Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: race

BoM Lesson 24 (Alma and Amulek 2)

“Give Us Strength According to Our Faith . . . in Christ”

Alma 13–16

LDS manual: here


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 13:31 And 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 [1976], 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 13:3 And 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
  • there’s nothing to do for them

See, for instance, this bit from LDS apostle Mark E. Peterson:

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….

The Brethren used this idea to justify discrimination, in not giving the Priesthood to men of African descent in the 1950s.

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

Mass graves?

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.

NT Lesson 30 (Respecter of Persons)

“God Is No Respecter of Persons”

Acts 10–14; 15:1–35

LDS manual: here


To show that the god of the Bible is unjust, and encourage readers to do better than God does.


Even as a believer, I was noticing doctrinal shifts in the Mormon Church. The 1978 change on race and the priesthood was the biggest example — that was an earthquake — but I’m thinking of the little shifts and tremors.

Like the idea that Blacks were neutral in the War in Heaven. This idea was taught to me in church, and the idea even popped up in LDS fiction of the time. Well, there was no way of proving it wrong, but it was distasteful, and that was reason enough for it to get shifted.

I found the 1990 changes to the Temple Endowment — well, quite welcome, actually! The miming of throat-slitting and disemboweling was really creepy. But why would the ceremony need to change? I could think of nothing but: The penalties were too weird and off-putting. Well, wouldn’t God have known that to start with?

Even as a believer, doctrinal creep bugged me. I made a sour joke once: “What’s the difference between true and false Mormon doctrine? About 40 years!”

Of course, Mormonism is well-equipped to shift its doctrines. The idea of “continuing revelation” means that the president can change what Mormon doctrine is. It doesn’t work that way, though — church leaders generally avoid revealing or clarifying anything. Instead, changes are brought about by an anonymous committee working out of the Newsroom. In the modern church, “continuing revelation” usually means that the church is continually (but gradually) revealing unsavoury details about its past to its members.

And herein lies the problem: if old doctrines were weird, unpalatable, or — in the case of race and the Priesthood, just plain racist and unjust — and they need to be changed, then the church should say that the old ways were wrong, and that they’ll try to do better.

Instead, according to the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual, the issue of race and the Priesthood is taken as evidence of God’s justice. Because he stopped being racist.

If any class members remember the day the revelation was announced, invite them to describe how they felt when they learned of it.
Who made the priesthood available to all worthy male members of the Church? (The Lord.) How did the Lord make his will known to the Church? (He revealed it to the prophet, who then announced it to the Church members.) How did this revelation affect the Church?
Explain that this revelation is an example of how the Lord continues to direct
his Church through revelation. This lesson discusses a similar revelation that was given to the members of the Church shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Better question: Who was it that prevented the priesthood from being available to all worthy male members of the Church in the first place?

It’s hugely ironic that this example of discrimination is taken by Latter-day Saints as a sign of how great God is.

Brother Jake has explained how this is totally not racist.

Anyhow, the lesson starts with a racist doctrine, as a way of tying it into an even more racist doctrine: only allowing Jews to have the gospel. Which apparently Jehovah was okay with at first. It seems that God has had some consciousness-raising experiences over the years.

I’m noticing some shifting in the pews, which means I’ve been monologuing for too long. Let’s get to the lesson.

Main ideas for this lesson


At this point in our story, many Christians thought that only ex-Jews should be Christians.

Ask: Where would they have gotten that idea?
Answer: From Jesus, who never intended that his message should go to anyone but the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’.

Restricting your target audience is the worst idea for a business, and it must have been clear to someone (probably Peter) that tribal religions (like Judaism) were going nowhere, and that universalising religions were the way to go. So Peter got a vision.

Acts 10:9 On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
10:10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
10:11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
10:12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
10:13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
10:14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
10:15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

The early church members must have been pleased to find that circumcision was no longer necessary.

Acts 15:5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
15:7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, …
15:10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

And that’s how Christianity managed to distinguish itself from other Jewish sects. (But they’re still Jews.)

