Sunday, November 7, 2021

Letter to a man who literally changed my life

Hi Jim Wolfe,

I love your material! Keep up the excellent work. I wanted to share with you how much your material means to me. I found AAKH, after searching desperately for some way to make sense out of what happened to me. It took some time for my emotional wounds to heal but, what you have shared helped me so much.

You see, I spent 24 years in an unfulfilled marriage. I didn't realize it until recently but, I now believe it was because my wife never really had a very high interest in me. About 3 years ago, I was out of town on a business trip and met a women who showed some interest in me and I fell hard for her. This was before I knew anything about your advice. Long story short, we made out a few times and I got very attached to her. When I came back home from my business trip I was so disappointed that my wife didn't treat me the same as my affair interest that I decided to get a divorce. 

I had visions of my future with this new woman and, even though she lived 6 hours away from me, I was sure I could make things work out with her in the future. 

It wasn't long after that I initiated the divorce from my wife that things started to go south with my new love interest. I didn't really follow any of the principles you teach except for a few that were accidental. I was texting her every morning because I was sure that was helping me but I began to see her interest start to drop off over time. One day I was planning another trip to go see her when she called it off. Of course she couldn't tell me it was because she just wasn't interested in me anymore so she gave me some other excuses. 

Eventually she broke up with me and I was shattered. This is when I went searching for information. At first I was searching for any advice on how to get her back. At least some of the advice I found was helpful because a lot of "experts" advised cutting off communication with her to give her some time away. What I came to realize though is that time off was helping me more than it was her. 

By the time I found AAKH, I almost had relationship advice search fatigue, because I wasn't sure anyone had the answers I was looking for but, I found your YouTube videos extremely helpful. You were making sense where everybody else I found seemed to just make extraordinary claims but then never were quite able to explain things in a way that made sense to me. At least not in a way that I could apply in the real world. Many seemed to be content with sharing pickup lines but they couldn't seem to articulate the principles behind their advice. AAKH, on the other hand, WAS A BREATH OF FRESH AIR!

After following, and endeavoring to implement, your advice, I eventually re-entered the dating scene. You taught me that I did need to give myself some time to heal, so I gave myself that time, not quite 24 months worth but, I think I had processed much of the emotional trauma from my marriage prior to our divorce so I was really only recovering from my relatively short affair and infatuation and that subsequent breakup. I now see that the woman I left my wife for probably wasn't a good candidate for me for several reasons, not the least of which being that it was long distance. 

Anyway, I dated several women, got my confidence up, and eventually  met a cutie pie that is crazy about me. I waited until she brought up dating exclusively and then committed to her. We continued dating until she hinted at marriage and then I asked her to marry me. We were engaged almost two years and were married a few months back. We couldn't be happier! I really think people envy what I have and for that I am extremely grateful to you. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. I only wish more people knew what you have to offer.

My gratitude is not the only reason I wanted to write you, however. Because I am a selfish bastard, I wanted to also ask a question ;-)  

I know the milestones you are looking to check off to guage a women's level of interest while dating are if she shows up for your dates, kisses you back, etc. I also know that the things that keep a woman interested for the long term are different than when starting to date and progress in the relationship. I know you have also mentioned that if your wife, or long term girlfriends', interest starts to fade that you can introduce a little preselection, or take a little time away, etc. 

What I am wondering though is, what kind of indicators can I be on the lookout for to determine that her interest in me might be falling after being married for a while? I know you have said that if she volunteers time away that it might be too late so I want to make sure things don't ever get to that point. Of course, I think she knows pretty clear that I would leave if things ever did get unbearable but, I would rather avoid that hassle if I can. 

Any specifics you can share, or point me in the direction of, would be most appreciated!

Thank you again my man!

Most Sincerely,


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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Mormon Thought Experiment

This post is in response to a YouTube video posted by the LDS church found here.

If prophets are such a key part of LDS theology, the current day prophet is set up as God's mouthpiece on the earth today for the whole earth. The presumption is that this status (of being the "one" prophet for the whole earth) is acceptable because the LDS church has the means and technology to potentially reach all people throughout the earth. Ok. Well, what about in past times?

The Book of Mormon is claimed to be a record of prophets, and their dealings, following a people who came from ancient Jerusalem to the American continent. The record starts out by following a man named Lehi who is claimed to be a prophet, called of God, to preach to the ancient inhabitants of Jerusalem and warn them of their pending invasion and enslavement by the Babylonians.

Since the people in Jerusalem would not listen to Lehi, he was commanded to take his family and leave the area. They eventually made their way to the American continent where the Book of Mormon proceeded to come forth as the record of that people and their history.

It is presumed that Lehi and his successors represented God as his chosen prophets throughout the history of that book.

It also could be presumed that, since the LDS church teaches that the Bible also contains words of prophets which lived in the ancient Mediterranean region, that prophets lived there until there was a falling away when the words of the Bible stopped being added to.

This would mean that there were, simultaneously, two or more prophets speaking to groups of inhabitants, in different locations of the world, based on the region that people would have access to hear them?

Is it possible that there could have been other prophets that lived in other remote regions at the same time throughout history based on the assumption that God will continue to speak to people who are isolated geographically from hearing the words imparted by His chosen prophets in different regions of the world?

If so, this lends credibility to the idea that there could be (or have been) other prophets to other peoples of the world at different times historically.

Could this explain that Buddha or Mohammed were actually prophets in their times that spoke for God to the people in the regions where they lived?

If that is possible, what should be said of their writings?

Does that mean that there could actually be other books of scripture on the planet besides the Bible and Book of Mormon?

If that is so, why is there not at least some recognition given by the LDS church of the potential for truth to be found in these other books of scripture? I know the LDS church says that there is much good in other religions and that people should bring their good from their heritage and join the LDS church. However, should people be expected to absolutely forsake their closely held religious teachings which may have come from actual prophets of God?

The whole idea of having a chosen prophet of God seems pretty ridiculous and does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny when you begin to ask what should happen when two people both claim to be true prophets of God at the same time.

