

It doesn’t matter for this discussion whether hell is literal fire or just solitary confinement. Both are cruel. Both are immoral forms of punishment. A punishment of infinite duration for crimes of finite duration is not moral.

When I mention this, Christians and Mormons tell me, “No, but you see, you’re missing the point. God provided Jesus as a way of avoiding hell. He doesn’t want you to go there!”

Which doesn’t help. Who created the punishment in the first place? It’s like an arsonist who starts fires, puts them out, and expects a great reward for rescuing people from the fire. God is only trying to save people from a punishment he created.

Here’s another angle. Who is the doctrine of hell designed to work on? Not unbelievers — threatening someone with hell who doesn’t believe in it is quite ineffective.

No, this idea is designed to frighten the people who are already on board. I could understand if Jesus were threatening those who oppose him. But it’s a singularly despicable move for Jesus to threaten the people who believe in him.

And here’s the kicker: This being — who tortures people for eternity — isn’t reviled as evil. No, he’s hailed as the ultimate good guy.

No only that — he’s meant to be worshipped. Not just tolerated and welcomed into polite society, but actually worshipped for this.

If anyone else did the things that the Christian god is going to do, you’d lock him up. But since it’s capital G God, he gets a pass.

Imagine also: You’re supposed to be happy in heaven, while those you love are [ broasting in hell | sentenced to isolation | relegated to servitude ] for eternity. How would one be able to enjoy eternity knowing this?

Russel’s Teapot again:

The concept of hell is damaging to children. It is a form of mental abuse — different from sexual abuse, but still damaging. Richard Dawkins writes:

I received a letter from an American woman in her forties who had been brought up Roman Catholic. At the age of seven, she told me, two unpleasant things had happened to her. She was sexually abused by her parish priest in his car. And, around the same time, a little schoolfriend of hers, who had tragically died, went to hell because she was a Protestant. Or so my correspondent had been led to believe by the then official doctrine of her parents’ church. Her view as a mature adult was that, of these two examples of Roman Catholic child abuse, the one physical and the other mental, the second was by far the worst. She wrote
“Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a 7 year old) as ‘yucky’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest – but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell. It gave me nightmares.”

Fortunately, the concept of hell is recognised by many people for the immoral doctrine it is. Robert Ingersoll, a pioneering atheist in the late 1800s, wrote:

THE idea of a hell was born of revenge and brutality on the one side, and cowardice on the other. In my judgment the American people are too brave, too charitable, too generous, too magnanimous, to believe in the infamous dogma of an eternal hell. I have no respect for any human being who believes in it. I have no respect for any man who preaches it. I have no respect for the man who will pollute the imagination of childhood with that infamous lie. I have no respect for the man who will add to the sorrows of this world with the frightful dogma. I have no respect for any man who endeavours to put that infinite cloud, that infinite shadow, over the heart of humanity.

If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant.
— Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Liberty Of All” (1877)

And Christopher Hitchens pointed out that this was an innovation that starts with Jesus.

Not until gentle Jesus, meek and mild, are you told if you don’t make the right propitiations you can depart into everlasting fire. One of the most wicked ideas ever preached and one that has ruined the lives and peace of mind of many, many children…preached to them by vicious, child-hating old men and women in the name of this ghasty cult.

Transcript for people who can’t watch videos

Well, it’s here that we find something very sinister about monotheism and about religious practice in general: It is incipiently at least — and I think often explicitly — totalitarian. I have no say in this. I am born under a celestial dictatorship which I could not have had any hand in choosing. I don’t put myself under its government. I am told that it can watch me while I sleep. I’m told that it can convict me of — here’s the definition of totalitarianism — thought crime, for what I think I may be convicted and condemned. And that if I commit a right action, it’s only to evade this punishment and if I commit a wrong action, I’m going to be caught up not just with punishment in life for what I’ve done which often follows axiomatically, but, no, even after I’m dead. In the Old Testament, gruesome as it is, recommending as it is of genocide, racism, tribalism, slavery, genital mutilation, in the displacement and destruction of others, terrible as the Old Testament gods are, they don’t promise to punish the dead. There’s no talk of torturing you after the earth has closed over the Amalekites. Only toward when gentle Jesus, meek and mild, makes his appearance are those who won’t accept the message told they must depart into everlasting fire. Is this morality, is this ethics? I submit not only is it not, not only does it come with the false promise of vicarious redemption, but it is the origin of the totalitarian principle which has been such a burden and shame to our species for so long.

I do not like being threatened. And while you may be able to threaten someone into behaving, you can’t threaten them into being good.

Any moral behaviour that results from threats and coercion is not real morality.

Additional lesson ideas

Camels and needles

LDS culture doesn’t seem to mind prosperity, and yet Jesus was rather unambiguous about how rich people will fare in the next life.

Mark 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Does that mean it’s bad to be rich? Usually in Gospel Doctrine, there are some noises about how people need to help the poor, but there’s nothing wrong with being rich per se. And that’s where it gets left.

But this scripture reminds me of a formative experience on my mission.

As a missionary, I read the Ensign magazine a lot. I really liked “I Have a Question” because it was kind of myth-busty sometimes. So I liked this article:

Jesus once said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24.) Can you give me some background on this statement?

John A. Tvedtnes, specialist in ancient Near Eastern studies and instructor at the Brigham Young University–Salt Lake Center. Over the years, biblical commentators have taken three approaches in exploring the meaning of this scripture. The first of these has found wide acceptance among Christians because of the beauty of its teachings. It holds that in ancient times there was a small gate cut inside the larger gate of the city through which one might enter after nightfall, when the city was closed. Although this small gate—termed the “eye of the needle”—could readily admit a man, a camel could enter only by first being relieved of its burden and then by walking through on its knees. The imagery here is that of the sinner casting away his faults (or the rich man his worldly possessions) and kneeling in prayer.

Unfortunately, there are problems with this beautiful explanation. One is that the camel’s anatomy does not permit it to crawl on its knees. More serious, however, is the fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of the use of such small inset gates in the time of Christ. One may see them today in Jerusalem and Damascus, where the local tour guides will call them by the term “eye of the needle,” but there are no such gates dating prior to the twelfth century A.D. Moreover, the guides have taken the term “eye of the needle” from modern commentators of the Matthew passage and not from an authentic ancient tradition.

