An LDS Gem: Elder Holland's Opus

This past Saturday and Sunday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its 179th Semi-Annual General Conference, at which Latter-day Saints (Mormons) gathered to hear sermons from their ecclesiastical leaders. At the afternoon session held on Sunday October 4, 2009, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered a 16-minute address that quickly became the talk of the 10-hour-long conference.  The text of all General Conference addresses are available at the LDS church's web site.  The text of Elder Holland's address can be found here.  The church web site also makes the talks available in audio and video formats.  After the jump, I embed the talk as it appears on YouTube, in two parts, and then provide my commentary on it.  In sum, Elder Holland's talk is rife with lies and logical fallacies, and relies on emotional and psychological manipulation rather than rational argument to affect his audience.

Continue reading "An LDS Gem: Elder Holland's Opus" »


Apostasy Been Berra Berra Good to Me

The LDS church teaches that people like me, i.e., former members of the church, are destined to be miserable, and that we are in the clutches of Satan.  We are as Judas--traitors who would kill Christ if we could.  This sounds harsh, and indeed it is.  It sounds like one of those old 19th-century teachings (like blood atonement) that the church has swept under the rug.  But, alas, this is one of the old teachings that is still alive and kicking in the modern church.  In the current manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, published at the direction of the First Presidency (and the only extra-scriptural material permitted to be used by Priesthood and Relief Society teachers in the church) is found lesson number 27, titled "Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy." From that lesson comes this quote, which is representative of the tenor and thrust of the entire lesson:

[A]postates after turning from the faith of Christ, unless they have speedily repented, have sooner or later fallen into the snares of the wicked one, and have been left destitute of the Spirit of God, to manifest their wickedness in the eyes of multitudes. From apostates the faithful have received the severest persecutions. Judas was rebuked and immediately betrayed his Lord into the hands of His enemies, because Satan entered into him.

There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned. When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas-like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors. . . .

. . .

When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.

I believe that one reason why active Mormons often choose not to associate at all with former members of the church is that they actually believe that former members are possessed by Satan, as the above quote from Joseph Smith unequivocally states.

Continue reading "Apostasy Been Berra Berra Good to Me" »


50 Reasons People Give for Believing in God

Guy Harrison has authored a book called  50 Reasons People Give for Believing in God.  In it, Harrison lists the things that people typically say to support their belief in deity and then asks provocative questions about the reasons given, and discusses the answers rationally.  I haven't read the book, but thought it would be fun to provide my own one-line commentary on each of the 50 reasons given.  So here goes:

1. My god is obvious. Not to me.

2. Almost everybody on Earth is religious. So? At times in world history, almost everyone believed the earth to be flat.

3. Faith is a good thing. Faith is neutral. It is good or bad depending on the object on which it rests.

4. Archaeological discoveries prove that my god exists. I call BS. Show me one.

5. Only my god can make me feel significant. Says a lot about you, not so much about god.

6. Atheism is just another religion. Only if you define religion so broadly as to have it lose all meaning.

7. Evolution is bad. Non sequitur.

8. Our world is too beautiful to be an accident. Seen any pictures out of Sudan lately?

9. My god created the universe. Well, if you say so...

10. Believing in my god makes me happy. That's nice.

11. Better safe than sorry. How safe is it, really? Are you sure you picked the right one out of the millions of gods out there to choose from?

12. A sacred book proves my god is real. Which book? Which god? Apply this to others who claim the same.

13. Divine justice proves my god is real. The lack of any evidence for such justice in the world tends toward the opposite conclusion.

14. My god answers prayers. All of them? If not, why not?

15. I would rather worship my god than the devil. False dichotomy.

16. My god heals sick people. But only some of them, right? So the suffering in the world is evidence that your god is a sadist, no? Why doesn't your god heal amputees?

17. Anything is better than being an atheist. Are you sure? Try it, you might like it.

18. My god made the human body. So you worship the Earth?

19. My god sacrificed his only son for me. Sounds like your god is a sick sonofabitch. If I killed my son and said I did it for you, what would you think of me?

20. Atheists are jerks who think they know everything. Some of them. But what do you call someone who overgeneralizes about a whole class of people?

