I’ve Really Arrived

July 29, 2008

It’s official! I have my own Internet stalker.

This Mormon guy from southern Utah continues his bizarre campaign to intimidate me into silence. At first, he sent me these rather heartwarming messages telling me that he knew that I had had special spiritual experiences, and I knew that Mormonism was true. He said he wanted to help me come back into the fold. He offered to buy me lunch and said he wanted to understand why I had issues with the LDS church.

Suddenly, his demeanor changed, and he began telling me that I was a two-faced liar who was masking a sincere hatred for the LDS church. When I told him how hurtful his statements were, he said, “I am laughing my ass off.” He then asked again if I would have lunch with him. I politely declined.

At that point I figured he was just trying to get a rise out of me, so I started responding with humor, mocking his rather large ego and seemingly unlimited self-righteousness. He then went off on a message board with a string of rather disgusting posts about “lice-ridden whores” with stinking open sores, and when people on both sides of the Mormon/critic divide objected to the crudeness, he said again that we were all just misreading him. In other words, he thought crude and juvenile double-entendres were, again, hilarious.

Recently, he has resurfaced with another sockpuppet on the mormondiscussions message board. He took the opportunity to compare me with a convicted murderer(!) and tell me that I was a serious missionary of some sort of “anti-gospel.” Fortunately, Internet technology helped me quickly figure out that it was him again. So, I guess I’ll have to give him the seriousness he deserves: which, in my estimation, is nothing more than light-hearted ridicule.

Anyway, I’m sure he’s reading this. Hat’s off to you, Wheat. You’ve managed to make yourself an even more ridiculous and pathetic figure. I didn’t think that was possible. To quote Sheryl Crow:

“He says his name’s William but I’m sure,
He’s Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy”

DI Film Review: North and South

July 29, 2008

My dear wife has gotten into the habit of spending her Saturday mornings at our local Deseret Industries, the LDS church-owned thrift store. She’s pretty good at spotting bargains, but lately she’s been coming home with piles of movies. She’s found some good stuff, like Batman Begins and two seasons of 24, but most of it is just old stuff on VHS, and at 50 cents a tape, you can’t be too picky.

Last week she brought home “North and South,” a mini-series about the US Civil War starring a mulleted Patrick Swayze. Neither one of us had heard of this film, which the box described as one the biggest television events of the decade (the eighties, apparently). We had to look it up on the Internet Movie Database. Mystery solved: it was released in 1985, when both of us were in Bolivia on our missions, so of course we wouldn’t have heard anything about it.

According to the IMDB, the series cost $25 million to make, and I’m guessing most of the money was spent on costumes, particularly Lesley-Anne Down’s gravity-defying bodices. (Yep, I was right. Again from IMDB: “Took more than two years to make and involved 8,700 pieces of wardrobe [lead actresses each wore 28-35 different costumes].”)

First of all, the acting is atrocious almost without exception. There appear to be very few real southerners in the film, and most of the actors sound as if Foghorn Leghorn had been their dialect coach. And for fun, a few of the actors are given fake Irish accents that are even worse than the fake southern accents. Only David Carradine and future soap-opera star Terri Garber seem to be having any fun at all, and both chew up the scenery with relish. Carradine sheds his Caine-like serenity for the pure evil of slave-owner and wife-beating, -raping, and -drugging Justin LaMotte, and Ms. Garber gives everything she has to her portrayal of conniving slut Ashton Main. It’s almost a let-down when Patrick Swayze, decked out in full confederate uniform and high dudgeon, beats the crap out of Carradine (who has just sneered to his wife, “Would you like to watch while I kill your lover?”) and pushes him to his death out a mansion window.

The dialogue is pure camp fun, such as this gem: “You have not only ruined this family’s reputation, you have probably destroyed the future of Hazard Iron, which is NOTHING compared to the senseless killing of how many Union soldiers! YOU MISERABLE TRAITOR!” Imagine those lines delivered in a hammy, overacted way, and you’re halfway to how bad this film is (though curiously it rated 8.1 on the IMDB).

The plot involves the friendship of two young men (Swayze and James Read, who is one of those actors you’ve seen before but can’t place) who meet at West Point. Swayze is Orry Main, the son of a southern plantation owner, and Read is George Hazard, the heir to a northern iron works fortune. Their friendship survives slavery (and Hazard’s radical abolitionist sister, played by a cackling Kirstie Alley), war, and even intermarriage (between two luminaries no less than Genie Francis–Laura of General Hospital–and John Stockwell, the future “Cougar” from Top Gun). Orry must fight to redeem his sweetheart from her loveless marriage, while George must battle to keep his sniveling brother (played by Riker of Star Trek fame) and his evil wife from taking over the iron works.

