Monday, October 27, 2014


I have decided to continue my textual analysis of the Book of Mormon on a new site which offers better cataloging capabilities of the chapter-by-chapter format I am using. You will find it by clicking on this link or by following the tab at the top of the page "Textual Analysis of the BoM". I may still post the occasional chapter analysis here, but I don't want it to get too cluttered on this site with those posts. At any rate, enjoy!

1 Nephi 8: "The Tree of Awesome-Possum"

This chapter continues the theme that Lehi's dreams are visions from god. Furthermore, Lehi uses the phrase "I have reason to suppose" that X will happen in the future. And what "reason" does he offer for knowing future events? Why, it was revealed in his dream, of course. This is just one more example of the Book of Mormon lending substantial weight to one's seemingly prophetic dreams, without once offering a way to verify the veracity of the claim aside from the similarly tenuous proposition that god answers prayers in what appears to be the same way he inspires dreams. To me, this is not a good reason. 
The bulk of the chapter spells out the dream itself. There is a slue of symbols and characters and analogies, which Lehi uses (for no reason, apparent or otherwise) to extrapolate and predict future events. One of the grandest claims in this dream is the very thesis of the Book of Mormon, which is that his son Nephi's genealogical line will be righteous and saved from damnation, while his son Laman's line will not be saved due to wickedness.

Before we get into the specifics of the dream itself, it should be noted that within Mormon culture it is proposed that a sufficiently righteous person can be allowed to witness Lehi's dream. I was taught this while on my mission and other missionaries claimed to know people who had experienced this phenomenon. Such an occurrence is seen as a mark of true discipleship and favor in the eyes of god. 

It should also be noted that Joseph Smith's father claimed to have seen a vision quite similar to Lehi's. However, this happened during Joseph's youth--years before the Book of Mormon came to fruition. Now this coincidence does not necessarily mean that Joseph wrote this into the Book of Mormon (as opposed to the view that an angel gave him the book and he translated it through a divine process (i.e. looking at a stone in a hat)), but it certainly offers a possible natural explanation for this section of the book. And if it were shown that there are natural explanations for other parts of the book, why would anyone jump to the supernatural explanation of the book's origin? Natural explanations are always more plausible than unsubstantiated supernatural explanations. 

In the vision Lehi sees a tree with fruit which is "desirable to make one happy" (whatever that means). Lehi is led by a man in a white robe to the tree and eats the fruit, which he describes as being "most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen." Quite the sell. And it should be since it represents heaven or god's glory or whatever. 

After seeing how awesome-possum the fruit is, Lehi tries to find his family so that they too can taste of its awesomeness. As you might have guessed, Lehi first finds Nephi, Sam, and their mother, Sariah. He calls to them; they come and eat the awesome fruit; everything is awesome. 

Lehi tries to find his less obedient sons, Laman and Lemuel, but despite his pleas for them to eat some awesome fruit, they do not. It is not specified what happens to Laman and Lemuel, but there are lots of other people in the dream who do not eat of the awesome fruit and various heinous things happen to them, implying that something similarly heinous happens to Laman and Lemuel for not following their father's advice to eat the awesome fruit.

Some people who do not follow the "iron rod" (i.e. the gospel) to Lehi and the tree of awesome fruit fall into a river and drown (nice...), while others wander endlessly in an open field with mist and "forbidden paths". Others fondle their way to a great and spacious building floating in the air with lots of sarcastic people in nice clothes who scoff at any one who eats the awesome fruit. This shames some who have eaten the fruit of awesomeness and they wander off to the misty fields (hmmm, maybe the fruit of awesomeness isn't as awesome and desirable to make one happy as first reported by Lehi...). 

In the end, the analogy is fairly straightforward and a bit predictable as it is read. Heaven is better than hell. Obedience is better than defiance. Fruit is more awesomer than... vegetables? Ok maybe it isn't that obvious. But vague and ambiguous statements are common in prophecies. After all, if a prediction falls short it is easier to avoid accountability if it is sufficiently wishy-washy. Then again, we are talking about a prophecy concerning characters in a book, so there isn't much accountability to begin with. 

Lehi rounds out the chapter with yet another admonition to his rebellious and doubting sons, Laman and Lemuel. He tells them to follow god's commandments and makes a few unspecified prophecies. As with all the previous chapters containing extraordinary claims and prophecies with deadly consequences, no reliable method of verification is offered. It is expected that readers, just as Nephi, take everything Lehi says at face value for fear of damnation.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Part 3 of my textual analysis of the Book of Mormon.

1 Nephi Chapter 5: "Any Given Sunday"

The saga of Nephi and his family continues as the four brothers return from Jerusalem to their father Lehi's tent in the wilderness with the brass plates and Laban's servant (and their "willing" hostage), Zoram. Just before their triumphant return, however, their mother, Sariah, complains to Lehi in much the same way Laman and Lemuel did:

"[Sariah] also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness."

As Laman and Lemuel were chastised by an angel and saw that their father was inspired of god (albeit through dreams, which Lehi asserts to his wife without any justification or means of verification), Sariah predictably also has a change of heart upon seeing her boys come home (in the wilderness). She asserts:

"Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them."

And hindsight is 20/20. 

This reminds me of instances I have heard believers relate about god doing some miraculous thing for them. Whenever something goes their way it is attributed to god's goodness. If the opposite occurs, well, it must be a test from god (or Satan, depending on who you ask). They will even use the phrase used here "I know of a surety" as if their certitude proves veracity, rarely even attempting to offer a sound reason for how they "know" whatever they are claiming. Such bold affirmations and unjustified claims to knowledge can be heard over the pulpits of practically every Mormon church every single Sunday. 

