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Explores topics of debate, such as, Is Mormonism Christian?

Sacred or Secret? and Big Love

Posted by nebula0 on March 21, 2009


One of Mormonism’s common sayings is that the endowment ceremony is sacred, not secret.  The point of this saying is that there aren’t just weird things going on in the temple but rather that sacred truths are being imparted, so sacred in fact that they shouldn’t be discussed away form the sacred locale of the temple.  Obviously this line of thinking does have its rationale and that shouldn’t be ignored, but from the point of view of an outsider the Mormon IS keeping secrets, whether he labels it or understands it that way or not.  The effect is the arousal of curiosity, really, how could you NOT be curious if someone tells you “I’m sorry, but it’s too sacred for me to share what we do”?  Isn’t that just too tantalizing?  which relates to the following incident.

All of this, of course, has been debated in light of the recent decision by Big Love to portray the endowment ceremony on TV.  Outsiders are fascinated to get a glimpse of ceremonies they are not privy to and Mormons disgusted that something they hold to be too sacred to share with outsiders, or even uninitiated insiders, or even insiders outside of the temple, defiled by being shared through a popular HBO series.  This of course raises questions about religious tolerance and television, how far is too far, and so forth.   There is no way that Mormons are ever going to be okey-dokey with a portrayal of any part of the endowment on television, so does that mean that it is wrong to portray it?

Well, the reality is that it was only a matter of time before this was going to happen.  Mormons have lost their minority protected status with the passing of Proposition 8.  They seems like a far too influential group to give special minority rights to, too much money and too much status.  But then again, Mormons have been wanting out of their peculiar people status for the last couple of decades anyway by emphasizing the Jesus Christ in the name of their church and trying to find acceptance amongst America’s born again crowd.  Mormons are generally a people obsessed with respectability and in that seeking have sought mainstream academic treatment, media treatment, and demand to be called Latter-day Saints rather than Mormons.  Their recent re-emphasis of their all important family message led to wide association between the passing of Prop 8 and Mormonism, casting Mormons as sort of arch conservatives with money.  All of this, I argue, led to the inevitability of wide exposure of Mormon rituals.  Why?  Because as soon as you lose that minority status with the mainstream everything is fair game, that’s why.  It becomes okay to talk about funny underwear, endowment ceremonies, Joseph Smith having spirit wives who were already married and all kinds of issues that the liberal oriented media would have avoided to protect a small religious group.

All of that is to say that Mormons, in their quest for mainstream respectability and acceptance, asked for exposure, and exposure they will get.  This is only the beginning.  Here is the bright side Mormons: as America becomes more familiar with peculiar Mormon belief and ritual, it will, over time, become desensitized.  It will become less weird with each exposure and who knows, maybe that will lead to more converts.

Of course explaining the WHY this would happen in mainstream media doesn’t answer the question- is it right?  My unequivocal answer has to be yes.  I respect the right for Mormons to hold their ceremonies sacred and therefore secret, but that compulsion doesn’t cover the spirit of the First Amendment.  I do not agree with those who argue that anything which might offend someone somewhere ought to be avoided, we’d never talk about anything whatsoever that way.  I think we ought to have all the cartoons of Muhammad that we want, all of the misrepresentations of Catholicism which are so rampant in popular media, and yes, show Barb in the robes of the priesthood.  Just as much as HBO has a right to do this, not just legally but ethically, Mormons have a right to dissent, to explain and to boycott the show.  Hurray for freedom.

Posted in Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Why would anyone leave the one true church on the face of the planet?

Posted by nebula0 on November 21, 2008


In light of the debate going on in my “Should I Write the Letter” post I’ve decided to draw this issue out to a new post entirely.  Why would anyone leave Mormonism?  Let me preface this with the fact that hit happens quite often and with so many ex Mormons running around out there there is bound to be a lot of reasons.  Here are some I can think of:

Ones the Mormons tend to emphasize:

– Some kind of bad experience with a member.  Sure, this happens.  Someone treats someone badly and the person becomes bitter and decides to leave Mormonism altogether.

