The Natural Man

The Natural Man

I wonder if the most damning teaching within Mormonism isn’t found in the Book of Mormon scripture mastery, Mosiah 3:19.

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

The idea of the fall is despicable in that it not only teaches that we live in a world of sin and wickedness, but that we ourselves are corrupt and immoral. This particular scripture punctuates that dreadful doctrine by informing the reader that on top of being morally reprehensible, he or she is also an enemy to god.

But why is the “natural man an enemy to god?” Of course the answer is that we, humans, are not.  We are not inherently or genetically evil; we are not enemies to an invisible force.  Yet religions strive to make us less than the dust of the earth – the very same dust humans used to create the pulpit that such vitriol is taught?

This doctrine isn’t unique to the Book of Mormon, or even to Mormonism itself. The Bible has this to say of our nature:

Genesis 6:5: And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

Romans 3:10-11: As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

The doctrine of The Fall serves only the kleptocrats who continue to pedal it. There is very little difference between the idea of the natural man and the idea of original sin. Both insist that we are plagued by some filthy eternal stain.

And what is the cleanser for such a stain? A not-so-close observer of Mosiah 3:19 will realize the usefulness of the scripture by how often the solution is presented. One can’t read it without noticing the admonishments for submission and yielding. How convenient then for the religious leaders to teach that the only way to become clean is by submitting to their directives. It certainly isn’t a coincidence that this particular doctrine is present in almost every Christian sect.

Rather, I stand all amazed at the astounding achievements of humankind.  Take a minute to ponder the accomplishments of our own hands.  We have taken from dust and created beautiful sculptures, wonderful paintings and strong buildings.  Roads, chariots, cars, computers, phones and more exist because of the ingenuity of our species.   We use magnetic fields for energy transportation; giant telescopes to understand the complexities of our incomprehensible universe; and tiny lasers to make the most dangerous surgeries that much safer.

We have extended human life and split the atom. Our ancestors farmed in the Fertile Crescent and introduced that technology and crop structure along the same latitude.  Humans learn from each other.  We share.  We all benefit.  Humans introduced, and experimented with, governments.  We created writing and language.  To create an exhaustive list of human accomplishments would take decades and fill libraries. And better still, we acknowledge that we have only scratched the surface in the various scientific fields. There is much more that we can and will accomplish for the betterment of all.

Many of our accomplishments come in spite of religion or god, rather than because of them. Humans make mistakes. We lie, cheat, and steal. But overall, we are good. People act according to what they know to be right.

The natural man isn’t an enemy to god. Men and women are taught they are fallen enemies of the lord in order to submit to whichever religion into which they happen to be born.

 

Smile and the world smiles with you . . . mostly.

I don’t often read the Utah papers, but this April, while following a Facebook link to a Pat Bagley cartoon, I stumbled upon a story in the Salt Lake Tribune about a study due to be published in The Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.  Based on perimeters set by the study, Utah rates 1st in the nation for “well-being” but also rates 9th in incidents of suicide.  The author of the Tribune article doesn’t seem comfortable with the idea that there is anything about being around happy people in general, or Mormons in particular, that leads to an increase in suicide numbers.  In the Deseret News the study itself was only briefly introduced in an article that focused on who commits suicide (in Utah suicides are mainly young men who have a history of drug or alcohol use and brushes with the law) and how to recognize the signs of suicidal thoughts.  No connection with Mormonism was even hinted at in either article.

But that there could be a connection between Mormonism, well-being, and suicide seems entirely possible.  Three other states – Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada – were also in the top 10 states for both well-being and suicide.  Arizona is in the top ten for well-being and number 11 for suicide.  Arizona, Wyoming and Nevada, and to a lesser degree Colorado, sit in the Mormon corridor, where Mormon culture and identity have powerfully affected society and individuals.  Could it be that Mormonism has contributed to a sense of happiness and a sense of hopelessness across the American West?

Based on my own experiences as a depressed person in Mormon-land, as well as out-of-Mormon-land, I would argue that the LDS emphasis on being happy and, especially, the missionary-minded emphasis on putting our happiness on public display, creates an environment in which it is great to be happy, but if you are not happy it is extra-ordinarily painful and apparent that there is something different, and wrong about you.

There isn’t anything wrong with being happy.  But if you seem happy that doesn’t mean that nothing is wrong.   If the LDS culture really brings happiness and contentment to people then that is a thing to be celebrated and embraced.  But everybody has difficult times.  Everybody experiences anger and sadness and other “negative” emotions.  Even happy Mormons.  Even happy ex-Mormons.

There is such a culture of ‘happiness’ in the church that all those other emotions can be, often are, denied because to feel those things evidences sin or weakness.  If a person has left the church, or failed ‘to walk up to every covenant made’, and that person is unhappy, (obviously) the cause is that person’s failure to live the gospel.  If a person is living the gospel and isn’t happy, it seems likely that that person is not living the gospel ‘well enough’.  For a person like me, who (often) dwells daily in a kind of fog of anxiety and depression, the comparison between my unhappy life and the seeming perfect, and perfectly happy lives of the people around me is a goad, a thorn in my side that makes “the dread of something after death” seem much less dreadful than the reality of wandering about an unhappy soul in a sea of bliss . . . which is just a way of saying that hell doesn’t seem so scary if your other option is to hang out with so much damn happiness for eternity!

