Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"So called" intellectuals

One of the things I increasingly noticed about attempting to maintain my belief in the church is that in order to do so, I had to increasingly ignore what science had to say about things in the world around me. The more I became exposed to what science has to say about major world events (such as a universal flood, for example) the more I had to rely on wild speculation to explain the continued belief in it, that may have been based on a tiny sliver of remote possibility, but the likelihood of which became increasingly remote the more I was grounded in reality and the more I looked objectively at what science has to say about history and the world around me.

Some of the things I have heard believers say in response to several of my objections about the likelihood of events happening the way they are depicted in the Bible and the Book of Mormon is that those events happened soooo long ago that the world could have changed significantly since those events occurred. Unfortunately, this is not likely. The world does change over time, but not that fast and not in THAT significant a fashion. When I ask about why there is no evidence of the complete and total destruction of several major cities as described in 3rd Nephi in the Book of Mormon the explanation is that either we haven't found the evidence yet, or God is hiding it. Even though the civilizations we find remnants of in South America were all built well before the events in 3rd Nephi supposedly transpired, there must still be evidence out there that the massive destruction really did happen. The more people dig, the less they find that it is likely that events occurred the way the Book of Mormon depicts, but people who believe have to remain in denial (or in the dark or cling to wild and unsubstantiated speculation about what may have happened to the evidence of such events) about those discoveries in order to maintain their faith.

When I bring up the objection that says that the Red Sea has never had rivers flowing into it, even though the Book of Mormon states that there was a river that flowed "constantly" into the Red Sea (see 1 Nephi 2:8). We know from science that no rivers run consistently into the Red Sea. So the way this is reconciled is to say that there might have been some rain water runoff that Lehi and the gang happened to stumble across...but one would think that having been from that region and all they should have known that the Red Sea area was not known for having much fresh water. Here is a great video about this here.

This is not to mention the fact that the Book of Mormon expects us to swallow that a group of families traveled on foot the distance of over 250 miles over some of the roughest terrain known to man in 3 days. I mean, I'm sure these people were tough and all, but c'mon, for realsies?

Even though thinking about the reality of a caravan of families traveling through the desert region east of the Red Sea and actually being able to survive for more than a few days becomes quite ridiculous when seriously thought about, the believer sees the unlikelihood of the events transpiring the way they are said to have in the Book of Mormon as making the story more faith promoting (i.e. God causes very unlikely things to happen all the time). I tend to see the infeasibility of the events as an indicator that they are likely not true. They are either highly embellished folk tales or they didn't really happen at all.

What I really don't like is that the more I worked to maintain my faith in the reality of what the scriptures teach, the more I found myself coming up on the short end of what scientists have discovered about the world around me. There just came a point where I had to say that science can't be wrong about so much in the world.

Of course, believers tend to point out that science seems to change its conclusions about things over time. They cite the advice about drinking a glass of red wine a day and say that science has changed it's position on that at least a few times since announcing the discovery. To this I can only respond that I would rather place my faith in science, and the attempts to try to discover the truth of things through the scientific method, than settle for what some ancient book (or old guy) assures me is true based on a "feeling".

I also wanted to throw in a link to the skeptics annotated Book of Mormon for anyone who wants to check out all the nifty stuff people laugh at in the Book of Mormon here. They also have the Skeptics annotated Bible here. Enjoy.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

I dreamed a dream

I had a dream last night where I was in a room surrounded by close relatives and friends and everyone was engaged in making comments about me. No one was really talking directly to me, but they were all making veiled jabs at my disbelief to one extent or another. Some of them were quite hurtful and made me very sad. I awoke and made some observations about what transpired in the dream. The first one was that even though everyone in the room was aware of my disbelief, no one bothered to ask the obvious question, "Chris, Why don't you believe in the church anymore?", let alone listen to my thoughtful and sincere answers. In fact, no one even bothered to ask me any questions at all to attempt to understand where I might be coming from. Everyone just assumed that what they heard (or assumed based on their understanding of what causes people to fall away from the church) about me was true.

