Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

NT Lesson 6 (Calling the Twelve Apostles)

“They Straightway Left Their Nets”

Luke 4:14–32; 5; 6:12–16; Matthew 10

LDS manual: here


To remind readers that Christianity, and Mormonism in particular, drives a wedge between family members by design, and sets itself up as a substitute family.


This lesson covers the following stories:

  • Jesus calls his disciples

Translation, Picard, translation. But more later.

  • Jesus heals people and casts out unclean spirits

Main ideas for this lesson

Religion over family

In this reading, Jesus gives some of the more evil scriptures, involving how members should react to opposition.

Luke 6:22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
6:23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

When I was in the mission field, a mimeograph went around about how to install a meme in an investigator’s head. It was called “The Opposition Dialogue”. (Does anyone else remember something like this?) It had these basic elements:

  • In the time leading up to your baptism, it may be that people you know will try to prevent you from joining the church.
  • This opposition comes from Satan. Satan doesn’t want you to join the church.
  • You need to join the church in spite of any opposition you get.

The Opposition Dialogue had an important purpose. In a normal situation, opposition from family members could derail an investigator’s plan to join the church. And why wouldn’t it — people listen to family members, since they’re usually people who care about them and have an interest in them. There’s a shared history.

But the purpose of the Opposition Dialogue was to make that opposition an expected thing, and to turn it to our advantage. Without the OD, the investigator might think: “My family is concerned, and they have information that says I shouldn’t continue.” But with the OD, that same investigator might think, “This is the reaction the elders said I’d get! I should ignore it.”

Though I didn’t realise it at the time, the OD was a not-so-subtle way of getting investigators to ignore input from family members, and only accept information from the missionaries — as well as start looking for Satan around every corner. It was a way of starting people on the process of turning against their families. I never used the OD in discussions, but I’m sure that I encouraged people to ignore information from anywhere but the church, even if that meant cutting themselves off from family. It was a cult tactic, pure and simple.

And, like many evil ideas, it comes straight from Jesus, a end-of-the-world cult leader who insisted on his religion over family. Here it is later on in this reading.

Matthew 10:35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
10:36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

We need to recognise that, despite its family-friendly façade, the LDS Church does not promote family. It subverts the family, and sets the religion up as a kind of substitute family. It even borrows kinship terms: Brother and Sister So-and-So; the bishop is the father of the ward, and so on. One need only go so far as the Exmormon subreddit to find heart-rending stories about how one spouse stops believing, and then is treated like an unworthy wretch by the believing spouse. Or children who very sensibly question the truth claims of the church, only to find themselves kicked out of home, or coerced back into activity. There are the happy stories, where people are eventually joined in unbelief by their partner or family. I’m lucky; I still have a good relationship with my good-hearted TBM sister, though I’m aware that she at times feels a great deal of worry over my non-existent soul. But her concern — and all the broken families and all the fractiousness and all the ostracism — is completely unnecessary. It only exists because there is a religion that has codified belief in itself and support of itself over one’s own family as a foundational meme.

I don’t know what it takes to make a person choose a religion over their spouse or their own child, but whatever it takes, Christianity has done it. Every time I see it happen, I think: That is some powerful juju right there. And it’s all approved by Jesus himself. It went to work early on in Christianity. Separation from family is a feature, not a bug.

The Golden Rule

As far as moral codes go, the teaching which has become known as the Golden Rule is a pretty good one.

Luke 6:31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

We could quibble about the phrasing. I can think of maybe two variations that might improve it a bit.

  • Don’t do something to others if you wouldn’t want them to do that to you — which has become known as the Silver Rule
  • Do unto others as they would like you to do unto them — which I think of as George’s Platinum Rule

Still, the Golden Rule as it stands is a good way to go. When people make lists of secular commandments — as they sometimes do — this one consistently comes up at the top.

But here’s the thing: the Golden Rule predates Jesus, and is not particularly unique among the world’s religions. Here are some formulations in other religions.

Native American Spirituality: “Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself.” Pima proverb.
Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien
Shinto: “The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form” Munetada Kurozumi
Zoroastrianism: “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself”. Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5
Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.” Analects 12:2
Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5,1

And many others. It also comes up in the writings of non-religious people:

Plato: “May I do to others as I would that they should do unto me.” (Greece; 4th century BCE)
Socrates: “Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you.” (Greece; 5th century BCE)
Epictetus: “What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others.” (circa 100 CE)

It was also a strong contender in the recent 10 Atheist Commandments, crowdsourced from ordinary people.

7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.

Sounds good to me.

Additional lesson ideas

Taking apart the roof

There’s kind of a funny story here: Jesus is teaching in a house, and some men are trying to bring a sick man so Jesus can heal him. But there are too many people listening to Jesus for them to get through the door. So what do they do? Easy! Haul the guy up onto the roof, and start dismantling the roof tiles! These guys know how to get stuff done, and I appreciate that.

This story appears in both Mark and Luke — with one crucial difference. The author of Mark tells the story fairly straightforwardly. The author of Luke tells the same story, but he forgets to mention that the story is taking place in a house. The men are pulling off tiles for a house that hasn’t been mentioned in the story yet. Compare:

Mark Luke
Mark 2:1 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house.
2:2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.
Luke 5:17 And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.
2:3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. 5:18 And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him.
2:4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 5:19 And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.

This is what we’d expect if Luke’s version were copied a bit haphazardly from an earlier source, and the author lost track of where in the story he was copying from.

How did Jakob become James?

In the Greek text, the apostle James is Ἰάκωβος, or to put it more Anglishly, Jakob. How did he turn into James? Was someone trying to brown-nose King James?

Not exactly. This rundown is as good as any, but the short version is that Greek Iacobus turned to Latin Iacomus. It’s easy for a /b/ to change to an /m/; just that one’s oral and the other is nasal. From there it was a short hop to Old French Jammes, and thence to James.

Oh, and Santiago in Spanish? That’s just the way they said Sanctu Iacobu, or Saint James.

UPDATE: I missed this one, but Redditor apostatereligion mentioned it, and it was too good not to pass on.

Joseph Smith seemed unaware that Jacobus and Jacomus referred to the same people. In his King Follett discourse, he mischaracterised the sound change as a translation error.

I am going to show you an error. I have an old book of the New Testament in the Hebrew, Latin, German, and Greek. I have been reading the German and find it to be the most [nearly] correct, and to correspond nearest to the revelations I have given for the last fourteen years. It tells about Jachobod the son of Zebedee. It means Jacob. In the English New Testament it is translated James. Now if Jacob had the keys, you might talk about James through all eternity and never get the keys. In the 21st verse of the fourth chapter of Matthew, the German edition gives the word Jacob instead of James. How can we escape the damnation of hell except God reveal to us? Men bind us with chains. Latin says Jachobod means Jacob; Hebrew says it means Jacob; Greek says Jacob; German says Jacob.

Yeah, you wouldn’t want to be getting any keys from James and not Jacob, even though they’re… the… same person. As apostatereligion drily notes: “Some prophet.”

But then Joseph Smith had a little trouble keeping his transliterated Bible characters straight. Elias, anyone? (But more on that soon enough.)

1 Comment

  1. The Golden Rule not only predates Jesus, it predates Jesus in Judaism. In fact, most of the ideas that we commonly associate with Jesus' teachings — i.e., love thy neighbor, don't be judgmental, be kind and forgiving, etc. — were located squarely within the teachings of Hillel the Elder, one of the great historical Jewish sages, who died when Jesus was a child, and of whom Jesus would surely have been aware.

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