Sunday, September 7, 2014

By their fruits shall ye know them," they say. . . but they seem to be forgetting the bushels of rotten fruit.

The church has some interesting ideas about how we mortals can come to "know" things.  If we pray about something and then have good feelings, we can then know that the thing is truly true.  Never mind that the thing is often an object or institution, for which the adjective "true" makes no sense.

Never mind the fact that one can have those same feelings while watching a rated-R movie, or TV-MA television show.  That doesn't mean those movies or shows are "true."

Interestingly, members of the church often cite Matthew's treatise on fruit as a way of knowing that the church is true:

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruits; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

The LDS church does in fact bring forth many "good fruits." If nothing else, the church  is full of wonderful people with the best of intentions.  Most  believing members of the church are dedicated to their cause, and are genuine in their desire to serve others.  These fruits are those that are held up by the believers as evidence that this is a "good tree."

However, there are many fruits that are simply ignored by the membership, fruits that many would see as coming from a "corrupt tree."  To continue the arboreal metaphor, the church is simply "cherry picking" the fruits it is most proud of, whilst hiding the rancid ones under its bushel.

If we are going to consider all the fruits of this tree, then we must include:

1) Families that are torn apart rather than strengthened.  This happens in a variety of ways:
  • Some family members are left out of temple marriages, whether it be for "unworthiness" or by virtue of simply not being members.  Regardless, the message sent is "you are not worthy to be with us, and you will not be with us in heaven."  
  • It is not uncommon for LDS parents to disown gay children, often as teenagers.  These teens often become homeless, and in some cases choose suicide.
  • Family members who express doubts about the church are often shunned and ostracized by more "believing" members of the family.  In some cases they are cut off completely.  
2) Prophets and Apostles who can't distinguish revelation from their own desires and biases.  The greatest example of this is the denial of the priesthood to an entire race for over 100 years, not because God commanded it, but because of the racist attitudes of those supposedly called by God as his mouthpieces.  If over a century of institutionally sponsored racism isn't a rotten fruit, I don't know what is.

In that same vein are the church's past teachings on homosexuality.  Boyd K Packer previously insisted that homosexuality is not an intrinsic attribute, but simply a selfish choice made by certain individuals.  If they would only stop being so selfish, then they could be cured.  The church liked what he said so much that it printed the talk in a pamphlet to be given to homosexuals.  Recently the church has softened its tone, and seems to at least partially admit that gay people can be born gay.  On the other hand, the institutional church seems to have a hard time even admitting that people are "gay," or "homosexual,"  choosing rather to label gays as people "suffering from same sex attraction."

I could go on and on about other teachings from past leaders which have since been proven or admitted false, but it would be beyond the scope of this discussion.

3)  A tradition of selectively retelling our history, resulting in "whitewashing," whether intentional or not.  At this point the church has been around for 180 years or so.  As time has passed, stories about the foundation of the church have been passed on, with emphasis on the positive, and disregard for the negative.  This has resulted in utter disregard for truth, in an institution that so strongly emphasizes the importance of truth-seeking.  In some cases there HAS been an intentional hiding of information- ie Joseph Fielding Smith tearing out pages from Joseph Smith's journal.

4)  Lay Clergy.  While the concept itself is not necessarily a bad fruit, the results have often been.  The term "priesthood roulette" has been coined, referencing the fact that ward and stake members are often at the mercy of the personality and personal beliefs of those called to "preside" over them.  All too often a bishop or stake president will impose his own, non-doctrinal beliefs onto those below him.

In discussing this, I've heard people exclaim, "The church is perfect, but its members aren't!"  In my opinion, you really can't separate one from another, at least when discussing leadership.  We believe that our leaders are supposed to be inspired and guided in the way they lead, and the decisions they make.  If they make horrible decisions, like it or not, those decisions are fruits that the church is putting out into the world.

4) A growing horde of members and ex-members who feel their lives have been tainted by their exposure to Mormonism, for all of the reasons listed above, and more.  One need only peruse any the many online exmormon communities to hear story after story of those who are angry and hurt by experiences they've had with the church. 

Certainly some of these people simply have "sour grapes" and are using the church as an excuse for their many problems.  That being said, too many of them have truly had negative, sometimes life-shattering experiences. 

Marriages have been broken up by bishops who recommend divorce if a spouse is an unbeliever.  Conversely, wives have been encouraged to stay in abusive relationships and avoid divorce if their husbands make even a token effort to participate in church.

Sexual abuse victims have been blamed for their own abuse (though sometimes their "portion of the blame" has been labeled as "lesser" as if that is supposed to be comforting.)  Bishops have outright failed to report abuse if the abuser is a church member.

Youth have been told that it is better for them to die than lose their chastity.  Girls have been told that their worth plummets if they lose their virginity before marriage. 

"None of these teachings are doctrinal," one might argue.  It doesn't matter.  If someone goes to church, and these are the messages they take home. . . then that is what "the church" is teaching them, and the harm that is done is real, regardless of whether or not the institutional church agrees or not with the message.

