Wednesday, December 14, 2011

10 Reasons to leave the LDS church

I want to have a typed reference of my thoughts on a great podcast I recently listened to on Mormon Expression. So here are the 10 reasons given by the good folks over at Mormon Expression for leaving the church along with some of my thoughts on each one. Here goes;

10. Church is boring. This is very true. I suppose if your goal is to overcome insomnia, then church meetings could be considered useful. Otherwise, it seems that most meetings and church gatherings are very boring. It is the same old stuff that is droned over and over again and reverence has become a word in my vocabulary that is synonymous with boring. On my mission, I actually attended a bible study group with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Honestly, I don't remember very much (if anything) about what was said there, but I do recall being very surprised at how little actual interaction or questioning went on there. It seemed very boring to me at the time because of the complete lack of questioning of what was being stated by the facilitator as it was read directly from their tracts. I am also amused at the times that I have gone to church to see so many people closing their eyes and nodding off during lessons and sacrament meetings. I teach adult education classes for work and I go for 2,3,4 or even 8 hour stints as the instructor and see less people sleeping or nodding off when talking about insurance ethics than I do at church.

9. It’s damaging to family relationships. Tearing up of families seems to be condoned when one member of the family is out of, or does not believe in, the church while others are in and are taught to believe that apostates are evil. In my situation, for example, I only see it as a matter of time before my children begin to feel that my authority as their father is marginalized when they get some well meaning teacher or leader at church emphasize the importance of having a "worthy" penisholder in the home. Worthiness will then be equated with belief which, in my opinion, is a dangerous association to make. I'm not sure I even like an emphasis on worthiness since it seems to encourage judging. Even so, according to the teachings of the church - outside of church (or church meeting) attendance, participation or serving in a calling - I am every bit as worthy as any other father in the church that claims to have and exercise priesthood authority for their family members. The only difference is, I don't believe the priesthood is real. It is not a question of worthiness for me, but a question of belief. It is unfortunate that worthiness is so heavily emphasized by those in the church since it is only borne out in justifying criticism of others when assumptions are made about worthiness, when worthiness is not the issue at all.

8. The church fosters and promotes an us vs. them mentality. The church essentially highlights falling into one of 3 different groups; 1. Members of the church (the "elect" or "chosen" group of God's anointed) 2. The “world” or all those that are non-members, but not fixed against the church because they simply haven't found the "truth" yet, and 3. The apostates. These are those that are in danger of being cast into outer darkness at the day of judgment because they choose to actively fight against the church. I guess I would be considered an apostate since I care enough to try to detail the issues I have with the church. The problem is, the world is just not that simple of a place. You can't really place people in such broad or general categories because the lines are just too blurry. There are people that are members of the church that live a life of hypocrisy. They show up at church on Sunday and participate in everything expected of them, but outside of their church lives, they do all kinds of things that would be considered unbecoming of members of the church. You can also find apostates who are good people and just leave well enough alone because the church just doesn't work for them. My point is, there are people that fall all over the spectrum and the church tries to paint people into very specific categories with a very broad brush when that is just not an accurate representation of the way people are.

7. The things the church emphasizes are not relevant or meaningful to me in my life. This reason for leaving is certainly the most practical. I can see those as members of the church saying that these people are selfish, if they leave for this reason, but what if it's true? I mean, if somebody doesn't fit into the mold of what a Mormon is or should be, should Mormons expect that they should just conform? I mean, doesn't the church promote the idea of people having and exercising their free agency? The church would have people believe that their way of life will work for everyone...if they will just sacrifice a little bit of who they think they are. The problem is, it is assumed that if you think differently than the members of the church you are automatically wrong. I say, why not allow people to be who they are and still be good people even if they hold beliefs that are different from yours.

6. Financial reasons. It is expensive to be a faithful member of the church. Especially when the definition of tithing remains purposefully ambiguous so as to allow people to believe that they can best demonstrate their devotion by paying 10% of their gross income. Or even allow the debate to go on about whether or not it is better to pay 10% of your net or gross income. While those in the church that advocate a different view of what amount of 10% you should be paying tithing on, in my experience, these people that hold such views are in a very small minority. People are encouraged to pay tithing even while they are in desperate financial conditions and can't afford basic necessities of life. If these people dare to question the teaching that they pay so much of their income in tithing, they are told that they are being selfish. I think believing members of the church should look into what the history of tithing is what it used to be defined as or how other churches define it. It used to be defined as 10% of your increase. That meant after all of your expenses were paid, the money that is left over is your increase. It was openly believed in times past, even among the leaders of the LDS church, that tithing (or 10%) should be paid from this amount, but certainly not from your gross income. That would have just seemed foolish to them. It seems foolish to me now, but nobody in the church wants to hear what I have to say on the matter.

5. The church is active in  discrimination. This discrimination is still contained in the canons of LDS scripture. There is no redaction, no apology. Just a simple statement that what was practiced (and believed) before is no longer. I am talking about discrimination against blacks (or anyone that has a color of skin that is not white for that matter), against women, against homosexuals. The list could go on but those are the most significant.

4. The church is anti-scientific. The church is not passive in this area, it is ACTIVELY anti-science. The church maintains a world view that is completely incompatible with science, but it continues to define that stance as the position of virtue. People who want to study and embrace science and use it to figure out how things work in this world must keep all of their religious views and scientific views in a box where the two cannot be combined. If they were to be combined, one would have to be discarded in order to keep mental stability in tact. The other reaction I see among the faithful is to keep a position of ignorance or selectivity about what is accepted in the scientific community. These  folks have to keep jumping from one position to another to try to keep their views in tact. If they pause to think too deeply about the ramifications of accepting all the implications of their beliefs in one big package, I think that would just be too painful. Of course, I can't really back this up with any specific examples, it is just a general observation when talking about science with believers.

3. The church is misogynistic. I actually had to look up what this word means. It means espousing hatred towards women. And, on the surface, most women in the church don't feel hated on since they have been conditioned to accept their role as the inferior sex in life. There are certainly things that women enjoy in life that men cannot do (like breastfeeding for example) and these things are used by women of to justify the position and teaching by the church that they are not eligible to hold the priesthood or any significant leadership role in the church. One thing that was brought up in the podcast is the definition of auxiliary.  Women can only be leaders of auxiliary units in the church. These positions are often held up by the male leaders of the church as having some significance. However, when we learn that the definition of auxiliary (as made apparent by the way the church treats auxiliary units) is not essential and not truly independent of male oversight, it only spells out that women are not to be trusted with any real authority themselves. On the podcast they also asked listeners to compare the behavior of female executives with women in the church. When women do speak in general conference, for example, they speak for shorter periods of time and give talks that are geared towards children or younger audiences. It is apparent that women know and accept their place in the church as 2nd fiddle to the men. While, I suppose, some may enjoy that position it is not difficult to argue that the church is indeed misogynistic in its outward behavior towards women.

2. The number 2 reason to leave the church is to avoid psychological damage. Of course this feeling is not the same for everyone. Some people thrive on the culture of the church and do very well in it. Others seem stifled and really damaged psychologically by it. I would further think that social minorities in the church would not do well because of the continual reminders about how inferior they are. While those in the majority may not see the damage they are causing in the things they say and do, it does not make the affects any less real. Many people feel so low because they feel inferior for thinking or feeling something different than what the church teaches is the "norm" that they literally feel the need to kill themselves over it. It is so sad that this happens, but it is even more sad to me that it is allowed to continue.

1. And the number one reason to leave the church is that you don't want to support a dishonest organization. Whether it is in covering up past teachings or practices of church leaders or modern day memes that are found in the church, honesty seems to very much be something that is encouraged by the leaders concerning the members but is not practiced themselves. Church members are encouraged to pay a "full and honest" tithe, but the church doesn't have to disclose how much it gives to charitable causes around the world. Some have estimated that this amount is somewhere in the neighborhood of less than 1% of the tithing revenues received by the church. But there is no way to document this because the church won't release its financials. The church encourages members to "declare" their tithe paying status but the church doesn't ever declare anything about its financial status. What if the church were suffering financially and on the brink of financial ruin? Shouldn't you be entitled to know that? If there is a "righting of the ship" that needs to occur for the church to literally survive financially, shouldn't you be aware of it? The problem is, while full disclosure and an "accounting" is required of the members, the church follows no such thing itself. While members are being told that the campaign to pass Proposition 8 in California was entirely being paid for by members and volunteer contributions, we later found out that the church was actually funding the campaign itself to the tune of hundred's of thousands of dollars. Shouldn't members be told the truth about how their tithing dollars are being allocated? Shouldn't members be able to expect that the church would be honest about what is going on behind closed doors? Finances is just one area where the church could stand to be more honest, but the rabbit hole of dishonesty goes much deeper than that. The church is guilty of "white-washing" most of it's history so it is comforting and sanitary for the digestion of the members of the church. While fundamentally dishonest, there is no meaningful accountability for the actions taken by the leaders of the church. If you don't like it, apparently you don't have to enjoy the benefits of eternal salvation that the church claims to be able to provide for you. There is no ability to offer up your dissent, because, frankly, they don't care what you think. As a member of the church, you are nobody to them and they don't feel any duty towards you whatsoever. If you don't think this is true, check out the response of a church leader to the idea of criticism.

