Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: temple

BoM Lesson 33 (Remember)

“A Sure Foundation”

Helaman 1–5

LDS manual: here


To help readers build on a solid foundation of science


Having escaped the book of Alma, we’re spiralling into the book of Helaman. More wars. More armies. So many armies that fought and died without leaving any physical traces.

Helaman 1:14 And it came to pass in the forty and first year of the reign of the judges, that the Lamanites had gathered together an innumerable army of men, and armed them with swords, and with cimeters and with bows, and with arrows, and with head-plates, and with breastplates, and with all manner of shields of every kind.

This wasn’t just an army of hundreds of thousands of men. This army was “innumerable”. Apparently an infinite number of people were armed with swords and shields and armour, and no one can find any traces of them.

Meanwhile — oh, look — another Viking sword just last week.

A group of Icelandic goose hunters got more than they bargained for during a recent outing – they didn’t catch a single bird, but stumbled upon a Viking sword thought to be more than 1,000 years old.

The five men were in Skaftarhreppur in southern Iceland when they found the sword, which they think may have washed up during a recent flood, the Visir news website reports….

The agency’s director, Kristin Huld Sigurdardottir, says only 20 swords of this age have been discovered in Iceland before, making it a significant find. It didn’t take much effort on the hunters’ part, though. “It was just lying there, waiting to be picked up – it was obvious and just lying there on the ground,” one of them, Runar Stanley Sighvatsson, tells Iceland Monitor.

Again, fictional people don’t leave archaeological traces.


There’s another warning against pride.

Helaman 3:33 And in the fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church — not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God —
3:34 And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction.

Ask: Think of a time when you felt proud. When you felt this way, did you want to persecute anyone?

Probably not, if you felt proud of yourself or of something you did. Nationalism or insecurity have that effect, but not pride.

Pride is forbidden, not because it makes you persecute people, but because in a system where you must always be subordinate, it’s not okay to feel good about yourself or anything you do.

I think the Book of Mormon was written by someone who didn’t understand how feelings work.

Main ideas for this lesson

What is a sure foundation?

Latter-day Saints promote the idea that their ideology is built on a firm foundation. They even sing a rousing hymn called “How Firm a Foundation”. Every kid in Nursery knows that song about the wise man who built his house upon a rock. And there are scriptures like this one:

Helaman 5:12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

And the LDS Gospel Doctrine Manual says this:

After the hymn or song, explain that today’s lesson shows the difference between people who build on weak foundations, such as people who place their trust in wealth or physical strength, and people who build their foundations on “the rock of [their] Redeemer, . . . which is a sure foundation” (Helaman 5:12).

I’m led to think, however, that this emphasis on having a strong foundation is simply wishful thinking, or trying to make it so by repeating it over and over.

If the LDS Church is true, then

  • it was brought about by a known con-man who had a thing for underage girls
  • its foundational document is plagued with anachronisms, and has no evidence to support it
  • it has prophets, seers, and revelators who avoid revealing anything, except when it comes to anti-LGBT policy
  • it worships a god who could demonstrate his existence unambiguiously but doesn’t, and also worships his son, whose evidentiary basis is flimsy
  • it requires a small army of apologists and thinkers to make up explanations for why we don’t see what we expect to see
  • it encourages its members not to engage with people or materials that could disprove its claims
  • it teaches its members that the strongest evidence for its truthfulness is emotional reasoning, one of the worst kinds of evidence
  • it exists side-by-side with similar churches, but is much less successful at building and maintaining its population, even though it uses similar methods

Ask: Does this seem like a firm foundation?

Ask: What would be a better foundation to build on?

My answer is science. We have the combined knowledge of millennia, and the methods and techniques to get more. Occasionally we find that the things we’ve learned are wrong or incomplete, but we can discard those things without harming the whole structure, because we understand that they have a human origin. At any given point in time, we have the best repository of knowledge that humanity is capable of, and we’re always updating it.

Read this poem by the Digital Cuttlefish.

Two Books
There was a man who had a book
Of Things Which He Believed;
He followed it religiously—
He would not be deceived.

The story in its pages was
The Truth that he adored—
The world outside its ancient script,
He faithfully ignored.

When someone found a falsehood
Or a small mistake inside it
(Or even some tremendous flaw)
He eagerly denied it.

The Truth was there inside his book
And never found outside
If something contradicted it
Why then, that something lied

And when he met another man
Who had another book,
He fell not to temptation—why,
He didn’t even look.

And, surely, there are other men
With other books in hand
Who walk, with views obstructed,
Here and there across the land


There was a man who had a book
(I find this quite exciting)
Who looked upon a tangled bank
And then… he started writing.