The LDS church would say that God will reveal which prophet is the true prophet of God if He is sincerely asked in prayer. It is interesting that the LDS church did have to answer this very question in their own history.

After the death of Joseph Smith, several men came forward and declared that they should be Joseph's rightful successor. Each had their own ideas based on what they felt were good reasons for being such. The modern LDS church says that their leader (Brigham Young) was the "real" successor to Joseph Smith. However, each of those men that claimed a right to succession of Joseph Smith, and be recognized as the current prophet, took many followers - and those followers sustained those men as their chosen leaders (and prophets) for their churches.

In this case, at least two different people, within communication range of each other, claimed a different man to be "their" prophet and recognized that leader to be God's chosen mouthpiece for them and their mutually recognized adherents.

To this day, many of these offshoots from the original LDS church, founded by Joseph Smith, remain. To this day, each member of each of these differing churches believes that their sect's founder was the legitimate successor to Joseph Smith. Many of them will also say that they prayed and asked God whether or not their church (as informed by their chosen prophet) is the "one true church on the earth" and they will each tell you that God answered their sincere prayer to that end.

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Mormons and Facebook for Dummies

Apparently there is some confusion out there surrounding posts or friends disappearing on Facebook recently. Here's the thing, it is not Facebook's fault. If you experience missing posts or conversations not making sense because people seem to be responding to comments that are simply not there or people who post regular family pictures and/or status updates seem to be disappearing from your news feed, you are not alone. Millions of Facebook users are experiencing this phenomenon known as "Facebook Censorship".

Facebook Censorship could happen because of Facebook manipulations of the things that show up in your news feed because Facebook uses algorithms to define your interests and uses the history of the things you have clicked on in the past to define what to show you in your news feed. This is not really censorship, but it is annoying if people are posting things that you want to see, but that Facebook deems you would not be interested in. The way to change this over time is to seek out those friends you want to see their statuses and updates. However, even more common is the user directed Facebook Censorship that happens when people take steps to block you from seeing posts, unfriend you, delete your posts or comments (made on their wall or in response to their posts or comments). This happens more frequently than you may think. Sometimes there is no way to know that this is going on unless you are able to use a different Facebook account to see the response to your posts.

If you do not want to become a victim of this behavior you should know a few things;

1. Do not post anything related to religion or your religious views in public on Facebook.

2. Do not mention any of the following (even if you are referencing them for educational purposes);
 - Cults
 - Mind control
 - Brainwashing
 - Racism
 - Polygamy
 - Polyandry
 - Fallibility of religious leaders
 - Cognitive Dissonance
 - Former abuses by religious leaders (especially past or present Mormon/LDS leaders)
 - "Lying for the Lord"
 - Blood atonement
 - Adam-God doctrine
 - Temple ceremonies
 - Masonic rights
 - Gay marriage or gay rights
 - City Creek Mall (unless you are praising how nice it is)
 - Mountain Meadows Massacre
 - Kirtland Banking Society
 - Misogyny

3. Do not mention any links that provide information about LDS church history besides, or

By following these simple steps you can be assured that Facebook will continue to do what they do and only show you the stuff you want to see.

Happy Never Ending Scrolling!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Avoiding Doctrinal Deception

(Note, I started this post back in September of 2013 when this article came out)

So, in recent news, the prophet known as LDS Newsroom has published another revelation. The title of this publication is called, "5 ways to detect and avoid doctrinal deception".  Actually, rather than seeming to have the weight and authority of some unnamed, but very powerful, leader of the church, this one is acknowledged as having been written by a staff writer. This was a surprising shift from the usual seemingly authoritative pronouncements that have come out of the LDS Newsroom.

Aside from this avoidance of attributing authorship of official church pronouncements to specific leaders of the church, I found the article amusing. The first thing I realized is that it is written as a summary of a talk by a church educator. The article starts off by saying that the educator received a call from Neal A Maxwell asking about some popular book. The name of the book isn't mentioned, so we can't make any kind of judgment about it on our own, but apparently the educator said it contained, "a lot of doctrinal problems". While we don't get to learn what those are, Millet (the educator) goes on on to explain that Maxwell said that the members of the church can be so gullible. I find it interesting that Maxwell didn't read the book and make a determination on his own.

Besides that, Maxwell also accuses the members of the church, of not only being gullible but, that they (we) lack doctrinal sophistication.

Hmmm, I wonder whose fault that would be?

If members of the church lack doctrinal sophistication - and LDS church members are highly active among church going people - where does the fault lie? Perhaps the leaders should provide a little more of that doctrinal sophistication. This highlights the perpetual behavior of church leaders towards the members. Everything is always the fault of the members! It just reminds me of dealing with a spoiled child. Nothing is ever their fault.

Moving on. The article ends with a quote from Joseph Smith that basically says that anybody who questions the church (or its leaders) is on the road to apostasy and will apostatize if they don't repent.

Yep, it is true. Apostasy is another word for figuring out the leaders of the church are full of it. I have gotten to the point where I don't really care any more. The church is full of it. The people are good people. They work hard and do try really hard to follow the teachings of the church. You can't condemn them for that. They just believe it to varying degrees and try to live accordingly. I can't find fault with the members of the church for the most part. I just have some that I would rather hang out with more than others. Life is short, so I do just that.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Questions posed in the CES Letter - simple version

If you haven't heard of the CES Letter, where have you been? I heard of the CES Letter a few years ago and endeavored to read it but quickly got bored so I tried to skim the rest of the content to get the meat out of it.

I never really did get to a point where I was able to use it in any meaningful way. However, I recently encountered a great summary of the questions pointed out, and asked, in the CES Letter until a while back when I came across this blog post from a great blog called "Zelph on the Shelf":

I thought about posting something on my Facebook wall that would start out with the following quote from Russell M. Ballard:

"We have heard stories where someone asking honest questions about our history, doctrine, or practice were treated as though they were faithless. This is not the Lord’s way. As Peter said, 'Be ready always to give an answer to every man [or woman] that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.' We need to do better in responding to honest questions. Although we may not be able to answer every question about the cosmos or about our history, practices, or doctrine, we can provide many answers to those who are sincere."
--Elder Russell M. Ballard.

