Featured

Ripe for the Picking

A person who spends his or her entire life, from the moment they hear human voices, imbibing the flavored, highly sweetened and vibrantly-hued Kool-Aid of religious indoctrination are often assured that only they are drinking of the pure, “living water.” So ubiquitous are the children’s hymns and poems and axioms to which they are subjected, they often don’t realize that what they are being force-fed is flavored at all. It is simply part of their environment–the way life is. The pedagogy makes certain to tell them that their doctrine is the norm–so normal and banal as to be mundane and common sense. If there exists a superior color and flavor, theirs must be it while all others are either entirely bland and colorless or flamboyant distractions, vicious counterfeits, or well-meaning perversions. That’s how they begin to see anything and everything that conflicts with the world-view their parents and clerical leaders have carefully curated in them since their mother first sang nursery hymns to them as she held them to her bare chest.

Like a battery in the matrix, how could a human brain, so wired to embrace tribalism and Us vs. Them categorization, and ready to accept the reality presented to them at face value, ever become aware of such programming? David Foster Wallace’s recounting of an old fish encountering two young fish makes the point succinctly. The older asks the younger, “How’s the water today?” The two young fish smile and swim on and, when beyond earshot of the older fish, one young asks the other, “What’s water?”

Children raised in an immersive religion that informs every aspect of their life, belief, knowledge, and world-view consider their faith-environment and ask “What’s belief?” To them, their faith is the only pure and wholesome and reasonable option there is. To them, their faith is as normal and as easy and as pervasive as the air around them or the ground beneath their feet. When presented with actual, clear water, they sneer at its transparency (a metaphor completely apropos) and balk at its plainness. “No wonder you’ve lost the light of ________ in your eyes,” they say. Of course you have. You’re drinking something so bland and meaningless! Obese in their certainty, they continue drinking their familiar Kool-Aid and wonder how anyone can get through a day without purple-stained mouths and the near-catatonic sugar rush.

The reality is that youth raised to think this way become adults who struggle to think in any other way. And the emotional and social costs required to change their firmware and update their operating system are just as painful as the clerically instilled terror has made them fear. Their mental and emotional firmware are so programmed as to run only programs that protect their system’s integrity. Programs or information that challenge their belief system can’t even be run to begin with. When they do run, they may cause the entire system to crash. Luckily, the anti-virus programs of many cults and religious traditions can often weed out and restore normal operations with little harm done. Shame and fear and blind devotion can even overcome the effects of abuse and manipulation from the organization itself. Individual Stockholm Syndrome overwhelms the Streisand Effect for even a tenuous belief. All other religions are guilty of horrible atrocities but my religion isn’t.

Objectivity: Error 404. Operation not found. Exe: Special Pleading

The foundation of modern religion comes from ancient texts. The Ultimate Man or human is a prophet or savior of the past. A man who rose above everyone else to impart the word of god/gods/God to the deplorable masses of men and women. By their nature as bronze-aged texts born of agrarian, feudal societies while being the story of the greatest man to ever live, they implicitly make the values taught–values beholden to and quite literally the product of their time–the greatest and most wonderful of all values! They aren’t just good ideas, they are the very mind and will and words of unchanging, infallible, omnipotent-scient-present Daddy-deity!

Despite the blathering Karen’s of The United States Congress, most Americans still believe that pluralism and Jefferson’s “separation of church and State” should be guiding principles for our republic. For the image driven, sixty-second-Tik-Tok-preferring populace, news cycles will always depend on provocative headlines and abridged reports that will still keep the Wheel of Fortune crowd tuned in.

For the good news: religiosity has been on the decline for decades in the United States and Europe among younger generations. This fact alone is evidence of a widespread embrace of people willing and free to ask themselves, “Do I really love big brother?” and to admit that “2+2 does not equal 5.”