21. I don't lose anything by believing in my god. Just your freedom.

22. I didn't come from a monkey. Who said you did, you moron?

23. I don't want to go to hell. Don't worry, you won't.

24. I feel my god when I pray. Quit putting your hand down your pants when you kneel.

25. I need my god to protect me. From your fellow believers, no doubt.

26. I want eternal life. Be careful what you wish for. See, e.g., the Highlander series.

27. Without my god we would have no sense of right and wrong. You need a book and preacher to tell you that murder is wrong? Really?

28. My god makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. So does rooting for your favorite college football team.

29. My religion makes more sense than all the others. With all due respect, that's not a very high hurdle.

30. My god changes lives. For better or worse?

31. Intelligent design proves my god is real. I agree--your god is about as authentic as the science behind intelligent design.

32. Millions of people can't be wrong about my religion. Whatever your religion, millions more don't believe it than do.

33. Miracles prove my god is real. Is David Blaine god? Criss Angel?

34. Religion is beautiful. If you think Afghani schoolgirls with disfigured faces from having acid thrown at them because they were getting an education is beautiful, then sure, it's gorgeous.

35. Some very smart people believe in my god. Some very smart people drank the Kool-Aid in Jonestown.

36. Ancient prophecies prove my god exists. Name one.

37. No one has ever disproved the existence of my god. No one has ever disproved the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, either.

38. People have gone to heaven and returned. People claim to have been abducted by aliens? Do you believe them?

39. Religion brings people together. Yes, it's working out so well for India and Pakistan. Or the Palestinians and Israel.

40. My god inspires people. To do what? Strap bombs to their chests?

41. Science can't explain everything. Give it time.

42. Society would fall apart without religion. Because it's doing so well with religion, right?

43. My religion is so old, it must be true. So what was the basis for believing it when it was new and competing with older religions?

44. Someone I trust told me that my god is real. Someone I trust once told me to buy Enron stock.

45. Atheism is a negative and empty philosophy. Why so negative? Don't you have anything positive to offer?

46. Believing in a god doesn't hurt anyone. Ever heard of Brenda and Erica Lafferty?

47. The earth is perfectly tuned to support life. Duh. If it weren't, we wouldn't be here.
 
48. Believing is natural so my god must be real. If I believe in unicorns, are they real?

49. The end is near. Only if religious people get their way.

50. I am afraid of not believing. Finally, the real root of religious belief--fear
.


What I Want for My Son

Last week, I posted on What I Want for My Daughters.  This week I post on What I Want for My Son.

I want my son to know that he is loved no matter what he believes about God, Jesus, Joseph Smith, or the LDS Church.  I want him to know that I respect his intelligence and his freedom to think for himself and to choose for himself, and that his parents' love for him is not conditioned on his believing in or practicing any particular religion, going on a mission, being straight, or marrying in the temple. 

I want my son to grow up with the ability to analyze facts, assess evidence, and critically evaluate arguments he reads or hears.  I want him to feel free to choose an educational and career path that fits his interests and talents, and not to feel pressured to go to a specific college or enter a certain professional field.  I want him to possess a thirst for knowledge and a zeal for discovering truth, wherever it might be found and wherever it might lead. 

Continue reading "What I Want for My Son" »


Mormon Stories #77-83: Paul Toscano

I've just finished listening to my friend John Dehlin's latest podcasts with Paul Toscano, one of the illustrious (or notorious, depending on one's perspective) September Six, having been excommunicated in September 1993 for having ideas that Boyd K. Packer disagreed with.  I have listened to nearly all of John's podcasts at both Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters, and I think this is his best interview yet.  Toscano had my laugh tears flowing in episodes 4 and 5.  I found myself cheering when he said (I paraphrase) that he would put his body count of destroyed testimonies against Boyd Packer's any day.  I found myself once again distressed and distraught at the treatment he and his family received at the hands of church authorities at every level.  His only "sin" was thinking, believing, and speaking ideas not understood or believed by those in positions of authority in the LDS Church.  Many people have commented that the LDS Church used to be more fun and exciting than today's staid, correlated cookie-cutter church.  Part of the reason is that the church has given the boot to folks like the Toscanos.  While I don't think I ever shared either Paul's or Margaret's understanding of Mormon theology, I would have loved to have had people like them in my ward--people who are passionate about studying the scriptures and exploring the ramifications of the doctrines Joseph Smith taught.  I am not really sure what Boyd Packer feared from the Toscanos.  I think the church would be enriched by having a diversity of thought and opinion freely expressed.  I like Paul Toscano's vision of the church as a family, where the ordinances are what make the church unique, and people are free to explore, discuss, and disagree--even with the apostles--on matters of faith and doctrine.