The growing number of disaffected members, in my opinion, is the greatest evidence that the church is bearing altogether too much rotten fruit.  If the fruit were so sweet and wonderful, then why are so many leaving with a bitter taste in their mouth? 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

An Angel's Nightmare: Managing the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms (A fictional tale)

I recently had a near-death experience, during which I caught a glimpse of something not normally seen or written about:  The Terrestrial Kingdom.  I'd like to share what I experienced.

To give you some background,  I had to undergo a surgery.  During the course of the procedure an artery was inadvertently nicked, and I lost a lot of blood, to the point that I was clinically dead on the table.  The doctors were (obviously) able to revive me, but while I was dead I was transported somehow to the Terrestrial Kingdom.

Just like described in movies and stories, I felt like I was in a tunnel with a light at the end.  I went to the light and came out in a beautiful city.  The buildings were tall and gleaming; the streets were clean and lined with beautiful trees, and people were walking around smiling and going about their business.

No one told me that I was in the Terrestrial Kingdom, but somehow I knew.  It all made sense because I had left the church during my mortal life, yet I had lived a good and worthy life.  I was truly terrestrial material.

I walked about the city, taking in the sights, when I came to a beautiful park.  I strolled along, enjoying the amazing landscaping and the peaceful tranquility that I felt all around me.    The path I was on wound through the trees, eventually reaching the edge of a crystal clear lake.  At the edge of the lake there was a man sitting on a bench, sobbing.

This seemed curious to me, so I sat down beside him and asked him what was the matter.

He seemed to recognize that I was not yet a permanent resident of the kingdom, and as such he opened up to me in a way that perhaps he normally wouldn't have.

"I've been given an impossible task," He replied.  "My name is Muroni, and I am in charge of segregation."

"Segregation?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered.  "Only those worthy of Celestial glory are able to remain with their families here in the afterlife.  So, it is my job to make sure that those sent here to the Terrestrial Kingdom are kept separated from their families.

At first, it was easy.  This world is vast, and when the first inhabitants arrived here, I sent each one out to start a new city.  Once the world had been filled with individual cities,  the new arrivals would be assigned to one of those cities.  I kept a list of the inhabitants of each city, and whenever there was a new arrival, I simply had to assign them to a city where none of their relatives lived."

Muroni looked off into the distance, as if remembering simpler times.

"That worked for the longest time," he said.  "But eventually, with the billions of souls pouring in, there were simply too many people, and it was impossible to place a new arrival in a city that was devoid of relatives."

"Aren't we all related anyway? Through Adam and Eve?" I asked.

"Yes," he sighed.  "The original directive was to keep people separated from anyone who was within 7 degrees of separation- 7th cousins from each other, for example, or great-great-great-great-great grandchildren from their great-great-great-great-great grandparents.    But as the cities filled, it became impossible, and I received permission to move the cutoff to 5 degrees of separation.

That fixed the problem for a while, but then. . . then came the polygamists.  Who would have thought that the new and everlasting covenant would be my undoing?   It turns out that with such huge families, it's impossible to place someone and keep them truly segregated from anyone and everyone who is within 5 degrees of separation."

"Wow," I said.  "How did you fix that?

I built a huge wall through the center of each city,  and I had to shuffle people around so that any relatives in a given city were on opposite sides of the wall.  As the populations grew, I had to build another wall, dividing the cities into quadrants, and again reshuffle and arrange to keep people apart.  But the population just continues to grow, and I don't know how many walls I can build."

"That is quite the challenge," I said.

"That isn't the half of it," he replied.  People have also learned how to work the system.  Eternity is a long time, and, not surprisingly, people want to see their family members, and they spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to contact their loved ones.  And they succeed, all the time.    They write letters with detailed information about who they were on earth and when and where they lived, and who they are trying to contact.  Then they throw the letter over a wall.  The people on the other side collect the letters, and if the description doesn't match anyone in their section, they throw it over a different wall, and, with enough time, some of the letters find the intended recipients."

"Interesting," I said.  "So what are you going to do?"

"I don't know," he answered.  I wanted to put everyone in their own concrete box so they couldn't talk to anyone else.  But my superiors tell me that Joseph Smith promised that the Terrestrial Kingdom, and even the Telestial Kindgom,  is supposed to be such a wonderful place that if people on earth understood then they would be killing themselves just to get there.  So, turning this into a prison world is out.

Then I suggested simply wiping everyone's memory so that they don't remember their relatives.  But my superiors denied that suggestion too.  You see, despite the fact that this is supposed to be a wonderful place to live, part of the point of being here is for people to reflect on the fact that they were not worthy of the higher kingdom.  There is no hell with burning fire and brimstone, but this world is meant to be a mental hell, where people can continually remember and regret not accepting the church.  To remember that they do have family members out there somewhere, but they can't see them or talk to them.  If we wiped memories, they would not be able to experience this mental torment that God intends."

