Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

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D&C Lesson 11 (Missionary Work)

“The Field Is White Already to Harvest”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 4; 1112; 14–18; 31; 33; 75;
Our Heritage, page 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

This lesson is about being a missionary. On an LDS mission, you’re taught that the work is hastening in the run-up to the last days, and people are somehow being “prepared” to accept the gospel.

D&C 4:4 For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;

Which is the biggest crock of bull ever. Nobody out there cares about the church until it annoys them, and the conversion rate is tailing off.

And once more: here’s that pie chart of how the Lord’s missionary effort is going.

This is not a new idea for anyone in Outer Blogness, but missions aren’t for converting non-members into members. It’s to convert the missionary themself.

How do I know? No, it’s not because of the worsening convert baptism numbers. It’s because of the essays.

Yes, those essays — the ones that try to put a positive spin on difficult issues in the church’s history. Members get directed to them when the church’s dodgy relationship to truth or basic decency become apparent.

I’ve talked to many missionaries over the time that the essays have come out, and no missionary I’ve ever spoken to is aware of them.

Isn’t that a bit of a giveaway? They’re not given any notice about them. Then they run into me, and are ill-prepared to answer questions. If a mission were about convincing people of the church, the essays are something they should have at least heard of. Really, they should know them inside and out, if the church is really using them as a well-equipped, well-trained missionary force. But they’re not, because convert baptisms are not the point of a mission. The church can replenish itself well-enough from children of record. Here the stats have hardly changed.

Again, the purpose of a mission is to convert the missionary. The missionary is placed in a situation where they have to tell people the church is true, and face potential opposition from others. Under that kind of pressure, it would be impossible not to start coming up with rationales for why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Remember, the church get people to lie to themselves, saying that they know the church is true. Then, once you’ve said it, you’re more likely to believe it.

From Boyd Packer:

A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!

“It is not unusual to have a missionary say, ‘How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?’

“Oh, if could teach you one principle:

A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that ‘leap of faith,’ as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. ‘The spirit of man,’ is as the scripture says, indeed ‘is the candle of the Lord.’ (Prov. 20:27)”

Dallin Oaks:

Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.

Brigham Young:

At your meetings you should begin at the top of the roll and call upon as many members as there is time for to bear their testimonies and at the next meeting begin where you left off and call upon others, so that all shall take part and get into the practice of standing up and saying something. Many may think they haven’t any testimony to bear, but get them to stand up and they will find the Lord will give them utterance to many truths they had not thought of before. More people have obtained a testimony while standing up trying to bear it than down on their knees praying for it.

More about gaining a testimony through lying.

That’s right — lie to yourself and say that you know it’s true when you don’t. Do you believe it now? You said you believed it, after all.

The LDS Church is built on a foundation of lies, and the most insidious of these is the lie you tell yourself.

It’s all psychology. This ties into something called cognitive dissonance. When there’s a split between what we believe and what we’re doing, it makes us uncomfortable, and we try to reduce the dissonance. That might mean that we change what we do, but if we’re stuck doing something — did I mention that the mission office took our passports off of us, first thing? — then we might try to change our belief, especially when we’re in a group of other people who also say they believe the same thing. This combination of conformity and commitment has a powerful effect on people’s minds, and can form the basis of an ideology for the rest of that missionary’s life.

For more on cognitive dissonance, check out this famous study by the legendary Leon Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith.

At the beginning of the Festinger and Carlsmith experiment, student volunteers were asked to perform a simple and boring task. Before the subjects left the experiment, the experimenter commented that his research assistant would be unavailable to help out the following day. Would the subject be willing to do a small favor for the experimenter? The favor was to take the place of the research assistant, who was supposed to prepare subjects for the experiment by giving them a positive attitude toward it. “Would you please tell the next subject in line that the experiment was fun and enjoyable?” Subjects who agreed to do this were paid either $1 or $20.

Keep in mind that $20 was a lot of money in the 1950s, equivalent to over $100 now. So one group was being paid a lot of money to lie to the next subject about the boring experiment. The other group was being paid much less. Subjects in both groups typically agreed to tell the next subject that the experiment was interesting.

Festinger and Carlsmith were curious about whether the subjects would change their own attitudes, making them more like the attitudes they were expressing (as a lie) to the next subject. The results were surprising. People who were paid $20 to lie showed less change in their own attitudes. When the experimenters asked them later for the truth, the highly paid subjects said the experiment was actually boring. On the other hand, people who were paid only $1 were more likely to say, when asked later, that the experiment was “not bad” or that it was “interesting.”

