July 18, 2008

One thing I missed when we lived in Texas was having fresh fruit growing on trees in our yard. I had planted a couple of citrus trees in the backyard the winter before we left, but they were so small I had to take the green oranges and grapefruits off the branches so as not to damage the trees. So we never had any fruit from our trees there.

Here in Utah it’s a different story. In my yard, I have two apricot trees, a small peach tree, an Italian plum tree, red and green grape vines, and several Pottawattamie plum trees. And I have planted a small garden with melons, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. In the spring, the back yard was completely in bloom, from the pink peach blossoms to the stunning white of the apricots to Hostas and Asian lilies.

Now it’s July, and the apricots are nearly ripe. Everything else is poised to be harvested soon afterward. I’ll be getting out my canning implements and my steam juicer. For some reason, these looming tasks remind me of home and childhood and are somehow like putting on a comfortable old shirt. My parents always had something to can, from boysenberry jam to guava jelly to spaghetti sauce and mustard pickles.

Part of this urge to grow things and can them comes from my Mormon background. We were taught from early childhood to grow and store our own food items, to have gardens and emergency stores of food. But I think it goes beyond that.

Both of my parents grew up in relative poverty, my father having grown up in a government housing project in Ogden, Utah. Finding and growing food were essential for them to make ends meet. My father and uncle would go out picking wild asparagus along the Weber River in the summertime, and my grandmother would blanch it and freeze it for the winter. Dad would also take his trusty .22-caliber rifle (with short bullets) up into the mountains to hunt snowshoe rabbits for food. Naturally, they supplemented their diet with food grown in a large backyard garden.

My maternal grandfather was a grocery-store manager on a rather limited income, so they too grew food in a large garden. When I was a young boy, we would spend a week or two at my grandparents’ house in Spring Lake, Utah, where we would feed the lambs, gather eggs from the henhouse, and help my grandmother in her enormous garden at the side of the house. One fond memory I have is of picking and shelling peas with her in her kitchen. My mother was a little miffed that most of the fresh peas had ended up in our mouths rather than in the bowl. But Grandma just laughed and said, “What good are peas if you can’t eat them?”

When I was born, my father was working part-time and was in a Ph.D. program at USC. He had moved our family of 8 into a tiny house (barely 900 square feet), but the main attraction was the deep yard stretching behind the house. We used to sing a song in church that I thought had been written especially with our yard in mind:

In the leafy treetops, the birds sing “Good morning” …
In my pretty garden, the flowers are nodding.

We had two large fig trees in the yard: an old black mission fig tree that every year was loaded with sweet fruit, and a larger tree bearing golden figs. Dad had built a multilevel treehouse in the larger tree, and I would lie down on a pallet in the top of the tree, staring at the sky as the branch swayed in the breeze. The garden was in the back left corner, and there my father grew tomatoes, corn, squash, peppers, artichokes, and radishes. To one side were a passion-fruit tree and a large hedge of boysenberries. Canning produce from the yard was a part of my early childhood, and it continued on after we moved on to a larger house.

My parents bought a house out in the suburbs in 1971, and the yard was completely bare: no grass, no trees, not even weeds. Eventually, they put in a swimming pool, and Dad began building the yard around it. He planted boysenberries and raspberries along the pool fence, and they came in such abundance that my cousins tell me that their fondest memories of our house are of eating boysenberries in between trips down the pool slide. Each year the garden he had planted got larger, and the lawn got smaller.

I resented having to care for the garden and the fruit trees, but somewhere along the line I absorbed my parents’ love for growing things and having food of my own creation. This year will be the first in a long time that I’ve had anything to harvest. But it feels good.

Manipulation and the Spirit

July 17, 2008

Last night we watched a Mexican film called La Misma Luna, which tells the story of a young boy’s attempt to cross into the United States to find his mother, who is working as a maid in Los Angeles. The film is shamelessly manipulative, from its angel-faced protagonist (who apparently can weep on command) to the downtrodden mother to the evil and parasitic smugglers, drug addicts, and rich housewives they both encounter. But, despite all of that, the film worked. You have to hand it to the filmmakers that their shameless emotional manipulation works that well, even on a cynic like me.