Another observation I made was that everyone was very condescending in their attitude towards me. They would seek affirmation from others in the group in various ways (to confirm their beliefs), but their comments were designed to either put me down or make light of my situation so that it did not have to be dealt with in any meaningful way. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about my situation, but they had no interest in finding out about my situation from the person who was in the situation. I found this very frustrating. I woke up at the most frustrating point of the scenario.

When I woke up I also began to formulate a question I wish I could have posed to everyone present at that time. Of course, it was a long question that needed a lot of foundation to be established, but now that I think about it, since no one seemed to be interested in actually learning about why I am where I am at, I don't know why they would even attempt to listen to a question posed to them in the most sincere and thoughtful manner possible. I started to feel like I was the only one capable of listening and actually processing what was being said by people without applying an automatic bias to what was being said. I felt like I was a scapegoat for everyone to unload all their fears and insecurities (disguised as convictions) on. Anyway, here is the question I began to formulate to ask my relatives and friends present in my dream;

We know from the bible it is taught that God giveth to ALL men liberally and upbraideth not when we ask Him for something (James 1:5). We also know that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). We also know that Jesus taught that God desires to give us exactly what we need because since we know how to give good gifts to our children, God most certainly knows how to give the best gifts to us (Matt 7:9-11). To me these scriptural teachings mean that everyone is entitled to answers to prayers and, at a minimum, to feel the spirit when those things that are taught contain God's truth for mankind. The feeling of the spirit should be inseparably interconnected with God's truth when it is uttered.

Based on these teachings, what I continue to fail to understand is two things:

1) Why is it that if two people who both earnestly seek for the feeling of the spirit to confirm the same truths that have been confirmed to others, that one person will claim to have received that divine guidance and the other will not? Why does Heavenly Father do that to anyone?

2) Why is it that when truths are taught that we may claim to have felt the spirit about when they were originally taught don't cause us to feel the spirit the next time the very same thing is taught at a different time or under different circumstances?

Both of these questions have to do with consistency. Is it too much to ask that the things of God that are manifest actually be consistent with the teachings in who is able to receive them and that we consistently feel God's spirit when the things of God are taught even though the circumstances of hearing the truths may be different?

The problem is that the response of believers to these questions is to blame the person who is never able to receive the hoped for answers or feeling that they are seeking. They will give some variation of; the person who does not receive the feeling of the spirit must not be in tune to feeling the spirit at that time. They will then cite a litany of possible reasons for their unworthiness of being able to feel the spirit which all boil down to, regardless of how sincere the person is or how hard they try to achieve that worthiness, they are just still failing on some level. It is always the fault of the person who isn't feeling the spirit and there is always some additional requirement that can be heaped on as a prerequisite before the person will be "worthy" of feeling the spirit.

The problem is the list of requirements never ends and is also literally impossible to completely fulfill. Once you are doing everything you are supposed to do, what will inevitably happen is you will fail in being diligent with one of the other requirements. For example, I can't possibly do everything the church teaches and not falter in some other area. I can't possibly attend all my meetings and do all my genealogy and attend the temple with the diligence that is required in all those areas. It is also a case where no matter how much a person does, if they claim to not be able to feel the spirit, there must just be something more they are missing or maybe it is some sin they are committing that is making them an unclean vessel. Since nothing can be entirely isolated as the reason, the assumption is that it must just be something more that everyone is not aware of, but it is still the person's fault who is not feeling the spirit. It is never possible to consider that God might be the one to blame, because no one can ever assume He might ever be wrong.

This type of blame the victim mentality is just sickening to those who are on the receiving end of it. It is just like if a woman is raped and then she is blamed for it. It is just heinous to think about when that happens. Of course, I realize that there are probably still circles where this is an acceptable reaction towards the woman who is raped (i.e. to blame them for it), and this makes my heart sink and go out to those poor women who are blamed for something they are absolutely not responsible for in any way shape or form. (Of course, I understand that the line between consensual and non-consensual is sometimes very blurry, but in conditions where force is evident, I believe we should always err on the side of compassion towards the one who is claiming to have been raped, since they are truly the victim in such cases).