Soon after reading this, the bishop gave a lesson in Elders’ Quorum, and what do you know, this scripture came up. However, the bishop seemed unaware of the above Ensign article, which I and a few other elders had read. So he spoke of a book by Spencer W. Kimball, in which he supposedly told the whole camel story, complete with the camel hobbling through the gate on its knees. He was so impressed with the symbolism.

You can imagine what I did, as the smart-alec punk kid that I was. I raised my hand and said, “Um, actually, I read that that wasn’t true,” and then I explained what was said in the foregoing article. A few other missionaries hesitantly nodded along.

The bishop didn’t seem to taken aback, though. Instead he just said, “Well, I still believe it, because Spencer W. Kimball wrote it in his book, and he was the prophet when he wrote it.” And the lesson moved on, and that was that.

Now I don’t know if Kimball really did write any such thing in one of his books. Perhaps he didn’t, and the bishop had the whole thing wrong. But that’s not the important part.

The important part was that I watched how a man could have a mistake explained to him, and then choose to persist in his mistake. It was a classic Appeal to Authority. And I realised, “Here is a man who does not want to know what is true. He would rather be wrong and believe in his leaders.”

Leaders could be wrong, and people would defend them and go right on believing. I never forgot this. How could I, when I was confronted with this attitude in church so many times in the decades to come?

Just to be clear on the fallacy of Appeal to Authority: it’s good to listen to people who have expertise in their field. I’ve even seen some people call the fallacy the Irrelevant Appeal to Authority, implying that not all appeal to authority is fallacious. Listening to people who know more about an area is how we learn. But there are a few caveats:

  1. Someone with authority can be wrong, even in their area. What matters is the evidence for the idea, not the status of the person.
  2. Expertise in one area does not guarantee expertise in another. Smart people can be smart, but still be prone to naive ideas outside their area of expertise. There’s at least one Nobel prize winner who’s a climate denialist, and needless to say, they didn’t win the Nobel for their work in climatology.

And of course, we need to update when we find out we’re wrong, even if it’s some know-it-all punk kid who tells us.

Everything shall be revealed

There’s a Mormon joke:

Q: Why do you always bring two Mormons with you fishing?
A: If you only bring one, they’ll drink all your beer.

The joke works because of the well-known tendency on the part of Mormons to police each other’s behaviour.

Well, here’s one scripture that works toward this.

Luke 12:2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.
12:3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

Many times when this scripture would come up in church, people would flutter. Imagine all your secrets being broadcast from the housetops! How awful!

I always wondered how this would work. Would it be one person reading out everyone’s misdeeds? Or would there be multiple houses? Maybe it would be like a music festival with different stages. You might hear someone say, “They’re reading out Brother Midgley’s sins over on 5th Street pretty soon. Shall we wander over?”

I suppose the idea might hold some appeal for people who are obsessed with other people’s peccadillos (and perhaps their sexual adventures?). But in the end, this is a way for a community to get its members to police each other’s behaviour. The housetop scenario is a fiction. There are secrets we take to the grave, for better or worse.


Jesus reiterates his comments on blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.

Luke 12:10 And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.

With all the immoral and harmful ideas we’ve seen in this lesson, I have no trouble saying:

Fuck the Holy Ghost.

Even if the god of the Bible were real, and you were to prove his existence to me, I would still fight him for being a sadistic asshole.

I am more moral than God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost put together. (Trinity joke.) And so are you. Never let someone treat you as less than you are because you refuse to accept this immoral system.

OT Lesson 33 (Jonah, Micah)

Sharing the Gospel with the World

Jonah 1–4; Micah 2; 4–7

LDS manual: here


After reading Kings and Chronicles, this reading marks a strange transition. Before, if there was a group of people that didn’t believe in Jehovah / Jesus — well, you’d just kill them and their children, on down to the fourth generation. But now it seems that there’s been a shift. Now, you’re supposed to use convincement and persuadance. Religions do mellow out sometimes.

This story concerns Jonah, who was told to go to Ninevah and preach.

Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
1:2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

Myself, I would have told Jehovah / Jesus to go do his own dirty work.

And that raises an interesting point: Why would a god need humans to go around and tell other people about him? For that matter, why wouldn’t he be able to impart knowledge about himself to everyone directly? If he can appear to one person and communicate his will, why can’t he do the same thing to a big group of people all at the same time? It would be a lot less ambiguous, more clear, and above all, verifiable. Why only one person? Why the secrecy? Why does god go to all the trouble of making himself look like the delusional beliefs of one person?

Oh… unless gods don’t actually exist, and prophets are either crazy people (which we’ll see later in the OT) or liars (as in our day).

Anyway, Jonah legs it, and gets onto a ship.

1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

God, not to be so easily brushed off, tries to kill everyone on the ship.

1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.

The sailors ask Jonah what his deal is.

1:8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
1:9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
1:10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him. Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

Notice their reaction: “You’ve got Yahweh pissed at us? We’re fucked!” They know he’s the most ruthless and cruel god ever invented. Maybe they read Judges.

So they toss him overboard, and Jonah is fish food.

1:15 So they look up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
1:16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah prays for deliverance from his ichthyic prison.

2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly,

And the prayer must have gone something like this:

Well, whatever was said, God tickled the fish, and — baaarf! — out onto the beach came Jonah and tons of ambergris in a big sludgy pile.

2:10 And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

Jonah’s arrival apparently made quite an impression on the Ninevites, who immediately converted.

3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
3:6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
3:7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:

The king’s like, “We’d better not give any food or water to anyone, even our animals, because even they’ve been very sinful.” Apparently, that’s how evil this place was. Even the sheep are evil. Like this one:

So the Lord repents:

3:10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

I don’t have a problem with God repenting. That’s probably just a semantic thing. What’s more worrying is that God didn’t seem to know that the people would repent. Or perhaps that he would need humans to feel a certain way about him or do certain things for him. I don’t know what being a god is like, but I hope I’d be above all that.

Anyway, Jonah’s ticked at God’s backtracking. He can’t believe God wouldn’t destroy everyone like Jonah said God would. Has Jehovah / Jesus not been paying attention to the last few lessons? So God messes with his head for a while, in an attempt to make him feel better.

4:6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
4:7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.

The lesson also has some material from Micah, including some isolated out-of-context scriptures about temples and mountains, which Mormons really like.

Micah 4:1 But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.

How could that not be about Salt Lake City, amirite?

4:2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

That sounds kind of nice. Why, it sounds a bit like religious pluralism.

4:5 For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.

But wait — that didn’t last long. Later on in that very same chapter, we see that Jehovah / Jesus intends for the Saints to beat many people in pieces, and take their substance.

