At the Judgment

August 28, 2009

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, Runtu awakens to find himself amidst bright clouds in front of a shimmering gate.

Runtu: Where am I?

Peter: You’re in the waiting area.

Runtu: Waiting for what?

Peter: The judgment of Christ.

Runtu: Christ? You mean he’s real?

Peter: Yep.

Runtu: Well, I’ll be damned.

Peter: Yes, that would seem to be the point. Oh, it looks like He’s ready for you. Come with me.

The two enter through the gates, where Runtu is made to stand before a large desk, behind which sits a stern-looking man glaring at him.

Runtu: Who are you?

Judge: I’m Jesus, of course.

Runtu: You don’t really look like Jesus. I mean, aren’t you supposed to be the guy who is all meekness and kindness and love?

Jesus (chuckling): Oh, no, that was just a phase. Once the Jews killed me I didn’t have to do that anymore. So on my way back here I kicked some Nephite ass and then settled in to start judging. I must say I’m really enjoying this. Now, let’s get started. It says here you were born and raised a member of the LDS church, served a mission, attended BYU, got married in the temple, served as a high priest. So far, so good. Oh, wait just a minute. I see that you suddenly left my One True Church in your early forties. Care to tell me what happened?

Runtu: I got tired of making excuses for things that didn’t make sense, or worse, things that really bothered my conscience.

Jesus: Like what?

Runtu: Well, I tried really hard to study the scriptures, to learn all I could about them, but the more I studied, the more problems I saw: anachronisms, absurdities, clear plagiarisms. How was I supposed to believe something like that came from You?

Jesus: Well, that’s the beauty of it.

Runtu: It’s almost as if you decided to make it impossible to believe.

Jesus (laughing): Well, duh. If I’d made the scriptures even remotely plausible, you wouldn’t have needed faith. After all, it’s a hell of a lot harder (no pun intended) to believe in something that looks like a fraud than it would have been if I’d made it all look logical and reasonable.

Runtu: So, you did this on purpose?

Jesus: Pretty good work, if I may say so. Bottom line: it was a test, and you failed. Now, what was it you were saying about your conscience?

Runtu: I couldn’t force myself to justify some of the things that were done in Your name.

Jesus: Oh, lots of people have done stuff in my name, but then you’d have to be more specific.

Runtu: I dunno, the whole thing about having your prophet promise young girls and married women eternal life in exhange for their sleeping with him. And it’s kind of hard to accept that you’d want him to send men away on missions so he could sleep with their wives.

Jesus: You got a problem with that?

Runtu: Well, yes, I do. I thought you were all about moral absolutes and right and wrong.

Jesus: I am. Everything I’ve ever told my prophets to do was right. I sent an angel with a drawn sword to make sure my will was done. And since it was my will, it was right.

Runtu: How can you say that?

Jesus: Were you not listening in Sunday School? Whatever I command is right, no matter what it is. Period. End of story.

Runtu: But that’s so arbitrary.

Jesus: One of the perks of being all-powerful.

Runtu: Well, if nothing is inherently right or wrong, why did you give me a conscience?

Jesus: Oh, that. That’s part of the natural man, which, I need not remind you, is my enemy. You were supposed to subdue your conscience and turn it over to me. But, you didn’t, and that’s that.

Runtu: So what happens now?

Jesus: I’m still on the fence. You once had a testimony, didn’t you?

Runtu: Yes, I’m sure I did. I had some experiences that told me the church was true, but I later came to question those.

Jesus: Oh, bad answer. You’re really close to Son of Perdition material. Tell you what, say a few Hail Marys, and we’ll forget the whole thing.

Runtu: What?

Jesus: Just kidding. A little pre-condemnation humor to lighten the atmosphere. Now, on your way: it’s the telestial kingdom for you. You’ll have a lot of time to think about what you could have had.

No Laughing Matter

August 27, 2009

Yesterday I posted a little parody article about how Thomas Monson had decreed that all priesthood holders should wear button-down collars to prevent crooked and slovenly collars. I thought it was pretty obvious that it was a joke, and certainly I have a history of posting parodies.
But I was shocked at how many people thought it was legit. On RfM Richard Packham had to caution that it was a parody and not meant to be quoted. A close relative read it and was puzzled as to why I would quote a news article verbatim without comment. Needless to say, I am not that good of a parody writer. What this shows is that we, members and apostates alike, expect this kind of spiritual micromanagement from LDS church leaders. If it wasn’t out of line for Hinckley to specify exactly how many earrings one is allowed, it certainly raises no eyebrows if current leaders tell us what kind of shirts to wear.
This morning my parody hit the MADB board. Here are a few comments (made before the moderators closed the thread):
“I think the spirit of what President Monson is aksing for is completely correct. He recognizes that the purity of what is on the inside is most important. Yet, he is asking for a dress code for the outside that is consistent, respectful, and presentable. I will strive to honor that request. We should be happy to oblige our prophets when they make such small procedural requests.”
“Anyone who holds the priesthood should be ready, prepared and worthy to bless and pass the sacrament, give prayers or be called upon to give talks or to bear their testimony at a moment’s notice. They should reflect the Savior in their every act. Christ would never appear unclean, dirty, slovenly or unkempt in appearance if He was to bless or pass the sacrament, give a prayer or give a talk. He wouldn’t need to go home to change or tuck in a shirt or button His color or have someone lend him a tie. He would be dressed as best as He could and according to contemporary standards of decency and He would conduct Himself in such a way as to represent His Heavenly Father and to be about His work.