– Inability or unwillingness to obey the Mormon commandments.  I suppose this happens as well but I have yet to actually see it in action.  My guess is that this might be common with Born in the Covenant kids who never believed much to begin with.  Does that really count as apostasy?

– Getting hit up by anti Mormon lies.  It’s true, Mormonism does a bad job of teaching its new members and  then the leadership wonders why it is that so many Mormons are susceptible to “anti Mormon lies”.  I agree, a lot of what is out there does consist of lies, or at least gross exaggerations, but there is usually a kernel of truth to almost all of these anti Mormon ‘lies’ that might cause a Mormon legitimate pause.  I agree, some Mormons jump off the bandwagon rather quickly when they find out that the church history as taught by the Church History Institute manual isn’t exactly, dare I say, honest itself, without bothering to get into scholarly works on the topic to get a balanced understanding.

– Simple obstinance when it comes to obeying the priesthood hierarchy.  This may be legitimate concern for abuse of power or a flat out unwillingness to accept spiritual authority (which may have legitimate theological reasons for future Protestants).

Reasons that may disquiet true believing Mormons:

– Theological disagreement.  Since Mormonism is believed by true believing Mormons to be the one true church on the face of the planet, this may be literally impossible for some to truly understand this motive.   All that I can really do is say- it’s true, some people have legitimate, deep, theological disagreements with Mormonism that have developed.

– Those anti-Mormon lies again, but this time I talk about those Mormons who took the time to carefully assess the arguments in question and came to the conclusion that the Mormon side of things just isn’t right.  One easy example of this is the historicity of the Book of Abraham.

– Social reasons, such as, not giving the blacks the priesthood until 1978 combined with the once widespread belief of the inferiority of the spirituality of blacks; or not giving the priesthood to women, or…  People in this category often have a difficult relationship with the LDS church as they often still in a core way see themselves as Mormons but unable to fully connect with the Mormon community.

What was it for me, you may wonder?  While I had reservations about issues such as the historicity of the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, concerns about Joseph Smith’s power trip by the end of his life, concerns about flat out racism in the church, concerns about the role of women… you name it… I still considered myself a Mormon in a basic way and retained some amount of activity.  It was a deep theological disagreement which severed me from Mormonism forever.

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

Baptisms for Holocaust Victims

Posted by nebula0 on November 14, 2008


For background on this issue, check out: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27647809/.  I want to add to the article that it’s individual Mormons, not the hierarchy, who are adding the names.

Here are some thoughts that I have about this issue.  Many Mormons I know from experience are willing to go along with such requests to avoid offense but if you were to ask them their personal opinions on the matter they’d think it’s, well, stupid.  That is, most Mormons imagine that if Jews think that Mormonism is wrong, then what possible harm is there in a Mormon doing by proxy work for a dead relative?  Who cares?  To some extent I still agree with this view.  But, that is to misunderstand the importance that words and names have in other religions and cultures.  The words carry meaning and power, and the thought of someone doing all kinds of rituals in the name of a dead loved one is too much for some to accept gracefully.  Imagine for a moment that you discovered that someone has a voodoo doll of you and enjoys tormenting it.  Even if you don’t believe in voodoo dolls, wouldn’t you still feel a little, well, creeped out? 

Explaining to the people involved that relatives will have a choice about whether or not to accept the by proxy works really doesn’t help.  Nothing is going to help.  Mormons aren’t going to give up their religious obligations to the dead and outsiders are going to continue to be offended and creeped out.  That’s just the way it’s going to be.  You can’t be liked by everyone if you claim to believe in the one and only true church on the face of the planet with the only true authority to act in the name of God.

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

Family Togetherness

Posted by nebula0 on November 7, 2008


I must critique my former brother and sisters in the Mormon faith (perhaps my cousins through my family ties?).  Over the course of my time in Mormonism I began to pick up on a grand underlying assumption about the world: those outside of Mormonism are not truly happy.  More specifically: those outside of The Gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not have truly happy families.  It is this assumption which has allowed the LDS church to see itself as the protector of family values against those cultural mutants, the homosexuals, who would pervert, because the Gentiles (now the ‘non members’)  cannot truly fathom the consequences of the battle which is raging.  This attitude underlies many assumptions about the state of the mission field- dysfunctional families, single mothers, divorces, drugs, premarital sex prevails.  Mormons see themselves as sheltered by wise leaders instituting programs such as Family Home Evening, preaching eternal families and issuing the Proclamation on the Family defining the roles of the traditional family.  All this translates into very real attitudes by Mormons that I encountered, until finally offended.