4:13 Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the LORD, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.

Not surprisingly, the real lesson manual stresses the threshing — you know, like harvesting souls! — and downplays the money-making angle and all the beating.

What can we learn from Micah 4:11–13 about the latter-day destiny of Israel? (In the ancient world, oxen were often used to thresh grain. They would walk over the grain, separating the chaff from the kernel. The chaff was blown away and the kernel saved. The nations that oppose Zion will be gathered as sheaves and then be threshed by Israel.) How might this separation of the chaff from the kernel be compared to latter-day Israel’s responsibility to do missionary work throughout the world? (See D&C 29:7; 33:5–7.)

Whatever, real manual. I still think it’s insulting to speak of unbelievers like they’re worthless chaff. But that’s the mindset you need, if you going to tell people they’re living wrong, and you’re doing it right. I can’t believe I did that for two years.

Main points for this lesson

Can someone survive in a giant fish?

Jonah is obviously just a silly story, at least to sensible people with a grip on reality. The story hardly seems worth debunking — except that people do believe it, even modern Christians. Answers in Genesis, Christian Answers, and (rather more ambivalently) Catholic Answers all maintain that this was a real — or possibly real — event, though they do give a nod to the story’s implausibility.

Their reasoning?

  • God can do anything, I mean, c’mon!
  • One guy survived a whale-swallowing once.

This latter point refers to James Bartley, who purportedly (and dubiously) survived an internship in a sperm whale in 1891. Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope has addressed this myth, and calls it a yarn.

I’m not a marine biologist, but apparently this graphic is, so have a look.

So Jonah’s story is probably just a big fish story. Oh, sure, believers will invoke miracles, but there’s no limit to what some people will swallow.

Yep, he would have.

Sharing the gospel

The real lesson manual stresses the importance of going on a mission, by which I mean “lays on the blame”.

Through his prophets, the Lord has repeatedly commanded every worthy, able young man to serve a full-time mission. He has also encouraged senior couples to serve as full-time missionaries if they are able. (See the additional teaching ideas.) What are some reasons why some able young men and senior couples choose not to serve missions? (Lack of commitment and faith, unworthiness, unwillingness to leave the comforts of home and family, fear of what might be expected of them.) What can we learn from the story of Jonah that can help us be more valiant in obeying the Lord and sharing the gospel?

Wow, check that out. They’re really piling on the guilt and recrimination.

Ask: Why are church members unwilling to consider that there might be some good reasons not to go on a mission?
Answer: Missionising is a source of converts and income for the church. But perhaps more importantly, getting someone on a mission is a way of getting the missionary to say they believe something over and over again. This is important for self-indoctrination, which I think has become the real purpose of a mission. From a Redditor:

As a former non-mormon missionary myself, I know how this stuff works. Eventually, I noticed that their missionaries are young guys, 18-22, very formative years, away from home, away from their support structure, continually sent out to get ridiculed or told to bugger off, and continually being rejected. Then I realized it’s not actually about converting anyone (Though that’s a nice bonus if it happens), it’s actually about sticking these kids in a position where they’re continually attacked, and their only support comes from the church. It’s a very intensive form of indoctrination.

And not just that — it’s also to put them in a situation where they have to become amateur apologists; make up plausible-sounding explanations for all the contradictions and absurdities that they’ll be faced with in the mission field. It’s this “skill” that will have a lot of smart people doing mental gymnastics through years of church activity. Sometimes the smarter they are, the better they get at apologetics, and the longer they stay.

While we’re on Reddit threads, this one says something I’ve been thinking for a while. Every once in a while, a discussion will come up about whether the Mormon Church is a cult. I don’t like that much. Maybe it’s a leftover reaction — I always used to bridle at this kind of talk in my churchy days. Or maybe it’s because the term cult isn’t well-defined, so it’s an unhelpful question. What’s culty, and what’s not? Isn’t a cult just an unpopular religion? Christianity itself used to be a Jewish cult. And so on.

I don’t know if the LDS Church is a cult or not, but I will say one thing: An LDS mission is really really far on the culty scale, whichever one you’re using. Take for instance the BITE model. I don’t know if it’s a well-accepted model in psychology, so let’s just take this as interesting.

The BITE model looks at four aspects of control, all of which happen on a mission:

Behaviour Control
Your behaviour is regulated, with a set schedule and all your time accounted for. What you wear, who you’re with, what you do — all these things are handed to you. On a foreign mission, your passport is taken from you, first thing as a matter of course.
Information Control
Your sources of input are restricted, including news, TV, music, and books. Communication with family and friends is limited to letters and rare phone calls.
Thought Control
You report deviant thoughts, or have them reported by your companion. Your name and identity are replaced — you’re “Elder” or “Sister” now, and your first name never gets used.
Emotional Control
You’re encouraged to control your thoughts using hymns. Doubt is wrong. The organisation can’t fail, but you can fail the organisation. Happiness only comes by diligence and right thinking.

Ask: How many items on the BITE list did you experience on your mission, if you served one?
If you did not, what reasons did people offer for your not doing so? How did members feel that this reflected on your character?

For Mormon culture, the mission is what anthropologists might refer to as a ‘manhood ritual‘ (which may be why they don’t seem as interested in women serving missions). Like other initiation rituals, it gives access to opportunities within the community, as well as access to high-status females. But in my view, the LDS mission is designed to turn missionaries into lifelong devoted members — and maybe convert a few people on the side.

Additional teaching ideas

Micah’s criticism of prophets who prophecy for money

One of the problems in Micah’s day was prophets who get paid.

Micah 3:11 The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us.

Truly this scripture was written for our day.

On that note, did you know that bishops used to get a cut of the tithing, at least in 1902?

That’s just one of the revelations that’s come to light in the latest data dump of all the Church Handbooks. Yes, they’ve been leaked, and you can read them here. This is a big deal because they’re the rules by which the church is conducted, and regular members aren’t allowed to read them.

Casting lots

The ancient Hebrews had big problems with divination, but in Jonah, it seems that casting lots is a pretty reliable way of getting answers.

Jonah 1:7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.

And that’s not the first time casting lots worked. Remember when Johnathan ate some honey when he wasn’t supposed to? Saul cast lots to find that he’d done the deed.

1 Samuel 14:41 Therefore Saul said unto the LORD God of Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the people escaped.
14:42 And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan was taken.
14:43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, Tell me what thou hast done. And Jonathan told him, and said, I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die.
14:44 And Saul answered, God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.