“Even those in the most humble of circumstances and who are without financial means dress their best when they seek the Lord and represent Him as Priesthood holders and Sisters. I only wish people wouldn’t think that this is a joke because it shouldn’t matter if it was written as a joke or a real talk given by the Prophet since it is true regardless. I’m not overly concerned about a requirement to wear a white shirt if you bless or pass the sacrament but I would hope that you would desire to do so and to look your best when exercising the Priesthood. I would whether have a clean shaven, well dressed Priesthood holder who was wearing a colored shirt pass and bless the sacrament then one who comes to Church wearing a white shirt but is unkempt in appearance because both show how they value themselves and their role as Priesthood holders.”
So, I apologize for not labeling this explicitly as a parody, but I am still shaking my head at how it was received.

Following with Exactness

August 26, 2009

Not long ago, a young couple scraped together what they could and bought a modest house in the town where the husband was teaching high school and working on a graduate degree. They had student loans, but because the husband was still in school, payment was deferred.

One Sunday they attended stake conference, where the visiting General Authority warned church members against the dangers of debt. He told them they must do everything in their power, even if it meant selling everything they had, to get out of debt.

That evening, they prayerfully pondered the General Authority’s counsel and decided that they would sell their house and pay off the debt that they had. They sold the house, paid the balance of the student loans, and then discovered that they could not afford to rent in the town where the husband worked. Consequently, he quit his job at the high school, and they moved into the wife’s parents house with their two children.

I’m sure the GA thought that he was simply giving sound financial advice, and I’m doubly sure that if I brought this up with believers over on the Mormon boards, the couple would be mocked for being fanatical and “fundamentalist” in their thinking.

But when were we ever taught to think through the counsel we were given? We weren’t. We were taught to listen and obey “with exactness.” Questioning was not a virtue but a sign of weak faith.

I’m reminded of the mocking refrain I’ve heard from so many believers: “You took the church too seriously.” Maybe so, but isn’t that what we were supposed to do?

Monson Calls for Modesty, Tab Collars

August 25, 2009

Rexburg, Idaho — Speaking to students at Brigham Young University, Idaho, LDS church president Thomas S. Monson emphasized the need for modesty and spiritual cleanliness, two virtues he said had nearly been lost in today’s so-called modern world.

Citing the poet A. Egbert Doggerel, Monson stated, “Truer words were never spoken than these:

“It matters not if I’m hale and keen
If my heart and soul remain unclean!”

The prophet spoke of his dismay at lax dress standards among some members of the church. “I am certain that our dear Heavenly Father looks down upon his children with perhaps a glint of tear in His eye, as He sees so many disregarding the prophetic counsel against slovenly and immodest dress.”

He reminded those in attendance of the inspired counsel of President Gordon B. Hinckley in pleading with the fair daughters of Zion to display only one earring on each ear. “Somwhere in the heavens, President Hinckley is smiling in the knowledge that so many have taken his words to heart.” But, President Monson intoned gravely, “There is much room for improvement, particularly among you priesthood holders. Are you living up to the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood? Are you conducting yourself with the modesty and dignity that befits someone with your holy calling?”

He then spoke of a troubling trend among the brethren of the church. “I have spent many nights on my knees, praying for guidance as to how I can help the brethren overcome a serious problem. I speak, of course, of the unkempt and often askew collars of our dress shirts. Many are the times when I’ve sat on the stand in a priesthood meeting and found my spirit troubled by crooked collars. Often the collar doesn’t even cover the tie wrapped around the neck. And, difficult as it may be to believe, some brethren cannot even be troubled to button the top button of their shirts. Surely the Spirit is grieved when the brethren of the Holy Priesthood take such a casual attitude toward their responsibilities.”

The prophet spoke of the great promise in the Book of Revelation: “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev. 3:5). “Brethren, do you imagine that you will be able to stand in the presence of the Lord with a crooked collar or slovenly tie?”

In His wisdom, the prophet said, the Lord has provided a way for His sons to reach their full potential: tab collars. “It is but a small thing the Lord requires: merely two buttons, one on each side of the collar. Keeping the tabs buttoned will ensure that you are neat and clean both inwardly and outwardly. My beloved brethren, I plead with all the force of a loving heart that you will return to your homes and make immediate and prayerful changes to your wardrobe.”

President Monson said that he had been inspired by a visit to a ward in McDermott, Nevada. “Here were the brethren arrayed as mighty warriors, all with tab collars, all neat and inspiring. Hearts were gladdened, spirits were lifted, and collars straightened.”

Student reaction was immediate. “I went home and threw out all my old, unworthy white shirts,” said Gareth Jensen, a junior from Tempe, Arizona. “I have decided to choose the right, and if that means buying tab collared shirts, I will not shirk.”