The experience reminded me of our missionary efforts, which were designed to get people to “feel” something, and then we would helpfully point out that what they were feeling was the spirit, or the Holy Ghost. We would encourage people to read the Book of Mormon and then ask them how they felt when they read. If they said anything remotely like “good” or “peaceful,” we would move in for the kill. “That feeling is the Holy Ghost testifying to you that the book is true.”

Not surprisingly, many of the LDS church’s publications and media presentations are designed to elicit emotions, which can then be tied to the Holy Ghost. Interestingly enough, the church’s broadcasting arm, Bonneville International, which produces most of the church’s media presentations, has actually developed a sales technique called “HeartSell”®, which is described as “strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response.” That could just as easily describe the LDS church’s missionary program.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the church produced a number of films that seem designed to prey on emotional response. Think, for example, of the weeper “Legacy” that attempted to cast Mormons as pure and righteous victims of evil and cruel murderers. But perhaps the zenith (or nadir, depending on your perspective) came in the film “Together Forever.” The film looks like a documentary, and centers on interviews with ordinary folks with ordinary problems and how the LDS church helped them overcome their problems. The most poignant segment concerns a couple whose daughter has been killed in an accident. The interviewees bear fervent testimony of the restored gospel and explain how the church has blessed their lives. The couple who lost the child tearfully express their gratitude that they will be with their daughter, “together forever.”

And then you find out that these people are actors.

I first saw this film at a missionary fireside in Utah many years ago. A non-LDS family sat next to us, and the wife had cried all the way through it. At the end, the allegedly dead child is shown playing with her family happily. In hindsight, it was probably intended to drive home the idea of together families. But it clearly demonstrates to the audience that this was all make-believe, a manipulative setup.

At that moment, the woman sitting next to me had suddenly stopped crying, and her face had clenched in anger. She and her husband left quickly without staying for the refreshments, and some church members expressed bewilderment at her behavior. But I understood. For the first time in my life, I had felt shame at being so overtly manipulated. I wasn’t so much angry at the film-makers for manipulating me as I was for having swallowed it whole.

And like it or not, we humans have an infinite ability to base our most fundamental decisions on emotion. “What is your gut feeling?” we hear all the time. But that gut feeling is subject to extreme manipulation. Con men cheat people all the time by using their trust and compassion; and some religions gain and keep adherents with the same tactics.

Joseph Smith and the Seer Stone

July 16, 2008

As many people know, before embarking on his career as prophet, seer, and revelator, Joseph Smith made a living by locating objects and treasures through his “seer stone.” Joseph would place the stone in a hat, and then put the hat over his face; apparently, the location of the lost object would be shown in the stone (see, for example, the record of Joseph’s 1826 “glass-looking” trial). This is the same method Joseph used to translate the Book of Mormon plates, as described by David Whitmer, who was one of Joseph’s scribes:

“I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man” (Address to All Believers in Christ). 

Obviously, the two endeavors–treasure hunting and translating–are connected by the seer stone, which was the means for both. Thus, Mormon apologists must account for the transition from treasure-seeker to prophet. It’s a little tricky because the validity of the first occupation affects that of the second. Richard Bushman, perhaps the premier living biographer of Joseph Smith, puts it this way:

Although treasure-seeking was left behind, the magical culture of the stones played an important part in the development of Joseph’s identity as seer and translator. The Christianity of Methodism or Presbyterianism could not have readied him for translation. In conventional Protestant Christianity, learned men translated the Bible, and pious young people became preachers like [Charles] Finney or Lorenzo Dow, not translators.

The treasure-seeking stones from magic culture, by contrast, helped Joseph move step by step into his calling. The scryer of stones looked for the unseen, whether lost objects or buried treasure. Joseph’s first reaction when he brought home the Urim and Thummim was delight with the powers of the instrument. It was “ten times Better than I expected,” he told Joseph Knight. “I can see any thing: they are Marvelus.” Though amazed at the Urim and Thummim’s power, he knew from working with his own stones what to expect; he would “see.”

Although he had obtained one of his early stones from a hole dug for a well and not by a gift from heaven, practice with stones, looking for lost objects and probably for treasure, was an initiation into “seeing” that could be transferred to translation of the gold plates in the stones of the Urim and Thummim. In fact, as work on the Book of Mormon went on, a seerstone took the place of the Urim and Thummim, blending the culture of magic with the divine culture of translation (“Joseph Smith as Translator,” in Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays, ed. Reid L. Neilson and Jed Woodworth, 242).

