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Archive for August, 2008

What Mothers Know

Posted by nebula0 on August 31, 2008


If you follow Mormon news you’ve most likely heard about the talk given at the October 2007 general conference by Julie B Beck General Relief Society President “Mothers Who Know” (see a transcript of the talk here: http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-775-27,00.html).

Here are her characteristics of “mothers who know”:

– they desire to bear children and they don’t postpone having them

– they honor covenants and ordinances by making sure their children are well groomed for sacrament meeting (apparently this is an example of the ‘great influence’ mothers have?!)

– they nurture through housekeeping, they should be the best housekeepers in the world

– they help plan alongside their husbands their children’s spiritual activities including Family Home Evening and future missions, they are ‘selective’ about their own activities which might interfere with their role devoted to home and family

– they are teachers through their everyday activities with their children a “pre MTC”

– they are immovable and strong in their desire to do the above

Not surprisingly this talk, the only one given by a woman in that General Conference, generated a lot of heat in the aftermath.  Type in “mothers who know” into your search engine and see for yourself the number of blogs for and against Beck’s talk.  The reason I’ve highlighted here on this blog is because it deals with an issue I know a lot of non Mormons are curious about: the role of Mormon women.  The reality is, it’s a confused one.  On one hand, there are a lot of working Mormon mothers out there, and they’ve even been encouraged to get a college education from the pulpit… yet, on the other hand, they are encouraged as the ideal to stay at home and be an influence for the good from their roles at home.  On one hand this confusion allows for women to have some freedom to chart their own paths with the blessings of the leaders (depending upon which talks you want to focus on as your guide) but on the other hand it creates just that, confusion especially when a talk like this one comes out and seems as if whatever progressive steps were taken by the (male) leadership to widen the circle of women’s influence are denied.

If you were to read this talk in isolation from any other statements about the role of women, what would you think Mormon women were like?  I have some ideas, including boring, limited, provincial, stilted… they’d have to be to come up with an example of women’s power and influence over the next generation as making sure their children are immaculately groomed for sacrament meeting or that nurturing has as a central role immaculate house cleaning.  With such a limited imagination representing Mormon women in the church as Relief Society president, is it any wonder that this talk has generated such comment?

Posted in Controversial Topics, Reflections | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Leaving the Church

Posted by nebula0 on August 30, 2008


I’ve been reflecting on my posts to the board and they’ve all been on the critical side of Mormonism or topics bound to make Mormons very uncomfortable (my temple experiences).  So, despite what you think the title of this post might yield, I actually mean this post to be something of a myth buster of a negative myth associated with Mormonism.  I really have little patience with all the material out there casting Mormonism (as expressed by the SLC LDS Church anyway, fundamentalist groups are a different story) as a cult that brainwashes innocent victims.  Adult Mormons are perfectly capable of thinking for themselves, and they choose to be Mormons.  One outgrowth of the erroneous notion that Mormons are all brainwashed is that leaving Mormonism is a terribly difficult ordeal.  Well, perhaps under extraordinary circumstances it is, but then, that is true of any religion.  For example, if your entire family is fundamentalist Baptist of an extreme sort, you may find leaving that belief system incredibly difficult and find that it means leaving your family too.  That does happen to some Mormons when they leave, but a minority.

So what was it like for me to leave the church?  Here’s what happened: I stopped showing up.  One day I realized that I was a monotheist, I really believed that, and therefore I could no longer be a Mormon.  So the next Sunday I did not go to church, or the Sunday after that, or the Sunday after that.   After about three months of this the bishop left us a voice mail, and we got one call from our hometeacher to make sure things were okay, and that’s it.  Literally.  No missionaries came around.  The phone was not ringing off the hook.  No one has tracked us down.  If we lived in Utah perhaps our neighbors would feel a need to be proactive about things and no doubt the decision to leave would be more uncomfortable.  Maybe if our Mormon family was obsessed with our activity and independently got various people involved, it might be more annoying.  But in neither of those scenarios am I kidnapped, or harassed (unless you have a very loose definition of harassment which you ought to reassess).

Most of the difficulty with leaving the faith for most people is the fact that most people are deeply attached to it.  It takes a long time to really learn Mormonism in and out- to read through the scriptures, to learn the lingo, to learn to take the sacrament with the right hand and all those little forms.  It’s hard to give up all that knowledge, years worth, just like that.  This is one of the reasons why many ex Mormons end up becoming anti Mormon Christian missionaries, they can use their knowledge.  (I’m sure this has a lot do with why I started this blog).

