Strange Power

Years ago, at my brother’s LDS Temple wedding, as we waited outside, my wife and I were approached by a member of my childhood ward and her husband.  She was my first cub-scout leader, and a primary teacher.  Her husband was one of my Scout and Priesthood leaders.  She expressed her hope that I would someday be sealed within the Temple.  I dismissed them rather flippantly by telling them that it’ll never happen.  “Never say never” was their retort.  A few weeks later, I wrote this letter, which I decided against sending:

[The names have been changed]


Michelle,

I have to say I was caught off-guard by your comments at the Temple after James’ wedding, and apologize if my responses were a bit harsh. Frankly I was focusing a bit on James and Becki and the long day ahead of my family and I. I just wanted you to know that I love and respect both you and Brian a great deal. I have learned a great deal from both of you; how not to cut my hand off with a knife, how to avoid setting fire to my house, how to sand down wooden race vehicles, and much, much more.

I am sure you had the best of intentions at heart, and your attempt to shame me into a temple sealing was strikingly more tactful than Brother Akiona’s heavy-handed method. It may be that I bring these comments on myself. Perhaps I emanate an air of uncertainty, insecurity, and self-doubt with regards to spirituality. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

I am not sure if you have gone through something similar, but the decision to go against the predominant teachings of one’s entire life is not an easy one. Similarly, knowing that you will disappoint and embitter one’s entire family, becoming a kind of second-rate family member is not an option that is taken without serious thought.

Admittedly, a great deal of my initial issues with the LDS faith were a matter of 17-year-old rebellion. A know-it-all, stubborn quality that you, as a mother and teacher, probably find all too familiar. That rebellion has led to years of abundant research, on my part, of history, religions, spirituality, and philosophy. A great deal of time has been spent in quiet contemplation of these materials along with my own thoughts and conclusions. It is still an eminent subject of reading, thought, and discussion.

I do hope you posses high enough opinion of my character to believe that I would not have shamed and tormented my grandparents, my sister, my brother, my mother, and most of all, my father without some deliberate and methodical reflection. My father, I think you will agree, was a man of unquestioned faith and uncompromising morals. I am sure that Brian and others have, on numerous occasions, listened to the disapproval of his eldest son and the ‘misguided’ choices he made. It pains me to no end to think of the sadness and disappointment I must have caused him. A sadness and disappointment that never was, nor ever will be resolved. I asked myself, however, would he have not done similarly in order to live his life according to his beliefs?

Perhaps lacking in my decision process was a consideration of those other people who may have felt, at one time or another, responsible for me and my spiritual education. People like you, Brian, David, Christine, Bob, Mary, Pauleen, Elijah, and so many other respected people.

I don’t doubt your faith or your testimony. I know you live a charitable, compassionate, and faithful life. I am sorry for the disappointment I may cause you and others. I am not sorry that I live my life according to my beliefs. I am not sorry for questioning my beliefs, past or current, even if it is unpleasant to do so. I still remember the story of a 14-year-old boy questioning the teachings of those closest to him.

You are right to point out the folly in my saying, “never.” I will grant that, however unlikely, it is possible that someday, due to continued searching and questioning, I may find that the initial teachings of my life were always correct. If so, I will humbly admit my mistakes and return. Having said that, if such a thing does occur, it will not because someone tells me that my father always wanted me to view the Temple, or because I want to see my sister’s wedding. It will be because I have spent hours and perhaps years in careful reflection of those beliefs. There is no end on the journey for knowledge and understanding.

I hope that this letter finds you well and is received in the manner it was intended. It was my intention to reassure you that, as disappointing as it may be to those close to me, I am living a happy, complete, and content life.

Justin

 

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” – Cormac McCarthy

Arrogant Faith

Growing up, I was taught by my LDS parents and teachers that the LDS faithful would one day be commanded by The Prophet to return and reclaim Independence, Missouri.  I was told that we may even have to walk there as our ancestors had.  That the journey could be just as hard as our forbearers, but that, as The Faithful & Elect, we would be protected and blessed.  I was told that we would listen to our prophets and we would do as we were commanded.

