Episode 177: The God of the Lost Keys

John, Zilpha, Jared, and Randy focus in on the Mormon narrative of God and His system of, and fascination with, common miracles.

Mr. Deity and the Evil

Episode 177

91 comments on “Episode 177: The God of the Lost Keys”

  1. Editor Reply

    Editor’s note: Credit for original x-ray dog pic: http://www.quitor.com/dog-in-x-ray.html

  2. Richard of Norway Reply

    This was great. So nice to hear from Jared again (first time on M.E. I guess but I have listened to his MS interview probably 5 times). He makes some great points – especially towards the end: That Religion can do some people a lot of good.

    I think he might even have a point that life in general could be improved with religion, as opposed to without it. Speaking for myself, I know for certain my life was much more blissful (in ignorance) and I was probably generally happier as a believing Mormon.

    In my case I think this has a lot to do with the misery I am experiencing now due to flat out rejection from my (still) very believing and faithfully active LDS wife. I think if we had exited together, or if she could accept me as a non-believer today, things would be a lot better. But I can’t deny that the idea that god’s got your back, and that you are special – even “chosen” – is a great comfort. If only it were also true.

    For me, truth is more important than “happiness” (or blissful ignorance in my case), but I can not deny that in the lives of many people, I can see why religion is a good thing for them.

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it Richard. I am sorry you are suffering such painful social consequences of your faith transition. 

      I try to bracket the social consequences from both benefits and costs of religion, since that is a human/cultural consequence, rather than a religious consequence per se. We constantly categorize us/them, include or exclude people based on how similar or different they are. Granted, religion provides a particularly effective vehicle for both. 

      One way I asked my students about the value of religion is: Imagine a utopia, where everyone has their needs met. They have food, sanitation, and a friend (with benefits). What role would religion still serve? 

      Hope things improve with your family and especially wife. 

      And I think things can be beneficial even if not “true” in a correlative sense, but that is an involved discussion perhaps for another time. 😉 

    • Anonymous Reply

      Richard, I am pretty much in the same boat as you.  My wife and I don’t talk about it much, but I make no secret of the fact that I no longer share her religious beliefs.  I know that she loves me, though, and that she knows that I love her, and that provides some measure of comfort.

  3. Elder Vader Reply

    I’m only about 2/3 through the podcast.  But I want to weigh in.  I think a very good role that religion plays is to set down rules that make sense, and then back those rules up with a narrative that will stay lodged in people’s minds, and drive compliance to those reasonable rules. 

    Let’s take an example that is easy to poke holes in.  Imagine you’re Moses, writing down a legal system.  You’ve got a population of slaves to work with, and you want to form a community out of them. 

    First you tell a grand sweeping story about how everything in world history is leading up to this point.  Adam and Eve.  Noah.  Abraham covenanting with God to protect his posterity.  Uh oh, now the Egyptians are threatening Abraham’s posterity.  Time for God to intervene and keep his covenant with father Abraham from long long ago.  He calls the prophet Moses!  Yay!  Moses delivers the voice of God to the slaves of Egypt.  He gives them a new name and identity.  Israelites! 
    Then there are the rules.   The rules cover all sorts of things to prevent problems in society from happening, and fix the problems when they happen. 

    The Family- Man + Wife + Children + Grandchildren.  If the man dies, his brother has to marry / take care of the man’s wife and children.  And NO ADULTERY! 

    Honor your parents.  If you don’t the maximum penalty is death, but the accuser (parents) have to be willing to cast the first stone.  They’re much more likely to come up with a compromise. 

    Debt: All debts are forgiven every seven years.  Lets interrupt the generational cycle of debt.  In the US we have vestiges of this rule in our bankruptcy laws.  You can file for bankruptcy every 7 years. 

    Health Inspector – If your house gets mold, the priest has to come and inspect your house.  He may require you to re-plaster the inside of your house. 

    Doctor – If you get a rash, go to the priest.  He will inspect the rash.  Do whatever the priest tells you to do. 

    Take 3 weeks of vacation per year (for the mandatory feasts!)  Mandatory day off every 7 days. 

    Etc…  You can go down the lsit, and for the most part these are pretty good rules, especially considering the time they came from.  Today these roles are taken up by different people in society other than the priest.  You don’t go see your religious leader when you get a rash, you go to the doctor. 

    But the sleight of hand that is just super clever to me.  Moses says:  These are God’s rules.  Obey them, or suffer the consequences. 

    We can pick apart the rules in the law of moses and see that it’s obviously man made.  But it isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, especially for the time frame it was given.  Even the most militant atheist has rules he/she would set up to keep society moving smoothly. 

  4. Anonymous Reply

    So happy to hear Randy bring up LDS responses to theodicy, though I think the conversation could have gone a lot deeper. The whole issue of the pre-mortal existence has such fabulous opportunities for explaining the existence of evil–that we agreed to come here, knowing that we would have to make mistakes to learn, that some spirits chose not to come here, that we would be judged based on what we were given. It also is tremendously useful in explaining why suffering is allowed, without (of course) giving us any sense that we can ignore suffering because it’s somehow deserved.

    I don’t remember anywhere that we were told life would be fair, and therefore if you believe that God is good, then we knew that life would NOT be fair, and yet we came here anyway, unlike the third who chose otherwise.

    Reading something like Leibniz’ Theodicy and applying the LDS theology of the pre-mortal existence is pretty darned enlightening.  Still doesn’t make life easy, but it relieves the burden of “if your husband beats you, it’s your own damn fault.” (Although, hypothetically, it is in that you chose to be tested here on earth…as did your husband…and one of you is failing the test and it’s not you.)