This issue is important to clear up for people just learning about Mormonism.  They’ll read a lot about the dangers of the Mormon church as a cult, but I hope this gets people to think- what, exactly, is that supposed to mean?

Posted in Reflections | Tagged: , , , , , | 63 Comments »

Prop 8 and the Mormon Church

Posted by nebula0 on August 29, 2008


Am I the only one who finds this incredibly disturbing?? 

http://www.nine-moons.com/2008/08/07/the-my-girl-bill/#more-830

Stake Presidents going around asking members for money to support a political agenda as if it is a religious duty… really?  I’m honestly shocked to see this story, I would’ve never guessed things have gotten that far.  As I’ve already said, Mormonism has no business getting itself involved in defining what marriage ought to be considering the place that polygamy/plural marriage played in the past persecution of Mormons.

This is just out of control.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Reflections | Tagged: , , , , , | 29 Comments »

In the beginning…

Posted by nebula0 on August 29, 2008


In the beginning God created… or, in the beginning of God’s creating… the translation could go equally either way.  But what about the word traditionally used in the translation: to create, how accurately does that capture the Hebrew?

According to Joseph Smith we learn the following (from the King Follet Discourse): 

“You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, “Doesn’t the Bible say He created the world?”  And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing.  Now, the word create came from the word barau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship.  Hence , we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos -chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory.”

This is an essential point for Joseph to push in the discourse, because it is essential that the matter out of which the world exists, and the rules by which it is organized, exists eternally.  This must be because according to Joseph God wasn’t always God, there was a time in which he was a man, and during that time where did the materials come from for his body and his earth?  Well, his God (God’s God) created them?  But that would mean that God’s God is then the ultimate God… no, God’s God in turn was fashioned by a God using pre-existing materials, and so it goes, forever.

So how about it, is Joseph right that bara means ‘fashion’ like a boat?  I’m afraid not.  According to Marc Zvi Brettler (Professor at Brandeis University) in How to Read the Bible (Jewish Publication Society, 2005), p 41:

Much of the activity of God throughout this story is described using the verb bara [bet, resh, aleph], typically translated “to create,” a word used more than fifty times in the Bible.  Unlike other creation words, however, it always has God as its subject.  That is, so to speak, God may bara but humans can never bara (at least according to the attested evidence).  This verb appears to be part of a small class of Hebrew words that are used in reference to God only, thereby suggesting that in certain respects, God is totally other.”

Looking up the root bet, resh, aleph in the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon confirms this.  As rendered into the qal paradigm, bara is used only with God as the subject.

The significance of this is devastating to Joseph’s argument.  Not only does bara not mean to organize as to organize a ship, it is a word reserved solely to describe God’s actions.  That implies that God’s creating the world was unlike anything we humans do, any word we try to come up with in English to translate this will be inadequate, what verb is there in English that only God can be the subject of?  Create?  No, humans can create.  Form?  No, humans form things all of the time.  Assemble?  Certainly not.  The use of bara accentuates exactly what Joseph thought it shouldn’t– the unique creative activity of God, completely unlike anything a human is capable of doing.  That is, as Professor Brettler pointed out, “God is totally other.”

Posted in Controversial Topics, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Heavenly Mother: the Silent Goddess

Posted by nebula0 on August 28, 2008


One of the lesser known facts about Mormon theology is that there exists a heavenly mother, alongside the more traditionally known heavenly father (see the Mormon “Proclamation on the Family” an official proclamation given by the First Presidency, it reaffirms that we are sons and daughters of heavenly parents).  As heavenly father is the father of our spirits, and a god, heavenly mother is the mother of our spirits, and a goddess.  This fact is significant for a couple of reasons, one because it emphasizes the non-traditional nature of Mormon theology (it is quite radical, no matter how much ‘normative/historical/traditional’ Christian garb is thrown over it)- it does in fact posit the existence of at least four gods (heavenly father, the son, holy ghost and heavenly mother, and second because it reveals why the family is such an important part of Mormon rhetoric.

The ultimate possible destiny of every human person in Mormonism is exaltation, and that means becoming a god or a goddess, as heavenly father or heavenly mother is.  The heavenly parents that we have sets the pattern that we are to follow if we are to be what they are.  Since they are eternally married, we must be eternally married, if we are to be gods.  That means that ‘the family’ (traditional nuclear family) is actually a structure that is implemented and practiced by our deities, not just a human institution.  That’s why when ‘the traditional family’ is ‘under attack’ by propositions like gay marriage Mormons tend to react so quickly and vociferously- quite literally in Mormonism their conception of family is divine.  Any suggestion that the nuclear family with a man and woman (or women) as the married couple as an arbitrary societal construction also threatens the deepest structure of Mormon theology.

