Friday, January 24, 2020

Truth is Reason: Faith of a Scientist Reviewed

Disclosures: I personally know the author. He's a super nice guy and I appreciate him and am happy to know him. Also, I resigned my membership in the LDS church because I don't believe in it.

I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know John's views and thoughts, although since I had struggled to reconcile LDS theology and history for years, I felt very frustrated at times reading this. It's not John's fault, he sees the world differently from me and isn't bothered by some of the things I'm bothered by, so I don't blame him for glossing over my concerns but I did feel like the book had some holes, which it inherits from holes in Mormon theology. Not everybody sees the same holes, but I decided to write them all out. Maybe they will be discussed in the book's sequel. :)

I also want to thank John for typing some obvious things in plain English in his book. Prophets can err in doctrine for example. It is nice to read it stated without qualification. Prophets themselves, for whatever reason, don't bring up this obvious point much.

I had the thought while reading John describe his simultaneous crisis of science and crisis of faith, that maybe both of these crises come from the problem of induction and a desire for certainty. As humans, we look at patterns and expect these patterns to continue. No matter how much data we gather, there is always a possibility that the theory we have formed to explain the patterns in the data is not real. The actual underlying physical law may be different from what we imagined. Often it is more complex, but sometimes it is simpler.

Earlier in my life, I felt a lot of comfort in religion from the certainty that it gave me. LDS theology does a good job of casting itself as deductive in nature, like a mathematical proof. It gives it a very bulletproof veneer. However, in my early 30s, I realized that deductive logic still suffers from the problem of induction, since you have to establish assumptions to start the deductive logic chain. I'm not really aware of any other way to establish these first principles in theological thought, other than pointing out potential patterns in experiential data.

As a scientist myself, I was hoping to gain some more insight into how John justifies the first principles he uses to form the foundation of his belief and how he builds upon those from this book. I have always thought that this was where the biggest weaknesses in Mormon theology exist. Unfortunately, he seemed to just accept common assumptions without discussion for the theological first principles that I find the most questionable. Below are recommendations for which first principles to discuss better in the book's sequel, and why I think there are weaknesses:

1) God is communicating to us through the Spirit.

I don't have a lot to say about the assumption itself except "It's possible, but by no means proven." The issues I take with John's explanations are more with the methodologies he proposes to reveal the truth of the assumption. If John is correct, I'm not sure it makes any sense to even ask God if the LDS church is true. Let me explain.

As a scientist, before I run an experiment to test a hypothesis I have to ask myself what a confirmation or a disconfirmation would look like. Is it possible to disprove the hypothesis? What would that look like?

The problems creep in when John attempts to explain away unreliability in this spiritual communication. He introduces the standard explanations that most LDS members are familiar with, i.e. that strong emotions or desires can be mistaken for the spirit, or that the devil can convincingly impersonate the spirit.

Earlier in the book when he discusses the premortal existence, John discusses the effect that instilling beliefs on someone very early in life can have on them. Is it possible that one might feel good when praying about one's beliefs because those beliefs have been instilled since birth? I have interacted with people who were former Jehovah's Witnesses and was surprised at the anxiety and strong negative emotion they experienced when they threw a birthday party for themselves or dressed up for Halloween for the first time. A practicing Witness might argue that these negative feelings are God telling them that it is wrong to celebrate birthdays, but I think it is likely that this is just an emotional result of breaking childhood indoctrination and not a communication from God at all.

The problem is there is no rigorous interpretation of the data, and this is no mere hypothetical for me. All my life, I prayed and felt like I was just talking to myself except for one single time. In the midst of my "faith crisis" I prayed about some of the behaviors of Joseph Smith that disturbed me and I had a very strong peaceful emotional response to that prayer and felt an accompanying strong certainty that Joseph Smith was a wicked man who abused his power over women and that I should no longer seek to justify his behavior or follow him. If I'm being an honest seeker of truth, what am I to make of this result?

In the system of logic laid out in the book, the church is true and such a result isn't really possible. Except if maybe I was just emotional and was mistaking my own emotions for a communication from God (to be perfectly honest I think this is what actually happened). Or maybe Satan sent that communication. Whatever really happened, this was the strongest spiritual experience of my life, so it would be disturbing in the extreme if Satan were more responsive and a more real presence in my life than God by far, and if it was a fake emotional response, then it means that God probably hasn't ever seen fit to communicate with me in my life. Those are the possibilities that I see. The system of logic in LDS theology as elaborated in this book would be compelled to simply dismiss my entire life experience as invalid.

The big logical problem here is that since all results (both negative and positive) must be interpreted or reinterpreted to mean that the church is true, the experiment is superfluous and is a waste of time. The hypothesis cannot be falsified. If the rules of the game of Red vs. Blue are such that Red must always win, why let the game play out at all? Just declare Red the winner and go home. Let's not all sit and watch the game and pretend that Red was in danger of losing.

2) Faith is a virtue and God wants us to have it.

This one took me years to unpack after losing my faith, and I think it is because I was told for so long and from such a young age that having faith is good. "You want to be a good boy, right Heath? You need to have faith. Good worthy boys have faith." I'm sure nobody phrased it like that to me when I was young, but that is the message that came across to me and embedded itself deep in my subconscious.

Then later in life, I started becoming fascinated with cult documentaries and noticed how adept cult leaders were at using this desire to be faithful in their followers to exploit them. It started to dawn on me that faith could be good or bad, depending on what it is in. If it feels like you have faith in something bad, you might very well be right. It might not be a good idea to push ahead and have faith anyway.

It is easy to have faith that you should do something obviously good like help others in their hour of need, but what about some harder things? It is much harder to have faith that Abraham being willing to kill his son without explanation was a good thing. Did Abraham fail the test? The Old Testament portrays a God that commanded genocide (including the express command to kill the children) and approved of slavery. Is it good to have faith in that? Or should we rethink that? Joseph Smith tested John Taylor's faith by asking to marry his wife. John Taylor agreed to let him. Is that kind of faith good?

Taking this further, the men who participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre had faith in their church leaders who commanded them to kill those people after disarming them and promising them safety. Should they have had less faith in their church leaders? Wouldn't it be more moral to have faith in a morality that says these types of actions cannot be commanded by God, even if you think they are?