Tyler Roarke of Redding, California, expressed his desire to follow the prophet with “exactness”: “The prophet said we should get tabs on either side of the collar, but when I got my new shirts home, I noticed they had a third button in the back of the collar. I’m a little worried that I may be looking beyond the mark.”

Apostle David Bednar hailed the response of the students. “These young men and women know what is important in life, and they are a shining example to the world. One young woman I spoke with broke off her engagement because the young man said he didn’t know what the big deal was about tab collars. I’m sure she will be glad for the eternities that she saw the true measure of his faithfulness before she became unequally yoked with him.”

They Pay Money for This

August 25, 2009

If It’s On the Prophet’s Mind, It Matters

Apparently, this was one of the highlights of Education Week, a class about paying attention to what the prophet says. First we get this gem:

“I don’t know if you can prioritize the prophets, seers and revelators,” Knowlton said. “It’s very difficult. You have this group of 15 men that we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators, and all of them [speak] prophetic words. We know their warnings are all prophetic, we know what they would have to say is what the Lord would like us to hear.

“But when it comes right down to it, you have to say the president of the church and what he is saying has really got to make a difference and we’ve got to find a way to prioritize it.”

So, let me get this straight: “their warnings are all prophetic,” and what they tell us is “what the Lord would like us to hear.” Whatever happened to the idea that a prophet is only acting as a prophet when moved upon by the spirit? Heaven knows that excuse has worked for years as a way for apologists to shrug their shoulders and say, “He was only speaking as a man.”

But no, we’re suppose to believe that every word that comes over the pulpit, from Richard Scott’s whining pleas to Thomas Monson’s recitation of doggerel, is what Jesus wants us to hear right here and right now.

And just what is the message the Savior has for us?

Not to fear, as Brother Knowlton has identified some important themes: “Every Conference I always think to myself, ‘When is he going to say this four-letter word we call duty?’ He loves it.” Then he quotes some passages from Monson’s conference talks, all of which are striking mostly for their high-level generalization and banality. These can be summarized as follows:

  1. Heavenly Father needs us to do His work on earth.
  2. We need to figure out what is important in this life (hint: it’s the church).
  3. Remember how blessed you are to be a Mormon.
  4. Stay away from the dark side of the Interwebs.

What more can be said than Brother Knowlton’s conclusion: “I am grateful for this prophet of ours. What a blessing to live in his day; what a blessing to know of such a man.”

In essence, then, people shelled out money to hear a lecture that could be summed up in a Primary song: “Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, he knows the way!”

The Gall of Bitterness

August 17, 2009

Once again, someone has informed me that I am bitter and attempting to “pick a fight.” It’s true that I was angry for a time when I first admitted to myself that my belief in Mormonism was sadly misplaced. But those feelings have long since passed.

Sometimes I wonder where this accusation of bitterness comes from, and I usually reach the same conclusion: it arises from the insecurity of knowing that one’s beliefs are not always on solid ground. Otherwise, if you believe that you have good reasons for your belief, you can shake off just about anything.

But with Mormonism, you are forced to do a ridiculous amount of rationalizing. Among other things, you have to explain why

  • Joseph Smith’s sleeping with other women, including married women, without the consent of his lawful wife was not only justified but commanded of God.
  • The Book of Mormon describes a people and culture who left no trace of themselves and at the same time the book contains a multitude of anachronisms and nineteenth-century textual dependencies.
  • The Book of Abraham borrows from sources such as Thomas Dick and Josephus (both of which Joseph Smith had been studying) and yet in its explicit translations of the facsimiles bears no relation to the actual Egyptian text.

The list could go on, but these suffice. People who are sure of the facts don’t need to get defensive or accuse other people of being bitter. They simply deal with the facts. That some of my readers cannot do so speaks more of them than it does of me.

Some Interesting Numbers

August 1, 2009

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released some data from a recent survey of Mormons. Most of the numbers show what we would expect: Mormons in America tend to be conservative and white and have large families. But some of the information is pretty telling.

Anecdotally, many of noticed that the LDS church has not been attracting converts from among the educated and stable. The survey seems tobear this out, showing that converts are more likely to be uneducated (16% of converts did not graduate from college, as opposed to just 6% of lifelong members) and economically disadvantaged (40% earn less than $30,000 a year, compared to just 21% of lifelong members). However, the convert population is considerably older than the lifelong members (48% are over 50, whereas only 30% of lifelong members are), which signals to me that the church is not attracting younger people, which is a pretty bad sign for a missionary church.

I was also surprised that only 57% of Mormons say they believe their church is the “one true church,” which of course is one of the central tenets of Mormonism. Far more believe in the Bible (91%) though more than half don’t take it literally (57%). It’s too bad that they didn’t ask if Mormons take the Book of Mormon literally. That would have been interesting.

A large majority (76%) of self-identified Mormons say they attend church at least once a week. This is interesting because most LDS wards would kill for an activity rate that high. Most wards I have been in have activity rates around 40-60%, and I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary. The high stated rate indicates to me that a lot of “less active” Mormons that the church still counts on its rolls do not consider themselves Mormons in any meaningful way.

Anyway, lots to chew on in the survey.