Ask: What kind of Jew are you?

If you really want to take the broad view, have a look at this Evolutionary Tree of Religion. Can you spot your religion, or former religion?

God is a respecter of persons

Peter, despite a lifetime of evidence to the contrary, says this:

Acts 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:

Ask: What does this phrase mean?
Answer: It is usually taken to mean that God treats everyone the same.

I don’t think anything can be clearer than the fact that God does not treat everyone the same. Paul, in his speech to the Athenians, said:

Acts 17:26 And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

That means that God has chosen where and when everyone will live, and that means that God has elevated some to lives of prosperity, peace, and plenty, and consigned others to lives of disease, poverty, and misery. How unequal!

From Sam Harris’ debate with William Lane Craig:

“Nine million children die every year before they reach the age of five. Picture an Asian tsunami of the sort we saw in 2004 that killed a quarter of a million people—one of those every 10 days, killing children only under five: that’s twenty-four thousand children a day, a thousand an hour, seventeen or so a minute. That means before I get to the end of this sentence, some few children very likely will have died in terror and agony.
“Think of the parents of these children. Think of the fact that most of these men and women believe in God and are praying at this moment for their children to be spared, and their prayers will not be answered. But according to Dr. Craig, this is all part of god’s plan.
Any god who would allow children by the millions to suffer and die in this way and their parents to grieve in this way, either can do nothing to help them or doesn’t care to. He is therefore either impotent or evil. And worse than that, on Dr. Craig’s view, most of these people, many of these people certainly, will be going to hell because they’re praying to the wrong god. Just think about that: through no fault of their own, they were born into the wrong culture, where they got the wrong theology, and they missed the revelation. There are 1.2 billion people in India at this moment; most of them are Hindus, most of them therefore polytheists. In Dr. Craig’s universe, no matter how good these people are, they are doomed. If you are praying to the monkey God Hanuman, you are doomed—you’ll be tortured in hell for eternity. Now is there the slightest evidence for this? No. It just says so in Mark 9 and Matthew 13 and Revelation 14.
So God created the cultural isolation of the Hindus; he engineered the circumstance of their deaths in ignorance of revelation, and then he created the penalty for this ignorance, which is an eternity of conscious torment in fire.

“And please notice the double standard that people like Dr. Craig use to exonerate god from all this evil. We’re told that God is loving and kind and just and intrinsically good. But when someone like myself points out the rather obvious and compelling evidence that God is cruel and unjust, because he visits suffering on innocent people of a scope and scale that would embarrass the most ambitious psychopath, we are told that god is mysterious. Who can understand god’s will? Yet this merely human understanding of God’s will is precisely what believers use to establish his goodness in the first place. If something good happens to a Christian—he feels some bliss while praying, or he sees some positive change his life—we’re told that God is good. But when children by the tens of thousands are torn from their parents’ arms and drowned, we are told god is mysterious.”

Fortunately, the crushing poverty under which many people live getting better. Here’s a chart showing that fewer and fewer of us are living in abject poverty.

Ask: If you’re doing okay financially, are you sharing with others who have much less? There are lots of good secular organisations that are working to eradicate poverty and disease. By donating to them, you can help to do what God has failed to do for millennia of human history.

My favourites are Oxfam, MSF, water.org, and the Smith Family. Put yours in comments.

Additional lesson ideas

How church policy and practices are made

From the Gospel Doctrine manual:

• How do the events described in Acts 15:6–31 demonstrate the pattern by which decisions about Church policy and practices are made?
a. Church leaders meet to consider the matter (verse 6).
b. They discuss the matter thoroughly (verses 7–21).
c. They make a decision in accordance with the Lord’s will (verses 19–21).
d. The Holy Ghost confirms that the decision is correct (verse 28).
e. The decision is announced to the Saints for sustaining (verses 22–31).