And why would it be bad to not have faith in the LDS church, even if it is true? Certainly there is a lot of conflict with various fields of science, DNA, archaeology, etc. and LDS doctrine (Book of Mormon, I'm looking at you right now). Establishing the truth of the teachings of the church is far from an open-and-shut case. If your honest assessment of the Book of Mormon is that it isn't historical, does it make you a bad person to not have faith in it anyway? Is being honestly mistaken about unknowable supernatural things a moral deficiency? Is God going to get mad at me if I make an honest assessment of the LDS church and come up with the answer that it is made up?

I just don't think the book established the inherent moral value of faith very well. It did attempt to separate faith in things that were true from faith in things that were false about God, but the main problem is you don't know you have faith in the wrong thing until it is disproven to you, and then a lot of times there is a church leader trying to get you to have faith in the incorrect thing anyway. Why does God want you to express belief in something in the face of uncertainty? Why does that help you be a better person?

3) Prophets can err in doctrine. 

This is an assumption that has been forced on the LDS church in more modern times due to doctrinal reversals. You can't have inerrant prophets if prophets have contradicted one another over time. One or the other has to be wrong.

For example, you have a first presidency statement from the 1940s that states that it is church doctrine that anyone of African descent was less valiant in the premortal existence, therefore they are banned from holding the priesthood. The current Gospel Topics essay on the subject (approved by the current prophet) states that this is untrue. One of them is wrong. There are other reversals. Brigham Young's teaching that Adam is God and Bruce McConkie's contradiction of that also comes to mind.

This creates problems, since current prophets are to be trusted and obeyed completely. The problem with this is that once you admit that prophets can err in doctrine, you introduce the possibility that they are erring in doctrine today. If not, you have to explain what changed between then and now that makes it so that they can't be wrong now. And if you genuinely feel that a prophet today is erring in doctrine and causing great harm to people, is it okay to say so out loud?

The typical Mormon answer would be that, no, it is not okay. The prophet has the keys and we don't have the right to "steady the ark" (another term I hate, the guy who steadied the ark was just trying to make sure it didn't fall). But is that who we've become? A people who will silence our conscience to express unity? That behavior certainly doesn't remind me of Jesus.

I have encountered many who feel that the church's lack of a place in theology for homosexual members is wrong. I personally feel that it is unjust for a family-oriented God to create gay people and expect them to live alone their whole life and just sit and wonder what is supposed to happen to them after they die. The silence of revelation on this subject is deafening. Jesus didn't address it, nor did the Book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants. What makes us think it is even a problem to be solved? The Old Testament? We already ignore most of that book. Show me a Mormon who thinks it's a sin to eat shellfish.

I think that the current church leaders have a duty to level with the membership on this subject and reveal the exact nature of the revelation they have received on this subject so that we can evaluate its strength. Do they know gay marriage is a sin the same way that the First Presidency in the 1940s knew that Africans were less valiant? Do they know that gay marriage is a sin the same way that Brigham Young knew that Adam was God the Father? What has changed that makes it so that they cannot be wrong today like they were decades ago?

These questions deserve to be met with frank answers and not mock indignation that we commoners would dare to ask about such sacred things, which is how real apostles have acted when confronted with such questions.

I'm going to make a prediction that if I live to old age, I will live to see the church make a complete reversal on gay marriage. I think that Elder Oaks knows that gay marriage is a sin in exactly the same way that George Albert Smith knew that Africans were less valiant. I mean, c'mon when they wrote the Proclamation, they didn't even think about intersex people in any way. It's like they don't even exist. It doesn't take a scientist to see that The Proclamation wasn't perfectly thought out by the all-knowing creator of the universe.

Another hidden issue with allowing prophets the room to err in doctrine is that this argument cuts both ways. Sure, it allows room to accomodate the contradictions, but it also undermines the narrative of the great apostasy, which is the only reason that the LDS church needs to exist in the first place. If we allow too much room for prophets to err in doctrine and make other moral mistakes, you start to make an excellent case for the Catholic church being the one true church.

Anyway, that book review came out being much more a rant about my views than I wanted it to (actually, no, I wrote this as therapy for myself, who am I kidding...). John, if you read this, I hope you don't take anything personally or too critically. This is more about me just venting my frustrations with Mormon theology and maybe giving you some more ideas for subjects to cover next time.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Saints: The Standard of Truth Reviewed

As a former member of the LDS church who lost his faith largely over issues in LDS history, I find it interesting to put my finger on the pulse of how they are telling their story. So, I decided to read this book.

First off, the narrative style of this history book is engaging and very readable. The personal stories are inspiring and it was nice to see that the church is becoming more comfortable talking about things that have been, well, glossed over in the past. Some might say that they were hidden. For example, we see straightforward acknowledgments that Joseph Smith smoked and drank throughout his life, or that he was aware of and approved of the actions of the Danites in Missouri. The book also contextualizes a lot of the history, albeit in a still slanted way. When I was reading LDS history books I was once told, "You wouldn't go to a Ford dealership to get good information on a Chevrolet, would you?" Well, I had to admit that I wouldn't but I also had to point out that Chevrolet dealerships aren't the best place for unbiased information on Chevrolets either. This book is a Chevrolet dealership's attempt at more candor about their own cars after having been rocked with several large and public recalls. I don't know, that's the best metaphor I can come up with.

A good example of this is the treatment of the Missouri Mormon War. We get a very detailed and moving account of the Haun's Mill Massacre. And don't get me wrong, that was a truly horrifying event; true evil in action by the men who committed those actions. But when we get to the Battle of Crooked River, we don't get an account of the capture and vicious mutilation of Samuel Tarwater by the Mormon combatants. That part gets skipped. And that's a real shame because this one-sided storytelling a really big part of what led me out of this church. This book (like the church history stories I listened to as a small child) portrays the history as a cosmic battle between God and Satan. It is a childish, black-and-white way of looking at the world. Everything is couched in that context and the real people on both sides of the conflict (with their own real hopes, fears, and dreams) get lost. Their real stories are so much more interesting and understandable when you look at them from their real points of view in a more balanced way. This history book is more balanced than any the church has ever produced, but it is not at the point where it could be considered balanced. This is the Chevrolet salesman who is trying to acknowledge some of what everyone knows about his cars because he knows it will be insulting not to.

I actually enjoyed it quite a bit for the first 2/3 of the book. I did get frustrated toward the end when the book started to hit some of my least favorite apologetics for Joseph Smith. It is clear that the church is still very uncomfortable facing some aspects of Joseph Smith's life. For example, you won't find any accounts of when Joseph became physically violent with people, when he asked for people's wives to test their loyalty, his high-pressure marriage proposals to foster daughters, when he ruined the reputations of women who refused polygamous proposals, how Joseph made his money, etc. "Some things that are true are not very useful," I guess.

