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Back from Vacation…

Posted by nebula0 on September 19, 2008


Hello everyone, I’m happy to be back from vacation.  We all had a great time.  En route to our destination we drove past the Portland temple.  A year ago I would’ve felt a little nostalgic seeing it, a little regret, as my growing inactivity was rapidly spiraling into complete apostasy.  Now I didn’t feel anything at all.  I commented on the architecture and overall impression with the feeling of an outsider with no vested interest in it.  This trip I felt truly non Mormon, truly disconnected from the fold, and it’s a great feeling.  For me, being a Mormon was a little frantic, always using up mental energy trying to keep up my identity.  Maybe I never really was fully converted, not fully into the culture, and now I feel free to be myself all of the time.  I don’t police my thoughts, though I try to be reflective and become a better person, I don’t feel a need to fit the Mormon mold.  I don’t have to apologize for my Mormonism, try to explain to others just exactly how I fit in.  I believe what I believe and feel what I feel.  I am open to correction and improvement.  I am not open to be told how to be by an aged group of men in Utah trying to preserve their Mormon culture by recasting it as part of “the Gospel”.

Here are some of the things I felt apologetic about as a Mormon, things that I found deeply disturbing but nonetheless felt constrained to defend:

– the emphasis on obedience to leaders, or ‘sustaining our leaders’ as receiving inspired counsel from the Holy Ghost that we need to heed (can anyone say Animal Farm, how about 1984?)  Sure, get a confirmation for yourself, but you won’t get a ‘no’ answer, how convenient is that?

– Joseph Smith’s character- yes, he married already married women, married 14 year olds, and was an egomaniac who was Prophet, Seer, Revelator of the church, mayor of Nauvoo, Liutenant-General of the Nauvoo legion, presidential candidate, among other things

– The quality of the Book of Mormon.  It sucks, but I tried very hard to find deep meaning in it.  By “it sucks” I mean more specifically that it was all too obvious to me that it was the work of a single 19th C author and not the work of multiple ancient authors and as the work of that single, later author, it isn’t very good.

– Lack of evidence in general.  I know, I know, you can’t prove God exists in the first place, but you can at least provide evidence to chew on.  Mormonism is surprisingly devoid of evidence considering how many physical claims it makes.

– Calling teenaged boys ‘elders’, am I the only one to find this distasteful?

Well, there’s more, but those are the first few things to pop to mind today.

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7 Responses to “Back from Vacation…”

  1. Seth R. said

    The overlaid language of the Book of Mormon is obviously steeped in 19th century idiom and mannerisms. Which is exactly what we would expect if the book is what it claims to be.

    Kent Brown has actually done quite a bit of interesting work in tracing the Book of Mormon events that took place in the Middle East. And we’ve found what I would consider actually pretty good evidence in the Middle East.

    Then you take a lot of the underlying cultural references in the Book of Mormon, and they are pretty-much alien to Joseph’s cultural, political, and religious context. All sorts of weird stuff that is completely untraceable to anything remotely “Joseph.”

  2. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    Interesting perspective, thanks for sharing that for the other readers.

    I don’t think any of that covers the cumbersome language of the BoM which just happened to deal with the burning religious questions of JOseph’s day and place (ie infant baptism), the innumerable paraphrased biblical language out of the KJV. Whatever is sought after as “middle eastern” always seems to be rather stretched and nothing particularly impressive, but you’re welcome to bring up your counterexamples.

  3. Seth R. said

    You would expect anything Joseph wrote to be dripping with KJV phraseology, no matter where he got the text from. It’s what he was familiar with and it’s how he felt a religious book ought to sound. So that went into the mixer along with the divinely inspired stuff.

    Since the book was going to people who would relate to the KJV, I imagine God was just fine allowing the phrasing to stay KJV-ish. It would help investigators relate to the book.

    The entire journey of Lehi has been pretty well mapped-out across the Arabian peninsula. With the one of the named spots – “Nahom” – appearing exactly where Nephi’s account says it would have been. Bountiful has also been pinpointed – the valley where Lehi’s group stopped to rest and build the ship (an isolated strip of almost rainforest on the south coast of the Arabian peninsula).

    Then there are numerous small indicators. For example. Why are there next to no women in the Book of Mormon?

    The Bible is full of women. Some in central roles. It even has entire books named after women.

    Likewise, if there is one thing common to just about everything produced by American minds in the 19th century – they were ALL, almost without exception – hopelessly romantic about women. Every story was fundamentally about a woman, winning a woman, or earning the love of a woman. And I mean everything. It was a cloyingly sentimental culture.

    So you would expect a book Joseph wrote to include this bias.

    The only time women are mentioned by name is Nephi’s mother Sariah (when the group was still not far removed from its Jewish cultural roots. And then, the sole references are LAMANITE (except for the harlot Isabel). You never hear about Nephite women specifically again. Even the famed mothers of the “stripling warriors” were Lamanite.