How do we explain this? Festinger observed that the subjects were put in a psychologically uncomfortable position. They had not enjoyed the experiment, but now they were asked to lie and say they had enjoyed it. How could they explain their own behavior to themselves? Subjects who received $20 had no problem explaining their behavior to themselves. They were paid a lot of money to lie, and that explained why they lied. So they did not have to change their true attitudes.

However, the subjects who received $1 did not really have a good reason to lie. To reduce the feeling of discomfort they might have felt about lying, they had to persuade themselves they actually enjoyed the experiment. Their attitudes changed to fit their behavior, reducing the uncomfortable feeling of dissonance.

As Festinger put it in A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957):

The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance. (p.3)

And if you’d like to see more about conformity and social pressure, check out this video of the Asch Conformity Experiment.

People call the LDS Church a cult. I don’t, because I don’t think that term is well-defined. But I will say this: Mormon missions are as culty as anything I’ve ever heard of. You’re taken away from your family and social group, your name is changed, other people control who you’re with, what you wear (right down to your underwear), what you do, and what information you have access to. That’s a cult by any definition.

Ask: Read this account of Steve Hassan’s BITE model of cults. How many of these criteria are matched by LDS missions?

Reading

Requirements for being a missionary

To be a missionary, you have to have a knowledge of the gospel

D&C 11:21 Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.

but do not read anti-Mormon materials, including the church’s own essays. Keep it simple!

You also have to be humble and full of love,

D&C 12:8 And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.

which you’ll need a lot of when you’re telling people that their way of life is wrong, and they’ll need to join yours.

Along those lines, don’t mention Section 33:

D&C 33:3 For behold, the field is white already to harvest; and it is the eleventh hour, and the last time that I shall call laborers into my vineyard.
4 And my vineyard has become corrupted every whit; and there is none which doeth good save it be a few; and they err in many instances because of priestcrafts, all having corrupt minds.

Feel the lerrrrrrve.

Which no man knoweth

Someting amazing happens in this reading. Joseph Smith, channeling the ghost of Jesus Christ, tells John Whitmer something that he couldn’t possibly have known.

D&C 15:1 Hearken, my servant John, and listen to the words of Jesus Christ, your Lord and your Redeemer.
2 For behold, I speak unto you with sharpness and with power, for mine arm is over all the earth.
3 And I will tell you that which no man knoweth save me and thee alone
4 For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you.
5 Behold, blessed are you for this thing, and for speaking my words which I have given you according to my commandments.
6 And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.

WOW! That is some next-level psychic phenomena going on there, I can tell you.

Then in the next section, he does it again for Peter Whitmer, Jr.

What does he say this time? Same fucking thing.

D&C 16:1 Hearken, my servant Peter, and listen to the words of Jesus Christ, your Lord and your Redeemer.
2 For behold, I speak unto you with sharpness and with power, for mine arm is over all the earth.
3 And I will tell you that which no man knoweth save me and thee alone
4 For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you.
5 Behold, blessed are you for this thing, and for speaking my words which I have given you according to my commandments.
6 And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.

It reminds me of the time me and a couple of friends went to a naturopath, and he considered my symptoms and gave me the Zinc Drink.

“The Zinc Drink?” I asked.

“The Zinc Drink,” he said. “Many people are deficient in zinc.”

Afterwards, I asked my friends what he recommended for them. Guess what it was. Sure enough: Zanc Drank.

Fucking psychics.

Church of the Devil

I was never sure what the Church of the Devil was. An angel told Nephi:

1 Nephi 14:10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.

That’s a pretty expansive categorisation, but okay Nephi! Only two churches. But now we see this:

D&C 18:20 Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil.

which makes it seem like there’s at least three: the Lord’s church, the church of the devil, and then some other churches that you’re not supposed to contend with. So what were they?

It would have saved me a lot of time if someone had just pulled me aside and said, “Look, this is all made up, and this term is not well-defined. They just use whatever term to mean anything they want, whenever it suits them. Don’t expect any consistency here.”

I wish someone had told me this! So now I’m telling you.

D&C Lesson 10 (Emma Hale Smith)

“This Is My Voice unto All”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 25

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 Emma Smith Hales, Joseph Smith’s first wife (but not the first one he was sealed to).