According to the book, Joseph's denials of "polygamy" and "spiritual wifery" are okay because of his careful wording. Apparently, lying is acceptable as long as you carefully word your lies. I almost want to go to a temple recommend interview so I can say, "What a thing it is to be accused of drinking coffee when I can't find a mug in my hand! I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers!" Apparently, that is totally honest. Oh brother. It would be one thing if the church were making the argument that Joseph had to lie to protect people's lives (I would lie to save Anne Frank from the gas chamber, that's not a sin). But that is not the argument they are making. They are making the argument that lying through word games is not dishonest, and they sacrifice their morals to make Joseph Smith look better. It's weird. And they do it in the Nauvoo polygamy Gospel Topics essay too.

Continuing on with the bizarre Joseph Smith apologetics, at one point the book asserts that Joseph didn't have many rules governing the practice of polygamy. However, if I am not mistaken, D&C 132 has a whole bunch of really specific rules about polygamy, and this is the revelation he supposedly received in the 1830s that he referred to but only produced much later. The revelation starts out with God himself stating, "My house is a house of order" followed by all of the super-specific rules about polygamy. No, the issue isn't that Joseph lacked rules, it is that Joseph had a whole bunch of uber-specific rules and then he went out and did a whole bunch of other, different weird shit (pardon my french). And you won't find out about any of that weirdness from this book. You'll get just enough from this book so that you can think you know what's really going on, but you don't.

At another point, the book recounts a time where Joseph, Emma, and Emily Partridge are present in a situation where Emma finally decides to go along with polygamy and chooses Emily to marry Joseph. Then the book states that *Emily* decides not to tell Emma that she already married Joseph to spare Emma's feelings. I almost screamed at the book, "Emily decided?!?! We're going to blame this lie on Emily now? What about Emma's fucking lying gutless wonder of a husband?" Yeah, sorry. That part really pissed me off. Poor passive victim Joseph. He'd do the right thing if only someone would just let him. If only teenage Emily would have just set things right with all of the (much more powerful) adults in the room. Barf.

But I can see why the church is so reluctant to really go into depth on the life of Joseph Smith. In the end, I left the church because I felt compelled to choose between a Monster Mormon God that orchestrated Joseph's actions and a Monster Joseph Smith. The facts on the ground indicate that at least one of them is a monster. Dealing with a Monster Joseph Smith was more comfortable and made more sense to me in the end. It hurt when I finally realized that if I had lived near Joseph Smith in his time, I would never want my wife or daughters anywhere near him. God, he was such a hero to me when I was young.

Contrasting the whitewashing of Joseph is the treatment of William Law. I guess I get it, the church needs to see him as a top-ranking general in Satan's army, otherwise the story reflects badly on Joseph. But the fact is, if you read Willam Law's story from his point of view, his actions don't seem all that unreasonable. Law spends years defending Joseph from "vicious lies" about polygamy only to find out that they are true. I can empathize with the feeling of that betrayal and can totally see how that would lead to anger and a falling out and an attempt to set the record straight in print (complete with angry name-calling). Joseph was playing with fire having a secret class of polygamists in the church while lying by omission (and sometimes explicitly) to the rest.

When reading this book, I read about all sorts of terrible things that Law did that I had never heard about in all of my LDS history reading. So I followed the footnotes and read the accounts by some guy in the late 1800s in Utah who said he went on all of these secret missions as directed by Joseph Smith and gathered all this dirt on William Law and witnessed him doing all sorts of terrible things. I'm pretty sure I know why no other historian had brought up these "facts." It's because all of it reads like some old guy making up stories to get attention. Some old guy that nobody has ever heard of just happens to have been Joseph's best friend and went on secret missions 40 years ago and didn't tell anybody until the late 1800s... My narcissistic grandfather used to tell those kinds of stories and they were all bullshit.

Hey, but I guess it could have happened, right? I don't know for sure this old guy is lying. It sure reads like it, but I don't know for sure 100%. One thing I do know for sure is that this book would have never taken a disparaging comment about Joseph Smith as fact with flimsy evidence like this. There are two standards of evidence. If someone says something good about Joseph Smith or bad about William Law, the bar is low. The evidence is probably true. If someone says something bad about Joseph or good about William Law, the bar is high and the evidence is probably false. This is a good method to use to reinforce a childish, black-and-white view of the world, but not a good way to figure out the interesting story of what really probably happened, and certainly not a good way to figure out if you are wrong.

Overall, I'd much rather read this than "Our Heritage." It's way more interesting and balanced than that, but it still isn't anywhere near as balanced as something from a top-notch historian who is trying their best to apply consistent standards of evidence to figure out what most probably happened. If you really want to understand what went on, you need to find someone like that to read. If you want to reinforce a childish black-and-white view of the history of the LDS church but learn more than what you can get in any other book published by the church, this is the book for you.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

*Justice* vs *Mercy* in LDS Theology

So why am I writing about this? Despite not believing LDS theology anymore, I still get these itches to deconstruct my past fundamentalist worldview. Writing it out is good therapy. It's like having been raised in a religion that believes that Star Trek is real, truly believing it was real for a few decades and then suddenly realizing that it isn't. (Sorry if that sounds insulting. I can't think of a less-insulting way to describe how it feels to me.) Sometimes I just get an overwhelming desire to write out why two-dimensional space battles with sounds and lasers that travel like slow projectiles make no sense or that "plasma conduit" is an overused meaningless thought-terminating cliché. Probably nobody cares what I think about this and they probably shouldn't. But it feels good to write about all this stuff and try to unpack it anyway. It was such a big part of my life for so long and I did firmly believed it until I was 32 years old. Plus, these writings sometimes lead to interesting conversations with friends when I share my thoughts. I hope I don't offend anyone with anything I write and I'd love to discuss this stuff with anyone who can discuss ideas without taking criticism of ideas personally.

To get started, what is the *Justice* vs *Mercy* dichotomy in LDS theology? Where does it come from? Why did I put asterisks around these words? Well, *Justice* vs *Mercy* is all a part of the justification for atonement theology. It holds that *Justice* (a cosmic law of sorts) requires that any sin (even the smallest) incurs an infinite debt that the perpetrator cannot possibly pay and will be punished for permanently. The only possible way to pay the debt is to have a sinless person be an infinite sacrifice. This satisfies the infinite debt and the person who sinned then is required to do some things by Jesus (the infinite sacrifice) to take advantage of their debt being paid off. I put asterisks around the theological concepts to separate them from their regular dictionary definitions, which I will also use and hopefully it won't be too confusing because they will look different.

