Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 10)

D&C Lesson 18 (Temple)

“Establish … a House of God”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 95; 109; 110;
Our Heritage, pages 33–36.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

There’s a lot I’d like to say about this lesson on the LDS temple ceremonies, but I’ve already covered them in other lessons.

Here’s one, with a bit about the endowment: OT Lesson 30 (Temple)

And another, with a bit about the Hosanna Shout: OT Lesson 44.

I will get back to this at a later date, with more on this topic.

D&C Lesson 7 (First Four Principles)

“The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel”

Reading assignment

Study the scripture passages listed in the following questions and in the scripture chain.
2 Nephi 25:23; Alma 42:13–24; D&C 18:10–13; D&C 19:15–19; Articles of Faith 1:3

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Reading

This lesson is about the first four principles of the gospel. Let’s recite them in unison.

Article of Faith 4 We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

A side note: As a member of thirty-plus years, it drove me insane that we would be studying this again in Gospel Doctrine class. It made me feel like I was in some kind of intellectual lacuna of vapidity, and this was one of the things that convinced me that there was no “there” there. If you can get through this lesson and say, “Gee, I actually learned something from this lesson, and I can’t wait to return to it in another four years,” then you’re not me.

So let’s get to it!

Faith

As I’ve mentioned before, faith is belief without evidence. If you have evidence, we call that knowledge. And the Book of Mormon agrees.

Alma 32:18 Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.

Faith is a terrible thing to have. If you don’t have evidence for something, but you’ve decided to believe it anyway, then it’s very likely you’re believing something wrong. Find evidence (but first learn what good evidence looks like), and then believe it.

But of course, religious leaders are always there to convince us to ignore the evidence of our senses.

Back to the manual.

• Read D&C 8:10 with class members. What can we accomplish without faith? What can we accomplish with faith? (For some answers to this question, see D&C 35:9; 42:48–51; 63:9–11; Moroni 7:33.) How have you seen the power of faith manifested?

You can accomplish anything without faith. All the great scientific discoveries we’ve made have not required faith. You can disbelieve in them and they’re still true.

But surely if you believe in a scientific idea that you don’t fully understand, you’re exercising faith, right?

Wrong. For one thing, you can find out about it from someone who does understand it. For another, if anyone can point out why that idea is wrong, people who do science will change their minds about that idea.

Faith only works when people choose to believe the idea. Science works because people relentlessly challenge ideas, and change them when they don’t work. No faith required!

Repentance

This part starts with an object lesson.

Ask a class member to volunteer to come forward. Blindfold the volunteer and ask him or her to write the following phrase on the chalkboard: Jesus is the light of the world. Remove the blindfold and ask the person to write the same phrase again on the chalkboard. Then have the person sit down.

How is sinning like putting on a blindfold? How is exercising faith in Jesus Christ and repenting of our sins like removing the blindfold? What can we see more clearly when we repent?

Wouldn’t a better metaphor be that you do things worse when your church causes you to wilfully blind yourself?

Now you might think that it’s a good idea to get rid of your bad habits. But the manual tells that this isn’t the real goal.

• What is the difference between true repentance and merely breaking a bad habit or changing a behavior?
President Ezra Taft Benson explained: “Repentance means more than simply a reformation of behavior. … True repentance is based on and flows from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way. True repentance involves a change of heart and not just a change of behavior (see Alma 5:13)” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 71).

Self-improvement is great, but the manual makes it clear that it’s not about self-improvement; it’s about accepting that you’re broken and you need to be fixed by someone else.

Explain that when we sin, we become unclean and subject to the punishments required by the law of justice. Being imperfect, we cannot become clean again or meet the demands of justice on our own. By atoning for our sins, the Savior took upon Himself the punishments required by the law of justice and is able to offer the mercy and forgiveness we need to become clean. These blessings of the Atonement are available to us only on the condition that we repent (Alma 7:14).

It’s important to remember that this was all God’s idea. Being all-powerful, he could have made this system any way he wanted, but he decided to do it this way:

He made us imperfect so that we couldn’t help but sin. Then he decided to get his son killed so that he could forgive us. Then he didn’t.

D&C 19:15 Therefore I command you to repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sorehow sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

Nice one, God!

D&C 19:16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spiritand would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink

Again, why would God demand suffering from his creations?

Learning to do better is great, but this has little to do with the perpetual debasement ceremony that Mormons call repentance, some of which may involve humiliating and pointless confessions to local church leaders.

Yes, in the LDS Church, they actually have…

My advice: Never confess anything to an LDS leader. Whatever you do is nothing that he needs to know about. Tell your partner. Tell the police, if you must.

Baptism

Pointless repentance is followed by a farcical aquatic ceremony in which you get soaked.

The manual asks:

What are the purposes of baptism?

The purpose of baptism is to put someone through a public declaration of commitment, because people are less likely to back out of a commitment if they had to make some public declaration about it. It signals to the person and others, “Wow, now you really must believe it, since you did that dumb ceremony.”

Why is it necessary to be baptized by one who has the proper authority? (See D&C 22.)

Okay, let’s see.

D&C 22:1 Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.

“I know I described the old covenants as everlasting, but this time I mean it.”

2 Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works.

“You could be baptised a hundred times by Jews and it won’t do any good.”

3 For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old.

“No seriously, doing things doesn’t accomplish anything.”

4 Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God. Amen.

“Do what I told you to do, and don’t tell me what to do.”

So basically, this is a cranky god’s attempt at brand protection.

Confirmation

After baptism, you get the gift of the holy ghost. He can be your constant companion, until the very minute you do anything wrong, at which point he buggers off.

 

According to LDS leaders, non-Mormons only get sporadic visits, and these are really only supposed to convince them to become Mormons.

• What is the difference between a manifestation of the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost?
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve taught: “Manifestations of the Holy Ghost are given to lead sincere seekers to gospel truths that will persuade them to repentance and baptism. The gift of the Holy Ghost is more comprehensive. … [It] includes the right to constant companionship, that we may ‘always have his Spirit to be with [us]’ (D&C 20:77)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 80; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 60).