I post the YouTube versions of these podcasts here for your convenience.  Both audio and video versions are also available from the Mormon Stories web site or by subscription from iTunes.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did and will comment freely.  Mormon Stories regulates comments from non-believers, disaffected members, and former Mormons.  Equality Time is the place to comment if you want to say anything that would not be appropriate for Sunday School.


Recommended Site of the Week: Religion Facts

This week's recommended site I stumbled upon recently.  It's a huge site dedicated to giving "just the facts" about the world's many religions (or at least the most popular ones).  It's called Religion Facts.

Some have asked me: "If you think Mormonism is not a good fit for you any longer, what would you replace it with?"  I'm still on that journey of self-discovery myself and sites like Religion Facts I find useful in giving some direction to that search.  Right now, I lean toward Unitarian Universalism.  I like its openness, lack of dogma, and the healthy attitudes I think it transmits to children.  Whether it remains a viable long-term solution for me, I do not know.  But it appeals both to my mind and my heart right now.  I hope you enjoy this week's recommended site.


What I Want for My Daughters

When I concluded that the LDS Church was not what it claimed to be and not what I had once thought it was, I experienced a range of emotions: deep sadness, humiliation, and an existential despair punctuated by periods of relief, hope, and exhilaration, to name a few.   But in shedding a world view that had informed my every thought and action, I struggled to get my bearings.  Mormonism, for all its faults, does provide a framework and structure for "raising up children in the way that they should go."  It provides a road map for the lives of our children, literally from the time of birth well into adulthood.  Mormon children are blessed as infants, baptized at eight, given countless activities and programs and checklists with clearly identified objectives, indoctrinated every school day for four years in high school, and encouraged to look forward to missions, church colleges, and marriage in the temple.  It's all scripted, and Mormon parents need only "plug-and-play" the resources provided by the church to raise their children with the beliefs and values church leaders consider most important.   Upon realizing that Mormonism's foundational truth claims are bogus, I wondered whether the "goodness" of Mormonism was more important than my sense of its "untruthiness."  I pondered whether, despite my dismissal of the church's truth claims, the church's values and its substantial resources for instilling those values nonetheless provided a reasonable basis for raising my children in the church.  I thought about what the church teaches kids about themselves, the world around them, and their own potential.  And I thought about what I want my kids, especially my daughters, to internalize.  I could not help but conclude that . . .

Continue reading "What I Want for My Daughters" »


Recommended Site of the Week: Images of the Restoration

With all the great resources out there for people who are engaged in religious studies generally and Mormon studies in particular, I thought I would start a new recurring feature here at Equality Time to help people find the best blogs and web sites out there on the "Internets" that deal with these subjects.  For the inaugural post in what I intend to be a regular series, I feature a newly created blog by a talented artist (who, it seems, at this point wants to remain anonymous).  The blog is called Images of the Restoration.  The  author/artist of this blog has created a number of compelling depictions of events from Mormon history--events that Mormon apologists, studious members of the LDS Church who venture outside the correlated materials, and critics of the LDS Church alike are aware of but which are seldom if ever mentioned or depicted in official LDS Church lesson materials. 
Mormon apologists sometimes argue that the LDS Church, as an institution, does not whitewash or cover up its history, and that blame for artwork in church manuals, etc. that is not historically accurate should be laid at the feet of the artists and not the church that uses their work.   Critics disagree, and sometimes point to the way the translation of the Book of Mormon is most often portrayed in church-approved and distributed print and visual media.   For example, the following pictures are probably familiar to most members of the LDS Church:

Continue reading "Recommended Site of the Week: Images of the Restoration" »