To me these people are reading things which they wish to be true into their situation. They cling to the idea of a god orchestrating everything for their benefit, so they allow their bias to read between the lines of what is readily apparent. And thus they can justify their claim that their god exists and is intimately involved in their lives. This is no different than people reading a horoscope in a newspaper and thinking "wow, that is exactly applicable to me!" Their desire to believe a comforting thing overrides their reasoning faculties. 

Not much else happens in this chapter, mostly just Lehi and Nephi reaffirming to each other that it was a good thing that they got the brass plates (by killing the plates' owner, Laban, and kidnapping his servant Zoram under threats of doing the same to him).

Chapter 6: "(Don't) Hold Your Breath"

This chapter is rather short and a bit out of place. Barely even worth commenting on, really. Nephi pauses the story to make a stated goal for writing down all of this malarkey: 

"For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved." 

Unfortunately for us unsaved wretches, Nephi does not attempt to do any persuading here. Presumably this comes later. But if the arguments presented in the first few chapters for believing in visions and voices in one's head being divine are any indication of Nephi's intended method of conversion (and it is), then don't expect any sound, reasonable argumentation, reliable methods of verification, or for that matter, any evidence that Nephi's god exists anywhere outside of his father's dreams or his own head. 

Chapter 7: "Because Arbitrary"

The preceding chapters indicate that the impending destruction of Jerusalem is imminent. This, along with saving Lehi's life, are offered as reasons for the family's bolt in the night. Lehi sends his four sons back to the increasingly wicked city to attain a record of the Law of Moses so that Lehi's progeny will not "dwindle in unbelief." Keep in mind that all of this coming and going is being orchestrated by god through Lehi. Why is it, then, that in this chapter god finally gets around to sending Lehi's sons to Jerusalem to find wives? One would think that god, of all people, would have had the foresight to take care of this loose end earlier. Why so unorganized?

At any rate, surely a Mormon apologist somewhere is willing to offer an ad hoc explanation of Lehi's sons or the future wives were not yet old enough (keep in mind that at this time it is common for teenagers to be betrothed, or even married), or some other equally silly and simplistic excuse which could not possibly stand in the way of an all-mighty god. 

Apparently, the four brothers go to a man named Ishmael to convince him that he, like Lehi, should take his family to the wilderness and the two families' children can inter-marry and have lots of inter-marrying offspring (i.e. cousins). Of course, the boys do not start with this most-forward proposal. They have to ease Ishmael in to their favor by speaking the words of the Lord. And then something magical happens:

"And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father."

I wonder why "the Lord" was unable to "soften the hearts" of anyone else in Jerusalem when Lehi was first street-preaching? Why did it take "the Lord" so long (a couple of years or so) to even attempt to soften Ishmael's heart? This rather dicey situation, which will lead to the deaths of thousands of Jews and the enslavement of thousands more, does seem to be completely within the arbitrary whims of god. 

En route to the "tent of their father", Laman and Lemuel and some of Ishmael's children rebel against Nephi and try to go back to Jerusalem. During the struggle, resulting in Nephi being bound and nearly killed, Nephi chastises the mutineers and warns them that if they go back they will also be killed during the Babylonian take-over. Nephi singles out Laman and Lemuel and reminds them that they have seen an angel, so why do they doubt their father's prophecies? Again, we see an attempt to belittle those who want god to prove himself in an obvious or evident way. And again, this is a cheap trick to avoid answering questions or to be held accountable for making extraordinary claims. 

Nephi makes a seemingly bold claim that his brothers "shall know at some future period that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem" if they stay faithful. Too bad he doesn't say how this will be made known to them, considering they will be on the other side of the world when it happens. In fact, to my recollection at no point in this story do Laman and Lemuel, or for that matter Nephi, ever definitively confirm Jerusalem's destruction. It seems to be completely brushed under the rug, leaving Nephi (or Joseph Smith) without accountability for this prophecy. Retro-fitting prophecy is hardly impressive or original.

While Nephi is bound and tied, he offers a prayer to god to deliver him, and SHAZZAM! his bands are loosed. This is yet another completely fatuous aspect of the story which would require some form of verification to be believed. But alas, no such verification is possible except through faith that the book is true. How convenient, eh?

As expected, the boys, along with Ishmael's family make it to Lehi's unidentified camp and all is well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
--Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in Physics

Part 2 of my textual analysis of the Book of Mormon:

I am still deciding how in-depth I want to make my analysis of the Book of Mormon. On the one hand there is so much stuff to comment on, but on the other hand the book is quite long and commenting on every thing will take a very, very long time. Not to mention it would be quite the endeavor to read. I still want to cover the basic story, though, so I think I will lump the chapters together in order to consolidate the volume without skipping parts.

So, let's continue with Nephi's story in the Book of Mormon with 1 Nephi 2-4: the story of Laban and the brass plates.

Chapter 2: Chasing a dream.

This part of the story starts with another dream or "vision" of Nephi's father, Lehi, in which god tells Lehi that he has done well to warn the people of Jerusalem of their impending takeover by the Babylonians (score 1 for retro-fitting prophecy), and because of this the wicked people of the city want to kill him. This is clearly feeding into the whole persecution complex that so many believers hold (persecution implies that Satan is trying to thwart your efforts because you are helping god; this means you need to double down and persevere so that god can reward you in heaven for being such a good little helper). And again, Nephi takes his father at his word. Accepting second-hand revelation without question seems to a theme in this book. Almost an expectation.

Furthermore, god warns Lehi to take his family to the wilderness to save his life from the mob, and because god is going to destroy Jerusalem very soon (approx. 13 years in the future...). Keep in mind this is all done because Lehi believes for some unexplained reason that god talks to him in his sleep. It should be noted that Joseph Smith's own father also claimed to receive revelation from god through dreams, including dreams featured in the Book of Mormon itself. But we will get to that in future chapters. This is only one of several parallels between Joseph's life and the characters and stories in the Book of Mormon.