He wrote about the things he saw
And what he saw them do
And when he found mistakes he’d made
He wrote about them, too

He shared his book with other men
And women that he met—
They found the catch is bigger, when
You cast a wider net.

They shared their observations
So that everyone could read;
They worked as a community,
The better to succeed.

They found they saw much further,
And discovered so much more
When they stood upon the shoulders
Of the ones who’d gone before

It’s a book that keeps evolving,
Always growing, as we learn.
Many people help to write it:
Would you like to take a turn?

Obsession with secret societies

The Book of Mormon reflects the conditions of its time. At the time, secret societies were all the rage. The Masons, the Druids, and even a group called the Society of Flagellants! And of course, the Illuminati.


By the 1830s, frontier America was reacting with alarm to these secret societies. The Anti-Masonic Party formed in 1828, with a view to stopping these supposedly subversive elements, and combatting the danger they represented.

And predictably, the Book of Mormon laments the secret societies — here, secret combinations — that bring down the Nephites.

Helaman 1:11 And he went unto those that sent him, and they all entered into a covenant, yea, swearing by their everlasting Maker, that they would tell no man that Kishkumen had murdered Pahoran.

Helaman 2:2 And it came to pass that Helaman, who was the son of Helaman, was appointed to fill the judgment-seat, by the voice of the people.
2:3 But behold, Kishkumen, who had murdered Pahoran, did lay wait to destroy Helaman also; and he was upheld by his band, who had entered into a covenant that no one should know his wickedness.
2:4 For there was one Gadianton, who was exceedingly expert in many words, and also in his craft, to carry on the secret work of murder and of robbery; therefore he became the leader of the band of Kishkumen.

Did anyone notice the “flaxen cord”, back in 2 Nephi?

2 Nephi 26:22 And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.

Flaxen cord? That’s a reference to a Masonic symbol known as the “cable tow“.

The Cable Tow is a symbol of the First Degree and represents the candidates bond to his guide. In some esoteric circles it represents the umbilical cord.

The Masonic Library elaborates.

The word tow has another significance, in addition to pulling or dragging, it also means the fiber of flax, or hemp, or jute. A cable might be made of plaited wire, or of metal links, or of manmade fibers, but the combination “cable-tow” which seems to be of purely Masonic usage, implies almost certainly the natural fiber from which the rope is to be made.

In other words, the Book of Mormon perpetuates the anti-Masonic feeling that was current at the time, by comparing one of Freemasonry’s symbols with satanic enslavement.

Remember, Masonry doesn’t go back to Solomon. It’s a recent thing. It goes back no farther than the 1500s. So this really is a tip-off to the Book of Mormon’s recent origins.

What’s really weird (and hypocritical) is how much like a secret society Mormonism became. It had obscure rituals (cribbed from Freemasonry, btw), a tradition of quietly embedding itself in politics, and secret oaths and codewords. They keep their finances pretty secret, too. Check out this post from Redditor curious_mormon for the full story.


This Book of Mormon reading places a great deal of emphasis on remembering.

Helaman 5:4 And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days, and his brother Lehi also, all the remainder of his days;
5:5 For they remembered the words which their father Helaman spake unto them. And these are the words which he spake:
5:6 Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.

So does the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual.

In the Book of Mormon there are over 240 instances of the word remember or forms of the word (such as remembered, remembrance, or forget not). Fifteen of these instances are in Helaman 5. What must we remember? (See Helaman 5:9; see also Mosiah 3:17.) Why is it important to remember?

Mormons have the idea that if people leave the church, it’s because they’ve somehow forgotten about how wonderful it is. They’ve simply forgotten about testimony-building experiences.

Take it from Dieter Uchtdorf.


What he’s actually describing is not forgetting. It’s a normal reaction when you stop believing that something’s true, which you’d carefully conned yourself into believing for years. When you can finally see things without the Mormon filter, you sort of shake your head in amazement at all the crazy things you’d believed.

One day recently, a pair of Mormon missionaries came over for dinner. I like to have them over because they’re usually quite nice. Also — let’s face it — I also feel kind of bad for them, because I remember what it was like. And finally, I want them to see that you can leave the church and live a good, ethical life as an unbeliever, and apostasy doesn’t have to spiral into drug abuse and cannibalism. (Those are optional.)

So on this particular night, in our after-dinner discussion, the younger of the two thought he’d explain why I left. I wrote it down afterwards because it was so perfect. He said,

I think what happened is:
you stopped praying
you stopped reading the scriptures
and over the course of time, you stopped going to church
and then you stopped believing it was true.