I never did get to the point where I felt inclined to post this on my Facebook wall, but I did go through the effort of re-wording the summary to pose each as a question to my believing relatives and friends. Here is what I came up with;

To my LDS friends and family,

I have a list of questions that I am hoping you can give me your thoughts on. But before I offer up my questions, I want to share a quote from Elder Russell M. Ballard which he shared at a regional conference recently,

"We have heard stories where someone asking honest questions about our history, doctrine, or practice were treated as though they were faithless. This is not the Lord’s way. As Peter said, 'Be ready always to give an answer to every man [or woman] that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.' We need to do better in responding to honest questions. Although we may not be able to answer every question about the cosmos or about our history, practices, or doctrine, we can provide many answers to those who are sincere." --Elder Russell M. Ballard.

In that spirit, here are several of my sincere questions that I hope you can patiently address for me the best you can:

1. Why is it that there are errors in the Book of Mormon that are also contained in the 1769 (circa Joseph’s family) edition of the Bible?

2. How is it that DNA analysis has concluded that Native American Indians do not originate from the Middle East or from Israelites but from Asia?

3. Why are there things in the Book of Mormon that didn’t exist during Book of Mormon times in that area? E.G. Horses, chariots, goats, elephants, wheat, and steel?

4. How is there absolutely no archaeological evidence for the millions of Nephites and Lamanites (their steel swords etc), even though we have archaeological evidence from normaler groups of people who existed thousands of years before in the same areas?

5. Why are Book of Mormon names and places strikingly similar (or identical) to many local names and places of the region Joseph Smith lived in?

6. Why is the Book of Mormon suspiciously similar to View of the Hebrews, a book published in Joseph Smith’s area in his time? Why is It also very similar to The First Book of Napoleon (published 1809), and The Late War, a textbook written in King James style language for New York State School children in Joseph’s time?

7. Why is it that the original 1830 text of The Book of Mormon had a trinitarian view of the Godhead, and was changed over time as Joseph’s ideas about the Godhead evolved? (Over 100,000 changes have been made to the book including many changes related to the nature of the Godhead.)

8. How come there were over 4 different First Vision accounts given by Joseph at different times, at least one of which didn’t even include God or Christ?

9. Why is it that Egyptian scholars who have translated the papyri Joseph claimed the Book of Abraham was translated from found that they have nothing to do with Abraham or anything contained in the book? Why is the church now claiming that “translate” meant “get inspiration from”?

10. Why is it that Joseph penciled in some parts of the papyri and those things do not seem to be in harmony with what scholars say should be in those missing parts?

11. Why did Joseph marry 34+ women, many without Emma’s consent (as forbidden in D&C 132) and 11 who were already married (some without their husbands knowing)?

12. Why is it that 10 of Joseph’s wives were teenagers, some as young as 14, several of whom he married while in his late 30's? This was shocking even by 19th century standards.

13. Why did President Hinckley publicly say polygamy isn’t doctrinal when numerous early church leaders, including Brigham Young, taught that it was essential for exaltation?

14. If the only scriptural justification for polygamy is “to multiply and replenish the earth” when The Lord commands it, either Joseph was sleeping with his 14-year-old wives, or he wasn’t adhering to scriptural laws.

15. Why did Joseph marry Fanny Alger years before he had the sealing power?

16. Why did Joseph marry some of his foster daughters?

17. Why did Brigham Young teach Adam-God theory, which is now disavowed by the church, at general conference and as part of the temple endowment ceremony?

18. Why is it that Brigham Young taught blood atonement, if it is now also disavowed?

19. Why is it that black people weren’t allowed to hold the priesthood until the 70s? Even though Joseph gave it to a few black people, but from Brigham to Spencer they were deemed unworthy to hold it?

20. Why is it that In the 1980s, the church paid around $900,000 to suppress bizarre and embarrassing church history documents? These documents were later proven to be fake. Mark Hofmann, the conman, turned out to be a murderer. Why is it that before the documents were known to be forgeries, church leaders gave talks offering explanations for them?

21. Why did Joseph Smith falsely translate fake plates called the Kinderhook Plates? Why did he claim they were historical?

22. Why do all of the spin-offs of the LDS church also have members say that they “know” their church is the true church? Why do other religions, such as Islam, say they “know through the power of God”, including the Heaven’s Gate cult, that their churches/beliefs are true?

23. Why did Joseph send Oliver and Hiram to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada, saying he received a revelation to do it if they failed? In addition, why did Joseph not know that treasure would not be available to them as they heard according to D&C 111?

24. Why do church leaders teach that you should bear your testimony in order to gain one, when this is a classic psychological manipulation tactic?

25. Why is that you can feel the spirit doing a multitude of things that have nothing to do with the gospel, like watching Saving Private Ryan?

26. Why is it that Joseph and Oliver receiving “the priesthood” is very suspicious, since they didn’t tell people until years later and changed earlier revelations to match their new accounts?

27. Why did Joseph use the seer stone he used to translate the Book of Mormon to find people “buried treasure”, for which he was taken to court on charges of fraud?

28. Is it true that people at Joseph’s time had a “magical worldview”, which included seeing things “with spiritual eyes” (like the gold plates)?

29. Is it true that Martin Harris was known as a gullible man? He was deeply financially invested in the Book of Mormon as he mortgaged his farm to finance it. Why is that after becoming Mormon, he was a witness to self-proclaimed prophet, James Strang, for whom he went on a mission? Strang also said he had gold plates and used a Urim and Thummin to translate them. His witnesses also never denied that Strang’s scripture was true.

Martin Harris testified and witnessed for several other religions, and also said that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book as he had The Book of Mormon. (He also said he saw Christ in the form of a deer and talked with him…so there’s that.)