But the reason the money-digging episode is a potential red flag is that using the seer stone to find treasure works as preparation for the work of translation only if Joseph could actually see and find treasure using the stone. Hence a FAIR article gives us cases where Joseph found objects with his stone. The three examples are Martin Harris’s account of Joseph finding a pin dropped on the ground in “shavings and straw,” the location of the Book of Mormon plates, and an account of Joseph locating a stolen horse. Apparently, the author of the article recognizes that, if Joseph Smith couldn’t really find treasure with his stone, you have a problem. Admittedly, it takes quite a suspension of disbelief to accept that people can find lost objects by looking at a stone, but the situation appears to require it here. But for the author, the 1826 “trial results … give support to the fact that Joseph did indeed possess supernatural talents.”

But even if Joseph couldn’t see things in the stone, maybe he really believed he could. The evidence is mixed here. In the 1826 trial, Joseph is said to have testified that he “had a certain stone, which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were.” But Isaac Hale and Peter Ingersoll say that, when confronted, “Joseph wept, and acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false. He then promised to give up his old habits of digging for money and looking into stones.” Joseph is then said to have promised to abandon glass-looking and instead “work hard” for his living. (Peter Ingersoll affidavit, 9 Dec. 1833; Isaac Hale affidavit, 20 Mar. 1834.)

It’s also interesting that Joseph downplays the moneydigging episode in his official history (JS-H):

In the year 1823 my father’s family met with a great affliction by the death of my eldest brother, Alvin. In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stoal, who lived in Chenango county, State of New York. He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards in Harmony, Susquehanna county, State of Pennsylvania; and had, previous to my hiring to him, been digging, in order, if possible, to discover the mine. After I went to live with him, he took me, with the rest of his hands, to dig for the silver mine, at which I continued to work for nearly a month, without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money-digger.

This statement leaves the reader with the impression that Joseph was just one of Stowell’s “hands,” a common laborer engaged in digging a hole. There is no mention of his seer stone, no mention of why it was that Stowell hired him, no mention of his treasure-finding powers. If Joseph had believed it was a divine gift that had been a preparation for his prophetic duties, why obscure it the way he did?

And finally, these money-digging practices are rarely mentioned, if at all, in lesson manuals and church magazines. And often they are downplayed, as in this 2001 Ensignarticle:

An enterprising farmer by the name of Josiah Stowell came 30 miles from his farm in Bainbridge Township, Chenango County, New York, carrying a purported treasure map and accompanied by a digging crew. The company took their room and board with the Hale family. On the crew were Joseph Smith Jr. and his father. Lucy Mack Smith records that Josiah ‘came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.’ The Smiths had initially refused Josiah’s invitation in October 1825. However, the reality of the family’s difficulty in meeting the $100 annual mortgage payment on their farm and Stowell’s promise of “high wages to those who would dig for him” finally persuaded them both to join in the venture.

The implication here seems to be that Stowell had mistaken Joseph’s prophetic calling for an ability to find treasure. Similarly, President Hinckley referred to the Stowell episode as a “mining operation” (“Keep the Faith,” Ensign, Sept. 1985, 3). Probably the most direct statement about the episode comes in a 1994 Ensign article about highlights of Joseph Smith’s life:

20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. New York law defined a disorderly person as, among other things, a vagrant or a seeker of “lost goods.” The Prophet had been accused of both: the first charge was false and was made simply to cause trouble; Joseph’s use of a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye brought the second charge. Those who brought the charges were apparently concerned that Joseph might bilk his employer, Josiah Stowell, out of some money. Mr. Stowell’s testimony clearly said this was not so and that he trusted Joseph Smith.

The current Priesthood/Relief Society manual says only this:

While he waited to receive the gold plates, Joseph Smith helped provide for his family’s temporal needs. In 1825 he went to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to work for Josiah Stowell.

To me, these are important issues. I understand that they don’t trouble some people, but they do raise significant questions about the character and calling of a prophet.