It was amazing. Four complete misses! I was pleased to let him know that he was quite wrong on every point. If anything, he had it in reverse order in my case.

When you’re going through deconversion, and you recognise that you’ve been utterly, terribly wrong on everything, and you’re wondering what it all means, and one of those things is the loss of your social group and your status in a community and your mental model of the entire universe — not to mention all the time and money you’ve invested — you don’t just drift away. In my case, I prayed harder! I read the scriptures with a new intensity. I went to church for a good solid six months after I no longer believed. (That’s what finally finished my testimony off.)

So when this young elder told me what he thought my reasons were… I was secretly glad. Why glad? Here’s why.

Mormons simply do not understand why people leave, or what deconversion is like. They could ask someone who’s been through it, but they never do. That might open up an unwanted conversation — and besides, they know already! It’s because we forgot.

Except we don’t just forget. I could tell you the details of all my biggest and most convincing spiritual experiences. I remember everything. I just don’t think they mean what I used to think they mean. I’ve reordered my evidentiary model.

But Mormons don’t get this. And because they don’t understand why people leave, they won’t be able to stop it. The die-off will continue. And that makes me very glad, even though I know Mormons won’t be able to help someone who’s hurting. That’s where I come in. And not just me — a whole lot of other ex-Mormons who have formed supportive communities of disbelief.

Sadly, there’s another consequence of Mormons not getting it when it comes to apostasy. They blame themselves for their church’s failures. Here’s a scripture that lets them do that.

Helaman 4:22 And that they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people; and they saw that their laws had become corrupted, and that they had become a wicked people, insomuch that they were wicked even like unto the Lamanites.
4:23 And because of their iniquity the church had begun to dwindle; and they began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face.
4:24 And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples

That’s right; when you’re bad, you get abandoned by the Holy Spook, your supposed source of spiritual strength. And then the church collapses. But it’s not because of the lack of evidence, the sinister leaders, or the lack of tangible benefit. It’s you.

I really hope that church members today aren’t blaming themselves for the failure of the church and the current on-going final apostasy. But this scripture might have that effect.

Additional lesson ideas


I always thought cement was an anachronism in the Book of Mormon.

Helaman 3:3 And it came to pass in the forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land.

3:7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.
3:8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east.
3:9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.
3:10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.
3:11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.

3:14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.

But it looks like I was wrong. Cement — or something like cement — has been found in Mesoamerica.

They most often utilized limestone, which remained pliable enough to be worked with stone tools while being quarried, and only hardened once when removed from its bed. In addition to the structural use of limestone, much of their mortar consisted of crushed, burnt, and mixed limestone that mimicked the properties of cement and was used just as widely for stucco finishing as it was for mortar.

Not actual houses of cement, which the Book of Mormon says there were apparently so many as to cover “the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east”. Ideally you’d want to find the houses, but we do see something like cement, so the Book of Mormon gets this one on a technicality.

I think this is the real problem with the Book of Mormon. If so many people were building cement buildings, ships, and temples in such abundance, then we should be able to find them. Shoot — we should be able to see them from Google Earth. But we don’t. And instead, by way of defence, apologists say, “Well, something like cement has been found in a few places.”

The other problem is that things that we know existed don’t appear in the Book of Mormon. It would have easy to write,

Behold, they did construct walls hewn of stone with such exactness that a hair would not fit between the stones.

That’s something we do observe, but not in the Book of Mormon.


If it’s true, it should be obviously more true. But it’s not. That’s God, you know. Always operating on the margins of credibility.

NT Lesson 40 (Slavery)

“I Can Do All Things through Christ”

Philippians; Colossians; Philemon

LDS manual: here


To encourage readers to emancipate themselves from spiritual slavery


This lesson deals with three Pauline epistles — Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon — only two of which were written by Paul.

That’s right, Paul didn’t write one of them: Colossians. But how do we know?

The words we use are unique to us, like a fingerprint. We can’t really change our style. That means our word patterns can identify us. So for instance, we could arrange someone’s words into a kind of “top ten most common” list, and see if a new text’s top ten word list matches up.

Or, as Bart Ehrman points out, we could look at unusual words and phrases.

As with every instance of forgery, the case of Colossians is cumulative, involving multiple factors. None has proved more decisive over the past thirty years than the question of writing style. The case was made most effectively in 1973 by Walter Bujard, in a study both exhaustive and exhausting, widely thought to be unanswerable.