    • Anonymous Reply

      Actually Lycidia, I’m glad you brought up the pre-existence as per theodicy.  This was my biggest regret of not taking to task which was the missionaries’ response to John and Zilpha about my hypothetical (yet very real) children in Africa that are trained from the age of 6 to execute people on death squads.  The missionary told them they inherited that lot in life because of something they did or chose in the pre-existence.  That is really one of the worst, most insidious religious ideas ever conceived because first, it gave rise to racism and another really bad idea, that God punishes sin with dark skin.  So all those born with dark skin must have done something wrong in the pre-existence to earn it, and second, it fosters apathy towards suffering.  If someone is born into really shitty circumstances like the one above, they probably deserved it anyway because they must have done something wrong before they were born so it’s God’s will they suffer so.  

      The pre-existence, a platform for racism and apathy and on the flip side, a smug feeling of superiority over all others outside your chosen group…

      • Anonymous Reply

        Edit:  Actually, the idea of the pre-existence didn’t give rise to the idea that God punishes sin with dark skin, but when they are combined, it amplifies the racism because God is not only punishing Laman and Lemuel and Cain for their sins on earth, he is punishing their descendants born with the skin for sins they committed before they were born.

        • Lycidia Reply

          Well, first could you clarify: what scriptural/doctrinal sources are you using to support the idea that our place on this earth was determined by our sins in pre-mortality? I know it’s a common cultural belief, but the sources for it are problematic. (For example, the common musings of David O. McKay and JS are, I think, usually over-interpreted, in addition to being non-doctrinal.)

          Your edit does clarify that the racism thing is cultural, but I contend that the “sins before you were born” is primarily cultural as well, and that doctrine doesn’t support it. It DOES, however, support affirming ideas. For example, we CHOSE to be here, we weren’t just randomly placed here by a bored god. We chose, and I think we had to know that it wouldn’t be a test if it weren’t hard.

          Anyway, I think the doctrine needs to be clarified and redeemed, because it could be a really beautiful theology without the inevitable standard ignorance attached.

          • Anonymous

            Well, first of all, I framed my comment in relation to the answer the missionaries gave to John and Zilpha to explain my African boys who were trained to kill at age 6.  

            But, whether or not I can name a canonized chapter and verse to support that choices we made in the pre-existence have a baring on where we end up in this life is completely irrelevant to me.  What is most important to me is how this idea of a pre-existence affects the hearts and minds of the members.  Mormonism is set up where the words of the current leaders are considered more relevant than even the canonized scriptures (Brigham and Joseph made that explicitly clear in Kirtland) and for decades the church from the pulpit has contended that the youth of the church was valiant and special in the pre-existence to have been born into the church.  That’s just a reality of the hearts and minds of the members of the church.

            So, if you’re only going to allow the idea of a pre-existence where we had agency (like you said we CHOSE to be here) to be taken to logical conclusions that are affirming, warm and fuzzy, that is not being intellectually honest.  It’s also not being true to church history itself as it has proven to cultivate racism with the priesthood ban at every level.  

            I’m curious as to how you would utilize the idea of a pre-existence to explain the problem of evil, assuming you would of course.  

          • KC

            My source is my patriarchal blessing which states that I was allowed to be born into this country at this time and in the church because of my valiancy in the pre-existence. Don’t think someone in sub-Saharan Africa would get the same validation.

    • Laura Clayton Reply

      HOLY SMOKES I TYPE TOO MUCH. Sorry, such a long response. Also, thread is too long and I can’t respond to your response. Also, I’m Lycidia. Don’t ask why I’m logging in under different names. Different computers? I’m silly? Schizophrenic? Something.

      You’re very quick to leap to the conclusion that I’m minimizing the problematic and pursuing an intellectually dishonest agenda. I’ll ignore that and approach the problem from another direction. If you still think that I’m being too warm, fuzzy, and intellectually dishonest I welcome suggestions.

      Per your response, I see that we’re coming at the issue from different angles. How something has been taught (or developed) in the past is interesting to me, but it’s not the destination. How it’s being used right now is important, but in the infinitely vanishing point of Now, there’s really only past or future to worry about, and I’m looking forward. I’m still in the show, so to me it’s more important to try to influence how a doctrine can be developed and used in the future–how it can improve LDS lives, including the lives of LDS members who don’t fit into the mold, rather than diminish them.You missionaries were full of crap, and if I’d been in the room with them I would have told them so, but lovingly. Granted, it’s not entirely their fault that they’re full of crap. They’re young, they’re ignorant, they’ve probably never been outside their comfort zone, and the teachings of the church (not its doctrines, which are largely irrelevant to most member praxis, but its teachings) have blinded them to the simplicity of following Christ. Cultural interpretations of doctrine, used to enforce self-righteous bigotry, usually indicate that the doctrines have either been under- or over-interpreted, because doctrine done right is done so that even  idiots can have some sense of its surface meaning while being able to completely ignore the troubling gray areas (c’mon, how many members even know what theodicy is, let alone care about it?). The church is also young, stupid, and uncomfortable outside its own living quarters. It’s exactly like those 19-year-olds who know everything and aren’t shy about telling people that they’re right and if you disagree, you’re wrong.That’s why I’m interested in “doctrine” and not “some talk by a GA somewhere.” I know, I know, all speeches given by all GAs come straight from God’s brainwaves. Except again, that’s not true and never has been. Not really. Not even usually. It’s just another simple way for people to avoid thinking for themselves. Admittedly, a lot of people like not thinking for themselves, and church leadership encourages it. Strange how very unlike Christ (remember parables?) that is. Nevertheless, not all words from prophets are direct revelation, and if any prophet said otherwise…well…those were some of their less-inspired words (and conflict directly with the words of other prophets, so work out that conundrum).