The Worst Job I Ever Had

July 15, 2008

Yesterday I received an email from a former colleague, who reminded me of how miserable I was at a particular job. I’ve done a lot of dirty and low-paying jobs in my lifetime. I pumped gas for 5 years as a teenager; I briefly worked as a janitor at a dialysis center mopping up blood and vomit, and I cleaned the “Cougareat” food court at BYU when I was first married. But the worst job I ever had was just a couple of years ago.

In the spring of 2003, I was working for a large software company in Houston, Texas, but it was rapidly shrinking. In the three years I had worked there, I had survived seven layoffs. The eighth time was the charm, and I found myself out of work for over a month. The economy was pretty bad in 2003, and the job market for technical writers was abysmal. For three weeks I tried hard to get a job interview without success. Finally, I found a company in College Station, about 70 miles northwest from my house, that was hiring. After a day-long interview and an editing test, they offered me a job with only a fairly small pay cut.

But the day I started the job, I knew I wasn’t going to be happy. After a morning of orientation and filling out forms, I sat at my desk after lunch with a large stack of printed web pages. I was given a red pencil and told that I wouldn’t be doing any “editing” online but rather would be expected to mark up the printouts and then give them back to the production person who would enter whatever changes I made into the computer. I remember heaving a big sigh and realizing that this was not going to be a picnic.

And it wasn’t. I was constantly overworked and underappreciated. They wouldn’t let me do any writing, and they expected me to do hours on end of proofreading. There was never any praise for good work, just odd bits of arbitrary criticism here and there.

But I worked hard over the next few years, perhaps too hard, as I was quite burned out by 2006. I had proofed and edited an 18-volume set of documentation and numerous books, had put in countless hours of overtime, and a couple of times had worked overnight. But the workload didn’t allow for being burned out and needing a break.

Then came a book by a fairly well-respected scholar at a large university, whom the company was courting as a proponent of their technology. So, when he authored a book, they gladly offered to publish it through their press. The book was dreadful, and I literally had to rewrite every sentence, every paragraph, and every page. It was, if I remember right, almost 400 pages long. I worked on it for about three months, but the bosses were getting anxious. They wanted it published, and they couldn’t understand why it was taking so long to get through it.

Things came to a head just before Memorial Day 2006. I was getting real pressure from both my boss and from one of the developers to hurry up and finish the book. My wife had been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and was hospitalized that Monday in Temple, about 80 miles from our house. Despite the stress of having a wife in the hospital, I soldiered on at work, fighting off depression myself.

The Friday before Memorial Day, the developer came to my office to tell me I had to work over the long weekend so we could get the book out. I told him that my wife was in the hospital and would be coming home Sunday, so I wasn’t going to be able to work then. He became angry and said that he was forced to work over the weekend because I hadn’t finished the book in time, so it wasn’t fair that I shouldn’t have to do so, as well.  I said I was sorry, but I wasn’t in any position to work that weekend. A few minutes later I saw him in my boss’s office having a rather angry discussion with her.

On Sunday I drove to Temple and picked up my wife from the hospital. I spent most of Monday just trying to keep her comfortable, and then Tuesday I went back to work. Just after lunch, I was called into my boss’s office and told I was being fired for not performing up to the level expected of my position. I was of course devastated, but an hour later, I said out loud, “But I hated that job.”

Within a couple of weeks, I had landed a better-paying, more-challenging, and definitely more-interesting job in Houston. I had forgotten what it was like to enjoy going to work in the morning.

Now, two years later, I find that the person they hired to replace me has likewise been fired. Not only that, but they are alleging that my former colleague helped him cheat on their editing test in order to get the job. That means that, of the four people they have hired in the last five years to do writing and editing, three have been fired, and the other quit because he couldn’t take it anymore. Now he’s having to defend his integrity before the Texas Workforce Commission.

Not long after I got fired, I saw my boss and her husband (the CEO of the company) at the grocery store. I could see them trying to avoid being seen, so I walked directly to them, put out my hand, and in the most cheerful voice I could muster, told them that I had a great job and was quite happy in it. Sometimes I am tempted to write a thank-you note in appreciation of their firing me.

I’m glad I have a job I like and am challenged by. Things could be worse. I could still be in College Station at that miserable company.