It sure worked then. And in fact, the Urim and Thummim (contra Joseph Smith) probably functioned like dice. One wonders why, then, the Brethren disapprove of gambling.

But hey, why use lots when you can use Answer Me Jesus™? Go ahead, try asking him yourself!

OT Lesson 32 (Job)

“I Know That My Redeemer Liveth”

Job 1–2; 13; 19; 27; 42

LDS manual: here


Whereas in earlier books, Jehovah-worship has been fairly straightforward — worship Yahweh or be killed — now we’re seeing a more nuanced and thoughtful view. Job is a guy who endures undeserved suffering, and leads us to ask why. It’s almost as though someone noticed: hey, the consequences of faith are not always unambiguously good. Why, it’s almost as though there’s no correlation between what a person is like, and how their life goes! Almost as though God didn’t exist! How is that possible?

According to the real lesson manual, the Book of Job is intended:

To help class members develop strength to face adversity by trusting the Lord, building their testimonies of him, and maintaining personal integrity.

That’s right! You’re facing adversity because God has a plan for you! Trust him.

Isn’t that what people always say? You’re going through adversity, and it’s hard to understand, but hang in there! It’ll all make sense one day! God has a plan!

Unfortunately if you’re Job, God’s plan is to kill your family, afflict you with boils, and then bully you afterward by bragging about how great he is. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Read the following story, or play the following video for the class.

Job was a pretty good guy, just the kind God would have been into.

1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
1:2 And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters.
1:3 His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.

But one day God and Satan are hanging out for some reason, and they make a bet whether Job really loves god or not.

1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.
1:7 And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
1:8 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
1:9 Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
1:10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
1:11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
1:12 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

So Job’s children, his animals, and his servants are all killed, and Job is understandably upset.

1:20 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,
1:21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
1:22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

That’s not enough for God, though.

2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.
2:2 And the LORD said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
2:3 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.

Yes, here God admits that he destroyed Job for no reason.

Here’s Dan Barker commentary, using the Book of Job to show how morally compromised believers are. (Thanks to David.)

Anyway, Satan responds:

2:4 And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.
2:5 But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
2:6 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.
2:7 So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.

I really like how this commenter breaks it down.

What Satan is baiting God with is the prospect of receiving unearned worship and adulation. You see, if God is good, and people worship him for being good, then his ego-strokes only come because he’s living up to his end of the bargain. But Satan tempted God with the chance to receive Job’s adulation and praise regardless of his actions. God wanted to be able to throw all morality to the winds and be literally demonic in the cruelty of his deeds, and still be worshiipped as the ‘perfect, just God’. He doesn’t merely want unearned praise–he wants his worshippers to be so mindless, so utterly servile they will praise him to the skies even as he tortures them. Or, as Job put it, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

The Book of Job makes it plainly, indisputably, blatantly clear that God cannot be trusted as a Protector, and that he has no ethics at all.

Job’s wife isn’t much help.

2:9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
2:10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
2:11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.

Job’s friends aren’t sympathetic, and they hurl accusations against Job in various ways. Eliphaz the Temanite, unaware of God’s bet with Satan, thinks God is just dandy.

4:7 Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?

Bildad the Shuhite also argues that God is fair.

8:3 Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?

Zophar the Naamathite wishes that God would come down and shut Job’s wicked mouth. If only he knew about the bet.

11:4 For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes.
11:5 But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee;
11:6 And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.

They all have the same idea: that God is good, and Job must have done something terrible to merit such suffering. But we, having read Chapters 1 and 2, know that — nope — God’s a shit.

Job seems to have figured it out.

9:22 This is one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked.

He blasts his friends.

16:2 I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.
19:19 All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me.

Nevertheless, he maintains his faith in a god who is allowing him to be destroyed.

13:15 Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.
13:16 He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.

Another guy, Elihu, joins the discussion and keeps up the pressure on Job.

34:12 Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.

God must be feeling pretty stupid at this point. All these men are extolling God’s righteousness to Job, who is suffering undeserved torment at God’s hands — again — for no good reason.

So at this point, God breaks in, and to me he sounds rather defensive. His answer, in summary is: “Who the fuck are you? I ain’t gotta explain jack shit to you.” He taunts everyone for not being as strong or as mighty as him.

38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
38:2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
38:3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
38:4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
38:5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
38:6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
40:1 Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said,
40:2 Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.

God also likes his arms and his voice, so — you know — good self-esteem there, God.

40:9 Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?

God also makes reference to many mythical animals he invented, like unicorns, behemoth, and leviathan.

39:10 Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?
40:15 Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.
41:1 Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?

Read more in “God refuses to explain his cruelty” in the Brick Testament

And now we get to the ending, and I think it’s the worst way to end this story. God gives Job more sheep, camels, and oxen — and more children! So everything’s all right, right? He won’t miss his dead children now!

42:10 And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
42:11 Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.
42:12 So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses.
42:13 He had also seven sons and three daughters.

Click to go through to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

I have to confess that, besides the way we’re supposed to act like there’s no harm done, I really hate this ending. The Book of Job is an exploration of why bad things happen to good people, and this is a serious issue for believers. Some people are harmed and never restored. Some people worship Jehovah / Jesus all their lives and never get the goodies. But the Book of Job blows it all by… giving Job the goodies! So what was the lesson here? I thought it was “Worship God, even if you don’t get the goodies.” But no, I was wrong; it appears the lesson is: “Worship God, and eventually you’ll get the goodies!” As far as tacked-on happy endings go, this is up there with the Joad family finding jobs in the movie version of the Grapes of Wrath. It blows the whole thing.

There are lots of ways to deal with adversity — get help from friends or professionals, do things that make you feel better — but this lesson promotes probably the most unhelpful way of dealing with adversity: trust in a cruel and capricious deity.

Main points from the lesson

Satan, and the Problem of Evil

People have always asked: If there’s a good god, why do bad things happen? We could use Epicurus’ formulation:

There’s an entire branch of theology devoted to this called theodicy.

Follow through to Jesus and Mo

I’m ashamed to say that, maybe because I hadn’t suffered much in my life, the Problem of Evil was never a problem for me in my believing days. What, do you want God to run around fixing everyone’s problems? How are we supposed to grow? and so on.

My view changed when I read “The Tale of the Twelve Officers“, who witness a crime, and refuse to stop it. Each officer gives a rationale — more morally callous than the last — that exactly mirrors an excuse believers give for God’s failure to help people, in a way that any of us would do if we could.