Next time I hope to highlight reasons to stay in the church. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Let men's hearts fail

I recently watched a Mormon messages video sent to me (that can be found here). The video is a story shared by Russell M. Nelson who is a member of the quorum of 12 apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In the story, Nelson tells of a hair raising experience he had while flying on a small plane. He said the engine, that he could see outside his window, burst into flames, exploded and then spewed burning oil all over the side of the plane. He said that he was curious at a woman who was crying and screaming hysterically as the plane started to dive due to the loss of the engine. He said he was calm and felt "ready to meet his maker" as he thought the plane might be spiraling to his certain death. The implication is then made, through the comments he makes next, that those who fear or are suffering are somehow inferior to those who have faith or belief in an afterlife.

I think there must be something wrong with me because, while many will say they find the message and the video inspiring and uplifting, I find it condescending and demeaning, especially to the poor woman who wasn't ready to die. He is taking a perfectly normal reaction to facing potential death in a plane crash (screaming and crying hysterically) and turning it into something that is to be avoided if you believe strongly enough in God and an afterlife. Who's to say that the woman didn't believe in God or that she wasn't crying because she was sinful or felt inadequate...SHE WAS CRYING BECAUSE SHE DIDN'T WANT TO DIE! THAT'S IT. Is he saying that those who are afraid of something (like dying) lack faith and if they just believed more they would all be calm like he was? I'm sorry, but I have seen many faithful people get scared and cry when their life was in danger. No matter what your level of faith, everyone will react differently - sometimes with calmness, sometimes with hysteria - when faced with a life threatening situation. Regardless of who you are or what you believe, everybody get's scared once in a while.

It is normal to be scared and our particular reaction in that moment may be more due to our personality or current disposition than anything to do with spiritual or religious beliefs. It is normal to be afraid and we shouldn't put down people for engaging in a perfectly reasonable and normal response to the loss of their life. And we certainly shouldn't put our response to that situation on a pedestal because we happen to not be afraid in that moment. If we did not have fear, or get scared, we would all die off because of what we would now call stupidity.

Don't get me wrong, fear is not something that is desirable. I don't go around looking for things to be afraid of. Rather, fear is a normal thing. It is not something to be demonized in order to get you to believe the way I do about the existence of a higher power or what might happen after we all die. I see this as a despicable tool being used by Nelson to manipulate people and get them to convert to his point of view. It just seems like this man is taking something that is normal and exploiting it to make himself appear knowledgeable and as having something that you need. How is this different than a snake oil salesman who tells you that you are suffering from this or that and only he has the cure? Frankly, I don't see much difference.

After re-watching the video, I am actually impressed that Mr. Nelson does not make any definite statements as to what you need, rather he says "a faith" instead of "the faith" when referring to what is needed to overcome fear or sadness. Baby steps towards increased tolerance and acceptance of other faith traditions, I guess. I honestly think Nelson has the benefit of a skilled PR and legal department guiding and editing his words in this video so those that are paying attention can't gather too much literal ammunition to cry intolerance on the church. While he is very careful, the presumptions are glaring.

I would also submit that Mr. Nelson's interpretation of the scripture he quotes in the video is being misinterpreted. The verses he quotes are a snippet of a lengthy response from Jesus to his apostles asking when he would come again and what signs would follow so that they might know and be ready (see Luke 21:7). The verses Nelson quotes are as follows (from Luke 21);

 25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

 26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

 27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

When I read these verses it sounds to me like the faithful will be the one's aware of the signs that indicate the 2nd coming of Jesus is near. Especially since the audience in these verses is the apostles of Jesus. Those that believe are the one's whose hearts will fail them. This means the faithful will fear because it is perceived that the things they are "looking after" (meaning the signs that they believe have been foretold - even though there is really nothing explicit or detailed about what these events might be exactly, except for those things that have plagued us for centuries like war, famine, natural disasters, etc.) are coming and the "powers of heaven" shall be shaken. In other words, the powers of heaven can only mean those that are the one's supposedly possessing said powers. Those that supposedly have these powers (God given power, authority or priesthood) will be shaken.

To understand this verse further, and add a different perspective, let's try to understand what would happen if astronomers see something out of the ordinary concerning the sun, moon or stars. It will most certainly not cause them to remember that Jesus' second coming is near. Rather, if these things seem to spell the end of our lives on this planet, scientists will attempt to understand what is happening and warn us if there is an impending disaster due to those things. Certainly the world at large would be scared if that sort of thing were announced, or experienced, but it would not be according to signs having been foretold in the scriptures. Scripture is intentionally vague when it comes to specific signs or atrocities so that they are all inclusive. These vague things are then used as mechanisms to convince, and ultimately control, people to believe in what the current professors of those teachings are saying.

Nelson then goes on to tell us that the reason hearts will fail (or people will experience fear or sadness) is because we forget our identity and our purpose. Apparently showing people in silence as they argue or look generally sad is supposed to re-enforce this idea. I feel bad about this representation because, while it may speak to those who struggle in different ways, it portrays these people as lacking in some way. People who experience normal things that may cause stress in their lives are shown as imperfect and needing the help that Nelson can apparently provide.

What makes me even more sad is that many times the church, and the teachings that Nelson espouses, are actually the CAUSE of those feelings of inadequacy or stress, fear or sadness. It is very much a self perpetuating and self sustaining mechanism. You feel fear or sadness because you lack what the LDS church can supposedly provide for you and if you continue to feel those feelings, you are just not doing enough and need to do more. Read more, pray more, do more service and eventually those feelings will subside. When in reality, the more you engage in those kinds of behaviors, the more you realize you can't possibly do it all AND keep up with everything else in your life. Something's gotta give and, invariably, the things that give first are those things the church is telling you that you are not doing enough of. If only you did better you will eventually find the peace Nelson promises. Only trouble is, it never really shows up because the messages repeated every week at church are geared to making you feel inadequate.

He says that the following things brought sadness or "trouble" in his life;
- Death of his wife
- Death of his daughter

He's seen the troubles brought to people through;
- Divorce
- Children or grandchildren going astray
- Disability, illness, injuries
While pictured is a women crying over a baby in an incubator at an ICU, a man packing up and leaving after losing his job and a woman who is sad after an argument with her husband.

Nelson is grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that allows him that kind of strength to be helped during these tumultuous times. I'm sorry, but I would rather prefer to see our society as being in a BETTER state than it was a century or two ago. While there may have been several major natural disasters (shown in Nelson's video) to happen in recent years, studies have shown that these events are actually decreasing (according to a Freakonomics Radio podcast: "The folly of prediction" 9/14/2011). Violent crime is down, homicide is down, nearly every statistic that could be utilized to potentially measure the state of bad things happening (maybe with the exception of joblessness and homelessness which are pretty cyclical) is down. We are more tolerant and less violent towards each other. I'm not sure to what Nelson is referring when he labels these as tumultuous times, unless he is alluding to the things listed above that are inevitable (i.e. death, disability, illness, premature births, unemployment, arguments and injuries) to happen in all of our lives. If that is the case, the message that we need to lift ourselves up and move on is appreciated. However, the presumption that it is only the gospel of Jesus Christ that will enable people to do that is highly insulting, intolerant and narrow-minded.

While the music and scenes are all precisely designed to evoke emotion using the church owned, Bonneville communications HeartSell® technique, it is really difficult to not shed a tear over watching this video. But something just doesn't feel right. Such blatant manipulation of emotion ought to be outlawed when used to make you believe that you are screwed up and that what the church has to offer you is what represents the cure.

Of course, it is even more humorous that he is holding a Book of Mormon in his lap at the end of the video. As if he was not afraid because of the Book of Mormon. It's like he is saying, "If you will just read the Book of Mormon you will not be afraid like the poor woman that cried hysterically when facing the prospect of her imminent and untimely demise." What a crock! Tell me if you disagree, I can take it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Faith, knowledge and emotions

In the New Testament book of John chapter 20 verse 29 we get the message that Thomas was blessed for seeing the resurrected Jesus and believing in him, but we also get the message that even more blessed are all those who believe without seeing Jesus resurrected and in person. For me, this scripture was the basis of feeling that faith in Jesus, without having seen him in person, could be even more powerful than actually having seen him to verify his exalted state. This was interpreted by me to mean that the knowledge that comes from faith in the unseen is more noble than knowledge that comes from our own senses.

Perhaps this is why I got so much blow-back from believers in the LDS church that are my friends when I posted the following quote on my Facebook wall, "The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty." by Ann Lamott. This rubs members of the LDS church the wrong way. We are so conditioned to believe that the knowledge that comes from faith is superior to knowledge gained from observation that when the very nature of faith (as a principle that is not knowledge, but a tool that can be used to obtain knowledge) is pointed out to us, we feel threatened and attacked.