Lyndon Lamborn--In His Own Words

In following up on the story about the excommunication of Mesa, Arizona church member Lyndon Lamborn, I emailed Lyndon asking for more details about the circumstances surrounding his excommunication. He kindly responded and, with his permission, I post his response here. The words are entirely his (with a few minor editorial revisions to clean up typos or protect the identity of those whose permission for revealing their identity I did not obtain). Some of his words are stronger than what I would have chosen to use, but I think his story is important, and it has garnered enough interest, to share it here uncensored and not watered down. The words following the jump are Lyndon's own, and it is my understanding they were originally written in response to further media inquiries. My thanks to Lyndon for allowing me to share this with the readers of Equality Time.

Continue reading "Lyndon Lamborn--In His Own Words" »


I have left the cave

One of the things I have noticed during my religious odyssey is that believing mormons and disaffected mormons describe the process of changing one's religious beliefs in very different terms. To a believing mormon, one who no longer believes "fell away", and that's if they're being nice. Sometimes the more clinical word "apostatized" is used. While arguably technically correct, there is a connotation about that word that I don't like.

I have come up with a new phrase that I think more accurately describes my process. I have left the cave.

Continue reading "I have left the cave" »


Lost Opportunity

I was reading the local news the other day and I saw an interesting article:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/4831155.html

In case the link goes dead, I will provide a summary. A few days ago, a local medical school broke ground and started official construction on a new teaching hospital. It had been having contractual disputes with it's teaching hospitals, The Methodist Hospital, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, so they decided to build their own hospital. The part of the story that really caught my eye was the price tag: 1 Billion Dollars. Does that amount sound familiar?

Continue reading "Lost Opportunity" »


Spoken as a Man not a Prophet

The following post was originally a response to Phaedrus, one of my favorite posters on the Wild Wild Web. He regularly posts at On Faith.

Phaedrus posted the following quote at Susan Jacoby's response regarding Mormonism.

"To those who would say, "But the Mormon church is a private entity, and should be able to decide for itself what rules it will enforce for its members," I say "Right you are. If it ended at the borders of the faith." But, it does not. The LDS church spends millions of dollars to combat gay marriage, and any meaningful version of civil unions, in every state that takes up the issue. In so doing, it seeks to exert its influence over the lives of "everyone," LDS or not."

This is very true. I too agree that the institution has the right to protect itself and set its own limits and rules. They can kick professors out of BYU as they see fit. They can excommunicate Janice Allred and her sister, Margaret Toscano. It is run by a few men who have been given full control of the institution.

However, it is not mandatory that all who disagree with those men, especially when it comes to civil rights, cease to speak. Otterson's suggestion, along with the chorus of faithful Mormons, that to speak against the LDS Church is somehow unamerican or lacks tolerance, was pathetic.

I noticed today something that is quite possibly the most significant reversal in the history of the LDS church. In my opinion, this position, as it is presented on LDS.org is bigger than the reversal of the race ban, it is bigger than the Manifesto regarding polygamy, it is bigger than the 1978 change that allowed women to pray in Sacrament Meeting.

You can read it here:  Approaching Mormon Doctrine

It includes this bullet:

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted. (emphasis added)

I applaud this statement. It was made on Friday, May 4th, 2007 by Michael Otterson. In my opinion, this is a victory for everyone, inside and outside of the church, with 15 exceptions - the Apostles.

The most common apology made by Mormons, with regard to doctrine or social stances, is that past prophets and living prophets were speaking as a 'Man not as a Prophet.' It was left to the apologists to decide when something was manly or prophetic. Members were faced with the impossible position of deciding what as just a rant by an old guy in a white shirt and what was inspired. (Does Eve come to mind for anyone?)

The press release puts it all in perspective: if it's not cannonized, it aint enforcable, official, godly or important enough to even have an opinion on how another person accepts or incorporates the information. That is huge progress, even if the words in the statement are not cannonized - oh for the irony and continued dilemma. One funny thought here, does this mean that General Conference is just a soundbite, and, until something is cannonized, Mormons can just enjoy two free weekends a year?