 

Lying for the Lord: A Grassroots Tale

"If someone claims to have the truth . . . " It’s been said that, “Sex and crime seem to be the perfect recipe for broadcast success in the 21st century!” So it’s no wonder that a recent Mormon Expression podcast appears to be so popular. It features a “Top 10 Count Down” of famous Mormon criminals and sure enough, despite the occassional “downer” moment (some of the criminal behavior is truly apalling) it’s fascinating, thought provoking stuff!

On several occassions the panel tangents from the central topic into the meta-question of “Why?” as in, “Why does there seem to be something in Mormonism that disportionally contributes to these behaviors?”; and as in, “Why do Mormons – including some ‘golden’ Mormons – demonstrate a propensity toward these extreme behaviors?”, etc. And while I thought that several good theories are offered in the podcast, an analysis on the discussion board is, to my way of thinking, particularly insightful:

“Mormonism has a very real problem in this regard: its central book of scripture opens with a story of justification of murder [that is, a divine directive to Nephi commanding him to behead Laban] and the rest of the book is so bland that it doesn’t overcome that message or it reinforces that message with the continual battles between the Nephites and Lamanites. The problem is that if God can justify murder he can justify any lesser sin as well. And that’s where Mormonism fundamentally departs from traditional Protestantism (and perhaps Catholicism as well) where God must be a moral God.

In Protestantism … God must conform to all the standards of morality that we hold or else He/She is not God.”[1]

That said, in addition to the Book of Mormon example, I would propose that the following passage from The Pearl of Great Price be considered in regard to the “lesser sin” of lying:

Book of Abraham 2:22-25
“And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon;

Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say — She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise:

Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.

And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me — Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee.”

That passage is troubling because it portrays the Mormon God giving a divine directive to Abraham that he lie to Pharoah in a manner that’s quite similar to the way he instructed Nephi to murder Laban.[2] This is in direct violation of the moral criteria that the Jewish God established in the Bible via the 10 Commandments[3] and the Mormon God reinforced via The Book of Mormon.[4] Further, and as a practical matter, it’s vexing because I’ve found that some Mormons use it as a divine justification for lying. In other words, Book of Mormon “Blood Atonement” meet Book of Abraham “Lying for the Lord”.[5]

On the Delicate Matter of “Lying for the Lord”
A Mormon Wiki describes the Mormon practice of “Lying for the Lord” as follows:

“Lying for the Lord refers to the practice of lying to protect the image of and belief in the Mormon religion, a practice which Mormonism itself fosters in various ways. From Joseph Smith’s denial of having more than one wife, to polygamous Mormon missionaries telling European investigators that reports about polygamy in Utah were lies put out by “anti-Mormons” and disgruntled ex-members, to Gordon B. Hinckley’s dishonest equivocation on national television over Mormon doctrine, Mormonism’s history seems replete with examples of lying. Common members see such examples as situations where lying is justified. For the Mormon, loyalty and the welfare of the church are more important than the principle of honesty, and plausible denials and deception by omission are warranted by an opportunity to have the Mormon organization seen in the best possible light.
(Link to Source; bolding and underlining added for emphasis)

Now I’m not here to rehash the aforementioned historical record of Mormon Leaders engaging in “Lying for the Lord” – that’s been done well enough by others and I have no interest in reinventing the wheel.[6] My interest is far more immediate, practical, and close to home – more “grass roots” if you will.

And I know that modern Mormons typically bristle when critics accuse the members of the LdS Church of “Lying for the Lord”. The typical response involves citing The Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Article Thirteen which states:

“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men…”
(Link to Source; bolding added for emphasis)

And I will readily admit that most of the members I know personally would consider deviating from the Article Thirteen standard unthinkably unethical and integrity compromising. Never-the-less just as soon as the “Enemy of the eternal gospel and only true Church” label is slapped on someone or something, somewhere out there from the deep, dark lunatic fringes of the Mormon Church a “Liar for the Lord” will quickly emerge.

A recent firsthand experience served as a painful reminder.

The Blue Devil and Dr. Jones: A Grassroots Tale
For some reason the Internet tends to bring out the worst in people. As a result of that sad fact one of the Mormon-centric websites that I frequent eventually tired of the constant, seemingly endless, often childish bickering that goes on between Mormon Defenders and Mormon Critics. So, being predisposed to the critical stance (which is in fact implied by the site’s purpose statement), the web site owner decided to bring peace to the proceedings by making the discussion board exclusive to critics. The announcement was made, the user accounts of the Mormon defenders were revoked, a banner explaining the new policy was posted on the main page of the website and life went on for all. We remaining members were then left to continue in our misguided efforts to critique and discuss the history, doctrine, and practices of the only “perfect” church on earth in peace and harmony.[7]

But apparently, the stress and anxiety of seeing the LdS Church publicly analyzed, criticized, deconstructed, reconstructed – and in some cases even denounced – without challenge was just too much for some members so a solution had to be found – and that fix was (of course) “Lying for the Lord”.

In the latest such case a new board member “BlueDevil” (from the great state of North Carolina of course) registered and posted on the board. He came roaring in with both guns blazing – clearly a “Porter Rockwell” Mormon who was “ready to rumble” with these despicable eternal darkness bound “Children of the Devil” and “Enemies of the only true Church!” In his wake, a “DrJones0” (from the great state of Texas) arrived with a quieter, gentler, more tempered and reasoned approach with the members.