I probably need to stop at this point and point out some background information. The *Justice* vs *Mercy* dichotomy is a concept that won't be totally unfamiliar to some flavors of Christianity but in LDS theology they are really fleshed out in the Book of Mormon in Alma Chapter 42. Reading that is a good refresher of the LDS stance. Also, non-LDS readers should probably know that LDS theology states that God and Jesus are separate beings. LDS people believe in a non-Trinitarian godhead, so when I talk about God and Jesus as if they are entirely separate, that is because that is how I was raised and that is the theology I am discussing today.

So as a summary, LDS theology posits that even the smallest of sins forces the sinner to incur an infinite debt with God. Jesus then steps in and pays that debt to God and then renegotiates the terms of the debt with the sinner in a more merciful way. *Justice* is satisfied because the infinite payment gets made.

The problem I see is that this is a "turtles all the way down" argument. It doesn't actually explain anything. It just pushes the problem down lower in the foundation where it isn't as visible. Why does the tiniest of sins force us to incur an infinite debt with God (which seems unjust)? Not answered. If Jesus can forgive the debt after paying it, why can't God just forgive the debt in the first place? Not answered. Why is God bound by a seemingly unjust law of *Justice* that doesn't allow him to forgive debts that are owed to him? Not answered. We are left with more quenstions than when we started.

Now just because we don't understand how the *Justice* vs *Mercy* dichotomy works, doesn't mean it isn't true. It could very well be, but it seems very strange that a perfect, just, and loving God would expect us to believe something that we can't possibly understand. An "Alpha God" might do that, but not a loving God.

The thing is, justice and mercy are not laws of physics but guiding moral principles. As such they must have moral utility in order to make any moral sense.

*Justice* that condemns everyone with an infinite punishment for the smallest (and finite) infractions doesn't seem just (fair, deserved). An atonement shouldn't be necessary to make justice just and fair. It should be baked in there to start with. Again, where does *Justice* come from? How and why does it bind God? No answers.

Additionally, the concept and very existence of *Justice* seems to impair self-improvement since it can easily lead to shame, hopelessness, and perfectionism especially with certain personality types (e.g. people who suffer from scrupulosity) since it states that even the smallest infractions makes one fundamentally unacceptable to God. It also leads people to lose track of the relative importance of large moral principles like kindness and leads to Pharisaical moral codes. See this talk from ElderBednar, where he gives an example of a man who broke up with a young woman because she didn't take out a second pair of earrings when she was told to, and then to my puzzlement he states that it isn't about earrings. Apparently it is about a person's willingness to make minutiae important. I also once read a Facebook post of the BYUI president chastising people for wearing pants that show ankle on campus. But really, why not? If all unatoned infractions lead to infinite punishment, there is really not much basis to say that one sin is much worse than another. This is actually the rationale in the American justice system for not giving the death penalty admittedly very heinous crimes like rape. You don't want a rapist to conclude that there is no down side to murdering their victims after perpetrating rape (as much as we would like as harsh a punishment as possible for rapists). Increasing seriousness of crime deserves increasing seriousness of punishment. At least, that should be the goal if the punishments are to deter further crimes.

Unfortunately, the skewing of moral priorities has happened in the LDS temple recommend interview over time. There is absolutely no question asking if the person is kind to others (the second most important moral principle, according to Jesus) but questions about things like coffee and tea consumption are viewed as extremely morally important. Let me say that again because it still mystifies me; temple worthiness interviewers don't ask about kindness! This seems at odds with the overarching messages in the New Testament like those of Jesus telling people to question the religious dogma of the time and focus on kindness to people over minutiae. Do the Pharisees reign again? I think that case can be made.

Now one thing that seems interesting to me is that LDS theology seems to be mixing pecuniary(money)/civil justice and criminal/moral justice as if they were the same thing. They are not. Let's clarify things.

If I sign a contract with someone and I decide to release the other party from their obligations in the contract, there is no miscarriage of justice. I am free to do that (and so is God). Also, a scenario where someone steps in and pays a debt for someone else is perfectly just, and the person who pays the debt could do that as part of a new contract. Nothing unjust there.

However, if someone commits a moral crime against me (and it seems to make more sense to classify sins as moral crimes, not breaches of contract), we can't substitute the punishment on someone else. For example, let's say that I am out for a walk one day and a guy named Doug jumps out of a bush and gives me a savage beating and then runs off. Someone films it and Doug is convicted in court. At the sentencing, a guy named Sam who has never broken the law jumps up in court and volunteers to go to jail for Doug. If the judge were to accept that, would moral justice be satisfied with that solution?

Thomas Paine says it better than I ever could in The Age of Reason
"If I owe a person money, and cannot pay him, and he threatens to put me in prison, another person can take the debt upon himself, and pay it for me. But if I have committed a crime, every circumstance of the case is changed. Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself. It is then no longer justice. It is indiscriminate revenge."
The LDS church taught me when I was young that the Holy Ghost would confirm truths to me, probably through my feelings. The Holy Ghost has utterly failed to confirm the truth of *Justice* vs *Mercy* to me after decades of opportunity but this does not mean that I haven't felt confirmatory feelings of peace with respect to justice and mercy.

When reading Les Miserables, I felt deep in my soul that many times justice and mercy are one and the same; that they are not non-overlapping circles on a Venn diagram.

Recently I read A Monster Calls, a book about a young boy named Connor dealing with the fear of his mother's impending death. Under these difficult circumstances, he acts out by beating up a schoolyard bully and by breaking some of his grandmother's possessions. In each instance he is surprised that no one wants to punish him. In each case, when he asks them why they aren't going to punish him, the person in authority asks him, "What could possibly be the point?" I felt the truth of that deep in my bones.

And that is my main sticking point with respect to *Justice* in LDS theology. What could possibly be the point of small finite infractions incurring an infinite debt with God? *Justice* creates the (unjust) problem, requiring a theological Rube Goldberg machine to fix it. Without *Justice*, there is no problem. God is painted as the ultimate bureaucrat or a slave to some ultimate bureaucracy. *Justice* makes no sense and explains nothing.

It would make much more sense for a loving God to simply forgive what warrants forgiving and mete out punishments that are proportional to the crime with the purpose of teaching. After all, a Father/Mother's love for a child is the only metaphor I can use to understand a deity's love for mankind, and that is how I would treat my children. Am I better than God?


