Study the scripture passages listed in the following questions and in the scripture chain.
Moses 4:2, D&C 19:16–19, and 76:40–42.
Premortal life: Job 38:4–7; D&C 138:55–56; Abraham 3:22–28
Mortal life: Alma 42:9, 14; D&C 29:40–43; Articles of Faith 1:3
Life after death: Alma 40:11–14; Alma 42:11–13, 15; D&C 76:111; D&C 88:14–16
It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.
This blog is starting to resemble an actual Gospel Doctrine class, in that we’re talking about the same issues over and over again. This time it’s the Plan of Salvation, or as you know it from your time in church, the three-circle chart.
We’ve talked about the Plan of Salvation before in an earlier lesson. What I want to do for this lesson is show why it makes no sense on any level.
Shman of Shmalvation
Let’s get a look at the chart for the Plan of Salvation.
Whoops, not that one.
There we go.
And now, to describe the Plan of Salvation, here is a super secret transcript of the War in Heaven, smuggled from the Granite Vault.
SETTING: The Premortal Realm
GOD: Gather ’round, everybody — and I mean everybody. Humans only.
ALL: What is it, God?
GOD: I have a plan.
FEMALE EXTRA: What sort of plan?
GOD: A plan whereby you can become like me.
GOD: You’ve all been living with me and a variety of Heavenly Mothers for aeons of eternal time. You have learned much. But now it’s time to be tested.
<SLIGHTLY WEAKER APPLAUSE>
GOD: You will need to be sent to Earth to be tested and tried.
FEMALE EXTRA 2: Why can’t we just be tested and tried here?
GOD: That would be too easy. Here, you know I exist, and we have a relationship. But on earth, your knowledge will be wiped, and then we’ll see if you’ll hearken to my words and obey me.
LUCIFER: If this test is the most important thing we’ll ever do in the eternities, why would it be a good idea to wipe our memory and then take the test? Wouldn’t it help us to do better on this test if we know what we know now?
GOD: I don’t want to know if you’ll obey me if you know stuff. I want to know if you’ll obey me, knowing nothing.
LUCIFER: That doesn’t make any sense.
GOD: Ahem. My ways are not your ways. The other thing you need is to have a body. Right now, you are spirits. But soon you will be encased in tabernacles of flesh.
ADAM: What’s a body?
GOD: Good question, Adam. Nice acting. A body is basically a version of you, but made of stuff.
LUCIFER: I don’t understand. Why would a body help us? Up here we can listen to you, ask questions, and make informed decisions — without having a body. So why are these bodies necessary?
GOD: How do you mean?
LUCIFER: Well, if our bodies get hurt and don’t work as well — or even if they’re just hungry or tired — then will it affect our ability to reason and make decisions?
GOD: (testily) Yes…
LUCIFER: And even if our bodies are working perfectly, they’ll still be only as good at reasoning as our spirits are now. It seems like these bodies only make the task harder.
GOD: Yes, but in return you get to be like me.
ADAM: How is this going to work?
GOD: You will all go to earth, in different places and at different times. A tiny fraction of you will get to hear about the Gospel in mortality, and the vast majority of you will be taught the Gospel after you die.
LUCIFER: …As spirits?
GOD: (steaming slightly) Yes, that’s right.
LUCIFER: Well, if almost all of us are going to learn about and accept the Gospel as spirits, then I still don’t see the point of having a body.
GOD: Forget about the bodies. I still haven’t told you about the other part, and that’s sin.
ADAM: What is sin?
GOD: Thanks, Adam. I can always count on you. There are things I don’t like you doing. That’s sin.
LUCIFER: Will we be able to stop ourselves from sinning?
GOD: No, not really. I’m either going to stain you with the taint of original sin, or I’ll make sure you’re born with an unpreventable tendency to want to sin — I haven’t decided which.
GOD: But don’t worry — I’ve got the perfect solution to the problem of sin.
LUCIFER: (sourly) Which you created.
ALL: To forgive us?
GOD: Don’t be ridiculous. I can’t just forgive you. How would simply forgiving you show that there are consequences for sin? I demand suffering.
GOD: No, I’m going to get someone killed. Then I’ll forgive everyone.
GOD: Except not everyone. You have to accept my moral superiority. And pay tithing. Then I’ll forgive you.
LUCIFER: And after that someone dies, there will be no more sin?
GOD: Of course there will still be sin! But I’ll feel better about having a relationship with you.
GOD: Now the purpose of this meeting is to pick a scapegoat. Someone’s got to suffer unimaginable torment for a few hours and then die, so let’s decide who gets it.
GOD: Oh, don’t worry! You won’t stay dead! A weekend, max. Then you get to sit at my right hand. Anyone?
JESUS: (puts hand up)
GOD: Right, thank you. Well, that’s about all for…
LUCIFER: I’ll do it, as long as you guarantee that everyone passes the test and gets to live with you.
GOD: Oh, and how will that work?
LUCIFER: You could just relax the constraints on sin.
GOD: (distant sound of thunder) What do you mean?
LUCIFER: Well, you’re arbitrarily designating some things as wrong, and then killing someone to fix it. So it seems like the whole problem is you. Why don’t you just circumvent the whole thing by trying to not mind sin so much? Surely you have the ability to do that.
GOD: Not with my unyielding sense of justice. I cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.
EUTHYPHRO: I thought you could do anything.
GOD: Not that.