So how does the spirituality of Mormons compare with that of non-Mormons?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve compared the manifestations of the Holy Ghost that a person can receive before baptism to flashes of lightning that “[blaze] forth in a dark and stormy night.” He compared the gift of the Holy Ghost that a person receives after baptism to “the continuing blaze of the sun at noonday, shedding its rays on the path of life and on all that surrounds it” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 262).

It’s nice to know that Mormons have this level of enlightenment. They can’t help but disparage people, can they?

On the other hand, it’s sad that Mormons show so little goodness, discernment, or moral leadership in their everyday lives, of which the 2016 election was only one example.

Enduring to the End

From the manual:

When we are baptized, we enter the path that leads to exaltation. However, this single experience does not ensure that we will be exalted. As the Lord frequently admonishes in the Doctrine and Covenants, we must also keep the covenants we made at baptism to endure faithfully to the end of our lives.

I had a couple of sister missionaries knock on our door this week. I invited them in for a drink, and explained that I was an ex-Mormon. I like to do this because it shows them that your life doesn’t fall apart when you leave the church. You can live a good, satisfying, ethical life as a non-believer.

One of the missionaries asked me why I left. (They don’t usually.)

I explained that many people in the church think that ex-members “were offended” or “wanted to sin”. And most disparagingly, they think ex-members couldn’t “endure to the end”. But I explained that this is wrong. I simply stopped believing it was true, for reasons I was happy to explain. And if you don’t think something is true, then not supporting it is the right thing to do. It’s what a person of integrity would do.

“Well,” said one, “I guess everyone has their view.”

That was the sound of someone checking out.

D&C Lesson 6 (Personal Rev 2)

“I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart, by the Holy Ghost”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 6; 8; 9; 11.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Overview

We’re continuing our discussion of personal revelation from Lesson 5, in which we saw that relying on feel-good intuitive methods for finding truth or making decisions is just asking to be fooled. This time, we’ll see the mechanisms the church employs to keep you fooled even when personal revelation fails.

Reading

Let’s start with a scripture.

D&C 109:44 But thy word must be fulfilled. Help thy servants to say, with thy grace assisting them: Thy will be done, O Lord, and not ours.

The manual asks:

Why should we submit our will to God’s will when we seek personal revelation?

Answer: Because there’s no one answering. That means you have to generate the feels yourself, and when you can’t, you have to tell yourself that your lack of an answer is “God’s will”. Sucks, doesn’t it?

It works like this:

Ask: If it’s very likely that nothing will happen when someone prays, how can you fool them into thinking something did happen?

Here are two answers:

Tamp down expectations

Tell people it shouldn’t be a big showy feeling. It can be a tiny quiet feeling. (Or, as we’ve seen, it can be no feeling.)

D&C 85:6 Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest,

From the manual:

Why is it important to understand this principle of how the Holy Ghost communicates? What are the dangers of expecting divine communication to come in more dramatic or spectacular ways?
Elder Dallin H. Oaks cautioned:

“Some [people] have looked exclusively for the great manifestations that are recorded in the scriptures and have failed to recognize the still, small voice that is given to them. … We need to know that the Lord rarely speaks loudly. His messages almost always come in a whisper. …

“Not understanding these principles of revelation, some people postpone acknowledging their testimony until they have experienced a miraculous event. They fail to realize that with most people … gaining a testimony is not an event but a process” (Ensign, Mar. 1997, 11–12, 14).

Describe it as confusingly as possible

Dallin Oaks admits he’s never felt a “burning in the bosom”.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom ‘burn within’ them. What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity” (Ensign,Mar. 1997, 13).

Right, because burning means serenity, and a horse is a tapir, and my dog is a cat. And words don’t “mean things”. Surely.

Then the manual asks:

How can we discern whether a revelation has come from God? (See D&C 11:12–14; 50:23–24.)

That’s a great question with a disturbing answer. Because Mormon Doctrine keeps changing, we have to keep throwing old prophets under the bus. (It’s getting crowded under there.)

For example, Brigham Young taught racist things

odd things

and terrible things.

Nowadays, these things make church members feel uncomfortable, so under the bus goes Brother Brigham! Those teachings are deprecated.

Not a problem for Latter-day Saints, who remind us that the word of a living prophet is worth more than a dead one.

All well and good. But think: at some point Brigham believed something that was wrong. And as the Lord’s unique representative on earth, he had all the keys of revelation that anyone had. So if he couldn’t tell that he was wrong, what chance do the rest of us have?

“As a man”

A common dodge is: He spoke “as a man”.

Ask: Is there a way to tell in advance if a prophet is speaking as a man or not?

About Oliver

I mentioned that Brigham was a bit of a racist, but as for Oliver, he wasn’t too woke on the subject of race either.

Let the blacks of the south be free, and our community is overrun with paupers, and a reckless mass of human beings, uncultivated, untaught and unaccustomed to provide for themselves the necessaries of life—endangering the chastity of every female who might by chance be found in our streets—our prisons filled with convicts, and the hangman wearied with executing the functions of his office! This must unavoidably be the case, every rational man must admit, who has ever travelled in the slave states, or we must open our houses, unfold our arms, and bid these degraded and degrading sons of Canaan, a hearty welcome and a free admittance to all we possess! A society of this nature, to us, is so intolerably degrading, that the bare reflection causes our feeling to recoil, and our hearts to revolt….

That’s the kind of thing a regular guy might have said in the 1830s, but hey — Oliver had the Big Guy writing him sections of the D&C. God could have told him to knock it off, and apparently didn’t.

Even though Oliver was rubbish at revelation using a dowsing rod, we can be thankful to him for one of the more fanciful stories in early church lore: when he and Joseph Smith were walking around the Hill Cumorah, the hill opened up, revealing a cave of wonders.

‘Oliver [Cowdery] says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon-loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates.’

Persistent exploration of the hill has revealed no such trove.

However, we can be grateful to Oliver for publishing his ideas on the where Moroni buried the plates (right in New York), and who the Lamanites are (Native Americans). As these ideas look less and less plausible, and as gas-lighting LDS apologists try to distance themselves from them by concocting other explanations, it’s nice to know that people close to Joseph Smith really did think what I (at least) was taught in church.

By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the book of Mormon you will read Mormon’s account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (it is printed Camorah, which is an error.) In this vally fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope or doubt. A few had fled to the South, who were hunted down by the victorious party, and all who would not deny the Saviour and his religion, were put to death. Mormon himself, according to the record of his son Moroni, was also slain.