One might ask, what did Lehi's children, other than Nephi, think of all this? Were they all so easily taken in by their father's dreams? We are not told what any of the female members of the family thought of these events, and frankly this isn't surprising given what we know about ancient Judaism and Mormonism concerning the roles of women in the church and society. But we do get quite a bit of info on Lehi's other sons: Laman, Lemuel, and Sam (all of whom are older than Nephi, which seems to draw another parallel to Joseph Smith's life since he also had older brothers and was called to be a prophet much like Nephi, and whose older brothers--especially Hyrum Smith--became subservient to Joseph within Mormon-dom.). 

Much like Joseph's older brother Hyrum, Nephi's older brother Sam sides with him. But Nephi's other two older brothers are not convinced that their father really is inspired to take them to the desert to save their lives: 

"...for behold [Laman and Lemuel] did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart."

As expected, the doubters in the story are portrayed negatively, presumably to discourage readers from doing the same. Keep in mind that up to this point no one has offered a single way for anyone to verify Lehi's claims. All we have are the good, obedient brothers who accept everything without question and the naughty, doubting brothers--who still did as their father asked, mind you--who think their father simply has a vivid imagination. 

In verse 16 Nephi finally tries to verify his father's claims, however he does so through prayer. This is very common within Mormonism. If you have a question about something--especially something spiritual in nature--ask god in prayer and he will give you the answer through your "feelings and thoughts". In other words, if you think a thing is good and you have a good feeling about it, that is the same thing as god telling you it is good. Sounds like a reliable, error-proof method of verification to me.

And wouldn't you know it, god did tell Nephi that Lehi was truly inspired, just like Nephi had suspected all along. Later, Nephi relays this message from god to his brother Sam who also takes it at face value. Shocking. But alas, Laman and Lemuel do not simply believe Nephi (and why should they?), which is one of the reasons god chooses Nephi to be the ruler of the people once they get to the promised land (aka America) rather than his older brothers. 

Chapter 3: Brass tacks

This chapter gets a little more exciting as Lehi sends his 4 sons back to Jerusalem to attain the "brass plates" which apparently contain the Old Testament up to this point in time (approx 600 BC). This is important to Lehi because it contains his genealogy and the law of Moses which will be the governing law in the promised land. Keep in mind while reading this part of the story that god is supposed to be all-powerful and all-knowing and is thus capable of doing whatever he wants, and that the following is the best scenario he could come up with.

The 4 brothers decide through casting lots that Laman should be the one to go up to Laban, the high-ranking official who owns the brass plates, and ask him to give the plates to them. Seriously. Naturally, Laban declines the request and accuses Laman of being a robber. 

Discouraged, the brothers try a new plan: they gather all of Lehi's old possessions (i.e. gold) which they could not take with them when they left the city and use them to buy the plates. But this didn't work either as Laban had his guards chase them down to steal their stuff. 

The brothers take sides and quarrel over what to do next. The ever-doubting Laman and Lemuel want to go back to their father empty-handed, while Nephi and Sam want to keep trying. Go figure. Laman and Lemuel become angry (as doubters so often do) and begin beating Nephi and Sam with a rod. Ordinarily such abusive behavior would not warrant deliverance of the victims by god, but since they were on god's errand he decided to intervene by sending an angel to stop the beating and to chastise the older two brothers for doubting and rebelling against Nephi. Finally, Laman and Lemuel have a fairly valid reason to believe all this stuff is actually divinely mandated. But even so, they start to "murmur" shortly after the angel leaves. This is often used by Mormons as an example of why it is futile to ask god for a sign--it won't stick. It does seem strange to me that they would really argue the point that subtle "feelings and thoughts" affirming a given thing which a person wanted to believe in the first place is more compelling than a sign from god like an appearing angel. Perhaps this speaks more to the generally drab appearance of angels than it does to the alleged fading spiritual impact of such an occurrence... 

Chapter 4: License to kill.

Lacking a concrete plan, the resolutely faithful Nephi goes back to the city. As he reaffirms repeatedly in these first few chapters that god will not, as they say, give him more than he can handle. This is an assertion often made about god's character by believers, but given how many people have died victims of nature or other people, this hardly seems supported by the evidence. Still, Nephi embarks cheerfully on a path which will lead him to what I consider to be one of the most immoral stories in scripture: divinely-mandated murder. 

Guided by the spirit of god, Nephi wanders around a bit until he comes across a drunken man. And wouldn't you know it, it's Laban! Here he is, drunk to a stupor and without any of his 50 guards. What luck? Nephi then hears a voice in his head, which he identifies as the spirit of god for reasons that go unexplained, which tells him to kill Laban. 

Nephi wrestles with the voice inside his head, that is, until the voice inside his head says to him: "Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands." 

Nephi adds further justification: "Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property." 

The voice inside Nephi's head continues: "Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief." 

It is tempting for me to address why each of these reasons offered to be justification for killing a man, however much of a douche-canoe he may have been, are not very compelling reasons--especially when he is passed out drunk on a side walk. I will gladly grant that all of these reasons may be sufficient to warrant murder. However, I am compelled to point out, yet again, that this all comes from a voice inside Nephi's head which he believes to be the spirit of god!!! 

After chopping off Laban's head with the man's own "steel" sword (sure it was...), Nephi puts on Laban's clothes which miraculously fit Nephi's "large stature", and which should be soaked through with Laban's blood. He continues in search of the brass plates and comes across Laban's servant, Zoram, who is fool by the get-up and leads Nephi straight to the plates. Zoram even opens the locked door for Nephi. 