SOCRATES: (makes notes)
LUCIFER: Well then, how about if you just make it so that we can’t sin. We go down to earth, get bodies — no sin, no problem!
VOICES: (murmuring) Yes. Good idea. That would work.
GOD: That’s a terrible idea because I have to allow free will. Now off with you, Lucifer, and all those who agreed with your opinion!
<SOUNDS OF ETERNAL BANISHMENT>
GOD: That was kind of lucky, because I needed him for the plan. Right. The first of you lot will go down soon, so get ready. Oh, and Mary — stay back. I’ve got a special job for you.
To show Joseph Smith’s tendency to plagiarism, and to encourage readers to take time for things that matter.
For this reading, Alma continues his discussion about the Plan of Happiness. That means it’s time for this chart again (taken from the Gospel Doctrine manual). Maybe you’ve seen it.
It’s lovely, isn’t it. As a kid, I always felt grateful that we had the Full Plan of What Life Was All About. And it was as simple as drawing circles on a board! (Which I did many times in teaching discussions to investigators.)
However, as basic as this plan is, it looks like the Book of Mormon contains no trace of it. How about that! Is this a case of God revealing things “line upon line”? Or had Joseph Smith not made it up yet?
Or perhaps Joseph Smith hadn’t yet run into the work Emanuel Swedeborg, a visionary and occult mystic from the 1700s? Swedeborg’s 1784 book Heaven and Hell and Its Wonders has a vision of heaven, and it comes in three flavours.
Swedenborg insisted: “There are three heavens,” described as “entirely distinct from each other.” He called the highest heaven “the Celestial Kingdom,” and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the “sun, moon and stars.”
A library near the Smith home carried the book, Sibly’s Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences. Historian Michael Quinn has already demonstrated that this book is the likely source for the Smith family’s magic parchments.
Joseph himself acknowledged his familiarity with Swedenborg. In 1839, Edward Hunter, a convert from Swedenborgianism, recorded a conversation with Joseph:
“I asked him if he was acquainted with the Sweadenburgers. His answer I verially believe. ‘Emanuel Sweadenburg had a view of the world to come but for daily food he perished.’” (William E. Hunter, Edward Hunter: Faithful Steward, pg. 316, original spelling).
In fact, Smith’s description of the “Celestial Kingdom” was not only a copy from earlier written works, but also very controversial to the Latter-Day Saints.
The diaries of Orson Pratt and John Murdock from the 1830’s record their efforts to reassure members who questioned the 1832 vision of heaven. The two men described countless excommunications of Mormons, including branch presidents, who denounced “the degrees of glory” as a “satanic revelation.” Even Brigham Young had a hard time with it at first and described it as “a trial to many.”
Why were faithful Mormons choking on this idea of three heavens?
Quinn explains that it’s because members correctly recognized it as coming from the occult. The only other sources of separate degrees in heaven came from occult writers of Smith’s time.
Shoot, they knew Smith had been dabbling in the weird occult stuff.
Plagiarised or no, it’s not like having more circles on your chart makes any more sense. What it all really means is this:
Main ideas for this lesson
No one knows
Alma does his best to explain the resurrection.
Alma 40:4 Behold, there is a time appointed that all shall come forth from the dead. Now when this time cometh no one knows; but God knoweth the time which is appointed.
40:5 Now, whether there shall be one time, or a second time, or a third time, that men shall come forth from the dead, it mattereth not; for God knoweth all these things; and it sufficeth me to know that this is the case — that there is a time appointed that all shall rise from the dead.
Gee, he doesn’t know very much. The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual excuses Alma’s ignorance thus:
• Alma mentioned several things that he did not know about death and resurrection (Alma 40:2–5, 8, 19–21). What can we learn from the fact that Alma testified of the doctrine of resurrection even though he did not know all the details about it? (Help class members see that it is not necessary to understand every detail of a doctrine or event before receiving a testimony of its truthfulness.)
Ask: If someone claims to be a prophet, and have a direct line to God, then is their ignorance really excusable?
In the absense of a reliable source, I’ll go with this, which has the advantage of being observably true.
Alma 40:11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection — Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
Wait — an angel told him? That’s what Korihor said.
Alma 40:12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
40:13 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil — for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house — and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
This all sounds like Christian heaven and hell to me. Of course, this would later clash with Joseph’s newfangled three-degrees idea — to say nothing of “outer darkness” — so it was necessary to retool this into “spirit paradise” and “spirit prison”. It’s all very clever how things work out in the long run.
Alma 40:14 Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.
Joseph Smith is plagiarising the author of Hebrews.
Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
10:27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
Ask: Freaking heck — did Joseph Smith plagiarise everything?
Alma says that this life is a probationary state.
Alma 42:2 Now behold, my son, I will explain this thing unto thee. For behold, after the Lord God sent our first parents forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground, from whence they were taken — yea, he drew out the man, and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden, cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the tree of life —
42:3 Now, we see that the man had become as God, knowing good and evil; and lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, the Lord God placed cherubim and the flaming sword, that he should not partake of the fruit —
42:4 And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.
In this lesson, I gave some reasons why this life being a “probationary” state was a silly and wrong-headed idea. Here’s the short version:
God sent us to earth, having wiped our memory, so already the deck is stacked against us. Then he punishes Adam and Eve for taking a piece of fruit when they didn’t know it was wrong to do so. Or they wanted knowledge of good and evil, which is supposed to be a good thing. God punishes them and all of us by having us born into a fallen system. So already this is a set-up.