So, why haven’t we heard more about this goddess, after all, isn’t she our mother?  The answer you are likely to hear for this question is that she is so sacred we aren’t to talk about her.  That’s right.  She’s too sacred.  See, if we talk about her, some people might make fun of her or take her name in vain.  That’s why although we know the father’s name (Elohim) we don’t know the mother’s name.  Heavenly father has decided that he needs to protect his goddess wife.  Now, why does a goddess require protection?  Why wouldn’t a deity be able to stick up for herself?  And what does it mean that she’s too ‘sacred’ to talk about or talk to?  Don’t mothers want to hear from their children?

That’s what one BYU feminist professor thought, and, not surprisingly, got canned for sharing those thoughts.  Apparently the Mormon men at the head of the church decided that they’d better protect poor, fragile heavenly mother from those nasty women who might want to pray to her and thus expose her to being dragged in the mud.   Does this really make any sense?  If heavenly mother does exist, and she’s a goddess equally divine as heavenly father, she ought to be worshiped.  End of story.  That’s what you do to deity, you acknowledge and worship them, especially if she is your mother and helped you come into existence.

Furthermore, since the heavenly parents represent the ultimate destiny of good Mormons, what kind of great role model is a silent, passive goddess for young Mormon women anyway?

Posted in Basic Background, Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Book of Zelph

Posted by nebula0 on August 27, 2008


I couldn’t help myself, this is screamingly funny and so felt that I should share with all of you.  This is one of those things that I think even Mormons can enjoy:

www.bookofzelph.com

If you aren’t very familiar with Mormonism you may miss a lot of the humor.  This is a lighthearted parody of Joseph Smith’s discovery and translation of the Book of Mormon, but based on an actual revelation that Joseph gave about a certain individual named Zelph, the white Lamanite.

I hope you are all able to enjoy this one!

Posted in Reflections | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My Temple Experience, part 3

Posted by nebula0 on August 27, 2008


Warning: this section of my story, in particular, will most likely be offensive to any believing Mormon.  While it is not my intention to make Mormons feel unwelcome at my site, I nonetheless feel that sharing my temple story is an important endeavour- hence the warning.

If you need to catch up on the story, parts 1 and 2 are filed under the “My Experiences” category.

When I left off with part 2, I had just been through the initiatories- washed (touched with water), anointed (touched with oil) and received my garments, all in an out of the way corner of the dressing room.  Next I am led to yet another little booth, this time leading out of the dressing room.  It is here that I receive my new name.  A middle aged woman in a long white dress awaits me in the little booth, piece of chalk in hand by a small chaulk board mounted to the wall and reveals to my name: Rhoda.  Not bad I think.  It’s fairly commonly known that the names are chosen to be the same that day for every male and every female (for record keeping purposes, naturally), and I figure I lucked out, I like the name.

Next I’m led to another little room, this time with maybe 8 chairs lined up in a row, where I see the middle aged woman I encountered during the initiatories sitting, back in her long, white dress.  I sit down and an older lady begins to instruct us concerning our garments.  Do not dye them, she says.  Your days of blithely tossing your underwear into the hamper are over, from now on you should keep two stacks of neatly folded underwear, clean and unclean, respect your garments (advice I did not follow).  If you need to dispose of them, cut out the symbols first, and destroy them.  Then, dispose of the garments however you want because without the the symbols they are not holy garments.  She reads the First Presidency message about the garments, about wearing them night and day, and how it is up to the person if there are circumstances which warrant not wearing them.

Next we are led up the escalators to the top floor of the temple.  The hallways line the outer rim, and all of the windows are covered.  The whole thing is carpeted.  At the top we are led to the endowment room.  Normally, a participant waits in the chapel listening to recorded organ music for an endowment session to begin, but as we were running late we went straight to the endowment room.  The room seemed like it could seat a hundred people.  There were rows of movie theater style seating with a spacious passageway dividing the room into two.  I soon learned that women all sat on the left, and men all sat on the right.  Up from was a lectern, and a male temple worker in an all white suit standing up front.  On the left, facing the main seating were a couple of seats occupied by female temple workers, similarly a couple of men on the right for the men.  I was led to the front row where my companion was seated waiting.