I wasn’t raised with any religious belief.  Period.  We didn’t talk about God.  I never saw my parents pray.  We didn’t attend church.  The only times I attended church as a child were if my grandparents lured me to mass with promises of candy and toys and that was a rare event.  Take a moment, my Mormon readers, and imagine what my upbringing might have been like.  Be honest, as honest as possible.  Are my parents divorced?  Did I experiment with drugs?  Did I experiment with sex?  How about my siblings?  Did we have terrible fights? 

As I’m sure you could guess by my above line of questioning, my family life was and is unusually happy.  I say all this as a tribute to my parents.  I never saw my parents fight, and I didn’t fight with them.  I never tried drugs despite the temptation and I said my wedding vows as a virgin.  I got good grades, as did my siblings, and I’m the owner of a BS and an MA.  I still talk to my parents frequently and enjoy seeing them.  And all of this was accomplished without Family Home Evening, without family prayer, without church attendance.  This was accomplished because I knew my parents loved and cared about me unselfishly, not only because they said so, but because they proved it through their actions, over and over again.

I write this to honor my parents, above all and to warn Mormons against the too easy temptation to assume that the safety nets of the LDS church provide the happiest possible families.  There are happy families everywhere, without any church.  I do not think the LDS church can claim a corner on the market of families.  Mormon readers, if this idea threatens you, perhaps you ought to reassess what your faith is all about.  If anything I hope this post causes my Mormon readers to think twice before carelessly making statements about who families that do not accept Mormon values are not truly, really happy lest you offend someone with non Mormon, non religious parents (or those parents themselves).

I also offer the thought that just as Mormonism can provide a focus by which families can cohere, the cleaving goes both ways.  Families can be together forever, but only if all the family members are worthy members of the LDS church.  If individual conscience leads a child to another path, the vision of that family unity is fragile and can be easily shattered.  How many of you have sat through a Fast and Testimony meeting to this effect, some family member out of the LDS church, a mother in tears that her vision of family unity could so easily be broken?  If family togetherness and wholeness is so predicated on something as stringent as activity in the LDS church, perhaps that togetherness is a superficial illusion.  I call Mormons everywhere to expand and deepen their conceptions of what a happy family looks like.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Reflections | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

More on Proposition 8

Posted by nebula0 on October 19, 2008


The number of hits this site has gotten due to people searching for ‘prop 8’ is staggering.  Why people are frankly obsessed with this topic is something I am still pondering.  One thing I am sure about however is that the paranoia and fear that people have for this proposition is irrational.

Consider the argument, the main argument against the proposition really, that if it is passed then homosexual couples can sue any ecclesiastical figure who refuses to marry them.  This is akin to arguing that if a Mormon bishop refuses to marry a pair of Reformed Jews that the Jewish couple can then sue the bishop.  If Mormons are already allowed to deny temple marriages to other Mormons and get away with it, why wouldn’t they be able to discriminate against homosexual couples by virtue of their not being worthy Mormons, regardless of whether or not homosexual marriage is recognized by the state?

Sit back, breath deeply, the sky is not falling down.  Your ecclesiastical organization will still get to decide who to marry and isn’t that what really matters to you anyway?  Since when do you define your morality based on what the government decides it ought to be instead of what you believe through your religious convictions?

Posted in Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

More Comments on Women and the Priesthood

Posted by nebula0 on October 7, 2008


This is one of those hot button issues in the LDS church that usually brings about the silent treatment from most Mormon women if brought up.  The truth of the matter is, most Mormon women are busy enough doing other things that they don’t care, at least, not too often.  And, it isn’t as if Mormonism is alone in having sexist doctrine (in the most technical sense, doctrine which gives special privileges to one person but not the other based on their sex)- look at conservative Christianity.  Most conservative evangelical churches do not countenance the notion of having a woman senior pastor, the Roman Catholic Church does not allow for women priests either.  Mormons would be fair in pointing out these facts when discussing this issue: hey, we’re not the only ones who think that ecclesiastical power ultimately should be located in the hands of men, and with women only under the supervision of men.