Having possessed the plates (finally), Nephi returns to his brothers outside the city... with Zoram... Naturally, since the costume worked so swimmingly on Laban's servant, it also tricks his brothers who promptly begin to run for their lives. Nephi unveils himself to get them to stop running away, and in turn, scares the bejesus out of Zoram, who starts running back to the city. Remember, Nephi is "large in stature", so he easily tackles and pins down Zoram and gives him the following offer (not to be refused): 

"And it came to pass that I spake with him, that if he would hearken unto my words, as the Lord liveth, and as I live, even so that if he would hearken unto our words, we would spare his life. And I spake unto him, even with an oath, that he need not fear; that he should be a free man like unto us if he would go down in the wilderness with us." [emphasis added]

In other words: "Come and be a willing hostage, or we will kill you." It is not specified here, but such a threat may well have come from the same voice inside Nephi's head which convinced him that god wanted him to kill a man just before. And without much thought (or choice) Zoram goes with them back to Lehi with the brass plates. 

Moral of the story: If you believe god talks to you with a voice inside your head, and that voice tells you to do something which ordinarily you would consider immoral, just remember that anything god tells you to do is by definition moral and you should do it--even if it means killing someone. 

Monday, October 13, 2014


"It is not snobbish to notice the way in which people show their gullibility and their herd instinct, and their wish, or perhaps their need, to be credulous and to be fooled. This is an ancient problem. Credulity may be a form of innocence, and even innocuous in itself, but it provides a standing
invitation for the wicked and the clever to exploit their brothers and sisters, and is thus one of humanity's great vulnerabilities. No honest account of the growth and persistence of religion, or the reception of miracles and revelations, is possible without reference to this stubborn fact."
--Christopher Hitchens ("god is Not Great")

Recently I have been listening to a great YouTube series called "An Atheist Reads" in which the host, Steve Shives, reads and analyzes from his atheistic perspective various Christian books meant to convert atheists to Christianity. With titles like "The Reason for God", "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist", "Reasonable Faith", "You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can't Make Him Think", "The Case for Christ", and the highly lauded "Mere Christianity" by C.S Lewis, one would think that if these books contained any compelling arguments or evidence for Christianity then Mr. Shives would be a most outspoken Christian by now. Yet, he continues to doubt. Interesting.

At any rate, I have been toying with the idea of doing a similar series of posts on this blog of the Book of Mormon. For those who do not know, the Mormon church holds that in the early 1800s, the boy-prophet Joseph Smith ascertained an ancient record of the Native Americans on some gold plates from an angel, was given a divine means to translate the record into English, and that this translation is the Book of Mormon. This is the church's primary scriptural text--their holy book. It would seem that most new religions have one.

So, let's give it a go, shall we?

The Book of Mormon begins with a Jewish man named Nephi recounting the story of his family living in Jerusalem before the Babylonian take-over (1 Nephi 1), approximately 600 B.C. This will become very important in coming chapters, especially when dealing with the proposed chronology of events in the book relative to citations to the Bible contained therein.

In this chapter--the very first chapter in the Book of Mormon--we have the Patriarch of Nephi's family, Lehi, acting in much the same way Noah did before the Great Flood; which is to say, he travels around Jerusalem warning people about the impending Babylonian siege should the people of the city not repent of their wickedness (This strikes me as an attempt to get the reader to begin associating the Book of Mormon prophets with those of the Bible, as though such a parallel would indicate authenticity.). Verse 4 implies that this practice of soap-box evangelism was common place at this time. But is having an elderly man preach repentance and destruction to a crowd really the most effective way to deter people from sinning and cause them to change their ways? I doubt very many people have been convinced through such a method except out of fear and ignorance.

And what kind of message is it to say that god will destroy the entire city should the people not follow his orders? This is a threat of violence on par with a mob boss giving an offer which cannot be refused ("That's a lovely city you got there. Be a shame if something were to happen to it..."). Such hucksterism, as shameful as it may be, is also quite common in Christianity with threats of hell-fire and eternal damnation and torment, especially during Joseph Smith's life when big-tent revivals were fairly common. Joseph admits to attending several such revivals as a boy. And how did he determine which preacher was correct and inspired by god? God told him in person they were all wrong and abominations in his sight. God seems to arbitrarily determine who is worthy of not having to take such extraordinary claims on faith. Instead of offering such a firm answer to us regular folks, god apparently prefers that the vast majority of his believers follow second-hand accounts without any verification of their own--at least not the kind of verification that could actually be said to verify anything definitively or in the same way as seeing god in person.

In verses 5-14, Nephi describes a vision which his father Lehi uses to base his prophetic claims of destruction. The vision itself has a ring of modernity to it as Nephi describes angels surrounding god and his throne. In one passage Lehi reads from a book which describes what happens to those who do not repent, which is followed by a most peculiar bit about god not allowing those who do come unto him to perish: "thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!" As we know through historical records (rather than religious texts) the whole city was taken over, and those who were not killed in the onslaught were made slaves. This indicates to me that no one was spared, not even children. As unlikely as it may seem that not a single person would have made it out unscathed, this level of severity and barbarism as a consequence from god is very much in line with several accounts in the Old Testament, although this should hardly be seen as an excuse for god. Bad behavior, however consistent it may be, is still bad.

It is interesting to me that Nephi takes Lehi's account of this vision, and the interpretations and implications of it, at face value. Nephi never questions his father. He never asks how Lehi knows it was a vision inspired by god, rather than a dream of his own mind's making. This trend of taking prophecies at face value continues throughout much of the Book of Mormon, often describing doubters in a negative light. This is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate the reader to shove aside their own doubts, or to feel guilty for asking questions.