Over the last few decades, the proportion of the U.S. population that is white Christian has declined by nearly one-third. As recently as 1996, almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) identified as white and Christian. By 2006, that had declined to 54%, and by 2017 it was down to 43%[4]. The proportion of white Christians hit a low point in 2018, at 42%, and rebounded slightly in 2019 and 2020, to 44%. That tick upward indicates the decline is slowing from its pace of losing roughly 11% per decade.

…The proportion of white Christians increases proportionally as age increases. Among those ages 30–49, 41% are white Christian, as are half of those ages 50–64 (50%) and a majority of Americans 65 and older (59%). These increases are offset by sharp declines in the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans in each age group. While more than one-third of Americans under the age of 30 are religiously unaffiliated (36%), that proportion drops to one in four (25%) among those ages 30–49, to 18% among those ages 50–64, and to only 14% among those ages 65 and older.

https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion/

I’m not the best person to evaluate statistics and my observations are often instinctual–a bit too much like faith, perhaps. (The difference is that I have become someone willing to change my mind in the light of new evidence.) Thus, I find interesting is that there are several demographics that tend to vote conservative. (Another widely used term for conservatives that transcends “Republican” in the U.S. or “Tory” in England is the appropriate and descriptive term “Reactionary.”) Older, white males without college degrees overwhelmingly vote for the Republican candidate in presidential elections. I, for one, voted Republican until 2016 when pussy grabbing and bragging about the freedom to murder people on 5th Avenue without consequence turned me off quickly to Comrade Trump. Perhaps it was the then, white, very recently post-Christian male-with-a-doctorate in me that found his language and manner beyond indecent and inexcusable as provocative. I’d like to think it was the investment in reading from Orwell and Hitchens during that time that helped me see him for what he was. But why were my parents and siblings with college degrees and a profound sense of Christian morality supporting someone who lacked common decency like Donald Trump?! I didn’t like candidate Clinton either. But Trump bragged about doing things that made me ill. How could explain voting for him, even if I thought he represented values I shared (I never felt that way) to my daughter? My vote for Clinton was more about keeping Trump out of the White House than anything else. I believed separation of powers would keep the train from derailing over the next presidential term. Four years later, the cult of personality that supported a disgusting populist platform that, like all populists in all countries–only enriched the elites in practice, frightened me even more as Trump began undermining the election the preceding summer.

I’d heard this rhetoric before. Mormons are taught to consider apostates “lazy learners.” That definition means, in practice, that someone either didn’t do any study whatsoever and simply caved to the philosophies of men. Or, because faithful members don’t become apostates due to neglect but by following their integrity in their studious diligence, Mormon’s believe know that their apostate friends and family did indeed study but didn’t do so in faith or, they didn’t study the right way. If they had studied the Mormon dogma and scripture with the appropriate faith, wearing blinders as they stare down the barrel tunnel of piety they would have reached the same conclusion as a believing Mormon. Put more simply: “You’re wrong unless you come to the conclusion that I know is correct.”

I hope the idea of “blinders” put you in mind of Orwell’s old, laborious horse, Boxer. Horses wear blinders to prevent them from being frightened by the world around them. But not for their safety, for the safety of the person driving them and his or her cargo. They use the horse for their own ends. With humans, one cannot simply breed them to fill a role, you have to convince them that what they do is for their own good or for the good of the whole. And you can ply the whip of shame and fear of eternal punishment to motivate them to build the mill until they do, quite literally, “waste and wear out their lives” to build something on a foundation of lies and sexual deviancy cloaked in euphemistic semantics. The trick with humans is that you must put on the blinders from birth–information control–and cultivate that fear and shame that keeps them from trying to peek beyond the blinders edges–emotional, behavioral, and thought control. Even thinking of looking beyond the blinders is made a sin.

Mormons are just one cult who’s regional influence remains largely isolated. I think seeing it for what it was helped me to identify the same “cult of personality” tactics in Donald Trump and see the blind devotion of his adherents riding their MAGA Kool-Aid sugar rush all the way to January 6th. Of course it all started in his first run for President when celebrating pussy grabbing and his power to murder without consequence were dismissed by rabid reactionaries as a septuagenarian who shouldn’t be held accountable for reprehensible, ninth-grade locker room talk. Perhaps this says more about the person who would excuse such language than it does about the rotting jack-o-lantern that said it (my apologies to jack-o-lanterns everywhere). But the former high school classmate I remembered, who made that very excuse for Trump, publicly, on social media, would never have said something like that. Thank goodness for the freedom of expression. Now I think I can tell what he was thinking all these years.