With that being said, let me open this up, why is this the case?

I’ll start by venturing a few thoughts:

– the first is that women are traditionally, and biologically, busy with children.  You can imagine this beginning when a woman is nursing a small infant, and from there having the role as primary care provider.  This is usually the case around the world.

– the New Testament suggests that men are to be leaders (remember that line about elders being the husband of one wife?  that certainly suggests that the elders were men!).  Even if there were women deacons and apostles (and there were definitely deaconesses, perhaps women apostles) the norm was men as the leaders.

– the New Testament also spells out that good wives are submissive to their husbands.  There are so many different ways to interpret this and give it nuance, but the essential core remains: the man as the ‘head’ of the family.  This naturally extends itself into ecclesiastical life.

– either by culture, biology or a combination of both women are perceived as more ‘sensitive’ and emotional than men, not making them not as attractive as leaders in any extensive sense (think bishop over the ward, and even prophetess over the church).  Not just men hold this opinion of women by the way, women hold this opinion of other women extensively.  Is there truth to this?

Posted in Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Don’t Women Have the Priesthood?

Posted by nebula0 on October 3, 2008


Every active Mormon male, when he turns the wise age of 12, receives the Aaronic priesthood.  At 18, he receives the Melchizedek priesthood.  More than that, if he is going to be involved in local leadership, at some point he will be ordained a high priest.  The priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God, and those with the Aaronic priesthood may pass the sacrament, as 12 year old boys do, while the Melchizedek priesthood is necessary for things like the laying on of hands.  The closest women get to the priesthood is to share in the priesthood of their husbands, and a promise in the temple that they will become priestesses and queens to their husbands.  Or, the argument is made that Motherhood is akin to the priesthood, which on the surface of it makes no sense because Motherhood is akin to Fatherhood, not the priesthood which deals with authority to act in the name of God.  The question should naturally arise: why don’t women have the priesthood?  After all, if Mormon theology is going to be so generous as to allow every gentile and Jew male to become a priest (compared to the Bible, wherein only Israelite males of a particular tribe could become priests) why stop there, why not extend it to women too?

If you are to ask this question, you may run into a couple of answers, the most popular one right now goes like: women are naturally more ‘spiritual’ than men, so men need the priesthood to train them and women don’t.  I hope it is obvious to my readers the condescending nature of this argument.  God picks those most incompetent to run his church, really?

A second argument may talk about women being the heart, and men being the head of the home.  Since families are the basic building block of Mormon society, this argument then extends into the more public sphere of ecclesiastical authority.  Women are there to be emotional and spiritual nurturers, men to be the thinkers and planners.  This, as the argument runs, is because men and women are inherently different and that’s just the way it is.  Perhaps there is truth to this, after all, the brains of men and women are different, as is the basic body shape.  But, studies suggest that if anything while men may be better at reading maps and more interested in abstract math in general, women in general make better managers of people.  Because women are better readers of emotion and better at multitasking, they are the natural managers, not men.  Hence, women should be perfectly suited for leadership in church positions, not men.  You don’t get it, the defender of this argument might say, the differences are beyond scientific inquiry, they are spiritual differences.  Women are supposed to be nurturers of the home, that’s what the prophet says.  Okay, I say, that’s a different argument altogether.

So, onto argument number three.  The prophet says so, therefore God says so, end of story.  Not much to say there.  The prophet also prevented blacks from getting the priesthood until 1987.  Just something to chew on.

Perhaps some of you think that arguing about this topic is making mountains out of molehills.  After all, Mormon men are generally nice to Mormon women.  Their advice is usually at least consulted.  And, if Mormon women are happy, isn’t that enough?  Not really, not if it is really a matter of injustice.  I look at this now as an academic curiosity, an example of gender being theologized and ritualized, but I will tell you that when my infant daughter was born, I was none too happy about bringing her up in a culture in which every 12 year old boy learns about the great responsibilities he will bear with the Aaronic priesthood, while she gets a pat on the head. 