30. Why did David Whitmer say he saw the angel with his spiritual eyes, and said his impressions were just like those of a Methodist having happy feelings?

31. Is it not true that people in Joseph’s time believe in “second sight” (imagination) and that it was no different to seeing something with your physical eyes?

32. Why did the witnesses to the gold plates not sign their own signatures or write their own accounts (except Oliver, who was the scribe)?

33. Why were all of the Book of Mormon witnesses, except for Martin Harris, were related by blood or marriage to the Smiths or the Whitmers?

34. Why did Joseph have many people sign an affidavit saying he wasn’t practicing polygamy when he was? Why is it that some of those who signed it were also practicing polygamy?

35. Why is it that Joseph didn’t even use the would-have-weighed-around-200 pounds plates to translate the Book of Mormon? Why could he also not retranslate the missing 116 pages, “lost” by Martin Harris’ wife to test Joseph’s validity as a translator and know through his seer stone how the manuscript would have been altered?

36. Why is that Joseph started the LDS temple endowment just 7 weeks after his Masonic initiation? Why is the endowment ceremony nearly identical to the Masonic ceremony in numerous ways?

37. Why do we say that the Masonic temple ceremony has roots going back to the temple of Solomon when it doesn't?

38. If the temple ceremony is supposed to be eternal (like God and presumably unchanging), why were blood oaths and other disturbing elements removed after a survey in the 80s revealed that church members were uncomfortable with them?

39. If Adam and Eve are the first humans, how do we explain the 14 other Hominin species who lived and died 35,000 – 250,000 years before Adam?

40. How is it that science can prove that there was no worldwide flood 4,500 years ago?

41. In addition simple mathematics and the logic of animal food consumption shows that there was insufficient room on the ark to house all the animal species found on the planet, let alone the food required to feed all of them.

42. Why is it that we claim to believe in things that science also discredits; such as the idea of the Tower of Babel, 600-year-old humans, Jonah and the Whale, people turning into salt, and carrying honey bees across the ocean?

43. Why does God seem really mean and radically different in the Old Testament?

44. Why has the church made efforts to whitewash its history and been dishonest on numerous occasions - only recently coming out with essays that address the issues that have been covered up or denied for so long?

45. Why is it that Zina Diantha Huntington Young, who became the General Relief Society President, was already married and 6 months pregnant when Joseph married her because his life was allegedly in danger from the angel with a flaming sword? Why is it that after Joseph died, she married Brigham? Why does her biographical page on not state that she was married to Joseph, though it shows up on

46. Why is the church not transparent about its finances anymore?

47. Why is it that the church spent 1.5 billion dollars on City Creek Mall, which is more than it spent on humanitarian aid in almost 20 years? As the ribbon was cut at the opening ceremony, Thomas S. Monson said “Let’s go shopping!”.

48. Why did the earlier church teach that tithing was 10% of your surplus; but the church now teaches that it is 10% of your income, even if you can’t afford to pay your bills because of it?

49. Why has the church’s name changed a few times?

50. Why have church leaders, such as Boyd K. Packer, warned historians about not telling too much of the truth if it isn’t faith-promoting?

51. Why does the church teach that the prophet can’t lead you astray, though this is a.) pretty obviously not true, and b.) not in line with things Joseph and other early leaders said?

52. Why did Dallin H. Oaks say you shouldn’t criticize church leaders, even if the criticism is true?

53. Why in 1993, were 6 scholars excommunicated/disfellowshipped for publishing their scholarly research on Mormonism and its leaders? In addition, why are people being excommunicated recently for alleged apostasy when they are simply asking questions like the above (including the author of these questions written out in a letter to a CES Director, Jeremy Runnells) ?

You can read the original CES Letter here:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tithing and the law of consecration

I know it has been a while since I have posted here. If you are just in angst over my lack of contribution lately, all I can say is that I would probably not do well living the law of consecration either. Sorry. I just had to share a few events that have transpired in recent months. I have been going to church most every Sunday with my family. I have a few reasons for this, which I am not ready to go into here on my blog just yet, but I look forward to sharing when the time is right. Needless to say, some Sunday's are tough and some are OK or not too bad. I am sure my anger has subsided a lot compared to where it was a year ago. In hindsight, I really needed time to work through my anger. Time that was likely better spent not in the pew literally trying to go fist-to-cuffs with my neighbors at church every Sunday. I am much more able to brush off those members of the church who I now see as the hopelessly over-zealous.

In fact, as I was pondering the things that were said by folks that were getting up to bare their testimonies at the last fast and testimony meeting, I realized that these people just need the church. If it weren't for the church, their lives would be pretty crappy. I mean church members might judge them or mistreat them every once in a while, but there are enough young missionaries around nowadays to continue to make them feel welcome at church every Sunday - and that really makes a difference to some people. Of course it is interesting to see people get caught up in the Mormon Mirage. The imagined ideal that the church represents in the world. These are folks for whom the kool-aid is very cold and refreshing. It tastes good to them. It is not the warm and extremely watered down crap it is to me now.

At any rate, I have been going to the gospel essentials class the last few months for some reason. I'm not sure why, but I think it must be because I can't stand gospel doctrine. There is this idea in my head for some reason that people in gospel doctrine are the more tenured church members, that they might be more receptive to seeing some of the holes in the correlated lessons. This leads me to a false hope that my seemingly obvious questions and comments, intended to challenge the positive bias, might be better received. Yeah, they aren't. People dig deep to revert to the psychological gospel comfort foods of testimony and denial. I just can't get through some lessons some days. I'm not sure why gospel essentials would be any better, though. I guess I figure if I can stir up some contention among the newlyweds (newly wedded to the church) I might have a better success rate. It is interesting to me, though, because it seems the church deliberately leaves a lot of the funky history and quirky doctrinal stuff completely out of the gospel essentials lessons. It is a little more challenging to create cognitive dissonance when there just isn't much there to work with. Maybe I like the challenge.