The regular members first reminded BlueDevil that Mormons apologists weren’t allowed on this particular board and encouraged him to comply with the rules by not posting. These requests were met with number of angry and hostile posts calling down judgment on high on these blind deceivers. He then disappeared. Poof! Gone! Just like that!

Well, that was easy!

Oddly Dr. Jones’ posts then slowly began to drift into a more decidedly pro-Mormon, apologetic stance. He eventually began using stock and standard Latter-day clichés and language. He then was asked directly if he was a Mormon. At first he demurred and then flatly denied it – not once, not twice, but three times. Yet, at the same time, his posts were simultaneously becoming more and more fanatical. By the day three they had collapsed into a shard pile of stock word-for-word LdS Apologist pabulum. Finally, he simply spammed the discussion board with the same copy and paste “REPENT and be baptized ye apostates destined for outer darkness!” post (well over 100-times in fact) before the board SysAdmin could stop the bleeding via a well-deserved ban.

Given the gawd awful mess that he’d been left with the (solo) SysAdmin enlisted my help (I’m an IT guy in my day job) in scrubbing the site of the spam that Dr. Jones had left behind. The SysAdmin duly “Deputized” me and gave me full administrative privileges on the board. We then got to the hard work of purging the “faith promoting graffiti” off of the site one virtual urban scrawl at a time.

Now, I hope it doesn’t shock or surprise anyone that Internet discussion boards enable administrators to see the IP address of the computer that the users post from. So I did some quick forensics and discovered that not only were “BlueDevil” and “DrJones0” the same person [8], their posts were all generated through the same Internet Service Provider in (drum roll puh-lease) central Salt Lake City.

(Yes, yes, I’m sure that you’re as surprised as we were!)

This was a clear case of not just “Lying for the Lord” but blatantly, repeatedly, and overtly doing so.

“It’s Like Getting Married”
Now, all fairness, given the number of anonymous unregistered hits that this site and other such sites receive each day, this case – and the others like it – are the exception not the norm. Never-the-less this case study demonstrates one way that “Lying for the Lord” is practiced in modern Mormonism.

And, of course the whole issue of using deceit in the name of God, regardless your religious stance, is never a good idea because as one person put it:

“Joining a religious group is much like a marriage, often including a type of “falling in love”. When two people are seriously involved and contemplating marriage, is it really the ethical responsibility of each to, say, hire a private investigator to fully investigate the background of their loved one to make sure there are no ugly surprises after the wedding? Or is it the moral and ethical responsibility of each party to make that disclosure?” [9]

Or put another way, “If someone claims to have the truth you should probably first make sure that they’re not lying to you.”[10]

 

NOTES:
[1] Post by Mike Michaels dated June 23, 2011; retrieved 6/23/2011; the bracketed text summarizes the prior paragraph for clarity. Mr. Michael later explained in another post, “I was/am not responding as a believing Christian for I am not. I am merely trying to explain the difference in mindset that I held as a believing Christian before I converted to Mormonism (subsequently followed by 20 years of active participation).”

[2] It should be noted that it’s generally conceded in the Biblical narratives that parallel this Book of Abraham account the biblical characters took it upon themselves to lie since only did God not mandate the lies but went so far as to expose the attempt at deceit to the unsuspecting victim. (see Genesis 12:10-19, Genesis 20, and Gen 26:1-10) As a result, most expositors exegese these passages as morality plays regarding failures of faith on the part of the humans that did not please God. (see http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0120.htm ; http://www.easyenglish.info/bible-commentary/genesis-mwks3-lbw.htm )

[3] See Exodus 20:16 and Deuteronomy 5:20

[4] See Ether 3:12 and 2 Nephi 9:34

[5] One need go no further than Dallin H. Oaks’ September 12, 1993 BYU address, “Gospel Teachings About Lying” for an example how arguments for lying are exegesed from LdS Scripture. And though it may seem extreme to some “Blood Atonement” p. 93, by Independent Mormon Fundamentalist, Ogden Kraut provides us with an excellent example of how an argument for murder can be developed from the Laban narrative.

[6] Former Church Educational System employee Ken Clark’s list of such case studies is an excellent overview as is the aforementioned MormonWiki.org article.

[7] This, as I’m sure anyone familiar with the Internet knows is not unusual as there are many Latter-day Saint discussion boards where the opposite has been the case. This is no big deal – it’s just life on a planet whose inhabitants would rather bicker than agree to disagree (or so it seems).

[8] Another charge that he had angrily denied.

[9] As cited from “Missionary Sophistry?” at http://www.mormonwiki.org/Lying_for_the_Lord from an original post now scrolled off discussion thread of a blog post at “Latter-day Saint Liberation Front”; Accessed 8/23/2006.

[10] Richard Packham, ExMormon Foundation Conference 2009. Mr. Packham’s full case against Mormonism’s use of lying can be found here.