Alma 42:5 For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated.
42:6 But behold, pit was appointed unto man to die — therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth — and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man.
42:7 And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.
42:12 And now, there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience;
Brought upon himself? God set this system up. If he hadn’t wanted it to be this way, he could have arranged it differently. Why didn’t he?
God would “cease to be God”
Alma 42:13 Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.
Would God cease to be God if he did something unfair or wrong? This raises an interesting theological conundrum.
I’m no theologian, but in discussions I’ve had with believers, God’s position seems pretty much set. After all, if he’s the Almighty One and some kind of moral expert, then what standard would we use to say he was doing something wrong? That’s if he’s the one making the rules.
But on the other hand, what if he weren’t? What if there were rules or principles that God had to obey? This is the view we’re taking if we say that God could “cease to be God”.
But if that’s the case — if God doesn’t make the rules, and he’s bound to principles that he has to obey — then why worship him? We could save a step and just worship the principles. Cut out the middleman. Clearly the principles are higher than he is, since he has to obey them.
Back to the first hand. If we’re wrong, and whatever God says goes, then we have another problem. He could declare by divine decree that murder was okay. Or that chocolate ice cream was wrong.
And finally, God gives us a choice: either we partake of the waters of life, or “evil shall be done unto” us.
Alma 42:27 Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.
42:28 If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God.
Remember, you’re not compelled — but if you don’t, torment forever. This is God’s idea of a free choice.
Alma 42:13 Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.
This is a funny sort of expression. It doesn’t seem to come up anywhere else in my experience. And whenever that happens, it makes me wonder if that was an idea that was floating around at the time Joseph Smith was working on the Book of Mormon. This is the same thing I found when I investigated the Mormon teaching that Jesus “bled from every pore”. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for more about that.)
So let’s investigate. We’ll do a quick Google Ngram search for “would cease to be God”. Here’s the chart.
Wow, look at that spike in 1820! This was clearly an idea that people were writing about in Joseph Smith’s time. No wonder it found its way into the Book of Mormon.
And if we zoom in on some of the books, we find a discourse about — what a coincidence! — the state of the soul after the dissolution of the body.
The full text:
And this one:
Again, the full text:
I have no idea if Smith or his friends would have had access to these books. But the idea that God could “cease to be God” if he did something wrong was clearly going around. The Book of Mormon is not a product of pre-Jesus Central America. It’s very much a product of 19th-century frontier-American theology. Whatever they were talking and writing about, that’s what got in.
Joseph Smith was a kind of cultural magpie. He borrowed whatever was at hand to construct an increasingly elaborate — and at times, contradictory — theology.
Wickedness never was happiness
Here’s a very popular verse.
Alma 41:10 Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.
41:11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are pin the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.
The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual says this:
• Alma explained that Corianton could not be restored from sin to happiness because “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Why can’t wickedness bring happiness? (See Alma 41:10–13; Helaman 13:38.) How would you respond to the argument that some people seem to find happiness in activities that are against the commandments?
Latter-day Saints are in a strange position. They claim that the Gospel makes them happy, while they more or less admit that actual church is kind of unenjoyable. And so they tolerate the unnecessary and self-inflicted strictures, while gazing enviously at those on the outside.
They have to invent some kind of narrative to explain this, and very often, it’s that other people aren’t “really happy”. Glenn Pace made that the title of a General Conference talk.
When our children were younger and we would be on our way to Sunday church meetings, occasionally we would pass a car pulling a boat. My children would become silent and press their noses against the windows and ask, “Dad, why can’t we go waterskiing today instead of to church?”
Sometimes I would take the easy but cowardly way out and answer, “It’s simple; we don’t have a boat.” However, on my more conscientious days, I would muster up all the logic and spirituality available to a patriarch of a family and try to explain how much happier our family was because of our Church activity.
I first realized I wasn’t getting through when on a subsequent Sunday we saw a family laughing and excited as they loaded their snow skis onto their car. One of my teenage sons said with a sly grin, “They’re not really happy, huh, Dad?” That statement has become a family joke whenever we see someone doing something we cannot do. When I see a teenager driving a beautiful, expensive sports car, I say to my sons, “Now there’s one miserable guy.”
It’s funny in that Mormon Dad way, but it’s also kind of tragic. How many hours did we spend in meetings, instead of having great times together? How many hours did we spend away from home in Stake Meetings, propping up a system that wasn’t true? How much money and effort did we expend on something that didn’t really matter? Were we really happy doing so? Or were we putting up with it so we could have happiness in the “next life”?
President Ezra Taft Benson said: “While [people] may take some temporary pleasure in sin, the end result is unhappiness. . . . Sin creates disharmony with God and is depressing to the spirit” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 91; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, 65–66).
This from a person who made a living from creating unnecessary guilt for people who were doing normal things.
Here’s a chart you can refer to when you need to understand the Mormon logic surrounding this area.
When they said that living a secular and responsible life was “wickedness”, when they denigrated it as simply “fun”… they were wrong. As they were wrong about everything else.
I think it’s important to call this what it is — sourness — and reject it.
Listen to this performance of Roderick Williams singing George Butterworth’s song ‘Bredon Hill’ (from A Shropshire Lad).
Ask: How do you think he felt when she ignored the church bells and stayed with him? Have you had the opportunity to have a lie-in with someone wonderful on a Sunday morning? How did it compare to sitting in church? Which gave you a better opportunity to feel like you were enjoying what life was really about?