In verse 17 we have a reference to metal plates being used to keep records. While the practice is not entirely unheard of in the ancient world, Mormon apologists will often try to paint the practice as common. This is, of course, simply their attempt to lend credence to the idea that Joseph Smith finding plates of gold with a historical record to be feasible. But even if we did not know that ancient record keeping was more often done with papyrus, the common use of metal for such records would not lend any credence to the proposed divine origin of the Book of Mormon. Not to mention that according to archaeologists and anthropologists Native Americans did not have the technological capacity to make such metal plates.

As before, in verse 18 Nephi (or Joseph Smith) expects the reader to take Lehi's prophecies at face value, without offering any way to verify that Lehi's warnings are truly god-sent. And those who did not simply adhere to the pronouncements of a shouting old man on a street corner, verses 19-20 describe them as "mocking" Lehi and being "angry" with him to the point of seeking to kill him. The implication here is that the people knew that Lehi was speaking the truth about "their wickedness and their abominations", and they would rather get rid of Lehi than repent, again, drawing parallels to the Biblical prophets.

To recap: god expects readers to take at face value assertions made by self-proclaimed prophets without any evidence or verification, and will punish those who do not accept their message with unfathomable destruction, captivity and death. There's a good god.

Monday, September 29, 2014


"God, Satan, Paradise and Hell all vanished one day in my fifteenth year, when I quite abruptly lost my faith. I recall it vividly. I was at school in England by then. The moment of awakening happened, in fact, during a Latin lesson, and afterwards, to prove my new-found atheism, I bought myself a rather tasteless ham sandwich, and so partook for the first time of the forbidden flesh of the swine. No thunderbolt arrived to strike me down. I remember feeling that my survival confirmed the correctness of my new position."
--Salman Rushdie

"I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."
--Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism)

In some religions there is a subtle but significant difference between doctrine and cultural norms. For instance, it is common for Hindus to abstain from eating animal products as they tend to view the practice as cruel. But this is not a hard-line rule as many Hindus still choose to eat meat. It seems that for some Hindus it is a matter of upbringing and what is common in the surrounding culture rather than religious beliefs. It is rare for individuals to challenge religiously-inspired cultural norms, even if such norms are not strictly doctrinal.

A common practice within Mormonism--even among my own family--is to abstain from caffeinated soda. This is a practice thought to be a logical extension from Mormon scripture which states that one should not drink "hot drinks" (i.e. "coffee or black tea"). The reason for such a prohibition is often expounded upon by members and church leaders, but to my knowledge the church has never officially explained the reasons god would even care about such a thing.

Nonetheless, it is generally accepted among Mormons that since both coffee and black tea contain caffeine (a slightly addictive stimulant) that this commonality must have something to do with their prohibition. Further more, other drinks which also have caffeine must be similarly discouraged by god, therefore one should also abstain from caffeinated sodas. This hypothesis was reinforced in the 90's when the then-president of the Mormon church Gordon B. Hinckley did not deny that the church discourages the consumption of caffeinated soda during an interview on 60 Minutes.

Despite the fact that church leaders often encourage such extrapolation of commandments (at least when it leads to even more conservative practices, like many Mormons who don't view PG-13 movies when the church only discourages watching R-Rated movies) in 2012 the Mormon church sent out a press release to clarify that caffeinated sodas are not explicitly prohibited by the church. As one might suspect, this pronouncement caused a stir among members and many people began to ask follow up questions about how this will change things for Mormons in general and the various church functions and institutions, most notably church owned universities and schools.

When asked how this would affect the largest of the Mormon schools, Brigham Young University, the response was that there was "no demand" for caffeinated soda on campus, therefore the local vendor who stocks the university's vending machines with non-caffeinated soda upon the request of BYU dining services--not the university administrators or the church--would continue to do so.

Is it true, though, that there is no demand for caffeine on campus? I, for one, would often drink Mt. Dew or Dr Pepper while attending BYU. I did most of my studying at home, but I knew many people who would bring caffeinated soda with them while they studied on campus.

One does not need to take my word for it. Just last year an incident occurred which illustrates my point splendidly. The company which stocks BYU's vending machines accidentally put caffeinated Coke Zero in a machine in the Brimhall Building on campus. It did not take long for word of the error to spread among students via social media, and within hours, all of the caffeinated soda was snatched up. Keep in mind that Coke Zero is among the least popular flavors of Coke. But this did not matter to those seeking caffeine on a campus which systematically limits its use.

There is also a student-run online service called Caffeine On Campus (I'm not sure if this is still active) which allows students to order any caffeinated beverage they like and have it hand-delivered to them anywhere on campus for a nominal fee. No demand? Really?

So, the question stands, why does BYU not offer caffeinated soda on campus when the church has officially declared it "OK" to drink? 

Perhaps rather than teaching people correct principles and allowing them to govern themselves they have created slaves of culture, non-confrontational pushovers (for contention is of the devil), who will blindly follow those around them for the sake of conformity and who passively await clarification on life's difficult questions from spiritual "authorities."

This principle is why I find religion not to be a moral system. In no way do those who follow commandments make a moral assessment of a situation and decide the best course of action. It is infinitely easier to simply do what you are told by a supposed prophet than to think for yourself.

Instead of asking what you should do from a self-appointed authority (especially one whose authority extends only as far as you allow), maybe you should ask yourself what you should do based on your desired outcome. If you don't like caffeinated soda, fine. Don't drink it. But take the time to formulate your own thoughtful and compelling reasons to do so. 