In the church days of my youth, we didn’t talk much about Emma. I’d heard that she didn’t follow the Saints west, married someone else, and joined the Reorganised Church. So that sounded a bit shady. On the other hand, she had helped act as scribe for the Book of Mormon, even showing a remarkable lack of curiosity when she allegedly saw the “gold plates” left unattended, wrapped in a tablecloth.

The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him [Joseph Smith, Jr.] to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book. … I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. … I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.” (The Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290; spelling modernized.)

By the way, isn’t this kind of odd? I was always told that evil people stopped at nothing to get their hands on the plates, and that the plates had to be moved about all the time. But no, they’re just over there on the table.

So who was Emma Smith? Co-conspirator? Wronged woman? Infidel? What a fascinating range to choose from! But talking about her in church was fraught with peril — who knew what would come out from under that rock if you lifted it a little?

Well, for this lesson, the church constructs a much more wholesome image for her, and one that’s much more in line for what the church wants its female members to be: Emma as loving and supportive spouse.

Remember how I said that the Doctrine and Covenants really only makes sense if you think of it as Joseph Smith telling everyone what God wants them to do for Joseph Smith? This manipulation is evident in Section 25 — though, as we’ll see, this is not the most manipulative section. Not by a long shot.

Reading

Support

Emma married Joseph in 1827, over the objections of her father, who saw Smith as a dishonest character. From Mormonism Unvailed:

When we arrived at Mr. Hale’s, in Harmony, Pa. from which place he had taken his wife, a scene presented itself, truly affecting. His father-in-law (Mr. Hale) addressed Joseph, in a flood of tears: “You have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for money — pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive people.” Joseph wept, and acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false.

Let’s see what the manual has to say about the happy couple.

In July 1830, the Lord directed a revelation to Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith (D&C 25). Display a picture of Emma Smith. Explain that this lesson focuses on three themes from the Lord’s revelation to Emma.

1. Husbands and wives should support and comfort each other.

D&C 25:5 And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.

Joseph says that God says to be nice to Joseph.

The manual again.

The Prophet taught husbands, “It is the duty of a husband to love, cherish, and nourish his wife, and cleave unto her and none else; he ought to honor her as himself, and he ought to regard her feelings with tenderness” (Elders’ Journal, Aug. 1838, 61).

What a shame that he didn’t keep this advice. Somewhere between 1833 and 1835, Joseph Smith  diverted his attention to Fanny Alger, who had worked for Joseph and Emma as a maid. William McLellin alleged that Joseph and Fanny had been caught by Emma in flagrante delicto.

“Again I told her [Emma] I heard that one night she missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!! She told me this story too was verily true.”

– William McLellin, 1872 letter to Joseph Smith III, see In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton, p. 35

Oliver Cowdery spoke of the…

dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger’s … in which I strictly declared that I had never deserted from the truth in the matter, and as I supposed was admitted by himself.”

Oliver was excommunicated in 1938, apparently for not shutting up about it.

The church essay on this topic  tries to paper things over.

Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger.

Calling it a “marriage” seems a stretch. Fanny moved on and married Solomon Custer in 1836, which is kind of what you do when you’ve had an “affair”, not a “marriage”.

On all of this, the Gospel Doctrine manual simply says:

Joseph and Emma Smith were a great support to each other during the many times of affliction they faced.

Not a word about Joseph’s sexual predation on other women.

(h/t: Redditor Juggler_Vain)

Activity: If you are in a real Gospel Doctrine class, please let us know if the instructor mentions the other women without being prompted by class members.

Pride

Here’s a theme that will be of no surprise to those who have read the Book of Mormon.

2. We should be meek and avoid pride.
The Lord commanded Emma Smith to “continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride”

Read the following verses with class members:

a. D&C 23:1 (to Oliver Cowdery): “Beware of pride, lest thou shouldst enter into temptation.”
b. D&C 38:39 (to the Saints in a conference of the Church): “Beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.”
c. D&C 90:17 (to the First Presidency of the Church): “Be admonished in all your high-mindedness and pride, for it bringeth a snare upon your souls.”
d. D&C 98:19–20 (to the Saints in Kirtland): “I, the Lord, am not well pleased with many who are in the church at Kirtland; For they do not forsake their sins, and their wicked ways, the pride of their hearts, and their covetousness.”

Ask: Why did Joseph Smith tell so many people to avoid pride?

A major threat for a movement’s leaders is that people lower in the hierarchy will usurp them. You have to teach them to know their place. Convincing those people to be humble can help to tamp that down.