      Point being! Most people are generally good, and if you say to them, as an example, “Hey, we tell ourselves that we’re the elect from the pre-existence, but the truth is, we don’t know that, and we should be humble and grateful that we ended up where we are because we probably didn’t earn it, we just know that we GOT it,” they see the light in that statement. Follow it up with, “And as far as we know, the people in Africa were our best friends in the pre-existence, they just pulled a short straw, which is why we, having been given much, really need to help them, who have been given very little–which is why helping the needy is stressed so much by Luke and James.” Usually most of them stick with you through the whole story, and if there are no scriptures to contradict you, your authority is also good, because very few people, when presented with something that’s so clearly Christlike, will come up with a “BUT ELDER SO AND SO SAID IN GENERAL CONFERENCE IN 1952 THAT WE ARE THE ELECT AND BETTER THAN THOSE DARKIES!”

      Some might think it. But most of them…actually…won’t.

      When it’s doctrine, you’re stuck with it. When it’s idiots, you can fix it one idiot at a time. I’m still at the stage in my faith where I’m interested in fixing it. If you’re not, then obviously you don’t need to look for possibilities, only remark on past experiences. That’s cool by me, it’s just not where I’m standing.Because the actual doctrine regarding the pre-existence is not terribly fleshed out, there’s room for a lot of speculation–both good and bad. It’s been used for evil, but I think it can be turned from the dark side. Just sayin.

      Anyhoo, I do think that the basic questions of theodicy are strikingly different once you add in a pre-mortal existence (hey, wait, we actually do believe that God created sin, but that sin is, paradoxically, the best way to do what must be done!). But theodicy is a huge topic, and formed in my mind more as a set of possibilities. I keep hoping to find people who’ve already worked  it through somewhat, because I’m far from the sharpest tack in the barrel, and I’m looking for a wise man to join under the cliff. So, it was fun to see it mentioned, especially as a somewhat opposing view.

      tl;dr Cool story, bro. Thanks for sharing! ^.^

      PS–Yes, I’m Lycidia. Don’t ask me why I’m logging in on different accounts. Stupid use of available resources?

  5. Megan Reply

    I think it’s really, really important to say that it is not necessary to believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’ or that God has good purpose for suffering in order to choose to extract some value out of a horrible situation.

    Speaking from experience.

    • Jared Anderson Reply

      Ugh, I hate that too. I see the number one problem with religion being disempowerment, and this is an important example of that. 

    • DuzTruthMatter Reply

      I often heard and still hear the equally ridiculous statement, “Everything happens for our own good”.  The fact that my mother was killed in a freak car mishap when I was four years old was supposed to be for my good?  I’m 56 years old now and still haven’t figured out what good came out of that.  I guess I’ll find out in the hereafter what the good was :>)

      And the supposedly comforting explanation was the statement, “Well, the Lord must have needed here more there.”  Pure, unadultered bullshit.

      • Megan Reply

        I think that people desperately need something positive to say and, if they are believers, need that positive thing to counter the obvious ‘why didn’t God DO something’ question. Like so many of these cliches, folks simply don’t think through the real meaning of what they are saying. 

        ‘Everything happens for our own good’ implies that a) someone else had to suffer so that you could get whatever weird benefit God felt you needed from this difficult experience and b) God is an active and willing participant in a flawed system that uses pain and suffering as teaching aids.

        And while I agree that Mormon views on God as simply one of a whole line of gods takes some of the immediacy out of the theodicy problem it adds a whole new twist – first, what IS the Mormon view of the nature of God if he is not omnipotent (is he omnibenevolent? Can he be without the omnipotence to fulfill his benevolent desires? is he omniscient? Can he be omnibenevolent if he doesn’t know everything?), second since the system is still one of apparently unnecessary pain and suffering, and of essential inequality, the question of where this system came from (who was the ultimate creator of this messed up plan) is simply defrayed.

  6. Megan Reply

    Also – ‘everything happens for a reason’ is a phrase that I absolutely HATE. It is an apparently happy, innocuous statement that someone uses for the best of all possible motives, but packed into it is a) the very worst of theodicy and b) a MASSIVE amount of ‘blame the victim’ – this horrible thing happened because it was the only way that you could learn this lesson.

  7. Megan Reply

    Sorry – again I’m committing the sin of commenting while listening.

    The argument that it’s beneficial to have the comfort of a hovering God, a watching God is true so long as life is going reasonably well. As soon as something goes seriously wrong – and I do mean seriously, not stubbed-toe type stuff but horrible, life-shattering stuff – then that belief can become a really awful burden because that watchful, caring God who was there for those lost keys and that un-done homework, left when most needed. At a time of enormous stress that previously pleasant little comfy belief can become another truly dreadful stress.

  8. Andrewpixton Reply

    As a mormon, I really liked this. My view, even before listening, is that God is very laissez-faire in His care for earth. I think he may inspire us and guide us back to Him, but even then it is minimal. If he becomes this great manipulator of events and minds, that does not let us find and exercise faith and agency on our own. He does love us, and maybe helps occasionally, but the intervention is very minimal in my opinion in order to let us grow.

    • Lycidia Reply

      Agreed–of course, I think that prayer IS the help we need.

      If this is the God of Lost Keys, then isn’t pausing to say a prayer in order to find them really just a moment of meditation and contemplation, during which our brain can stop producing panic hormones and actually do a little thinking?

      Way to go, God. Your gifts are great and powerful. =D

  9. Chuck Borough Reply

    My own experience is that prayer is useful for things over which we have some control. If I pray to be a better father, that is likely to be helpful in my process and caring. If I pray that a pass will be caught after I throw it in the football game, that’s just more than silly. If God helped, it would be obvious cheating anyway.

    Once I heard a woman, whose daughter was expecting a baby, pray that the baby would be a girl, knowing that’s what was wanted by her daughter, who already had four sons. The pregnancy was already in place. If this is a boy, is this grandmother praying for a sex change?

    I heard a young man pray when he received an enveope in the mail, that it would be an acceptance to the university. If it is a rejection, is he praying for it to change inside the envelope along with all the records at the university and along with the memories of anyone involved? Is he praying for another person’s acceptance letter to be changed to a rejection to make room?