It was, of course, sad to hear that Ms. K had been slowly raped and murdered by a common thug over the course of one hour and fifty-five minutes; but when I found out that the ordeal had taken place in plain sight of twelve fully-armed off-duty police officers, who ignored her terrified cries for help, and instead just watched until the act was carried to its gruesome end, I found myself facing a personal crisis. You see, the officers had all been very close friends of mine, but now I found my trust in them shaken to its core. Fortunately, I was able to talk with them afterwards, and ask them how they could have stood by and done nothing when they could so easily have saved Ms. K.

Let’s back up. It was easy to explain evil in the polytheist days: There are good gods and evil gods, and an evil god did it.

It was sort of easy to explain evil in the early monotheist days as well: God did all the good and the bad stuff, and he didn’t really care what you thought. For example, we have these scriptures that reflect the idea that God does everything, good and bad:

Amos 3:6 Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?
Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

But having God do bad stuff conflicted with the notion that he was loving and merciful, and as those latter aspects became more and more important to people, something had to give. So the victim-blaming rationale became popular: You deserved bad things to happen to you because you’d done something bad. But eventually even that answer seemed unsatisfactory to many. A new answer was needed. And now — what a coincidence — just at the time that Bible writers were grappling with the reason for undeserved suffering, they were developing a new character to explain it: Satan. And the new explanation is: God is good, but there’s a devil who messes you up.

Satan hasn’t been a character in the Old Testament until now. Oh, sure, there was a talking snake in the Garden, but he was just a snake. The word satan (Hebrew ‘stn‘) just meant ‘an adversary‘. In the story of Balaam (Numbers 22:22), the angel of the Lord that was meant to turn Balaam away from the king was a ‘satan’. In 1 Samuel 29:4, the Philistines debate whether to help David, lest he be a ‘satan’ to them. The idea of Satan as a adversarial supernatural being appears to be an innovation in the Book of Job. And notice how he’s pretty chummy with God at first, dropping in, chatting, and of course making bets.

Admittedly, the Satan explanation for evil isn’t that much better, because why would God allow an evil being to roam about mucking things up? But at least it absolves God of the direct responsibility for doing evil things. It even allows the semblance of free agency — you have God and Satan; which one are you going to follow?

Satan is an evolved explanation for the Problem of Evil, but one that causes more problems than it solves.

People are better than their god

Elihu taunts Job, asking if he has the audacity to think he’s more righteous than God.

35:1 Elihu spake moreover, and said,
35:2 Thinkest thou this to be right, that thou saidst, My righteousness is more than God’s?

My answer is a resounding “yes!” In church, we’re accustomed to hearing how great God is, and how we are nothing, less than the dust of the earth. It’s time to shake that off and realise that the reverse is true. We — all of us — are more moral than God. This should be obvious to anyone who’s been following these lessons, but let’s just have a quick recap.

Ask the class which of these actions they would perform:

  • Condemn humanity to suffering for one couple’s disobedience
  • Drown all but a handful of your children
  • Allow slavery, but be angry when your own people are slaves
  • Kill the firstborn child of a group of people
  • Have all knowledge of medicine and science, but only reveal details of animal sacrifice and furniture building to your chosen people
  • Instruct your people to commit genocide
  • Kill your way out of every problem you created and foresaw
  • Demand first, last, and always, that you be obeyed
  • Know in advance about every atrocity that’s happening or will happen, but do nothing to stop it
  • Condemn some of your children to an eternity of any the following — torture, isolation from family, separation from you — for not believing in you or loving you enough

The god of the Bible is claimed — by his followers, no less — to have done or to do each of these things, and yet instead of hunting him down and purging him from their society like you would do to any human that did them, they somehow account him worthy of worship. It’s really breathtakingly perverse when you think about it.

Check out this blistering litany from Matt Dillahunty to a caller.

You are moral than the god that they forced you to believe, that they’ve conned you into accepting! You don’t believe that I necessarily deserve to go to hell for exercising the “free will” that you think your god gave me. You don’t think that the dictates of a conscience — whether or not somebody believes — is a sufficient justification for eternal torture…. You are better than your god. You are better than your religion. So am I, so is Don, so is damn near everybody on the planet! I wish people would wake up and see this! Stop apologising for this (holds up Bible)! It’s not the Good Book! There’s nothing good about it! All it does is poison minds!



In the Old Testament, resurrection was never really on the cards. Job seems to take the prevailing view that people just die, and then nothing happens to them.

7:9 As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.

And yet, in Job, we start to see glimmers of the idea that people will have some kind of existence after death.

19:25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
19:26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

Christianity is going to need this when it gets invented. Without a wonderful tantalising afterlife to look forward to, this religion lacks something in the motivation department. With Judaism, who cared if you were motivated? It was your ethnic religion, you were born into it, and you’re stuck with it. But for Christianity, which had to attract converts, a nothing sort of afterlife wasn’t going to cut it. And this is why we find Christianity seizing upon such scriptures in a hope for a heaven — an innovation that started right here in Job.

My father died in 2004 or 2005. We’re still not sure which. (No, it’s nothing that mysterious. In his sleep on New Year’s Eve.) It wasn’t funny at the time, but now to me, it is, just a little bit. Sorry, Dad!

Dad’s death was a bit of an earthquake that wrenched a lot of my calcified belief free. Questions of existence and afterlife took on a new urgency. I was the adult now. No older generation acting as a buffer for life’s uncertainties. You’re the next to go. So if I was wrong in my belief, and there was no consciousness after death, I damn well wanted to know. I think this “wanting to know” is probably the beginning of the end of belief for a lot of people. If you’re content to go back to sleep, and hang on to faith — take the blue pill — then you can believe anything forever, be wrong for the whole of your life, and never know it. But if you really want to know… then you can start to investigate a little more stringently. Which I began do to, and I did not like what I found.

At Dad’s gravesite, I found myself speaking aloud this verse from Job:

14:14 If a man die, shall he live again?

My sister, also present, immediately told me, “Yes.” Which is her way. Always cuts straight to the faithful answer. Love her to pieces.

In the weeks and months to come, leading up to my deconversion, I began to realise that this question — do we live after death? — is really the critical question that all the others hang off of. If the answer is yes, then it’s logical to live one way. If the answer is no, it’s logical to live another. You can’t live halfway between.