Top 4 Worst Hymns

"Hey Jesus! There is sunshine in my soul today!" (www.defordmusic.com)

Is there anything more painful than kicking off the 3 hour church block than with an opening hymn played at funeral dirge tempo? Or one sung really loudly by That Person in your ward who doesn’t have a good voice, but, you know, feels destined for their very own MoTab polyester robe? (Naturally when this occurs, you’ll be situated in the row directly in front of said individual.) Can we also talk about how 95% of the songs chosen by the chorister are usually played in a key well above most groggy saints’ registers? I no longer attend church, so I don’t often have occasion to hear a Mormon hymn. Every so often, however, I’ll start humming along to one of these four worst church hymns.

1. “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today”

When I taught seminary, I banned all hymns containing the word “sunshine”. That’s because the two non-primary songs about sunshine in the hymn book are terrible, sophomoric drivel. The hymn is, at heart, a nice message about being really happy Jesus died for your sins.  But I think even Jesus would grate his teeth at the melody. “There is sunshine, ble-hes-sedsunnnshine, when the peaceful, haPEE moments rolllllllllllll…”

2.  “Come Away to Sunday School”

I feel like this one is just masochism. It’s a song about how great church is, sung by church goers, while you’re already at church. If you were being cynical, this hymn is a fun little inoculation for your squirming children who really don’t want to be at church. If you’re being paranoid, this song is a lighthearted attempt at brainwashing. When played during Sacrament, this song acts like its own promo for “coming up at 11.” However annoying the local news promos are, they’re at least mercifully short. Can you imagine if this hymn was a news promo?

“For Channel 8, I’m Robert B. Baird. And coming up, when the rosy light of morning softly beams above the hill, and the birds, sweet heavenly songsters, every dell with music fill, fresh from slumber we awaken, come away to the Sunday School!”

What’s hilarious about this song is it’s really an apt description of what Sunday School entails: 30% pastoral language, 20% admonition to avoid all doubt, and 50% waste of time.

3. “Praise to the Man”

Attention all evangelicals hoping to prove Mormons worship Joseph Smith, this is your song. Also, if anyone still wants to protest against the whole Mormons becoming gods thing, hum a few bars from the refrain and you’ll find that Joseph Smith is “mingling with gods.” I suppose it’s nice to have a song that celebrates the founder of your religion. My quibble is this song is played all the time! I also knew a family who celebrated Joseph Smith’s birthday with a cake. I know, I know, anecdotes don’t equal evidence. But still. For a church of Jesus Christ, this song was emphasized a bit too heavily for my taste.

4. “Families Can Be Together Forever”

Oh, did you forget the church’s mawkishly repetitive selling point? I’m here to tell you that families can be together forever. And if giant vinyl wall decals aren’t enough to remind you, go ahead and do a YouTube search for thousands of versions of children singing this hymn.

So what else did I miss? I did notice as I was flipping through the hymnal that a lot of these songs would match nicely with propaganda posters. Maybe my next list will be 10 Hymns Stalin Might Have Used. “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel” and “We Are All Enlisted” will be top contenders.  Until next time, remember “We are all enlisted till the conflict is o’er, happy are we! Happy are we!”

Revelation by Numbers: Introducing “The Joseph Smith Formula”

A Mona Lisa paint by numbersFor me, the Mormon Expression podcasts have a way of provoking thought and challenging me to “go deeper”.

For example, a recent podcast on D&C 8 and 9[1] contained an interesting analysis and spirited panel discussion on how Joseph Smith described and practiced the process of receiving revelation.

Going directly to the source:
“I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation.”

(D&C 8:2-3a)

“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”
(D&C 9:7-9)

Well that sounds (like all the D&C revelations do) somewhat profound and quite spiritual when taken on it’s own at face value and in isolation. However, when all the revelations are taken as a whole, the Doctrine & Covenants meta-narrative seems to indicate that another dynamic was in play in each of the revelations. This is readily apparent in that they’re all rather formulaic and quite often repetitive. This is even more apparent when one reads them chronologically[2] not skipping over the headnotes, and still more apparent when you combine all that with a good understanding of True Mormon History.[3]

Specifically the pattern that emerges is:

R
=(c+d)t

Where:
R = Revelation

c = challenge

d = desire

t = threat intensity accelerator
(the bigger the threat the bigger, more grandiose, was the resulting R)

I’ve dubbed this pattern, “The Joseph Smith Formula”.

For example, let’s take a look at D&C 132, the infamous revelation sanctioning (more precisely, “mandating”) polygamy. Here is the official church headnote giving the historical context for this revelation:

“Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded 12 July 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, and also the plurality of wives (see History of the Church, 5:501–7). Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.”
(link to source; retrieved date of post)

Take that and then factor in a good understanding of the true Mormon History that surrounded the coming forth of D&C 132[4] and here’s what emerges:

R = God requires the faithful to practice polygamy.

c = Emma Smith knows of Joseph’s adulterous affairs and isn’t happy with them.

d = Joseph Smith is having adulterous affairs (as are several Mormon Leader insiders), wants to continue them, and wants to have more.

t = Emma Smith might publicly expose Joseph’s adulterous affairs thus causing a scandal that could potentially under mind, even destroy the LdS Church.

Therefore the Threat Intensity Accelerator = is quite high in this case. In fact, I would say that on a scale of 1-10 it’s about an eight or nine, possibly even a ten. And as a result you get a long, rambling, grandiose revelation recast and delivered in the second person voice of God voice rather than the human author’s.