    The Book of Mormon is almost chilling in how utterly silenced, and absent women are. It’s like they were complete non-entities in Nephite society. The Lamanites actually have a more friendly attitude about women than the Nephites seem to. No Nephite ever mentions his mother. There’s an assumption that women are pretty-much chattel and non-entities in Nephite culture.

    Now where did Joseph get this from?

    Certainly not his own home or family life. Certainly not his surrounding culture. Certainly not from romanticized accounts of the Indians. Not from Spaulding or Ethan Smith.

    Where?

    Well, as it so happens, Maya and Aztec societies tended to pretty-much fit the bill for that kind of harsh view of women.

    Then take the detailed earthworks, urban city projects, roadways, and massive armies described by the Book of Mormon.

    People thought Joseph was off his rocker when the Book of Mormon came out. Nobody had ever heard of such a thing in the New World. The research of the day didn’t fit with it. If you talked about Indians in those days, you spoke of canoes, wigwams, and peace pipes. This talk of cities, public works, and massive armies was ludicrous.

    Well…

    As it so happens, it’s all been found in Central America. They’ve even been uncovering massive earthworks in the Amazon outlining huge “urban” cities rivaling those of Rome or medieval Europe. Heck they’ve even found CEMENT buildings! What was Joseph thinking putting something as outrageous as cement in the Book of Mormon?

    What indeed…

    And the cataclysmic final battles of the Nephites talking of hundreds of thousands of men. Utter lunacy! No one had ever heard of such a thing.

    Until – wait for it – we discovered accounts of a single Mayan battle involving over 700 thousand men on ONE SIDE.

    And plates of metal for record-keeping? How stupid! Until… you guessed it.

    It keeps going on like this. The list of claimed historical anachronisms the Book of Mormon contains has dwindled by almost two thirds since Joseph Smith’s day. He has been vindicated time and again.

    There was no such thing as Pre-Columbian barley. Until we found out there was, that is.

    There were no such things as steel weapons in the world at the time of Nephi. Until people found steel ceremonial knives in an Egyptian dig.

    And it will continue to go on.

    There are no horses in the New World at the time of the Book of Mormon.

    Until we find out there actually were.

    There was no silk in that time period.

    Until we find out there was.

    It will continue. Until, in the end, the Evangelical critics of Mormonism find themselves with no other explanation than to shake their heads and mutter stubbornly about how well “Satan trained Joseph” in what to write.

    Not to mention how the story of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price has been corroborated by ancient Jewish records telling the same details Joseph Smith happened to nail – all coincidence I’m sure.

    People will believe what they want, I guess.

  4. Seth R. said

    And if Joseph pirated his material from the KJV, why doesn’t he name his books after the main characters?

    Why is Mosiah not about Mosiah? Why is Alma about his son and then Helaman, and the sons of Mosiah? Why is 3 Nephi not just about Nephi?

    Because in Central American cultures like the Maya and Aztecs, lineage was ultimate. If you wrote an account, it would be primarily about your lineage. It was everything to those people. Oddly enough, lineage, time and again in the Book of Mormon account, seems to be the primary social marker of status in a Nephite society.

    And why wouldn’t a tenant farmer like Joseph, who had spent most of his young life scrabbling for a bit of land to secure his place in society, not use LAND as a marker of social status? Why is it always “fine clothing?”

    Well, fine clothing was the primary marker of wealth in Central American societies. People were distinguished by how many expensive feathers they had on their outfits.

    Why does nothing in the description of the Reign of the Judges match with American democracy? Nephite Judges look nothing like judges in frontier America. Lawyers in Nephite society look nothing like lawyers in frontier America (and Joseph was familiar with both). Even the so-called election processes among the Nephites look nothing like anything an American would recognize. There is no legislative function in Nephite society. The Judge had the job of of enforcing the law, but who made the laws?

    Apparently no one did if you read the text carefully.

    Weird.

    Well, not so much if you consider that Lehi’s group already came ready-equipped with one of the most advanced, comprehensive and detailed systems of law in existence in the Old World – the Mosaic Code.

    Since this Code was God-given, why would any dare to change it? It was comprehensive, advanced, serviceable, and straight-from-God. No one would think of changing it, or adding to it.

    In fact, the warnings in the Book of Mormon about kings back this up perfectly. It is warned that a king always comes with the risk that he will trample “the Law” and set up his own rules. What is “the law?” The Law of Moses. Something that wasn’t supposed to be tampered with, but which a king would feel free to mess with.

    Thus you get this weird system of Judges with no apparent legislative function in sight.

    If Joseph came up with all that, the guy was a freaking genius. Or completely insane. Or…

    The Book of Mormon has plenty of evidences if you allow yourself to “go there.”