What would you be willing to do if commanded by your religious leaders?  What wouldn’t you be willing to do?  If they speak for and behalf of The Almighty God, who knows all, shouldn’t you be willing to do absolutely anything?

“If God told you to kill your child—would you do it?” — Penn Jillette

I wouldn’t.  Not if He personally came down, 100% proving His existence and power, knocked me out of bed, and told me that, if I didn’t murder my daughter with my bare hands, He would torture me for eternity.

I would hope I could even muster the courage to spit in His almighty, but definitively evil face.

The story of Abraham is truly terrifying.  Believers teach it as a story of faith; that we must trust to God, who knows best.  “But, Heavenly Father saved Isaac.”  No.  Abraham had murder in his heart.  A willingness to cut open his innocent and only son.  Not a desire, but a willingness.  A blind obedience to commit an act of pure evil if only commanded.  God didn’t save Isaac; He merely changed His mind.

Mr. Jillette asks the question above to illustrate, if you would not murder your child at the command of the god you claim has the right and authority to command your actions, you are probably already an atheist.

If a religious leader in whom you trust told you that your God had commanded your family to sell all of your clothing and belongings and live unprotected in the winter mountains? That God had promised to provide for you? Would you do that?  Would you willingly put your family in mortal danger?  Trusting in God to provide?

If the religious leader commanded that you, not even kill, but pointlessly harm your child in some small way?  That God had promised you blessings without number for an earthly demonstration of your faith, would you do it?

If a man you *knew* to be a prophet told you to turn and rant and rail against your child, just because of whom they love?

Would you do it?

Or, instead, would you love your child regardless, and help them to grow up happy and healthy?  Loving those they loved and who made them happy – regardless of what a man who doesn’t know you, and doesn’t know your child, chooses to say from a great and spacious building?

“It’s not arrogant to say that you can’t figure out the answers to the universe with your internal faith. It’s not arrogant to know that there’s no omniscient, omnipotent prime mover in the universe who loves you personally. It’s not sad to feel that life and the love of your real friends and family is more than enough to make life worth living. Isn’t it much sadder to feel that there is a more important love required than the love of the people who have chosen to spend their limited time with you?”– Penn Jillette

One Half of Wisdom

“What do you believe, and why?”

. . . is the unofficial motto and often the first question asked of theistic callers to The Atheist Experience.  It is the question that drives most religious debates and discussions.

While listening to Tanner Gillibrand on MormonTransitions this past week, I stumbled upon his response to a family member who asked the question of Tanner when he announced his resignation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (…).  Tanner’s response, in which he details his desperate efforts to keep his faith, is beautiful, heart-breaking, and brilliant.

This was the hardest time of my life. I used to drive out to the fields in Rexburg and pray out loud for hours, begging God for some light, but it never came. Jesus said, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?” I begged for a loaf and received nothing. I would have taken a stone over the silence.

[…]

I thought I loved God my whole life. But as I studied the scriptures I realized I could not love such a God. Rather than a God that was found through love, I saw a God that was found through loyalty tests…

Tanner’s family member was brave to ask the question, and Tanner was brave to lay open his story.  Reading his letter, however, I realized that I had never been asked that question by my family or by those friends who had raised me to be a good, believing member of The LDS Church.  None of them  asked me to write on this blog.  None of them likely read it.

When I lost my faith, I was taken to a therapist.  I told the therapist I didn’t believe The Church anymore.  The therapist told my parents.  My parents were disappointed, and hurt, but I never remember them asking me why I stopped believing.

After I stopped attending services, my father once asked me if I was going on an LDS Mission.  Somewhat befuddled by the idea of giving two years of my life to a religion in which I no longer believed, I answered with a quick, “No.”  He asked why not, and I replied impatiently, “Because I don’t believe it anymore.”  He never asked a follow up question.  Was it because of my teenage attitude or his lack of curiosity?  I’ll never know.