To have faith in things that are unseen is viewed as a virtue in a religious context, however, why don't we feel the same way when it comes to book learning? One thing I never could figure out is why there was such a difference in the way I was taught things at school versus how I was taught things at church. For example, Sunday school teachers would teach things and then "testify" of their truth at the end of the lesson. My teachers in school never did that. My science teacher never taught me about some scientific theory or idea and then closed with some variation of, "...and I want you young people to know that I have a testimony of these things..." Why not? What is the difference between knowledge gained in church versus at school? I think the difference is pretty clear.

Faith is the foundation of what is taught at church and knowledge is the foundation of what is taught in school. Teachers in school don't need to "testify" of what they teach, because they have the scientific method backing up their position. If it is possible, they want to be proven wrong and, in some cases, they are.

I remember watching an interview with Brian Greene, the physics professor at Columbia University who popularized string theory in books and PBS television specials. He was asked, "What will you do if it turns out that (a certain aspect of) string theory is not accurate?" His answer actually surprised me since it seems like he has a pretty vested interest in seeing string theory become an accepted scientific principle. His response was something to the effect of, "that would be great, because then we would be one step closer to knowing more about how things actually are in the universe!" I'm sure people can find scientists who don't share this outlook on the future of scientific discovery because they have a heavily vested interest in seeing their view of things become the accepted standard, but  I think (maybe I simply hope) that these folks are in the minority.

However, teachers at church don't want to prove anything except what they have been taught and accept on faith as truth. Learning at church is a simple exercise in agreement. Every part of the institution is set up to confirm what has been taught at one time or another as a self evident truth. While there are references to experiments and ways of finding truth in the Book of Mormon, these are really just lip service. The faithful don't really want anyone to perform experiments to find out just how beneficial prayer can be, for example. They want allegorical or anecdotal evidence to confirm their pre-existing beliefs of what they have been told is the expected outcome.

To suggest that someone has performed an experiment on their faith with any scientific objectivity is considered insulting to the faithful. To even bring it up means being met with an argument from compartmentalization. Meaning, you will be told that science (i.e. objective observation to confirm or deny the most logical explanation [theory] for something) and faith are simply incompatible. I have been told several times that one cannot prove spiritual things with science and that science will not ever be able to prove spiritual things.

While that may be true to some, science can explain the cause of experiences that we may be tempted to attribute to a "spiritual" experience. Imagine that one has some sort of spiritual epiphany that brings one closer to the deity they imagine. If we can ask the person to describe what they feel at that time, we might find that it is some sort of euphoric, warm, tingly or happy feeling. So the question is, could that same set of feelings be reproduced under different circumstances? My guess is they could. I get those feelings, that I used to attribute to spiritual communication, at very odd times, with no apparent explanation at all. Usually the feeling comes when I talk with someone I care about and desire to help them in some way. But it is not a feeling I can reproduce at will. Even if I try to duplicate the circumstances as completely as possible, there just won't be the same feeling come. There is very little in the way of a pattern or predictability for it. It comes when I don't really expect it. Much like other emotions we experience, usually there is some environmental stimulus for them, but other times they may be the result of hormonal or chemical imbalances or seem to be completely random in nature. Those emotional responses that are based on hormonal or chemical imbalances can be reproduced and experienced at will given the right set of circumstances being reproduced in the body or brain if we could measure and alter those things in a precise manner (for the most part).

So, if I am genuinely interested in establishing whether or not these spiritual experiences are coming from some deity somewhere (Where exactly, no one seems to know. On a side note, the physical locations in the known universe that God could be existing/hiding in are pretty remote at this point. About the only place God could possibly exist is in other dimensions - which we have yet to prove exist with any certainty - or at some sub, sub, sub, sub atomic level that we don't have the ability to observe yet) or being generated as a simple, and somewhat predictable, emotional response, I would begin with a hypothesis.

That is; feelings of euphoria, peace, love, joy, happiness, goodness (internal sense of right and wrong) come from an unseen deity or they are merely appendages of the continuum of emotions we all experience in our human experience.

It would seem pretty simple to show that if any of the emotional responses we experience in everyday life overlap anywhere with what we might label as "spiritual" experiences that would be pretty damning to the belief that they originate from God. However, let's say that God IS found in all the mundane and petty details of our lives that stimulate emotional responses - i.e. God is the source of ALL of our emotions. If that is the case, then there is no way to differentiate between those feelings that are beneficial - and intended to bring us closer to God - and those that are just part of the everyday human experience. If that is the case, then it seems pretty meaningless to attach meaning where no meaning can be objectively derived. If God is the source of ALL emotion (and He very well could be), my conclusion is that emotional responses are not a good indicator of the existence of God or as a tool that should be used to gauge effectiveness in living a life worthy of God's approval. It is also safe to say that such emotional responses do not contain any explicit set of instructions or interpretations to go along with them (at least mine don't anyway but, then again, I may be a defective unit). This is especially troubling when we realize that emotional responses can be triggered through manipulation.

If someone tells me that someone close to me has died (and I trust them to the point that I don't think to question their information) then that could easily elicit a strong emotional response in me. In that case, my outpouring of feelings expressed at such news would have been generated by false information. If God is the source of all our feelings, why does He rely on such an unreliable medium to convey what could be seen as, arguably, the most important information we need (i.e. knowledge of the plan for being able to determine our ETERNAL station related to God)? To quote Boyd K. Packer, "Why would God do such a thing?" It really makes no sense.

So, until someone can explain why God would choose to place so much emphasis on such an unreliable mechanism for determining truth, I will maintain my position that faith is only useful if it brings us to knowledge (that is real, provable and able to be duplicated under any differing circumstances through objective experiment) otherwise, faith in things that can be repeatedly dis proven is not a useful mechanism to lead us to knowledge and deserves to be discarded in favor of something better (a better faith).

By the way, faith is actually a pretty useful tool in science, although it doesn't receive nearly as much airtime in science as it does in religious circles. Something that has really helped me understand the place of faith in the world of science is that faith is what motivates the performing of experiments to validate a belief in how the world works. If someone comes up with an idea about how they think things ought to work they try to develop a hypothesis (i.e. a statement about what they believe so that it could become a law to guide future scientists). Once a hypothesis is arrived at, a scientist - having faith in their hypothesis - attempts to come up with experiments to prove or disprove their hypothesis. Faith certainly drives the scientist to keep going when the going is difficult, but the ultimate courage (and test of faith) comes when the experiment reveals the truth or falsehood of the hypothesis. In that moment, faith is either strengthened or diminished in that belief (hypothesis). Of course, it is kind of odd to think that if faith is strengthened, that means it is actually going away because it is leading to knowledge. This is the way it should be. Faith either leads us to knowledge (where knowledge displaces our faith in something) or it leads to a revision of our hypothesis and faith in something different.  Faith is a tool that is useful as a stepping stone to knowledge, but that's it. It's not really good for much more than that.

To maintain faith in something that can't be proven through experiment seems pretty silly. In fact, I wonder what God would say to people who advocated maintaining their faith in Him in spite of lots of observable evidence to the contrary? Will He reward those who do not test and try to disprove their faith? Or how will He look on those who tried to find the best possible explanations for the world as we know it and tried to eliminate those ideas that turned out to be contradictory, unreliable, or non-universal in nature? I would like to think that God will look kindly on those that challenged their faith and relied on logic and reason to determine ultimate truth. I don't think God wants blind followers, I think God wants people who can think and reason and make tough decisions (even if that means they see that abandoning faith fits with experiment and observations in piecing together the big picture of who and what we are as people). People who have to come up with other things to base morality on besides tradition and ancient mythology. I hope God sees those people as deserving of great rewards in the afterlife believers cling to. Otherwise, I'm screwed, but I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Catch-22 of Belief

This is the story of Joe and Fred. Joe believes in God and believes that God endorses the religion he belongs to. Joe believes that there will be a day that will come, after we all die, where God will judge Joe for his actions. Joe knows that God will also be judging everybody else that has ever lived as well. Joe hopes that God will be kind and forgiving to all those that did not believe in God while they lived on the earth, but Joe has also been told in the texts, regarded as sacred and originating from God by his religion, that God is a jealous God and is very capable of punishing those who do not believe in God.

Joe meets Fred.

Fred doesn't believe in God at all. Fred believes in evolution, the big bang and in the discoveries that science continues to make about our existence. Fred is very open to new ideas, but comfortable with his beliefs. Fred also knows quite a bit about the religious teachings of the church that Joe belongs to.

As Joe and Fred come to know each other they both have thoughts about the other. Joe thinks Fred doesn't do some of the things that he ought to. Joe thinks Fred should go to church or read the books that Joe thinks are sacred, from God, and will help us all to fare better when it comes time for God to judge us. Joe attempts to tell Fred this when the occasion permits but, for the most part, Joe decides to honor Fred's wishes that he not push his religion on him.

However, Joe is concerned.