And you see this pattern again and again and again in Doctrine & Covenants. In fact, I would assert that one can take any alleged revelation in Doctrine & Covenants (including the Official Declarations) and this formula applies.

Pick a section and try it.

 

NOTES:
[1] Episode 139b: D&C 8 and 9 for Dummies Part One
http://mormonexpression.com/2011/06/07/139-dc-8-and-9-for-dummies-part-1/

Episode 139b: D&C 8 and 9 for Dummies Part Two
http://mormonexpression.com/2011/06/07/139b-dc-8-and-9-for-dummies-part-2/

The other podcasts on Doctrine & Covenants revelations as of the date of writing are:
Episode 118a: Polygamy Manifesto for Dummies Part 1
http://mormonexpression.com/2011/03/01/118a-polygamy-manifesto-for-dummies-part-1/

Episode 118b: Polygamy Manifesto for Dummies Part 2
http://mormonexpression.com/2011/03/01/118b-polygamy-manifesto-for-dummies-part-2/

Doctrine and Covenants 132 for Dummies Part 1
http://mormonexpression.com/2010/11/episode-95a-doctrine-and-covenants-132-for-dummies-part-1/

Doctrine and Covenants 132 for Dummies part 2
http://mormonexpression.com/2010/11/episode-95b-doctrine-and-covenants-132-for-dummies-part-2/

The Civil War Prophecy (D&C 87) for Dummies
http://mormonexpression.com/?p=588

[2] A Chronological Listing of D&C can be found at:

Doctrine & Covenants: Chronological Order of Contents
http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/chron-order?lang=eng

[3] I use the term “true Mormon History” here to distinguish and juxapose against the “Faithful Mormon History” that’s taught by the the LdS Church via it’s Church Educational System and many LdS Mormon Studies Scholars. See “Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History” Edited by George D. Smith; Signature Books, 1992; http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=10550 for a good primer on this topic.

[4] A good, short quick primer on the true Mormon History surrounding D&C 132 can be found in the aforementioned “Doctrine and Covenants 132 for Dummies Part 1” podcast or in the first few sections of the Wikipedia article on “Mormonism and Polygamy” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormonism_and_polygamy ) as well “The Wives of Joseph Smith” website (see http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/ )

Road Signs to the Future . . .

I spent the last week on the road driving from Utah to Delaware.  Amazing how far afield the mind can wander when faced with hours and hours of Wyoming and South Dakota.

 

I was driving, and the kids and the husband were sleeping, when I got thinking about a story my seminary teacher once shared with our class — It seems there was this girl at BYU who was being pursued by an RM.  As part of his courtship this young man told the young woman about a vision he had had:  He was driving on I-15 when one of the large road signs opened up and he saw a vision of the pre-existence in which he and she had promised one another that they would find one another and be married for time and all eternity.  To which the young woman replied, “I may have made that mistake once, but I’m not doing it again.”

It happens that this little story was part of a seminary year that included a viewing of  Saturday’s Warrior and several personal stories from our teacher to the effect that his marriage and family were foreordained.  And, in that context, although I appreciated the wit and independence of the young woman in the story, the message I took from it wasn’t that the romantic idea of a “one true love” wasn’t true, but that you shouldn’t say yes to crazy people . . . a good lesson, to be sure, but I wish I had understood much earlier in my life that the true lesson of the story is that life is about choices, not about pre-ordinations.

I was about as devoted to the idea that our lives had a plan drawn up in heaven as a girl could be.  After all, we sang “My life is a gift, my life has a plan . . . in heaven it began” as our theme song in Merrie Miss and my patriarchal blessing says right out that I would marry someone I had known in the pre-existence and that “the Lord will bring you together.”  I heard real life stories about couples who saw each other the first time and knew at that moment that they were meant for each other  . . . “I’ve seen that smile before . . . It seems we’ve talked like this before.”  I was completely convinced that my one purpose and goal in life was to get married and all I had to do was wait . . .

. . . And wait.

. . . And wait.

You’ll understand that I was extremely  frustrated by all the waiting, especially because I had already figured out at 16 who “the one” was . . . I was just waiting for him to figure it out.  I knew I was right because I, of course, prayed about it.  I got an amazing answer, WOW, an overwhelming feeling of light and joy and power!  But still, I wondered (since underneath it all I am a rational and reasonable person) if maybe I was making it up, so I prayed again and asked the Lord to take that feeling away if I was right . . . and He did!  And then, when nothing happened, I kept praying and I kept getting answers — a random lady at church, who didn’t even know me, came up and told me that she’d “had a feeling that the missionary I was writing was going to be my husband”, a letter from him had a sign that I’d been praying for . . .

I prayed, and waited, for him for seven years.

I served a mission in the hopes that the Lord just needed me to make a sacrifice in order to be blessed . . . I knew before I left that he was engaged to someone else, and I had been feeling like I should serve a mission for a while before I went, and I knew I had blown it — I had’t served the Lord in the right way so I had lost my blessings.

I gave up seven years of my life to a dream and a delusion — and then I spent the next 18 months doing things I despised in order to try to win my dream and delusion back.

I recognize my own foolishness in this story.  But the foolishness was not all mine.