    Farmer John prays for rain, and my daughter prays for a sunny day for her picnic. Will God choose? Silly prayers – both of them, even though one may be far more important than the other. If it rains, the farmer’s testimony will increase. It’s crazy that some real value can come from idiocy, but it can be seen that way.

    For me there is no question as to whether God interferes. Since He does not exist, He cannot interfere. Still, if the God is believed in, the prayer of a caring person can have lots of influence in the person’s life. I truly do not hate things just because they do not exist. (smile)

    • Anonymous Reply

      Come on Chuck! God, with his foreknowledge, knew that kid would pray over the envelope before he opened it so He blessed him w an acceptance letter accordingly. All things are before Ellohim on his big Urim and Thummim in the Kolob system. 😉

    • Anonymous Reply

      As usual, your comments make a lot of sense.  I agree that if (as in your example) a father prays for help in becoming a better father, it is likely to help focus his mind on what it means to be a better father, and may help him towards becoming that, whether or not God exists and answers his prayer.  It would be unreasonable to argue that this would be a bad thing.

      I also wholeheartedly agree with the absurdity of praying for one’s own team to win, like Tim Tebow, the quarterback of the Denver Broncos does so publicly dramatically before and even during each game.  As you said, this is tantamount to asking God to be complicit in cheating.

      • Chuck Borough Reply

        Ha. Some of us would like quantum physics to go away. (smile)  I like Neils Bohr’s answer to a reporter who asked why Bohr had a horseshoe hanging on the wall in his laboratory. “Surely,” said the reporter, “a man of your learning and intelligence does not believe that a horseshoe can bring him good fortune – – ??” “Of course not,” answered Bohr, “but I have been informed that the horseshoe can bring me good fortune even if I don’t believe it.”

        • Anonymous Reply

          Yes, that is one of my favorite quotes from Niels Bohr.  Another one is his answer to Albert Einstein when he tried to argue that God doesn’t play dice with the universe.  Bohr said “Stop telling God what to do!”

          I am nearly finished reading The Quantum Story, A History in 40 Moments by Jim Baggott.  Quantum theory is some seriously weird stuff!  Despite having nearly finished the book, I am a long way from really grasping its full implications.  You are probably also familiar with Richard Feynman’s quote that went something like this: “Quantum theory is one of the silliest theories ever conceived–the only thing it has going for it is that it is unquestionably true!”

      • onceandfuturecat Reply

        Have you seen the Coens’ film ‘A Serious Man’?

        It’s not a comedy in their usual vein, but an investigation / parable on these sorts of dilemmas from a 1960s middle class, suburban, Jewish perspective.

        Highly recommended, though not for the correlated set.
        (John et al., it would be right up your alley).

  10. Chuck Borough Reply

    Question: Persons needing a kidney transplant died with near certainty just a hundred years ago, no matter who prayed. Now, many of them live. Do these miracles occur because we pray better than people of the past?

    • Elder Vader Reply

      Chuck this is what I was trying to articulate in my comment above.  If we contextualize good religion as ‘rules that work’, then we’ve got something valuable.  For its time, the law of Moses rule about scraping all the moldy plaster out of your house, taking the moldy plaster and dumping it outside of town, and re-plastering your house, and having the priest pass it off was probably a good rule. For its time. 

      Modern society has better procedures for handling things now.  We can do far, far more than we could even 30 years ago.  The rules are changing, but for the most part they’re upgrades compared to the ‘good old days’.  

      Miracles occur because we have better rules/procedures.  We want the mechanics for our 747 to follow the rules as if God himself handed down the procedures from Mount Sinai.  

      Is it because of prayer?  Meh.  I like the idea that there’s a source of infinite intelligence that we need to tune into.  But that could be conceptualized in lots of different ways.  

  11. RJ Reply

    Really great discussion. It’s nice the hear Jared’s perspective.

    I agreed a lot with what Randy said about the often useless or negative role of  true suffering, which  is often self-perpetuating across generations. Like the child who is abused and caused to endure unspeakable things, who becomes physiologically and emotionally damaged, who then grows to become someone that inflicts suffering on other innocents. Even though that person at some point crosses a line where he or she goes from being a pure victim to someone who victimizes others,  their suffering continues and in many ways becomes worse as they live with the consequences of the crimes they commit. To me, even more than the concept of the “divine”, the concept of “evil” or the influence that causes people to do truly “evil” things is so easily explained by the combination of biology and our formative upbringing.  

    Also, I loved the idea of God as “offensive tackle” idea, that is pretty close to the way I viewed God for many years.

     I completely second what Jared said (smurfs aside)  about how we are “made differently” and that religion can have positive value, depending on one’s own personality and needs. Despite my demythologizing experience, for now I continue think it has  something to offer me (in a different way) as I go forward.  This is what bothered be about Johns assertion last week that I was behaving in a creepy way by continuing to participate in the church. To me that was statement of someone who could not see beyond his own personal experience and mindset, and cast judgment on the intentions of others, myself included, as being less than legitimate or nefarious

  12. Bryan Wales Reply

    There was a missing aspect of God that I feel was not discussed in the podcast.  It’s what I like to call the “Adjustment Bureau” God.  For those that have not seen the Matt Damon movie, I highly recommend it for good discussion about God’s perceived role in people’s lives.

    An example of this is when people talk about being led to where they are in life by God.  People often express thanks to God for putting them in the right place to meet their spouse, get that perfect job, or find a house to live in.  It is as if God is orchestrating this plan to get you what you deserve, if you are righteous of course.

    I guess this discussion might fit better with the agency podcast, if it ever gets recorded.  I don’t know how mormons can teach in the same sunday, that God has blessed them or guided them to marry their special someone.  Yet at the same time, they profess that God gives them agency to make their own decisions.  You can’t have agency if God is behind the scenes, making sure you turn down the right road.