Fast forward through a lazy, degenerative and divisive presidency, and Trump’s rhetoric about the 2020 election became more brazen. He knew he had his committed supporters. He knew they hung pictures of him on their walls next to those of Jesus. He could tell them in an interview with Pat Robertson:

Well they’re going to show up for me because nobody’s done more for Christians or evangelicals or frankly religion than I have. You’ve seen all the things that we’ve passed including the Johnson Amendment and so many things we’ve nullified. Nobody’s done more than we have.

https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/trump-thinks-nobodys-done-more-religion-him-msna1161781

His acolytes don’t care that, though he stopped enforcement of the Johnson Amendment by executive order, the amendment itself was not legislatively changed at all. He didn’t need to say another word. If he told them he had opened Mars for Christian proselyting, they’d be calling to ask how they could catch a ride to the red planet and, could they name Mars something else? Something that wasn’t a Roman god? Maybe name it something biblical, like Two Corinthians. Or Troth Senshal.

Despots and theocrats take the skepticism inherent in humans and make blinders out of it. You don’t want people to see everything. In the internet age, blinders aren’t easily affixed any longer. Thus, you can create blinders in-effect by simply making the credulous skeptical of everything beyond their paradigm that is in conflict with it. If their preacher doesn’t say it or Faux News doesn’t report it or the Dear Leader doesn’t stammer it incoherently, they are skeptical of it. Orange Kool-Aid is the most tremendous Kool-Aid and everything else is fake. And while you’re at it, don’t call it fake anymore. Newspeak to the rescue: if we say “fake” that implies to the electorate that “fake” or “illegitimate” or “untrustworthy” information actually exists. Maybe they’ll think we are saying fake stuff. Let’s eliminate the word from the vernacular. Let’s rename it “alternate.” Suddenly everything is factual but only our facts matter.

Trump had long undermined any lackey-less news entertainment. In addition, he sought to undermine institutions of government. Only he could be trusted. Not the election process or even the Constitution. If you don’t come to the same conclusion as me, you’re wrong. (Where had I heard that before?) He brazenly declared that if he lost the 2020 election it would obviously mean there was fraud. However, if he won, it’s all legitimate or, legitimate enough. And if he lost, he could send “alternate” electors that represent the “real” results of the election.

How could such a man rise to power in a free society that depends on the rule of law and the ideal that justice be meted out equitably regardless of wealth or station? As Hitchens said of Stalin, “You don’t belong in the dictator business” if you aren’t ready to take advantage of a “reservoir of credulity” prepared for you over centuries of religious indoctrination. Stalin’s regime was propped up by the orthodox church–despite his disdain for and sabotage of it–directly during his reign and indirectly in the preceding centuries by creating a populace ripe for the picking. An entire nation raised to believe that their dear leader was chosen by divinity or providence and that he was something more than a man. Read Katya Soldak’s personal account of a childhood nourished on the Kool-Aid of Soviet indoctrination. Take off your blinders for fifteen minutes and open a browser window in your suppressed intellect with safe-guards turned off, put your religious leader’s name in place of Comrade Stalin and Lenin; put your nursery hymns and scriptures in place of hers and see if it doesn’t overlap almost perfectly.

Evangelical America has been waiting for their own David to come along and slay the mighty, taunting giant of secularism. Ultimately, they await the arrival of their King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The ethos of fundamentalist Christianity might be stated, “A wicked man chosen by God as a king over men is better than a good man chosen to the position by free people in a free and fair election.” Trump, knowing it would be difficult to win another national election, simply perpetuated his fake news and fraudulent election Kool-Aid until the blinded work-horses he’d raised up would storm the Capital for him. They could do the work, pay the price, and he could reap the reward.