The Nephites who were once enlightened, had fallen from a more elevated standing as to favour and privilege before the Lord in consequence of the righteousness of their fathers, and now falling below, for such was actually the case, were suffered to be overcome, and the land was left to the possession of the red men, who were without inteligence, only in the affairs of their wars; and having no records, only preserving their history by tradition from father to son, lost the account of their true origin, and wandered from river to river, from hill to hill, from mountain to mountain, and from sea to sea, till the land was again peopled, in a measure, by a rude, wild, revengful, warlike and barbarous race.— Such are our indians.

D&C Lesson 4 (Book of Mormon)

“Remember the New Covenant, Even the Book of Mormon”

Reading assignment

Joseph Smith—History 1:27–65; Doctrine and Covenants 3; 5; 10; 17; 20:5–15; 84:54–62; Our Heritage, pages 5–10.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Reading

Says the manual:

• When Joseph was 17 years old, he was visited by Moroni.

Actually, in the early days it was Nephi. Then the story changed, as made-up stories do.

More info here: http://www.mormonthink.com/nephiweb.htm

The 116 pages

From the manual:

One example of the miraculous preservation of the Book of Mormon occurred when one of Joseph Smith’s scribes, Martin Harris, lost 116 pages of the translated manuscript. Ask the assigned class member to summarize this account (see “Preparation,” item 3.) Then teach and discuss D&C 3 and D&C 10, which the Lord revealed after the pages were lost.

Here’s my summary:

Martin Harris was a credulous boob who fell for every religious scam going around in the 1830s. He mortgaged his house to pay for the publication of the Book of Mormon. Not coincidentally, he stood to gain handsomely if the book succeeded, and would lose his house if it failed. One obstacle was his wife, Lucy. Apparently she wanted some evidence that the book was legitimate, so Martin Harris pestered Joseph into lending him the draft of the manuscript, which amounted to 116 pages. The manuscript was lost, perhaps burned by Lucy Harris.

At this point, a god would have several options. He could have Smith retranslate the pages word for word, which would be very good evidence that he was not making it all up on the fly. Since the Book of Mormon was a scam, this option wasn’t available.

Instead, Smith created retconned the thing by writing a rather implausible bit into the Book of Mormon about how Nephi felt inspired to rewrite large chunks onto the plates a second time, so that Smith could translate them.

1 Nephi 9:3 Nevertheless, I have received a commandment of the Lord that I should make these plates, for the special purpose that there should be an account engraven of the ministry of my people.
9:4 Upon the other plates should be engraven an account of the reign of the kings, and the wars and contentions of my people; wherefore these plates are for the more part of the ministry; and the other plates are for the more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people.
9:5 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.

God, for his part, helped cover the mess by explaining that retranslation wasn’t an option because someone probably changed the words in a cunning plan to trap Smith.

D&C 10:8 And because you have delivered the writings into his hands, behold, wicked men have taken them from you.
9 Therefore, you have delivered them up, yea, that which was sacred, unto wickedness.
10 And, behold, Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands.
11 And behold, I say unto you, that because they have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written;
12 And, on this wise, the devil has sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work;
13 For he hath put into their hearts to do this, that by lying they may say they have caught you in the words which you have pretended to translate.
14 Verily, I say unto you, that I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing.
15 For behold, he has put it into their hearts to get thee to tempt the Lord thy God, in asking to translate it over again.
16 And then, behold, they say and think in their hearts: We will see if God has given him power to translate; if so, he will also give him power again;
17 And if God giveth him power again, or if he translates again, or, in other words, if he bringeth forth the same words, behold, we have the same with us, and we have altered them;
18 Therefore they will not agree, and we will say that he has lied in his words, and that he has no gift, and that he has no power;
19 Therefore we will destroy him, and also the work; and we will do this that we may not be ashamed in the end, and that we may get glory of the world.

Ask: Were there any better ways that a god could used in accomplishing this?

Here’s another cartoonist’s idea.

Click through for more.

Smith should have been grateful to Lucy Harris. Many writers would benefit from losing a first draft and having to write it all again, now that they have the idea in their minds. The rest of the Book of Mormon would have better if Smith had done this; compare the rollicking adventure tale of 1 Nephi to the tedium of everything else.

Criterion of embarrassment

Some people have pointed to this episode as evidence for the prophetic veracity of Joseph Smith, even though it’s anything but. The rationale goes like this: God was calling Smith out for his weakness, and if Joseph really had been a self-aggrandising phoney, then he wouldn’t have included a long bit about his failings. He would have hidden it, or left it out. In short, if it’s embarrassing to the author, it must be true.

Well, as it turns out, Smith did lots of embarrassing things that he did manage to cover, and we’ll get to them in subsequent lessons.

Besides, if a story is embarrassing, that doesn’t mean it’s true. SMBC has an example.

The Three and Eight Witnesses

From the manual:

•Who were the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon? (See “The Testimony of Three Witnesses” and “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses” in the introductory material of the Book of Mormon; see also Our Heritage, page 10.) In what ways can you be a witness of the Book of Mormon? (See Moroni 10:3–5.)

The Witnesses were people who stood to gain from the success of the Book of Mormon. Many were also members of the same family.

Mark Twain wrote:

Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything; but for me, when a man tells me that he has “seen the engravings which are upon the plates,” and not only that, but an angel was there at the time, and saw him see them, and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on the road to conviction, no matter whether I ever heard of that man before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel, or his nationality either.

And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but “hefted” them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.

It wouldn’t have mattered if there were 11 witnesses or 100 witnesses. That’s not how evidence works; it must be publicly available to be valid. See this lesson for more about the witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

More info at this page: http://cesletter.org/debunking-fairmormon/witnesses.html

and this one: http://www.mormonthink.com/witnessesweb.htm

D&C Lesson 3 (First Vision)

“I Had Seen a Vision”

Reading assignment

Joseph Smith—History 1:1–26; Our Heritage, pages 1–4.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Overview

This one is about what’s become known as the First Vision, when Joseph Smith supposedly saw God and Jesus. The story is a relatively new thing in the church, but it has become an important part of its origin story.