So, a couple weeks ago, the lesson was on tithing. I had some fun with this one. I especially enjoy this teacher because he usually shows a video for every lesson. This last week he actually showed two videos! On this particular Sunday the video featured a very old woman who lived in some very, presumably, impoverished part of the world. She was apparently taught the principal of tithing and wanted to be diligent in paying a full tithe, even though she really didn't have anything to give.She still lived in squalor though, unfortunately. While I don't remember all the details of the video, it seems like she was given some blankets or something because she didn't have any heat in her home. I felt so bad for this old woman, but I also felt contempt for the church for exploiting her circumstances to serve it's purposes. If you ask me, the church didn't do nearly enough to offer assistance to this poor old woman. At least if she was part of a reality series she would have gotten paid pretty well to have people's heartstrings pulled by Bonneville's Heartsell techniques.

There is this vicious tendency among the leaders and members of the church to tie together their faithfulness in the payment of their tithing and the quality or quantity of blessings they will receive from God. Just doing a quick search on revealed the following passage:

President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “In more recent times the Church has not called upon the members to give all their surplus property to the Church, but it has been the requirement according to the covenant, that they pay the tenth. It is remarkable how many excuses can be made and interpretations given as to what constitutes the tenth, by many members of the Church. It is written, however, that as we measure it shall be measured to us again. If we are stingy with the Lord, he may be stingy with us, or in other words, withhold his blessings.

Isn't it just a total cop out to say that the Lord "may" be stingy with us? As opposed to something like, "If we are stingy with the Lord, he WILL be stingy with us." Nope, he can't say that can he? Because that could be easily dis-proven. The hurdle for thinking members of the church is when they realize that not everybody who pays a full tithing is handsomely rewarded or blessed. And conversely, not everyone who doesn't pay much or anything in tithing has blessings withheld.

What really got me thinking enough to motivate me in writing this blog post was a quote that the teacher read in support of the modern-day teaching of tithing. Apparently, 20 years ago this April, Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk in General Conference where he cited a letter issued by the First Presidency back in 1970 that "interest" as contained in D&C 119:4 means "income". He said,

In the Lord’s commandment to the people of this day, tithing is “‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income.” The First Presidency has said, “No one is justified in making any other statement than this” (First Presidency letter, 19 Mar. 1970, quoted in theGeneral Handbook of Instructions, 1989, p. 9-1)

It turns out I haven't been paying enough attention to what the church now seems to be saying about tithing. In my last post I mentioned that the church seemed to be silent on what is considered a full tithe. It seems I was mistaken on that point. The only real question to be answered by faithful members of the church is whether that means gross or net income. That is just so sad to me. I know I can't get through to those who believe the church is true beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I hope my sadness will resonate with some of you. In reading the lesson from the Doctrine and Covenants manual quoted above, it is interesting to see how the case for the payment of tithing has changed over the years. Just since 1970, Dallin Oaks decides to omit a key portion of the letter. The original quote in its entirety reads:

“For your guidance in this matter, please be advised that we have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly.”

Now compare that to the migration from attempting to salvage the failed law of consecration, and the idea of donating your surplus goods back to the community, and figuring out a new way to finance church ventures as explained by the quote I had above. Re-read the quote, but ask yourself, is the tithe intended to be on my income or on my surplus?

President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “In more recent times the Church has not called upon the members to give all their surplus property to the Church, but it has been the requirement according to the covenant, that they pay the tenth.

This quote comes from a book called "Church History and Modern Revelation Volume 2:92". I have not found a free copy of it online, but I would be interested in getting some additional clarification of what exactly he means by "the tenth".

So, back to the Sunday school lesson. It seems that whenever tithing is brought up at church, it is supported by the idea that you are doing it to receive the blessings God has prepared for you. I couldn't resist then asking, "What is the poor woman, highlighted in the tithing video we were just shown, doing to deserve her situation? It appears she was paying her tithing?" Of course, this brings the comments down around me that there is a difference between "temporal" and "spiritual" blessings, that we can't know what treasures are being laid up for us in heaven (Exactly!). I just wanted to know, is the idea that one is blessed for paying tithing a reality or not? Of course, LDS general authorities have endless streams of stories about the blessings people have received for paying tithing. To those I simply think that people see what they are looking for. If you believe it, that becomes your reality. If you don't believe it, it sounds kind of silly. That reminds of a faux pas a member of the bishopric made while giving a testimony a while back. he said, "..I'll see it when I believe it." Belief is pretty much just a choice in many cases. Albeit a choice that is re-enforced through weekly group-think sessions where all the great mind control and thought stopping techniques are used.

This leads me to my epic conclusion. I somehow ended up in the bishop's office for tithing settlement with my family a few weeks back. The bishop did his faithful best to outline what tithing is and why it is important to my children. I just sat back and waited for the question to come to me. I hadn't really given my response much thought ahead of time, I just let it come. The bishop asked me how I declared my tithing for the year and I said I choose not to declare. I said, I think the modern definition of what a full tithing is is a much more onus one than was originally intended. I said, I think the idea of tithing being paid on income represents a falling away of the true principles of a people who desire to be Christ-like. The bishop took it well and was very charitable in his response. He said he could respect that and he didn't take any desire to be contentious on my part from what I said. My bishop is a good man. I like him, but I don't have to agree with him 100% of the time, and that's OK. At least that's what I keep telling myself anyway.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tithing and multi-level marketing

I really wish people would think about what they are saying to themselves and others when they pay tithing to the church. I don't care what church it is. I don't care what charity it is. Tithing is about giving to those organizations or groups who reflect your values and in whom you have confidence in to spend the donations they receive in a prudent and accountable manner that will mostly help those intended. I do not believe in paying any tithing to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for these reasons. OK, now that you know where I stand (and I have lost all credibility as one expressing my opinion to the faithful members of the church), please bear with me and consider what I am about to say;

Paying a tithing in a manner that is based on faith, and not on practical principles of prudent money management, is a completely unreasonable approach.