This series is just bad enough to be funny. Any worse, and it would be painful. Clocking in at 1212 minutes, it’s too long to watch in succession, so we’ve been watching it a bit at a time. I’ll let you know how it turns out (I think the North wins).

Church Settles Sex-Abuse Case

July 28, 2008

From the Associated Press:

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A federal lawsuit filed by an American Indian man who accused a Mormon missionary of sexually abusing him in the 1960s has been resolved before going to trial.
Ferris Joseph, 53, filed the civil case in federal court in South Dakota against the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, both of Utah.
Joseph said that around 1968, when he was 11 or 12 years old, he was sexually abused by church missionary Robert Lewis White.
Joseph is an American Indian who lived with his family in Sioux Falls from 1966 to 1968, according to the lawsuit. The abuse happened at White’s apartment in Flandreau, it states.

I have long felt that the LDS church has set itself up for an avalanche of lawsuits, given their continued refusal to properly screen church volunteers who work with children. I worked for almost two years as a nursery leader in the church from 2005 to 2007, and never was I asked about my background or criminal record. Of course, it’s fortunate for the church that I don’t have a criminal record and have a background pretty much free of issues. But if I had been, say, a child molester or convicted rapist, the church would not have known.

Presumably the church has a policy against putting people with problematic backgrounds into such sensitive callings, but I wonder how they determine such things. They certainly don’t do a background check. I would assume that they simply look at their own internal records (if the bishop or other local leaders think it’s necessary to even look) and then go ahead with the assignment if there are no red flags.

But often the red flags are not going to be in the church file because those files reflect only actions the church has taken. So, unless a child molester has been involved in church discipline, his or her file will be “clean.” Consider the following case: A close relative of my wife engaged in a pattern of sexual molestation of minor children of both genders over a period of several years. He then served an LDS mission to a European country, returned, and was married in the temple. The extended family, which has a long history of covering up abuse, nevertheless has kept their distance from this man, and family members have long held that the molestation has continued over the years. His children show classic signs of abuse: inability to maintain relationships, emotional and mental instability, and propensity for molestation themselves.

Imagine our collective shock when this man was called as a bishop. I am quite sure that the church has a policy against choosing as bishops those with a history of sexual abuse issues. The problem, I am convinced, is that there is no record in the church of this man’s having done any of what he is known to have done.

I’m not sure what the solution is. I’m certainly not suggesting that Mormon bishops are evil or are involved in child abuse. But I am concerned that there is so little vetting, apparently. If I am wrong, feel free to correct me.

Too Much Hate

July 27, 2008

I’ve mentioned before that I have had all kinds of hatred spewed at me, and often it’s been said that it’s my reasonable and civil demeanor that makes me all the worse an ex-Mormon. The theory goes that I am being “nice” while saying the most hateful and evil things about the Mormon church. Why, how could anyone object to such a nice guy, they say? That’s all the more reason to hate me.

The latest piece of invective: “Runtu = the Mark Hoffman [sic] of the exmormon world.” For those of you who don’t know, Mark Hofmann killed two people to cover up his scheme to make money and discredit Mormonism by selling forged documents to the LDS church. I don’t know about you, but my jaw dropped at this unbelievable bit of hate and demonization. As I said to the person who made that post, Mark Hofmann murdered my friend’s brother, and I would never compare even my worst enemy to Mr. Hofmann.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been up front about where I stand toward the Mormon church. I don’t hate the church, though I went through a period of real anger and feelings of betrayal, which I think are natural. But I got over it. I don’t wish the LDS church ill, and I sure as heck don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. It works for millions of people, and that is fine with me.

That said, I do not believe that Mormonism is true or that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. The evidence is clear to me, though I respect others who have reached different conclusions. What I post here and on LDS-related message boards is what I am thinking, or what is important to me at a given moment. I don’t set out to destroy Mormonism (as if you could) or to sow doubts in believers’ hearts. I just try to tell the truth, as I see it.

If anything, I feel sorry for people who are so determined to have enemies that they see things in such stark terms. But in the end, they are the ones who have to live with themselves and their skewed view of things.

You’re So Vain

July 25, 2008

I have a unibrow. I hate it. What I mean is that I have thick, dark eyebrows, and they meet in the middle over my nose. Back in my college days, my roommate (a fellow unibrower) used to shave that middle spot so as to have two defined eyebrows. I thought that was showing signs of too much vanity, so I suffered in silence.

Then I got married.

Right from the start, my wife has always been annoyed by the unibrow, as well as the unruly, curly strands that refuse to line up with the rest of the brow. Consequently, my wife has for 21 years accosted me at random moments, tweezers in hand, because things are getting out of hand.