What could be more reactionary than that kind of ideology? Trump’s win in 2020 is in part due to effectively mobilizing those who did not regularly vote to cast one for him. As we’ve seen, his electorate was also composed of regular church goers in white, Christian America who’s fundamental, uniting principle is devotion to a bronze-aged text and a deep distrust of everything “non-Christian,” especially education. They pine for the good-old days that will be reinstated when Jesus can reign as King of Kings. Until then, a divinely appointed dictator will do. There’s a word for that: Theocracy.

When you have a romantic view of some bygone, golden-age, why consider the future? The past was better than now and now is definitely better than a future doomed to corruption and “wickedness in high places” to precede the long-awaited and definitely-to-occur eschatology of rapture, war, and divinely imposed peace. “Take no thought for the morrow” is a particularly special ingredient in religious, reactionary political ideology. When the sufficient evil happens, tomorrow, we may react to it. We don’t need to prepare or attempt to mitigate it because God is mindful of the lilies and sparrows and each hair of our head. Why should we worry about protecting the innocent from the growing wave of gun violence? God is mindful of them. Let’s do nothing to prevent the next one and claim that the wake of a mass shooting is not a proper time to discuss politics. After all, why not be content with current “tribulation?” Didn’t Jesus assure us that we would have tribulation in this world anyway? All-the-while, some on both sides, not content to wonder where the next victims will come from, strive to create an environment of pluralism and curiosity to drive medical advancements against the golden-age pining of faith-assured God-botherers.

Christianity was at its strongest in the middle-ages when inquisitions and heresy hunts were not just despotic convenience but sacred duties. Artists’ commissions came, to a large extent, from creating trite devotional works of which each cathedral seemed to need at least one. Like many museums, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence preserves and celebrates hundreds of these works. There exist, just in this gallery and as a single example, dozens of renderings of the baby Jesus with his mother. (The churches within blocks also have their commissioned pieces of this scene.) Each is rich with Christian and, in particular, Catholic, iconography. Halos encircle the heads of Jesus, Mary, and the bishop or pope who is the likely subject of the piece. Knights and dignitaries and clerical authorities pay homage to the inhumanly stoic and benevolent infant. In some he patriarchally places his hands on the head of his mother or a bishop in the attitude of blessing. Sometimes he simply looks on them in solemnity and holds a finger skyward as if directing their attention to heaven. In one I recall, the oddly adult-looking baby cups his mother’s chin and raises it as if offering much-needed encouragement.

By the third room of the Uffizi, I was tired of halos and Catholic-clothed clerics and crosses and babies who, in need of diaper changes and burping, were revered as old and wise sages. The way the paintings deliberately expressed the divine approval and proximity of the church powers became a bore and an irritant. For a largely illiterate populace of people attending the church in which this would have been on display, what better way to communicate 1000 words about the divine right of the Pope or King, priest or noble patron, than with an icon-rich picture? For a feudal lord or ambitious priest and to uneducated and credulous population, how many words is such a picture worth? To the illiterate peasant, such a picture alludes to the authority of their cleric who tells them that all the answers they need come from a book they can’t read but which they know as “The Good.”

Now, with video and social media, church decor is of lesser use. Would-be tyrants need only speak the language of their devotees. Utilize keywords or simply vagaries–tremendous; phenomenal; fake. Appeal to shared mythologies/conspiracies upon which people base their life and against which all other claims must be weighed. Fears kept alive within these mythologies motivate people to pray, pay, and obey.

All a would-be tyrant like Trump has to do is to appeal to his acolytes’ reactionary tendencies with ideas about America no longer being “great,” that drugs and immigration are already beyond horrific, and that America can, once again, be the most tremendous place on Earth and way better than everywhere else. It often feels that reactionaries would rather make history that attempt to really engage with and learn from it to be proactive. After all, they already know all there is to know about the history they were taught in home school and Sunday school. Remind them of the pictures of a wonderful by-gone age–pictures painted in their minds by preachments and revolutionary nostalgia.