Richard Dawkins on secular morality:

The Atheist Experience on the cost of religion:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


"I prayed for freedom twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."
--Frederick Douglass

"Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?"
--James Madison

In new-hire training meetings at the mental health care facility where I work, staff are instructed not to talk to patients about their personal religious beliefs. There have been a number of occasions where I have witnessed staff break this admonition. Some times they are verbally reprimanded, but more often the predominantly Mormon culture of the facility means that a blind eye is the standard. Still, as a medical facility the rule is no pushing religion on patients.

As an atheist I see the benefit for all parties inherent in this rule and have never told my patients what my personal beliefs are, even though there have been several instances where I super-duper wanted too. It is not my place, nor is it in any way appropriate for me to use my position and professional relationship to influence my patients religiously. They are here for psychiatric medical care--not church.

You can imagine my surprise when this morning, for the first time ever since my tenure at this facility, an academic supervisor ordered via loudspeaker that all patients stand and recite the pledge of allegiance, which has in it the phrase "one nation under god". I suppose that legally I may not have a basis to request that the practice be stopped, especially if it is not compulsory (a detail which I do not yet know but I am determined to find out). However, a patient may have such a legal basis for a complaint as this can be seen as pushing religion on them by the facility, which is a cause often taken up by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. Perhaps I should warn my supervisor of a potential lawsuit should the pledge continue...

At the very least I would like to hear their reasoning for suddenly mandating the pledge while I am still expected to remain quiet about my atheism. Why should I keep my beliefs in my pocket when others around me wear their beliefs prominently on their sleeves? After all, a subtle nudge towards one religious belief over another is still a religious endorsement and it is more than this facility officially allows its staff. By the way, this is not a privately owned, religiously affiliated facility. We are owned by a parent company which oversees 200 or more mental health care facilities nation wide. So it is unclear to me exactly how the first amendment would apply here since it is a prohibition on the government to not respect one establishment of religion over another. But we are not a 501c3 non-profit organization, therefore, it may still apply in some way.

I used to think this view was little more than cynically splitting hairs. It seems like such a minor thing. But the phrase "under god" was not even part of the pledge until the 1950s--the same time frame as when congress changed our national motto from "E Pluribus Unum" (out of many, one) to the anti-communist mantra "In god We Trust", in typical McCarthy-era "red-scare" fashion.

Additionally, this acknowledgment of god was never intended to be inclusive of Allah, the multiple Hindu gods (Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, etc.), Buddha (who is not a god), Thor, Zeus, Apollo, The Lord Xenu (Scientology), any of the European pagan gods, any of the Native American gods, any of the Aztec or Mayan gods, any Wicca gods, any cult leaders, any Demi-gods, any messiahs (except for Jesus, of course), any deistic non-intervening gods, any alien prime movers (Raeliens, look it up), or my personal favorite, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was only ever meant to reference the Christian god, and arguably only the mainstream Protestant three-in-one god (take that Mormons).

The pledge is inherently divisive and I strongly doubt any of the minor patients at my facility (which is all of them) have any idea that they have a legal, constitutional right to refuse to participate in its ritualized recitation. Most of them are likely to just follow the crowd, which is its own kind of coercion. And don't get me started on how ridiculous it is to pledge your allegiance to a flag, of all bloody things, in the very first place!


Edward Current converts to every religion:

Glenn Beck "rebuts" my arguments:

Fox News debate on the subject with Micheal Newdow:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


“It seems that those who lean unto their own understanding or rely on the arm of flesh are more likely to develop a disproportionate focus or obsession almost for material gain, prestige, power, and position.”

--Gary E. Stevenson, Presiding Bishop of the Mormon Church

A couple of months ago I was at a get-together, the hosts of which are active Mormons. Towards the end of the evening the head of the household requested that we read a few passages from the Book of Mormon together. Being the odd man out, and not wanting to rock the boat, I complied. 

I had been in similar situations with my own family, and aside from feeling a bit awkward and uncomfortable (not to mention feeling like a hypocrite just prior to my leaving Mormonism) I figured the exercise would ultimately be harmless. Besides, to this day I still occasionally read from the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, usually while doing research for this blog. 

The passage was 3 Nephi 17, where Jesus allegedly came to visit the Native Americans shortly after being crucified, thus proving empirically his existence (I wonder why I never seem to qualify for such evidence). Each person present read a few verses each. My assigned passages contained a pleasant bit about Jesus very tenderly blessing all of the little children and angels coming down from heaven to do the same:

"21 And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.

"22 And when he had done this he wept again;

"23 And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.
"24 And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them."

As I read this nice, quaint story aloud for the first time in many years, I had a glimpse of the emotional manipulation I once endured as a boy raised in Mormonism. The story depicts a very tender scene, indeed. Surely, I would have been touched emotionally as I read this in my formative years. And it is at this point--this exact moment of elation and tenderheartedness--that a parent or church leader would have told me that the good feelings that I was experiencing while reading this story are god telling me that the story is true and the events as described really did happened. Therefore, the Book of Mormon is true and, in turn, the Mormon church, also.

It had been a long time since I had felt that sensation, only this time I had a much different perspective and I would not allow myself to be manipulated to take things as true which are not evidently so. In fact, the very next verse refutes the idea that one should take things solely on faith:

"25 And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children." [emphasis mine]
That's right. The Book of Mormon actually says that the people were able to know that "the record is true" by seeing and hearing Jesus themselves. This seems especially odd to me since just one verse prior Jesus says (in irony personified):
"20 And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full." [emphasis mine]

I am curious, in what way do these people have faith? They, like Doubting Thomas, saw and heard Jesus after his resurrection. And in both instances Jesus commends those who believe without seeing him with their own eyes:
"2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins."
"29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." [emphasis mine]
So, Jesus condones believing extraordinary, supernatural claims on second-hand (at best) information? Apparently such gullible saps are worthy of eternal salvation (from god's eternal wrath for not being perfect--just like he intentionally made them), while those who honestly admit doubt and do not simply believe things based on tenuous evidence or subjective anecdotal experiences are deserving of damnation. In other words, the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe prefers gullibility over intellectual integrity. Really?