Yesterday I went home, and my wife asked me to take my youngest son in for a haircut. “Be sure you go to the one over by ShopKo.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because they have a sign in the window that says you can get your eyebrows waxed for $7.”

“I can’t imagine ever going in and getting my eyebrows waxed,” I protested. “It just seems a bit much.”

She looked at me kind of funny and said, “Would you rather just get it over with in five minutes, or have me pulling the hairs out one by one?”

She had a point. So, we went to the hair salon, and after my son had his haircut, I leaned back in chair with my feet on a small stool.

My daughter told the stylist, “Just make it look neat, not fruity looking.”

“I’m just warning you, but this is going to hurt,” said the young woman, as she applied warm wax in between the brows. She then pressed a gauze-like pad into the wax, held it for just a moment, and then said, “Ready?”

It didn’t hurt much, certainly not as much as my wife’s random tweezing. “My husband tried this once, but he won’t do it again because he said it hurt too much,” she continued, applying more wax above the left brow.

“Do you do this for a lot of guys?” I asked, still feeling kind of ridiculous.

“Some,” she said. “It’s mostly women, but we have a few regulars. One guy comes in every two weeks.”

She waxed above and below each eyebrow, and a few minutes later, I was back in the car with my newly styled brows.

I thought how our ancestors would have felt about a man getting his eyebrows styled. I suspect they would have thought me quite foppish and vain. Heck, I think even my dad would be appalled.

Oh, well. At least it will be a few weeks before the unibrow returns. Maybe I’ll get it waxed again.

Top Ten Rejected LDS-Themed Calendars

July 24, 2008

10. Seerstone of the month
9. Monson’s Muffins: hot widows!
8. Seven Habits of Highly Successful Teen Brides
7. Twelve months of Richard G. Scott staring into your soul
6. Dieter Uchtdorf’s 365 days to a healthier tan
5. Kerry Shirts’ video rant of the month
4. Book of Mormon evidence calendar (this one is empty)
3. Special Witnesses: The Twelve Apostles as You’ve Never Seen Them Before
2. Julie Beck’s “Muffins Who Know.”
1. “Things I Know That We Teach”

Happy Pioneer Day

July 24, 2008

161 years ago, the first Mormon settlers arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Over the next forty years or so, thousands of Mormon immigrants would arrive to populate planned settlements.

The Williamses were the first of my ancestors to arrive. After spending time in St. Louis providing medical services for church members arriving from Europe, Ezra Granger Williams married his sweetheart and then headed west with his mother and his new bride in the Ezra T. Benson company, arriving in Utah in 1849. They stopped in Nauvoo on the way to be sealed in the temple before they left.

Over the next 23 years, more of my ancestors arrived from such places as Tennessee, Wales, Switzerland, and Sweden. My great-grandmother was the last to arrive from Scotland in 1872. Her father, a miner, had come to Utah years earlier to earn money and had sent for his family, one child at a time. Great-Grandmother Jones would later joke that she was glad she waited; her siblings came by handcart and wagon company, but she and her mother traveled in style on a train.

But along with those who made it safely were thousands of Saints who suffered and died along the way, and many of those who lived through it carried permanent disabilities from their ordeal. Today these pioneers are honored for their faith and sacrifice, and rightly so.

I suppose I have mixed emotions about the pioneers. On the one hand it is difficult not to admire their courage in the face of terrible suffering. They believed in God and in their religion, and they were willing to give everything, including their lives, for their beliefs.

But knowing what I know about Mormonism and its founders, it’s also hard not to be more than a little righteously indignant at the men who invented the religion and who were willing to let people suffer and die for their own gain. That, I’m afraid, is unconscionable.

So, let’s honor the pioneers, while remembering that their suffering was entirely unnecessary.

An Inadvertent Experiment

July 23, 2008

As some of you know, I post (probably too often) on the Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board, which is a message board that is heavily biased toward the pro-Mormon side. I first published my “Stupid Critic Tricks” (wherein I pointed stupid anti-Mormon arguments) at 6:10 p.m. on July 21. It’s still going strong.

By contrast, I posted “Stupid Apologist Tricks” (which criticized dumb pro-Mormon arguments) at 9:13 a.m. the following morning. The thread lasted not even four hours, when it was closed by the moderators at 1:08 p.m. Of course, the reason it was closed was that someone had come perilously close to discussing LDS temple content, which is strictly off-limits. However, in the past, when someone has posted temple content, they are given a warning, and the content is deleted. With my thread, the whole thread was locked.

I’m not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I hate thinking that the moderators over there were so averse to criticism of their own that they closed the thread, but then I’m not sure there’s any other way to read what happened.