Let me explain what I mean by this with an analogy: I know there are lots of multi-level marketing organizations out there. Some have been around a long time, others are fairly new and many have come and gone. I am not trying to knock the potential for earning an income in these types of organizations, what I wish to point out is the magical thinking that tends to cause problems for people who do not exercise common sense when it comes to their amount of investment and hope for reward participating in them. Participants may anticipate earning certain amounts of income based more on the promises of others and not so much on a realistic approach to their likely investment to reward ratio.

Let's say you get recruited into _____ (insert the name of your least favorite multi-level marketing organization here). Your friend has a meeting at their house where you are introduced to the product/service and you are impressed by what you see. You think this is something you could see yourself at least buying for your own personal use. Then you are introduced to the business aspect of the organization which, you are told, requires further investment in business management materials, larger or more frequent subscription levels of the products/services, and efforts in recruiting others to join the organization. You realize that you enjoy talking to people, and you think you know lots of people so you figure this could be a good business opportunity for you.

Swayed by the expressions of confidence by this person you thought was your good friend (who you thought had your best interests at heart), you decide to sign up and determine to make the financial commitment you are assured will result in the success you are hoping for financially. Unfortunately, you haven't taken the time to examine your real financial situation to be able to determine whether or not you will realistically be able to afford the anticipated investment. Once you take a more critical look at your finances you realize that you just do not have the ability to spend the kind of money (or time) that soon it becomes apparent is required to have the success you are hoping for. The question soon comes to your mind; How much should I continue to invest in time and money on something that is not turning out as I hoped it would? Sure, maybe you are not doing enough in terms of investment. Maybe you are not patient enough to see the fruits of your labors, after all, it takes at least a year to cultivate a crop to be able to finally enjoy the harvest. Maybe you didn't think through enough of the obstacles that would come your way. Not only that, but you also begin to see some problems with the service of the organization and perhaps even the desired results advertised are not really as great as promised. The soap kind of starts to smell annoying after using it for so long. Maybe a lifetime commitment to one brand of soap isn't what I want.

The point is the doubts creep in. At some point, in this consideration of the difficulties encountered in keeping up with things the way you hoped you would be able to, you begin to seriously question whether or not you can really afford this investment to be able to see it pay off. You decide to start charging the cost of participation to credit cards. You soon find yourself unable to even keep up with the monthly payments on those cards. You are really in a crisis now. This investment is actually ruining your finances and you determine that you cannot continue this endeavor in good conscience.

You decide to talk to the friend who introduced you to the business in the first place. You tell him your concerns, but he seems un-fazed. He says you are just experiencing a little buyers remorse and that in order to have the success he has enjoyed you just have to keep up on buying the products and inviting people to the meetings. He again assures you that if you will just run with the plan you will soon have success. The promises are never really quantified, however. There really isn't any way to gauge the success you are being promised will come. You are pretty much told that if you just continue to buy the products, at the level required, every week, the success will come.

A few months later, you are really suffering. The collections calls are becoming more frequent, the bills are piling up and many are going unpaid. Regardless, you continue to be steadfast in the plan you believe in. If I can just get one more person to the meeting this month, it will start to turn around. If I can just reach the next level of achievement with my weekly product purchase (or even just increase the amount of my order a little bit), I will finally start to see the income I deserve. I will soon have the success I desire and the financial independence I so believe is possible. I get re-assured that I can succeed at the weekly meetings for the company. They all testify to me of their successes and I really believe that success will soon come for me too, if I just have faith in the business and the plan set out by the leaders of the company.

So what is wrong with the thinking here? It must be simply that the person is lacking the faith necessary to succeed, right?

Wait a minute! Who is screaming the obvious right now that the person in this situation needs to stop living beyond what they can realistically afford IMMEDIATELY! They need to be able to admit that they simply cannot continue the purchases each week and need to severely curtail them or even eliminate them altogether until they can have the funds to invest IN A BUSINESS- that they treat like a profitable BUSINESS venture. They should not be encouraged to spend money they do not have under any pretense of a get rich scheme.

We all are susceptible to this magical thinking. The belief that we can just get what we want if we have enough faith in those people or institutions that promise us untold successes and blessings, is sometimes a trap we easily fall into. We fall into these traps because we are greedy and because we want to believe people when they promise us a way to obtain what we want most. It is not that we are not smart or that we don't really have the potential to understand and gain control of our financial situations, it is just that we get caught up in the hope presented to us. Our minds naturally fill in what is missing from the advertisements.

There is a commercial on TV that advertises a guaranteed issue life insurance policy to seniors. They make it seem like such a good deal by saying that the cost of the coverage will never go up. They also say that it is guaranteed issue (meaning that you can't be turned down). These kinds of promises make it sound like a pretty good thing (and it may very well be for the right candidate), but there are also some things they don't tell you which could make a very big difference in your decision to purchase the coverage. They don't tell you that the policy will exclude certain health conditions and not pay out if you happen to die as a result of an excluded health condition. They also don't tell you that the policy is really for only a very small amount of money and likely would barely even be able to pay for your casket, let alone your funeral should you need it. They deliberately and intentionally leave these things out of the advertisement. Is that right or just or fair? I don't know. Obviously we should all proceed under the mantra of buyer beware and try to get answers to the questions the sales person is not asking for us. In my opinion, we need to be coming up with our own questions and not settling for unresponsive answers from sales people when we ask them the tough questions. Preparing yourself with challenging questions, to ask of those trying to sell you something, about the potential weaknesses of a product or service should be something to remember.

This is all abandoned as unnecessary, for some reason, when it comes to religion. When promises are made (surrounding the ultimate success that is, or blessings that are, promised to come for living as taught by the church) and don't come, why do we abandon the obvious questions we should be asking? Why do we suddenly abandon our skepticism in favor of this faith that might actually be asking too much of us? Why is it that if someone decides to question the faith, they are encouraged to remain silent as to not discourage the faith of others in the group? Shouldn't these things all be warning signs?