The Mormon Scriptures do not mention coffee specifically, so, any interpretation, according to what Otterson just published, is left to the Mormon coffee consumer and not to the old dudes or a bishop or anyone else. It may take a generation for the local leadership, including  Bishops,  ( Judge in Israel) to free themselves from judging those for whom they consider themselves the leader.  "I will take a Venti Vanilla Latte with non-fat milk for me, and a Triple Espresso for my Home Teacher."

Even the The Family: A Proclamation to the World leaves some vagueness regarding homosexuality, in my opinion. Regardless of how it is interpreted, it is fair that the comments by Oaks and Wickman in this staged interview regarding homosexuality are not to be considered at face value as equivalent to scripture or God's will. Regardless of how one accepts Oak's nonsense, the church has now publicly created an allowance for people to interpret those words differently and cease the harsh judgments of others, and the horrendous forced apologies and interpretations that are the burden of members, fathers, mothers, children and friends of homosexuals.

I think there is great reason to rejoice and party in the streets.

The press release by Otterson will be dismissed by many, disected by many, and embraced by many. If members allow themselves to really believe what is said in the statement, the debate that could ensue may do more to advance the religion into the mainstream than anything I have ever seen in the Mormon Church.

Otterson, that was bold to publicly reduce the doctrine to cannonized scripture. Let's see if your peeps in the pews can show even a fraction of the boldness as they speak for themselves more, and apologize less for the leaders, including Oaks comment that was broadcast on April 30th and May 1st. After all, Oaks was not inspired, he was merely expressing the thoughts of a man that was going 'All In' in a high stakes poker game.

And finally - Woohoo! Poker is back for the elders quorum and Relief Society until we get the poker ban cannonized.


Mormon Stories # 051: Richard Bushman Part 5 — Final Thoughts (For now)

In the 5th and final part of this multi-part interview with Dr. Richard Bushman, the world’s foremost scholar on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism and author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, John Dehlin offers some final thoughts on his time with Brother Bushman, and Bushman himself provides some final musings on the challenges of dealing with tough Mormon issues.  He then concludes with his testimony of Joseph Smith.

To access this interview, subscribe via iTunes, or click here to listen to the audio directly.

To provide direct feedback to John Dehlin or to Dr. Bushman about this episode, please email mormonstories@gmail.com

The discussion below is intended to be, a "Robust but Thoughtful, Open to All Viewpoints, Raucous but Respectful, Virtually Uncensored" conversation--including all types of Mormons (from apologists to ex-Mormons)."  Please enjoy!!!  And a MAJOR thanks to Equality for hosting the discussion.

  • Also, for a somewhat liberal, multi-sided (yet still faithful) conversation about the series overall, check out The Cultural Hall.
  • To discuss Dr. Bushman's comments about Sunstone, and the role it plays in dealing with tough historical and cultural issues within Mormonism, check out SunstoneBlog.com
  • Finally, for a somewhat conservative, faithful, mainstream conversation from the traditional Bloggernacle, check back here if/when one presents itself.

Stagnation or Progress?

An LDS acquaintence of mine recently stated that the church appears to have stagnated in some sense over the past few years.  He said "The scary thing to me is that really nothing about the church has changed in the 22 years I've been a member.  Same hymnal.  Same schedule.  Same ward structure, except for the disappearance of seventies.  General conference is the exact same format.  Nothing changes but the faces on the old men in the red seats, and most of those guys are the same also.  Same lesson manuals.  Just the same thing, over and over again."  I agreed with him.

Although I agree on the surface, that it appears that there are no substantive changes in the church methods and proceedings, since 1985, I also believe there have been some drastic changes, mostly outside of the official capacity of the leadership, that have affected the collective consciousness of the church.  Here are a few things that have caught my eye.  The looming question remains: Is the church changing in a positive way?  Is there progress or stagnation?

The Hofmann episode from 1984-1986. 

Mark Hofmann produced many new mormon documents.  The Charles Anthon letter.  The Salamander letter.  The JS III patriarchal blessing.  And many others that were purchased by the church.   Dallin Oaks spoke specifically to the Holy Ghost being described as a Salamander by Joseph Smith.  When Hofmann was proved a fraud and a forger, it was obvious to all observers that the General Authorities had been duped, to the extent that they had reframed some fundamental beliefs (i.e. the White Salamander) around Hofmann's fraudulent documents.  Thus, the church leadership was exposed for not having the gift of discernment, and for re-writing church doctrine to accomodate the writings of a forger.