Joe worries that if Fred doesn't change his "sinning" ways at some point then he will have to pay a heavy price when the judgment day comes. Joe cannot honestly accept Fred the way he is. Joe clings to the belief that Fred will see the error of his ways at some point in the future. In fact, Joe is promised this will be the case by the leaders of his church so Joe should not worry so much about Fred - although, Joe is told, he should still be concerned enough to never give up on Fred. Joe waits patiently for the day when Fred will finally come to his senses, see the error of his ways, and be open to what Joe has been trying tell him. Joe is sure that someday the spirit of God will be poured out on Fred and he will be touched in a way where he will not be able to ever deny the existence of God again.

Joe wants to be friends with Fred, but he also wonders if Fred may be a bad influence on him. He wonders if hanging out with Fred might cause him to someday lose his belief in God. Joe is told by people at church that he should limit his association with "sinners" because they will most assuredly drag him "down to hell" with them.

Joe likes Fred. They have much in common and really enjoy doing things together. Joe is torn about what to do about being friends with Fred. Joe can't really tell Fred what he is going through, worrying about his future with God and all, although he tries to on occasion. Fred just listens to what Joe has to say and chalks it up to his opinion. While Fred accepts Joe and doesn't allow his ideas about believing in God stand in the way of their friendship, he also knows what Joe's beliefs are and senses the struggles that Joe seems to be going through. Fred tries to tell Joe not to worry and everything will be sorted through in the afterlife. Joe hears this and thinks, that's right, in the afterlife you will come to your senses and will believe as I do and we will be even happier together living with God.

Joe, however, can't get past these thoughts of concern for his friend. Joe knows that his beliefs are true. Joe wonders why Fred can't see it and what exactly the devil has done to cloud his mind so he can't see the truth that Joe knows. Fred tries to share some information with Joe about the history of his religion and tries to show why the scriptures don't make sense in places. Joe refuses to listen. Joe has been taught to never question the foundational principles of his beliefs and never does. Fred can't seem to get through to Joe and Joe can't seem to get through to Fred.

Fred doesn't think anything is wrong with Joe. If Joe is truly happy in his beliefs, then Fred is happy. Fred isn't mentally always looking for ways to try and change Joe to his way of thinking, Fred is honestly trying to find what makes the most sense. Fred doesn't fret about the afterlife or the judgment of some God he has never met. Fred can accept Joe without reservation, even though he may think he is wrong about things. Of course, Fred thinks Joe's ideas of some things are a bit weird and illogical, but Fred realizes that he has some pretty strange ideas himself sometimes as well.

So here's the catch-22. Joe cannot ever truly and fully accept Fred the way he is unless he "converts" to his way of believing. Fred can truly and fully accept Joe for who he is and what he believes because his beliefs are open to the possibilities, but grounded in the world we can repeatedly observe around us. The only way that Joe can truly and fully accept Fred for who he is, without Fred converting, is for Joe to deny his belief that his religion represents the truth of what or who God is. Joe cannot have it both ways. It is either that he always sees Fred as deficient in some way (or as a "sinner") and maintains his belief in God or he fully accepts Fred and accepts that his own religious teachings are false. This is why I think religion is very polarizing and causes divisions. The religious mind cannot fully accept people unless they convert to their beliefs and in some way attempt to follow what they, the religious, believe.

What makes this situation all the more difficult is when a person like Joe becomes like Fred and has to try and communicate this to his loved one's who still believe as Joe once did. Marriages are lost over this, relationships between parents and siblings become strained because the believers fear for the eternal well being of their spouse or loved one. They are afraid because of their belief in God. Their belief in God, while permeating so much of who they are and how they think, is just too difficult to abandon.

I am one who was once like Joe. I am now like Fred. I have taken the plunge into the real world and found it to not be as bad as I once thought it was. Now I find the most difficult thing to deal with is the fear that others have for my eternal well being. I fear as well. I fear what my wife and children honestly think of me as they continue to follow their beliefs in God and the afterlife. Do they pity me? How do they deal with the knowledge that I don't believe as they do? I honestly think the only way they can begin to accept me, is to hope that I will see things the way they do someday. I fear that they will think less of me as they pursue the teachings of their church and come to learn (or be reminded) that I am not fully as happy as I could be unless I believe as they do.

This is a lie.

People find their own happiness and can have as much happiness as they want and it doesn't require a God or a religion to have all they desire right here, right now. I can accept this. Religious people who believe they have the truth about God and the afterlife cannot accept this unless you convert to their way of thinking about these things. Their happiness for you is always conditional on your belief. Mine is not conditional. Mine is based on whatever it is that brings you happiness. If it brings you happiness, I am happy, whatever that may be (as long as it doesn't harm me in some way). My happiness does not require you to believe as I do. My happiness is sincerely based on what I find that brings me happiness and allows you to have your chosen happiness and what you find for yourself, truly, regardless of what that is. I am not happy only if you believe, I am happy. Period. If you are happy, great. I am happy for you. No strings attached. My happiness does not require that you change, or find the "true" path, or accept Jesus or anything else.

What is required for you to be truly happy and truly and honestly and fully be able to accept people in life, as they are, without hoping they will come around some day?

I think there are some whose beliefs will prohibit them from being able to honestly answer this question the way I would hope. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. If the believers are right and God is as they suggest, I hope your God shows me some mercy. However, if I'm right and this life is it, I will have been able to accept you as a human being with all your flaws and truly been able to see them as evidence of your uniqueness. Your mistakes or preferences would not serve as proof that we will not ever be able to be together again to enjoy eternal life with God. No. You are your own guide to happiness. It is truly possible for people to be happy without God in their life. I accept this to be true. What do you think?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Reactions to General Conference

I only watched the two Sunday sessions of the recent general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because that is about all my blood pressure can handle. However, here are a few of my thoughts in response to what was said in those two sessions:

- I feel like all the emphasis on reliance on Heavenly Father may serve to marginalize the recognition and respect for our earthly fathers. I find it especially sad that at some point my children may look at me as a failure because of my unbelief in the church, but will look to their imaginary Heavenly Father (as interpreted by the LDS church) for the support and recognition they desire to give to their father. I guess the lack of emphasis on Heavenly Mother in the church is somewhat providential so that earthly mothers don't receive the same marginalization.

- I was surprised at the number of references to people who died of cancer (or other illnesses) ...even when in the presence of a supposed "apostle" of Jesus Christ. Aren't the apostles of Jesus Christ supposed to be able to heal people who are sick or otherwise afflicted? Apparently the leaders of the LDS church (AKA Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ) are not able to do that kind of stuff (heal the sick) anymore.

- I was disappointed by the talk by Tad R. Callister. He was very divisive and continued to endorse the false dichotomy of either the Book of Mormon is of God (and therefore 100% true) or it is of the devil. While saying there can be no other alternative, I wish I could propose the reasonable alternative...which is that there is no devil and there is no God. Of course, this would negate everything the church stands for, and since the mission of the church is to survive I suppose we won't see them admitting this is an alternative to that stance any time soon.

- I also had to kind of laugh at his comment about how the bible represents one point through which many lines could be drawn representing many different interpretations of the gospel. He went on to point out that the Book of Mormon represents another point through which only one line can be drawn. I would assume this assertion is designed to point out that the LDS church represents the one true religion through which the gospel of Jesus Christ can be interpreted. However, what I would point out is what about all those different churches that exist on the earth today that also use and believe in the Book of Mormon and bible as scripture? Don't all of those (nearly a dozen or so including the Community of Christ, Church of Christ, Strangites, LDS fundamentalists, etc.) other religions represent the truth using that line of thinking?

Other than the above, I was just amused by the fact that grown men (and one woman) can speak for nearly 4 hours and not say one thing that can be seen as new or applicable to real life except for to serve as inspiration for taking a nap. Oh well, I guess we all need to nap every once in a while.

Friday, September 30, 2011

General Conference - No ordinary bore

This last Sunday our Home Teachers came to visit. I pretty much don't say much when they come over...I just kind of feel sorry for them since they feel it is their duty to come and spend time in our home when they could be relaxing or spending time with their own families.

So, as I sat there feeling sorry for them, wondering if they might ever get to a point of asking me where I stand in my beliefs (I have not been open with them about where I am at) and wondering what exactly I might feel the need to say if they ever actually did, I also geared up for attempting to tame my anger that would invariably be aroused from their "spiritual" message for the day.

The message given on this occasion was actually cracking me up inside to the point where I could barely contain myself. The message they gave came from Dieter Uchtdorf's First Presidency message for the month. Dieter talked about the blessing of General Conference. He started out by telling a story about a conversation between an LDS member and a non-member. The subject of general conference apparently came up and the member said that conference was a time when the leaders of the church (called as prophets of God and, therefore, representing those authorized to receive and impart instruction directly from God to the people of the earth) impart messages - supposedly received from God - to the world in their conference sessions. In response to this remarkable claim, the non-member asked the member to give some examples of what these "prophets" said at the last general conference. Unfortunately, the member could not think of one single thing they could recall being said at the last conference. Dieter then goes on to tell us that the member was chided by the non-member who likely said something to the effect of, "Well, if you can't remember anything these spokespeople for God said was a message from God, what good is that?"