Differing versions of the First Vision

For a long time, I was aware that there were multiple conflicting accounts of the First Vision. But I really didn’t understand why they were a problem. Doesn’t everyone tell the same story slightly differently through time? And doesn’t the way we tell a story depend to some extent on our audience?

Well, yes. But the differences in the “First Vision” accounts go deeper than just highlighting details. The circumstances around the story look less like a matter of emphasis and detail, and more like a bullshit story that has been made up.

Details

Yes, the details of the story differ across the tellings. Sometimes it’s an angel. Sometimes it’s many. Sometimes it’s Jesus. Sometimes it’s God and Jesus.

Change in canon

But wait — couldn’t it be all of the above?

That’s the problem. For years, the story of the First Vision that church leaders learned and taught explicitly excluded everyone except an angel. Like, they explicitly taught that God and Jesus did not visit Joseph Smith, and that there were good reasons for them not to show up. From MormonThink:

In 1854

“Some one may say, ‘If this work of the last days be true, why did not the Saviour come himself to communicate this intelligence to the world?’ Because to the angels was committed the power of reaping the earth, and it was committed to none else.” – Apostle Orson Hyde, General Conference Address, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p.335

In 1855

The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven, in power and great glory, nor send His messengers panoplied with aught else than the truth of heaven, to communicate to the meek the lowly, the youth of humble origin, the sincere enquirer after the knowledge of God. But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith Jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong; that they were following the precepts of men instead of the Lord Jesus; that He had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before Him.” (Journal of Discourses 2:170-171)

In 1857

Church Apostle Heber C. Kimball, speaking Nov. 8th, 1857, was unaware of a vision where Smith saw God and Christ:

“Do you suppose that God in person called upon Joseph Smith, our Prophet? God called upon him; but God did not come himself and call, but he sent Peter to do it. Do you not see? He sent Peter and sent Moroni to Joseph, and told him that he had got the plates.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.6, p.29)

If the story had happened the way it’s taught today, why were church leaders telling it this way as late as the 1850s?

Comparatively late appearance

The answer is that when these church leaders were talking about heavenly beings appearing to Smith, they were talking about Moroni —

— sorry, Nephi — appearing to him. The story of the First Vision isn’t a thing that people started talking about until much much later. This didn’t become an important part of the church’s origin story until the 1880s.

In other words, the church had 50 years to get its story straight.

The more you look into this, the less it looks like simple differing accounts, and more like a cobbled-together story that didn’t happen.

Leg operation

From the manual:

3. Ask a class member to prepare to summarize the account of young Joseph Smith’s leg operation (Our Heritage, pages 1–2).

I always thought this story was bullshit. Joseph Smith gets a leg infection, and heroically (and inexplicably) refuses the trappings of frontier medicine.

The doctor brought cords to bind the boy, but Joseph objected, saying that he would bear the operation without them. He also refused brandy, the only form of anesthetic available to him, and asked only that his father hold him in his arms during the operation.

Why would young Joseph Smith refuse brandy? The Word of Wisdom wouldn’t have been out for another 20 years. Redditor Mithryn suspects that if this did happen, it was Joseph’s reaction to his alcoholic father.

The Apostasy

If there was an organised church in Jesus’ time, this would be God’s chance to get his plan going. But according to the LDS Church, he decided to drop it all and pick it up again later, leaving millions of people in the dark about his plan. This means that, if the Mormon religion is right, very few people in history will ever have been exposed to God’s teachings.

Is that a sensible way of doing things? Or is this a story invented after the fact, as an attempt to explain why Joseph Smith needed to start up a new religion?

D&C Lesson 2 (Jesus)

“Behold, I Am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World”

Reading assignment

Study the scripture passages listed in the following questions and in the scripture chain for this lesson.

D&C 19:16–19
D&C 88:14–18; 93:33
D&C 18:11–12; 19:16–17, 20; 58:42; 76:62–70
D&C 6:20–21
D&C 6:32–37
D&C 19:1–3
D&C 29:1–2
D&C 38:1–3
D&C 45:3–5
D&C 50:44
D&C 93:5–19
D&C 133:42–52

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Overview

This lesson is about Jesus, whose job was to fill in for the inadequacies that God built into his system. God created a system where he decided that there were some actions that he didn’t like, and if anyone did those things, they’d have to be punished forever. (This probably involves eternal isolation from loved ones.)

Even so, he insists that people are his thing.

D&C 18:10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
11 For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.

This scripture says that “the worth of souls is great”, and yet God decided to create an awful lot of people who he knew in advance would not accept the gospel, and who would therefore be stuck in a lower kingdom or in outer darkness for eternity.

Punishing people for eternity is a bit harsh, so God made a loophole (for a rule that he created): an innocent person could be tortured and killed instead.

This means that, instead of simply forgiving everyone, God decided to kill his son Jesus, and then forgive people.

However, he will only forgive those few people who decided (on the basis of no evidence) to believe that such a nonsensical mechanism was a good idea.

He will then force everyone else to suffer torment like Jesus did.

D&C 19:16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

Translation: “I will torture my son, so that I don’t have to torture you. Then I will torture you.”

Why would a God demand suffering from his creations? This is unnecessarily sadistic.

Sacrifice

From the manual:

Read D&C 122:8 with class members.
D&C 122:8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

Actually, yes — all of us are greater than Jesus, if we don’t teach that hell is real, and we don’t intend to kill billions of people at our return.

Remember also how, in the Book of Mormon, Jesus levelled entire cities full of people, and then bragged about it from the sky.

In what way has the Savior “descended below” all things?

Not in any meaningful way. He had a bad weekend, knowing in advance that he would be promoted to Godhood. That’s not a sacrifice; that’s a career move. Anyone who has suffered from a lengthy terminal illness has suffered more than Jesus.

Resurrection

The manual says:

Through the Atonement, we will all be resurrected
• Read the following passages with class members: D&C 88:14–18; 93:33; Alma 11:42–44. What can we learn about the Resurrection from these passages? (Answers could include those listed below.)

a. Resurrection is the redemption of the soul. The spirit and the body are reunited, inseparably connected in a perfect form (D&C 88:14–16; 93:33; Alma 11:42–43).
b. Resurrection prepares us for the celestial glory (D&C 88:18).
c. Resurrection is necessary for us to receive a fulness of joy (D&C 93:33).
d. All people will be resurrected (Alma 11:44).