Ask: How does he feel at the end of the song? Why is it important to spend time with those you love?
Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet from his Tony acceptance speech.
Ask: What are we promised in this life? Why is important to not waste one day?
We can live good, ethical, responsible lives as unbelievers. It’s the only life we know we’re getting. Let’s not waste a single day on unreason or smallness of spirit.
To show that God is unjust, and allows unnecessary suffering.
CONTENT WARNING: rape, murder
Is Alma still talking to Zeezrom? Poor guy must be getting bored by now. After all, you can’t spell Zeezrom without ‘Zz’.
Alma 13:1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
And on and on. Check out chapter 13 — it’s a bit of a snore. And there was more beyond that.
Alma 13:31And Alma spake many more words unto the people, which are not written in this book.
Main ideas for this lesson
Part of Alma’s discourse in chapter 13 centers around the Melchizedek Priesthood. (Amazingly, a doctrine from the Book of Mormon seems to have survived unedited in the modern church.)
Let’s browse some questions in the Gospel Doctrine Lesson Manual.
• When are men first “called and prepared” to be ordained to the priesthood? (See Alma 13:3.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 365).
• How did men demonstrate in premortal life that they were worthy to be foreordained to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood? (See Alma 13:3–5.) What must men do in this life to remain worthy of their foreordination? (See Alma 13:8–10.)
And here are the relevant scriptures in the Book of Mormon.
Alma 13:3And this is the manner after which they were ordained — being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
13:4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
In other words, whatever your station in life — whether worthy priesthood holder in affluent North America, or non-member in the benighted third world — you’re in the position you are because of what you did in the premortal life. You were foreordained to this condition.
There’s a narcissistic appeal to this idea. If you’re in the church, it means you’re special somehow. And it’s not just that you’re special because you were chosen; you earned this by your meritorious works before you were born.
We’ve talked a lot about the sunk-cost fallacy: it’s difficult to leave (or even question) the church because of the time, money, and effort you’ve invested. But adding in the premarital life kicks it up to Level One Million. Not only have you invested part of your life, you’ve (supposedly) invested an eternity in the life before this one! Talk about kicking up the commitment — and the cost of abandoning the investment. I remember learning about the premortal life, and thinking, “This life is so short, and if I can just get through it, I’ll be in heaven forever with Heavenly Father!”
Okay. So where’s the problem in thinking that our station in life depends on a premortal life?
It leads to the idea that people who are worse off somehow deserve their situation. And if that’s the case, then one could conclude that…
they deserve their situation
other forms of discrimination against them is justified
Is there reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not a reflection of our worthiness or lack of it in the pre-existent life?…can we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China, or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Latter-day Saints. There are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds….
Official Statement of First Presidency issued on August 17, 1951
“The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes….. “Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgression. If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain’s transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world.“
It’s hard to overstate how callous this belief is. I know lots of Latter-day Saints are good-hearted people who care about others, but this belief does not contribute to such a mindset. It provides a divine justification for why some people are worse off. If we can’t solve problems of poverty and injustice in the world — well, how can we, when such a condition is God-ordained? And the belief contributes to the narcissism that is general in religious circles: God helps me; finds my car keys, finds me parking spots, arranges things for me — and not only that, but he placed me here with benefits not afforded to others.
It puts a rather sinister pall on the Primary song:
I am a child of God
And he has sent me here…
I’ve come to a different view since my deconversion. I now think that every person on earth is a human much like myself, with a body, a brain, and a limited lifespan. We face unequal situations and unequal opportunities because of where and how we’re born. There are no gods, as far as I’m aware, that are going to work to fix this. So it’s up to us. The idea that we lucky few with enough to eat and the “right” ideology get to live this way because of some hypothetical premortal history is a terrible and unjust distraction.
The Problem of Evil (again)
But now here’s the interesting part: this long discourse doesn’t seem to have put the audience to sleep. Instead, it got them so riled up that they start burning people.
Alma 14:8 And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire, and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
14:9 And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
Amulek thinks what any normal human would, and suggests stopping the horror.
Alma 14:10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
Alma says no. It’s okay, because God is whisking them all to heaven, and he needs the bad people to do bad things so he can judge them.
Alma 14:11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.
It’s said that with great power comes great responsibility, so with infinite power comes infinite responsibility. If I’d had the power to stop the fiery deaths of all those people, I would have done so. So would anyone. Anyone, that is, except God, who allows them to suffer and die. And why? So that he can find out what he already knows — bad guys are bad.
The Book of Mormon says that it’s all okay because God is taking them all to heaven. Would that be a good enough reason for you or me to fail to prevent their deaths? Let’s return again to the Tale of the Twelve Officers, in which a woman is raped and murdered over the course of several hours, while officers look on.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” said the ninth officer. “Moments after Ms. K. flatlined, I had her resuscitated, and flown to a tropical resort where she is now experiencing extraordinary bliss, and her ordeal is just a distant memory. I’m sure you would agree that that’s more than adequate compensation for her suffering, so the fact that I just stood there watching instead of intervening has no bearing at all on my goodness.”
No one would accept this kind of justification from me, and yet many people are willing to give God a pass. They shouldn’t.
After this, Alma and Amulek knock the walls down, in a rehash of Paul’s escape in Acts 16. All the bad guys die, in a rehash of Samson in Judges 16.
Alma 14:26 And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them.