Post Script: A Trinitarian view of God actually makes this problem seem much smaller than the non-Trinitarian view of God in LDS theology. In the Trinitarian view, God and Jesus are somewhat the same entity so you have God sacrificing himself to make things right. Some (but not all) of the problems disappear.

Interestingly, if you look at the historical record in the early LDS church the theology seems to have started out as Trinitarian and then morphed into the theology of "three separate beings." For more information, see the Lectures on Faith, the original Book of Mormon text that refers to Mary as "The Mother of God" (later edited to say "The Mother of the Son of God") and the lack of any written references to "three separate beings" theology in any sources in the first few years of the LDS church. I think that is the background that makes the multiple versions of the first vision disturbing to the faith of some people. However, I think that Alma 42 was written with a Trinitarian view of the Godhead in mind, so it probably didn't originally have as much baggage as it came to have later, as the theology evolved.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

"Milk Before Meat" and Honesty

Is Honesty Important?

One of my biggest concerns when I started studying the history of the LDS church, which I was raised in, was the lack of honesty shown by leaders at times. This comes into particular focus with the events surrounding polygamy. Quite simply, leaders who were sustained as prophets practiced polygamy in secret and lied about it from the pulpit, particularly around the times of the start end end of LDS polygamy (see my earlier blog post for more information and D. Michael Quinn's paper). For me, that has some really disturbing implications. Once the precedent that a prophet can lie about church doctrine has been established, trust is gone. How can anyone assure me that Thomas S. Monson or Dallin H. Oaks aren't today going around secretly marrying teen girls? I don't think they are, but it would not be outside of established precedent for them to be doing something like that today and lying about it in public. How could I possibly trust prophets who have demonstrated their willingness to lie when it is convenient for them (or for God, if you want to push the responsibility to God)?

Some have told me that I shouldn't be bothered by this, but I am only bothered by it because of the strong emphasis placed on honesty in my upbringing, which was reinforced by very clear teachings of this same church.  For example, here are some excerpts from the Gospel Principles manual (a lesson book of "the basics" of the religion) lesson on honesty:
Complete honesty is necessary for our salvation. President Brigham Young said, "If we accept salvation on the terms it is offered to us, we have got to be honest in every thought, in our reflections, in our meditations, in our private circles, in our deals, in our declarations, and in every act of our lives" (Irony alert! Brigham Young was one of the polygamy insiders in the early church who was aware of and participated in the deception.)
God is honest and just in all things (see Alma 7:20). We too must be honest in all things to become like Him.
Lying is intentionally deceiving others. Bearing false witness is one form of lying. The Lord gave this commandment to the children of Israel: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour" (Exodus 20:16). Jesus also taught this when He was on earth (see Matthew 19:18). There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest. 
The Lord is not pleased with such dishonesty, and we will have to account for our lies. Satan would have us believe it is all right to lie. He says, "Yea, lie a little; . there is no harm in this" (2 Nephi 28:8). Satan encourages us to justify our lies to ourselves. Honest people will recognize Satan's temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.
People use many excuses for being dishonest. People lie to protect themselves and to have others think well of them. Some excuse themselves for stealing, thinking they deserve what they took, intend to return it, or need it more than the owner. Some cheat to get better grades in school or because "everyone else does it" or to get even. 
These excuses and many more are given as reasons for dishonesty. To the Lord, there are no acceptable reasons. When we excuse ourselves, we cheat ourselves and the Spirit of God ceases to be with us. We become more and more unrighteous.
These are pretty clear stances on honesty, right? Not a lot of room for loopholes or exceptions. Here is some more from a talk given by Apostle Marvin J. Ashton:
Not often do students remember for 24 hours very many words taught by their teachers. Yet 50 years later some former students recall with lasting appreciation the words one teacher had her class repeat at the beginning of each day. Every school morning this rather unpretentious, plain, wise lady implanted the meaning of honesty into our minds by having us recite "A lie is any communication given to another with the intent to deceive." 
When I compare this definition with that found in the dictionary, which states, "A lie is an untrue statement made with the intent of deceiving," I greatly appreciate her definition. A lie can be effectively communicated without words ever being spoken. Sometimes a nod of the head or silence can deceive. Recommending a questionable business investment, making a false entry in a ledger, devious use of flattery, or failure to divulge all pertinent facts are a few other ways to communicate the lie. 
After having us go through this daily ritual, this wonderful lady, who never married but who had such a motherly influence over many of us, would teach with few words the importance of communicating truth under all circumstances. Often she simply said, "Don't tell lies. Don't share lies. Don't participate in lies." 
How serious is lying? We have a clue when we read all through the scriptures that Satan is the father of lies. His method of teaching this evil practice is illustrated in the tenth section of the Doctrine and Covenants: "Yea, he [Satan] saith unto them: Deceive and lie . ; behold, this is no harm. And thus he . telleth them that it is no sin to lie. . And thus he . causeth them to catch themselves in their own snare." (D&C 10:25-26.)
Again, this is pretty clear teaching. Don't lie. Ever. It is always wrong. So what am I supposed to make of lies uttered by self-proclaimed prophets about church doctrine (such as polygamy) from the pulpit? Where did these men get the idea that is was okay to lie about church doctrines?

Milk Before Meat or Bait and Switch?

Joseph Smith himself sometimes used the "Milk Before Meat" justification when dealing with polygamy-related deception. Basically, the rationale is that we don't talk about something that someone isn't ready to hear. It is okay to practice selective disclosure and void someone's right to informed consent if that person isn't "ready" for the information yet. The use of this rationale is a tacit acknowledgement that the person using it knows that the information in question would be disturbing in some way to the person receiving it and that it should therefore be hidden. Where does this justification come from and can it be reconciled with the definitions of honesty above?

"Milk Before Meat" comes from Jesus himself in Doctrine and Covenants Section 19 (A revelation to Joseph Smith from Jesus). The main purpose of this revelation is to tell Martin Harris to pay to get the Book of Mormon published, but there is a very interesting little tangent that Jesus goes off on about the true meanings of the terms "endless torment" and "eternal damnation." This starts in verses 6-12:
 6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.
 7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name's glory.
 8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.
 9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.
 10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore-
 11 Eternal punishment is God's punishment.
 12 Endless punishment is God's punishment.
Basically, Jesus is letting Martin and Joseph in on the secret that the words "Endless" and "Eternal" don't mean what everybody thinks they mean, but this is okay "that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name's glory." In other words, it is okay that everyone has a false impression of what these words mean, because it will end up having a desirable result. The ends justify the means. It seems that Jesus is advocating that complete honesty can be sacrificed if the results are desirable.  Later in the section, Jesus commands them not to teach what they have learned:
21 And I command you that you preach naught but repentance, and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me.
 22 For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish.
And there is the genesis of "milk before meat." Jesus is okay with this type of deception, after all these are Jesus's own words.