Later I ran into a member of the local bishopric and a good friend of my father’s.  He asked why I stopped coming to church.  I replied that I didn’t believe it anymore, and that I had some problems with some doctrines and beliefs.  Before I could go on, he stopped me and told me that he knew people who had left The Church, and knew their problems with The Church, but it didn’t matter.  “It’s just true, and I think you know that.”

Instantly dismissive of my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs.  How intellectually lazy and willfully ignorant.  Though it is highly doubtful, this man may have been able to address some of my concerns, but, for him, it seemed better to dwell in ignorance.

After my child was born, our families passively danced around the issue of religion until I felt it necessary to confront my mother about my lack of beliefs.  Though she acknowledged the atheist position, of which she was already aware, she asked no other questions of me.  Even when I resigned my membership in The LDS Church, and sent a direct e-mail making my actions known, not a single member of my family, including my innumerable extended family members, asked any variation of, “What do you believe, and why?”

Why are we so afraid to discuss this topic?  I am guilty as well.  I often want to ask my siblings, father-in-law, brother-in-law, what they believe and why they believe, but I I avoid it – afraid of offending them, as I have been offended.  Why is this one topic so volatile?  So alarming? Though I study and obsess over these subjects, I never really ask those true believers who are all around me.  Are we all really that thin-skinned, or do we just assume that everyone else is so easily distressed?

It is likely part of why I continue to write here; so that I can openly express to strangers what I’d really like to express to those I love.  In which case, thank you for reading.

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” – Francis Bacon

Happiness, Truth, Beauty, and Wisdom

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.” – Christopher Hitchens

What is better about being an atheist rather than a theist?  Than a Christian?  Than a Mormon?

  1. Blaming yourself.
    • When you make a mistake, it’s your fault.  It isn’t Satan.  It isn’t God.  It’s your fault.  You can choose to learn from it, or you can ignore it, but it’s your fault and it’s your choice.  When you have trouble understanding something, it isn’t because “God works in mysterious ways”, or because you didn’t ask with enough faith.  you just need to study more, or ask better questions.  If you’re selfish and hurt a loved one, you weren’t “tempted by The Adversary”.  It’s your fault.  It’s your choice.  You’re not being punished.   You’re not being admonished.  It’s just you vs. The Universe.
  2. Praising yourself.
    • You earned the job.  You earned the paycheck.  You earned the bonus.  You caught the ball.  You hit the homerun.  Your anti-bodies beat pneumonia, or the flu, or the cold.  Your body healed the broken leg, and the sprained knee, or even beat back cancer.  You weren’t “blessed.”  You weren’t rewarded by God.  You did it.  Biology did it.  Your genes did it, and that feels pretty damned good.
  3. Blaming Nature.
    • Earthquakes are tectonic plates.  Volcanoes the same.  Hurricanes are warm air and a spinning planet.  Disease is biological and chemical reactions.  Parasites are an unfortunate side effect of evolution.  You don’t have to wonder why evil and suffering exists.  You don’t have to wonder if you’ve angered some omnipotent being.  You don’t have to wait for help and relief from above that isn’t coming.  Make your own miracles.
  4. Helping.
    • Really helping.  No “thoughts and prayers”, but actually donating time, money, and effort to help those in need.  Thoughts and prayers don’t work, and if they did, we wouldn’t need ambulances, first responders, or doctors.
  5. Sundays.
    • …or whatever Sabbath day was previously set aside for praising and worshiping.  Having two weekend days, pretty nice.  Wonderful, in fact.  An extra day for shopping.  And extra day for taking your kid to the aquarium, or the zoo, or the museum, or a hike, or a bike ride, or just to sit around and watch Ghostbusters for the 10th time this month.  An extra day to teach her how to make muffins, cookies, or soup.  An extra day to sit outside and enjoy the sun with a cool beverage, or an extra day to sit inside and enjoy the warmth with a warm beverage.
  6. Thinking.
    • Nothing is off limits.  You can imagine that there are ten gods, or none.  You can debate endlessly with William Lane Craig, or Rabbi Schmuley, or Frank Turek, or Christopher Hitchens, or Bertrand Russell in your mind.  You can contemplate the repercussions of any position without fear of going over some imaginary line.  “Was Jesus real, or wasn’t he?”  “Is there evidence for The Exodus?”  “Is there enough evidence to justify that position?” “What if there is a god?”  No stone left unturned for fear of the truth that may be waiting underneath.
  7. Reading.
    • Much the same as #4.  Nothing is off limits.  You can read history that destroys your heroes – secular and religious.  You can read history that builds up the ‘villains.’
  8. Money.
    • There’s no registration fees or membership dues to be an atheist.  As opposed to religions who say, “But God loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more.” (George Carlin)
  9. Guilt Free Sex.
    • Notice I didn’t say, “consequence free”.  Of course there are still consequences for your actions, but you need not feel guilty for responding to natural, healthy sexual instincts.  Masturbation is perfectly healthy and natural.  Safe, consensual sex is perfectly healthy and natural.  There is no need for young people to be shamed and guilted about natural drives.  They are better served with education about healthy and safe  sexual behaviors instead of needless shame.
  10. Freedom.
    • In short, freedom.  Freedom from supernatural thought, theistic thought, and religious thought.  Freedom to think for yourself.  Freedom to reason for yourself.  Freedom to be yourself.  Freedom to blame yourself.  Freedom to praise yourself.  Freedom to spend your money as *you* see fit.  Freedom to love, physically, mentally, emotionally, or all of the above.  Freedom to live without wasteful wishes for something more and better and to love all that this life is and has to offer.