What ought to be terrifying is that, because of Biblical and Quranic assurances, a large proportion of reactionary monotheists look forward to something far more insidious than simply returning to a bygone golden age. Despite injuctions to take no thought for the morrow, Christians look forward to A day in the undetermined future. They can be guilty of morrow consideration if their long-awaited future comes to pass tomorrow. Monotheistic parents world-wide are raising their children with the help of priests and imams to understand little that does not fit with their faith convictions. These rely on the idea that they are part of a generation–if not THE Generation–who’s eternal duty is to prepare the world for Armageddon and violent purification. (Which monotheistic sect believes it is their duty to save the world or improve the circumstance of those wont to take refuge on our little planet in an obscure region of the galaxy. Such people are easily taken advantage of by scam artists that know the correct code words and cynically employ them.

Begin, dear tyrant, with the inoculation of the intellect. Luckily for you, the Christian preachers have started this monumental work from birth. Descartes’ oft-quoted quip expresses a truism that to think it is a fundamental component of being human. Like the physical, one needs to hone the skill, but nearly everyone is capable of critical thought until the capacity is inoculated from them. Too many are made to be susceptible to conspiracy theories that fit their bronze-aged mythology. They are made to that they can be an expert on any subject by reading an op-ed or listening to an endless string of distracting questions from Tucker Carlson that cleverly keep him free of direct culpability for his listeners’ fanaticism yet offer no answers or insights. “I’m only asking questions.” We make them think that one real estate developer with no college transcript can know more about biochemistry or meteorology than anyone with a PhD in the field.

Average humans don’t know more than the folks with doctorates about the details of processes they’ve studied their whole life. Average humans are born with the innate ability to spot a crook and a liar. Rather than follow your instinct, you get inoculated to be teachable only when the proper passwords and dog-whistles are spoken by your approved source–such as a man who has done more than Jesus for Christianity. All you hear are the keywords and that means he couldn’t possibly be lying to you. That’s what church did to you. Is it any wonder that evangelicals line up behind him? They are told to ignore science and believe in a young Earth; virgin birth; resurrection; talking asses (I guess that may be why they are in awe of Donald Trump).

A lifetime of this repeated rhetoric in the company of your trusted, adult mentors chanting the tedious string of “Amens” makes a person comfortable with contradictions and adept at recognizing hypocrisy in everyone but themselves and their religious demagogues and in any system but their own. Under the impression that their leader is so in touch with the divine as to know His mind and will, acolytes even swallow such morally and intellectually bankrupt statements as:

That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under anotherWhatever God requires is right, no matter what it is

History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 5, pg 134-35

I could furnish more examples of logical and moral inconsistencies from “Good” books of scripture. Christians would balk at examples from the Quran while being completely incapable of recognizing them from the Bible or Mormon’s from their additional, canonized fan-fiction. The same is true of political parties, particularly those built around adoration of a man or woman and committed to seeing that person in power. The man is right, no matter what. He is chosen by God, therefore what he says or does is, by that endorsement, right.

Mormon’s, in particular, have scripture that promotes the idea of conspiracies in high places that seek only power and the oppression of the good, moral, people of God. In The Book of Mormon, they are known as the “Gadianton Robbers.” These wicked people seemed to have little more motivation than the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s, The Dark Knight. Alfred tells Bruce Wayne that “some people just want to watch the world burn.” Couple that story with the revelatory idea that The Book of Mormon was preserved as a warning to people in the 19th century and beyond. Mormon Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, among others, affirmed:

The Book of Mormon … was written for our day. The [authors of it] never had the book…It was meant for us. Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us.

Teachings: Ezra Taft Benson, 140

Propped up by Biblical warnings like that of Ephesians 6:12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” conspiracy prone, pattern seeking individuals trained to surrender their intellect to revelation, easily see the corruption their would-be leader claims is rampant even while ignoring his many amoral statements, actions, and well-published corruption. Benson repeatedly warned the Mormon membership of “secret combinations” high in government seeking to destroy God’s most blessed country of The United States.