So it took me a while to answer Job’s question: “If a man die, shall he live again?” And looking at the evidence, I had to admit that the answer was: Probably not. It’s time to admit that we’ve never seen any evidence of anyone coming back from being really truly dead. Oh, sure there’s no shortage of people telling us that heaven is real, and it’s usually people selling books about how heaven is real. But really, all we know is that this life is all we get. And if you’re reading this on a computer, then you’re one of the lucky few for whom life is the easiest, the longest, and the most luxurious it’s ever been for any group of people on earth. Yes, there are struggles and challenges. But there’s food and sex and art and music and people.

It’s all happening right now, and it’s too precious to waste in a church that promises that if you give them your money and obedience now, you can live in heaven when you die. Make your life better today.

Additional teaching ideas

Good things in the Bible

Withholding food and clothing from the poor is specifically mentioned as iniquity several times in Job.

31:16 If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail;
31:17 Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof;
31:18 (For from my youth he was brought up with me, as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother’s womb;)
31:19 If I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering;
31:20 If his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
31:21 If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate:
31:22 Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone.

Science in the Bible

Bible adherents like to quote Job for this tidbit of scientific wisdom:

26:7 He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.

See? The earth hangs on nothing! Proof that the Bible is accurate in its knowledge of the universe.

Except that just four verses later, heaven has pillars:

26:11 The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof.

So far, no efforts have been made on the part of Christian scientists to find the pillars of heaven, because everyone knows that’s metaphorical.

Also metaphorical in Job is the idea that the sky is some kind of strong glassy barrier.

37:18 Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?

And that men lactate.

21:23 One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet.
21:24 His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow
21:25 And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure.

Enjoy that mental image, and I’ll see you next week.

OT Lesson 6 (Noah)

“Noah… Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House”

Moses 8:19–30; Genesis 6–9; 11:1–9

Links to the reading in the SAB: Genesis 6, Genesis 7, Genesis 8, Genesis 9, Genesis 11
LDS manual: here


This lesson is about two of God’s worst atrocities: drowning almost all the people and animals in the world in a flood when they got out of his control, and scrambling humanity’s languages when they committed the sin of cooperating on a building project.

I’m a bit stuck as to how to present this lesson. Do I make it a straight takedown of biblical literalism? That’s easy and fun. And not only that, the literal approach is the one that’s taken by the LDS Church in its official instruction manuals, so it’s pertinent besides. On the other hand, do I take the view of Very Sophisticated Theologians and Apologists, and go for a figurative view? That has the benefit of being true, but has the unfortunate effect of negating the entire basis for the Gospel, as we saw in a previous lesson.

We’re at a weird point in LDS doctrine as of last week. That’s when the First Quorum of the Anonymous released its ‘Book of Mormon and DNA Studies‘ essay, which uses sources that acknowledge that people immigrated to the American continent 10,000 years ago, which is a few thousand years before Adam and Eve. So what’s the story here; thousands of years, or millions?

What’s happened is that, because of the Church’s failure to clarify its own doctrine, two parallel streams of doctrine have grown up in the last several decades: a literal one that’s taught in Sunday School, and a figurative/metaphorical one that’s accepted in apologetic circles and on the Internet. The parallel approach has worked out well for the Church; they don’t have to go out on a limb officially, and everyone gets to believe what they want. It works for them, as long as — like we learned in Ghostbusters — you never cross the streams. Because crossing the streams is Bad. But in the DNA essay, what we saw is the Church crossing the streams.

It was inevitable that they’d have to do this, as science has been putting pressure on the literal story for a couple of centuries. Something was going to crack. But it does reveal the Mormon Church’s doctrinal incoherence, and this causes headaches for a diligent Gospel Doctrine teacher.

Not for me, though. In this lesson, I’m taking an axe to the literal view because it’s not the dead horse it’s made out to be. We live in a world where a sizeable number of adult humans are willing to say that they believe the story of Noah’s Ark to be “literally true” — 61 percent, according to a 2004 Gallup poll of American adults. That’s right; three out of five.

Even just last week, we saw a debate between Bill Nye, a guy of science, and Ken Ham, looking lost with only the Bible for support — poor sap. Not only does Ham cherry-pick the evidence that leads to his worldview, he admitted that he would never change his mind about the Bible.

The fact is, many religious organisations are promoting the idea that Noah’s Ark was a true, literal, non-allegorical, and (importantly) global event that took place about 2350 BCE. And one of them is the LDS Church, which as of today continues to teach — in its official lesson manuals, on its website,  in its official magazine, and in General Conferences — that God once committed the most complete act of genocide ever recorded upon humankind.

We would now like to turn the time over to Brother Gervais for the story of Noah.

Main points from this lesson

A global flood is implausible.

Many others have done detailed takedowns of the Flood, so I’ll just link to them here, in the order that I like them:

And of course, the Brick Testament.

Here’s a quick run-through of my favourite points:

• The Ark, as described, is way too small

Show the class this graphic from the manual, which even as a TBM I couldn’t believe they printed.

Ask: Would you be able to fit millions of animal species in there? Including millions yet unclassified? In a ship half the size of an ocean liner? (Unless you think they speciated wildly after the flood, but wait, no, that would be evolution.)

Show the class this video by the always-wonderful NonStampCollector, detailing the gargantuan (but not very realistic) labours of Noah.

• Parasites!

You can’t just save all the nice animals; you also have to rescue the parasites. That means Noah and family would have had to be infected with every parasite that humans are prone to.

How many parasites are we talking about? Well, according to the Wikipedia page, about 73! Yep, they’d have been crawling with liver worms, tapeworms, flukes, bedbugs, pubic lice, and fleas. They would scarcely have a healthy eye, ear, urinary tract, or crotch among them! And this would be at the same time that they had to be at the peak of their reproductive fitness, in order to repopulate the earth.

• Other problems

A tiny crew of eight people would have had to do the work of many zoos, and do it all with zero animal deaths.

What about plants? Keeping them underwater for a year would have killed them. It’s a bit moot, though — there are trees just under 10,000 years old, and they show no signs of a flood.

After the flood, the animals would have had to make their way from (apparently) Turkey, the ark’s landing site, to wherever they would eventually live. Cold-weather animals wouldn’t have done well migrating from Turkey. And apparently they didn’t have to, since bones of every animal on earth don’t appear along the way.

Perhaps God teleported them to their new abodes magically. In fact, magic could explain a lot in this story. Whenever I discuss this with creationists, they always fall back on magic eventually. In which case, wouldn’t it be better to go with the magic from the start? Why try to make it sound sciencey, and then revert to magic? Just start with magic! It would save a lot of time!