Yes, granted, there are some differences between men and women.  Women are physically smaller and weaker, bear children and have the primary responsibility for care (by nature).  That makes them seek security with their men, and I suppose the priesthood is one way by which women can feel that their men are being kept in check.  But another human need, besides security, is respect.  Both men and women need this– it is a human longing– to be taken seriously and to really matter.  This is why the priesthood for all males in Mormonism is such a draw to so many, but why it is such a travesty for all those girls wondering, in their hearts of hearts, if they are truly as important as their brothers.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Reflections | Tagged: , , , | 20 Comments »

The Exclusivism of Mormon Truth Claims

Posted by nebula0 on September 22, 2008


All this talk about whether or not Mormonism is a part of Christianity, or whether or not Mormons can be Christians got me thinking about this from another angle.  This goes back to my original question: why are Mormons so concerned about whether or not the conservative Christian community accepts them as Christians?  This question is quickly complicated when you take into account the fact that Mormons proclaim themselves to be members of the one and only true church on the face of the planet, the only church with the authority to baptize, the church to which one must belong and be a faithful member of if you want to have eternal life.  Given the exclusivism of those truth claims, is it so surprising that the conservative Christian community reacts?  -particularly given that Mormon theology is truly different.  Are Mormons really passive victims of a smear campaign, or is it time that they own up to their complicity in this problem?  I vote for the latter. 

Mormons, acknowledge that you preach exclusivist truth claims, truth claims which are truly unique as compared to normative/traditional Christianity.  By putting that forth on the table from the start, perhaps a fruitful discussion about where and how Mormonism fits into the Christian world can begin.

Posted in Basic Background, Controversial Topics, sociological thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Are Mormons Christians?

Posted by nebula0 on September 21, 2008


I argue that this question is a very different one thannit asking if Mormonism is a part of Christianity.  Asking if particular Mormons are Christians, or if Mormons can be Christians is an easier topic if anything.  I propose that if you were to go around and ask a random sampling of say, one hundred Mormons what they believed in depth, you’d find great divergences in beliefs between them and to what you might see as Mormonism proper.  I’d suspect that you’d find a majority sincerely believe themselves to be monotheists, not seeing at all that Mormonism posits the existence of more than one God (and more fundamentally, that Heavenly Father is not the creator of the cosmic laws, but is a product of them).  I also argue that you’d see a disproportionate number of Mormons, of the younger generation and especially young converts, speaking in evangelical terms about salvation, were you ask them about that.  This is possible because Mormon theology is nebulous and ill defined.

That is, you’d find a number of Mormons agreeing to basic Protestant propositions about God and Christ’s soteriological role.  Their Mormon-ness would be a product of their acceptance of the Mormon canon and embrace of the basic Joseph Smith story (sanitized, of course), as well as acceptance of Mormon authority as expressed in the priesthood.  The question is, to you readers, are the elements in the last sentence enough to bar them from Christianity?  If you are evangelical, let me pose it this way, can someone sincerely believe that Christ has saved them from their sins through grace, believe in one God and be saved regardless of whether or not they also happen to believe that the Book of Mormon is scripture?  I leave this as an open question.

I would like to comment on another element in the opening paragraph however, on a different note, concerning the nebulous nature of Mormon theology.  Many educated Mormons would probably agree with that diagnosis, but would construe it as a boon rather than a problem.  They may argue that Mormonism is a religion that emphasizes orthopraxis over and above orthodoxy, leaving room for individual members to construct their own theology within certain malleable limits as long as they toe the line with their behavior.  It all sounds so good on paper… is it really though?  The lack of well defined theology is not a product of something inherent in Mormonism that really, from its groundwork, emphasizes good works more than correct belief.  You need only sit through a temple recommend interview to understand that fallacy: do you have faith in Christ?  Do you sustain the leaders?  Do you have a testimony of the restoration?  Having a testimony of the truthfulness of the Mormon story is the cornerstone to being a Mormon.  Sit through any fast and testimony meeting, and you’ll hear member after member testify that they have knowledge, not just belief, that ‘the church is true’.  In fact one of the first things missionaries will try to teach potential converts is to recognize the Spirit testifying of truth.  All this talk about knowledge and truth clearly reveals an obsession with some kind of orthodoxy.  The reason it is ill defined is because Mormonism shuns a professional clergy who could have the training necessary to untangle it all in a clear, and meaningful fashion.

