Bible Weirdness I

(There are a great many “an atheist reads The Bible” kind of blogs, and this won’t become one of those, but when I don’t have something specific to write, I may try to find inspiration in rewriting some of the lesser known and more interesting Bible passages.)

Genesis 15.

Abram (not yet Abraham) has a vision of God, and asks The Lord, “Can you do anything for me?  I’ve not had any children, and so, when I die, the servant boy is gonna get all my stuff.  I don’t want him to have all my stuff.”

And God said to Abram, “Don’t worry.  You’ll have a son.  And lots of descendants.  Give them your stuff.  Plus, see this land?  It’s yours!”

Abram thanks God, “Gee.  That’s awesome.  But…how do I know it’s mine?”

“Well, Mr. Question-pants, if you want to know, go get a three-year-old cow, a three-year-old goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon.”

And Abram did so, but neither the effort in getting all of those animals, nor the time it might have taken to do so, was worth writing about in the sacred tome.

And The LORD commanded, “OK, now, cut the mammals in half, and line them up.  Do not, DO NOT, cut the birds in half!  That would be silly.  Then, later, when you fall asleep, I’ll come tell you how you’ll know this land is yours, in a dream.”

And, though The Bible doesn’t say, Abram probably looked into his current vision of God and wondered, “How is a dream going to be different from this vision?  Couldn’t he just tell me now?”  But, knowing God’s reputation for smiting back-talkers, Abram kepteth his mouth shut.

So, Abram waited to fall asleep so that God could come talk to him, again, in a slightly different way.  And Abram had to scare off some birds who wanted to eat God’s dead-animal based dream-catcher.

Then Abram fell asleep.  And God came back as a scary shadow dream.  And God told Abram that he would die happy and prosperous, but that his descendants would suffer a good long while, but then would be fine again.  And then God pulled out an atlas and showed Abram the boundaries of his descendants future land.

Educated Empathy

You oughta be shot. Or stabbed. Lose a leg. To be a surgeon, you know? Know what kind of pain you’re dealing with. They make psychiatrists get psychoanalyzed before they can get certified, but they don’t make a surgeon get cut on. That seem right to you?” – Jubal Early, Firefly (2002)

When I was young, I would wonder how other kids in my class, who were not Mormons, could not see that The LDS Church was the living and restored gospel of Jesus Christ. How did I know? How was I so sure? They told me at church. They told me at General Conference. My parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all told me. It said so in The Bible, and The Book of Mormon. Heavenly Father gave us these sacred books to tell us how to behave, what was right, what was wrong, and what was true. How could anyone be so obtuse as to deny that? When I was old enough, I  would even get up and proclaim my perfect knowledge from the pulpit; “I know this church is true.”

Of course, later, I lost that perfect knowledge and faith. As I did, I began to empathize more and more with those who had doubted my previous point of view. They weren’t being obtuse, or hateful and evil. They weren’t just a bunch of “anti-Mormons” leading us from the straight-and-narrow. Either they believed, just as fiercely, in their own chosen faith, or they saw holes, contradictions, and logical fallacies in the claims of my former church. Just as believers had reasons to believe, doubters had reasons to doubt.

The experience of being so fiercely on one side of a debate, then having to admit that one was completely wrong, is a difficult but ultimately healthy one. It bestows a welcome gift of empathy that can be gained by no other means. Whether in religious discussions, moral, ethical, or political debates, there is no greater tool than understanding the position of the opposition, no matter how wrong it may seem to you. I believe the experience of believing gave me a better ability to understand why someone might feel that I am wrong, or even why they might feel threatened by my point of view.

When a business says that they are Christian, and won’t serve LGBT people because it’s immoral – I can empathize with the why, though I believe them to be completely wrong. Could they say the same? When believers get upset that “them damned atheists” are trying to move a Ten Commandments monument out of a courthouse, I empathize with their reaction. I think I understand, as much as anyone can, how they believe the action to be a attack on their faith and traditions, even though I don’t see it the same way.  But, are those believers able to, for a moment, suspend the concrete assurance that they cannot be wrong, for the purpose of trying to understand how in His name someone like me may feel differently?

Causing Offense

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
– Fatherly advice


Nicolas Ulmer is a little upset.  Due to God’s Folly, The Internet, he discovered that one of his relatives was posthumously baptized by The LDS Church.  Even more infuriating, LDS officials refuse to provide him with a sufficient explanation:

Carrying out online research into my family, I was surprised to learn from LDS posts that my direct ancestor, Johannes Ulmer, also of Steckborn, was posthumously “baptized” Mormon. I have repeatedly written to many Mormon authorities, including Brigham Young University and LDS headquarters, asking by what theological or legal right they presume to change my ancestor’s faith to theirs, but have gotten no substantive reply whatsoever.

Read the complete letter here.

When I was a young Mormon boy, I was baptized by proxy for many, many, many, many, many deceased individuals (all male, BTW.  It’s important to God that in proxy baptisms, the genitals match).

At the time, I sincerely believed I was doing those people a great favor; giving them the gift of God’s salvation.  Seeing it from their perspective now, I see just how offensive it could be.

I also have to accept the knowledge that I will have various posthumous LDS rituals performed on my behalf, though I make it  clear that I would not approve of those actions.  Regardless of my wishes, however, one of my relatives, no matter how close or distant, will eventually put my name on one of those little slips of paper.

Meet The Mormons

There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies.” Gordon B. Hinckley

Last week, during the The LDS General Conference, the organization reported that the current membership of The Church included 15,372,337 individuals. I am counted among that number.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I pay no tithes.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I do not know where my ward house is located.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I do not own a copy of The Book of Mormon.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I am pretty sure that sea-gulls did not save Salt Lake City farmers from hordes of crickets.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I accept all families as genuine and valid; not just those that resemble my own.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I do not know which of Joseph Smith’s many “First Vision” accounts to accept as truth.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I know the LDS Church lied for decades about Joseph Smith’s polygamist past.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I know the LDS Church lied for decades about the reason(s) Black members were denied full membership.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I believe that Brigham Young was a misogynistic and racist bigot.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I believe my brave, strong, and faithful pioneer fore-bearers were needlessly imperiled and endangered by the dangerous ideas and practices of the aforementioned misogynistic bigot.

I am one of those 15,372,337 million people, though I do not revere Thomas Monson, nor any of his peers, nor predecessors as prophets, nor seers, nor revelators.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I find it unethical, despicable, and immoral for any church to take 10% of their members’ hard-earned money — money that the congregation gives freely in the fervent belief that it will be used to build up The Savior’s churches and temples in order to fill the whole of the Earth with Christ’s light — and uses it, instead, to build a shopping mall in downtown Salt Lake City (I find this so repugnant, I refuse to set foot inside that abomination, yet, still, I remain one of the counted).

I am one of those 15,372,337 million people, even as I believe that Joseph Smith was a known treasure-hunter who plagiarized the text of The Book of Mormon from many contemporary sources, including The King James Bible, View of The Hebrews, and possibly Manuscript, Found.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I know that the church was repeatedly and repeatedly duped by Mark Hofmann because the leaders knew there were ghosts and skeletons in the Church’s history, and would do (and pay) anything to hide them.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I have long believed what the LDS church now readily admits, that The Book of Abraham was not “translated” from the common Egyptian funerary texts, but invented by Joseph Smith.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I do not believe that there is any kind of god, let alone one who lives on Kolob.

My name is Justin, and I’m a Mormon.

My name is Justin, and I’m an atheist.

My name is Justin, and I am not alone.