Favorite Mormon-Related Books

July 15, 2008

I was asked elsewhere to list my favorite Mormon-related books. Here they are:

1. Favorite five LDS fiction books?

The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple. Just really well written stuff.
The Evening and the Morning, by Virginia Sorensen. Again, top-notch writing.
The Backslider, by Levi Peterson. So, so cynical.
The Work and the Glory, by Gerald Lund. The writing is spectacularly bad (though not as bad as Chris Heimerdinger’s stuff). This stuff is good just for the sheer entertainment value.

2. Favorite five LDS non-fiction/non-apologetic books? (Excluding the Standard Works).

Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery. Hands down the best-written LDS biography written so far.
In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton. Really well done.
Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Dean Jessee, ed.
The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, by Bitton and Arrington. An admirable attempt at an objective history.
History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy’s personality and her fierce defense of her son come alive in the words of this book.

3. Favorite five LDS apologetic works?

Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, Noel Reynolds, ed.
Second Witness, by Brant Gardner.
Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, Parry, Peterson, Welch, eds.
Man: His Origin and Destiny, by Joseph Fielding Smith. The ultimate in “it was just his personal opinion.” Ignorance and superstition masquerading as dogma.
Truth Restored, by Gordon B. Hinckley. Institutional spin in a handy pocket size.

4. Five ‘Favorite’–implying best-written, most thought-provoking, NOT ‘most ridiculous’ or ‘most laughable’–books critical of the LDS Church.

New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, Brent Metcalfe, ed. This was the first critical book that made sense to a believer who had reached some of the same conclusions outlined in the book.
American Apocrypha, Metcalfe and Vogel, eds. Another fine collection of thought-provoking essays.
No Man Knows My History, by Fawn Brodie. Yes, the “psychobiography” is annoying, but the writing is cracking good, and much of Brodie’s work has stood the test of time.
Losing a Lost Tribe, by Simon Southerton. Finally puts the hemispheric model to rest.
Farewell to Eden, by Duwayne Anderson. Duwayne was a thorn in the side from way back on a.r.m. His book is well-written and is a good outline of how skeptics view the church.

5. Five LEAST FAVORITE books critical of the LDS Church–yeah you can have a little fun with this one if no one derails this thread in the process.

Godmakers, by Ed Decker. The embodiment of the word “craptacular.”
One Nation Under Gods, by Richard Abanes. Bless his heart, Richard tries.
Mormonism, Mama, & Me, by Thelma “Granny” Geer. A manipulative and distorted view of Mormonism dressed up to sound loving and kind.
Kingdom of the Cults, by “Dr.” Walter Martin. Mean-spirited sensationalism, pure and simple.
The Book of Zelph. Absolutely brilliant satire.

Calendar Boy Excommunicated

July 14, 2008

In a predictable move, the LDS church has excommunicate Chad Hardy, creator of the “Men on a Mission” calendar featuring Mormon guys in shirtless poses.

Excommunicated: LDS Church boots creator of ‘Men on a Mission’ calendar

First of all, I expect that the main reason he was excommunicated is that he was perceived to have embarrassed the church or tarnished its image. That alone is enough to get most people excommunicated. The church demands to be treated seriously and respectfully, and Chad’s calendar poked holes in that image. So, like career prevaricator Paul Dunn and rebellious Lamanite George Lee, Chad was sacrificed for the greater good.

The other reason is that Mr. Hardy (he can’t be called “Brother” anymore) refused to comply with the church’s demand that he stop producing his calendar. Ostensibly, a disciplinary council is held to give the offender a chance to repent from their sins (in this case, the sin of producing a cheesy calendar). When someone refuses to change his or her behavior, it sort of forces the hand of the local leaders: either they decide that the behavior doesn’t require disciplinary action, or they have to go through with it.

Of course, a disciplinary council is a useful tool for keeping people in line when the people summoned care deeply about their membership in the church. Clearly Chad Hardy didn’t care much about his church membership, as he hadn’t been attending church, wearing garments, or paying tithing for some time. And ultimately, it’s apathy toward the church that is a person’s greatest defense.

I do find one thing just a little disingenuous from the article. Mr. Hardy says that he considere resigning his church membership, “but decided against it out of respect for his family.” Somehow, making sure that his excommunication was quite public seems more disrespectful to his family. Indeed, I’ve already heard church members vilifying him for making a public spectacle out of his excommunication, but then you have to realize that he isn’t the one who initiated the disciplinary council.