Resurrection seems to be a pretty important principle to Mormons. “Getting a body” is thought to be an absolute must. But this is weird for a couple of reasons.

1. Bodies are meatbags. They are fiddly and susceptible to poor reasoning when they get tired or hungry. If you already have a spirit that can reason, think, perceive, and so on, then why do you need a body?

A common explanation would be something like “To be like God, who also has a physical body.” So God is a meatbag. That explains why he was acting so crazily in the scriptures.

But wait — he’s not a meatbag like us. He’s a perfected meatbag.

None of this makes any sense.

2. God created a system where we get bodies. But he also created death, in which we lose our bodies. He then needed Jesus to do his thing, so that we can all get bodies again. Why go through the back-and-forth rigamarole? Why not just let everyone keep their bodies?

Throughout this process, God is putting everyone through a lot of silly things that didn’t need to happen in this way. He creates sin, which we can’t avoid committing. He creates death, which we can’t avoid undergoing. Then, to undo the problems that he himself created (and blames us for), he tortures and kills his son, so that he can stand to have a relationship with us again.

Advocacy

The manual again:

2. Our “advocate with the Father” (D&C 45:3)
Write Advocate on the chalkboard. Explain that several times in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord says that He is our Advocate (D&C 29:5; 45:3; 62:1; 110:4).
• What is an advocate? (Someone who pleads the cause of another.)
• Read D&C 45:3–5 with class members. Why do we need an “advocate with the Father”? In verses 4 and 5, what evidence does the Savior present to the Father to show that we should receive everlasting life? (First He speaks of His Atonement—His sufferings, death, and blood. Then He refers to our belief in Him.)

Apparently, there’s going to be a scene where God is about to cast us into the abyss, and then Jesus-as-lawyer pops up and convinces him not to.

D&C 45:3 Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him
4 Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
5 Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.

Summary: God has created a flawed system in which humans will inevitably suffer. He then offered Jesus as a workaround for the flaws in his system.

D&C Lesson 1 (Preamble)

Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Reading assignment

Explanatory Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants; Doctrine and Covenants 1; introduction to Our Heritage.

Links

Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Overview

This year, we’re rounding out our Gospel Doctrine program with the Doctrine and Covenants.

There are a few themes to keep in mind.

  • Joseph Smith wrote the Doctrine and Covenants as a way of manipulating people into doing what he wanted. Hey, that’s one of the things about getting people to think you speak for God. We’re going to keep track of times that “God” tells people to do things for Joseph Smith, or give things to Joseph Smith, or be nice to Joseph Smith.
  • It’s possible to go through Sunday School — or even teach Sunday School — and be completely oblivious to what’s going on in these chapters. You just kind of read through it. Then when you find out what it’s really talking about, you slap your forehead. So we’re going to take a look behind the scenes, delving into the history and the Book of Commandments, which was altered to create what we now know as the Doctrine and Covenants. Prepare for forehead slaps.

Reading

Section 1 is a preamble that was attached to the Book of Commandments. It’s the Supreme Leader of the Universe — he’s back with a message for mankind! So what does he do?

Threaten people.

D&C 1:11 Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear:
12 Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh;
13 And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth.
14 And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;

Sin

D&C 1:31 For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;

Apparently, the Lord looked upon Joseph Smith’s adulteries with a great deal of allowance.

Can a prophet ever be wrong?

In our course of study, we’re going to be keeping track of the times when (putative) prophets were wrong, or made predictions that didn’t come true. You’d think this would mean that they’re not prophets, but Mormons are sanguine about prophetic blunders.

Ask: What rationalisations have you heard to excuse prophet fails?

  • He spoke as a man.
  • Prophets are human.
  • The Lord works with them through their imperfections.

Gordon Hinckley once wrote:

“We recognize that our forebears were human. They doubtless made mistakes. . . . There was only one perfect man who ever walked the earth. The Lord has used imperfect people in the process of building his perfect society. If some of them occasionally stumbled, or if their characters may have been slightly flawed in one way or another, the wonder is the greater that they accomplished so much.”
(“The Continuous Pursuit of Truth,” Ensign, April 1986, p. 5)

This is quite something! If a church has a prophet who speaks to God, that would have consequences. But if you ask a Mormon, “What consequences are there for having a prophet?” their answer will be: “Nothing in particular.” It doesn’t mean that the prophet has to get it right. It doesn’t mean they have to have solutions to any problems (least of all the church’s own problems).

And yet, this verse appears in the Doctrine and Covenants:

D&C 1:37 Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.
38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

If you say that you are a prophet whose words are the same as those of God, then that means that you don’t get to be wrong. Ever.

Especially when you claim 10 percent of believers’ income, you claim the right to tell people when they get to have sex, and you claim the sealing power over their families.

No. You don’t get to be wrong and then fudge it, claiming you’re still a prophet.

Getting there

Hey, all.

I’m having some trouble getting lessons out this past couple of weeks. I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be unloading a bunch of lessons on Conference Weekend, and then I’ll be mostly caught up. Sorry to those of you trapped in Gospel Doctrine with nothing to read. I’m thinking of you.

This post might disappear next week, as might any associated comments. Just so you know.

BoM Lesson 23 (Amulek)

“More Than One Witness”

Alma 8–12

LDS manual: here

Purpose

To encourage readers to be appropriately open-minded.

Reading

Alma’s ministry continues, but now he’s joined by a sidekick: Amulek! It seems people weren’t too impressed when Alma told his story alone…

Alma 9:6 And they said: Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man among this people, to declare unto them the truth of such great and marvelous things?

But when there was another deluded loony, that settled everything!

Alma 10:12 And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them.

Unfortunately, folie à deux is a real thing.

Shared psychotic disorder, also known as folie a deux (“the folly of two”), is a rare condition in which an otherwise healthy person (secondary case) shares the delusions of a person with a psychotic disorder (primary case), such as schizophrenia.

Shared psychotic disorder usually occurs only in long-term relationships in which one person is dominant and the other is passive.

That Amulek. Bit of a sub.

Thing is, it’s certainly possible for two people — or ten people, or a million people — to be wrong. What matters is the strength of the evidence.

But this is lost on the lesson manual, which recommends this attention activity:

4. If you use the attention activity, bring to class an object in a box or bag. Bring an unusual object, one that class members would not expect or believe you to have. Make sure that the box or bag conceals the object from class members.

Display the box (or bag) with the object inside it (see “Preparation,” item 4). Tell class members what is inside the box, but do not show them the object. Ask if they believe that such an item is really in the box.
After class members have had a chance to respond, invite one of them to come and look inside the box. Ask this person to tell the other class members what is inside the box. Then ask class members again if they believe the item is in the box.
• Why was it easier to believe that the object was in the box after someone else came and looked at it?

Probably because we’re inappropriately swayed by social relationships. This has been demonstrated by the Asch conformity experiments.

Notice, however, that if the group can sway what we’re willing to say, having a non-conformer in the group can be enough to help us break out. That’s the role that we postures are playing in the church, and that’s why it’s important for us to speak out.

An elder in my mission told me (anecdote warning) that a seminary teacher of his used this attention activity for a lesson. The seminary teacher was a medical guy, so the “object” was a stillborn foetus, which he showed to one of the students! Isn’t Mormonism wonderfully creepy sometimes?

There’s another story about a lawyer named Zeezrom, whose name probably should be spelled Zeëzrom, just to remind everyone that it’s three syllables. But that’s a rather boring and pointless story. Let’s stick to the good stuff.

Open-mindedness

Ask: Why don’t more people accept the church?

This one’s multiple choice.

a. The church teaches things that don’t make any sense.
b. The claims of the church have no evidentiary basis.
c. Church activities are largely irrelevant, serving to build members’ belief in itself rather than helping them.
d. The church teaches bad values, like discrimination, parochialism, and social and ideological insularity.
d. People have hard hearts.

Ask: Which of the above does the church teach is the right answer?

Before responding, consider: which of the answers would require the church to go through some self-analysis and work? Which of the answers allows the church to blame outsiders for the church’s lack of success?

Well, according to the Gospel Doctrine manual, it’s the last one.

• What did Alma teach about how the condition of our hearts affects our understanding of God’s word? (See Alma 12:9–11.) What blessings come to those who do not harden their hearts? (See Alma 12:10.) How can we develop hearts that recognize, understand, and accept the word of God? (See 1 Nephi 2:16; 15:11.)

Here’s Alma, going to town on the people.

Alma 9:31 Now it came to pass that when I, Alma, had spoken these words, behold, the people were wroth with me because I said unto them that they were a hard-hearted and a stiffnecked people.
9:32 And also because I said unto them that they were a lost and a fallen people they were angry with me, and sought to lay their hands upon me, that they might cast me into prison.

They didn’t like that? You don’t say.

The church teaches that people don’t accept the church because there’s something wrong with them. This is convenient; it allows the church to ignore concerns and contradictions.

There’s a closely related belief that members rely on, as well. It’s the idea that non-believers are closed-minded.

  • They just want to argue.
  • They just want to be right.
  • They’re not sincere.

And this one’s a treat:

  • Even if you gave them evidence, they still wouldn’t believe it. They could see (the Gold Plates, an angel, Jesus), and they still wouldn’t believe it.

That’s a switch — I’ve had believers tell me that if God were to give iron-clad evidence for the church, it would remove our agency and turn us into robots! But it also seems that we could see any evidence and still disbelieve. Which is it?

Let’s talk about open-mindedness. A good skeptic has the responsibility to stay open-minded to new evidence, and to change their minds if the evidence points that way. It’s all too easy to only accept the kind of evidence we’re looking for.

It’s ironic, then, that members sometimes hit us with this charge. They’re the ones who have perfected confirmation bias — for example, noticing when someone gets better after a blessing, but accepting a death as “God’s plan”; or accepting something that they prayed for, or in a patriarchal blessing, as a “hit” when it happens, while ignoring all the things that don’t happen — perhaps imaging that they’ll come true later (what I call “kicking it upstairs”).

In my experience, Latter-day Saints are very good at deflecting evidence against the church with a variety of cognitive defence mechanisms:

  • it’s anti-Mormon, and therefore to be dismissed
  • it doesn’t mesh with their feelings and experiences
  • it’s not uplifting, or they have a bad feeling about it
  • they don’t understand it, but they’re sure that the contradiction will be ironed out in the fulness of time.
  • they “just know” that the church is true

That said, we skeptics and unbelievers need to do better. We need to approach evidence in an unbiased way, even though that’s really hard. Maybe we could remember that thing we wish Mormons would do — not be afraid of what’s true.

Okay — so what about that evidence thing? If I had the Gold Plates in front of me, or if an angel appeared to me, would I accept this as evidence?

Well, no — not immediately. We need to remember an important point: when we examine evidence, we don’t automatically accept the first explanation we come to.

There’s a joke about some scientists on a train. They pass a field, and see a black cow.

One scientist says, “Oh, look — they have black cows in this part of the country.”
The second says, “Ahem: There is at least one black cow in this part of the country.”
The third says, “Ahem, ahem! There exists in this part of the country a cow — one side of which is black!”

It’s important that our descriptions don’t include more than can reasonably be observed!

So if an angel appeared to me, it could be that an angel is appearing to me. It could also be that I’m having a hallucination. I may be undergoing sleep paralysis. These are valid explanations that should be explored — and the fact that they’re natural and well-known actually gives them a bit of an edge over a supernatural explanation, like angels.

If someone showed the Gold Plates to me, it may be that they’re the Gold Plates that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon. (It then becomes tricky to explain why Smith didn’t actually use the plates in translating, opting to stick his face in a hat instead. But anyway.) However, it could also be that someone sat down and made the plates recently. (James Strang had his plates. He showed them to people, too.) We would have to examine them, and it should probably be by a team that knows more about this than I do.

If those natural explanations can be ruled out, then that might boost our confidence in a supernatural explanation — unless a better natural explanation appears. Am I biased against supernatural answers? Well, I don’t think they’re very good, but this isn’t prejudice. It’s because supernaturalism has a terrible track record. Everything we know — every explanation we’ve ever used to successfully explain or understand something — has been natural.