When I finally did get married, at the age of 32 and not to the man I had imagined was my ‘one’, I really struggled with the decision.  I certainly didn’t feel like I had known him before or that we had some supernatural attraction to one another.  For a romance, it was all pretty prosaic.  But then I realized that this choice was, in fact, my own.  I could marry this man or not and the world would not fall apart.  There was no “plan” for us, just possibilities.  When I decided, it was my own decision, and it has been one of the best decisions I ever made.  And when it doesn’t feel like the best decision I am reassured by the fact that it was my decision.  Since I made the choice, I live with the consequences.

What is it about that moony-eyed, far-fetched notion of a pre-ordained life that is so attractive?

According to LDS theology and folk-theology, this life is a test.  And it is not just a test, it is the final.  Whatever decisions you make here you are stuck with in the eternities.  That is a pretty big burden to bear.  For a girl in the church, eternity is ALL about who you marry.  Why would you want to make a choice like that when you are effectively blind and stupid?  Believing that you made the choice before this life, and that God told you that this is the right choice, takes the pressure off . . . sort-of.  But what kind of marriage do you have if it is built on the impossible dream of two people destined to be together?  What happens when it isn’t all joy and happiness, when you’ve decided to marry someone the moment you meet him, without even knowing who he really is?  And what if, after this big heavenly reveal, it turns out that your lives are incompatible?  Then not only does your marriage fall apart, but the very foundation of your belief . . .

Which may be a good thing.

 

 

Marriage Compatibility

Another fairytale engagement story (http://princess-galleries.blogspot.com)

I remember sitting in sacrament one morning in our college branch. Our branch president was in the middle of a tearful rant on the topic of young couples choosing to marry outside of the temple. Could we, the future of generation of the church, aim our lives down a more fretful path than one beginning with a secular union? The branch president paraded around the requisite statistic of low temple sealing cancellations, which, as we were all to infer, is a selling point for couples looking for something a little extra beyond being married “for time.” At least two engaged couples in the audience who had met, dated, and gotten engaged in the space of a summer break snuggled a little closer. I realized in that moment how patently ridiculous this president’s advice was, and just how ill-prepared young adults are after flying through high school institute and the dating curriculum of the single’s ward.

In the spirit of disclosure, I haven’t been married all that long – just two years. And I know it’s somewhat obnoxious for newlyweds to mete out advice. However, I’ve been around couples married for years and years and years, and it seems to me that there are a few more items necessary for a successful marriage than commonality in religious orientation. These are little items that don’t seem to make it into your top 10 wish list for a mate. Nonetheless, it’s my humble, newlywed-ish opinion that these items can do quite a bit to smooth the rough passages of marriage. The best part is these characteristics cross religious boundaries, so all of you newly minted agnostic or atheists can continue reading!

1. Cleanliness. I’m not talking hygiene, although I suppose the agreement of a showering schedule is a basic necessity among couples. I’m referring to housekeeping habits. Are you a messy person? Neat freak? My wife and I lucked out with this one. We’re of the variety of couples with a fairly clean living room but horrendously crammed and unorganized closet and drawers. Sure, dishes are washed regularly and toilets are scrubbed weekly, but the aura of clean is mostly superficial. And that works great for the both of us. I’ve seen some friends with opposite spousal habits. Spouse A is Type A in personality. Spouse B is not. The tension that can arise from a neglected pair of shoes in the hallway would be laughable if it didn’t cause so many squabbles.

2. Travel habits. If you’re fortunate enough to tuck a little something away for a vacation fund, this is something that couples should talk about. I once read that couples should take a road trip with each other before they get married. I fully support this idea. If you’re a Modern Family fan, you might recall an episode where the whole gang went to Hawaii. Cam and Mitchell are a prime example of a couple with opposing travel habits. One wanted to take tour after tour of the island, while the other was content to sip drinks by the pool. I’m a huge fan of travel guide guru Rick Steves. He recommends that couples with differing vacation expectations split up for the day, just as Cam and Mitchell did in the Modern Family episode. My wife remembers her own family vacations growing up. My mother-in-law kept a strict itinerary, and adopted the tone of a drill-Sergeant when they threatened to stray just one half hour off schedule. There was never a moment left unplanned, never a lunch left to chance. She spent hours and hours months and months before vacations researching the smallest details, reviewing and pricing all the local restaurants. (Imagine the horror when the Internet came along, allowing her mom to take vacation planning to a militant level.) According to my wife, her dad always looked like he needed another day off to recover at the end of each vacation.

3. Sleeping schedules. One of our best friend couples has a severe problem with time zones. He is a self-described insomniac who leaves all his med school work for 2 or 3 a.m. She’s no early bird, but she’s in bed by 10:30. The grief that this disparity causes is always, always palpable. They spend almost no evening time together since med school keeps him on crazy rotations. And the hours when they are home at the same time are usually spent with one person sleeping and one person studying. My wife and I are Those People who love getting up early. Saturdays are for early Farmer’s Market trolling, and Sundays are for glorious and lazy mornings at our favorite coffee shop. We’re the type of people who would start our work days at 6:00 a.m. if it meant getting off work by 3. Another couple my wife and I know well both like to stay up late, but one spouse is up and tackling chores by 7:00 a.m., while another likes to snooze as late as possible. This schedule disparity seems to cause quite a bit of friction and resentment.