Once everyone filed in and the doors were shut I had expected for the man up front to begin speaking.  Instead he began a recording of a man welcoming us to the endowment ceremony.  We were asked if everyone had received our new names, and if anything in the initiatories was lacking we were to raise our hands.  Nope, I was good there.  Next he said that if anyone of us felt like we couldn’t go through with the ceremony, now was the time to please stand.  It was now or never, I figured.

The lights dim, and a screen lowers up front.  The projector gets going and we’re treated to the story of the creation.  There are two versions of the temple movie that I’ve seen but they’re both pretty much the same.  It starts out with unformed matter, which ends up being asteroids in space, and Elohim (Heavenly Father) says to Jehovah (Christ) and Michael (the future Adam) “let us go down and form x, y and z” so they form the earth, waters and dry land… all up until the man is formed.  We’re treated to actually see these gods, and they look an awful lot like you’d imagine Greek gods on Olympus to be, they’re out by Kolob I suppose, wearing white robes, and they have big white beards.  The background makes it look like they’re in a Greek temple floating around outer space.  As they’re creating things, we see snap shots of various places on the earth denoting the focus of whatever they are forming, shots of the ocean, rivers, animals, you get the idea.  Anyway, once Adam is formed (the past Michael) the story changes somewhat as now the action is focused on the two humans.  Once they form Eve out of Adam’s rib, the men have to stand up to symbolize Adam receiving her.

The implication is that Adam and Eve are naked 20 somethings, though obviously we don’t actually see any of their private parts.  They run around and look at this lush garden, Eden, and all seems to be doing well, until Satan comes along.  Satan is dressed in dark robes, and has silver hair and is clean shaven.  He tries to tempt Adam first, to partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and Adam refuses.  He tempts Eve first, and wins her over.  She then gets Adam to eat after “he sees that this might be, so that men may be” since he realizes that if Eve gets kicked out they won’t be able to procreate.

And… It looks like I need to make a part 4.  Sorry about that, but I hate to have these posts run so  long.  Any questions so far?  Feel free to comment, anonymously if you need to.

Posted in My Experiences | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Where are the Lamanites?

Posted by nebula0 on August 26, 2008


You may be aware of the latest change to the Book of Mormon introduction, one that is very significant.  It used to be included in the Introduction that the Lamanites were the principle ancestors of the Lamanites, now they are the among the ancestors.  If you aren’t aware, the Lamanites were one of the two major groups represented in the Book of Mormon living on the American continents who had descended from one Israelite family.  The Lamanites were generally bad, and darker skinned, whereas the Nephites were generally good, and lighter skinned.  Eventually the Lamanites wiped out the Nephites and were understood to be represented in the various Native populations of the Americas.  This understanding was bolstered by the old Introduction’s reading of the Lamanites as the principle ancestors of these groups, as well as by revelations from Joseph Smith placing Lamanite individuals in his area of the United States (remember Zelph?).  However, DNA analysis has implied that the Israelites were not ancestors of the Native Americans, throwing a wrench into the “principle ancestors” understanding of matters, precipitating the move to placing the Lamanites “among” the ancestors.

This move from boldly proclaiming the literal physical truth of Joseph’s claims to retreating into easier defended positions didn’t start nor will end with this matter.  The fact of the matter is that Joseph made many claims that we’d expect to see evidence of, but we don’t.  All that we find when we do find something is contradictory evidence.  Another example is that of the Book of Abraham.  It’s now known that the facsimiles published along with the text of the Book of Abraham that Joseph claimed to translate are actually funeral papyri that have nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of the book.  The solution?  Claim that the papyri inspired Joseph, that it wasn’t a literal translation at all.  What a great position, it’s unassailable.  Likewise, Joseph claimed to have done a translation of the Bible (the Joseph Smith Translation or JST) but unfortunately the JST seems to be based in nothing at all but in vague impressions that Joseph got.  It’d be wonderful for Mormons if the JST happened to correspond with some of the newest manuscript evidence that has been obtained for the Bible– imagine if the JST ended up being a close fit with the Dead Sea Scrolls!  What a home run for Mormons.  But unfortunately, and not surprisingly, that isn’t the case.

Just as the Lamanites have retreated from filling the North and South American continents to being in some small restricted region, somewhere, so we see the Mormon retreat from making bold claims about empirical reality to a further and further retreat into murky realms of subjectivism where they can’t be bothered.

Posted in Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Theosis vs Exaltation

Posted by nebula0 on August 26, 2008


If you run around in Mormon circles enough and especially if you get to the stage of looking at Mormon apologetics, you are bound to run into the following argument: Did you know that the church fathers taught that we can become gods??  Yes that’s right!  That implies that becoming gods isn’t a new Mormon invention, but rather a restored doctrine lost from the early church.