Is Lying Okay?

Now I don't believe any of this. I'm jumping into a world that I consider fictional just for the sake of argument. I believe that Joseph made all of this up so that he could get Martin Harris to bankroll the printing of a book. There are lots of reasons that I came to this conclusion but the biggest is that I can't turn myself into the huge moral pretzel that I would have to be to make this all work out. There are too many moral contradictions here. Does God expect perfect honesty or not? It really shouldn't be hard to come up with a simple answer on that.

My own views on honesty have changed a bit since I started taking more responsibility for my own moral reasoning. I used to view life through the lens of rules-based moral reasoning. In rules-based moral reasoning, you have a list of rules and you try to live your life without breaking any of them. Sometimes, this proves impossible as sometimes a situation arises where you can't keep all of the rules at once. Now the rule has been broken and if you are like me and you want to keep all the rules, you feel bad because you screwed up (even if it wasn't possible to keep all the rules at once). 

I finally read a children's book by an evil atheist named Dan Barker where he explained principles-based moral reasoning. You decide what your moral principles are and how important they are relative to one another. Then each time a situation is before you that demands a moral choice, you can evaluate the possible choices against your moral principles (taking into account the relative importance of each of your principles). The example he gave in the book was of a sick and suffering pet dog that has no chance of recovery. One might have a moral principle that says not to kill animals, but also have a competing moral principle to prevent suffering whenever possible. A person might reasonably conclude that the right action in this case is to have the dog put to sleep even though that is against one of their moral principles.

I think many faithful Mormons would argue that Mormonism advocates principles-based moral reasoning. I would both agree and disagree. I don't think that LDS leaders think it all the way through a lot of the time and speak out of both sides of their mouth. You can probably find ample support for either position. Many church lessons on honesty should be much less absolute. They should include discussion of when it might be appropriate to lie (like to save Anne Frank from the gas chamber or something), but they frequently don't do that. They just say: "Never lie." The lesson cited at the beginning of this post reads like it is advocating for rules-based moral reasoning, and this is the lesson manual that is meant to teach the basics of the faith. If there is a time to get moral reasoning clear and correct, it is in that manual.

Now it is possible that Joseph and others lied about polygamy from the pulpit because they felt they had some higher moral principle in mind when they lied. Unfortunately the only obvious candidates to me are to gain more converts (dishonestly by fraud, basically) or to save their own collective asses from the consequences of their actions, neither of which strikes me as a particularly noble moral principle to be prioritizing above honesty.

As I contemplate all of this, the words of Thomas Paine come to mind. Paine had difficulty believing in the Old Testament due to what he viewed as moral inconsistencies in the behavior of God. He stated:
Speaking for myself, if I had no other evidence that the Bible is fabulous than the sacrifice I must make to believe it to be true, that alone would be sufficient to determine my choice.
I feel very similarly with Mormonism. The logical inconsistencies are hard to swallow but the moral inconsistencies are impossible, and that alone is sufficient to determine my choice. I don't even have to go as far as to be bothered by lack of Book of Mormon archaeology or Native American DNA studies or any of that. If God or Jesus can't bother to tell me the truth then why should I bother with God or Jesus?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Self-Weeding Garden

I once read an article that talked about a concept that the author of the article called a "self-weeding garden." Now, I think that term has been used to mean different things in a lot of contexts so I'll just state that the author of the article used it to mean a social system that makes itself hospitable for the types of people it is looking to attract and inhospitable for the types of people it is not. The "weeds" will then remove themselves rather than cause problems in the garden.

I just got to thinking about that again after reading an essay talking about apostates in belief systems that had an interesting paragraph:
Yet another frequently employed tactic is used when a believer does come into contact with an apostate, despite the careful shielding that most traditions erect. This strategy seeks to reduce the believer’s dissonance by assuming that the apostate fell away due to some unacknowledged sin, or some other flaw on the part of the former adherent. It is extremely important, for the believer’s state of mind, that the blame for the apostasy must fall squarely on the shoulders of the apostate himself. It is quite literally unthinkable that the fault could lie with the system itself. This line of reasoning must be avoided at all costs.
I've had the pleasure of seeing this one from both sides. Five or six years ago I would have absolutely agreed that the only way a believer could leave my faith *was* because they were deficient in some way and brought it upon them self. I probably parroted these types of thoughts. Now I'm on the other side. Ain't Karma great...

What dawned on me when I read that paragraph is that this attitude by the faithful is a large part of what makes the system a self-weeding garden. It really hurts when your beliefs don't match the group and you repeatedly listen to leaders of the group insinuate that you are a bad person for not believing like they do, and it is orders of magnitude more awful when those you love and respect throw these jabs at you. It makes you want to just walk away and never look back. Only that is many times not possible due to family situations.

Recently, I just read another article that repeats this pattern at the Deseret News, Mormons with doubts shouldn't give up faith without 'intellectual and spiritual kicking and screaming'. It is pretty standard fare for denigrating those who leave the fold (and trying to convince people not to be those "bad people" by leaving). They just didn't try hard enough or don't have the virtues of people who stay. Honestly, I don't know what to say about it. I feels like a hit job on me and makes me feel terrible and unwanted. It is very hard to maintain even a limited relationship with a church that has such an uncharitable view of me. In my view I was simply honest with myself about what I believed and felt, and acted accordingly and with integrity. Yet I am deficient. I am deficient because I can't manage to muster faith in things that frankly make me sick (e.g. many of the circumstances of early LDS polygamy) or things that in my view just plain contradict reality (Facsimile 3, I'm looking at you).

But if you think about it, shouldn't the burden of explaining why such faith is a virtue be on the person asking me to have faith? I've not heard a single explanation on that subject that made any bit of sense to me.

Allow me to elaborate on the problem as I see it. *IF* having faith in something that is difficult to believe is a virtue (as I consider many of Joseph's actions to be difficult to believe, or any number of things in the LDS belief system), wouldn't faith that is *more* difficult to believe be *more* of a virtue? If it is virtuous to have faith that Joseph's questionable polygamous activities with teen girls and other men's wives was from God, wouldn't it be *more* virtuous to believe that Warren Jeffs' even more questionable activities are from God? If blind faith (faith where God refuses to explain himself) is good, the more the better, right? Apparently, in this type of system, God has little interest in us developing our own moral or logical faculties, he just wants us to use those of the church leaders. This is a very honest problem to me. Yet *I* am the one who is morally deficient for asking these questions and not believing despite what I consider to be very obvious huge red flags. This is all turned around, upside down, and inside out. The burden of making the case for faith lies with God or his leaders or whomever, not with me to refute, and no such case has been made in any sort of compelling way.