  13. Anonymous Reply

    I enjoyed Jared’s perspective and ideas.   He helped raise the empathy quotient.  It was good to be reminded that there are all kinds of people, many who are just trying to do their best and that involves experiencing a world of minor miracles.

    It probably is more realistic to seek to improve existing religions from within.  I’m reminded of the metaphor of a passenger-filled boat having to be rebuilt plank-by-plank so as not to sink it (no port or dry dock available) .  Supplied with modern materials and designs from shore, radical improvements can still be made. 

    I am intrigued by the idea that “the best theologies are those for which there is no god required.”  This seems a good way to avoid or minimize cognitive dissonance if you have to believe.  And if God does exist, perhaps He’s looking down at all the nastiness and wishing more people would arrive at this conception.  It seems to place responsibility for doing go (and who to ask for it) where it belongs.  Perhaps this is the most needful new plank for the religious boat.

    • Elder Vader Reply

      Agree.  I don’t know how he does it but he’s got it.  Same with Chuck Borough.  Thanks for being part of ME guys. 

        • Anonymous Reply


          I hope to hear you again here soon.  

          I did a search on the Mormon Stories site and saw your multiple episode interview on the New Testament.

          I’m guessing you studied with Bart Erhman (or at least took a course with him) at UNC.  I’ve read a couple of his recent books and am gearing up to read his “New Testament: A Historical Introduction To …”  Perhaps your interview will be the perfect appetizer.

          Professor Erhman was generous in responding to a few brief questions I had regarding the historical critical method generally.  I also asked him if he knew of such work done on the Book of Mormon.  All he could say was that it was work worth doing and mentioned a colleague at UNC who has done some work related to Mormonism.

          I’ve read the books by Mark Thomas, Grant Hardy, and Robert Price’s collection of essays.  These left me wanting more.  Any suggestions?



  14. Kevin Reply

    Wonderful podcast. Truly thought provoking. Especially enjoyed the discussion about Cousin Larry.

    But, oddly, there was no mention of the only part of the Bible where the problem of evil is directly addressed: the Book of Job. It seems to say that evil no inherent meaning or value that we can understand.

    That’s the only explanation I can accept. Technically, it should even be acceptable to atheists who believe that evil has no inherent meaning or value at all.

    It would have also been nice to hear more of the panel’s thoughts about how Mormonism incorporates the supernatural into a naturalistic worldview where God is not the self-existent creator of all things, but just one of many super-but-ultimately-limited humans. I think that one of early Mormonism’s key selling points was its ability to reconcile traditional, popular religion with Enlightenment naturalism.

      • Megan Reply

        So going from your tags you managed to snort the entire phrase ‘That was an error. I meant no offense.’? That’s impressive! I think you just totally out-did all those frat boys belching the alphabet!

    • Anonymous Reply

      Kevin, there is no problem of evil for atheists like me. The problem only arises when theists need to reconcile all the evil w the other attributes of their god. To me, there is no overarching Meaning to life. But that’s ok bc it leaves me free to find my own meaning to life and I couldn’t be happier. Although I love the book of Job, it doesn’t provide a very satisfying answer to the problem of evil for the Judeo-Christian god. I actually intended to talk about Job but the conversation goes where it goes and it slipped my mind. BTW, I’m a little slow. The snorts evaded me.

      • Anonymous Reply

        Sorry Kevin, I read your post too fast. U did acknowledge atheists see no meaning in evil. I focused on the word “answer” which implies a question in the first place.

      • Anonymous Reply

        While evil (suffering) in the world is not a metaphysical problem for atheists (naturalists) the problem of real-world suffering remains.

        So the question becomes: Where are we to find the real-world solutions as the population approaches 7 billion, mostly due to high birth rates in countries where millions of children are starving every year?

        Despite the fact that naturalistic philosophy and science have spawned social systems and technologies responsible for much suffering (communism, modern weaponry, fossil fuels, etc.), in the balance they have alleviated far more (liberal democracies, medicine, agriculture).

        So as theists work out their personal theological problems, science and reason will be working to alleviate and prevent the real-life problems for everyone.

        I’ll take my Haldol over another exorcism any day 🙂



      • KC Reply


        Are you familiar with the Evil God hypothesis put forth by Stephen Law?  Its an interesting argument that apologists don’t seem to have a great response to yet.  Recently, Law had an interesting debate with William Lane Craig on the Unbelievable podcast about The Evil God. In a christian context Im not sure why the evil god stuff was not brushed off on satan but william craig never brings up satan as a source. Those unfamiliar with the evil god can google and find abundant discussion. What do you think of Laws argument?

  15. Nathan R Kennard Reply

    The guests on this podcast, Randy and Jared, provided interesting insight. As always hearing from John and Zilpha kept useful continuity. Good discussion. Thanks.

  16. Chuck Borough Reply

    God is a placebo. Placebos work about half as well as real medicine. Together with real medicine, maybe we get some extra benefit.

    • Megan Reply

      Caveat – placebos work about half as well as real medicine for relieving some symptoms and in certain types of situations. Take a look at Steve Jobs as a prime example of how placebos do not work as well as real medicine for everything. A placebo will not work half as well as real medicine in fighting cancer. It just wont.

      • Chuck Borough Reply

        It’s just a statistical thing – no individual case is data. The “real” medicine also did not work for Steve, but that’s not data against real medicine. When we look at thousands of cases, those “prayed over” do a bit better than those not prayed over. I think that’s a placebo effect. The prayer “believed in” is positive on the person’s life, but I don’t think there is an actual “listener.” That’s why I call it a placebo. I don’t think it makes sense to hate belief in God; why not treat him like we do Santa Claus and just enjoy it?

        • Megan Reply

          Yah – poor Steve. Although the real medicine (in his case surgery) had a pretty decent chance of working for him had he not chosen to use alternative medicine instead, thus putting off actual treatment until it the cancer had metastasized. 

