Thursday, April 30, 2009

Baracknophobia - Obey

I've been noticing a lot of freak-out hyperbole coming from right of center lately. Have you noticed this? Jon Stewart says everything I've been thinking, so much better than I could say it.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Baracknophobia - Obey
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

One thing that's always bothered me about the Book of Mormon

I know what you're thinking. One thing? Yeah, there's plenty to be bothered by, but today something else occurred to me that I hadn't specifically put my finger on yet.

In addition to the anachronisms, the incorrect flora and fauna, the lack of women, the blatant copying of the Bible (including errors)... one thing that's always bothered me is that the Book of Mormon seems to be written for a modern audience. In general throughout the course of human history, no one ever writes anything for the benefit of those in the distant future or past. And I mean no one, except Doc Brown. Pretty much everything is written for the benefit of those who will read it in the present or very near future. This applies to everything in the Bible, everything written on cave walls, papyrus, giant stelae, the Internet... everything. You just don't see people composing novels specifically for the benefit of their extremely distant ancestors.

But when we examine the Book of Mormon, which was allegedly written about 2600 years ago, we find that it is constantly referring to Christianity, and specifically to 19th century theological arguments. It doesn't seem to be written for the benefit of the ancients; it consistently and explicitly refers to those who will eventually read it in the distant future. It even goes so far as to explain what "reformed Egyptian" is, and what the brass plates are. If it were common for ancient people to write in Reformed Egyptian on brass plates, there would be no need for the author to explain any of this. Even if it were rather uncommon, anyone reading the plates would obviously be familiar with both the medium and the language. So these explanations can only be for the benefit of a modern audience who is unfamiliar with such concepts.

It even explains who will eventually find those plates, what his name will be, and what his father's name will be. Is there anywhere else in Christian scripture where prophecy works like that? And why would ancient American Jewish proto-Christians care about the name of a prophet 2400 years in the future? Pretty much the entirety of 2 Nephi 3 (Joseph prophesying about Joseph son of Joseph) was either miraculous (and irrelevant to the ancients) on a scale that the world has never seen, or reflective of an enormous amount of gumption on the part of Joseph Smith. I am reminded of David Hume's maxim: testimony is sufficent to establish a miracle, only if the testimony's falsehood would be even more miraculous than the fact it is trying to establish.

To me, the observation that the Book of Mormon was written specifically for a modern audience is good evidence that from the perspective of the Book of Mormon's author, that audience existed in the present, not the distant future.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brian Cox talks about Carl Sagan

I'm not sure how long this will continue to be available, but a few days ago, The Bad Astronomer mentioned an hour-long BBC program (I guess that would be programme) featuring Brian Cox and Ann Druyan talking about Carl Sagan and Cosmos. I found it inspiring, and I would recommend listening to it if you get a chance.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What kind of Mormon are you?

Sabayon referenced an interesting quiz called What Kind of Mormon Are You? and I decided to take it. Apparently I am a "Radical Mormon" - scoring with fairly high knowledge; very low cultural homogeneity; and very, very low orthodoxy. Not too surprising. Take the quiz yourself, it's fun.

My Results:

Radical Mormon

-10 Orthodoxy, 5 LDS knowledge, -16 Cultural homogeneity

People like you have been excommunicated. In fact, you might be personal friends with some of them. Your feminist/liberal/revisionist/free living lifestyle just doesn't click with most Latter-day Saints, but you don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jesus born on April 6? Um, no.

This year in Sunday school, we're studying the Doctrine and Covenants. It can be a little painful because I would love to be able to speak up and say, "By the way, the date of this revelation was changed in order to make it seem more prophetic," or, "Did you know that revelation was actually edited by Joseph Smith a few years later?" But I don't. It would serve no purpose.

Last week (err... a few weeks ago; we've been out of town), the topic was "The Only True and Living Church." I could tell it was going to be a good one, and it did not disappoint. I have plenty of notes from the class, but I'll just share one thing that really stuck in my craw.

The teacher read D&C 20:1, which says:

The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April—

He then asked, "What is special about April 6, the day the church was founded?" I started thinking, hmm, maybe it was Passover in 1830. Or maybe he's referring to the fact that temple construction was both started and completed on April 6, forty years apart. Someone in the room raised his hand and said, "Well, we believe that Jesus was born on April 6, so that was the perfect day for the Lord to bring back the restored church."

Uhhhh. I don't know why I continue to be surprised when people say things like this in church. The church was not organized on April 6 because it was Jesus' birthday. The only reason people believe Jesus was born on April 6 is because they misinterpret D&C 20:1, which established the church! The reasoning is dizzyingly circular.

Read the passage again. The whole thing is basically five dozen words of flowery language in order to say, "Today is April 6, 1830, and we're organizing a church." That's it. It does not mean Jesus was born on April 6, any more than the Book of Mormon's claim that Jesus was born in "the land of Jerusalem" means that he was born within the city limits. Even Michael Ash, a prominent Mormon apologist, has a page that debunks this popular Mormon myth for crying out loud.

These kinds of Mormon myths drive me crazy. They spread like wildfire and everyone believes them without question. Ask me about the Three Nephites sometime. But anyway, was Jesus born on April 6? Sure, maybe. But without much better evidence than a flowery prelude, I don't see any reason to believe so.

Expressing myself beyond the index cards in my pocket

Although I think the likelihood of gods existing is pretty low, and the likelihood of the Mormon church being the "one true church" is even more remote, I still attend church somewhat regularly. I do this because my wife likes to go to church, and I like to be with my wife.

I used to find church somewhat interesting, even as a nonbeliever, but lately it's increasingly become an exercise in frustration. I'm never sure what is appropriate to say in the company of believers who come to church to be spiritually uplifted. Even when something is an undeniable, well-verified fact, it will often make people very uncomfortable unless it fits in with the "faith-promoting" history that is taught every week, which never seems to be questioned, at least not in Sunday school.

What especially kills me is that most of the things I would want to speak up to clarify are things that every member of the church would have known, 160 or 120 or 80 years ago. But no one seems to know about them anymore. It becomes scandalous even to imply that doctrine has ever changed, or that errors were ever made, or that church leaders have ever perpetrated anything worse than a few youthful indiscretions. These are all dismissed as "anti-Mormon lies", and to refer to the (non-church-approved) history books is to lose all credibility.

Since I'm not sure where the line is between myth-busting and outright heresy (if there's any difference at all), I mostly shut my mouth. I haven't decided yet whether this is a personal weakness or strength. Instead of speaking up, I usually write my thoughts on an index card, which provides a bit of a release from the tremendous frustration of silence. But even that is not really satisfying, in the way that writing in a journal is not as satisfying as calling up a friend.

For this reason, I plan to use this blog to post more of the thoughts that I routinely self-censor at church. Not really for the purpose of mocking anyone, although some of the things I hear in Sunday school are such ridiculous clunkers that it's almost impossible not to be amused. But mostly for my own catharsis, and hopefully for the general edification of you and me both. I really need to express this stuff, because I don't want to end up as a crazy old hermit with nothing but a basement full of exasperatedly scrawled index cards.