Moving on, I have recently noticed other things about religion which I once took for granted or as good and sound, but have since realized their insidious implications. For instance, Proverbs 3:5:

"5 ¶Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding."

I can easily see this being inspirational and comforting for a person who genuinely believes that talking to god is more than a one-sided conversation. If such a being existed, it might actually make sense. However, barring evidence which would indicate that an answer from god is more than just one's conscience or intuition, this is demonstrably bad advice. If you have sound reasons to do a thing ("thine own understanding"), and you choose to do a different, contradictory thing because you think god told you in "thine heart" to do so, that is insane. 


Basically this is saying, if something which sounds reasonable goes against what you understand god to have said (which is an entirely different conversation), then you should go with what god said. So, if god says to stone your unruly child, but you think that may be a bit harsh, do it anyway! If god says to kill gay people, or your apostate spouse, push aside your misgivings and be the first to throw rocks at their faces. Think slavery is bad? Not if god commands it. If god says it is an abomination to eat shell fish, oh wait... that's in the old testament. We don't have to do that anymore. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014


"But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
--Thomas Jefferson 

"Our Bible reveals to us the character of our God with minute and remorseless exactness.... It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere."
--Mark Twain

"You believe in a book which has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd, and primitive stories; and you say thatam the one who is mentally ill?"
--Dan Barker (Author Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists)

At work the other day I helped supervise a cottage of patients during a group therapy activity. Not my usual task of late, but not a big deal. I was paired with another staff who is about as antithetical to myself as possible, although, I'm not sure she realizes this. She is a college student attending BYU. She was home schooled in what seems to be a more conservative Mormon home than I, which is saying quite a bit. She often assumes that everyone she works with shares her religion, values and understanding of the world, as is evident by her occasionally asking me (of all people) about Mormon current events and policies (about which I am always happy to provide information).

She is as overtly nice to people she meets as she is surprised and uncomfortable when she learns that someone is more liberal or progressive than herself (which is not at all). At work, she does best in situations which are very black and white, for nuance and situational-judgment can be buggars to sort out in real time.

For such a person, "good enough" is a meaningless term. Either a thing is good, or it is not. When she gives a patient a directive, she expects exactness and complete compliance. So when she returned to the cottage just before the group started and noticed that the patients were a tad loud, she saw it as blatant and intentional rebellion. But rather than shout the directive again or issue swift consequences for the infraction, as she is often want to do, she coolly approached me and said, "So, this is quiet free time, huh?" To which I replied, "-ish."

With less than 5 minutes before the start time, and everyone behaving relatively well, I wasn't going to pick that battle unless the room raised a few more decibels. Besides, I had bigger fish to fry in that moment, but I will spare you the details.

Last year the lead singer of a "Christian metal" group (say what?) called As I Lay DyingTim Lambesis, was arrested for hiring a hit-man to kill his wife. Unbeknownst at the time to Mr Poopforbrains, the man he had hired to do this dirty deed (for the dirt cheap price of $1000) was an undercover cop. It seems that he blames, at least in part, his sudden douche-baggery to losing his faith in Christianity:

"Lambesis stated that "I grew up in a Christian home and held that belief myself for many years. In the process of sincerely trying to defend that belief in a scholarly way and shortly after finishing my degree, I felt that it was unreasonable to call myself a Christian in light of the evidence..." On June 2014, Lambesis came out as an atheist, claiming that he, along with other members of the band, just kept pretending to be Christian just to sell records.... He even recalls feeling awkward when asked for their testimonies and when fans ask to pray with them. According to Lambesis, his renunciation of Christianity made it easier to have an affair." [emphasis mine]

It is often argued by Christian evangelists that morality comes from god, and that one cannot have morals without god. But what happens to a person raised to believe that god is the arbiter of morality when that person comes to the realization that this god does not actually exist? For this person their sense of morality may shatter.

A person may do the "right thing" for good reasons or for bad reasons. Taking a more obvious moral example, murder, one may refrain from killing another person because of laws, or to avoid the consequence of jail time or a death sentence. 

Arguably, a more noble reason would be for the sake of empathy. This may out of reach for more hot-headed people. But what about the perpetuation of a social meme where a society which generally does not kill one another is preferable to one where murder is accepted or encouraged? This reason may have psychological roots as well, as many people who kill others--even out of self-defense or in a time of war--often go through PTSD and anxiety from the experience. In short, we have evolved as a social species which benefits from not killing each other. 

Ok, ok. Murder is an easy example to make my point. But what about more nuanced quandaries? What about issues like gay marriage, abortion, swearing and picking your friend's nose? If you object to these things solely because god says they are bad, in what way are you a moral agent? If pressed to provide a reason for inhibiting other people not of your faith or world-view from doing these things all you have to say is "god says so", do you really have a reason to interfere with their lives? Could some one of another religion do the same to you? Should Muslims be able to refuse to sell you pork during Ramadan? Should a conservative Christian working at a grocery store be able to refuse to sell condoms to patrons? Should a city clerk be able to deny processing marriage certificates to gay couples in the few states which currently allow them to marry?

And what about defending the reprehensible acts commanded by god in the Bible? Is merely saying "god says so" a sufficient reason for slavery, genocide, infanticide, stoning unruly children, stoning unbelievers, burning witches and soothsayers and calling for rapists to marry their victims? Is it enough to say that donkeys and snakes can talk? Or that the earth is only 6,000 years old?