A local flood doesn’t fit the requirements of the text.

Could we circumvent the plausibility problem by assuming the Flood was a local event, as LDS apologists try to? Unfortunately for them, no. That would mean that the Flood no longer fits the script.

Gen 7:19: All the mountains under heaven were covered with water.

Gen 7:21: All flesh died that moved upon the earth. (Watch as apologists attempt to redefine the word earth. Good one.)

Gen 9:13–16: After the flood, God sent a rainbow as a promise that he would not make another flood like that. But there have been plenty of localised floods since.

There’s a hand up. Yes, Brother Hickenlooper?

Brother Hickenlooper: I was always taught that the whole earth had to be under water because the Flood was the earth’s baptism. Did the church ever really teach that?

Indeed they did, Brother Hickenlooper. From the church essay on “Noah”.

What is the symbolism of Noah and the flood?
God uses symbols to teach gospel truths. In the New Testament, Peter explained that the flood was a “like figure” or symbol of baptism (1 Peter 3:20–21). Just as the earth was immersed in water, so we must be baptized by water and by the Spirit before we can enter the celestial kingdom.

The Flood is at the wrong time.

There were contemporary cultures who didn’t notice the global flood.

A Flood would be the action of an immoral being.

Okay, so the Flood is fictional. No need to get worked up over it. It’s supposed to be an allegory of God’s love, although not from the perspective of everyone who drowned, including children and babies (born and unborn). But all this tells us is that, even as portrayed by his followers, the god of the Bible is a murderous bully who kills men, women, and children in order to fix problems that he created.

Worse, after committing this atrocity, he makes no effort to prevent it from happening again.

Ask: What kind of parent would decide that the correct way to deal with his errant children is to drown them? This is what we should be thinking when we hear “Parenting the Lord’s Way”.

Ask: Why would anyone worship such a being?
Answer: Under duress, Stockholm syndrome.

The Tower of Babel is a myth.

Ah, now we’re in my area. At one point, I was a young linguist, and a true believing Mormon (or TBM). How did I reconcile the two? By not thinking about it very carefully!

No serious linguist would accept the story of the Tower of Babel. You’d have to believe that all humans were speaking the same language after the Flood (so around 2300 BCE).

In fact, the Bible contradicts itself — Genesis 10 says that there were multiple languages, but in the next chapter, there was only one.

In reality, there’s no evidence of any kind of language bottleneck, where everyone is speaking the same language around 2300 BCE. Human languages have been diversifying since people started speaking.

At one point, there may have been one human language, but this would have been maybe 60,000 years ago, when early humans first left Africa.

We know quite a bit about one language family in particular: Proto-Indo-European. This is the language that led to many languages spoken today, like English, Greek, Russian, and even Persian and Sanskrit.

Even though it’s hard to tell exactly when things happened so long ago, we do know that Proto-Indo-European had already split off from its sister languages somewhere between the 4th millennium and the 7th millennium BCE — about 2 to 5 thousand years before Babel. In other words, there was no language bottleneck at the time of Babel.

It’s pretty clear that Babel is a myth that’s intended to explain the diversity of languages in the world, but it’s not the only one.

  • In African tales, a famine causes the people to wander the earth jabbering nonsense.
  • In the Dreamtime legend of the Gunwinggu of Australia, a goddess gives each of her children a language to play with.
  • And for the most plausible explanation of language diversity, a Native American legend has it that disagreement between people caused them to move apart and speak differently.

By comparison, the Abrahamic God just looks petty and insecure, condemning people for working together. One of the best things for advancing our knowledge is collaboration.
Ask: Why might working together help to increase knowledge?

  • Groups of people working together can do more work than one person can do alone.
  • One person can be subject to bias, but getting more people to review the results helps to control for that; not everyone will have the same biases.
  • If one person uses deception, other people can try to replicate their results, and they’ll likely be caught. This is a powerful motivator to stay honest.

Working together in science sometimes takes the form of peer review. Peer review helps to correct for error, bias, and deception. This is why biased and mistaken people (like creationists and pseudo-scientists) despise peer review, claiming it represents a conspiracy against them.

Mormons have to take the Tower of Babel story at face value.

I mentioned that, as a young linguist, I didn’t think too much about the Babel story. I took it as largely allegorical, or as a primitive explanation.

That was to change on one of my readings through the Book of Mormon, which relates the story of the brother of Jared. He’s meant to have been at Babel in a very non-allegorical sense. Like many Mormons (and Christians), I habitually dismissed the parts of the Bible that seemed fantastical, but dismissing the Book of Mormon as non-literal is much more difficult. It’s not intended to be read as allegory, at least according to the standard line you get from church. (Then again, neither is the OT, so what did I know?)

So here I had two facts that couldn’t be reconciled:

  • The Book of Mormon told a story that was intended as factual.
  • The story was clearly wrong.

This was quite jarring, and I think it was the first real earthquake that led to my deconversion. After the fall of Babel, it became much easier to see how the Church got things wrong, including history, dinosaurs, geology, linguistics, and Mesoamerican archaeology. But more on those later.

Additional ideas for study

Man, I’m glad the creationist crazies haven’t launched into linguistics with the same fervour with which they’ve besieged biology. Otherwise, we’d have the theory of Wrathful Dispersion.

OT Lesson 4 (Adam and Eve)

“Because of My Transgression My Eyes Are Opened”

Moses 4; 5:1–15; 6:48–62

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


This lesson’s about Adam and Eve, a talking snake, and the Fall.

Suggestion from the real manual:

You may want to ask a class member to prepare to summarize the account of the Fall of Adam and Eve.

Okay, I’ll have a go.

  • Adam and Eve had no knowledge of good and evil.
  • God allowed them to choose anyway.
  • With no knowledge of good and evil, they chose the wrong thing.
  • God then punished them for it.
  • This punishment extended to everyone who will ever live.

Sounds fair.

I like to examine religious tenets by what function they bring to the religion. Think of it: every religion that exists today has made the right moves — done enough to keep enough people believing so far. And just as an individual perpetuates itself through its genes, a belief system perpetuates itself through its memes — the individual beliefs that make it believable. So let’s look at what the Fall meme brings to the religion.

1. It accounts for evil.

For polytheists, the existence of evil (for want of a better term) is easy to explain: There are competing, capricious, or downright evil gods. But for monotheists who believe in a good god, it’s a tough problem. Does your god create and/or allow the evil? Then he’s not good. How does Mormonism (and Christianity) explain this? There are three solutions, and they’re all right here in the garden.