Emergence of the "New Mormon History"

The founding of Signature Books in 1981 was in direct response to the cancellation of Leonard Arrington's 16 volume "History of the Church" project.  Signature Books wanted to provide an alternative voice for liberal thinkers in the LDS church.  The New Mormon History apparently got a foothold with D. Michael Quinn's "Early Mormonism and the Magic World View" published in 1987, which cost Quinn his job as a Professor of History at BYU.  Many notable authors such as Dan Vogel, Brent Metcalfe, Richard Van Wagoner, Ed Ashment, Dale Morgan, Anthony Hutchinson, and others have published little known facts to the general mormon population that are at variance with the sanitized version of church history that many of us were taught growing up in the church.  This New Mormon History has had an incalculable effect upon the general membership.

The Substantial Changes to the Temple Endowment Ceremony in 1990

One of the primary examples of cognitive dissonance discussions on this board, and many other disaffected mormon boards is the extreme reaction that temple-endowed members have had to the significant changes in the temple ceremony in April 1990.  I mentioned to my wife, who did not go through the temple prior to the changes, that the entire ceremony has been revised.  Yes, in essence it remained the same, yet the most offensive parts that had originally caused me so much confusion, had been removed.  No longer was the evangelical minister portrayed as being in cahoots with Satan.  No longer were the death penalties taught and performed.  No longer were the words of prayer spoken in an unknown language.  And there were many parts with very close similarities to Masonic ceremonies that had been altered or removed entirely.   These changes affected me deeply as a believing member, having believed that the temple ceremony could never change.  The devastating effect on the entire church membership is incalculable.

The "September Six" Excommunication of 6 Prominent Scholars in 1993

Although seemingly not as part of a concerted effort, six prominent scholars who were publishing articles and books that were viewed to be too liberal, and promoting ideas at odds with the church leadership, these six members of the church were either disfellowshipped or excommunicated.   The infamous September Six, consisting of D. Michael Quinn, Lynne Whitesides, Avraham Gileadi, Paul Toscano, Maxine Hanks, and Lavina Anderson, were disciplined for various publications endorsing alternative viewpoints to that held by the church leadership.  Whitesides was disfellowshipped for teaching about a mother in heaven.  Gileadi was disciplined for publishing a book about Isaiah and the last days.  Tosano wrote about mormon theology and dissent.  Hanks and Anderson wrote books about feminism and mormon culture.  Quinn wrote about the magical thinking in the early church, and post-manifesto polygamy.  The church leadership apparently sought a chilling effect to rational inquiry and free thinking within the scholarly members.  It is ironic that the lasting effect is almost the opposite, the September Six have become folk heroes and almost martyrs to many of us disaffected members who view their intellectual honesty as a higher moral value than church orthodoxy.

Recovery from Mormonism Board is launched in 1995

Whether you believe that the effects of RfM are good, bad, or somewhere in the middle, it is undeniable that its existence has had a profound effect upon mormonism.  The site claims thousand of hits every day.  Are these hits coming from mostly the membership, or from investigators trying to discern whether the apparently squeaky clean Elders sitting in their living room, are representing a squeaky clean religion, or not?  Either constituency poses problems to the LDS faithful in trying to maintain the orthodox standards of the religion.  Now there are currently players in the realm of mormon thinking, who do not possess impressive scholastic credentials such as many of the original September Six, yet who have a drive and determination to present all of the evidence surrounding mormonism to the world.  There are people like Bob McCue, Tal Bachman, Steve Benson, and many others using pseudonyms who regularly contribute to the new era of disaffected mormon groupthink.  RfM maintains an impressive database of historic mormon documentation, books, exit stories, and a discussion board.  Many of the church's efforts on the internet were not an action, but a reaction to the Recovery from Mormonism (RfM) board. 