14:27 And it came to pass that so great was their fear that they fell to the earth, and did not obtain the outer door of the prison; and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof.
Fortunately, Zeezrom is healed and converted, so it was all worth it.
Alma 15:5 And it came to pass that they went immediately, obeying the message which he had sent unto them; and they went in unto the house unto Zeezrom; and they found him upon his bed, sick, being very low with a burning fever; and his mind also was eexceedingly sore because of his iniquities; and when he saw them he stretched forth his hand, and besought them that they would heal him.
15:6 And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?
15:7 And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.
15:8 And Alma said: If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.
15:9 And he said: Yea, I believe according to thy words.
15:10 And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.
15:11 And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom.
He still felt annoyed at everyone’s inability to pronounce his name, though.
Amulek felt his pain — his phone always tried to autocorrect his name to ‘Amulet’.
Additional lesson ideas
The Book of Mormon talks about Ammonihah, a Nephite city that was destroyed by the Lamanites.
Alma 16:1 And it came to pass in the eleventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, on the fifth day of the second month, there having been much peace in the land of Zarahemla, there having been no wars nor contentions for a certain number of years, even until the fifth day of the second month in the eleventh year, there was a cry of war heard throughout the land.
16:2 For behold, the armies of the Lamanites had come in upon the wilderness side, into the borders of the land, even into the city of Ammonihah, and began to slay the people and destroy the city.
16:3 And now it came to pass, before the Nephites could raise a sufficient army to drive them out of the land, they had destroyed the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, and also some around the borders of Noah, and taken others captive into the wilderness.
16:9 And thus ended the eleventh year of the judges, the Lamanites having been driven out of the land, and the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness.
16:10 But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness.
Of course, no site has been found that corresponds to the city of Ammonihah, though all due props to ‘Captain Kirk’ for actually trying to suggest one. The problem is going to be that there’s no place with all the bones and human remains that would have been the result of such a slaughter.
It’s possible to discover remains of people from that time. Check out this article from Science showing the remains of a battle between just a few hundred people, about a thousand years before this passage in the Book of Mormon. You really should click through to see the photo of just how close together the bones are.
In 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a single upper arm bone sticking out of the steep riverbank—the first clue that the Tollense Valley, about 120 kilometers north of Berlin, concealed a gruesome secret. A flint arrowhead was firmly embedded in one end of the bone, prompting archaeologists to dig a small test excavation that yielded more bones, a bashed-in skull, and a 73-centimeter club resembling a baseball bat. The artifacts all were radiocarbon-dated to about 1250 B.C.E., suggesting they stemmed from a single episode during Europe’s Bronze Age.
Yes, we can find piles of bones from ancient battles. We don’t find remains of Book of Mormon peoples because they didn’t exist.
Thank goodness we’re done with Isaiah. But no sooner do we get done with him then — oh, no — it’s Jeremiah. Jeremiah is just like Isaiah, except more depressing. This could be because, whereas Isaiah got to walk around naked a lot — some people find naturist culture very relaxing — Jeremiah spent a lot more time in dungeons. And little wonder: he scolds and harangues people, and then wonders why they can’t stand him. Jeremiah spent so much time haranguing people that he inspired a word for a long and tedious harangue against people: it’s a jeremiad.
And predictably, Jeremiah’s screed is full of blood and fire. There’s one thing we can say about the god of the Bible: he’s consistent. He tells people about the atrocious acts of murder he’s going to wage against them. For instance:
Jeremiah says that God is tired of holding back his fury, and wants to kill everyone.
6:11 Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together: for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days.
6:12 And their houses shall be turned unto others, with their fields and wives together: for I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD.
Their dead bodies will be eaten by birds and beasts.
7:33 And the carcases of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away.
God will punish them by killing their sons and daughters.
11:22 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, I will punish them: the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine:
And God will lift their skirts, non-consensually.
13:26Therefore will I discover thy skirts upon thy face, that thy shame may appear.
But why is God going to kill everyone? Because their fathers didn’t believe in him enough.
16:10 And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt shew this people all these words, and they shall say unto thee, Wherefore hath the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?
16:11 Then shalt thou say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the LORD, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law;
Walked after other gods? Could you put this into a sexual metaphor for me?
3:1 They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD.
3:2 Lift up thine eyes unto the high places, and see where thou hast not been lien with. In the ways hast thou sat for them, as the Arabian in the wilderness; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness.
3:3 Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore’s forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed.
Keep going, but now incorporate primitive sex toys.
3:9 And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks (trees).
I actually enjoy this imagery:
5:7 How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses.
5:8 They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife.
But remember: God is warning people about all the evil he’s going to do, so that maybe he won’t have to do all the evil to them. So that’s good.
36:3 It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.
But “Obey me, or I will have you killed” is not much of a choice, is it? Many times in church, I would hear speakers or teachers say something like the following: “God gives us commandments, and invites us to obey. If we obey, we get blessings, and if we don’t, then there will be consequences to our actions.” Which is all very well, but the picture that emerges from our reading of the Old Testament is that God gives commandments, and then threatens us with death if we don’t obey them (or if our fathers don’t).
At least at this stage in the OT, the threats only extend to death. Jesus will update that to include eternal punishment in hell.
Main points from this lesson
Is it good to be ‘an iron pillar’?
Jeremiah says God told him this:
1:18 For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.
