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.

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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.

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