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. 

No comments: