Friday, February 27, 2009

Cheese and rice

Do Mormons really go to Sunday Temple and go in front of the congretation and say "I believe the Mormon Chuch? —James Joyce

is the one and true church that Joseph Smith created" or something along those words? As a cult would to reinforce people to stay in the cult?
They do this once a month in their general Sunday worship meeting ("Sacrament," not "Temple"). It's basically open mic church, with kids and adults alike taking turns at the podium. You can say whatever you feel, but the template goes something like this.

You have two choices here. You can go with the old standby, "I'd like to bear my testimony that I know this church is true." Or if you're really feelin' it you can hit 'em with, "I'd be very ungrateful if I didn't stand before you here today and tell you that I know ..." I prefer the second one because it hints that something big has happened recently, and also has the added bonus of pointing out how ungrateful everyone else is since they're still sitting. :)

Personal details.
Adults usually say something here about what they've been up to or challenges they've faced recently. Teenagers and college kids talk in guarded terms about wanting to live closer to the Spirit and "be better." Kids just skip this part.

The checklist.
You'll just have to take my word on this part, but kids and grownups alike all generally say these next few phrases pretty much verbatim. It's not a script, just conditioning I guess.
"I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet."
"I know that Gordon B. Hinckley was a prophet and that Thomas S. Monson is the prophet today." (We're still transitioning you know.)
"I know that the Book of Mormon is true."
"I love my [mom and dad/husband and kids]."

"In the name of Jesus Christ, amen." The kids spout this part out: "Name-cheese-rice-men!" Those kids do know a lot it seems. Let's just say they're not raised with a real nuanced view of their church's position in the scheme of things.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Manuscript found

If you found the lost mormon golden plates(original book of mormon tablets) would you turn them in or pawn it? —Mickey B

Are we assuming here that they're actually gold? Supposing they were made of tin, with some sheets engraved with characters on top and the larger portion "sealed" to give it more bulk without the effort of engraving? Gold or not, no one would pay more for it than the LDS church, so that's who I'd sell it to.

I know, the right thing to do would be to show it to the world and free all the Mormons from their mass delusion, right? No chance. Deseret Book would have its best year ever publishing all the apologetic responses, and soon everyone would be bearing testimony about how this further proves that Joseph was a prophet and that Satan is stirring up the wicked for the last great battle. I'll take the check, thanks.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Unto his servants the prophets

What's the reason Mormon women were commanded by the prophet to wear only one set of earrings? —glows~darkly

He doesn't like a lot of earrings.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The plan of assimilation

What does Mormon church teach about salvation and life after death?—Isthatso

Well in some ways the Mormon version of the afterlife is pretty all-inclusive. There's no hell in Mormonism, except for those unlucky few who go to "outer darkness," having sinned against the Holy Ghost (whatever that means, no one seems to know). For Mormons, the spirit world is divided into paradise and spirit prison. But that's only temporary, until the resurrection and judgment. The good guys get really good heaven, and the losers in spirit prison do their time and then get the "telestial kingdom." (Telestial is a word Joseph Smith apparently made up himself, but it's meant to signify the glory of the stars.)

So pretty nice, huh? If you're taking Pascal's wager and being religious just to hedge your bets, you should skip Mormonism and be a Muslim. The consequences of being a non-believer in Islam are much worse. But unfortunately that's not the end of the story, because if your *family* is Mormon and *you* are not, guess what—you just messed things up for everybody.

Wanna know how I spent my evening last night? The ward mission leader invited us over for family home evening. Yes, I'm pretty sure he knows I left Mormonism. On purpose. I'm sure when he was planning his lesson the topic seemed pretty innocuous: the Plan of Salvation. Or maybe it was supposed to open my eyes to the horrors that await if I don't start believing in disappearing gold plates, I don't know. But there we were, talking about how wonderful it is that Mormon families are forever, and my kid asks, "What if someone in your family doesn't make it?"

Here's the thing. I'm an adult. I love this kid, and I'm concerned about him. I trust the other adults in the room felt the same way. Would I want an eight-year-old worrying about the souls of loved ones who don't subscribe to the right brand of faith? No way. Would God want that? Apparently, yes.

If I were allowed to speak openly in this setting, I'd have told him, "You have nothing to worry about. All of this only matters for people who believe in Mormonism. Your family is always going to be here for you." At the least, under the circumstances, it would have been nice to assure him that God loves us all and will make everything work out. Unfortunately, though, it seems missionary zeal trumps concern for children. If Dad doesn't shape up, you can visit him in his lower kingdom or maybe phone him in outer darkness.