So many things about the church seems calculated to instill into its members a sense of docility and timidity in the face of unquestionable authority.

Rejoice

Here’s point 3 in the manual:

3. We should rejoice and be of good cheer.
The Lord admonished Emma Smith, “Lift up thy heart and rejoice”

Well, it does say that, kind of. But let’s read the whole verse.

D&C 25:13 Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.
14 Continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him.
15 Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.

So what it actually says is: rejoice. And be meek, humble, love your husband, or else!

No idea whether being threatened like this made Emma feel joyful. Guessing not.

The picture that I get from this lesson is: Joseph Smith was gross. If God didn’t pick a womanising conman as his chosen prophet, he certainly showed a startling disregard for the fact that his chosen prophet looked an awful lot like a womanising conman.

Additional lesson ideas

A better world?

D&C 25:10 And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.

Horrible advice. This life is the only life we’re sure that we get. But the church tries to convince us to use up our life in the service of perpetuating itself, and furthering its cause. Don’t worry, they say; you get another life — if you give us this one.

This is one of the more evil beliefs in the church. The only better world that we’re ever going to see is the better world that we create ourselves right here, and it’s not going to happen if we’re ignoring it in favour of an illusory afterlife.

Did Emma try to kill Joseph?

There’s a story about how Emma tried to put poison in Joseph’s coffee. Steve Benson dismisses this as Brigham Young’s paranoia, and I tend to agree.

There is such a thing as justifiable homicide, and if she had succeeded — or more effective still, if someone had smothered an infant Joseph Smith in his cot — it would have spared her the lies and deceit of her philandering guru husband, and perhaps spared the world the dreary, dishonest, and self-serving religion known as Mormonism.

D&C Lesson 9 (LDS Church is organised)

“The Only True and Living Church”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 20:1–36, 68–69, 75–79; 21; 27; 115:1–4;
Our Heritage, pages 14–16.

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

The Church of Christ Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially reorganised on 6 April 1830. Members partook of the Sacrament. From the manual:

• Explain that at the meeting in which the Church was organized, members partook of the sacrament (History of the Church, 1:78). Why do you think it was important to have the ordinance of the sacrament performed at the first meeting of the restored Church?

This sacrament meeting happened on a Tuesday. How weird would that seem to Mormons today? Never mind, they’re always at church.

Reading

Without the church

The lesson begins with a perennial question:

How might your life be different if the Church had not been restored or if you were not a member of the Church?

I remember members of my ward telling big stories about how they didn’t know where they’d be without the church. They’d probably be dead or in jail.

Sound familiar? It’s all part of a “scary external world” narrative in which life outside the religion is made to look unappealing.

I did learn a few good things from my time in the church. I got good at public speaking and giving lessons. I had lots of music in my background, and even though LDS music isn’t particularly good, it paved the way for better music later. I don’t mind that I didn’t drink alcohol.

The best thing about my church upbringing was that I learned to value truth. Truth mattered. That’s why the church was great: because it was true. This was what got me out of the church when it no longer appeared to be true. Leaving was an act of integrity.

In some ways, I would have been better off without the church. I wouldn’t have had to make up excuses for an organisation that was human, but that claimed to be divine. The LDS Church teaches false history, false morals, and (most important) a false method for finding truth. I could have done without all of that.

Now I’m finding that life without the church is kind of great.

Wine swap

God soon changed the sacrament, substituting water for wine.

• In D&C 27, the Lord gave further instructions to Joseph Smith regarding the sacrament. What was Joseph doing when he received this revelation? (See the heading to D&C 27.) What did Joseph learn about the sacrament in this revelation? (See D&C 27:2.) How can we partake of the sacrament “with an eye single to [Christ’s] glory”?

This is kind of odd. Why would God not have told the Saints to use water from the start? Did he forget? Or is this someone making it up as they go?

From mine own mouth

Mormons teach that they should obey the president of the church as though he were God.

D&C 1:38 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.

D&C 21:4 Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

Sufficient time

Section 20 says that converts should have “sufficient time” to teach about the church. (I note that “sufficient information” is not a priority.)

D&C 20:68 The duty of the members after they are received by baptism—The elders or priests are to have a sufficient time to expound all things concerning the church of Christ to their understanding, previous to their partaking of the sacrament and being confirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders, so that all things may be done in order.
69 And the members shall manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of it, that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures—walking in holiness before the Lord.