While Dieter, I'm sure, would likely be quick to point out that the fact that the member could not remember any of the messages presented at the last general conference were due to his inability to remember any of those "super speshal structions straight from God's eternally inspiring mouth", I had a different thought. My thought was, what if the poor soul couldn't remember anything that was said because there was really NOTHING remarkable said at conference to be able to remember, let alone something WORTH remembering?

Instead of Dieter being up front and admitting that conference is actually very boring and pretty much devoid of anything that could be labeled as inspirational or remotely memorable (at least for more than a few minutes after something is said, anyway), the implication of the message received among the members of the church is that they need to do a better job in paying attention to the messages of general conference. I can back this up by noticing that in his piece he goes on to list 3 things that members can do to get more out of general conference. This is compared to the one very short comment that might be construed to pay some lip service to the idea that conference is actually boring at times (he said, "We all know how hard it is to remember every message of general conference, and I’m confident that we need not be embarrassed if we don’t remember everything." I can't believe how condescending this is. It is even worse than I originally thought. Anyway...).

I find it humorous and troubling at the same time that if there are things said at general conference that are not remembered that it is the members who should fix that by remembering better and not the leaders/speakers themselves by saying things that are more memorable. Granted, most of these men did not move up in the ranks of the church because of their dynamic speaking ability so you can't expect them to wow us with charisma and an engaging speaking style. However, is it too much to ask that they actually give us useful and memorable content delivered in that boring monotone style?

So, in the spirit of my observation, let me make 3 recommendations to Dieter (and all those that will be speaking at general conference):

1. Speak the truth
Saying that it is important to tell the truth kind of loses it's meaning when there are things hidden behind just about everything you're saying. Tell the truth because that is infinitely more interesting than your continued attempts to whitewash everything in the interest of keeping the faith of the members strong.

2. Come up with some actual revelations
While the stories told in conference are all touching and borderline inspirational, receiving revelations on the tough issues that face the students of the doctrine of the church would be largely advanced by some actual statement's on what is considered to be the current doctrine of the church. Instead of coating everything said in terms that only lead to more questions, lay down the gauntlet. Give us some meat for a change. Tell us exactly how life in the eternities will be. Tell us who exactly will actually be in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom and what we will be doing for ETERNITY. Re-affirm the doctrinal validity of polygamy and the law of consecration. Announce when the gathering to Missouri will be taking place and what we should be doing to prepare. Or just go out on a limb and tell us exactly what to expect when Jesus comes again. Give us all the details so we have something to talk about instead of painting everything in ambiguous terms that we will all disagree on (and not have any good answers to) until the next sessions of general conference where the cycle will just continue.

3. Don't just teach people to be like Jesus, be like Jesus yourselves
Don't tell us all to give to the poor while you build multi-billion dollar malls in downtown Salt Lake City. Don't insist that we pay a full tithing and not even give a 10th of that revenue to charitable causes around the world. Better yet, tell us exactly where all the tithing dollars are going so we can feel good about contributions to the only institution fully sanctioned by Jesus Himself. Teach the members to love and forgive everyone...even those that leave the church because they don't feel like they can be honest and support the church anymore in its current form. Teach them to be more tolerant and not continue to hold prejudices against those that are homosexual by insisting that their tendencies are a choice and not a part of who they are. Tell Thomas S. Monson to not continue to prosecute a homeless man for stalking him, but instead, do what Jesus would do and, give him a place to live, food to eat and the help he needs somewhere outside of a Utah corrections facility.

I testify that if you will do these things, not only will you receive peace to your souls, but you will also gain the affection of so many that have left your halls because they just can't stand the duplicity of everything you do. I say these things to anyone that will read them, Amen.

(Please note: When using Firefox web browser, if you type a comment without logging in first, your comment may disappear when attempting to submit. To avoid this, login first and then type comment or always copy comment before attempting to submit.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The apologetic way

For some reason I keep re-engaging in my thoughts on the problems I have encountered with Mormonism. I almost feel like I am getting ready to depart from this endeavor of expressing my thoughts in response to Mo-ism. It seems like there is less and less that I find compelling enough to blog about anymore. To be honest, my target audience for my blog changed not too long ago. You see, I started out just throwing out all my feelings and figured that whoever encountered what I wrote would have a better understanding of where I was at. My secret hope was that orthodox members of the church in my family would encounter my words and have a better glimpse into what I was going through. I sincerely hoped that it would lead to a better understanding of where I am at and would cause them to research the issues I brought up. However, what ended up happening is those people may have read a snippet or two of a few entries (or never even bothered with my blog at all - even though it is not really hidden - I have a link to it in my Facebook profile), but then they turned it off and tuned me out.

No serious consideration is given to what I am saying because what I am saying is quickly categorized as "anti-Mormon" and thus many members of the church find it easy to quickly dismiss what I am writing.

Frankly, I don't understand this. I guess I am left with the ultimate reality that I just care enough about this stuff so much that I wanted to take it seriously. Was that my problem? Did I just fall for the joke and believed it? Was I wrong for believing that what I was taught my whole life by my parents, and re-enforced by my grandparents, friends, leaders and peers was actually THE way to live? Was I wrong when I actually believed that the LDS church was the ONE and ONLY TRUE church on the face of the earth? Was I wrong to expect that the church could provide an explanation for every single question that I might encounter in my life? Did I miss something? Was I absent the day they said, "Oh, just kidding, you don't really have to believe all this stuff in any kind of literal sense. It's just literary and is all just somebody's opinion."

I've never heard this until I pushed the question about where I went wrong. When I address the cognitive dissonance head on, this is where it ends up. Nobody knows what will happen in the next life, or if there is even a next life to look forward to. However, they tell their children to say "I know the church is true, I know Joseph Smith was a prophet, I know Thomas S. Monson is the prophet today". How sick is this?! Why do people tell their children to say they know something they don't even know themselves?!

This post is not going where I intended it to go. I wanted to give a review of the way apologists work. Exposing their methods is what I wanted to write about here. Instead this has turned into a rant about my situation.

I really just have one thing to say about apologists, they are way too wordy and nobody can understand the points they try to make. When I was going through my crisis of faith, I tried really hard to believe what I read as rebuttals to my questions by apologists. As I did so, I quickly discovered several things. Apologists utilize one of several methods (or all of them) to respond to challenges. They are as follows:

1. Kill with wordiness. Apologists generally tend to want to try and lay a lot of groundwork in their responses to tough questions. They lay groundwork after groundwork, all the while they keep asking you to bear with them while they promise to eventually address the question at hand. The problem is, they never seem to actually get to addressing the question at hand. They cite some obscure example and then another and then at some point (if they ever get to the point) they proudly announce that all of their distraction points have indeed addressed the question posed! How wonderful. When I was trying to get faithful responses to the question of the mistranslation of the Book of Abraham papyrus, there were no simple, let alone short, answers. The apologists that I read would try to start outlining similarities between a few Egyptian words and those "divined" by Joseph Smith. As if a few similarities in words makes up for everything else he got wrong! I had a simple question. My question was, why do the Egyptian characters on the facsimiles (i.e. the pictures contained in the Pearl of Great Price) not translate the way Joseph claimed? I mean, those drawings (including the Egyptian characters contained in them) have survived. We have a copy of them in every copy of the Pearl of Great Price published by the LDS church. Apologists want to try to re-define what it means to translate in order to address this question.

When reading apologetic responses, I usually would get bored and start looking for the readers digest version, but there is none. All the believers who attempt to respond to my question, refer back to the apologists. It's really funny, because if you ask a believer how they understand an issue brought up, they might respond with some ideas, but then they will go on to say, "you should read the apologists response to this, I'm sure they have addressed everything you are bringing up." I would love to ask if they have read the work of their apologists and if they could give a summary of just the main points they bring up, they never can. If you insist on getting a good answer to your question, they just start blaming you for being so concerned and inquisitive about this one thing. Don't I have a right to be concerned and inquisitive? Yes, just as long as I don't reveal my concerns to anyone who believes, then, sure, I can question to my little heart's content.

In congress, this method utilized by apologists of being wordy, is known as filibustering. Just like members of congress take the floor (and don't yield their time to anyone who wants to call for a vote on the issue until the time to address the issue runs out) use an administrative loophole to keep things from getting accomplished, apologists do the same thing. Apologists take the floor with their claim to have all the answers and then talk until you get bored and get tired of seeking the answer to your question or get so zoned out so that it is easier to just admit that your question wasn't really a very good one in the first place, instead of having to endure more of their talking.

Aside from being very wordy and attempting to resolve simple questions with extremely lengthy responses,

2. apologists engage in re-directing. This is known as "twisting" in the financial world. Meaning they take your question and then bring up something not really related, but since they can resolve that issue, it must mean your question can get resolved too. Since the unrelated issue is out there and seems just too good to be true, your question must be insignificant or irrelevant. They are essentially telling me with this response to "try again, retard."

The mental gymnastics required to keep up with these people is mind blowing. And, of course, the longer I am in this place I am in, the clearer it all becomes to me.