4. Food preferences. My wife and I love vacations, but we also love food. When recounting our honeymoon to friends and family, dinner was probably the first thing we mentioned. We’re both rather adventurous when it comes to meals, and we’ll try anything once. (Word the wise: octopus is chewy. And tentacle-y.) We both went to college in the Midwest. It’s a land where 20 year olds have never set foot in anything but a steakhouse, and are proud of it. There’s nothing wrong with steak. I’m a huge fan of steak. But even as a fan of red meat, sometimes even I crave a good vegetarian dal with fresh naan. I have a good buddy who, when ordering at a Thai restaurant, said he’d only ever picked chicken fried rice. This is, of course, perfectly fine, but food preferences really should match up unless you don’t mind cooking two dinners for the rest of your life.

These characteristics are seemingly minor at first glance, but from my experience they can make a big difference in a relationship. Of course, I was taught that if a couple reads the Book of Mormon together, and prays every night, they’ll have a wonderful life™.

Oh and that statistic about the super low rate of temple marriages is blatantly false. I was taught that only a mere 7% of temple marriages end in divorce. It wasn’t until my good friend’s sister ended up divorcing her abusive husband that I understood that, according to the church, even though they were secularly divorced, they were still sealed. So don’t trust those statistics, many couples are secularly divorced, but considered temple married.

 

The Cat is Officially Out of the Bag

It has been a while since I posted, I haven’t been magnifying my calling as a blogger very well apparently. I will try to do better.

Several weeks ago in Sunday School Class, the teacher was making some interpretations about Jesus that I didn’t think were correct. The dummy that I was, raised my hand and said, “but that interpretation means that Jesus enables us to sin.” I truly wanted a discussion to come from this and try to get the teacher to think a little more about what she was saying. However what happened was that there were some audible gasps from the rest of the class and my EQ Pres who was sitting next to me said, “you are just trying to stir the pot.” Well that comment made me sort of pissed. I determined to not go to Sunday School class and just sit in the foyer at least until I can learn to shut my trap and not raise these questions.

So last Sunday, I was sitting in the foyer, playing some inane game on the iPhone when the EQ Pres. came and sat next to me. “Al”, he said, “I noticed that you haven’t attended EQ class for the last while, what is going on?” Well I opened up on him with both barrels. I said “I just don’t think that anyone wants to hear what I have to say, so I am going to stay out here until I can learn to not get so mad when dumb things are taught”. He back peddled and said that everyone wanted to hear from me, and when I reminded him of the previous incident he just said “I didn’t mean that we didn’t want to hear from you”, I said, “then put me back as an Elder’s Quorum teacher”.

He: So what is really bothering you?
Me: I don’t believe all the things that are taught in here are “true”.
He: Like what?
Me: I don’t believe in pre-Columbian horses in America. I think the BoM is a work of fiction, not written solely by JS, but in concert with Harris, but mostly Cowdry. I think that Joseph Smith did some wicked things in his life and if we really believe that God would never lead the church astray, then the mob in Carthage was doing God’s work. I believe that JS was drinking that night and that if alcohol was so evil Jesus should have turned the wine into water to teach us a lesson. That the churches current prohibitions on it are only a remnant of the temporence movement during the turn of the century, and just like giving blacks the priesthood and recanting polygamy, wasn’t divine revelation, the church was just following the rest of the world. I think that Science has confirmed through DNA testing the Land Bridge Hypothesis and the Native Americans are decedent of Asians not Hebrews. I don’t believe that there was ever an Adam and Eve, nor a Global World Wide Flood, and that the Jews didn’t build the pyramids. I had all of these and more doubts (I served in the bible belt after all, and heard it all) but when I heard about the BoA and it’s falseness, it was the final blow to my testimony in JS, and that the Church is the one and only true gospel restored to earth in the later days.

He: Wow, so what about the priesthood, you believe in that don’t you? Are you planning to bless your son?
Me: I don’t believe that for a second that if I stand up that Sunday morning and bless him to find a beautiful wife to take to the temple, and go on a mission, and all of the rest of it, and I don’t train him up to go on a mission etc, that he will go. I also believe that the opposite is true as well. I have yet to see mountains move by the priesthood, I believe that penicillin has cured more people than the priesthood, and that Thomas Monson himself couldn’t cast AIDS out of a dying man’s body. That dribbling blessed oil on heads is as useful as a magic wand (shouts out to John Larson on that one).
He: So why do you still come?
Me: Because I think that the church creates a good community, most of the people here are good people, because it is a good place to serve and be served. Because this is my tribe, I was raised Mormon and these are my people. So I plan to keep coming at least in the near-term, and take the best from Mormonism. I will be a cafeteria Mormon.
He: What do you want for your children?
Me: I want my children to be happy. I want them to know truth. If my daughter knows both sides of the story of Mormonism and still chooses to go to the temple and serve a mission and that makes her happy, then I will support her. But what I want most of all is for her to know that she doesn’t have to believe in mormonism, which was something that was never given me as I grew up. That she can leave all this behind her and that I will still love her. But what I don’t want is for her to be in a 15 year marriage with someone that thought that he had married someone that was going to help him into the celestial kingdom and then find out about the BoA, and have it crash a marriage.
He: So what do you want from the church? Do you still want to have and hold callings?
Me: Sure, as long as it isn’t missionary related, I will do most anything.