Bujard compares the writing style of Colossians to the other Pauline letters, focusing especially on those of comparable length (Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians), and looking at an inordinately wide range of stylistic features: the use of conjunctions (of all kinds); infinitives; participles, relative clauses; repetitions of words and word groups; use of antithetical statements; parallel constructions; the use of preposition ἐν; the piling up of genitives; and on and on. In case after case, Colossians stands apart from Paul’s letters.

Sorry, Not-Paul. You were a good Paul impersonator, but you were detected by science.

My theme for this lesson is slavery. There are many kinds of slavery, even today. I don’t mean to trivialise the really awful kinds. But belonging to the church is a kind of voluntary slavery — and in some cases, it’s not even voluntary. Not only should we not put up with slavery advocates like Paul, we should free ourselves when possible.

Main ideas for this lesson

Real soon!

As we’ve mentioned, Jesus taught that he’d come back within the lifetimes of those living, and Paul appears to have believed this as well. Here he is, telling the members to hang tight until Jesus comes again

Phillipians 1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
1:10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.

That’s right, folks… any day now. And again:

Phillipians 4:5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

Paul devalues our lives and our bodies

The LDS Church is a religion that demands of its members their time, talents, and everything they possess. And so, not surprisingly, the LDS manual phrases things in terms of sacrifices.

• Paul told the Philippians that he had sacrificed all things for Christ (Philippians 3:7–8). What had Paul sacrificed? Why is it important that we make sacrifices for Christ? (See Philippians 3:9–12.)

Ask: Why does the LDS Church demand so much from its members?
Answer: There are low-commitment religions and high-commitment religions. You might think that the low-commitment religions would have an edge, since one can belong to them, and barely have to do anything — or indeed believe anything. And in fact, these religions make up the bulk of Christianity.

But there’s a hidden tool that the high-commitment religions have: investment bias (which we’ve mentioned before in terms of the sunk-cost fallacy). It’s hard to get someone to devote their lives to a cause, but if you can get them started on an ever-escalating treadmill of obligations — come to church, stop drinking coffee, pay tithing, home and visiting teaching, and so on — then it becomes more likely that they’ll continue. After all, stopping the commitments would mean admitting that you wasted your time and money, and no one wants to do that after investing so much.

Joseph Smith was well aware of this. From the LDS Gospel Doctrine Manual:

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things” (Lectures on Faith [1985], 69).

In other words, demand everything from them, and you’ve got them.

There are only a few things that we can say that we truly own. One is our body. Another is our life. If you’re going to own someone — in slavelike fashion — you have to attack their autonomy in both of these areas. In this lesson, Paul does just that.

First, he argues that life isn’t much, really. He’s only sticking around for his fans.

Phillipians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
1:22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.
1:23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
1:24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

And Not-Paul points out that believers are dead anyway.

Colossians 3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
3:2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
3:3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Death cults are so creepy!

Then, as he does from time to time, Paul talks about how terrible and debased our bodies are. Bodies always want what’s wrong, and they’re kind of vile.

Phillipians 3:20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:
3:21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

(Don’t forget that in 1 Corinthians, Paul argues that even our body isn’t our own.)

There’s a purpose behind this kind of talk. To get someone to hand their bodies and their lives over to you, you have to lower the cost of forfeiture — to convince them that it isn’t anything really very much.

This is dangerous territory. As I write this, religiously-motivated terrorists around the world have murdered people in Beirut and Paris, blowing themselves up in the process. Who would do this, unless they were certain that they were doing it for a higher purpose, just like the one Paul is offering? Other things contribute — military aggression, a persecution narrative, socio-economic inequality — but religion, with its promise of an afterlife, is a uniquely enabling contributor. Many things may be the fuel, but religion is the fuse.

More misogyny

Christians aren’t just slaves to God — Not-Paul thinks women should be slaves to men.

Colossians 3:18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
3:19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

Note that husbands are not under any obligation to submit to their wives. Christian marriage comes with a built-in power imbalance.

Every knee shall bow

Not only does Christianity encourage a kind of slavery, but it looks forward to the day when everyone will be subservient to it.

Phillipians 2:10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
2:11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


So it’s no wonder that Paul didn’t think actual slavery was any big deal. Onesimus was a runaway slave who became a Christian. Paul sent him back.

Philemon 10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
11 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

But why? Not-Paul explains that servants should be obedient.

Colossians 3:22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God

There aren’t many moral decisions easier than whether it’s all right to own people, and Bible whiffs it. Dan Savage points this out.


There’s hope for those in spiritual slavery. This weekend was the scene of yet another Mass Resignation in Temple Square.