Oh, well. I guess this is just a reminder that when you post at MAD, you really can’t expect impartial treatment if you’re at all critical of Mormonism.

Stupid Apologist Tricks

July 22, 2008

In the spirit of fairness, here are some apologist arguments that ought to be retired:

“Oh, yeah? Well, the Bible is worse!” When someone points out an anachronism or other problem with the Book of Mormon, occasionally someone points out that similar problems or worse are present in the Bible. For someone who isn’t predisposed to believe the Bible any more than the Book of Mormon, pointing out absurdities in both texts doesn’t exactly shore up belief in either.

“Oh, yeah? Well, prophets in the Bible did way worse things than Joseph Smith ever did!” This one is closely related to the first. In response to accusations against Joseph Smith’s behavior, some apologists are quick to remind that Biblical prophets killed babies, engaged in various sexual escapades, and had obnoxious teens ripped apart by bears. Again, this doesn’t help anyone’s faith in Joseph or the Biblical prophets.

“Not all the discovery has been made.” When someone rightly points out that there is no conclusive New World archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, some apologists charge that the critics believe everything that is to be known about Mesoamerica is known, and nothing further will be discovered. This is an obvious strawman, it need not be said, as few critics would ever say something that stupid. But some apologists argue that the Nephite cities just haven’t been discovered yet, and most critics agree that it is certainly possible that some evidence will be discovered; however, it is odd that some apologists have identified what they consider strong candidates for Nephite cities, and yet these cities show no evidence of Nephites, either.

“If you can’t explain how it was done, you can’t opine on whether it happened or not.” This one is especially ridiculous. It’s normally used in the context of the Book of Mormon witnesses, but not always. The gist of it is that, if you don’t have a coherent theory to explain how someone convinced people that they saw plates or angels, you must accept that there really were plates and angels. This is like saying that if you don’t know how a magician does his tricks, you must accept that he really did cut that woman in pieces or make the Empire State Building disappear.

Stupid Critic Tricks

July 21, 2008

Over the years, a lot of critics of Mormonism have made some pretty stupid arguments and have adopted some counterproductive tactics. Here are a few of the highlights (or lowlights, maybe):

“Let me tell you what you really believe.” Often a critic will insist that some obscure, esoteric item represents core LDS doctrine. Usually, these “doctrines” come from some long-forgotten book, pamphlet, or address from the nineteenth century. And when the unsuspecting Mormon replies that Mormons don’t really believe such things, the critic will move in for the kill: “See? Your church has been hiding its true beliefs from you!” But rather than seeing the light, most Mormons will come away from such an exchange believing that, not only does the critic not know anything about Mormonism, but he or she isn’t interested in dialogue of any kind.

“You Mormons rely on feelings, and you can’t trust feelings.” This one is just plain ridiculous. If you talk to any religious person, no matter their belief system, you find that their faith is based in feelings. They believe because it feels right. A Calvinist who constantly berated “feelings-based” Mormonism explained that he had found God through an extraordinary spiritual experience in his car at a stoplight. Asked if his experience was not based on feelings, he said something like, “No, this wasn’t feelings. This was God speaking to me.” It seems like common sense, but if you’re going to tear down other people’s spiritual experiences, yours are going to be subject to the same kinds of attack.

Related to this argument is the suggestion, particularly by fundamentalist Christians, that their Bible-based beliefs have the factual and archaeological support lacking for Mormonism. Jerusalem and Egypt are real places, they argue, so obviously the events described in the Bible must have taken place. Where, they ask, is the evidence for the Book of Mormon? Of course, this argument completely falls apart when you realize that there is no archaelogical evidence for the spiritual and religious claims of the Bible. There’s no conclusive evidence for Adam and Eve, the Flood, or the Resurrection. On that score, the Bible has no more going for it than the Book of Mormon.

“You follow the wrong gospel, worship the wrong Jesus, and are inspired of the devil!” Nothing is quite as effective as telling another person that their beliefs are Satanic, but that’s what some ostensibly well-meaning critics (primarily of the Evangelical strain) tell Mormons. Some have actually said they’d prefer that Mormons lose their faith entirely and become atheists rather than persist in the diabolical religion Joseph Smith taught. Of course, most Latter-day Saints brush off these arguments as being unworthy of discussion.

“Mormonism doesn’t make sense.” Some Christian critics have argued that Mormonism doesn’t make sense rationally (see, for example, Frank Beckwith’s attempt to show the logical impossibility of eternal progression). The problem, of course, is that the logical arguments used to destroy faith in Mormonism are just as destructive when trained on traditional Christianity.

These are a few of the dumber arguments against Mormonism. Generally they don’t get critics anywhere, but it’s kind of fun to watch newcomers continue to bring such stuff up.