I see a different pattern at work.

a. The morality of the world improves, or an unpleasant tidbit from church history emerges.
b. The Church feels pressure to change.
c. Church leaders resist the pressure, because that’s not how the church works!
d. The issue starts to affect the bottom line, as members leave.
e. President Newsroom releases an uncredited, unannounced essay on lds.org in the middle of the night.
f. Apologists, PR flacks, and surrogates defend the church
g. Church leaders say nothing to clarify church doctrine, so that everyone can keep believing what they like.

All right, it’s a lovely day, and some of you are looking longingly out the window, so let’s dismiss. I’ll see you next week.

OT Lesson 10 (Eternal families)

Birthright Blessings; Marriage in the Covenant

Genesis 24–29

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main points from this lesson

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

From the real lesson manual:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essentially, religions are support groups for reality deniers.

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

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

Here’s the text from the post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there’s a much more sinister side.

Read this quote from the real Gospel Doctrine manual.

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

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

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

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

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

From the real lesson manual:

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

What, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The believing partner might follow the deconverted one out.

These are the happiest stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free advice to those who have deconverted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional ideas for teaching

The church still teaches against interracial marriage.

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

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

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

No camels.

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

Camels? Oh, well, clearly they meant tapirs.

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

The Bible gets genetics wrong

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

OT Lesson 5 (Cain)

“If Thou Doest Well, Thou Shalt Be Accepted”

Moses 5–7; (Genesis 4–6)

Links to the reading in the SAB: Genesis 4, Genesis 5, Genesis 6
LDS manual: here


Okay, so for this lesson, we’re kind of taking a deep breath before we move on to the Flood, which is going to be a really full-on lesson. But this one sets up Cain (evil murdering skeptic) against Enoch (righteous city builder who mysteriously disappears). It’s the kind of lesson where you look at the manual, and you think, how am I going to get an interesting lesson out of that? Which is too bad, because there’s actually some interesting stuff here if we do some digging. Ready?

Main points for this lesson

It’s bad to have a skeptical attitude about God

From the real lesson manual:

Adam and Eve hoped their son Cain would follow the Lord as they did. But Cain “hearkened not” to his parents and the Lord and asked, “Who is the Lord that I should know him?” (Moses 5:16). What does this question show about Cain’s attitude toward God?

It shows that he had a healthy sense of skepticism. If you must worship someone, you should ask what they’re like, and find out what you’re getting into. But apparently the God of the Bible demands uncritical worship. That makes more sense when we find out more about his murders later on in the Old Testament; this is not the kind of being you’d worship out of admiration, though perhaps out of fear.

Beliefs about Cain

Cain is supposed to have committed the first murder when he killed his brother Abel. It’s charmingly retold with Legos in The Brick Testament.

Cain is still alive

Cain, as a mythic evil dude, has naturally inspired a lot of folklore. In the Mormon imagination, he’s become something like Bigfoot. An early apostle, David Patten, claimed to have seen him.

“As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me. He walked along beside me for about two miles. His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair … I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight.”

Other more modern Cain stories are detailed here, some as late as 1998. Come on, folks, there must be some more recent ones.

Also: journal article on this topic.

Ask: What can we learn about the story of Cain?
Answer: We humans seem to like building myths about big hairy guys that don’t exist.

The whole Cain story reminds me of anomalous big cats (ABCs). Even in places where big cats aren’t native, people seem to have grown these stories of ABCs roaming around. There’s the Nottingham lion, the Fen Tiger, the Lincolnshire Lynx, and scores of others. People claim to have seen them — and yet there’s never a body, no scat, and no clear photographic evidence, even with camera phones in everyone’s pockets. It’s one of the things about human brains: we sometimes see patterns where none exist, especially if we’re expecting to see them.

This is just as true for religious experience as it is for big cats or Bigfoots. Think what happens in the LDS discussions: missionaries prime the subjects to have a subjective “spiritual experience”, and they read a long list of feelings that someone might have. The appearance of any of those feelings will then be taken as evidence that a magical spirit being is confirming whatever the missionaries are saying. It’s hokey, but as suggestible as our brains are, it’s not surprising that it works well enough and often enough to keep the LDS Church in new members.