I testify that wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before. Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing. A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1988/10/i-testify?lang=eng

Since the sixties and seventies, when Benson acquired his apostleship, he spoke this way to the worldwide Mormon church, in the fever of fading McCarthyism kept alive by John Birch fanaticism, generations of Mormons heard and listened and lie in wait until a man so orange as to appear touched by the purifying fires of the finger of God, started saying exactly what their prophet–one who stood on the watchtower to warn the people–had been saying since the 1950’s.

Interesting note: The Gadianton Robbers of The Book of Mormon were characterized by the secret handshakes and code words their order shared only with one another. There is a reason some derisively call the Mormon temple the International House of Handshakes. There are no less than four secret handshakes, four secret hand and arm posturings, and four secret keywords that only the initiated and committed are privy to learning.

If you are a Mormon reading this and thinking, “Yeah, but you’ve got it all wrong. They’re not secret, they are sacred.” You might just be self-deceived. I was there, too. I regurgitated the tired apologetic arguments to skeptics. But the first time I performed the temple rite, I didn’t think how amazing this was or how sacred. I remember thinking, “This is exactly what The Book of Mormon warned me was a hallmark of a corrupt society.” But I was with my parents and uncles and aunts and brother and sisters. They were drinking the Kool-Aid. Maybe it is laced with poison. But I’ll be going to heaven by drinking it, so it’s not really poison…right?

The Pinnacle of Piety

Featured

When I invite my son to go on a hike, maybe his reluctance and even refusal are because he’s been listening in church. He knows that when Abraham’s invited his son Isaac to climb Mount Moriah, it was more than a leisure hike that was intended by the father. He also knows that I’ve never demonstrated enough devotion to any person or thing to sacrifice a non-combatant to it. I’ve often told my children that, so long as they are not harming themselves or others, they can count on my support for their decisions. Cases of self-defense and war aside, I can’t imagine what it would take to bleed the life from someone. And even if I could, taking the leap to filicide is a non-sequitur. When one hears voices in their head, all bets may be off.

I actually teared-up when I found this image.

But Abraham is held in high esteem by all three monotheisms. He is the father of a divine covenant between God and all of Abraham’s seed, literal or adopted. None who consider the Old Testament or Torah as divinely inspired scripture consider the great patriarch to be anything less than completely lucid, utterly moral in his decisions, and a demonstrator of the ultimate expression of piety. And even if you want to say, “Well, he didn’t have to go through with the sacrifice! God only wanted to see if he would do it.”

My response: “Your God is a sadist. Would you give a pass to the tyrant or mob boss who demanded you kill your child only to say, ‘You passed the test. Now, remember, I can command anything I want. And you’d better do it without question and without delay. Capisce?'”

“But God didn’t require it in the end. That’s the point. God is merciful. You need to read your Bible before you criticize it.”

“Tell that to Jephthah.”

Gulp. “…Who?”

As wicked as their parents’ obedience to unseen voices in their heads is, the obedience of the children in the face of their death is equally horrifying. They submit so readily you have to wonder: if the stories are true then the utter, mindless indoctrination of the children by their parents and communities is a testament to the toxicity of belief in the divine.

For those unfamiliar with Jephthah, check out Judges 11:30-40. (It’s not a story they would tell you in Sunday School as it’s horrible and not faith promoting bu they can’t cut it out of the Bible because the book is perfect for most Christians and almost perfect for Mormons.) In this story, once again, the children become the theatre for parents to show their absolute devotion to their post-adolescent, imaginary friend. Jephthah promises God that if he prevails over the Ammonites, he will sacrifice to Him the first thing that exits the door of him home. When his daughter is the first, he is sorrowful but, dammit, he’s pious! Unlike Abraham, God doesn’t intervene to stop the murder though He has two months to do so. Jephthah’s daughter, after spending the two months bewailing and mourning her virginity, submits to her father’s promise. Instead of saying that he guts his daughter, murders his own child, or even sacrifices his own daughter, the text tells us that he, “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed.” The text makes a point of explaining that she died a virgin. Thus, another cult demonstrates the strange fascination humans have with female virginity as if that point made her either a more sorrowful sacrifice or a more appropriate one. Perhaps both.