Frankly, I am tired of it all. I think I am about ready to just move on and accept that all this is out there and not devote any more time or energy to it. But, just when I feel like I can get comfortable in that place, something draws me back in. I guess that is the way it goes. Peace.

(Please note: When using Firefox web browser, if you type a comment without logging in first, your comment may disappear when attempting to submit. To avoid this, login first and then type comment or always copy comment before attempting to submit.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Making enemies on Facebook

For your reading pleasure. When I was pretty angry about the church, I thought I would engage in the following fishing expedition on Facebook and see what happened. Enjoy!

Me (Wall Post 1): How to know if you belong to a cult Part 1: Mind control techniques are utilized such as; 1. Deception 2. Exclusivism 3. Fear and intimidation 4. Love bombing and relationship control 5. Information control 6. Reporting Structure 7. Time control and 8. Recruiting new members is highly emphasized.
Monday 9:38 PM • Like • 2 People Like This

Me (Wall Post 2): How to know if you are part of a cult Part 2: Cults exhibit the following; 1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability. 2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
Monday 9:07 PM • Like •

Me (Wall Post 3): Cult groups/behaviors can also be manifest in political organizations. Be careful out there!
Monday 8:40 AM • Like

Me (Wall Post 4): How to know if you are part of a cult Part 2 (Cont'd): 3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses. 4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions. 5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
Monday 9:07 PM • Like •

Me (Wall Post 5): How to know if you are part of a cult Part 2 (Cont'd): 6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances. 7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader. 8. Followers feel they can never be "good enough". 9. The group/leader is always right.
Monday 9:05 PM • Like •

Me (Wall Post 6): How to know if you are part of a cult Part 2 (Cont'd): 10. Followers are encouraged to forsake friends/family for the "good" of the group.
Monday 9:05 PM • Like •

Non LDS Friend from High School: That sounds like most jobs I've had.
Monday 10:15 PM • Like

My TBM Aunt: :(
Tuesday 12:42 AM • Like

Me: @ Non LDS Friend from High School: Some jobs actually do fall into that category!

@ My TBM Aunt: Why the sad face? Do you know someone trapped by such a system? It is very sad when people don't realize they are in a cult and therefore do nothing about it or they feel trapped and don't know how to get out. What is even more sad is when they don't see an organization for what it really is. For some reason everyone believes that it will never happen to them.
Tuesday 8:21 AM • Like

My TBM Aunt: The sad face is for you . . . I pity you!! You and your personal new religion fit your own description above (of a cult) to a "T". Your only purpose is to do your own recruiting!! You are rude, and you are driving those who loved you away!! Please don't continue this dialogue... I'm not interested in anything you have to say about it!!! Your wife and your parents are heartbroken at your behavior!!! You are entitled to your own beliefs, but you are NOT entitled to be disrespectful of others beliefs!!!
Tuesday 4:50 PM • Like • 1 Likes This

Me: How exactly am I being rude? I am trying to be educational. Whose beliefs am I being disrespectful to exactly?
Tuesday 9:13 PM • Like

My TBM Mom: Are you talking about the church, Facsimilogos?
Tuesday 11:35 PM • Like

Me: I am talking about cults. Is the church a cult?
Wednesday 7:25 AM • Like

My TBM Cousin In Law: Dude, chill out!!!
Wednesday 9:10 AM • Like

Me: I am sorry if people are uncomfortable with the information I am sharing. What I would ask, however, is that everyone take a step back and ask, "Why is what is posted here bothering me? Is there something troubling about what is listed here that I need to address in my beliefs/views?" Anytime people believe they have all the answers, that is when the fighting starts. I don't claim to have any answers, but I can identify behaviors that are psychologically manipulative. Why can't we all just get along and recognize there are people out there who support such organizations who need to be calling for reform. Let the light shine. Openness and honesty is the path to freedom and enlightenment.
Wednesday 9:31 AM • Like

My TBM Cousin In Law: What to expect from a person that actually believes that 9-11 was a Conspiracy? Wise up... Nobody is bothered by your thoughts.. This is America, u can say whatever you want to say. And I can say out loud, that you should take the American label out of you... How can you be that insane? Have you gone totally mad? I feel sorry for you... I'm done talking to you, dude. I have a life to leave, and I don't spend my time, bashing other people's religions or for that matter, CULT. And yes, I'm a very proud American citizen, no apologies, here.
Wednesday 10:17 AM • Like

My TBM Cousin In Law: Life to live, actually. TYPO, just for u not to think I'm an ignorant Mormon.
Wednesday 10:18 AM • Like

Me: Wow! Ad hominem attacks, eh? Character assassination? Appeals to patriotism? Whatever makes you feel better, I guess.
Wednesday 10:24 AM • Like

Me: For the record. I do not believe 9/11 was a conspiracy. I don't have any idea how it would have been accomplished if that were the case. What I do believe, however, is that there are a few anomalous things that happened on 9/11 that probably deserve further investigation. Things such as melted steel remaining in the basements of the collapsed towers for at least several days and traces of thermite/thermate residue found in the WTC dust to name a few. I am totally open to any theories to possibly explain these things, however I have not seen or heard any.
Wednesday 10:27 AM • Like

PM from My TBM Cousin In Law:
And by the way, I don't need to do any character assassination to you. We all know by now, you have no character whatsoever... Just the way you commented on my niece's posts, and after the whole family in California has opened our homes to you and family, you obviously have no integrity. I will say that to you, because you need to hear it.

I will have no association from here on with you, I cannot believe the trash you are spilling about you know what, I'm really sorry for you. My 13 year-old boy has read all the stuff you say, and he can judge for himself what kind of a man you are. I don't have to tell him, plus, the more exposure they have with people like you, they will know the truth for themselves.

Just like my husband says, I have a single question for you? Which commandment couldn't you keep?

I have blocked you from everything. So, go ahead and reply.
Wednesday 5:00 PM

New Facebook Thread:

Me (Wall Post 7): Friends don't let friends join cults!
Monday 9:08 PM • Like • 2 People Like This

TBM Friend 1: What's with all the cult stuff??
Monday 9:12 PM • Like

Me: I have been approached by organizations recently that kind of scared me and I almost became a victim to. I just want to educate people on what to look out for.
Monday 9:14 PM • Like

TBM Friend 2: Weird! What organizations?
Monday 9:28 PM • Like

My TBM Dad: I sure am glad I do not belong to any cults....
Monday 11:47 PM • Like

My TBM Dad: There are many organizations which exhibit some or many of the traits you have described. One also has to look at the things the organization does as well, usually if they are doing good in the communities they are involved in you need to be careful labeling them as a cult, as you may be wrong. There are many instances where the difference is very close, but not the same. Sometimes it is better to keep an opinion to yourself than to hurt the ones around you with wild thoughts and statements that are really not true and have no basis in fact.
Monday 11:54 PM • Like • 1 Person Likes This

TBM Friend 3: What is up with you?
Tuesday 12:32 AM • Like

TBM Friend 2: Religion: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

There's the difference...moral code.
Tuesday 6:38 AM • Like

Me: @ TBM Friend 2: mlm. Are you saying that if an org exhibits all of these qualities, but they have a moral code, that it's ok?
Tuesday 7:29 AM • Like

TBM Friend 2: I'm just telling you what's in the dictionary. If you look up cult in the dictionary and compare it to the definition for religion, that's the difference.
Tuesday 7:42 AM • Like

Me: I see other differences such as: "followers of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices,
fad: an interest followed with exaggerated zeal; "he always follows the latest fads"; "it was all the rage that season",
followers of an unorthodox, extremist, or false religion or sect who often live outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader,
a religion or sect that is generally considered to be unorthodox, extremist, or false; "it was a satanic cult"."