This advice has been ignored where convenient. Here’s a story (PDF | Text) about the disastrous “baseball baptism” era, in which kids were hurriedly baptised, knowing nothing about the church. Henry Moyle, the architect of this plan, told missionaries:

You elders need have no concern, no matter from what source the criticism comes, as to whether your baptisms are too fast. . . . If you think that President McKay does not know what is going on and that Brother Moyle and Brother Woodbury, and Brother Brockbank are “pulling a fast one,” so to speak, why you are mistaken about that. . . . I have noted a little apologetic tone in some of your voices about baptizing too many young people. Well don’t put on the brakes.

April 6th

This part is going to get a little bit Star-Warsy, in the sense that I’m going to pick over the minutia of something that normal people don’t care about. But I’ll make a point along the way.

The question is: Do Mormons think that Jesus was born on April 6th?

People at church in my old home ward sure thought so. They would read about how Joseph Smith received the precise day for the organisation of the church:

The Prophet wrote, “We obtained of Him [Jesus Christ] the following, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to His will and commandment, we should proceed to organize His Church once more here upon the earth.”

And then they’d read Section 20:

D&C 20:1 The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April

and they’d think, “Yep — that’s Jesus’ birthday all right.”

Except it’s not all that clear. It depends on the writer’s intention (and that writer would appear to have been John Whitmer, who wrote a lot of the intros for the sections in the Book of Commandments). Was the writer intending to say that April 6, 1830 was exactly one thousand eight hundred and thirty years to the day, or just to the year?

Well, if he meant ‘to the year’, then he was wrong. Jesus couldn’t have been born in CE 0 (or even CE 1) because Herod was already dead by BCE 4, and the census under Quirinius (mentioned in Luke) wouldn’t have taken place until 6 CE. Problems!

If we can’t get the year right, how could we get the day? All we really know is that December 25th is almost certainly wrong, and was decided on as a way of co-opting the festival of Saturnalia.

However, church leaders have said that, yup, April 6th is Jesus’ birthday.

Harold Lee in 1976:

This is the annual conference of the Church. April 6, 1973, is a particularly significant date because it commemorates not only the anniversary of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation, but also the anniversary of the birth of the Savior, our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith wrote this, preceding a revelation given at that same date:

“The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April.” (D&C 20:1.)

Spencer Kimball in 1980:

My brothers and sisters, today we not only celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the organization of the Church, but also the greatest event in human history since the birth of Christ on this day 1,980 years ago. Today is Easter Sunday.

David Bednar in 2014 (and he’s even scripture!)

Today is April 6. We know by revelation that today is the actual and accurate date of the Savior’s birth. April 6 also is the day on which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized.

But somehow this wasn’t enough for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which says:

The LDS Church has not taken an official position on the issue of the year of Christ’s birth. Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, offers what for the present appears to be the most definitive word on the question: “We do not believe it is possible with the present state of our knowledge-including that which is known both in and out of the Church-to state with finality when the natal day of the Lord Jesus actually occurred” (Vol. 1, p. 349, n. 2).

Ask: Why would the word of prophets not be enough to establish the date?

This should raise some tremors:

Although most Christians celebrate December 25 as the birthday of Jesus Christ, few in the first two Christian centuries claimed any knowledge of the exact day or year in which he was born. The oldest existing record of a Christmas celebration is found in a Roman almanac that tells of a Christ’s Nativity festival led by the church of Rome in 336 A.D. The precise reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25 remains obscure, but most researchers believe that Christmas originated as a Christian substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.

We’ve seen in previous lessons how Joseph Smith failed to write down significant events in the church’s history that were supposed to have happened, and this is probably a sign of a made-up story. Well, it looks like Jesus’ birth falls into that category as well. Were the early Christians just really bad with birthdays? Or was the story invented after the fact?

It’s okay with me if Jesus existed, but the whole thing begins to look like a cobbled-together myth.

D&C Lesson 8 (Restoration of the Priesthood)

The Restoration of the Priesthood

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 13; 20:38–67; 27:12–13; 84:6–30; 107:1–20; 110:11–16;
Joseph Smith—History 1:66–73;
Our Heritage, pages 11–14.

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

The Priesthood is the power of God, and so (not coincidentally) it’s exactly like God in two important respects.

One, it’s entirely fictional. And two, it’s immensely sexist.

Reading

Was the world created by the priesthood?

Mormons have the idea that Elohim used the priesthood to create the world and the universe.

• What is the priesthood? (The priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God. It is the power by which He created and governs the heavens and the earth.