          Personally I don’t hate belief in God, and I do see the placebo argument as having merit, but the problem (as it is with placebos) comes when the placebo is used as the only treatment – and when prayer is used as the only action. When belief in God is used as an excuse for personal responsibility then I think it becomes dangerous or damaging.

          • Chuck Borough

            Point seen. There are religions that want their members to use only the placebo and not use the science available. Fortunately, that’s not the Mormons. The Mormons did get it wrong for a long time, however, with regard to mental disease. That’s another thing that’s been fixed.

  17. Johnboy Reply

    I like the title “The God of Hackers”.  This month’s ensign has one of my favorite miracles, magic money showing up in your bank account after you pay tithing: http://lds.org/ensign/2011/12/tithing-a-key-to-peace-in-a-troubled-world?lang=eng.  If we could only track how much money appears for each dollar paid in tithing, that would be awesome!  Of course, if God has to abide by mathematical principles, he (or we) would actually be stealing from the bank or someone else by keeping that money.  It was probably from someone who didn’t pay their tithing anyway.  Great episode!

    • Megan Reply

      Tithing seems to work rather like casino gambling actually – while you hear of a win now and then, in the end the house always ends up well ahead…

    • KC Reply

       For all the talk from the pulpit about how all those who pay tithing can testify of its blessings (Hinckley explicitly stated this) and with all the stories of the unexpected check in the mail I have thought what if we take a poll. What percent would  not testify positively about the supernatural blessings of paying tithing.  I have always been perplexed when I hear these stories because as a financial guy I have never encountered money I have received that I could not account for or that came out of the blue in response to paying tithing.  Im fine with the idea of the need to financially support churches.  I recently attended an evangelical church service and they passed the plate and made a reasoned case for the need to support the church and its programs, talked about what they needed the money for etc. There was no talk of promises of magic money that would cone to you in turn.  Stop it with all the promises and blessings of paying tithing and just make a case for why the church needs it much like any business would have to make a case for why it needs funding.

       I remember when the bishop used to give a ward budget presentation in sacrament meeting with overheads on all and make a case for supporting the ward budget (this was in days when wards had to provide a portion of their own budgets, before budget correlation I guess). This seemed more honest.

    • Anonymous Reply

      I haven’t read the Ensign in a while.  For a moment I thought this article (http://lds.org/ensign/2011/12/tithing-a-key-to-peace-in-a-troubled-world?lang=eng) was a parody until I second-checked the URL.  My astonishment morphed into disgust.

      If the Church opened its financial books is there any doubt that they would show major reductions in tithing receipts since 2008?  Perhaps the other column would show increased debt for things like retail mall construction.

      And here we have article completely centered on financially struggling members, encouraging them to put tithing payments ahead of medicine and groceries with the assurance that “the Lord will keep his promises” through the miracles of price breaks at the gas pump, generous insurance payouts and employee discounts.

      The Gospel According to Salt Lake: Put your money in the Church’s secret vault and God, yeah even the Lord, will guarantee YOU, yes even YOU, and YOUR family “blessings so great there is not room enough to receive them” … or at least marginal means for “surviving bills and taxes” … and if you make sure to budget very carefully.

      “The stink of their words cries up from their pages and poureth shame upon their heads.” (Book of JT: Chapter 2:19)

      Somebody straighten me out if I am off base.

      • Chuck Borough Reply

        She was heard to say, “I hate the Church.” It was because the Church was unable or unwilling to keep its promises. It had told her that if she paid tithing, she would receive so many blessings it would be impossible to contain them all. She was dying from her obesity. A better promise would have been a statistical one. “If you lose 90 pounds, it’s very likely you will no longer need that wheelchair. Now, let’s get to work on that. Instead of tithing, use the money to join Jenny Craig or some other actual help organization. You can pay tithing after you get yourself fixed.”

        • Anonymous Reply

          And in the long run, since she would live longer, the Church would get more tithing money from her.

          • Hermes

            This is my problem.  I don’t mind paying money to an organization.  I don’t mind being used, even.  But I have to get something out of it, too.  Something besides a continuous round of promises that never deliver, followed by personal insults (“if you weren’t so evil, it would work” — so God will take your money in exchange for blessings, but he takes mine for laughs?).

  18. Chuck Borough Reply

    The Church should depend upon “gifts” rather than on “payments.” We appreciate the non-paid ministry, Bishops, etc., but we ought to also have a non-paid God and a non-paid church. Then the Churches “value” would be its honest rather than its manufactured value. It might not be as rich as it is now, but that artificial richness may be a weakness anyway. For the most part, I think the tithing money is well spent, but millions spent to affect civil law so that it reflects religious law is an obvious example of too much money left over after the real religious work is done. We might as well spend money to make a law against baptizing by sprinkling.

  19. Chuck Borough Reply

    Experience I had just this lunch time: In a gift exchange I won a sample pack of fancy coffees. Someone asked if I would like to exchange for his oven mitts, since he knew I was a Mormon. I told him I was only about half Mormon. Another man listening in (who was a whole Mormon) said, “Chuck, I don’t see how anyone could be half Mormon.” I said, “Well then, that gives me two choices – become all Mormon – or become not a Mormon at all. Becoming all Mormon would require me to believe that Reindeer can actually fly – you know, that a guy put the universe together. I know, as a physicist unwilling to put his logic aside, I can’t accomplish that, so that only leaves being no Mormon at all, not going to Church with the family, not conducting the music, not supporting my grandkids on missions, etc. Would you have me make that choice?”