Sleep well, son.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reformed English

Mormons: Did Joseph Smith have access to a Bible before he "translated" the Book of Mormon? —whats up

It's no secret that the Smith family owned a bible. What's so mind-boggling about the Book of Mormon's success is that it so blatantly does borrow from the KJV bible. For me as a kid growing up in Mormonism, this wasn't so obvious. For all I knew, people still spoke that way in 1830. (They didn't of course.)

But for the early Mormon converts, it must have been apparent. Why didn't anyone call him on it? "Hey Joseph, why does Nephi quote the gospel of Mark in 1 Nephi 18:21? That makes no sense." I guess the answer is that anyone who would ask such a question was unlikely to join the Mormons anyway.

Nowadays, the church is established and most members were born into it. So when a member today is confronted with the obvious contradiction of KJV bible passages, it's probably easy to ignore simply because it's so blatant. I mean it's not like the church is hiding this fact; many of the plagiarized verses are cross-referenced for you right in the book.

So let me spell it out for anyone who's never considered this before: plagiarized bible verses in the Book of Mormon are a major anachronism for what is supposed to be an ancient American story. Not surprisingly, apologists have their own way of seeing this, from Blake Ostler's expansion theory to overwrought explanations of Hebrew word origins, but who are you kidding?

Take a look at these verse pairs and decide for yourself. These are all from the first five chapters of 1 Nephi and yet-to-be-written (let alone translated to King James English) New Testament verses. You can find similar pairs on almost every page of the book.

1 Nephi 1:14; Revelations 15:3: "Great and marvelous are thy works ... Lord God Almighty!"

1 Nephi 2:18; Mark 3:5: "being grieved [because of] the hardness of their hearts"

1 Nephi 2:24; 2 Peter 1:13: "to stir [them] up in [the ways of] remembrance"

1 Nephi 3:20; Acts 3:21: "which [have been] spoken by the mouths of all [the] holy prophets ... since the world began"

1 Nephi 4:13; John 11:50: "that one man should [perish than] that [a] nation ... perish"

1 Nephi 5:8; Acts 12:11: "Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath [commanded] ... and ... hath [protected ... and] delivered [them] out of the hands of"

1 Nephi 5:18; Revelations 7:9: "all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people"

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What is the best way to deprogram or un-brainwash a Mormon? —Geoff B

Maybe for starters you could find a better way of stating your position. "Brainwashed" is a loaded word. Who's to say YOU are not brainwashed? Isn't it the whole point of brainwashing that the subject does not know they've been brainwashed? When it comes to religious ideas, it's helpful to remember that there are thousands of mutually contradictory beliefs out there, nearly all of which must necessarily be false in order for another to be true.

So if you're serious about wanting to help people out of Mormonism, my first advice is that you be equally willing to look at the evidence supporting any other beliefs you may have, like Christianity for instance. Of course I don't know whether you're religious or not, but if questioning Christianity makes you defensive, then you're beginning to see how your deconversion attempts will be viewed by a Mormon.

I'm not trying to dissuade you. I'm an ex-Mormon myself and I frankly think most people (though perhaps not all) would be better off leaving the faith behind. However, I think the church provides a strong social network, solidarity, a feeling of belonging and all that. Plus of course the beliefs themselves are important to a Mormon's perceived happiness. And ultimately they stay because they believe it's literally true, that the LDS church is all that it claims to be.

Those are some pretty big hurdles for you to overcome. And actually, the last one about the church's truth claims may be the easiest of all to get past. Most people stay in the church not because they find the story of Moroni and the plates so convincing, but because they've bought into Moroni's promise. That may sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but I think they're very different. Moroni's promise says that if you ask God (i.e., pray), he will manifest the truth to you. Yes, you can investigate, look at evidence, but ultimately that feeling, that revelation from God, trumps all else.

The point is, no amount of evidence will convince someone Mormonism is untrue if their testimony wasn't based on evidence to begin with. It's like sleight of hand: the investigator is so focused on getting that answer from God that they never question the means. ("Is this how I get answers to other questions?" "How would I know if Mormonism wasn't true but still feels good?")

And again, behind that testimony is a whole lot of social support and perhaps a fear of the unknown. When people first begin to question their beliefs it's common for them to ask what else is out there that's better. Now suddenly the question has changed in their minds from one of ultimate truth to one of utility: "maybe the church isn't perfect, but it suits me."

So all of this is a really long way of saying, I don't know the best way to help someone see their way out of Mormonism--or any religion for that matter. Religion is endemic to our species. I think the person has to either want out, or truly be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. I think you can help in small ways. You can live your life authentically and not support them in their delusions (strong word again, but I don't know what other word to use). You can help alleviate their fear by showing that people can live happy, productive lives outside of the faith. Beyond that, I don't have a clue.