In case the class hasn’t seen anything made of iron before, the real lesson manual helpfully suggests:
Display a metal bar and invite a class member to try to break it. Then ask the following questions:
• If this object represented a person’s characteristics, what would it suggest about him or her?
I imagine they’re shooting for ‘strong’, which is very positive. But take a guess: is it positive in the following scripture?
Isaiah 48:4 …thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
Answer: Not here. Here, it’s symbolic of an inflexible nature. For Jehovah, it’s bad to be inflexible by not believing in him, but good to be inflexible in his service — just like with murder, genocide, and a lot of other nasty things.
One of the things I’ve been learning (post-religion) is the importance of being able to change my mind when the facts require. It’s one of science’s great strengths that it can update to accommodate new facts. And it’s good to be able to change one’s mind on an individual level, as everything we think is probably at least a little bit wrong.
I have previously told the story of a respected elder statesman of the Zoology Department at Oxford when I was an undergraduate. For years he had passionately believed, and taught, that the Golgi Apparatus (a microscopic feature of the interior of cells) was not real: an artifact, an illusion. Every Monday afternoon it was the custom for the whole department to listen to a research talk by a visiting lecturer. One Monday, the visitor was an American cell biologist who presented completely convincing evidence that the Golgi Apparatus was real. At the end of the lecture, the old man strode to the front of the hall, shook the American by the hand and said–with passion–“My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.” We clapped our hands red. No fundamentalist would ever say that. In practice, not all scientists would. But all scientists pay lip service to it as an ideal–unlike, say, politicians who would probably condemn it as flip-flopping. The memory of the incident I have described still brings a lump to my throat.
I respect Dawkins most when he admits his lack of knowledge in some area, as in this clip (question starts at 38:04, Dawkins’ comment at 47:50)
Chairman: I just want to hear from Richard Dawkins. The same debate essentially has been going on in the U.K. and in fact right across Europe. Your thoughts on hearing it repeated here?
Richard: I’ve been rather moved to hear the very humane statements that have been made. I don’t feel I should contribute to this debate. I know nothing about the Australian situation, but I was moved especially by what the Rabbi was saying.
And I respect him least when he’s dismissive of others, as in his recent Twitter squabbles.
As for me, I love being wrong. Well, not really — does anyone? But once I was talking to a listener of my podcast (Talk the Talk), and she said, “Have you ever gotten something wrong?” I thought for a second, and had to say, “No, I haven’t.” But then I realised, with some horror: I have gotten it wrong, and I just don’t know it!
Then on a later episode, someone pointed out that I’d made a mistake. And I thought, thank goodness! What a relief! For one thing, I didn’t have to think that wrong thing anymore, so I knew more than before. And for another, someone’s noticing my mistakes, so I’ve probably gotten most of the other things right, otherwise someone would have said something.
This willingness to change my mind is part of why I do this blog, and why I engage with believers. If I’m wrong about this religion thing, someone will tell me, and if they have the facts, I can be convinced. Based on the last million interactions, it’s not looking good, and I’m not holding my breath. It would take an awful lot to convince me that all the immoral things we’ve read are moral. If someone were able to convince me, it might have more to do with my moral failure than with their having a good argument. After all, what could make this god’s actions moral? But I have to, at least in theory, keep the door open, keep talking, and keep engaging. Not be iron.
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee”
Mormons use this scripture to support the notion of a pre-mortal life.
1:5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
I’ve mentioned before that the pre-mortal life was one of my favourite Mormon doctrines, mostly because of an epiphany I used to have when seeing tons of people at once in a public place. Oh, look, I’d think, all my brothers and sisters from the realms of glory, etc. It was a lovely thought, and after deconversion, one that I hated to lose. I didn’t think I’d ever have access to that again.
Of course, there are some aspects of the pre-mortal life that aren’t so lovely. It means that God made a whole lot of people, knowing in advance that they wouldn’t make it to the Celestial Kingdom, and that they’d therefore face eternal separation from their families / God / Ed McMahon and so forth. Why would his perfect system involve exclusion and isolation for so many? Not too cool, God. Why didn’t he use his all-knowingness to know who would make it back to his presence, and only create those people? Why wouldn’t he make a bar that everyone could clear? And the answer is that the system doesn’t have a way of controlling you if you don’t have something to lose.
A bit of an update: One bright, sunny day at the university where I teach, I was walking to my office, and noticing all the terrific students around the place. So many smart people! All a little different from each other; all carrying different DNA. And I started thinking about evolution, and how the genes of everyone that I was seeing had combined in partly random ways from parents to make gazillions of different people, walking around here on earth. I realised that was we call ‘humankind’ was nothing less than the sum total of all the humans who were alive today, and here we were, and it was all happening now! And we were all related! Wow!
It was the pre-mortal epiphany again. I was very pleased to find that, despite my lack of belief, I hadn’t lost access to it. But this time it was based in something real, and no less inspiring.
Additional lesson ideas
Of leopards and spots
You’ve probably heard people say “A leopard can’t change its spots” as a way of referring to the immutability of personality or motivation. Well, that saying comes from Jeremiah, except with a slight twist:
13:23Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
It’s probably good that we don’t say the first part anymore. Totally not cool, Bible.
Don’t have Christmas trees
Jeremiah appears to condemn Christmas trees.
10:1 Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
10:2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
10:3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
10:4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
Of course, Jeremiah — having no actual prophetic powers — wasn’t referring specifically to Christmas trees. People don’t nail Christmas trees to the floor, anyway, but that’s easy to overlook when you read this passage and think “Christmas tree”. But it’s fun to float this scripture in a real Gospel Doctrine class, and watch the gymnastics that follow.
What’s with deck, anyhow? When we talk about decorating things, there’s nothing we would say that we deck. The usefulness of this word would appear to have shrunk to halls and trees.
Here’s the story. The word comes from Middle Dutch dekken, “to cover”, so you deck a tree when you cover it. For that matter, the deck of a boat is the part that covers the boat, so that’s related, too. And when you deck someone, you lay them out on the deck. (Those sailors; always fighting.) It’s fun to see how the meaning of words coincide.
Here’s one of the more desolate passages from Jeremiah.
8:15 We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!
8:16 The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan: the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones; for they are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein.
8:20 The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
8:22 Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
That sounded pretty good, but it would sound better if it were set to music by… oh, say… Ralph Vaughan Williams. And look! it is. Here’s his Dona Nobis Pacem.
The whole thing is good, mostly thanks to the poetry of Walt Whitman, but for this lyric, start at 28:11.
Links to the reading in the SAB: Abraham 3, Moses 4
LDS manual: here
The Book of Abraham is arguably the most transparent confabulation in LDS scripture. In 1835, Joseph Smith bought some Egyptian papyri from a traveling mummy exhibition, and claimed to translate them into what is now the Book of Abraham. Even at the time, Egyptologists recognised that the papyri were ordinary funerary documents, having nothing to do with Abraham. Mormon apologists have invented many explanations in which the papyri could be the BoA: maybe the real Egyptologists missed something. Maybe Joseph Smith gave a special magical translation of what the papyri were supposed to say. Maybe what Abraham wrote was on a different part of the papyri that we don’t have. Maybe maybe maybe.
Even for the parts we have, it’s not hard to show that Joseph Smith got it wrong. Here’s what Smith’s copy of Facsimile 1 looked like.
But some bits are missing. What was originally in those gaps? Joseph Smith thought it should go like this:
Egyptologists now know it really looked like this:
That’s the jackal god Anubis, and not a priest.
What’s more embarrassing, Smith gives oodles of explanation of what all the facsimile items mean, and they’re all painfully wrong. From hindsight, we can see that Joseph Smith was B.S.ing as hard as he could. Yet believing Mormons still buy it.
The pre-mortal life (confession time) is actually one of my favourite bits of Mormon doctrine. I really used to enjoy thinking that we all came from realms of glory. I’d be in a big city and see lots of people, and think, “Gee, how amazing it is that we’re all related.” Fortunately, this is a feeling that I still have access to, thanks to biology. I can still enjoy the idea that we’re part of a big human family, without having to imagine that we were once all together in middle-class potpourri pre-mortality. (Our family also includes other animals, and biology can tell us how related we are. Amazing!)
I also don’t have to think, “Gee, all these people used to believe in Heavenly Father, but they’ve forgotten. Now I have to help get them back on track!” That’s a bit self-flattering.
Also self-flattering is foreordination, the idea that you were set up in the life before this one to accomplish great churchy things. Congratulations, you’ve kept your ‘first estate’ — made it through the first round — and now all you have to do is stay active in the church until you die to get the goodies! It makes you feel like you’ve already accomplished something, and it raises the stakes: you don’t want to throw away all that progress, do you?
The appeal of the pre-mortal life is that no matter what you do, you’re still a perfect person underneath all the bad that’s happened. That can be a powerful motivator. But you can imagine a better version of yourself — and work towards it — without buying into self-congratulatory fiction.
Ask: What age were we in the pre-mortal life? (Answer: In our ‘prime of life’. But what does that mean? Explain that it’s not important to your salvation.)
Video: Watch this more-complete explanation of our Heavenly Father’s plan with the class. Boogie down to the funky beats.
Gender is kind of a complicated area. Our gender identity arises from our bodies, social norms and expectations, and our own sense of self. For some people, gender identity aligns with their biological sex, but other people identify as male, female, both, or neither.
Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
Wow — talk about a sweeping and unsupported claim. If you’re a dude, you’ve been a dude since pre-eternity, and you’ll be one forever. This view is sometimes called gender essentialism.
There are a lot of problems here. What about intersex people? What about people with androgen insensitivity? You might have heard of this, but if not: Some of us have a Y chromosome, and some of us don’t, but we’re all girls in the womb. After about 60 days, if you’re an XY, you get a shot of testosterone and it’s genetic boyhood for you. But a few of us have bodies that aren’t sensitive to testosterone. That means that they stay girls in the womb, they’re born as girls, and they grow up as girls, but they’re walking around with a Y chromosome.
With a belief in premortal gender essentialism, we have to ask silly and unnecessary questions like:
Was Christy a man in premortality?
Will she be a man in the hereafter?
Is it a fair test for her to have a life experience so different from her supposed pre-mortal gender?
Having this belief could make it difficult to accept her gender identity, and that of trans* and intersex people. And there’s enough suspicion and prejudice against them without reasons for adding more.
Gender essentialism has other nasty effects, like limiting women’s choices by keeping them out of the professional world and in the home, and of course denying them access to ecclesiastical authority and having a real voice in their own church.
Gender is far more complicated than the facile pronouncements of elderly men would allow, and reducing the whole thing to two genders — determined since eternity — is unhelpful and unsupported by evidence.