    The Church teaches: “The letter gives us much guidance, but the spirit is more important,” but that is not what is taught in the scriptures, where it is taught that “The letter KILLETH, but the spirit giveth life.” The Church should teach this. Most of you who have left the Church have done so because a bunch of letter-of-the-law stuff has ruined it for you. I simply give the letter the finger, and embrace the loving and the music. It’s important to set an example by having a cup of coffee right in front of everyone, unashamed. Daughters should apply to go on missions when they turn 19, whether that is the policy or not, etc., etc. No reasonable person could see this as a bad thing, that the young lady was eager to get out on her mission. When women got the vote in our then backward country, it is because they were demanding it. Only the men were allowed to vote it in, but under this moral pressure, the men DID vote it in. If we want women Bishops, and I know some wonderful candidates, we have to have women who WANT this, and they have to convince the men, who will be the only ones making policy until the fix. Silence and timidity will never bring the change. We men, of course, can also speak up, but again, that’s being only “part” Mormon, right?

  20. c almond Reply

    I really loved this episode! Finally, in Jared we have a panel member who able to articulate the believers position from  thoughtful, nuanced, non-apologetic perspective.   Although intelligent believers have been on before, few if any have  been   at quite the same intellectual level as John and they serve almost as  straw men embodied, for John to knock down.  (I don’t mean to imply this is something done intentionally, I realize it is more difficult to find believers to come one the show) Having  Jared as counter-point voice to John added an extra level of depth and nuance to the discussion than normally occurs on ME and I look forward to hearing him on again. 

  21. C Almond Reply

    In reference to the discussion about life trials and the problem of suffering: I think what undermines the notion that bad experiences are helpful or even necessary for our growth is POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER. If traumatic events were necessary for our growth one would expect that, in general, the more traumatic experiences an individual has, either in terms of severity or number, the better and happier a  person they become.  We would expect the typical victim of rape or childhood abuse  to among the happiest, wisest most productive members of society instead of the lifetime of depression, anxiety etc. that normally haunts these individuals. Sure, an overly privileged life can be as destructive to some as is poverty  and for many people modest amounts of adversity in life really IS needed  for  character building, but the tipping point at  where life’s trials go from helpful to hurtful is relatively low. Unlike many other life principals where taking something to it’s most extreme conclusion is a straw man argument, religious precepts must apply even in the most extreme instances…ESPECIALLY in the most extreme instances and the idea of suffering being a catalyst for growth or necessary for happiness breaks down when one moves just a short distance down the  slope of the bell curve. 

    • Megan Reply

      That is an excellent point.

      Since humans learn in a variety of ways (through observation, through indirect study, through direct experience, through imagination etc) the idea that suffering is necessary and intended by God to be helpful implies there is some special lesson that can only be learned through horrific experience. Yet no one has ever been able to point out what the heck that’s supposed to be!

      Here’s what I’ve been offered:

      1. Inner strength (dude, I must have had that already or I wouldn’t still be here. This didn’t TEACH me that, it TESTED that)

      2. Valuing family and friends (I already did! – otherwise this wouldn’t be so shattering, now would it? And, seriously? I had to lose someone to learn I loved them? That is puerile.)

      3. The necessity for God (well then this was a large and smelly FAIL. My experience did not turn me from an atheist to a Bible-thumper. It only made me deeply, deeply grateful that I did not have to justify the non-action of a supposedly loving God while I was dealing with everything else!)

      Have I learned from my personal experience? Well, yes, just as I learned from everything else in my life. But did I learn anything so different, so special, so illuminating that I had never thought of it before? Absolutely not.

      Oh – and to your above point I would add that if suffering is necessary for growth then a loving God would be tormenting EVERYONE, not just a few. Or hey, maybe all y’all non-sufferers are just putting off the inevitable and come the next life you’re totally doomed.

      • Hermes Reply

        Things that are painful to think about can also be painful in real life, sometimes excruciatingly so.  Thank you, God.

    • Chuck Borough Reply

      I have to completely agree. The story of Job is truly BS, like two evil people, God and the Devil playing their little chess game at Job’s expense and to their delight, the Devil saying “Try this on him!” and God saying, “See he still worships me!”

    • Anonymous Reply

      I agree with that too.  I very strongly doubt that the majority of the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust are better or healthier people than they would have been had they never been so victimized.  Besides that, that horrible atrocity belies the notion that there is an omnipotent and loving God that answers personal prayers.  Can there be any serious doubt that many, if not all of these millions of tortured and murdered victims prayed desperately to God to save them from their horrible fate?  Why did God not help them?  Yet we are gain faith because God helped us in so inconsequential a way as to help us find some lost keys?

      • Chuck Borough Reply

        “the only real miracle would be if anything happened without God’s having a hand in it.”

        Yeah – isn’t this a crock. So for child abuse to happen, God’s hand has to be in it? Fundamentalists amaze me at what they believe.

        I had a SOuthern Baptist minister tell me that all of God’s will will be done – that nobody can thwart His will. I showed him the scripture (from his own Bible) that says, “And it is my will that none be lost.” I said, “Well if all His will is going to be done, there’s no need for this Hell you like to talk about – not one will be lost.”

        That’s actually the metaphor I like best – that none are lost forever, but hose fundies absolutely do not believe that. They like the thought that only a few are NOT lost. (That makes them special.)

        Unfortunately, quite a few Mormons are becoming fundamentalist. Bad move. They want a Christian nation, etc., prayer in the schools and commandments about God in the courthouses. The Church specifically came out in favor of the law against organized prayer in schools when that law was passed. Something changed. David O. McKay was President then, and the letter was sent to all Stake Presidents and Mission Presidents for reading in conferences. Fundamentalist teachers in grade schools were teaching little children that their families would burn in Hell if they kept listening to the Mormons. Nothing is worse than organized religion infused into officialdom. Eisenhauer, in the 1950’s added “In God We Trust” on our paper money, and added “Under God” to the Pledge. They were not there before that. Fundamentalists think that stuff was there from the time of the founders.

        • Anonymous Reply

          Out of curiosity, how did that Southern Baptist minister respond when you said, based on the scripture you showed him, “Well if all His will is going to be done, there’s no need for this Hell you like to talk about – not one will be lost.”?