It’s true, several early church fathers did teach that we can become divine.  But, it wasn’t at all what Mormonism teaches.  Why not?  Let’s do a comparison of these two ideas.  The Mormon notion of becoming gods is called exaltation, and the early church fathers we’ll call it theosis.

Exaltation:  Gods are not different kinds of beings from us humans.  They are people all grown up into their full potential.  Hence, Heavenly Father was once a man on an earth, and became exalted to his position as a god (see the “King Follet Discourse Excerpt” I posted under “The Basics” and for confirmation that this doctrine is still taught in the LDS church day check out the Gospel Principles manual used to teach new converts during Sunday School, the exaltation section).  So that we can become gods as Heavenly Father is a god is like a seed growing into an apple tree, as long as we provide it the right conditions, and nurture it properly, it’ll become an apple tree.  Given the right conditions (righteous living, activity in the LDS church) it will become a tree (a god) because it’s in the nature of the seed (person) to do so.  After all, we are the spirit children of Heavenly Father, and as Heavenly Father as an eternal intelligence (core of being, not a god) so do we, we are co-eternal beings with God.

Theosis: God is a different kind of being altogether than we humans are.  God is not created, infinite, eternal, immutable, we are all the opposites of those things, created, finite, changeable.  We depend on God from moment to moment for our very existence, and He created us out of nothing at all.  God is a loving and wonderful God however, and desires for us to live forever with Him in His direct presence.  He desires to encircle us with His divinity, and as the Eastern Orthodox teach, invite us even in the Holy Trinity.  We as finite beings made out of nothing do not have it in our natures to be like God, if He shares with us any divinity, it’s because He has to infuse it into us, and we are always dependent on Him, utterly, for our very existence.  This is what the early church fathers meant about us becoming gods, they meant always little case ‘g’, they never intended to teach that we have the same nature as God, or the same potential.  We are dust, we are nothing- literally, and God is everything and out of His divine goodness may He infuse us with His divine nature.

Posted in Basic Background, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 53 Comments »

Why does anything exist?

Posted by nebula0 on August 25, 2008


And there is one of the basic questions of philosophy: why does something exist, and not nothing?  This is also a question that religion has taken up and given God as its answer.  This is also why I am not a Mormon.

Mormonism does seek to explain a lot.  It posits an explanation for why we are here as we are.  That is, Mormonism talks about the necessity of mortality, the formation of the earth by the Gods, and how our spirits became united with physical bodies to become living souls.  We are also given a sense as to where we are going.  After death we’ll go to the spirit world, or spirit prison, and then at the final judgement we’ll be assigned to a kingdom of glory in a resurrected, immortal body, or if we are one of the unlucky few, be assigned to eternal outer darkness with Lucifer and the fallen angels.  I don’t want to give the impression that Mormonism doesn’t explain anything about our existence, it seeks to explain a lot, but in the end fails to explain the question: why is there anything at all in the first place?  Because, according to Mormon theology, the essence of who we are, our intelligences have simply always existed, and will always exist.  The rules by which the cosmos operate were in existence before God became God.  They simply were.  Besides, all of this is the realm of mysteries that we should be careful of exploring in Mormon culture.  Which in the end is to say, answering the question of existence is a peripheal concern in Mormonism, at best.

If you’re like me, this situation will not be a satisfactory one.  Positing that a bunch of finite, limited entities just happened to exist for all eternity doesn’t seem all that rational.  I don’t claim to have definite proof of anything, let alone of God’s existence, but it does stand to reason that if I am going to bother positing that God exists that His existence will be grand enough, infinite enough, to explain the existence of everything else.  So it is that God is a different kind of Being from the rest of the ‘stuff’ we encounter in the universe, unlike anything else, He is infinite, and not at all contingent on anything else for His existence or His circumstances.  This may seem like a cheap answer to you, you may shoot back “but where did God come from then,” but that’s the whole point.  Because God isn’t like you or me or a tree or a star or anything else we encounter, subject to causality, He alone escapes this question.  He alone must exist.

It is with the above considerations that my final break with Mormonism was made.  I could stay a Mormon with historical ‘issues’, with critiques of the leadership as long as I stayed quiet enough, and so on, but I could not stay a Mormon with such a fundamental rift in theological vision.  By changing my view of the nature of Deity, my entire orientation of the world became monotheistic.  And so here I am, now an ex Mormon, believer in God.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Reflections, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 11 Comments »