Ask: Are stories about Cain kind of like the opposite of Three Nephite stories?
Answer: Yeah, kinda. Next question.

Ask: How did Cain survive the flood?
Answer: Oh, that? He managed to survive by clinging onto the Ark, like a big hairy barnacle.

But a lot more on the Flood next week.

What’s the deal with people living 800 years?

The Book of Moses (as well as Genesis) gives a list of improbable lifespans, including Adam (930 years), Seth (912 years), and Enos (905 years). What’s the deal?

Well, this one is fairly straightforward: it’s a longevity myth. People used to make kings’ ages up.

“My favourite king was so awesome, he ruled for 10,000 years!”
“Oh, yeah? Well my favourite king was twice as awesome, and he reigned for 20,000 years!”

Read selections from Wikipedia’s page on longevity myths. Here are some good ones:

The Sumerian king Alalngar was supposed to have ruled for 36,000 years
The Persian emperor Zahhak apparently ruled for 1000 years
The Taoist saint Peng Zu lived for 800 years
And there are more examples from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.

It’s not just people in antiquity who believe this stuff; it seems some New Agers today believe in the existence of Babaji, who is centuries old.

Longevity myths are another recurring theme in human belief and hero worship.

Activity for people trapped in real Gospel Doctrine classes: Tell the class about other longevity myths. Time how long it takes for them to commit the special pleading fallacy (“but that’s different!”).

The “seed of Cain” were black.

The Church’s statement on ‘Race and the Priesthood‘ is something of a landmark. Thankfully, it repudiates racism among its members.

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse…. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

It also lists a few things members have believed in the past. Here’s one:

According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel. Those who accepted this view believed that God’s “curse” on Cain was the mark of a dark skin.

Ask: Where might Latter-day Saints have gotten this idea?
Read: Moses 7:22

22 And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.

So the Book of Moses, one of the Standard Works, promulgates the idea that people of colour are descended from Cain. And because they “had not place among them”, it might have provided support for segregation.

The LDS Church has been busy trying to clean up its record and get some distance from its worst folk doctrines. But one of the most surprising things I’ve found out since taking on this blog is that the source of these ‘folk doctrines’ is actually the Standard Works themselves. It’s all in there.

In other words, if they’re throwing things under the bus, they’re going to need a bigger bus.

Additional ideas for study

Sons of God, daughters of men

Read: Genesis 6:1–4

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

In some religious traditions, the ‘sons of God‘ are supposed to be angels that went to earth and had sex with women, who subsequently gave birth to giants. If you doubt this is possible, how is it there are pygmies and dwarfs?

Yup — this is a real creationist cartoon showing a 15-foot-tall Adam. (Humans can’t get that big; if they did, they’d be very weak and slow. If you were twice as tall, you’d have eight times the mass, but only four times the strength.)

But in Mormon scripture? Joseph Smith wrote the ‘sons of God’ into the narrative as normal people. This is one of the great missed opportunities in scripture. He should have written giants. It wouldn’t have been the most implausible thing he came up with.

Read: Moses 8:21 for Smith’s normal boring explanation of this scripture.
Ask: How crap is that? Could have been freaking giants, man.

OT Lesson 2 (Pre-mortal life)

“Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born”

Abraham 3; Moses 4:1–4

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


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

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

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

Egyptologists now know it really looked like this:

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

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

More info at mormoninfographics.com

Main points for this lesson

The Pre-Mortal Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender identity

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

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

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

“And purpose.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The War in Heaven

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing on the Exmormon subreddit.

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

Race and pre-mortality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Teaching Ideas


Teaching idea from the real manual:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kolob and Kokaubeam

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

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

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

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

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

Rounding out the Egyptian theme:

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

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

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

Testify that religion poisons everything.