The Gordon B. Hinckley interview with Larry King in 1998

I am sure that some would praise President Hinckley for coming forth and giving an interview to Larry King.  After all, this interview set a precedent as being the first ever interview of an LDS prophet in front of a national audience.  It was historical, and it was gutsy.  But in the end, the church did not come out smelling like a rose.  Many of President Hinckley's comments were confusing to the orthodox and the disaffected alike.  In response to King's question about whether or not he was a prophet, Hinckley responded "I speak for the Church, yes, I think so, yes."  Now, in deference to him as a human being, maybe he was just a bit nervous to be talking to a nationally syndicated interviewer with the stature of Larry King.  But the orthodox membership could equally argue that King should be shaking in his boots to be in the presence of God's one and only mouthpiece on earth!  To respond "I think so" to a direct question regarding his authority, caused irreparable damage to some testimonies which had been founded on the premise that not only was President Hinckley the representative of the church, but he claims to be the representative of God on earth.  Why didn't he make this clear to Larry King?  If our 57,000 missionaries are proudly proclaiming, on a daily basis, that Gordon Hinckley is the prophet of God on earth, why isn't Hinckley proudly proclaiming that fact himself?  What better audience to speak to than a national audience with more listeners than any session of general conference.  Obviously President Hinckley had another agenda, than proclaiming himself prophet of the world.  His agenda apparently was intended to mainstream the church in American society.  Here are a few other quotes from that interview.  When King asked about polygamy, Hinckley responded: "When our people came west, they permitted it on a restricted scale."  And this, "It was a very limited practice, carefully safeguarded."  Huh?  Carefully safeguarded?  Hinckley added, "In 1890 that practice was discontinued" and "I condemn it yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal.  It is not legal."  Wow.  Too bad King didn't realize that Hinckley's own grandfather practiced polygamy at Cove Fort and had three wives himself, two of them sisters.  That would've been a great follow up question.   This interview, and many other Hinckley interviews where Hinckley admits that he doesn't know things, have begun a new era of spin and supression built upon misinformation and innuendo.  When the church President doesn't deal with the hard issues in a forthright manner, he sets the tone for how the church is going to deal with these hard issues.

FARMS and FAIR jump onboard in 1998 and 1999 to combat RfM and others

It really is intriguing that the two major websites to promote mormon apologetics got into the game after RfM.  Although the history of FARMS can be traced to 1979, its internet presence did not really become available until 1999, twenty years later.  Of course you could argue that the church really didn't launch these sites in response to RfM or other critical LDS sites, but the timing, and the amount of influence that these sites have had is undeniable.  Now when a rational member of the church has a question, they can bypass all the platitudes and blank expressionless stares available on Sunday, for hard-hitting, tough discussions about tough topics.  All of this with the impersonal, anonymous nature of the internet.  Mormon apologetics, and almost more importantly, the comportation of leading mormon apologists, has had a dramatic effect on the membership of the church.  The continued influence of the internet, and readily available information will continue to be the most significant factor in the dissemination of information regarding mormonism now, and long into the future.

Commitment to Commercial Real Estate Development                                                        

As mormonism evolves and matures, the leadership seems to be taking an increasing amount of money in the pursuit of large real estate ventures, specifically in Salt Lake City.   For example, in 2000 the Conference Center was built at a cost of $240 million.  Likewise, in 2005  the church announced the Downtown SLC Mall Redevelopment, with an estimated cost of $1 billion. While the architectural merit of these edifices is overwhelming, the priority on real estate development over other welfare needs of the world is troubling.  If Christ were at the helm, so to speak, would he apportion so much money to extravagant buildings and architecture when there are so many of the world's population that is destitute and hungry?  Indeed there are statistics that indicate that thousands of children worldwide are dying daily for lack of proper nutrition and medical care.  Wouldn't the Lord place a higher priority on saving a life, than on creating a monument to Himself?  This new priority of building temples worldwide, at extravagant costs, and multiple temples in the Salt Lake valley appears to be at odds with core Christian principles.   The Lord's church certainly has had an effect on humanitarian aid worldwide, but with the vast funds of the church, we should ask ourselves if the church is doing enough?  Is it possible that the church could eradicate blindness in the world's child population.   Vitamin deficiencies and lack of proper medical treatment account for so much of the world's suffering.  Doesn't the church feel an obligation, indeed a mandate, to be the pre-eminent provider of care and compassion for these individuals?  When so much money is going toward sleek new buildings, and downtown shopping malls, one is left to wonder if real estate is a new priority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day  Saints.