The War in Heaven
According to the myth, Satan wanted to force people to be good and take the glory for himself, while Jesus was more of a pro-choice kind of guy. He wanted the glory to go to the Father, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.
God: Listen up everyone; I have an announcement to make.
Everyone: What is it, God?
God: I have a plan to turn all of you into a god, just like me. I call it The Plan of Salvation. Crowd erupts in applause
God: Ahem. Ok, so here’s how the plan is going down, yo. Before you can be God’s you’ll need bodies. So, we’re going to create a planet for you to live on, where you’ll be born, raised and die. You’ll also have to choose the right.
Nephi: That’ll be easy. I always choose the right.
God: It won’t be easy. Satan will be there to tempt you.
Adam: Who’s Satan?
God: It’s Lucifer.
Lucifer: Me? What did I do?
God: It’s not what you did but what you will do. You’re going to rebel against my plan.
Lucifer: I am?
God: Yep. It’s ok, though because my plan requires you to rebel against my plan so that you can tempt the others and help them grow.
Lucifer: What the fuck? Do I get some kind of compensation?
God: No. In fact, the exact opposite, you get eternal damnation in Outer Darkness
Lucifer: Jesus Christ!
Jesus: Sup homes.
God: Anyway, my plan will require a sacrifice because everyone is going to sin and, for some odd reason, you’re not allowed to pay for your own sins. However, I want a sacrifice who won’t take any credit for his actions.
Jesus: I’ll do it. I’ll tell the humans to give you all the glory. I’m sure they won’t worship me at all, singing praises to my name, dedicating their lives to me and even calling themselves Christians and what not, essentially negating one of the big reasons why you opposed Lucifer’s plan.
Ask: What was the War in Heaven like, with no physical bodies to fight with? Answer: We had to fight with opinions, kind of like the Internet. The War in Heaven basically resembled one big web forum, with the GodMod finally bringing down the ban-hammer on 1/3 of everyone. They became sort of like 4chan or the Dark Web.
Race and pre-mortality
Ask: Were people of African descent less valiant in the pre-mortal life? Answer: Absolutely not. According to the Church’s recent statement “Race and the Priesthood“:
Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.
It gained currency, did it? How did it do that? I can’t imagine where people got this idea, except that it was taught by LDS leaders.
Reading: Have a class member read this excerpt of a letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to Joseph Henderson.
“According to the doctrine of the church, the negro because of some condition of unfaithfulness in the spirit — or pre-existence, was not valiant and hence was not denied the mortal probation, but was denied the blessing of the priesthood.”
Be sure to point out that at this time, Smith was not the president of the Church, so really, how could he have known anything about its doctrine? He’d only been President of the Quorum of the Twelve for 12 years; you might as well ask the cat. An important part of the Church is continuing revelation, which means that statements from church leaders — but only important ones — must be taken extremely seriously, until the moment they’re retroactively disclaimed because they’re distasteful or embarrassing.
And in fact, Smith was going against Brigham Young, who earlier said, “No, they were not [neutral], there were no neutral [spirits] in Heaven at the time of the rebellion, all took sides …. All spirits are pure that came from the presence of God.”
Reflect on what a weird and unreliable method of getting knowledge this is. As we saw in the last lesson, this would be easy for a prophet to clear up, but instead we get centuries of contradictory statements.
Additional Teaching Ideas
Teaching idea from the real manual:
Draw 14 blank spaces on the chalkboard to represent the 14 letters in the word foreordination. Explain that the word represented by these spaces relates to the premortal life.
Give class members 14 chances to guess which letters form the word.
It’s Hangman! Are they not allowed to say hangman? Anyway, here’s how this goes in class:
Everyone: It’s foreordination!
Gospel Doctrine Teacher: But you didn’t guess any letters! How did you know?
Everyone: We remember it from four years ago! And four years before that!
So many children are abused, offended, and abandoned. If little children are precious to God, what justification can there be for permitting some to be born into such circumstances?
…Indeed, my experience in various church callings and in my profession as a family therapist has convinced me that God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families. Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation, through the grace of God some find the strength to “metabolize” the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations. Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children’s children will call them blessed.
In a former era, the Lord sent a flood to destroy unworthy lineages. In this generation, it is my faith that he has sent numerous choice individuals to help purify them.
Allow members of the class to give their own explanations for the failure of a loving god to prevent abuse, each one more morally callous than the last. Be astonished at the ease with which they can do this.
Kolob and Kokaubeam
There’s some proto-sci-fi in here, where God (or Jesus) mentions the names of stars (or perhaps planets) such as Kolob, Shinehah, Kokob, Olea, Kokaubeam. This chart by u/narcberry (Reddit thread) explains everything.
Activity: Try to say the names of these stars (or perhaps planets) with a straight face.
It also kind of pisses me off. That’s the problem with religious scams: the con artist makes enough off of it to last for their lifetime, but they waste other people’s time for generations. Think of all the human time and effort that’s been dedicated to baloney. Entire lifetimes.
It’s why I say that bad answers are worse than no answers at all. At least when you have no answers, you might look for — and find — a good one. When you have bad answers, you don’t.
Rounding out the Egyptian theme:
Activity: Listen to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ wonderful “Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus”. This tune was borrowed for the LDS hymn, “If You Could Hie to Kolob”.
While listening, try not to think of Kolob and those dorky invented names. Fail.
Ponder how terrible it is that this great music will be forever linked in your mind to some maniac’s bad fiction.