Muroni paused and stared out over the lake, deep in thought.  I was content to sit and drink in the scenery at his side.

Suddenly, he jumped to his feet and shouted "I've got it!  I know exactly how to make this world a paradise compared to earth, yet filled with mental anguish and the inability to interact with family members!"

"How?" I asked

He opened his mouth to tell me, and at that moment I was pulled away from him, back down the dark tunnel and back into my body.

I have made a full recovery, and therefore I will have to wait a few more years before I know Muroni's master plan for the Terrestrial Kingdom.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Answer for Everything: How LDS prophets and apostles are completely incapable of silence on issues they don't understand, and why it has cost them their authority

As a missionary, I loved being the Lord's standard bearer, carrying The Truth with me to share  with any who was willing to listen.  I had no doubt that the message was true; true with the biggest capital "T" anyone could imagine.   How could I be so sure?  Because I had no doubt that, as I had been taught from a young age, I was led by a living prophet.  God had a mouthpiece on earth, and through him I could know God's will. 

In primary, we sang songs in creepy minor keys about following the prophet.  Later, in sunday school, we learned about how the prophet could never lead us astray, and how "whether by My voice or the voice of my servant, it is the same.  The servant, of course, being the prophet.  These concepts were further reinforced in seminary, and later at BYU.  When the prophet speaks, the debate is over!

And thus I believed, and lived my life accordingly.  The brethren are not to be questioned; their word is God's will.  I served my mission faithfully, came home, graduated from BYU, married, and actively sought to follow these men who God called as his earthly representatives.

My disaffection from Mormonism is not unique, but at some point along the way for anyone who is questioning the church,  the question has to be asked:  Is the prophet wrong sometimes?  With a little digging into church history, I had to admit that the answer was "Yes."  And further investigation led to another question:  Is the prophet wrong a lot?  And with a little more digging, I had to admit that again, the answer was "Yes."  And after further studying came the final question:  Is the prophet just plain making things up sometimes?  And the answer again is a resounding "YES!"

This post is not meant to be a comprehensive discussion of things prophets and apostles have been wrong about, but for the sake of the discussion some must be named.   Here are the highlights I can think of off the top of my head:

1) Blood Atonement
2) Adam-God Theory
3) The Lamanites being the principal ancestors of the Native Americans
4) The Book of Abraham being an actual translation from the papyrus
5) Blacks being banned from the priesthood
6) The reasons given for blacks being banned from the priesthood
7) Native Americans' skin becoming lighter after being converted to the gospel
8) The cause of and nature of homosexuality (including that it is caused by masturbation)

Apologists chafe when critics point out these falsehoods.  "God works through imperfect men, and sometimes they make mistakes.  Sometimes they speak as men."  This explanation does not cut it for me.  I can think of examples of prophets speaking as men in instances where they were wrong, but their being wrong did not affect anyone's salvation or well-being.

In 1961, Joseph Fielding Smith addressed a congregation in Hawaii and said:  "We will never get a man into space. This earth is man's sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it."  He was obviously wrong, and guess what?  It doesn't matter.  To anyone.  THIS is an example of a prophet speaking as a man, and is an acceptable instance of one speaking outside of his prophetic role.  I have no problem with this whatsoever.

On the other hand, teaching, and propagating the teaching, that an entire race is unworthy of the priesthood because they were not valiant before coming to earth?  Telling gays they have same-sex attraction because they are selfish, and that they can make it go away through repentance?  That is not someone succumbing to their imperfection, unless their imperfection is a penchant for inventing false doctrine and teaching it as if God had revealed it.  And if that is one of their imperfections, I would think God might avoid calling them as His living mouthpiece.

So what does it mean if the Lord's anointed are making up doctrine?  I can think of 2 basic scenarios, and neither one is particularly encouraging for the faithful:

1) They are not actually the Lord's anointed, and not only did they make up the above-mentioned items; they made up all of it, and it just so happens that the items above are actually refutable.  Most  ex-mormons end up coming to this conclusion.  If this is the case, no more discussion is needed- ignore them and go on your way.  

The second scenario is more complicated:

2) They are God's representatives, but they can't differentiate true revelation from their own random thoughts and biases.  And when new issues arise, they seem to feel the need to speak out, often forcefully.  Perhaps they feel that they are supposed to have an answer for everything, and when no clear revelation comes forth, they speak on their own. Unfortunately they often seem to do so without truly understanding what they are speaking about, and as such end up teaching their own flawed philosophies as doctrine.  And when this happens, the obvious question becomes, "what good does it do to have a prophet at all?"   

For me and many others, this issue leads us to a breaking point where we lose belief in the entire system.  If the prophet is just a coin to flip randomly, sometimes landing with the "Truth" side up, and sometimes with the "Random Bullshit" side up, what use is he to me?  Each and every time he comes up "Bullshit," his position of authority is eroded.  Unfortunately for the church, the internet now makes available a comprehensive list of all the past coin flips, and the "Bullshit" tally is impressive.