The Religious Right Shouldn’t Be Able to Vote…

…for Trump based on their conscience.  Yes, admittedly clickbait, but, read below.

I’m not sure how those that believe in the 10 commandments can, in good conscience, vote for Trump.

Let’s look at the commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness”

Let’s look at last night’s (2016/10/09) debate:

“I didn’t say sex tape”

“Grab them by the p*ssy”

In the debate, when pressed, he said he did not ever act out what he said he’d done in the recently leaked tape, and that it was just ‘locker room’ talk.  Personally, I think it’s more likely that he did do what he was saying, but taking him at his word, is locker room talk an excuse to lie?

He mentions Hillary Clinton proposes increasing refuges by 550% which will lead to ‘hundreds of thousands’ of new refugees.

While the 550% percent increase is true, proposing allowing 65,000 refugees in 2017, there is no additional allow statements made by Clinton, therefore, no ‘hundreds of thousands’.

“I don’t know Putin … I know nothing about Russia”

I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates, and we did very well that night.”

He continued to say that he couldn’t release taxes because he’s being audited

“Nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information,” the IRS said in a statement. This has been pointed out to him many times, but he continues to state the lie that he can’t release them.

“ICE just endorsed me. They’ve never endorsed a presidential candidate.”

They did not endorse him. A union of immigration and customs officers voted to endorse Trump.

“… we are letting people into this country that are going to cause problems and crime like you’ve never seen”

Apprehensions at the Southwest border, a proxy for attempted crossings, have dropped by 79 percent from the year 2000, which was the peak. Pew Research Center reports more Mexicans left the U.S. than entered between 2009 and 2014.

“I was against the war in Iraq”

When asked if he supported the war in Iraq, he said on Howard Stern’s show, “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

I could go on and on and on.

How about “Thou shalt not commit adultery”

I want to be VERY clear on this.  While Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, the Senate acquitted him…  While he has had a questionable past when it comes to adultery… He’s not running for President.  Does a person stand on their own merits? If you think so, then Hillary is not guilty of Bill’s crimes. If you think a person doesn’t stand on their own merits, then you have your own issues.

That said, Donald Trump has had confirmed mistresses, affairs, etc., and in fact has left previous wives and married the mistresses. This seems like an extremely large glass house that he’s attempting to throw stones from.

What about “Thou shalt not steal”?

He doesn’t pay taxes, as far as we can tell, and continues to claim he can’t provide proof until he’s done with his audits, which is 100% false, to the point that the IRS has said there is no issues with him releasing his tax documents.  Is not paying taxes not theft? He talks of deficits, which have been largely caused by tax loopholes for the top 1%, but continues to not pay taxes (as far as we can see). Another glass house?

Therefore, as a member of the religious right, do you really feel, in good conscience, that you can vote for an individual that so blatantly flaunts the commandments of the bible?

I haven’t ever said to someone “don’t vote” even when they disagree with me, but, perhaps a write in vote for your ideal candidate would better serve your conscience.

Everything Is Possible

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

— Epicurus (maybe)

 

You are God.  Omnipotent.  You also have a beloved creation, human beings, for whom you would like to create a universe.  You also want to test the humans.  You want to see if they will behave, even if they aren’t sure you’re watching.

What does your universe look like?

Mine?  It consists of a single world.  The world provides it’s own light and warmth.  No need for an external source.  No need for stars, galaxies, or potentially deadly and harmful comets and meteors.  One self-sustaining and beautiful planet.

The planet, let’s call it Ceti Alpha 6,  also grows unlimited food, and provides unlimited clean water everywhere.  Most of the planet consists of dry land upon which my creation can spend their time.

Wait.  Why does my creation need food and water?  I’m omnipotent.  Ok.  Now humans no longer require food, water, or air.  The planet only provides warmth and light.

Wait.  Why does my creation need warmth and light?  I’m omnipotent.  Ok.  Now humans no longer require food, water, air, nor warmth, nor light.   They can experience and interact with one another without it.

My planet has no tectonic plates.  Not earthquakes.  No volcanoes.  Humans can live everywhere, not just on 1/3 of the planet.  No meteors to worry about.  No fights over necessary resources like food, clean water, etc.

Now, every human is born with a “tattoo” on their inner arms of my commandments.  Everyone is born perfect.  No birth-defects.  No mental defects.  Ceti Alpha 6 has no disease.  No cancer.  No parasites.  No deadly animals.

Being omnipotent, and omniscient, I know the exact moment at which any of my humans has truly chosen to break one of my commandments.  If they do, I simply blink that individual out of existence, and wipe the memory of them from every other individual.  Each person still has perfect agency, but a choice to use that agency to cause suffering only affects the evil person.  No external suffering need exist.

Of course, if I am omniscient, maybe this whole “test” thing is unnecessary and superfluous.  If I know who will be good and who’ll be evil, maybe I needn’t bother.  Or, hey, maybe I just shouldn’t have created evil humans in the first place.

That seems much less nonsensical.

“Once you believe anything is possible, everything is possible.”

Hard Pulling

The familial history on my mother’s side runs right back to the Mormon immigrants and their trek across the plains. Our family was part of the James G Willie Handcart Company, which was the first of two groups which make up the largest disaster in the history of American westward migration. Their story has been told to me more times than I can count, and referenced even more frequently.

Unfortunately, it seems that none of my forebearers saw fit to keep a journal or diary, so the specifics of their journey was and likely will remain a mystery. The story I was told while growing up, in brief, is that the family left England, had a baby on the ship (The Thornton), dragged their handcart across the plains, and were nearly starving when they arrived – the baby being nearly skeletal, but, thanks to a blessing they received, not a single member of the family died. Of course, it turns out that most of the immigrants from England/Liverpool received the exact same blessing – which was clearly ineffective for many of the poor victims who died in the cold and snow.

I never really learned more details than that. Here and there, but nothing very specific.

That has changed somewhat, in recent days, and I can thank Google for it.