So my mind is perfectly open to new evidence, but that’s not what the believers want. They want us to be open to no evidence. They want us to believe, in defiance of the evidence. They want us to believe the list of things — emotional reasoning, confirmation bias, bad sampling — that they offer in place of evidence. And that’s not good reasoning.

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Religious superheroes

From time to time, I’ve heard members of the church express the belief that God would have destroyed society by now, if not for the righteousness of the church members. Here’s a scripture that expresses this.

Alma 10:22 Yea, and I say unto you that if it were not for the prayers of the righteous, who are now in the land, that ye would even now be visited with utter destruction; yet it would not be by flood, as were the people in the days of Noah, but it would be by famine, and by pestilence, and the sword.
10:23 But it is by the prayers of the righteous that ye are spared; now therefore, if ye will cast out the righteous from among you then will not the Lord stay his hand; but in his fierce anger he will come out against you; then ye shall be smitten by famine, and by pestilence, and by the sword; and the time is soon at hand except ye repent.

This lets members imagine theselves as superheroes, staving off the Lord’s wrath with the sheer force of their faith. But does it work like that? What really happens when there aren’t a lot of believers?

Secular Societies Fare Better Than Religious Societies

It is said over and over again by religious conservatives: without faith in God, society will fall apart. If we don’t worship God, pray to God, and place God at the central heart of our culture, things will get ugly.

It is an interesting hypothesis. Perpetually-touted. And wrong.

Consider, for instance, the latest special report just put out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development…, which lists the ten states with the worst/best quality of life. According to this multivariate analysis which takes into account a plethora of indicators of societal well-being, those states in America with the worst quality of life tend to be among the most God-loving/most religious (such as Mississippi and Alabama), while those states with the best quality of life tend to among the least God-loving/least religious (such as Vermont and New Hampshire).

Religious folk imagine that when the righteous are removed during the Rapture, it will be the beginning of the Great Tribulation. But to me it sounds ideal.

RaptureFS-327x500

This idea that the religious people are protecting us all by their faith is absolutely backwards. Their faith is actually hurting us by creating a less-rational society. If there are a few irrational religious people, then society can sort of absorb it, but once they take over — as the USA is seeing with the rise of its batshit religious wing — then public policy goes to pot and everything gets crazy. It’s way past time to stop thinking religion has any kind of benefit for society.

Additional ideas for teaching

Evidence for Nephite coinage

Things get a little bit bookkeepy in chapter 11. There’s a bit about their money.

Alma 11:4 Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value. And the names are given by the Nephites, for they did not reckon after the manner of the Jews who were at Jerusalem; neither did they measure after the manner of the Jews; but they altered their reckoning and their measure, according to the minds and the circumstances of the people, in every generation, until the reign of the judges, they having been established by king Mosiah.
11:5 Now the reckoning is thus–a senine of gold, a seon of gold, a shum of gold, and a limnah of gold.
11:6 A senum of silver, an amnor of silver, an ezrom of silver, and an onti of silver.
11:7 A senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley, and also for a measure of every kind of grain.
11:8 Now the amount of a seon of gold was twice the value of a senine.
11:9 And a shum of gold was twice the value of a seon.
11:10 And a limnah of gold was the value of them all.
11:11 And an amnor of silver was as great as two senums.
11:12 And an ezrom of silver was as great as four senums.
11:13 And an onti was as great as them all.
11:14 Now this is the value of the lesser numbers of their reckoning–
11:15 A shiblon is half of a senum; therefore, a shiblon for half a measure of barley.
11:16 And a shiblum is a half of a shiblon.
11:17 And a leah is the half of a shiblum.
11:18 Now this is their number, according to their reckoning.
11:19 Now an antion of gold is equal to three shiblons.

Everybody got that? There’s a test afterward.

If there was a society that produced coins — pieces of gold or silver — then we should be able to find evidence of either the coins themselves, or the society that smelted them.

So far, there’s no evidence of any Nephite coins.

But we shouldn’t really expect to see them, should we? By now, any coins would have disintegrated.

Oh, wait.

Massive 600kg haul of ancient Roman coins unearthed in Spain

Construction workers have found 600kg (1,300lb) of ancient Roman coins while carrying out routine work on water pipes in southern Spain, local officials have said

“It is a unique collection and there are very few similar cases,” Ana Navarro, head of Seville’s archeology museum, which is looking after the find, told a news conference.

Dating back to the late third and early fourth centuries, the bronze coins were found on Wednesday inside 19 Roman amphoras, a type of jar, in the town of Tomares near Seville.

LDS apologists respond by saying that Alma 11 was never intended to refer to coins as such, but to a system of weights and measures.

This is a distinction without a difference. Verse 4 refers to “the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver”, and if that’s not a coin, then it’s a tangible object that could be found just as easily as a coin could be found — if it ever existed in the first place. This is another example of the apologetic tendency to create wriggle room by redefining words, while ignoring the lack of evidence.

BoM Lesson 19

“None Could Deliver Them but the Lord”

Mosiah 18–24

LDS manual: here

Reading

I haven’t been looking forward to this reading. It concerns the rather mundane details of people moving back and forth from city to city. It’s dull.

And that was fine, back in the days when I thought the Book of Mormon was a true historical book. I thought that if I was bored, maybe it was because I wasn’t doing something right. Maybe the next time the Book of Mormon came around in the church curriculum, I could pay more attention and care about it.

Now, post-deconversion, I realise that it’s not me. It’s it. And so I find it hard to reread the Book of Mormon and care about its turgid plot and one-dimensional characters (well, the good ones, anyway).

There’s a bit of poetic justice, though. King Noah’s not very popular. A man named Gideon decides to take action.
Mosiah 19:4 And now there was a man among them whose name was Gideon, and he being a strong man and an enemy to the king, therefore he drew his sword, and swore in his wrath that he would slay the king.
19:5 And it came to pass that he fought with the king; and when the king saw that he was about to overpower him, he fled and ran and got upon the tower which was near the temple.
19:6 And Gideon pursued after him and was about to get upon the tower to slay the king, and the king cast his eyes round about towards the land of Shemlon, and behold, the army of the Lamanites were within the borders of the land.
19:7 And now the king cried out in the anguish of his soul, saying: Gideon, spare me, for the Lamanites are upon us, and they will destroy us; yea, they will destroy my people.
19:8 And now the king was not so much concerned about his people as he was about his own life; nevertheless, Gideon did spare his life.