I don’t blame him a bit for publicizing the excommunication. On the one hand, if his local leaders had been smarter, they would have backed off once this was made public because it makes the church look petty and vindictive. That’s pretty much what happened when they went after Thomas Murphy.

Instead they went through with it, and since they did, why wouldn’t Chad Hardy get some publicity out of it? He’d be a rather stupid businessman if he didn’t.

The bottom line is that the church ends up looking a little silly, and Chad will sell more calendars. I’m not going to complain about it.

They Finally Caught up with Me

July 11, 2008

At 1:04 MST this afternoon, I got my first visitor from ldschurch.org in Salt Lake City. On my old blog (which I wrote a couple of years ago), I had visitors from the Church Office Building regularly, usually several times a week. Disclaimer: I used to work there, so maybe it’s someone I know.

I’m not sure if this is the same person or people, but I hope they enjoy reading my stuff. Most of the stuff I write is pretty inconsequential, though one guy tells me I’m spewing anti-Mormon claptrap (I think that’s an improvement from a rant, but I’m not sure), so I welcome my COB reader(s) and hope they come back.

Satan Is the Author of Proposition 8

July 11, 2008

Most of us are familiar with Proposition 8, the upcoming ballot initiative to amend the California state constitution to specifically outlaw same-sex marriage. In the last several months, California’s court system has declared laws banning same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, so the only recourse for “defenders” of marriage is to amend the constitution.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormons) has encouraged its members to get involved in the effort to amend the constitution. In a letter read in congregations across California, the church’s First Presidency announced that it would “participate … in seeking [the amendment's] passage.” It also pleaded with its members to “do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.”

Obviously, the church is well within its rights to support what it considers a “moral” issue, but it’s not surprising that members have begun to publicly demonize both homosexuals and proponents of same-sex marriage. Take, for instance, this article in Meridian Magazine, a publication aimed at Mormon families.

Some background is probably necessary. The Bible describes a “war in heaven,” wherein “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. … And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev. 12:7-9).

In Mormonism, this war in heaven came about before we were born, when we lived as spirits with God the Father. Two plans were presented for the salvation of humanity: God’s plan, which involved freedom of choice, and Satan’s plan, which would have taken away our freedom to choose and would have forced all humans to be saved (see Moses 4:1-4 and Doctrine and Covenants 29:36). One-third of the spirits followed Satan and were cast out to become “the devil and his angels” (D&C 29:37). In Mormon theology, this was the great battle between God and Satan, and our being here on earth tells us that we were among the two-thirds who followed God.

The article in question, in a bit of glorious hyperbole, compares the ballot initiative in California to this great battle in heaven. The author tells us that “this war has not ended, that only the battlefield has changed. That battlefield is now [you guessed it] California[,] and the parallels between that premortal conflict and the battle over the definition of marriage are striking.”

Ironically, he reminds us that “Satan rebelled against [God], and sought to destroy the agency of man” (while he’s urging us to restrict the choice of gay Californians). “Satan,” he says, “must have used very effective arguments to turn a third of the hosts of heaven away from the Father despite pure knowledge of God’s will.” These arguments, he tells us, are being used just as effectively by the devil to trick people into supporting Proposition 8. Let’s go through them, as he sees them:

1. Equality of outcome, which “always be the beginning point for those opposed to any part of God’s plan.” And here’s the slick lie that Prop 8′s proponents are using to fool people:

Gays and lesbians are people, too. They have the same emotions as anyone else. It is only fair that they be given equal rights. They should not be second-class citizens.

Do you see any “equality of outcome” in this statement? I don’t. What I see is equality of opportunity and equal access to choice. So, point one fails rather miserably.

2. Sympathy. In heaven, Satan apparently played on our emotions in telling us, “Under the Father’s plan, some of your friends will never return.” Similarly, we are told that “emotion is evoked by specific situations, in this case having two women in their 80s be the first same-sex marriage in California.” Since when are sympathy and empathy and desire for other people’s happiness wrong? Oh, right. They’re wrong when such things oppose God.

3. Hate. He’s right that on both sides, “the opposition [is being] shamed, vilified, and demonized.” But how can people who claim that gay-rights advocates are allied with Satan object to being called “Christian extremists, anti-gay, right-wing radicals, old-fashioned, hung-up, homophobes, bigots, stupid, intolerant, mean-spirited, knuckle-draggers”? Pot, meet kettle.