And that is where we left it. I told my wife the conversation, she wasn’t pleased. She doesn’t think that we can have friendships in the church with someone who openly doesn’t believe. I concurred that it is possible that we will be shunned, but that I didn’t think so. I also said that if they don’t allow me to bless my baby this fall, that it will probably mark the end of my active participation.

So I guess we will sit back and see what happens now. I am waiting for the phone call from the Bishop. I will keep you posted as this moves forward.

-Defiantly wearing a non-white shirt

Big Al

The Ties That Bind

It is a point of interest among Mormons to know which of the tribes of Israel they are related to. Most receive what is known as a “Patriarchal Blessing” that tells them this information and their duties in the kingdom of God. Since many of those that have received it are of British ancestry they discover that they are from the tribe of Ephraim and their duty is to proclaim the gospel of Christ and gather in the scattered tribes.

“But”, you may ask, ” what has Britian got to do with Israel?” Good question!

The above photograph is the Scottish Declaration of Independance written in 1317 to King Edward the Second. The seals on it represent King Robert the Bruce and the nobles of the day. It testifies to the origin and previous migrations of the Scottish people:

(Translation of a portion of the document)…

“We know, Most Holy Father and Lord, and from the chronicles and books of the ancients gather, that among other illustrious nations, ours, to wit the nation of the Scots, had been duistinguished by many honours; which passing from the great Scythia through the Mediterranean Sea and Pillars of Hercules, and sojourning in Spain among the most savage tribes through a long course of time, could nowhere be subjugated by any people however barbarous, and coming thence one thousand two hundred years after the outgoing of the peopleof Israel, they, by many victories and infinite toil, acquired for themselves the possessions in the West which they now hold….in their kingdom one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, no stranger intervening, have reigned”

It is surely deeply interesting to have this statement, so unimpeachably attested, that the ancestors of the Scottish people came from Greater Scythia. sojourning awhile in Spain, and settled in Scotland 1200 years after the going out of the people of Israel

Conflating Virginity with Cleanliness

The idea of virginity as it relates to Mormon thought is a misnomer, an inappropriate designation of a fabricated concept.

Defining virginity is an impossible task (as Tom once asked Zilpha on the podcast, “Is oral moral?”). And more often than not defining virginity is a sexist task as well. Only the concept of “technical virginity” has proved an effective pressure release for wholesome youth.

Within the church, virginity is used to designate cleanliness. As such the antithesis is true: non-virginity is filthiness. A young couple who has sex before marriage can’t enter the temple for one year, after the apostolic command “No unclean thing should enter the temple.” Worse still are Kimball’s infamous and oft-quoted words:

“The voice of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in unmistakable terms warns:

‘… sexual sin—the illicit sexual relations of men and women—stands, in its enormity, next to murder. The Lord has drawn no essential distinctions between fornication, adultery, and harlotry or prostitution. Each has fallen under his solemn and awful condemnation. … [Such cannot] … escape the punishments and the judgments which the Lord has declared against this sin. The day of reckoning will come just as certainly as night follows day.’”

According to the 1st Presidency, losing one’s virginity prior to marriage isn’t just filthy, it’s criminal. It’s a wanton mix of harlotry, adultery, and prostitution wrapped in one.

With all the church’s fear mongering it’s important to ask: Is sex dirty? Does losing your virginity make you a harlot (yet another female derogatory term)? Does sexual penetration make you so unclean that not even god will see you in his house?

The idea that a person, especially a woman, is only pure without sex is a social construct – and a damaging one.  It’s a concept that permeates the social fabric of the church.  It is one that causes, much like a faithful couple I know, parents to order their daughters to wear a bra when they sleep in order to maintain modesty. It’s a scheme that forbids sleepovers to ensure that the minds of youth stay clean, whatever that means. Ultimately, the concept of virginity as purity is one that stifles healthy sexual development.

There is a distinct difference between choosing to abstain from sex for personal reasons, and abstaining from sex because you don’t want to be filthy. Losing one’s virginity is a very different concept than eating a cupcake that has it’s frosting licked off by your Sunday school teacher. A post-coitus life is very much unlike a board filled with holes from the nails of sin.

 

Apologies

It was a while ago, during the senate elections actually, that I made a comment that upset a few people. The tragic shooting involving congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had just happened and I made the remark that it was too bad that the shooter hadnt gotten ahold of Harry Reid’s itinerary. When called to the carpet for making such a statement I sought to defend it by seeking to list a supposed number of crimes against the church I felt he had commited. It was my opinion that the world and the church would be better off if Harry Reid ceased to exist. I even felt empowered in making the statement since in my view many members shared my views. More

The Legacy of Prophets

The Portrait of the Prophets by Doc Christensen (docbox.org)

Throughout history God has called prophets to teach the gospel to His children. Prophets such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Elijah received the word of God directly from the Lord, and brought light to the inhabitants of earth. In today’s dark, evil, and confusing world, wouldn’t it be great to have prophets lead us? I’m writing to tell you that there is hope, that God loves us still. He does communicate with us.

Similar to prophets of old, modern prophets do all they can to bring further light and knowledge from heaven. They introduce us to new developments, removing the outdated and traditional veil from our eyes. More