Bit of mind-reading there.

King Noah tells the men to leave their families and run away from the Lamanites.

Mosiah 19:11 Now it came to pass that the king commanded them that all the men should leave their wives and their children, and flee before the Lamanites.
19:12 Now there were many that would not leave them, but had rather stay and perish with them. And the rest left their wives and their children and fled.

But King Noah gets his.

Mosiah 19:19 Now they had sworn in their hearts that they would return to the land of Nephi, and if their wives and their children were slain, and also those that had tarried with them, that they would seek revenge, and also perish with them.
19:20 And the king commanded them that they should not return; and they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire.

That’ll learn him.

Main ideas for this lesson

Baptism

Alma does some baptising at the waters of Mormon,

Mosiah 18:8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
18:9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life —

Ask: What good things does this section of the Book of Mormon encourage readers to do? (Bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort.)
Which of these things can you do without a god or a religion?
Did the programs of the church (notably Home and Visiting Teaching) help you to accomplish these things, or did they seem to be boxes to be ticked, with no real function?

Ask: If you’re no longer LDS, how are you trying to accomplish these things now?

The baptismal prayer of Helam is another good example of how the church has changed since the writing of the Book of Mormon. Here’s the prayer.

Mosiah 18:12 And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying: O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.
18:13 And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
18:14 And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit.

In the modern church, the baptismal prayer is invariant. It has to be said the same way (except for the person’s name), and if the speaker gets the wording different, the act is invalid and has to be repeated.

And yet, the wording today is different from this prayer.

When an individual is baptized, the person with the proper priesthood authority goes down into the water with the candidate, raises his right arm to the square, calls the individual by the full legal name, and says, “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

So what’s going on? Are there two prayers? Did God say, “Oh, whatevs, I know what you mean”? Or had the writer of the Book of Mormon not thought this part through?

I think this story comes at a time when the Mormon concept of the gospel was just beginning. The gospel is not “one eternal round”, and it’s not an already well-defined body of doctrine. It started at a point in time, and it goes back no farther than this. It would take it a while to get its story straight.

Paid ministry

Alma, having done pretty well in the King Noah days, tells everyone that priests should be poor.

Mosiah 18:26 And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God.

Ask: Do church leaders get paid for their labour?

Mormons are fond of saying that they have a lay clergy, and for much of the leadership — bishops and stake presidents on down — this is true. But this ignores the amount paid to the general leadership. The financial opacity of the church makes it difficult to know how much this is, but one leaked document (courtesy of this Reddit thread) shows the benefits of being a mission president. It’s not a paid gig, but the benefits aren’t cheap.

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Two escapes

The writer of the Book of Mormon is spinning his wheels a bit. He tells the more or less the same story twice. This is something the Old Testament does. Lots of times, there would be two version of the same story, and the Bible writers would just throw them both in. Hey — it’s an evidence of the Book of Mormon’s hebraic origins! /s

In the first story, the people of Limhi manage to escape the Lamanites by getting guards drunk.

Mosiah 22:3 Now it came to pass that Gideon went forth and stood before the king, and said unto him: Now O king, thou hast hitherto hearkened unto my words many times when we have been contending with our brethren, the Lamanites.
22:4 And now O king, if thou hast not found me to be an unprofitable servant, or if thou hast hitherto listened to my words in any degree, and they have been of service to thee, even so I desire that thou wouldst listen to my words at this time, and I will be thy servant and deliver this people out of bondage.
22:5 And the king granted unto him that he might speak. And Gideon said unto him:
22:6 Behold the back pass, through the back wall, on the back side of the city. The Lamanites, or the guards of the Lamanites, by night are drunken; therefore let us send a proclamation among all this people that they gather together their flocks and herds, that they may drive them into the wilderness by night.
22:7 And I will go according to thy command and pay the last tribute of wine to the Lamanites, and they will be drunken; and we will pass through the secret pass on the left of their camp when they are drunken and asleep.
22:8 Thus we will depart with our women and our children, our flocks, and our herds into the wilderness; and we will travel around the land of Shilom.
22:9 And it came to pass that the king hearkened unto the words of Gideon.
22:10 And king Limhi caused that his people should gather their flocks together; and he sent the tribute of wine to the Lamanites; and he also sent more wine, as a present unto them; and they did drink freely of the wine which king Limhi did send unto them.

And then the people of Alma escape the Lamanites when God makes the guards fall asleep.

Mosiah 24:16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.
24:17 And he said unto Alma: Thou shalt go before this people, and I will go with thee and deliver this people out of bondage.
24:18 Now it came to pass that Alma and his people in the night-time gathered their flocks together, and also of their grain; yea, even all the night-time were they gathering the flocks together.
24:19 And in the morning the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites, yea, and all their task-masters were in a profound sleep.
24:20 And Alma and his people departed into the wilderness; and when they had traveled all day they pitched their tents in a valley, and they called the valley Alma, because he led their way in the wilderness.

If drunkenness or sleep are good enough ideas for the people of Limhi and Alma to escape from the Lamanites, then why wasn’t it good enough for Nephi to get the plates from Laban?

Additional lesson ideas

Mosiah or Benjamin?

When God helped Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon, he made a mistake: King “Mosiah” was written as “Benjamin”.

2) Changing Benjamin to Mosiah

The original text of Mosiah 21:28 reads:

And now Limhi was again filled with joy, on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.

The problem, of course, is that king Benjamin was dead by this time (Mosiah 6:5). This reference was changed to ‘Mosiah’ in the 1837 and subsequent editions. However, it appears that this was not the only place where such a change was made. The original text of Ether 4:1 reads:

…and for this cause did king Benjamin keep them, that they should not come unto the world until after Christ shew himself unto his people.

Again, this was changed to ‘Mosiah’ in subsequent editions. The fact that there are two such changes leads one to speculate that Smith may possibly have had a slightly different course for the narrative in mind. Recall that the 116 lost pages included the story of king Benjamin. It is possible that in this version king Benjamin lived longer. Smith may have got confused between the two versions of the narrative, and inadvertently killed off his protagonist prematurely while rewriting the lost pages.

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