Being in Australia, I wasn’t there, but those who were say that there was a great vibe there. Over 2,000 people submitted their resignations over the Church’s surprisingly punitive and harsh policy banning the children of LGBT members from joining the church without denouncing their gay parents.

Getting slightly less press: the LDS Church also defined LGBT people as ‘apostates’. Which led to an interesting observation:

Etymologically, the word comes from Greek: apo– “away from” + stenai “to stand.” But Oxford Dictionaries and Vocabulary.com both point out the “runaway slave” connection.

I think it’s fitting, don’t you? In a sense, those of us who have stopped supporting the church have escaped the slavery we were in. We have emancipated ourselves from a church that used our time, talents, money, and lives for its own benefit and survival. Well done, everyone.

OT Lesson 44 (Ezekiel 2)

“Every Thing Shall Live Whither the River Cometh”

Ezekiel 43–44; 47

LDS manual: here


Short lesson this week, finishing up Ezekiel.

Before we get into this lesson, let’s take a moment for some news: Last week or so, the LDS Church released a shelf-breaking essay on its website about polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo. Reactions among the membership have ranged from “not knowing about it” to “having known about it all along“.

In the wake of this and other essays, the church has released a new article called, “Shelve It and Trust God.”

No, no, that’s not the title The title is actually, “The Answer to All the Hard Questions“.

In previous lessons, I’ve mentioned three of the most destructive scriptures in the OT, and this new article uses two of them. Let’s see how.

Principle 1: God Knows Infinitely More Than We Do. When faced with questions—whether personal, social, or doctrinal—we can rely on the fact that the Creator of the universe knows far more than we do. If He has addressed a topic (and sometimes He hasn’t), we can trust that His views are clearer than ours.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts”
(Isaiah 55:8–9).
Principle 2: God Shares Some of His Knowledge. A corollary of principle 1 is that God shares with us as much of what He knows as we are ready to receive and He is ready to deliver. We just need to prepare ourselves to receive it, then seek it. The scriptures answer many questions. One of the great pleasures of this life is being taught by the Holy Ghost as He uses the scriptures to reveal “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30) in response to our diligent study.

What function do they serve here? They tell the reader two things.

  • The first one says, “Don’t listen to what you think is right; listen to God (or really, his earthly surrogates).”
  • The second one says, “If it seems like we’re making stuff up as we go, that’s all part of the plan!”

Watch for a lot more of these two verses.

There’s not really much to say about the rest of Ezekiel. It’s just a list of cities God’s going to kill. And when he’s killed everyone, then they’ll know he’s God.

33:29 Then shall they know that I am the LORD, when I have laid the land most desolate because of all their abominations which they have committed.

Why was he going to kill them? What had they done?

36:16 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
36:17 Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings: their way was before me as the uncleanness of a removed woman.

Jehovah / Jesus seems horrified by women. He even kills Ezekiel’s wife, and tells him not to cry.

24:15 Also the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
24:16 Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke: yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down.
24:17 Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of thine head upon thee, and put on thy shoes upon thy feet, and cover not thy lips, and eat not the bread of men.
24:18 So I spake unto the people in the morning: and at even my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded.

That’s a bit sad.

The melancholy drives Ezekiel to architecture, as he watches an angel measure the new temple with a reed, in great detail.

40:2 In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south.
40:3 And he brought me thither, and, behold, there was a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; and he stood in the gate.
40:4 And the man said unto me, Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee art thou brought hither: declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel.
40:5 And behold a wall on the outside of the house round about, and in the man’s hand a measuring reed of six cubits long by the cubit and an hand breadth: so he measured the breadth of the building, one reed; and the height, one reed.

And on and on for many chapters.

I get kind of ticked when I read this for some reason. Here’s God’s chance to say what’s really important, and he devotes chapters and chapters on how to build a building for him, and how to kill animals for him the right way. I could give about twenty better things for God to have said just off the top of my head; any normal person could.

  • Don’t have slaves.
  • Genocide is wrong.
  • Women and men and equal.

And so on. It’s frustrating beyond madness.

Main points from this lesson

The Hosanna Shout

Most of this lesson is about the temple and how wonderful it is. (No mention of how repetitive or pointless it is.)

But then it transitions into a discussion of the Hosanna Shout. Here’s the LDS lesson manual.

• Have you ever been excited while watching a sporting event or some other kind of entertainment?
• Have you ever been so excited at such an event that you stood and shouted or cheered?
• What is a sacred event in the Church where participants show their joy and gratitude by standing, shouting, and waving? (During the dedication of a temple, the congregation participates in a great expression of joy called the Hosanna Shout.)