This causes me to wonder if it is even possible for some to ever see the hurt, pain and loneliness the judgments that are cast on others result in? I know the pain I have felt has been immense at so many times, but the response of believers seems to be, "Well, you deserve to feel pain you stupid, unrighteous apostate! If you just had faith and conformed to the truth of God all your pain would go away." How can people be so presumptuously callous? How can people who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus (who taught that we should love our neighbor as ourselves) be so extreme on the opposite end of that spectrum by despising those that simply don't understand why there are inconsistencies. People are condemned for thinking that they might possibly have a more likely explanation for it all? In essence I am asking here, why can't we all just get along? Why can't believers not treat those disaffected members of the church so harsh and abrasively? Why can't they try to understand the disaffected members viewpoint and actually consider some of the points they try to convey?

Unfortunately, I have to conclude that it is in our very nature to be judgmental and ostracize people who do not belong to our perceived group. Maybe we cannot ever fully overcome this tendency and there will always be pain and suffering and division amongst those who are separate from, or outside of, religious groups everywhere. I just wish people would think a little more about how the things they say may be hurtful to others who may not agree with their view or see things differently for some reason. I believe that, while I am not perfect in this, I do try to see things from the perspective of others a lot more now than I used to. The difficulty comes when my sympathy is directed towards those who have historically been the one to blame for their woes.

Shouldn't a church that claims to have all the truth of God in it's doctrinal canon have, as a result of its influence, the means to help people be able to see things better from others' perspectives, instead of bringing people up to shun and be critical of others outside the group so quickly? Why is this not the case - especially in God's only true and living church on the earth today? Unfortunately, nobody who needs to hear these things is still listening to me at this point.

My dream is that the pain that comes from the critical comments and ostracism caused by believing members of the church towards those who do not believe, for whatever reason, will cease. I also wish that we could all work to understand things better from the perspective of others without automatically assuming they are sinning (or applying any other unsubstantiated bias until the situation is fully understood). Stephen Covey said it best, I think, when he said that one of the habits of a highly effective person is to seek first to understand, then to be understood.

If anyone is listening, I am not in pain because I have sinned. I am not in pain because I deserve it. I am in pain because I have been judged and cast out by those that I continue to love without due consideration of my viewpoint. My viewpoint has only been arrived at through thoughtful criticism of what I was taught should be considered the most important questions in life. Unfortunately the answers I have arrived at are now different than what I was taught. And if you ever want to know exactly what those things are, I'll be more than happy to explain. All you have to do is ask.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

What color are you?

I just got to wondering something; why does the church in its editings of the Book of Mormon feel the need to change white and delightsome to pure and delightsome, with regard to a change in skin color of the Lamanites, but has no problem leaving in the bit about being cursed by God with black skin for being wicked? Apparently the change from dark to white skin is setting an unrealistic expectation and is problematic, but to have people go from white to dark skin is OK and the church can get behind that all day long without a problem?

In thinking about this, I think it might have to do with legal liability. The church may want to protect itself against a lawsuit from a dark skinned person who reads in the BoM that they can become light/white skinned by doing what the church asks, but the church must not have any fear that a white person who leaves the church might actually become darker skinned (due to the increased time spent outdoors enjoying life and going tanning or whatever with all the money they save from not paying tithing!) I guess there is really no fear of backlash from the wicked dark skinned people (who only appear to get darker the farther away from the church they get) as much as there is from the righteous dark skinned people who never become white. I guess I can understand that. Could there be any other reason for the change to the words in the BoM? I mean, it's not like there was an announcement over the pulpit in general conference where it was announced that the words in the Book of Mormon were going to be changed (unless I missed that particular announcement?).

I also think it must be confusing for young people in the church to learn that white people, who turn bad, end up with dark skin (as a curse as taught in the BoM), but when those dark skinned folks join the church and do everything they are told that they are supposed to do, they aren't expected to see any kind of reversal in skin color. Rather, those that are righteous with dark skin are considered "pure" instead of "white". So the obvious question from children would be "Why wouldn't God make the darkie light again, since he made the whitie dark?" Apparently it is only a one way street when it comes to skin color. We can only get darker, but never whiter. That, my young reader, is the lesson here. Don't ever do anything bad, because once you go down that Pinocchio path and start doing bad stuff, just like Pinocchio almost ended up as a donkey forever, you may end up as a black person forever. And, if you ever decide to come back, too bad, the dark skin stays and you can never have white skin again. So guard your white skin children, because once it is lost, it is gone forever! And, just look at how tough it is for the blacks! They have been fighting for equal rights for years now and they still don't have real equality in so many ways.