The other tidbit I want to mention is this talk about ‘following Christ’ making someone a Christian.  What does that mean?  There are good people in all religions, including plenty of great atheists who are out to love their neighbors.  That doesn’t make them Christians so why should some vague set of good deeds make anyone else a Christian alone?  It doesn’t work that way.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

More Thoughts on Mormonism as a Rational Choice

Posted by nebula0 on September 20, 2008


My original post on this topic created a big debate, so I wanted to expand the discussion.  This issue isn’t restricted to whether or not someone can rationally become a Mormon, no the issue is a much bigger one, which is, how much responsibility do we have for our choices?  Our entire judicial system depends on the notion that we are rational agents making choices that we can be held accountable for.  When “anti-cult ministries” label groups they have deep disagreements with as brainwashing cults, what they are doing is setting a precedence that undermines our entire way of life.  That’s right, I said it.  If someone can be so easily malleable as to have their ability to make choices stripped from them by a couple of teenagers dressed up in cheap suits running the standard “commitment pattern” on them, how can that same person be trusted to be a rational member of society?  Such a person, with their rationality so easily suppressed, ought to be locked up, because next thing you’ll know they’ll go on a murdering spree because the latest movie they saw glorified it.  As to Mormon “love bombing”, the same thing happens in churches across the nation.  I’ve seen it first hand, people notice a newcomer, they often go out of their way to make that person feel welcome with the ulterior motive of converting that person.  Once I showed up at a BBQ only to find out it was a church sponsored event that included prayer and plenty of befriending.  The same thing happened to my roommate at the university who was personally befriended by a woman only for her to try to get her saved.  I suppose every church that encourages its members to reach out and be nice to people while at the same time maintaining the ultimate goal of converting whoever seems open to the possibility is now a brainwashing cult.  Is that right?  How far do we want to go?

I argue that we are becoming a nation of softies.  It’s not enough to make alcoholism a disease, now people can be addicted to food, or addicted to shopping, and claim they have no control over their actions.  “It wasn’t my fault, I had PMS, I was on a sugar rush, I was drunk,…”  This way of thinking has directly influenced those “Christian anti-cult ministries” who label Mormons as brainwashed, they literally think that people are that easy to control.  I say enough of this nonsense.  We all make bad choices, wrong choices, choices that we look back on them and think “that was so stupid, why did I do that?”  It’s part of being human, but that doesn’t excuse us either.  I say, take responsibility for your choices and learn from them.

I know that trying to leave Mormonism is more difficult for others than, for example, me.  But there are plenty of ‘mes’ out there, converts who stick around for 7 years or so, some who go so far as to serve a mission, get married in the temple, some who never even make it through the temple, who are leaving.  Mormonism isn’t alone in this, this is common to all religions, including Christianity.  People fall away once they fully taste what they’ve gotten themselves into.  Likewise, I see plenty of people who left once they passed 18 or so, having been raised in the church, deeply bitter.  Why?  Really, why waste time and energy, particularly if you happen to be 38 now?  Twenty years is a long time to ‘get over it’ (what exactly are you getting over, anyway?).  But then again, there are people born and raised, who have served missions, married in the temples, and raised families in the church, who have come to the sad conclusion that the whole thing is traceable to a series of lies told by a single  person.  Yes, I know individuals in this category too, and I agree that this is much harder.  Even so, this is a condition that anyone can find themselves in, in any group.  Mormonism, I suppose, makes this condition more likely by its emphasis on family ties and its concentrations of members in the Mormon corridor.  Even so, should we call such people victims?  They could leave, no one would shoot them, it’s just hard.  Even really hard.  They are not victims.

What I am saying is that Mormonism is just another religion.  There are lots of them out there, you know.

Posted in Controversial Topics, sociological thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 27 Comments »