This is a bit like using the Force to make a sandwich. You might as well say “A wizard did it.” There’s no difference between Elohim did it and A wizard did it. Both are equally absurd.

We know how something about the universe was formed. We can explain it without invoking a god, a wizard, or The Force. Natural processes are all we need; the priesthood is irrelevant.

A Mormon: “Yes, but a wizard did all of that.”

The restoration of the two priesthoods

So the story goes that Joseph and Oliver wanted to know about the authority to baptise. They prayed in the woods, and who should appear but John the Baptist, who gave them the Aaronic priesthood. Later (but Smith never wrote how much later), Peter, James, and John were supposed to have conferred the Melchizedek priesthood.

The Gospel Doctrine manual says that men are supposed to take this power very seriously.

Talmage:
“The effect of my ordination … entered into all the affairs of my boyish life. … When at play on the school grounds, and perhaps tempted to take unfair advantage in the game, when in the midst of a dispute with a playmate, I would remember, and the thought would be as effective as though spoken aloud—‘I am a deacon; and it is not right that a deacon should act in this way.’ On examination days, when it seemed easy for me to copy some other boy’s work … , I would say in my mind, ‘It would be more wicked for me to do that than it is for them, because I am a deacon’” (Incidents from the Lives of Our Church Leaders [deacons instruction manual, 1914], 135–36).

“Yay — I’m better. Oh, no! I’m not living up to my betterness!”

And this is how you give someone a superiority complex, while keeping their guilt complex alive.

There’s a big problem with the story of the restoration of the two priesthoods — they seem to have been entirely unreported at the time. Joseph Smith didn’t write down this story until five years later, so it must not have made much of an impression on him.

View post on imgur.com

David Whitmer, one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, is reported to have said,

“I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood until the year 1834[,] [183]5. or [183]6—in Ohio.… I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver…” (Early Mormon Documents, 5:137).

Another early convert, William McLellin, stated, I joined the church in 1831. For years I never heard of John the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver. I heard not of James, Peter, and John doing so.” Some time later he repeated that “I never heard of it in the church for years…” (An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, pp.224-25).

So what happened? Joseph Smith wrote it in later. Here’s a screen shot from this page, which shows the differences between the 1833 Book of Commandments (the precursor to the D&C), and the current D&C. On the left, no mention of Peter, James, and John. On the right, a huge after-the-fact update.

But why would they have made up this story later? Well, it was later that their authority was being challenged, so they doubled down. Let’s check in with Grant Palmer, in his book “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins“.

When Joseph and Oliver began mentioning their angelic ordinations in late 1834 and early 1835, they were facing a credibility crisis that threatened the church’s survival. In late 1833 a group in Kirtland, Ohio, denounced Joseph Smith for ministering “under pretense of Divine Authority.” They employed D. P. Hurlbut to investigate Joseph’s past, hoping to bring him down “from the high station which he pretends to occupy.” Hurlbut traveled to Palmyra, New York, and collected affidavits from residents about Joseph’s early treasure seeking and other aspects of his youth. Hurlbut began a lecture tour starting in January 1834 to “numerous congregations in Chagrin, Kirtland, Mentor, and Painesville; and … [he] fired the minds of the people with much indignation against Joseph and the Church.” Finding disillusionment spreading among the Saints, Joseph and Sidney Rigdon began preaching against Hurlbut. It was under these circumstances, exacerbated by problems associated with the failure of Zion’s Camp–the paramilitary trek to assist fellow Saints in Missouri–that Joseph mentioned for the first time in public that his priesthood had “been conferred upon me by the ministering of the Angel of God.”

Unofficial church historian Mithryn has written a terrific post about how Book of Commandments was retconned to make this restoration look legit.

The notable revelations on priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants before referred to–Sections 2 and 13–are missing, and Chapter 28 gives no hint of the restoration which, if actual, had been known for four years. More than four hundred words were added to this revelation of September 1830 in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the additions made to include the names of heavenly visitors and two separate ordinations. The Book of Commandments gives the duties of Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons and refers to Joseph’s apostolic calling, but there is no mention of Melchizedek Priesthood, High Priesthood, High Priests, nor High Councilors. These words were later inserted into the revelation on church organization and government given in 1830, making it appear that they were known at that date, but they do not appear in the original, Chapter 24 of the 1833 Book of Commandments. Similar interpolations were made in the revelations now known as Sections 42 and 68.