Unfortunately, for many, these signs are just not enough. Unfortunately, the lure of magical thinking and the belief that there is an afterlife where all of these things will be made known, and justice equitably meted out at the judgment bar, is just too enticing of a thought-if you feel your actions are in line with the judgment being delivered. It is the hook that keeps us thinking if we just can get through this trial, which-we are constantly reminded-is only 'but a small moment', everything will be right again and I will be so much better because of it. It may not be money we are necessarily focused on, but the things money can buy is sneaked in every once in a while to keep it interesting. Streets paved with gold and glorious mansions on high are mentioned just enough to keep the carrot clearly dangling in front of us to condition our behavior and thinking.

Tithing is such a huge example of this. The church will not come out and clearly say how the members should define the payment of a full tithe. I believe they are deliberate in this. Tithing is talked about in terms of the faith required to pay it and not in terms of what exactly it should be paid on. I believe the design has had the intended effect. In the LDS Church, especially, the conversations among believers tend to center on whether or not members should pay 10% of their gross or net income. Nobody ever seems to mention the idea that income isn't increase or interest at all! Income is the exchange of your labor for monetary units (by the hour or a fixed amount per year) that can be used to live and put away in investment. Increase, or interest as it is referred to in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, is the amount your monetary units have increased due to investment in the marketplace (or bank or whomever you trust to earn you a return on your money).

From this new understanding of WHAT tithing should be paid on, we can derive a few things;

1. Tithing isn't really expected of the poor. However, the church likes to tell the story of the widow's mite and how even the poorest widow can give 10% of what she has to the church. Perhaps the widow is entitled to her faith, but the widow should also be told by a responsible church leader what exactly tithing is expected to be paid on. It should not be expected that we give 10% of our estate (i.e. the sum of our earnings and investments) every year. If the poor are doing this, then they deserve to be taken care of by giving back to them a 10-fold increase of what they put in. While she may be expected to pay, the lesson should be focused on the desire to help and serve others and not on the amount of money paid to the church. Unfortunately that is the focus of too many sermons on tithing.

2. Tithing IS expected of the rich. People who have healthy investment portfolios that represent a sizable income should be paying 10% of THAT income (interest/increase). That income IS actually interest. It is the earnings on the principal. Do you think the wealthy should give 10% of their principal sums in tithing every year? If they did that, they'd be near broke in about 11 or 12 years (obviously depending on the size of the investment). Tithing is not meant to diminish our estate or principal holdings. It is meant to be taken from the fluff that comes once our estate is secure. When we pay tithing on our principal (the monetary units gained for the exchange of our labor), we are actually causing a significant diminishing of our estate. While this diminishing may not be immediately felt by some, it is very real (and, I would submit, dangerous).

3. Tithing is not expected to support a large multinational corporate structure with massive real estate holdings and a diverse portfolio of large investment holdings. Tithing is meant to help the poor among us...period. It may include support of community projects, that are as transparent as possible and, that directly benefit the community the donations are coming from. Perhaps there are cases where groups may decide to reach out to more impoverished parts of the world, but those are decisions that should be made at the local level by those whose money has been contributed. A centralized collection system and distribution by a corporate board of directors in charge of the for-profit investment holdings of the corporation, on the other hand, does not sound like the way tithing should be handled to me.

The real poison of these teachings, of paying tithing on income instead of interest or increase - in my opinion, is the actual increase of poverty due to the pervasiveness of these ideas. The church should do the responsible thing and come out and give clarity on this issue, but they choose not to.

I humbly submit that the LDS Church is so caught up in the support of it's corporate structure and survival that it is really not concerned with the harm its teachings are doing to society. People are having to make due on less and less nowadays and the church is continuing to emphasize the number of gaudy, under-utilized structures (temples) it is building all around the world. Does anyone see what is really going on here? The church is more interested in increasing the size of it's real estate holdings than it is in helping people in ways that are community based and directed by the ones making the contributions.

Sure, the defenders of the faith will point to the amount of aid the church has given to devastated areas around the world. While this is a good point, it would be even more poignant if the church would release more information about how much it is actually giving in comparison to what it takes in. My guess is that the amount spent by the church in these efforts is meager and paltry compared to what it takes in. I welcome being proved wrong on this point. However, I think my challenge will simply fall on deaf ears. Of course, it really could be that the church understands the principle of tithing even better than the members do and they only pay out to charitable causes 10% of the interest they earn on all of their holdings. This is an interesting possibility...

It is simply unconscionable to me that these ideas (I would actually rather refer to them as heresies) are allowed to persist in the church. When I have asked faithful members why this is, or even how the amount of tithing paid should be calculated, I am told it is always up to the individual. However, when I press them or ask what they pay on, they will usually answer with 10% of either 'net' or 'gross' income. The idea that the amount to be paid is based solely on the thoughts of the individual, when coupled with the idea that we WILL be judged based on our works creates a very lucrative self perpetuating cycle of thoughts leading to behaviors that cannot be broken in the members of the church. Many, at least in my opinion anyway, will continue to follow this concept even though doing so represents a huge and unnecessary sacrifice to their families. Putting them deeper and deeper into poverty as they pay their estate away to others in the church and the government. Well, I don't really want to get started on that subject. Suffice to say, I feel it is very unfortunate that those who are best in the position to fix this problem (church leaders) are the one's least having the incentive to do so. This is a problem.

The way I think most members of the church justify this, clearly irrational, way of thinking about their large overall contributions to the church is to think in terms of the blessings they will get if they pay as they think they should or the loss of blessings they will experience due to not paying enough in tithing.