4. Change. Just as Satan apparently told us that God’s “old ways” haven’t worked out, we are being told by the forces of darkness that “it’s time for a change.” This argument seems to rest on the idea that change is never good, but traditions and rules must never change. It reminds me of the argument in Britain a few years ago that hunters had the right to have dogs chase and rip to pieces foxes in the name of tradition. Not all tradition is worth perpetuating. If it’s time to change marriage, let it be done based on sound arguments, not on some bull-headed resistance to change in general.

5. Guarantee. In our premortal existence, Satan promised us all a place in heaven with no possibility of damnation. All it would cost was our freedom. In the battle for same-sex marriage, the guarantee that “same-sex marriage will not harm anyone. Heterosexual marriage will not be hurt. Nothing will change except all people will have every right that anyone else has.” Of course, rather than actually argue what it will or won’t change, the author prefers to demonize his opponents.

The article concludes with some amazing rhetoric:

The stakes are critical. If same-sex marriage advocates can dilute and hollow out the central part of the Creator’s plan, the whole structure collapses — the family, the nation, and in time civilization itself. The time has come for those of us who believe that God, not man, created marriage (fortunately still a majority) to take a stand and defend it.

He may well be right that the stakes are critical, but a serious issue deserves serious discussion, not this kind of garbage. Of course, I’m an ex-Mormon, so I’m already one of Satan’s minions. Were I still a resident of California, I would be voting against Proposition 8, but because I am not, I will do what I can and stand up against this kind of overblown hatred.

Calendar Lands Mormon in a “Court of Love”

July 10, 2008

Some of you may be familiar with the Men on Missions calendar, which is a rather cheesy calendar featuring Mormon men. Personally, I thought it was ridiculous and didn’t pay any attention to it, but apparently the church has paid some attention to it.

The man who created the calendar, an admittedly “less-active” Mormon in Las Vegas named Chad Hardy, has now been summoned to a disciplinary council of the church for “conduct unbecoming a member of the Church.”

Obviously, I don’t know Mr. Hardy, but if he is right that the calendar is the source of the allegations against him, I’m frankly stunned. The calendar is cheesy and obviously features Mormon men revealing parts of their bodies, but no more than if they were at the beach or in a pool. Meanwhile, TMZ has picked up the story, and in the end, such things make the church seem kind of petty and vindictive.

The Space Between Us

July 10, 2008

Yesterday a good friend and fellow Mormon apostate invited me to have lunch with him, so I went by his house to pick him up. His wife greeted me at the door, and it was obvious that, not only was she not expecting me, but she didn’t know who I was. After a few minutes of awkwardness, my friend explained that we knew each other through a message board called Further Light and Knowledge, which is a place where people in various states of participation in the LDS church talk about life and the universe.

She decided to come with us to lunch, but she was clearly upset about the turn of events, and at one point she was in tears, lamenting the changes she had seen in her husband. I felt terrible that I had been the cause of such a situation, but we had an enjoyable lunch anyway, though we avoided any subject likely to raise criticism of Mormonism. We talked about our families, careers, and even our missions to South America. It was very pleasant.

Back at the office, I was listening to my iPod, and an old song from The Police came on:

Take the space between us.
Fill it up some way.

I sat there almost in tears thinking of the huge spaces between me and my wife and my friend and his wife, all because we discovered that the LDS church isn’t true after all. I don’t think I had realized before just how much Mormonism was the common ground between us, the glue holding our relationship together. You probably couldn’t find two people more different than my wife and me, but we shared a commitment to Mormonism that bridged every gap and made the differences seem trivial.

With the loss of that common ground, my marriage has been very difficult indeed. Sometimes it seems like there isn’t anything but space between us, but in a way, losing that obvious connecting thread has been good for us because it has forced us to dig deeper and find the real bonds of love and commitment and friendship between us. Ironically, our marriage is built on more solid ground after losing my faith.

But every so often the space becomes magnified, and we have moments like my friend did yesterday when the differences between us become all too clear and almost too painful to admit. But those moments pass, and we muddle along.

I still feel bad that I was involved in creating such an awkward and painful moment, but I think my friend and his wife will be all right. And so will my wife and I.


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