The above story is a stark and nearly perfect refutation of the excuse that Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice his own son. That God provided a scapegoat in the form of–not a goat at all–but a ram. The ram, a symbol of Jesus, right? The sheep that pays the price in our place. If you have a “Y” chromosome. If you’re unlucky enough to be stuck with only two “X” chromosomes, your salvation is only really in your husband. God didn’t send a replacement for Jephthah’s daughter. The Mormon church has quietly changed the wording in their temple ceremonies to make it seems as if the women have some independence in the pursuit of Godhood. And, yes, that is the purpose of the temple. Not salvation. You get that through baptism and repentance. The temple is concerned with exhalation–becoming like God himself.

They covenant to give all of their time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed them or with which he may bless them to build up the Kingdom of God on the Earth (the LDS church) and establishing Zion. Everything. Everything including your children are blessings from God and thus, belong to Him anyway. If he asks for them back as the price of your own, bloody, knife-wielding hand, do as Abraham was asked to do. And be ready to follow through as Jephthah had to do. Remember that God doesn’t like when you keep living things alive that he’s commanded you to slaughter. Just ask Saul. Mormons are covenanting in their temple to become “Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses” but Saul lost his kingship for keeping animals to offer as sacrifices. Of course, let’s not forget when Israel conquered the Midianites all the men and male children and non-virgin women were to be slaughtered but any and all virgins of every age were to kept alive. Let your imagination run with that, if you dare. Would you celebrate your daughter being among those kept alive because she would be grafted into the covenant people? Or, would you consider her better off dead?

In rabbinical tradition, as I understand it, Isaac was 37 years old when his father invited him on the long, gloomy hike to the top of Mount Moriah. Most traditions of which I am aware have him as over 20 years of age. Some that seem ironically hell-bent on making the Old Testament tradition rhyme with the New Testament–like Adam Clarke–have said Isaac, like Jesus, was 33 years old when his sacrifice was demanded. Either 33 or 37, I find the age personally interesting. This is the range in which I left the Mormon church and, by so-doing, obtained the ignominious status amongst those who love me (at least love their Mormon version of me) that they feel I would be better of having died than having recanted my faith. If only they knew how I speak against it, now. Danites among them might feel the call of God to deal with me appropriately.

I must admit feeling flattered that, by my late thirties, I have obtained a life of such consequence that some might be “better-off” if I were dead. My children would not think such a horrible thing, though some fathers have actually earned that distinction. But for those zealots who might think or even say such a thing, their holy writ contains enough divinely inspired instruction to hold such a position. Not only may they hold it, the may find consolation and conviction in it.

Unfortunately, for those striving for Godhood in Mormonism, this kind of devotion is still expected. God still expects people to tried, even as Abraham. Doctrine and Covenants 104:4-5: “Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.”

“Yeah, but he said that to a specific group of saints!”

What I say unto one, I say unto all.”

Mormon God

According to Joseph Smith God, the requirement to gut your child is to chasten you. To become like God you must be willing to act like God. You might say, “It’s not about what a person does or doesn’t do because everyone won’t be asked to sacrifice their kid to God. It’s really about the character you develop. Have you become the kind of person who would do anything and everything God asks of you?” Even if that includes gutting your child to prove your love of God–an unseen, unheard, not demonstrable, merciful, all-loving father.

When will you say enough is enough? I don’t care if you’re all-powerful. I won’t submit to a tyrant. My morality and decency demand that I say no. If you claim you would hide a jew in your attic and lie to the Nazi’s when asked about it but you would still kill your kid if God asks, I wonder what level of authority you wouldn’t submit to. And, if you tell me that you couldn’t make yourself go through with the murder of your child at the command of deity, then the extent to which you are a good person is to the extent that you are not a Christian or a Mormon.