Wow, this sounds exciting! It sounds invigorating! It sounds… totally unlike anything in my LDS experience.

But in church history, the Hosanna Shout was a really big deal. Mormons performed it at the dedication of the Kirtland temple.

Eliza R. Snow wrote, “The ceremonies of that dedication may be rehearsed, but no mortal language can describe the heavenly manifestations of that memorable day. Angels appeared to some, while a sense of divine presence was realized by all present, and each heart was filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” After the prayer, the entire congregation rose and, with hands uplifted, shouted hosannas “to God and the Lamb.”

Would you like to see this exciting event on video? Here it is!

Woo hoo!

When I did the Hosanna Shout, I’d heard the Kirtland story, I’d gotten the build-up, and I thought it would be incredible. Then when I actually did it, with grown adults waving these handkerchiefs in the air and looking ridiculous, I thought, “What did we just do‽”

It was just another case of expectations not matching reality.

OT Lesson 33 (Jonah, Micah)

Sharing the Gospel with the World

Jonah 1–4; Micah 2; 4–7

LDS manual: here


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sailors ask Jonah what his deal is.

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

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

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

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

Jonah prays for deliverance from his ichthyic prison.

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

And the prayer must have gone something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

So the Lord repents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main points for this lesson

Can someone survive in a giant fish?

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

Their reasoning?

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

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

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

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

Yep, he would have.

Sharing the gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional teaching ideas

Micah’s criticism of prophets who prophecy for money

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

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

Truly this scripture was written for our day.

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

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

Casting lots

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

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

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

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

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

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

OT Lesson 30 (Temple)

“Come to the House of the Lord”

2 Chronicles 29–30; 32; 34

LDS manual: here


This lesson focuses on temple worship, and just as it’s hard to see the point of the very repetitive endowment ceremony, so it is with this week’s reading. Basically, it’s still Jehovah / Jesus being okay with all kinds of murder and warfare, but punishing people for the relatively trivial act of not being sufficiently worshipful to him.

He kills king Jehoram by what must have been an agonising illness.

21:14 Behold, with a great plague will the LORD smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods:
21:15 And thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day.

21:19 And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years, his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him, like the burning of his fathers.

He gives up on his followers.

24:20 And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you.

Here’s an illustrative example. King Amaziah is considered one of the good kings.

25:1 Amaziah was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem.
25:2 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, but not with a perfect heart.

He kills ten thousand people. Then he throws ten thousand more over a cliff, and Jehovah doesn’t bat an eye.

25:11 And Amaziah strengthened himself, and led forth his people, and went to the valley of salt, and smote of the children of Seir ten thousand.
25:12 And other ten thousand left alive did the children of Judah carry away captive, and brought them unto the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they all were broken in pieces.

Wait — if it’s not the murders, what is it that gets Jehovah’s dander up? Burning incense to another god. Now God’s all like: whoa, whoa!

25:14 Now it came to pass, after that Amaziah was come from the slaughter of the Edomites, that he brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense unto them.
25:15 Wherefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Amaziah, and he sent unto him a prophet, which said unto him, Why hast thou sought after the gods of the people, which could not deliver their own people out of thine hand?
25:16 And it came to pass, as he talked with him, that the king said unto him, Art thou made of the king’s counsel? forbear; why shouldest thou be smitten? Then the prophet forbare, and said, I know that God hath determined to destroy thee, because thou hast done this, and hast not hearkened unto my counsel.

Could we please please please remember this when Christians say that God is all about love love love, and how he loves everybody? According to the Bible, he’s really all about self-preservation, humans be damned.

Uzziah in chapter 26:3–21 is really the same story. He kills loads of people, and God helps him do it.

26:3 Sixteen years old was Uzziah when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Jecoliah of Jerusalem.
26:4 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah did.
26:5 And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him to prosper.
26:6 And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities about Ashdod, and among the Philistines.
26:7 And God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians that dwelt in Gurbaal, and the Mehunims.

But then he burns incense — and this time it’s to the right god, but in the wrong way! — and God gives him leprosy.

26:16 But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense.
26:17 And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men:
26:18 And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God.
26:19 Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar.
26:20 And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the LORD had smitten him.
26:21 And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD: and Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land.

It seems like nothing good happens to people who fall in with this god. Best advised to stay away.

But the real story for this lesson is the rebuilding of the temple by king Hezekiah. He repairs the place…

29:1 Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah.
29:2 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done.
29:3 He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them.

and restarts temple worship. Sounds like everyone’s really stoked about it.