    But if you start from the assumption that the book is false, no amount of evidence is going to make a lick of difference to you.

  5. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    None of that is impressive outside of an LDS apologetics mode. The fact that he mentions ‘fine clothing’… fine clothing is a marker of high class across the globe. Or, that women are silent… really, that’s strange for a 19th C boy? Or that he mentions horses and silks and barley, all things that Joseph would’ve dealt with in his ordinary life? Joseph was interested in making the BoM characters sound different, Native American and old.

    Nothing about the judicial system or the wars or anything else is truly complex enough to cause any kind of pause. The lack of complexity, the simplicity of it, all points to a single storyteller.

    The only thing you have is the inscription in Yemen, and that ain’t much in the grand scheme of things.

    Really it comes down to Occam’s Razor, the easiest explanation is that Joseph was attempting to construct a story about the origins of Native Americans based on popular mythology of his day (ie Native Americans as Israelites) and the Bible he was familiar with.

    Readers- I suggest that you take the time to take a look at The Book of Mormon yourself, but not just that, take time to look at the Old Testament too and compare the two. If you know nothing about the Old Testament, it will seem very odd to you, strange at every corner, but that in itself is a sign of its truly ancient origins and another culture. You may find, as I did, that the Book of Mormon is all too easy to comprehend to truly be the work of multiple, ancient authors.

  6. Seth R. said

    I wouldn’t call it apologetics mode nebula.

    I would say that it is convincing to those who read it with an open mind, who are not looking for a fraud at the turn of every page. This is why some people will never understand the book or embrace it. They have passed their verdict before they have even begun.

    I don’t pretend that anything I’ve written is proof. But it is convincing to those who have experienced the book and have had it speak to their hearts. The doctrines and teachings in the book are their own ultimate evidence. But you have to be open to it, or it simply will not work.

    As for others, they try to divorce the intuitive witness of the spirit from their experience of religion. They feel that such “feelings” are unreliable. They want something more solid. So they throw away the gifts of the spirit and demand “facts.” Once you get in this kind of mindset, the entire endeavor turns to ash in front of you.

    Fact will never convince anyone. Take Satan for instance. There is a man possessed of many, many facts. If anyone has a sure knowledge of all this, it is him.

    But it makes not one bit of difference. And neither do your facts or my facts make any difference.

    You are deeply misguided in thinking that this whole religion thing is primarily an “arm of the flesh” endeavor and that you can pull back the veil of heaven through the power of your fine intellect. If facts are what you make your religion contingent on, they will betray you in the end.

    What is stopping you nebula, from applying the same sort of thinking to the Bible and reaching the same conclusions?

    You said that the defenses I offered for the Book of Mormon were unconvincing outside of “apologetics mode.”

    But then you proceeded to offer the same “apologetics mode” kind of arguments for the Bible. It’s strange on every page?

    Please. Who cares? Why does the fact that you have a genuine document amount to a hill of beans in the matters of faith?

    Who is to say that you are not possessed of a genuinely historical book of myths.

    The Illiad and the Odyssey are “genuine” historical documents about verifiable places too. Does that make Zeus a real person?

    What makes you think the Bible is immune to the same sort of skepticism, the same ruthless cut of Occam’s Razor?

    Let’s not kid ourselves here.

    You reject the Book of Mormon because you have no spiritual witness of it. It’s really that simple.

    Now, whether that is because the book is a false book, or because you are a misled person, people will vary in opinion.

    But let’s not pretend that this has to do with anything other than a spiritual witness and whether you have it or not.

    This ain’t about facts. It’s never been about facts.

  7. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    I don’t think you know what my views on the Bible are, do you? It doesn’t seem clear that you do from this post.

    Here’s the thing, I’m honest about my feelings. That is, they deceive me, that is, I’m human. For the same reason that eye witness testimony is extremely unreliable, I do not trust feelings alone to be my guide to ultimate truth– especially when those claims to ultimate truth involve my ultimate allegiance including my time, energy and money. Yes, feelings are important, but there is no such thing as a content free emotion. That is, you cannot have a pure emotional experience that points you to a truth, because that automatically imputes concepts to that emotive experience. That implies that the concepts which you used to interpret that experience (completely automatically, it is unavoidable) ought to be examined for their rationality.

    Why avoid the rational, reasoning side? I love the emotive, colorful side of life, but I also fully embrace the cooperation of the mind that God has given me.

    I had a spiritual witness of the Book fo Mormon. I bore testimony of it. They were powerful experiences and yet, I argue now that they were wrong.

    It is about the facts.

    I’m sorry, but as my suspicions arose and warning bells started to go off, it’s a little hard to maintain a ‘spiritual witness’ when that darned mind just won’t cooperate.

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