DNA evidence against the Book of Mormon 2002

Professor Thomas Murphy's revelation that "so far, DNA research lends no support to traditional mormon beliefs about the origins of the Native Americans" has led to a firestorm of debate and research into the true origins of Native Americans.  Simon Southerton jumped into the mix with his study, verifying Murphy's findings.  Both of these scholars are, or were, members of the church. Scholars on both sides of the issue have explorer whether or not the claims of the Book of Mormon, regarding the Lamanites, is true, and scientifically verifiable.  Other anthropologists, biologists, and geneticists have weighed in on the issue, with the majority of evidence going against the claim that the American Indian is of jewish descent.  Indeed, the current church priesthood/relief society manual regarding the life of the prophet Spencer W. Kimball has no references to his interests in the Lamanites.  Anyone who lived during the Kimball era recalls how adamant he was about proclaiming the divinity of the Lamanite people.  There were many Lamanite church programs in place back in the 1970s, with many native american children being "placed" in LDS homes.  This lamanite placement program was a mandate of Spencer W. Kimball.  Also, President Kimball prophesied that the Lamanite's skin would turn white as they followed the teachings of the gospel.  Somewhere since the advent of this new DNA evidence, the church's priorities in teaching about the lamanites has been lost.  There is no longer an emphasis that the Book of Mormon was written specifically for the Lamanites.  President Kimball's teachings regarding the Lamanites have been correlated out of the manual.  There seems to be a movement toward distancing the church from the claims of the Book of Mormon regarding the lamanites.  Indeed, there are new geographical models being put forth that change the whole concept of the Nephites and Lamanites covering North and South America as many of us were taught in church when we were younger.  This emphasis away from the traditionally held church teachings, appears to be driven, in part, by the DNA controversy.

Lack of foresight of natural and human disasters and calamities - WTC (2001) and the Tsunami (2004)

These two catastrophic events occured without any warning from the leadership.  Would not the spirit of prophecy dictate also a spirit of love, compassion, and warning?  God is his everlasting wisdom has provided for the dastardly Lucy Harris stealing the 116 page manuscript, by having ancient prophets write a substitute book, for the book she would steal many thousand years into the future.   But this same God who foresaw Lucy's conniving plan, and the conniving plan of others to change the words of the translation and attempt to discredit Joseph Smith, this same God did not communicate an advance warning to his leadership on earth regarding these two disasters?  Over 5,000 people died in the WTC attacks in a senseless killing.  Over 300,000 people died in the Tsunami.  Likewise, we could look at the over 6 million Jews that were killed in the holocaust.   Are the leaders not given advanced information in their position as prophets, seers, and revelators, to help out mankind in general?  The church's official statement concerning the Tsunami was "In association with other relief agencies, the Church is extending substantial humanitarian aid to the stricken people of southern Asia."  What about a forewarning from on high?  The leadership appears to be in the same reactionary position as most other human beings on the planet when there are natural disasters or human calamities.  This point was effectively illuminated by these recent events.

I do think the church has changed over the past 22 years, but most of the change was exterior and not driven by the leadership.  It's hard to say where the church will be 22 years from now, in the year 2029.  Hopefully some positive progress will have been made.

-DV


Fear and Loathing in Salt Lake City

Religion is based, I think primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing - fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.

--Bertrand Russell

They say there are strangers who threaten us,
Our immigrants and infidels.
They say there is strangeness to danger us
In our theatres and bookstore shelves,
That those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves.

Quick to judge,
Quick to anger,
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand.

--Rush—Witch Hunt (Part III of Fear Trilogy)

In a previous post I said I was preparing a post on fear and the LDS Church. In this post, I’ll explore ways the church instills fear in its members, and offer my opinion on why I think the church uses fear as a tool of social control and institutional preservation. In reading many blog posts and participating in numerous discussions in Internet fora over the last year and a half, I have observed that fear is an aspect of nearly everyone’s experience in Mormonism. At the same time, each individual’s experience with Mormonism is unique, and it appears the church has a variety of fears in its arsenal.

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