To me that says that having black skin is a sign of wickedness and having white skin means you are fortunate to have never been cursed, so you should protect that status in everything you do. How could I not be expected to think less of people with black skin being taught such things?

I imagine the primary lesson I might have had went something like this: A child raises his hand (after reading Alma 3:6) to ask, "So why aren't all wicked people black then?" (This is a question I guess I never really thought about until now that I am actually thinking about this stuff. Yeah, why is that anyway?) The dutiful primary teacher responds with something like, "Of course, young child, the reason is simple. Because God picks and chooses whom he will actually curse with the skin of blackness, you silly goose."

The teacher continues:

"Just you nevermind that it really has to do with the regional climate your ancestors are from, 'those' people have always been looked down upon by society and obviously God looks down on them as well (after all, to curse means to give something rotten to someone - or their kids - who have done something bad). People who are white that are doing bad stuff better watch out because, any day now, the white God will curse the bad white people with skins of blackness. In fact you may not recognize some of your friends in the next life because they might have black skin there, even though they are really white and delightsome now. In fact, come to think about it, you won't recognize a lot of people up in heaven when it is all said and done, just like members of the church don't recognize each other when they run into each other at the grocery store in Sunday." I imagine an awkward pause would follow such a statement like the one's that Johnny Depp delivers in his version of Willy Wonka.

By the way, if anyone has an explanation for why the curse/mark of Cain/Ham/Egyptus persisted for more than a few generations, I would love to hear it because from what I have read God only curses those that he really despises for only 3 or 4 generations at most, not for well over 160 generations! (See Deuteronomy 5:9, Numbers 14:18, Exodus 34:7 & Exodus 20:5)

I can think of a few explanations for the phenomena that I have outlined above;

1) Whatever the first person to be cursed with black skin did to God was pretty bad (we're talking utterly and completely severe) so that the curse was so long lasting (and the scriptures I outlined do not fit that category of uber badness). However, there is really not any indication that this was the case...unless the first murder had to be forever remembered as a really bad choice among the children of men and black people are supposed to remind everybody of that. But why would a God, who doesn't want us to have crucifixes displayed - to remember the death of His Only Begotten Son, want to have constant reminders persist among humanity of the first murder (or whatever that unspeakable act was)?

2) God doesn't have the power to lift the curse once it is given (which, I guess, could be a possibility) but that kind of throws out the idea of an omnipotent God doesn't it?

3) God doesn't ever remove the curse of the skin of blackness because it really isn't that big of a deal. I guess this is also a possibility, but if that is the case, why not just cause any teaching or reminder about the curse of black skin to be removed from scripture? If it is really not a big deal to God, why is it needed at all in the doctrinal canon? Not only that, but if it is not a big deal to God, why allow blacks to be owned as slaves? After all, I'm pretty sure this teaching was at least partly used as the justification for the whites being able to own black people as slaves (because the blacks were cursed by God and therefore not eligible for equal rights to own property and vote). I wonder what God thinks of slavery, anyway? He sure did have a lot of rules about how to treat slaves in the Old Testament (See Exodus 21, 22 & 23).

4) Those that profess that having a skin of blackness is a curse from God are full of it. This is where I am at. Since all the other reasons don't seem to hold water for me, this is my conclusion. Of course, I am open to any other reasons that may exist out there so please enlighten me. While I am waiting to hear back I'll be outside working on my skin of blackness ;-)

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Friday, April 1, 2011

General Conference

I attended a regional stake conference broadcast a while back (just a few short weeks after the LDS general conference wherein Boyd Packer let his true feelings for homosexuals show through) where Dieter Uchtdorf spoke. As I listened to Dieter Uchtdorf give a pleasant talk about tolerance and the need for love of everyone (including those we may not agree with or understand) I couldn't help but wonder how perfect some of the things Dieter said were and how they were designed to calm the waters of the uproar by supporters of the LGBTQ community (of which I am now a supporter). It seemed his words were very carefully crafted and seemed to come from the church PR department instead of the good ol' boy pilot that Dieter is. Thinking about how careful everything was worded made me wonder if the general authorities actually write their own stuff all the time or if sometimes their talks (along with some or all of the content) are "suggested" (or, at the very least approved) by a PR person. This seemed like a very real possibility to me at the time, but I haven't really thought about it much since then.