Some people who leave religion struggle with maintaining their morals. Often this is a result of Nihilistic leanings, which is pushed by many religious people as the de facto moral position of atheists. To this day, I can recall lessons from respected and highly educated members of the Mormon church on Nihilism being the inevitable conclusion of a world-view without god ("Nothing is eternal, therefore, nothing matters." To which I readily reply, "A cheese burger may not be eternal, but when I am hungry it certainly matters to me."). To me, it is not at all surprising when people who grow up hearing these ideas later emulate them when they leave religion in the proverbial gutter. 

I would argue, however, that religion does not teach people how to make moral judgments on their own, thereby crippling their ability to do so when the crutch of religion (i.e. following orders) is removed. Sam Harris often compares moral assessments as analogous to good health practices. How do we determine objectively that one moral outcome is preferable to another proposition? Compare the outcome to alternatives. 

On the subject of health, one can clearly demonstrate that drinking drain cleaner is worse for one's health than drinking, say, chocolate milk (Unless you're one of those lactose intolerant weirdos. Seriously, why the intolerance. What did milk do to you?). Likewise, we can compare moral systems by their effect on society. As with the murder example before, one can easily see the benefits on society of prohibiting murder versus the alternative.  

I agree with Christopher Hitchens that, although not always applicable (silly masochists), the golden rule is a pretty good rule of thumb. The concept that one should not interfere with the affairs of others unless they cause you harm generally breeds a society of cohesiveness and solidarity. 


An article from The Friendly Atheist on Mr Lambesis.

The Atheist Experience on Biblical vs Secular morality:

Friday, August 22, 2014


"To know a person's religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance."

"Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day; give him a religion, and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish."

A couple of months ago I received an email from a ward clerk (record keeper) for a local branch of the
Mormon church. Basically, they want to know if they have my correct address, phone number etc, so that they can appropriately fellowship me (in other words, harass me until I begrudgingly come back to church). I promptly deleted the email in part because I don't want that kind of harassment, and also I don't want to make this too easy for them.

Honestly, I don't oppose the idea of having some missionaries or a home teacher or even a bishop track me down for a lengthy, in-depth religious conversation. I just want them to work for it...

A couple of weeks later I received another email from Mormon church headquarters asking me to take a survey to help them determine "general trends" within the church. Suspecting this to be a mildly clever ploy to pick up where the last email had failed, I declined the invitation. Two weeks later, a reminder email was sent inviting me, the randomly selected church member who's regular church attendance is not necessary for participation, to take this survey. 

While I haven't actually followed the link as of writing this sentence, I have been debating whether or not I should click it. After all, faults aside, the church is often as clever as it is non-random. Not to mention my curiosity often gets the better of me.

But first, I recently came across a new (to me) podcast called "Thank God I'm Atheist" which, being based in Mormon-friendly Salt Lake City, Utah, often discusses Mormon topics and issues. And it turns out that the Church sent out a survey to 1000 random members to see how the general membership feels about the recent excommunication of one Kate Kelly. 

For those who don't know, Ms Kelly is the founder of the "Ordain Women" movement, which consists of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Mormon women who go to the General Conference Priesthood Session (a male-only, world-wide church meeting) and, being denied admittance to the meeting, walk away peacefully. Now, the reason for Ms Kelly's expulsion from the church's membership is evidently for merely not doing as The Brethren (old, rich, white men) told her to do, namely stopping the quietest protests ever. 

Coincidentally, John Dehlin (about whom I have written before) is also facing possible excommunication from the church for his podcast "Mormon Stories", which addresses difficult issues within Mormonism. Again, his crime is simply not doing as The Brethren have asked, which in his case is to cease bringing up such touchy, disconcerting topics in such a public and accessible way. 

No theocracy would be complete without ample censorship...

Well, let's see if the link to the survey still works (the email specifically asks that I do not share the link, but, meh. Click it if you feel especially dickish). 

Ok, the link works and I have finished the survey (which rather disappointingly had nothing to do with Ms Kelly) and I will post screen shots of the survey along with my responses below: 

Welcome screen:

Starting easy...

Vague preliminary stuff.

 Basic, but getting meatier.

Hmmm, they sure do like to assume I believe in god, even though the very first question was whether or not I consider myself Mormon (nope)...

Eh, more of the same.

More loaded questions assuming a belief in god.

Believe it or not, I still occasionally read scripture passages, although, not for the usual reasons...


More bleh.


Funny how the first option for reasons not to go to church is being offended by people at church. I could have selected more, but I want my primary reasons to be concise and clear.

Just a repeat of the last screen ("is that your final answer?")

It seems that they really want me to admit I don't go to church because of people. Weird.

Ah, a pertinent question.

Ok, ok.

Finally a chance to clear the air a bit. And I had to squeeze in a little Hitchens at the end. 

Trying to fish out other possible reasons for my leaving church. But they don't allow me to explain that the two "life changes" were a direct result of my desire to stop going to church, not the other way around. 

See what I did there?

Come on, really? Given my earlier responses, why would you even ask?

Surprise! There isn't much money in atheist blogging.

More loaded questions. Man, I really want to elaborate on a few of these.


Brown chicken, brown cow.

Pretty sure...

Kind of disappointed that they didn't ask me if I'm living in sin here.

Not sure why this is relevant.

From "god's university" no less.

Suck it.

I actually clicked "yes" at first, which took me to a screen to provide them with a bunch of personal information (sly dogs). So naturally I went back and selected "no", again not to make things too easy.

Not sure if "uncomfortable" is the right word... maybe "sickly", or "bloated".

Yay, another chance to clarify things a bit.

Quid pro quo, if you dare. Buahahaha!

Of course they did.