30:25 And all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and the strangers that came out of the land of Israel, and that dwelt in Judah, rejoiced.
30:26 So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem.

So stoked that they engage in the destruction of the religious traditions of their neighbours, which seems to be the inevitable consequence of religious zeal.

31:1 Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities.

Later, Josiah does the same thing, but he engages in human sacrifice. (Wait — do competing priests count as ‘human’?) Rather chillingly, the Bible refers to this as an act of ‘cleansing’.

34:1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years.
34:2 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left.
34:3 For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.
34:4 And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them.
34:5 And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem.

Main points from this lesson

“A credit card with the Lord”

The real lesson manual contains an excerpt of a Gordon B. Hinckley in which he compares a credit card and a temple recommend.

“I hold before you two credit cards. Most of you are familiar with cards such as these.

“The first is a bank credit card. It permits me to secure merchandise on credit and then pay for my purchases at one time. It is a valuable thing and something to be safeguarded. If stolen and dishonestly used, it could cause me great loss and perhaps considerable embarrassment. In accepting it from my bank, I enter into a contract and become bound by obligations and agreements. In accepting the card, I agree to meet the conditions under which it was issued.

“It is issued for one year only and must be reissued each year if I am to enjoy the privileges afforded by it. It is not really mine. The bank retains ownership. If I fail in my required performance, then the bank may shut off the credit and repossess the card.

“The other card which I have is what we call a temple recommend. It represents a credit card with the Lord, making available to me many of His greatest gifts. The bank card is concerned with things of the world, the recommend with things of God.”

If it was his own credit card, it was probably one of those black ones that comes with a concierge. Bonus points to GBH for using an attention-holding prop, but this is a comparison he should have avoided. For one thing, the explicit money/temple link is very appropriate and very unflattering. For another, credit cards are way better.

Top ten ways a credit card is better than a temple recommend

10. Credit cards can be used to purchase goods and services. A temple recommend can only be used to get into a long and boring religious service, or in Utah County, to get out of a speeding ticket (see You know you were born in Utah County… #10).

9. Both charge high rates of interest. But at least you can avoid paying credit card fees if you pay in time. Tithing is not as easy to avoid.

8. A credit card can put you in debt to a multi-national corporation that will keep you paying all you have for the rest of your life — but only if you use it very foolishly. With a temple recommend, this is its normal and intended purpose.

7. Some credit cards include frequent flyer points. Temple recommends just include creepy old guys touching you (but at least now you’re not naked).

6. Credit cards: rugged plastic with a cool hologram. Temple recommends: flimsy paper with a barcode.

5. Banks are required to let you know the rules surrounding the use of your credit cards. Members of the church do not have access to the Church Handbook of Instructions (leaked copies: Scan Text).

4. You can use credit cards to see more than one movie.

3. When they change the terms of your credit card, they have to send you a notice. When they change the temple ceremony, they do it quietly, and never speak a word about it. Then people claim that the earlier terms never existed.

2. Credit cards renew pretty much automatically. Temple recommends require you to have a tedious interview every year with some guy about your beliefs, associations, and actions.

1. If you cut up your credit card, no one comes to repossess your family for eternity.

That last one is the sticking point. Some people would pay anything to be with their family for eternity. And if you think the church has the authority to keep you together — and, more importantly, keep you apart — and this is conditional on temple attendance, AND you have to pay the church to go to the temple… well, it’s pretty clear that this is financial coercion. This isn’t a covenant freely entered into. This is a hostage situation. What the LDS Church does is something close to racketeering. “Nice family; shame if something was to happen to it.” It’s why I say that ‘eternal families’ is the most evil doctrine of the entire LDS Church. Once you think they have your family, there’s nothing you won’t do for them.

What the temple was like for me

I went to the temple for the first time in September 1987, before the 1990 changes. (New name: Titus.) That means I still remember the penalties. It was an odd experience to be there with my Mom and Dad and several other family members, all pantomiming our murders, with our throats slit, and our bowels disemboweled if we were to reveal the tokens and signs. (The penalties used to be even more graphic.) And then walking around in the Celestial Room wearing those odd outfits with my family. I imagine that if I’d gone through on my own, I would have NOPED out of there. However, seeing my family doing the ritual, and them feeling so happy that I’d done it too, went a long way towards reassuring me. As intended, I’m sure.