But I think you are right. The difference between the two may not be much. However, I think there are religious sects out there that do not exhibit the qualities listed, that are definitely religions, but would clearly not be capable of being called a cult.
Tuesday 8:27 AM • Like

Me: Dad, I am not sure what you think I am talking about here. My intent is not to hurt, but to inform. My thoughts and statements are taken directly from professional sources who study and document such behaviors and groups. I am only copying them here for everyone's insight and to stimulate discussion. It seems to me that organizations that promote good ideals, works or behavior are fine, but they can be better by not engaging in the practices listed. I think there are good organizations, but there may be better one's that do not need to resort to the practices I listed.
Tuesday 8:36 AM • Like

TBM Friend 4: I think he is referring to supporting Obama I read through the definition a couple of times. It's supporting Obama or being a packers fan it's a toss-up!
Tuesday 8:43 AM • Like • 1 Person Likes This

TBM Friend 2: Or the hard core scrapbookers...I've always thought they were a bit questionable!
Tuesday 9:00 AM • Like • 1 Person Likes This

My TBM Dad: Sounds like terrorists to me
Tuesday 10:03 AM • Like

Me: We are the terrorists.
Tuesday 10:09 AM • Like

My TBM Dad: It depends on your point of view, as with many things. Also, as with life many things depend on your point of view, 2 people can look at the same things and come up with different ideas about what it is, so the question then becomes how to attract people to your point of view without turning them against you for your point of view. That is why we have elections, so the terrorists (candidates) can persuade you to their point of view. Then when they really see the true you you risk losing their support and their point of view changes.....
Tuesday 10:14 AM • Like

My TBM Dad: The things you have said about "cults" could also apply to most families around the world, I would hope you would educate yourself, not just reading about one side of such things, but equal education about these important things. If you only research one side of any org. your study runs the risk of becoming a vendetta against that org. and you may not be seeing important things that are good about them which separates them from being a cult or terrorist org......
Tuesday 10:21 AM • Like

Me: Exactly. However, I think as human beings we are all capable of understanding right and wrong. Murder is wrong. No matter how you sugar coat it, if you kill, you have committed an atrocity to the human race. Threatening to kill is wrong. It is just too bad we haven't made that a priority as a race of people. Instead, we kill when others don't see things our way and we justify it by saying it was for the "good" of the group/country or whatever.
Tuesday 10:21 AM • Like

Me: Dad, Like what are you talking about? So it is OK for families to engage in deception? Engage in exclusive-ism? Use fear and intimidation? Control access to information? I suppose there are families that engage in such things, but I don't think that would be the ideal. Do you?
Tuesday 10:34 AM • Like

My TBM Dad: To some, killing is wrong , only if you get caught, in the Quran, if you become a martyr for the cause you will be rewarded in heaven and this reward depends upon how many infidels you took with you into the afterlife, so your very definition of right/wrong is again subject to the way you understand it, and not necessarily the way everyone understands it. Statements of fact are still open to interpretation, even very basic things can change, remember that at one time basic science taught that the sun moved around the earth.......
Tuesday 10:35 AM • Like

Me: Are you saying that those that believe such things are correct?
Tuesday 10:37 AM • Like

My TBM Dad: I am saying that just because you believe something it may not be black and white, so do your research, but keep an open mind about things because you may need to change your mind and point of view, and eat your words, and sometimes they taste like crow. It is their belief, what I say will not change their minds as it is their culture and only time a being subject to change and good will make any difference...
Tuesday 10:57 AM • Like

Non-TBM Sister: Don't drink the Kool - Aid. Especially if it's BLUE.
Tuesday 3:41 PM • Like • 2 People Like This

Non-TBM Friend: you know what I think, I think we should eat more cake and be jolly!! Hahaha, seriously, none of us can or will be able to change the world nor can we change an individual persons mind, we have to believe in what we believe in because at the end of the day that is what gets us through it all BUT I am a firm believer in you think for yourself and you only follow when it's necessary, like a child from birth being told what to do until the child is old enough to make their own distinctions and decisions, people need to be more open-minded, more blunt in a reasonable manner, and more loving, if we did these things more those of us who may or may not be religious would be more accepting of one another and we wouldn't have so much conflict, the problem is that everyone believes that what they believe in is it that there is nothing else or that there is no other possibility and that clouds everything...Lesson for today: Think for yourself, don't follow others unless you are a kid, eat more cake, be jolly, have an open mind, love your fellow human being more, and please, please, please be more blunt but in a reasonable manner, communication is key folks!
Wednesday 12:46 PM • Like

Non-TBM Sister 2: don't drink the fluoridated koolaid
Wednesday 8:39 PM • Like • 1 Person Likes This

(Please note: When using Firefox web browser, if you type a comment without logging in first, your comment may disappear when attempting to submit. To avoid this, login first and then type comment or always copy comment before attempting to submit.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

The enigma of Joseph Smith

I read with interest a recent article by Dan Peterson entitled, "The Prophet Joseph Smith was no double-dealing cynic"

In all honesty the beginning of the article quite surprised me. Dan starts out with this unbelievable idea, he says,

"For a critic wanting to reject Joseph's own account, there are, broadly speaking, only two logical alternatives for explaining him: Either he was a false prophet but thought he was a real one, or he was a false prophet and knew that he was a false prophet. That is to say, again in general terms, that he must have been either dishonest or delusional, or some hybrid of the two."

Honestly, he is right. Of course, at the end of his piece he brings up the third possibility (which, his article is entirely devoted to trying to prove, apparently) that Joseph was a true prophet and, apparently, believed that he was as well.

In the process of outlining his argument, Dan selects a few quotes from Joseph Smith's journal entries to try to persuade readers that Joseph was sincere and cared for others. I have no problem with the idea that Joseph was possibly a very sincere, thoughtful and kind person. He grew up in poverty and in a household that was very spiritual and superstitious. I believe he was a product of his environment and maybe had a desire to do something great. In my study of Joseph I find that there is no shortage of good things that are attributed to him. He was really a spiritual revolutionary of his time. He taught many things that were foreign to so many in his day. He is quoted as saying things like;

"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, for she is his flesh, and his bone, designed to be an help unto him, both in temporal, and spiritual things; one into whose bosom he can pour all his complaints without reserve..."

However, notwithstanding all the good things attributed to Joseph Smith, there are a few problems. One of the problems is actually somewhat brought to light by Dan in his article although he doesn't bother to mention it at all. The problem is that there is actually very little that we have in the way of writings in Joseph's own handwriting. I had a chance to thumb through one of the installments of the Joseph Smith papers and was surprised to learn a couple of things 1. How little we actually have recorded by Joseph in his own hand and 2. How little of a correlation exists between Joseph's own words and the words we attribute to him in revelations and other volumes of teachings.

Of course there are certainly plenty of explanations for these things. The response to the first issue would be simply that either Joseph didn't like to write or he couldn't do so very easily (or well) and so he took advantage of scribes wherever possible. I actually believe that this was the case, so having so little in the way of writings by Joseph himself is really not that troubling. However, in light of that fact, we are forced to rely on the testimonies and writings of others who were with Joseph to try to piece together more about the character of this man.

As for the second issue, this is where I kind of struggle. When I read that Joseph wrote in his own hand the following;

"Oh Lord keep us and my Family safe untill I can return to them again Oh my God have mercy on my Bretheren in Zion for Christ Sake Amen."

And then I am expected to believe that the following articulate prayer came from the same person (from the first few verses of D&C 76),

"Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, and rejoice ye inhabitants thereof, for the Lord is God, and beside him there is no Savior. Great is his wisdom, marvelous are his ways, and the extent of his doings none can find out. His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand. From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail."

They just don't seem to be from the same person. The first quote seems to be from someone who could barely compose a coherent sentence, let alone a complex piece of writing, and the second from a master of religious language. The common explanation for this is that Joseph was a semi-literate farm boy who seemed to stumble through his words when writing on his own (not being one who was 'mighty' in writing), but when dictating the voice of the Lord from heaven through a scribe, was mighty, speaking with the authority of heaven. In response to this my question would be, Doesn't God speak to us in the same language that we commonly use ourselves? Of course, Joseph could have been an exception to this, granted. The troubling aspect, however, comes in when one realizes that relying so heavily on dictation for conveying teachings and ideas might allow another person's writings to be substituted for those of the dictator. Of course, I don't have any real evidence of this happening, but let me introduce the points from Joseph's history that Dan conveniently omitted from his article.

There are actually many, many troubling things from the history of the church that an interested person can easily uncover with a few simple clicks in a web browser on the internet. Allow me to highlight just a few things from Joseph's history that call into question his legitimacy as a true prophet of God.

1. The Kinderhook plates incident. On April 16, 1843 a man by the name of Robert Wiley started digging in a mound. He quit when it started raining, but came back a week later (with a group of men) and began digging again. Ultimately a set of 6, bell shaped, brass plates were found connected by a rusty iron ring. On these plates were inscribed characters as follows:

It wasn't long before someone had the idea of taking the plates to Joseph Smith for a translation. Needless to say, this was a very exciting discovery of the day as it seemed the plates not only certainly contained more about the history of the Indian mound builders, but it also seemed to validate Joseph's story about obtaining plates of gold to be able to translate the Book of Mormon. After all, the Book of Mormon mentioned plates of brass so speculation abounded about what these plates, discovered in Kinderhook, Illinois, might contain.

Soon, it was published in the Times and Seasons that the plates were discovered and everyone looked forward to Joseph's translation. Unfortunately, Joseph was killed before any translation could be officially announced. We do know, however, that he was at least seriously contemplating their translation. William Clayton (Joseph's scribe) wrote the following;

"I have seen 6 brass plates...covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. [Joseph Smith] has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth."

William also recorded, "...that upon receiving the plates, Smith sent for his "Hebrew Bible & Lexicon," This seems to suggest that Joseph was going to attempt to translate the plates by conventional means, rather than by use of a seer stone or direct revelation. Regardless of how it was going to be accomplished, the records seem to show that Joseph believed the plates to be authentic and was intending to perform a translation of them.