I would like to share these sources with you:

  • http://handcart.byu.edu/
    • This site is really nice. It lays out the official company log for each day of the journey. It also includes commentary coorelating events from the company log with other diaries, journals, and sources. Though it is run by BYU, and does occasionally include dubious stories of a miraculous nature in (for example, a man who gives food to one company member, then mysteriously disappears – must have been a Three Nephite?), it really gives a detailed picture of the day to day doings of the company. If you merely want to read about the disastrous part, start on September 3rd, when they lost more than 30 head of cattle. (This site has since become inactive. If anyone has contacts with BYU History department, please ask them to reinstate this invaluable resource)
    • https://history.lds.org/overlandtravel
      • It looks as most of the above sources have been moved here, but not as nicely organized – with an annotated timeline, etc.
  • http://user.xmission.com/~nelsonb/willie.htm
    • This is a narrative written by John Chislett, who is a new hero of mine. He wrote his story for a book some years after the disaster. His story is riveting and corroborates and further details some of the specific events listed in the official log – including his personal burying of 15 people on the worst day of the Willie Company’s trek. (You can also download the full book in which this narrative first appeared from here: https://archive.org/details/rockymountainsai00stenrich
  • http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/south-pass-will-bagley/1117684719?ean=9780806144429
    • Will Bagley is a well respected historian of Western America, and, often, specifically Mormon history, much to his chagrin. This book contains a great deal more information than just the handcart disasters, which is fascinating in its own right, but he tells of this tragedy and rescue operation in stark, riveting detail. (I believe this is a Lendable book, so if you don’t want to buy a copy yourself, and you know my e-mail, let me know and I think I can lend it for two-weeks via Nook and Barnes and Noble)
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou47dupzoys
    • This is a lecture by Will Bagley on his findings about the handcart “experiment.” It is for a group of “post-Mormons”, which may make some religious folk uncomfortable, but the historical information is stunning.

Among the more shocking things I learned is that the trek was doomed, almost from the beginning, and that the leaders from SLC did little to alleviate the problem until it was far, far too late.

On September 4, 1856. During a storm in the night, more than 30 head of cattle were lost in a stampede. The company searched for three days, but didn’t find a single head. As a result, the wagons had to be pulled by what few oxen they had left – and the milk cows. The milk cows were not up to the task, so the wagons had to be lightened, which meant that 100lb. sacks of flour were loaded onto the handcarts instead!

On September 12, 1856, the company was met by President Franklin D. Richards and his entourage, who becomes the real villain in this story. The company informed Mr. Richards of their cattle misadventure and their plight. Instead of assisting, or sending for assistance, Mr. Richards rebuked Levi Savage for his opinion that it was likely suicide to continue without the cattle, esp. so late in the season, and then demanded that the company provide them with some meat. As John Chislett remembered:

One evening, as we were camped on the west bank of the North Bluff Fork of the Platte, a grand outfit of carriages and light wagons was driven into our camp from the East. Each vehicle was drawn by four horses or mules, and all the appointments seemed to be first rate. The occupants we soon found to be the apostle F. D. Richards, elders W. H. Kimball, G. D. Grant, Joseph A. Young, C. G. Webb, N. H. Felt, W. C. Dunbar, and others who were returning to Utah from missions abroad. They camped with us for the night, and in the morning a general meeting was called. Apostle Richards addressed us. He had been advised of the opposition brother Savage had made, and he rebuked him very severely in open meet- ing for his lack of faith in God. Richards gave us plenty of counsel to be faithful, prayerful, obedient to our leaders, etc., and wound up by prophesying in the name of Israel’s God that ‘ though it might storm on our ‘ right and on our left, the Lord would keep open our way before us and ‘ we should get to Zion in safety.’ This assurance had a telling effect on the people. To them it was ‘the voice of God.’ They gave a loud and hearty ‘ Amen,’ while tears of joy ran down their sunburnt cheeks. These brethren told Captain Willie they wanted some fresh meat, and he had our fattest calf killed for them. I am ashamed for humanity’s sake to say they took it. While we, four hundred in number, travelling so slowly and so far from home, with our mixed company of men, women, children, aged, sick, and infirm people, had no provisions to spare, had not enough for ourselves, in fact, these ‘elders in Israel,’ these ‘servants of God,’ took from us what we ourselves so greatly needed and went on in style with their splendid outfit, after preaching to us faith, patience, prayerfulness, and obedience to the priesthood.

Then as they arrived at Fort Laramie, the provisions that Mr. Richards promised them were not there. I hope that as Mr. Richards walked around SLC in the years after, he felt appropriately ashamed by the myriad of maimed and disfigured saints who managed to survive in spite of his negligent actions.

Their story is astonishing. It is also sickening and disturbing. But their story should never be forgotten. The narratives of these people are so enlightening not only into their fearsome plight, but also into the overland migration of the 1800’s.

“The ascent was sand; it caused very hard pulling.” – Levi Savage, September 15, 1856

Laying Up Treasures


“If a destitute family is faced with the decision of paying their tithing or eating, they should pay their tithing.” – Elder Lynn Robbins

“To those of you who pay your tithing, I commend you. To those of you who presently are not obeying the law of tithing, I invite you to consider your ways and repent.” – Elder David Bendar

 

The LDS Church is, again, investing in commercial development.  Rather than using their vast holding to help the poor, the needy, the sick, or even their own financially struggling members, they are, instead, helping to build a new stadium in SLC.

One argument often made by LDS apologists is that donated tithing is not used for these commercial ventures.  Instead, The Church uses investment income from their commercial enterprises (one might ask why these exist) to re-invest in the new project.  I’ve written of this before, with regards to City Creek and The Deseret Ranches,  What came to mind today was the following analogy.  I give you:

 

Gospel Profits

Tommy: Hey, Gordie, can you give me some money? I really need some money to fix my bike.

Gordie: No problem, brother. How much do you need?

Tommy: Well, I’m not sure exactly, but if you could spare like, maybe 10% of what’s in your wallet, that might cover it.

Gordie: That seems a weird way to ask for it. But, since you’re my brother, and I love you, OK. Here’s $10.

Tommy: . . . . Are you sure that’s 10%?

Gordie: Sure. I’ve got $110, so I gave you $10.

Tommy: Well, but technically, 10% of $110 is $11.

Gordie: . . . .

Tommy: . . . . Don’t you want to help me? If you help me, I’ll help you.

Grodie: . . . . Fine. Here’s another $1.

Tommy: Thank you! Thank you!

<Several Weeks Later>

Gordie: Hey, Tommy! Looks like you got your bike all fixed up!

Tommy: Sure did! Also got these awesome stickers to make it go faster! And some sweet new biking gloves!

Gordie: Um. Where’d you get the money for stickers and gloves?

Tommy: Oh, well, so, before I got my bike fixed, I took the money you gave me and I bought some candy bars. Then I sold the candy bars door to door, and made $15! Then I used that $15 and bought more candy bars, and made $25!  At the end of two weeks, I had $130!  So, then I used $80 to fix my bike and used the rest to buy the stickers and gloves!

Gordie: But, I gave you that money to fix your bike.

Tommy: I know! Thank you SO much!

Gordie: But you had money left over? Shouldn’t you have paid me back with the excess, or at least saved the money so that you didn’t need to ask for money next time?

Tommy: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Gordie:  Well, could you at least help me mow the…

Tommy:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! <rides away>

 

 

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. – Matthew 6:19–21,24

 

An Uncomfortable Condition

“Don’t you dare bail. I am so furious with people who leave This Church. I don’t know whether ‘furious’ is a good apostolic word. But I am. What on earth kind of conviction is that? What kind of patty-cake, taffy-pull experience is that? As if none of this ever mattered. As if nothing in our contemporary life mattered. As if this is all just supposed to be “just exactly the way I want it and answer every one of my questions and pursue this and occupy that and defy this – and then maybe I’ll be a Latter-Day Saint!?” Well, there’s too much Irish in me for that.”
Apostle Jeffery R. Holland (audio link)

Mr. Holland was not yet an apostle when I was a Conference watcher, so I don’t have much experience with him, but may I offer a brief riposte to the above tersely worded statement?

Dare to bail.  I am so joyous when someone grabs hold of truth, and facts, and reason.  To take the path they know is right, even in the face of difficulty.  I don’t know whether ‘joyous’ is a very good heathen word.  But what on Earth kind of conviction does that take?  What kind of fidelity to veracity?   To let your ability to reason and logic lead you into the unknown and unfamiliar?  Just as if this all is exactly the way it is supposed to be, with all it’s warts and problems, and that “I don’t know, but I will strive to learn more” is a perfectly acceptable answer to hard questions.  To admit that knowing something with your heart isn’t the best way to know anything, and that not knowing is far more honest.

Well, I suppose there’s just enough skepticism in me for that.

Bail on beliefs that can be shown to be false.

Bail on beliefs that cause more strife than they relieve.

Bail on organizations that promise hope and deliver pain.

Bail on leaders who command sacrifice and give none of themselves.

In the words of a man much wiser than I, “Believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.”

“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a
ridiculous one.” – Voltair

Well Documented Evidence

“Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if they were less well-documented.” — Richard J. Maynes, Seventy

The founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith Jr., began his journey to prophet with an event that has been called “The First Vision.”  When I was growing up as a young Mormon boy, I was told that Joseph knelt to pray in a grove of trees to ask God which of the many churches was true.  According to the story I was told, Joseph was visited by both Heavenly Father (God) and Jesus Christ, who told him none of the churches were true, and that he was to found a new one.

In the 17 years I was active in The LDS Church, that was the only version of the story I ever heard.  It turns out that there are many versions, with widely differing timelines and subject matters.  The LDS Church even has an official essay on the subject, and you can read them for yourself at The Joseph Smith Papers Project.

FirstVisionsMormonInfographics

For many people, who were as ignorant to these facts as I once was, discovering this can be a bit faith-shaking.  This event is absolutely pivotal and essential in the Joseph Smith narrative, and the inconsistencies are troubling. One might think that such a momentous moment as meeting God, or God and Jesus, or an angel, or a Pillar of Fire, would be distinctly memorable.

If this is bothersome to you, let not  your heart be troubled;  Elder Richard Maynes explains how differing versions of an important story, with different dates, and different people, with different messages actually make The First Vision “the best-documented vision in history.”

To demonstrate my particular reaction to this breach of logic and reason, I present my original one-act play:

The Best Documented Dinner in History

[Scene:  Interior.  A small police department interrogation room.  Two detectives (Cop #1 and Cop #2 stand at a table in front of a seated ‘Gary’]

Cop #1: Hey, Gary. We brought you in because someone said they saw you over by the old Buckner place last Monday, just before it was robbed. Can you tell us where you were last Monday night? At about 7:30pm?

Gary: Oh. I was at dinner.

Cop #2: Yeah? Where’d you go? Any good?

Gary: Oh, yeah. New taco restaurant. ‘Los Amgios.’ Great chorizo.

Cop #1: That sounds great. What time did you get there?

Gary: Let me see. I started walking from my place at about 7:00.

Cop #2: And how far away do you live?

Gary: About 3 miles, which is why I took my bike.

Cop #1: But you just said you started walking?

Gary: That’s right I started walking over to Les Poissons, the French place.

Cop #2: Huh? Didn’t you say you were going to ‘Los Amigos’?

Gary: I did. It’s really good.

Cop #1: What about Les Poissons?

Gary: It’s really good.

Cop #2: Did you get a receipt?

Gary: Yup! It’s there in my wallet.

Cop #1: [shuffles through the wallet] Is this the one? To a restaurant called The Burger Bar?

Gary: Yup! I drove over there at a quarter after seven last Monday.

Cop #1: Is he putting me on, or am I putting him on?

Cop #2: So, on last Monday, you walked to a Mexican restaurant, biked to a French restaurant, and then drove to a burger joint, all on the same night, during roughly the same time period?

Gary: Of course! The consistent inconsistency proves how true it is.