One thing about my brain that I’ve learned to live with is that I always have a song in my mind. I always have, for as long as I can remember. And the odd thing is that as I go through my day, I’ll find that the song might have lyrics that are somehow fitting to the situation. I can’t help it; I guess my brain is always free-associating. I’ll think: why this song? And then I’ll sort through the lyrics and find a phrase that someone just said or that seems appropriate to what’s happening. For example, when my dear Uncle Richard told me he was going deaf, and how painful this was for him, I noticed that the song on my iBrain during the whole conversation was Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”. The iBrain can be cruel that way.

This musical tendency made for some interesting musical accompaniments during temple ceremonies. Imagine me, a TBM, believing and trying to have a good temple experience, and this is the song for the entire endowment.

Or this one — a real blast from the 80s.

I still like this song in particular; it’s a good way of looking at groups that stress mental conformity. But at the time, these songs were unwelcome. And I couldn’t seem to stop them. What was it about the temple — or about me — that made these songs come up, and not something more happy and inspiring? Looking back, I think my brain knew more than I did.

As a believer, I always approached the temple in kind of a Zen way: yes, it was repetitive, but maybe there was something to be gained by going through the ritual. And I felt certain that there were deeper things in the temple that could only be understood by going through the ritual over and over. I remember hearing Spencer W. Kimball’s statement (also related by a visitor to this page) that he had only just started to understand the temple. Surely if I just continued and “endured to the end”, I would grasp the great truths at the heart of the endowment.

And then after more years of activity in the church, after years of conference talks, recycling through the same Sunday School lessons a few times, and above all temple sessions, I began to realise that there really wasn’t anything more. The whole process of church activity seemed characterised by a kind of intellectual vapidity that wasn’t just me. It was endemic to a process in which questions had no good way of being answered, and in fact could never really be answered.

By contrast, I was at this time learning about science and skepticism, and I was amazed that there was so much that could be learned about this vast universe through natural means. While the people who used supernatural means were getting it more and more obviously wrong, people doing science were getting it right. Valuing the scientific method was important to my process of rejecting supernaturalism, religion, and mysticism. Without that, I might still be stuck in the same old rituals. The temple might have become my cage.

The real manual asks:

Once we have made these covenants, why is it important that we return to the temple as often as possible?

Ask: Why would the church say it’s important to keep doing session after session?
My answer today is that

  • it’s an investment in time that members will be less willing to dump the more time is invested
  • it’s a way of making the church seem normal and the real world seem less normal, and the longer you do it, the more normal it seems

Got any other ideas? Why would this sleepy ritual become the focal point of Mormon worship? Leave your ideas in comments.

Additional teaching ideas

The return of really old people

We haven’t seen any absurdly superannuated people for a while, but here’s one.

24:15 But Jehoiada waxed old, and was full of days when he died; an hundred and thirty years old was he when he died.

I think attributing great age to someone is just how people say that the person was a great hero. So take a guess whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. Yup, he’s a good guy. If he’d done anything morally questionable, Jehovah / Jesus would have killed him. The Old Testament is kind of like a horror movie in that way.

Joseph Smith taught that animal sacrifice would happen again

Animal sacrifice was a part of temple worship for ancient Judah.

29:32 And the number of the burnt offerings, which the congregation brought, was threescore and ten bullocks, an hundred rams, and two hundred lambs: all these were for a burnt offering to the LORD.
29:33 And the consecrated things were six hundred oxen and three thousand sheep.

That’s a lot of animals.

Unsurprisingly, the real lesson manual says that animals are no longer sacrificed in temples:

Explain that although some of the practices in the temple of ancient Israel were different from what we do in latter-day temples (for example, we do not sacrifice animals or burn candles and incense in latter-day temples), the purposes of ancient temples and latter-day temples are the same: to prepare us to come into the presence of the Lord and be like him.

However, rather surprisingly, Joseph Smith taught that animal sacrifice would return as part of the restitution of all things.

Words of Oliver B. Huntington: I heard the Prophet reply to the question: “Will there ever be any more offering of sheep and heifers and bullocks upon altars, as used to be required of Israel?”
He said: “Yes, there will; for there were never any rites, ordinances of laws in the priesthood of any gospel dispensation upon this earth but what will have to be finished and perfected in this last dispensation of time — the dispensation of all dispensations.”

Now that would be interesting! No one would be sleeping through an endowment, I assure you. But what about all that carpet?

It shouldn’t need to be said that putting your sins onto animals and killing them instead is an evasion of responsibility. And killing an animal or a person to show a god that you really really like him or that you’re very grateful is unnecessary, if he’s all-knowing.

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Sorry there aren’t any funny memes or video for this lesson; Kings and Chronicles are tough chapters. But we’re getting into some good stuff. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are next! And then it’s all the psycho minor prophets. You’re going to love ’em. See you next week!