The problem is, the plates turned out to be a hoax. Years later it came out that a few men had planted the plates with the specific hope and intention of receiving a translation of the plates from Joseph Smith, which they then could use to prove him a fraud. When an official translation never came forth, the ruse had lost its potential to discredit Joseph and his translation abilities. Unfortunately, many questions remain unanswered. For example, if Joseph was a prophet, why wasn't he able to sniff out the deception and call the fraudulent parties out when he saw the plates? One also is left wondering if Joseph had not been killed, would there have been a translation made at some point? Questions like these call into question Joseph's legitimacy as one called or inspired of God in his work.

2. The Book of Abraham. In order to gain further insight on this issue, I would highly recommend Charles Larson's book, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri. This book can actually be obtained by current LDS members for $5 (Free with $5 S&H) through an outreach program at IRR here. The book is very nice as it contains a full color foldout scan of the original papyrus pieces. Anyway, this is what started me on my path. I sat in church one Sunday and thought I would look at the facsimiles contained in the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price and see if I could better understand the events depicted in them (I now realize that the name of my blog was a subconscious statement of this, because I didn't realize it at the time but, facsimilogos could be interpreted as "making sense of facsimiles") besides, I was looking for pictures in the scriptures and this is one of the few places you can find them (I know, sometimes church is boring and I was jealous of my kids picture books, so I wanted to look at the pictures actually contained in the scriptures).

As I studied the pictures there, I had a simple question. I wondered if there were any scholars who had been able to actually translate these scenes and wondered what they had to say about them. I was pretty sure that Egyptologists, if they were, in fact, able to even begin to translate Egyptian, would completely vindicate Joseph's translation of the fragments. That simple question led me to discover a great video on the subject found here. The video was very informative. In fact, it was much more informative than any video I have ever seen put out by the church. This video actually provided a historical context that made sense and was easily verifiable. Now that I think about it, most videos I have seen during my time in the church were mostly about tugging at my heart strings in some fashion, but never contained much in the way of substance. I was amazed to find something long on substance that wasn't designed to get me all worked up emotionally. However, this video placed a very solid question mark in my mind concerning Joseph's abilities to translate ancient languages where only a period used to exist. This of course lead me down a path of wanting to know more. If the church hadn't given me this thorough of an explanation of the history surrounding the origin of the Book of Abraham, what else was out there that I was unaware of? A lot. The final nail in the coffin for me surrounding Joseph's prophetic call and abilities occurred when I researched my last bullet point.

3. The testimony of the 11 witnesses to the Book of Mormon. As a lifelong member of the church I was very familiar with the testimony of the 3 and 8 witnesses to the plates of the Book of Mormon. I often referred to their testimony in response to any accusation that the gold plates were not real. Sure, maybe Joseph alone might not be 100% trustworthy, but there were witnesses! Others saw and handled these plates which Joseph claimed to have in his possession, so they must have been real, right?

Well, not exactly. You see, according to a statement made by Martin Harris, he seems to indicate that the manifestation of the plates was more of a spiritual witness than a physical one. David Whitmer has indicated this as well. I was always told that none of the witnesses had ever denied their testimony of seeing the plates of the Book of Mormon, however, I was never told that the witnesses said that these were just "spiritual" visions and not physical ones.

What about the 8 witnesses? They saw and handled the real plates, though, right? Maybe. Maybe not. The reason I say this is because most of the 8 witnesses came from one family. John Whitmer said, "I now say, I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides. ...they were shown to me by a supernatural power" (History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 307)

So why was a supernatural power needed for a physical witness of some plates? The other question is, How could these witnesses be expected to know that the plates presented to them were the same one's that contained the Book of Mormon (as opposed to a fabrication)?

It is interesting to note that several of the 8 witnesses later went on to testify that they saw the voree plates which James Strang (potential successor to Joseph Smith to lead the church) claimed contained "The book of the law of the Lord". He also claimed to have the Plates of Laban spoken of in the Book of Mormon. So, even though the witnesses never denied their testimonies as contained in the preface to the Book of Mormon, they never denied seeing anything supernatural! So the credibility of the witnesses is called into question when one learns that they never denied seeing the gold plates, never denied that James Strang was Joseph's successor and said that the presentation of the plates was a supernatural event.

When taking just these three incidents into consideration, I will again present Dan's original proposition; Joseph was either a false prophet but thought he was a real one, or he was a false prophet and knew that he was a false prophet...he must have been either dishonest or delusional, or some hybrid of the two. My contention is that these are the only two real possible explanations for Joseph Smith and the third explanation that he WAS a real prophet and KNEW he was a prophet, just falls flat on its face. What do you think?

(Please note: When using Firefox web browser, if you type a comment without logging in first, your comment may disappear when attempting to submit. To avoid this, login first and then type comment or always copy comment before attempting to submit.)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

More about castration

In order to elaborate further on the castrations I mentioned in my Father's Day post, the instance I referred to was what happened to Thomas Lewis as told by John D. Lee:

"I knew of many men being killed in Nauvoo... and I know of many a man who was quietly put out of the way by the orders of Joseph and his Apostles while the Church was there." (Confessions of John D. Lee, Photo-reprint of 1877 edition, page 284)

Lee also revealed another very cruel practice which took place both in Nauvoo, Illinois, and in early Utah:

"In Utah it has been the custom with the Priesthood to make eunuchs of such men as were obnoxious to the leaders. This was done for a double purpose: first, it gave a perfect revenge, and next, it left the poor victim a living example to others of the dangers of disobeying counsel and not living as ordered by the Priesthood.

"In Nauvoo it was the orders from Joseph Smith and his apostles to beat, wound and castrate all Gentiles that the police could take in the act of entering or leaving a Mormon household under circumstances that led to the belief that they had been there for immoral purposes.... In Utah it was the favorite revenge of old, worn-out members of the Priesthood, who wanted young women sealed to them, and found that the girl preferred some handsome young man. The old priests generally got the girls, and many a young man was unsexed for refusing to give up his sweetheart at the request of an old and failing, but still sensual apostle or member of the Priesthood. As an illustration... Warren Snow was Bishop of the Church at Manti, San Pete County, Utah. He had several wives, but there was a fair, buxom young woman in the town that Snow wanted for a wife.... She thanked him for the honor offered, but told him she was then engaged to a young man, a member of the Church, and consequently could not marry the old priest.... He told her it was the will of God that she should marry him, and she must do so; that the young man could be got rid of, sent on a mission or dealt with in some way... that, in fact, a promise made to the young man was not binding, when she was informed that it was contrary to the wishes of the authorities.

"The girl continued obstinate.... the authorities called on the young man and directed him to give up the young woman. This he steadfastly refused to do.... He remained true to his intended, and said he would die before he would surrender his intended wife to the embraces of another.... The young man was ordered to go on a mission to some distant locality... But the mission was refused...

"It was then determined that the rebellious young man must be forced by harsh treatment to respect the advice and orders of the Priesthood. His fate was left to Bishop Snow for his decision. He decided that the young man should be castrated; Snow saying, 'When that is done, he will not be liable to want the girl badly, and she will listen to reason when she knows that her lover is no longer a man.'

"It was then decided to call a meeting of the people who lived true to counsel, which was held in the school-house in Manti... The young man was there, and was again requested, ordered and threatened, to get him to surrender the young woman to Snow, but true to his plighted troth, he refused to consent to give up the girl. The lights were then put out. An attack was made on the young man. He was severely beaten, and then tied with his back down on a bench, when Bishop Snow took a bowie-knife, and performed the operation in a most brutal manner, and then took the portion severed from his victim and hung it up in the school-house on a nail, so that it could be seen by all who visited the house afterwards.

"The party then left the young man weltering in his blood, and in a lifeless condition. During the night he succeeded in releasing himself from his confinement, and dragged himself to some hay-stacks, where he lay until the next day, when he was discovered by his friends. The young man regained his health, but has been an idiot or quite lunatic ever since....

"After this outrage old Bishop Snow took occasion to getup a meeting... When all had assembled, the old man talked to the people about their duty to the Church, and their duty to obey counsel, and the dangers of refusal, and then publicly called attention to the mangled parts of the young man, that had been severed from his person, and stated that the deed had been done to teach the people that the counsel of the Priesthood must be obeyed. To make a long story short, I will say, the young woman was soon after forced into being sealed to Bishop Snow.

"Brigham Young... did nothing against Snow. He left him in charge as Bishop at Manti, and ordered the matter to be hushed up."

D. Michael Quinn elaborated on Brigham's reaction: "In the midsummer of 1857 Brigham Young also expressed approval for an LDS bishop who had castrated a man. In May 1857 Bishop Warren S. Snow's counselor wrote that twenty-four-year-old Thomas Lewis 'has now gone crazy' after being castrated by Bishop Snow for an undisclosed sex crime. When informed of Snow's action, Young said: 'I feel to sustain him...' In July Brigham Young wrote a reassuring letter to the bishop about this castration: 'Just let the matter drop, and say no more about it,' the LDS president advised, 'and it will soon die away among the people.' " (The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, pages 250-251)

(Please note: When using Firefox web browser, if you type a comment without logging in first, your comment may disappear when attempting to submit. To avoid this, login first and then type comment or always copy comment before attempting to submit.)