From MormonThink:

As pro-LDS historian Richard Bushman admits in his landmark biography on Joseph Smith (Rough Stone Rolling, 75): “the late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication”—even though he doesn’t draw that conclusion himself. Many do raise that possibility, however. In a nutshell, they believe that there are good reasons to doubt that the restoration of the priesthood actually happened in the church, despite Joseph Smith’s later descriptions of the events in his 1838 History of the Church. The actuality of those angelic events and the exclusivity of power/authority which such events would denote, are highly questionable.

If this priesthood restoration really happened, we should expect it to have been discussed by members of the early church, and written down somewhere. But we don’t. That’s a sign of a fishy story.

Moses, Elias, and Elijah?

This part of the reading is unintentionally hilarious. Jesus talks about all the guests he’s going to invite to a massive piss-up. There’s going to be Jesus, and Moroni, and Elias, and John… and Elijah.

D&C 27:5 Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim;
6 And also with Elias, to whom I have committed the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, concerning the last days;
7 And also John the son of Zacharias, which Zacharias he (Elias) visited and gave promise that he should have a son, and his name should be John, and he should be filled with the spirit of Elias;
8 Which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron;
9 And also Elijah, unto whom I have committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse;

This is funny because — as Richard Packham has pointed outElias is simply the Greek version of the name Elijah. It’s like saying, “I was listening to the Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi… and then the one by Joe Green.”

Joseph Smith does it again in Section 110.

D&C 110:11 After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.
12 After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—

LOLs.

So how do Mormon apologists explain this? Simple — just start redefining words! Elias isn’t the name of a person, it’s more like a title. An Elias is a forerunner, like John the Baptist. JtB was an Elias. Noah was an Elias. Elijah was an Elias. Even Jesus could have been an Elias. Or Elias could be Elias. There; doesn’t that make everything clearer? Now you have no idea who the scriptures are talking about in any given verse.

Richard Packham wryly observes:

Moral: all it takes is one stupid mistake to form the basis for an entire complicated theology.

Women and the Priesthood

This is a part of the manual that is “by request only.” Says the manual:

The following material is provided to help you address questions class members may have about women and the priesthood. This topic should not be the focus of this lesson. (emphasis mine)

Translation: Oh, God — please don’t bring this stuff up unless you gotta.

The LDS Church displays its sexism in the way it bans women from having the priesthood, and in the way that it disciplines women who question this ban.

It’s not that I care if women aren’t given a fictional power — the problem is that every 12-year-old male is given more authority in the church than any adult woman. Not incidentally, male leaders get paid (rather a bit, according to leaked pay stubs), and it seems female leaders don’t.

Ask: If you were a young woman growing up in the church, how did the priesthood ban for women affect you? Did it contribute to any sexism that you experienced?

The manual says, not entirely convincingly:

• How are women blessed by the priesthood? How are children blessed by the priesthood? (Review some of the blessings of the priesthood that women and children may receive during their lives. Emphasize that although women and children do not hold the priesthood, they are continually blessed by it. For help in answering these questions, you may want to refer to The Latter-day Saint Woman, Part A, chapters 12 and 13 [31113].)

In a sense, it’s appropriate that the manual lumps women and children into the same category.

Let’s finish with a gross joke that was common around Utah Valley when I was going to church there:

How can women hold the Priesthood?

All night long.

Am I right, ladies?

I need to have a shower now. Let’s close.

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 5 (Personal Revelation)

“This Is the Spirit of Revelation”

Reading assignment

Reading assignment: Doctrine and Covenants 6; 8; 9; Joseph Smith—History 1:8–17.

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.

Main points for this lesson

Revelation

Ask: How is revelation supposed to work?

D&C 8:2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

D&C 9:7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right,

Answer: Members are expected to work out the problem themselves, and then decide if they feel spiritual about it.

If it’s right, you feel something like dyspepsia, and if it’s wrong, you feel dumb.

D&C 9:8 and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

From the manual:

Why does the Lord expect us to study matters out in our own minds before receiving revelation? (Answers could include that the Lord intends for us to be active, not passive, as we seek revelation from Him. He also expects us to use our agency. We grow as we use the gifts and resources He has provided to help us study matters out in our minds.)

In other words, you’re supposed to use your brain to solve the problem, but then you’re supposed to pretend that the answer came from God. That way, you do all the work, and God gets the credit. But you have an answer that you feel positive about. If it all blows up later, then you can pretend there was some sort of “greater purpose” for you getting it wrong.