Back to the subject of the self-weeding garden, this type of article simply makes me want to get away, to leave this kind of toxic "love" behind. I see a lot of good in the LDS social system, but it is articles like these (and the lessons, and the comments, etc. etc.) that make me wonder if even my very limited level of participation is a net positive in my life. One thing is for sure, it doesn't make me want to participate more than I already do, and that may be a feature of the system (intentional or not), not a bug.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Atonement: Why Can't God Just Forgive?

From my earliest memories as a small child, I have heard countless stories and personal testimonials of how much comfort people gain from "the atonement." I've found it difficult to find similar comfort and assurance myself, mostly due to lingering questions and issues that I have never been able to resolve and will detail here, but it is undeniable that this is an extremely powerful idea to a lot of my good friends. Anyway, I am going to untangle my thoughts on atonement theology and hopefully it will be of interest and/or help to others who don't fit the mold like me, or anyone else who wants to read a differing view.

What is the Atonement?

Since I grew up Mormon, my view of atonement theology will be forever centered from that perspective, so maybe it would be helpful to distill the basics of Mormon atonement theology. My summary will mirror Chapter 12 of the LDS Gospel Principles manual.

First, God created mankind. Then there was a fall which was a result of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. This fall caused death to come into the world. Mormons talk of two types of death that result from the fall, physical and spiritual. Physical death is exactly what it sounds like. Spiritual death means that mankind has to be forever separated from God.

The only way that this crappy situation could be fixed is if someone who was perfect and was sired by God himself (Jesus) came along and fixed it for us. (Aside: In Mormon theology, Jesus and God are entirely separate people which is a notable difference from other Christians.) Jesus makes a sacrifice during which time he suffers every bad thing that has ever happened to anyone who ever lived and who will ever live all at once. In Mormon theology, this happens in the garden when he prays, not on the cross.

After Jesus accomplishes this, he gains the power to solve the problems introduced with the fall. He extends the power to be resurrected at some future point to everyone who ever lived and who will ever will live. He does this for free basically. Everyone who ever lived will get this gift. He also makes it so that whoever has faith in him and does what he wants them to will be able to live with God again. Faith in Jesus is of the utmost importance, though. You skip that, you get nothing to fix spiritual death. Being a kind and generous person by itself won't get you there. Jesus also has a lot of boxes that need to be checked off in church for this to work for you, and the only church that can get those boxes checked for you is the Mormon church.

I imagine that other Christian churches vary somewhat in the details here but nearly all will have reasons that they have the means to check off all of the correct boxes to make this atonement effective and make it so that we can be reconciled with God.

Now, I want to expound on one point above; the part where Jesus suffers everything that anyone has ever suffered or will ever suffer all at once. This is a very powerful idea for a lot of people, the idea that there is a being out there who loves them perfectly and who perfectly empathizes with all of their suffering. I have had a lot of difficulty tapping into this comfort. I have always been bothered by the fact that what I viewed as pointless suffering on my part had to be foisted on Jesus as well. It seemed like an unjust system that required the doubling all of the total suffering in the universe. We are told that it has to be that way and the only possible answer to the question "Why?" is "We'll find out after we die." It turns out that a great number of basic and fundamental questions have to be answered that way. But it is undeniable that a great many good people gain a great deal of comfort from knowing that Jesus experienced all of the suffering that they have ever felt and then some.

Some Basic Problems and Questions

So what are my problems and/or seemingly unanswerable questions with respect to the atonement?

First, I don't feel fallen. The idea just doesn't feel right to me. I'm trying my best to be good person and I think that alone makes me a good person. I am "enough" just as I am. I didn't make a decision eat any fruit, so God needs to take this up with Adam and Eve if it creates issues for him.

Second, I don't find any of this logical or obvious. It is a tangled spaghetti, logically speaking, full of non-sequitur and begging the question. I'll elaborate more below. Furthermore, I feel alienated from everyone around me at church because they all act like it is obvious. It is a very lonely feeling to have questions that no one around you seems to have.

Third, I feel disturbed by the image of God that this paints. This is a God who cannot consider me acceptable until someone pays him an infinite amount of money, a God who can't forgive me for anything I do until blood is shed, a God who doesn't seem very loving. In fact under this model, God doesn't seem to stack up very well against many men I know in real life as far as ability to forgive goes. What makes it so that God cannot forgive us without an atonement? I guess we'll find out after we die?

Fourth, the primacy of faith seems out of order. Why is it seemingly more important that I believe that Jesus did all of these specific things 2000+ years ago than it is to be kind to our fellow man? Maybe it isn't, but the message I got loud growing up Mormon is that kindness counts for very little without faith in Jesus and the church.

The Packer Parable

Boyd K. Packer, an LDS Apostle, related a parable to teach about the atonement in 1977. In fact, the lesson linked above is mostly that parable quoted, and it illustrates the dominant Mormon view of the atonement quite well. The short version is that a man takes out a loan and is careless in repaying it. One day, it comes due and the lender threatens to have him imprisoned. Along comes a third party who pays the debt and makes newer, more favorable terms with the man. I suppose the first man represents God the Father and the second, Jesus.

From this story comes the "mercy vs. justice" idea that is common in Mormon atonement theology. "Mercy cannot rob justice" is stated frequently in church. If Jesus comes along a pays the debt, he can redraw the terms of the loan as he sees fit but God cannot because he is on the side of "justice." I've always had a big problem with this explanation. It seems like a false dichotomy and it doesn't really solve the problem. It also paints God as incapable of mercy.

One of my favorite books is Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. The main point that the book makes (and quite well) is that mercy and justice often go hand in hand. Mercy is often justice and justice is often mercy. I do not consider "mercy cannot rob justice" to be an obvious conclusion. It does not make sense to me. The Mormon argument in favor of "mercy cannot rob justice" will invariably come down to begging the question.

But let's just assume for the sake of argument that "mercy cannot rob justice." If that is true, why is extending mercy robbing justice if God does it but not if Jesus does it? We have simply pushed the problem to another individual. And on the other side of the coin, why can't God just decide to rewrite the terms of the loan? It is God's loan for crying out loud, is it not? Why does the loan need to be repaid and then forgiven by someone else? Why the middleman? It is unclear why, but it does appear from this parable that God is indeed incapable of forgiveness.