1a. Blame humans.

The doctrine of the Fall takes the blame off of God — he introduced humans into a perfect world, which they then screwed up. So, as always, it’s the humans’ fault.

1b. Blame the serpent.

The serpent, for his part, would eventually find himself retooled as Satan, the adversary. Early Judaism didn’t have a Satan, at least not as we know him today. A satan was an opposer or an accuser — not even a specific person. Satan himself wouldn’t show up until after the Hebrews had run into the Zoroastrians, with their Manichean belief of good gods and bad gods. Even then, Satan was pretty chummy with God, dropping in whenever he felt like it, and making bets (see Job).

Only in the New Testament would the Devil find his fullest expression, infesting herds of swine, tormenting demoniacs, and so on. The more people looked for a devil, the more they found. Let’s just say he grew into his role.

But there’s a third party who’d be copping some blame…

1c. Blame Eve.

The Fall legend has Eve taking the forbidden fruit first, so she (and her daughters) would be getting a larger share of the punishment. Everything’s been put on Eve, from childbirth to lack of priesthood. This doctrine justifies the misogyny that Mormonism (and just about every other religion) has in spades.

2. It creates the idea of sin

Before you can sell the cure, you have to sell the disease. The disease Christianity wants to sell you is sin — or rather, the idea that you’ve already sinned. This induces a sense of obligation. The best part: you can’t opt out — Adam’s fall means you’re born into original sin. Soften that up however you like: a condition of sinfulness, a tendency for sin; it’s all the same thing. You’re on the back foot now, and you’ve only just been born. Poor kid.

3. It creates the need for a saviour

Gavin de Becker in his book The Gift of Fear has some warning signs to help recognise dangerous or abusive people. One of them is loan sharking. A loan shark exploits his victim’s sense of fairness by giving some unwanted and unasked-for assistance — and then expecting to be paid back.

Loan sharking operates in Christianity by
– telling you you’ve sinned and making you feel guilty, and what’s more,
– telling you that a perfect person suffered and died for your sins. You’re not going to throw that wonderful gift away, are you? Only a terrible person would do that.
This is loan sharking. It’s designed to get you in line. Your sense of obligation keeps you there. The way to respond to a loan shark is to say, “I didn’t ask for your help. I don’t want it. Go away.”

Mormons are intended to take the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall literally.

There’s a great range of belief among Latter-day Saints on the reality of the Fall of Adam. Some Mormons are theistic evolutionists — they think evolution’s true, but that Godiddit — and some argue that Adam and Eve weren’t real people, but just types. I’ve heard it claimed that humans evolved, but then Adam was just the one that God decided to talk to. In short, there’s a range of belief among Mormons.

What a surprise, then, to do the research for this lesson and find that this range doesn’t exist in approved Church materials. According to the Church, the whole thing is as unambiguously literal as can be.

The late President Paternoster (how I miss him) pointed out that according to LDS-approved materials,

Adam and Eve are literal people

Joseph Smith claimed to see Adam in Doctrine and Covenants 137:5

The Apostle Paul certainly thought Adam was a real person.

Adam and Eve are the ancestors of all humans

Some great sources on the MormonThink.com page — but beware: time vortex.

They lived 6,000 years ago

Hey, anyone remember this bookmark from Seminary? Click for a big PDF version, straight from the Church’s website.

Here’s another version that ran in the Ensign.

It’s well-organised, and very chronologically specific, wouldn’t you say? There’s Adam, starting off right around 4,000 BCE.

And in fact, D&C Section 77 says that the Earth’s temporal existence has a 7,000 year run.

6 Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.

There was no death before the Fall

Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2: 22–23:

2:22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

2:23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

And most surprising of all, the LDS website entry on Death

Latter-day revelation teaches that there was no death on this earth before the Fall of Adam. Indeed, death entered the world as a direct result of the Fall.

Assignment for those trapped in a real Gospel Doctrine class: Read the statement from the Church website, claiming that nothing died before about 6,000 years ago.

Latter-day Saints who accept evolution (and there are many) would be surprised to find that a major mechanism for evolution — population pressure — did not exist for millions of years before Adam and Eve did their thing. Evolution just would not work if Church teachings are true. The two are simply incompatible.

No doubt there are a lot of Latter-day Saints who understand that all of the above cannot possibly be true. It’s very strange, then, to browse the lesson manual and all the available Church materials and find that they take the story completely at face value. No mention of the possibly metaphorical nature of the story is ever touched on. I’ve never seen anything semi-official from the Church that takes the non-literal view of Adam and Eve.

And there’s a very good reason for this: If the Adam and Eve isn’t literally true, the gospel story falls apart. If Adam and Eve didn’t fall, then no one brought sin and death into the world. No sin and no death means no need for Jesus to bring about forgiveness and the Resurrection. Simple as that. So the doctrine of the Fall puts Mormon doctrine in kind of a weird bind: the gospel only works if the story is literally true, but the story cannot possibly be literally true. One could relax the literalism and go metaphorical, but what happens then? Would you accept metaphorical forgiveness? How does metaphorical resurrection sound? Mormons who take the metaphorical view are ignoring vast amounts of their own scripture.

The Church doesn’t sell any of this as a metaphor; it’s intended to be straight-down-the-line literal. LDS missionaries do not say “We have a great metaphor that we’d like to share with you today!”

No thinking person should believe this.

The Atonement is a weird idea.

God could have forgiven everyone — because he can do anything. Instead he chose to kill his son, so that he could stand to have a relationship with us again. Isn’t that kind of weird?

Video: Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and a former preacher, explains the atonement:

The Garden of Eden has a positive message

Let’s end with something positive.

The metaphor of leaving the Garden of Eden is a great one. We grow up in a state of innocence — well, some of us do, if we’re lucky. I had very loving and very sheltering parents. But at some point, we have to make a decision to step out and gain knowledge. Once you do, you can never go back. That’s how some of our life’s choices are. Going to uni or getting a job, getting married, deconverting from your religion of origin — all of life’s major crossroads entail a choice: are you going to partake and have your eyes opened? Or will you continue as you are? Leaving the Garden and entering the lone and dreary world is difficult; you get knocked around. Stuff happens out there.

But one thing I do value from my Mormon background is the idea that leaving the Garden — like taking the red pill in The Matrix — is a positive step. Leaving the religion of my youth was the most difficult and disruptive thing I’ve ever done, and by far the most worthwhile.