This is a good time to review this video from Jeff Holland, in which he arrives at what he admits is an unambiguously wrong answer to prayer.

Ask: What was his explanation for why the Spirit told him to go in the wrong direction, on (in his words) “clearly the wrong road”?
Answer: The Lord allowed him to go the wrong way for a while, so that he would know it was wrong.

Ask: How would you ever know if this method of getting answers didn’t work?

With this rationale, there would be absolutely no way to disconfirm this method. Either it gives right answers, or it gives wrong answers that are also right! Either your faith is strengthened, or your faith is strengthened more. This method is a closed circle.

This is also blind faith. An eye that responds the same to light and darkness is a blind eye. Faith that responds the same to confirmation and disconfirmation is blind faith.

Personal revelation in my life

I actually got my testimony of the church by praying about the Doctrine and Covenants, and not the Book of Mormon. I might be atypical in this regard.

I finished reading it, and when I was alone, I prayed to ask if it was true, being well aware of the feelings I was supposed to feel. And I really did! I remember feeling somewhat carried aloft by the swelling, pulsating sensations of the Spirit — or perhaps some other internal organ located near the chest area.

That experience kept me in that church for decades. As with the effect of homeopathic pills, it was never quite effective as it was on the first miraculous experience. But I was sold.

What didn’t occur to me until much later was that the consequences of not having that spiritual confirmation were too terrifying to contemplate. Parents wrong? Entire ontological system a myth? Future plans a waste of time? Setting myself against my family, friends, community, and entire support network? Brain said: Tell you what, endocrine system — it’s make-or-break time. Give him the buzz — he’s already worked up — and we can work out the rest later.

What was Oliver’s gift?

Here’s a rather cryptic passage from D&C 8, written to Oliver Cowdery.

D&C 8:5 Oh, remember these words, and keep my commandments. Remember, this is your gift.
6 Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things;
7 Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you.

Gift of Aaron?

Aaron was Moses’ brother, and his gift was the gift of gab. He did the talking while Moses did the revealing. But that’s not the gift here.

Aaron also had a rod (supposedly) that he could throw down on the ground and turn into a snake.

Exodus 7:9 When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent.
7:10 And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent.
7:11 Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.
7:12 For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.

Okay, now things are getting interesting! The association with the rod of Aaron is apt, but even now we’re not on the right track. The rod being referred to here is a dowsing rod.

I just want to give credit where credit is due: I never would have known this without the Joseph Smith Papers, which the LDS Church has published. Unlike some of the church essays, they’re not shy about publishing them online — or even linking to them from a story about Oliver Cowdery. Good on them for putting this out there, even though it’s a little… out there.

So let’s get to the good stuff. What about this rod? Here’s the link.

O remember these words & keep my commandments remember this is thy gift now this is not all for thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the sprout

Sprout?

Well, the article is helpful again, because it has a footnote:

In preparing the text of Revelation Book 1 for publication, Sidney Rigdon replaced “sprout” with “rod.” Green, flexible shoots or rods cut from hazel, peach, or cherry trees were sometimes used as divining rods.

There you have it. Oliver was intended to use a divining rod. That makes the following passage make more sense:

D&C 8:8 Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God.
9 And, therefore, whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it.

What a shame, though — Oliver was rubbish at using it, especially to translate documents. How do you translate with a stick? Probably the same way you translate with a rock in a hat. I don’t know. Maybe that’s because divining rods are complete rubbish. People still use them to try to find water, but no one can do it under controlled conditions. They do try, though. And fail.

Ask: In this video, what evidence do people offer for dowsing?
Answer: Anecdotes.

Ask: How do the dowsers respond when they fail?
Answer: One man says that a mischievous prankster god is thwarting him for fun. One woman is shattered.

Dowsing is (or was) the most common form of paranormal claim that claimants brought before James Randi’s million dollar challenge. No one ever managed to demonstrate such an ability under controlled conditions.

However, frauds (like Joseph Smith) still try to use them to fleece the credulous. A man named James McCormick sold fake bomb detectors — which were just dowsing rods — to the Iraqi government for $60,000 a pop. They probably were responsible for deaths, as these useless devices were actually being used at checkpoints to detect bombs. McCormick was jailed.

Ask: What kinds of questions are Latter-day Saints encouraged to answer using this phoney method of personal revelation?
Answer: The most important questions in life, including whom to marry, what to study, where to live, and what work to take.

Ask: What kind of trouble can someone get into for using fake intuitive methods to solve real problems?

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.

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