What got me to thinking about it again, was the recent blog post by Cognitive Dissenter (found here) that talked about the recent general YW meeting address by Henry Eyring wherein he selectively quoted Brigham Young about how he thought so highly of the virtue of YW. The question brought up by CD was whether or not Henry is aware of all the other crap BY had spoken over the years that would seem to nullify any credit we should apply to Brigham as a stalwart supporter of the females.

The assumption by CD was that Henry must be aware of it all and that he is therefore active in his deception by only presenting the version of history (or quotes by BY) that is faith promoting and whitewashed in his remarks. I guess I would like to think that the deception is not so active on the part of the "Lord's anointed", but I guess I might be naive.

Of course, I don't have any inside scoop on whether or not the ga's write their own stuff or not, but it would be interesting to be able to get a definitive answer on this question to be able to say with absolute certainty that the deception is really as deep as I fear it is.

On the other hand it is hard to think that people like Dallin Oaks and Boyd Packer who make statements like the following are not in on the gag:

Dalin Oaks said, "My duty as a member of the Council of the Twelve is to protect what is most unique about the LDS church, namely the authority of priesthood, testimony regarding the restoration of the gospel, and the divine mission of the Savior. Everything may be sacrificed in order to maintain the integrity of those essential facts. Thus, if Mormon Enigma reveals information that is detrimental to the reputation of Joseph Smith, then it is necessary to try to limit its influence and that of its authors."
- Apostle Dallin Oaks, footnote 28, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon, Introduction p. xliii

Boyd Packer said, “You seminary teachers and some of you institute and BYU men will be teaching the history of the Church this school year. This is an unparalleled opportunity in the lives of your students to increase their faith and testimony of the divinity of this work. Your objective should be that they will see the hand of the Lord in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now.”

“Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer.

“There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not.”

Some things that are true are not very useful.

“That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith — particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith — places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities. ... Do not spread disease germs!"
- Boyd K. Packer, "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect", 1981, BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 259-271

So my question is, are Dallin Oaks and Boyd Packer aware of those things that are not faith promoting that they are discouraging others from pursuing? I would have to assume the answer is yes, since they are warning people about it.

So should we be lovers of truth or lovers of a cause that we should work to uphold regardless of the toll on our integrity? According to these dudes we should work to support a cause and just ignore integrity apparently.

So let's take that idea and try to apply it to government. By following that advice, only things that are useful (or helpful in getting people to be patriotic) should be revealed to the public. So wouldn't it be a shocker of the magnitude of Richard Nixon's Watergate affair if it came out that a US president was on record as saying that some things that are true are not very useful and that was their philosophy? Is there a difference between the standard we apply to political leaders and leaders of the church? Why the difference?

This idea is one that is also brought out in the book by Robert L. Millet called "Holding Fast: Dealing with Doubt in the Latter Days". This book, written to those who may be experiencing doubts about the legitimacy of the church or its claims, made me literally sick to my stomach. Even though Robert starts out by outlining the shocking story of doubt that Mother Teresa experienced, it falls back on the primary reason for keeping the faith and not doubting in the supremacy of the LDS church as being that one should not have in their mind to disappoint one's family by leaving the church. He admonishes those with doubts to think about the harm it will do to those that believe if you leave the church.

Maybe this is a good enough reason for some to stick it out, but I need more. By that same logic, if I am in an oppressive and controlling cult, I would get the same reason not to leave from there as well. They would say, "Think about how sad everyone here will be if you leave! We love you. All those others that lie in wait to deceive don't have your best interests at heart." Only thing is, they actually do. Those others, outside the cult, want you to be free to make your own happiness instead of blindly following along with somebody else's plan for your happiness. Why people cannot see this continues to amaze me to no end.

I wonder how much I will get to the point where I feel the need to yell at the t.v. during general conference this weekend. Of course, maybe if I don't bring it up I'll only have to endure the two sessions on Sunday...and maybe even for those I can find something better to do.

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