          Yes, it is sad that so many of today’s fundamentalists are promoting the myth that the U.S.A was originally founded as a Christian nation.  Some of them know better, but are determined to convince their constituents that it is true anyway.  Newt Gingrich surely knows better, if he is the historian he claims to be, yet he publicly denounces what he sees as the “increasing secularism” in U.S. Government.  This dishonesty on his part guarantees that I will never vote for him!

          The truth is that the founding fathers of the U.S.A. and the creators of its constitution established (or, at least, attempted to establish) the first truly secular government in world history.  Ironically, this very secularism that many of today’s fundamentalists so loudly decry is what guaranteed the religious freedom that made possible the proliferation of religious sects in this country that has resulted in the U.S.A being the most religious of all today’s industrially and scientifically advanced nations!

          • Chuck Borough

            With the Southern Baptist minister, it was a bit of a trap, but I think a fair one. He either has to say that what he said in the talk he had just given was wrong, or that there is no need for Hell. He didn’t say either, but did seem to agree that the question was a good one. Usually, there arguments cannot be “won,” because everything behind religious dogma comes from “not logic.” Mormons like to say that their “sure knowledge” comes from a “warm feeling in the heart,” for example. You can’t effectively argue with a “warm feeling.”

  22. danko Reply

    Throughout the discussion, everyone seemed to agree that God doesn’t really intervene, at all.   At one point, Jared posited that God’s hands-off approach is to help us become more like him. He compared God to a loving parent, who does as little as possible so that we will do as much as we can on our own. My question is this: Wouldn’t we become more God-like if we did absolutely nothing to help others? If we are really trying to emulate God’s patterns, then wouldn’t it be best to never intervene in the lives of others?

    • Chuck Borough Reply

      What a truly interesting question! We did have the philosophy in bringing up our children that we were best as parents if we functioned as fertilizer and water with maybe just a little guidance, like a little stick that helps a plant grow straight – but not the kind of influence people use to make a plant look like an elephant, shaping everything the way we want it to be, like we see at “It’s a Small World” in Disneyland.

      My own view of God is that He doesn’t interfere at all, not even the slightest, because He can’t. He doesn’t even provide fertilizer and water and oxygen, etc.; the universe provided that accidentally – lucky us, I guess, if we like living.

      • danko Reply

        When I said that we could emulate God by doing nothing for others, I was speaking tongue-in-cheek. I wasn’t suggesting that we should actually neglect people. I was attempting to point out the problem I see with Jared’s logic (that we become more God-like by helping others). I think you can only argue that position IF you believe that God actually does help people. From the rest of the discussion, I got the impression the none of the panelists, Jared included, believe in an intervening God. If that’s the case, then emulating God through service, makes no logical sense. Perhaps I misunderstood something?

        • Chuck Borough Reply

          I think I did get your drift – that if one believes there is a God and also believes that He does not intervene, then following His example, that person would not intervene in the lives of others. I thought it a very interesting question. Then I followed with my own position, that there is no god to intervene, and that there is no example to follow. That leaves me only with the option of learning from other people and deciding for myself how much intervening makes sense. I think a little “nudging” is ok, but I verily hate dictators, small ones like controlling fathers, medium ones like “bosses,” and big ones like Adolf Hitler. I don’t like it when the Church tries to run lives in ways that have nothing to do with its reasonable mission, like telling missionaries they can’t cross a certain street or take a swim, etc. These are dictators also. I was on one of these missions 50 years ago. We had fourteen of these silly rules. As I broke them, I marked them with a red check in my manual. Such freedom made me a more effective missionary, not wasting psychotic energy on trivia. (Of course, the dozen or so times I went swimming on hot summer days in the rivers was nice also.) We baptized in those rivers – seemed a natural extention.

        • Anonymous Reply

          Danko, I’m a strong atheist so no, I don’t believe in an intervening god. John also stated he’s an atheist many times. Jared, he likes to play the part of court appointed defense attorney of belief but that doesn’t mean he believes in the case he’s presenting. 😉

        • Jared Anderson Reply

          I get the joke @914ad53cf915af16c99a1b423897cfa7:disqus , but as I stated, my point is the *consequence* of the theology, not whether it is literally true or not. I think one of the strengths of Mormonism is this narrative that we are to be gods to each other, so that we can become like them. And in Mormonism of course, there *is* an intervening God. Yes, if you had a bunch of deists who were striving to be like their God you would get a bunch of Republicans or something. 

          Randy, I felt like I was honest about my beliefs in this episode, but as I said, I am most interested in the practical consequences of any given belief far more than whether they are true or not in a literal sense. 

          • Anonymous

            Didn’t mean to imply dishonesty Jared. I didn’t say u r a defender of Mormonism but of belief. U do like to present the best possible case for belief like a defense attorney. However, if the belief is obviously harmful, u will grt your client to plead guilty so I still think my analogy was apt. Apt I tells ya!

        • Jared Anderson Reply

          I do think it would have been beneficial to have someone with a god… I mean a dog in the fight though. 🙂 

  23. Hermes Reply

    I think the real problem with religion is authority.  People are always going to believe weird things.  But how do we deal with one another?  How do we deal with those who believe weird things that do not align with the weird things we believe?  The more flexible people are, the more dialogue they allow, the less they are about controlling other people, the better our religion (and the more solid our community).  We want religions (and communities) that bring diverse things (and people) together and relate them well to one another (that is, to the satisfaction of everyone, which does not happen when the “presiding authority” tells everyone what to believe).

    The best religious leaders are those who know how to compromise intelligently.  They know how to make others useful to the community.  They know better than to go around alienating people with lies (or half-truths).  They know better than to pretend to be something they are not.  They know better than to demand that people be correlated in matters of culture which life has made impervious to correlation.

  24. Jared Anderson Reply

    I know this is being posted everywhere, but I thought it was applicable to this episode. And freaking hilarious. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/tebow/1374394/

  25. Pingback: Lawnmower God Helped Me Find My Wallet | Wheat and Tares

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