Let's think on that for a moment. If you ask the member to identify the specific blessings they can clearly associate with the payment of a full tithing (at least according to their faithful and overly generous interpretation), what will they say? Usually the member will be quick to point out that paying tithing is not a get rich quick scheme. In other words, you can't expect to be blessed financially for the payment of tithing. (To this, I just want to say, well self respecting financial planner would advocate giving away 10% of your farm, or land, every year to achieve financial independence. But that is exactly what members of the church believe, and actually feel bad about falling short of, when they do not diligently practice the payment of a full tithe.) So what, exactly, are the blessings that come from paying tithing? If financial abundance is off the table, what is left? And why is it that the church seems to choose only those that are financially well off to be called to positions of leadership? It seems awfully convenient to attempt to preach that the payment of a full tithe will not lead to financial abundance and then tend to call only the financially abundant members to enjoy the great blessings of serving in high capacities of responsibility in the church and kingdom of God on the earth! Perhaps I am just jealous I was never called to be a high ranking leader in the church. No, actually, there is no perhaps about it. I was told in my patriarchal blessing that I would be called to sit in the councils of the church when I got older, gosh darn it, I was expecting that to be the case and fully expecting to be called to be in the Quorum of the 12 apostles. Why did I think such a thing? More magical thinking on my part most likely.

Whatever the faithful member comes up with in terms of blessings that they believe have come because of the payment of their overly generous tithes and offerings to the church, for each one of them, they are likely forgetting an instance (or more than several actually) where that blessing did not come.

Why do we pick and choose to see as consequences, aka blessings for obedience to a principle of the gospel, only those times or instances which happen to support our views? Why do we block out all of the dis-confirming evidences for our beliefs? Sometimes, the dis-confirming evidence even shows up in the very scenario the believer is using to bolster their faith in the payment of a full tithe. These are actually somewhat humorous to think about when they are encountered. Of course, one has to then grapple with whether or not such thoughts should be spoken out loud. Usually they aren't, but they cause a chuckle or two anyway.

I'm pretty sure Jesus said something along the lines of, 'Let those who have ears to hear, hear and eyes to see, see.' I hope someone will hear and see what I am saying here.

While I freely admit that I may have some things to learn in terms of my attitude of giving to those causes that will support my community, I think that I also need to feel that the financial security of my family simply must come first. When I feel comfortable that the security is there to some extent, I believe I will then be more likely, and able, to look to the ways I can best contribute generously to those causes I desire to support. I honestly do think giving is important, but I think I must feel it is OK to give to the support of my family's security first. I'm OK with that and you should be too.

Just like Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, I need to be sure my needs of survival, social interaction and financial support of my family are met first, before I am capable of stepping up and into the need of giving back to others outside those in my immediate care and contributing generously to my community.

Of course, I do feel the need to address the fact that many self development guru's do advise listeners and readers to practice the payment of a tithe in donations to charity. I believe this could be due to the incentive a generous tithe gives to be motivated to work harder. I guess it could be thought that the more painful the offering to charity, the more diligent one will work to be motivated to earn more. We likely all could benefit from being less selfish. I'm sure I need it more than most.

However, I almost wonder if these kinds of positions are motivated more by political beliefs than religious ones. Conservatives, I believe, tend to be more about tenets that encourage a rugged individualism and support those ideas that motivate humans to behave in ways that encourage taking care of themselves. This view of paying generous, and substantial I suppose, offerings to charity could be a necessary component of getting radical conservatism to actually work over the long term. If people don't give generously and voluntarily, however, the government will necessarily come in and ask it of us. The liberal corollary, thus, would be that since we have shown that it is not really in our nature to voluntarily give substantially of our wealth to support the poor among us, in a way that is meaningful, someone has to take care of these things. If churches are falling down on the job, someone has to pick up the slack. And, unfortunately, as inefficient as we all like the claim the government is, it actually does the job of cutting out the middle man in terms of those who would seek to profit off the donations intended for the poor and otherwise afflicted whom we have an obligation to support.

I feel like I can only begin to scratch the surface of some of these issues. I feel sometimes like I can come across as angry in what I am saying. Maybe I am a little angry. Maybe my anger isn't really anger. Maybe I am actually just very hurt that I see now that the church was not all I was told it was my whole life. Maybe I am now just a half-full kind of guy. Regardless of my personal issues, I think what I am saying here has some merit. Please stop to consider what motivates your actions before putting your family in jeopardy by paying tithing on your gross or net income. Think that it is OK with God if you actually use that money to take care of the needs of your family first. There are plenty of people who earn plenty on their dividends and investments to take up the slack. Tithing is not really a sacrifice that is expected of you without consideration of your family and their needs to be taken care of. It is not about sacrifice really. It is just a practical method of taking care of people that is meant to be painless and sort of ancillary. At least, this is my opinion anyway.

To put it in simpler terms; if you are a person who feels very strongly that tithing should be paid to the church as 10% of your gross OR net income, think of it this way. Each month you write that tithing check out to the church, you are literally taking 10% of your house payment and giving it to the church (since you are taking it out of the money you earn to make your house payment or rent). You are taking 10% of your car payment and giving it to the church. You are also taking 10% of all of your other bills and household expenses for the month and giving that to the church. Do you really think the church wants this? Do you think God wants this? Do you really think that if you just keep up in this silly behavior that you will actually be better off for it? Sure, if you want to say, well, we eat out at fine restaurants a lot or we take really nice vacations or we put a bunch of money in savings every month and therefore taking 10% of that and giving it to the church would be OK...fine. Then reduce the amounts you spend on these luxury items by that same 10% and give that to the church. I personally still feel like this is a bit generous, but that's OK. Do what you want but, please, stop acting foolishly and then beating yourself up about not giving enough or it not being a 'full' and 'honest' tithe! Don't give what you can't realistically afford. If you have to borrow money from savings to get through the month, it is OK to not pay tithing that month. If you are even worse off and have no money in savings, but feel like you need to charge purchases on credit cards to get by, go ask the church for some assistance with food (since that is all they will really give you), but, by all means, do not pay tithing. The Lord doesn't expect it and you shouldn't either. If you feel bad for some reason about your new outlook on the law of tithing, think on the atonement. It was done so you could forgive yourself about your misunderstanding of the intent of the law of tithing. Forgive yourself. Stop hurting yourself and your family. Give to them first and then things will take care of themselves. Be kind. Love one another. Love yourself.

I'm going to step down from my soap box now. Perhaps I'll come back and have more to say sometime soon. Thanks for reading.