Let me make a quick digression here. I can't describe how effective this type of story has been in making me feel alienated from God. Throughout my church life, God has been the ultimate Alpha personality. He demands that I do things that I dislike just to see if I will do it. He gives me explanations that do not make sense, just to see if I will take them on faith and believe them anyway. He doesn't forgive, doesn't see me as acceptable, and he hits me because he loves me. Jesus, his son, loves me with a perfect love but has a nearly endless checklist of things I have to complete before he will make me acceptable to God.

Thomas Paine Refutes the Debt Model of Atonement

But let's get back to the Packer Parable or what I'll call the debt model of Atonement (really, atonement theology is very complex with lots of views and I'm not even close to doing them justice, just covering what I learned in my youth and why it doesn't work for me). Thomas Paine puts voice to things that bothered me on a subconscious level all my life:
Since, then no external evidence can, at this long distance of time, be produced to prove whether the Church fabricated the doctrines called redemption or not (for such evidence, whether for or against, would be subject to the same suspicion of being fabricated), the case can only be referred to the internal evidence which the thing carries within itself; and this affords a very strong presumption of its being a fabrication. For the internal evidence is that the theory or doctrine of redemption has for its base an idea of pecuniary Justice, and not that of moral Justice. 
If I owe a person money, and cannot pay him, and he threatens to put me in prison, another person can take the debt upon himself, and pay it for me; but if I have committed a crime, every circumstance of the case is changed; moral Justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty, even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose Justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself; it is then no longer Justice, it is indiscriminate revenge. (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason)
The first time I read this I was finally able to put a voice to what bothered me about the "mercy cannot rob justice" line of thinking. It was the fact that "justice" wasn't moral justice at all. It was indiscriminate revenge masquerading as moral justice. Mormon theology makes an attempt at equating pecuniary justice and moral justice, but Paine astutely points out that they are not the same thing at all.

How Does it Compare to Alternative Views?

Mormons place a great importance on being led by "the Spirit." From a young age I was conditioned that God would use the Holy Ghost to confirm to me (through my feelings) that the things I was taught were true. I never received such a confirmation with respect to "mercy cannot rob justice" atonement theology. However, I *have* had such peaceful and positive emotional experiences from other alternate points of view. Here is an example of one from a fictional preacher:
I says, 'Maybe it ain't a sin. Maybe it's just the way folks is. Maybe we been whippin' the hell out of ourselves for nothin'.' An' I thought how some sisters took to beatin' theirselves with a three-foot shag of bobwire. An' I thought how maybe they liked to hurt themselves, an' maybe I liked to hurt myself. Well, I was layin' under a tree when I figured that out, and I went to sleep. And it come night, and' it was dark when I come to. They was a coyote squawkin' near by. Before I knowed it, I was sayin' out loud, 'The hell with it! There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do. It's all part of the same thing. And some of the things folks do is nice, and some ain't nice, but that's as far as any man got a right to say.' I says, 'What's this call, this sperit?' An' I says, 'It's love. I love people so much I'm fit to bust, sometimes.' An' I says, 'Don't you love Jesus?' Well, I thought and' thought, and ' finally I says, 'No, I don't know nobody name' Jesus, I know a bunch of stories, bit I only love people, An' sometimes I love 'em fit to bust, an' I want to make 'em happy, so I been preachin' somepin I thought would make 'em happy.' An' then-I been talkin' a hell of a lot. Maybe you wonder about me using bad words. Well, they ain't bad to me no more. They're jus' words folks use, and' they don't mean nothing bad with 'em. Anyways, I'll tell you one more thing I thought out; an' from a preacher it's the most unreligious thing, and I can't be a preacher no more because I thought it an' I believe it. I figgered about the Holy Sperit and the Jesus road, I figgered, 'Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,' I figgered, 'maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit-the human sperit-the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one bit soul ever'body's a part of.' Now I sat there thinkin' it, an' all of a suddent-I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it. (Casy's monologue from The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck)
I simply just can't find a good reason to believe what I was taught as a child over what fictional Rev. Casy teaches above.

Mormon atonement theology strikes at the heart of why I find the entire LDS church experience to be deeply unfulfilling, anxiety-inducing, and depressing. The thing I hunger for most is the thing most consistently denied to me: acceptance. Disapproval reigns supreme, and it is baked into the most fundamental levels of the theology. Never in this lifetime will I be told that I am basically good, unless of course I am one of the lucky few Mormons to receive my Second Anointing ceremony (but that's a subject for a whole 'nuther blog post).

This is my experience. I know that the experience of others will differ and I acknowledge that your emotional reality in the LDS church may not bear any resemblance whatsoever to my own.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Church Doesn't Hide its History

"...but the church doesn't hide its history. You could have studied this any time you wanted to."

I don't know how many times someone has told me this when I share with them how betrayed I felt when I started studying LDS church history in detail. Besides being a very dismissive comment, it is just not true. The church has carefully crafted its historical narrative. They spend every year out of four in Sunday School discussing church history. It is just that a small subset of the historical knowledge base is emphasized. Is that the same as hiding history? I think so but that is debatable.

But what is not debatable is what I just pulled up on The church has been making more and more historical documents available, such as Joseph F. Smith's journals. Good for them for doing this.

But check out these couple of pages (view images 10 and 11 here):

What's with the big black blocks?!?!?!?!? 

Well, it turns out that we know roughly what is in that section because a few people have seen it and one of them, D. Michael Quinn, actually transcribed it and that transcript actually resides in his notes today and is publicly known. Basically, the entry makes reference to the fact that in the Council of Fifty meetings in Nauvoo, everyone swore to be subject to a death penalty if they revealed what went on in the meetings. Unflattering stuff for sure, but not as unflattering in my opinion as being caught hiding stuff like this. That is very unbecoming behavior for an organization that claims to have more truth than any other on the earth. This is exactly the kind of behavior that showed me that I cannot trust the church to level with me.

And please, if you are one of those people going around gaslighting those of us who have lost trust in the institution of the LDS church, telling us that the church has always been open with its history, please please stop. Stop right now.

The church is surely getting better at this but it has a ways to go. The Council of Fifty meeting minutes are scheduled to be released next month. But the fact is that they have been hidden up to and past the point of this writing on 8/12/16.

Hopefully they will remove these (and any other) black blocks out of the LDS historical documents that they have published soon.