Few Mormons or Christian’s would admit that they would do it. But the same majority that won’t admit to it, would also not say that they wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. To say they would means they will kill their kids because a voice in their head instructs them to do so. Thus, they typically avoid the hypothetical altogether claiming that they can’t imagine the command coming to them and God surely wouldn’t ask it of them.

“But what if He did?”

“He won’t.”

“It doesn’t matter if he will, it matters how you would respond.”

Nearly everyone in this day and age knows that to be willing to sacrifice one’s own child is abjectly wicked and evil. When they hear of a mother killing her children because God told her to–it’s in the news often and even once is too often–the saint can pass off the impulse and horrific act as inspiration from the devil. But they can’t say that God hasn’t commanded it in the past and even allowed and relished in the obedience.

If you say no you wouldn’t follow the command to gut your kid, it means that you are admitting you wouldn’t do anything God asked of you. And that’s the whole point of submitting to God. Would you do any thing He commanded? If not, you’re not worthy of him.

I’ve had this conversation multiple times with active, believing Mormons. They will not answer. They pretend they cannot or will not entertain a hypothetical. They won’t say yes and they won’t say no or they’ll dismiss by saying that they can’t imagine it happening or that they don’t know what they’d do. The latter is as good as an admission that they would. If you can’t say no without so much as a breath; if you can’t say no with conviction; if you feel sorrowful or shameful that you would decline God’s command, you may be a horrible person.

Can you see why I don’t want my kids in your care for even an hour on Sunday during their primary indoctrination time? If you’re not teaching them to kill their own kids, you’re teaching them as kids themselves, to be willing to submit if their parent says, “Let’s go for a hike…oh, this? I always carry a knife like this.”

The Cult of Human Sacrifice of Latter-day Saints

Featured

Brigham Young once said: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Well, he may not have said it but he lived it. What’s it called when you say one thing but do another? Hypo…NO! That’s not it. Ahh! It’s called being a Special Witness of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days! It’s not okay for YOU, dear reader, and you should definitely confess to your bishop or branch president about any instance of transgression. But, if any of your duly ordained apostles happens to do it, that’s fine. It’s like polygamy. When God condones it because the ordained leader tells you He condones it, it’s not wrong and we name it something else like Plural Marriage. Whew! That was close. Thank goodness for deceptive godly propaganda language and it’s essential companion credulity. As for hypocrisy, we ought to rename it, too. How about, apostling or ‘postling?

As we can see, George Orwell proves more prescient and wise than all the Mormon leaders from 1830 to today. Animals being more equal than others, as many of you recall, is from Orwell’s famous allegory, Animal Farm. The book presents the Russian revolution of 1917 under the leadership of Lenin and the exploitation of the citizens that followed. Not only were proletariat and bourgeois exploited by the small, ruling body under Lenin during the revolution, but after Lenin died and Stalin, Trotsky, and others vied for power–Stalin ultimately conniving his way to the top–the people were made to suffer in the name of communism and to consolidate and maintain control. Everyone, aside from the senior leadership (and even those who were not name Stalin) were justifiable sacrifices to preserve people’s faith in the party, its unstoppable destiny, and the leadership that would take them there.

Born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, Stalin, like many others, took upon him a strong, revolutionary name that meant Man of Steel. He was a not a large man. The non-Russian was born in Georgia with some physical limitations including an underdeveloped arm. Trained in a Georgian Seminary with intention to become a priest, he was actually expelled from the institution before he could receive holy orders but, as some historians like Montefiore have pointed out, he there learned lessons in controlling and manipulating people. It’s no surprise to me that the egomaniacal Young was given or took upon himself the revolutionary restorationary title, The Lion of the Lord. The moniker was attached to a house built for him.

Lion seems a strange symbol for a representative of the Good Shepherd…an alleged carpenter that really, really, loved sheep. But if you consider the allusion to sheep in the promise of the lion lying down with the lamb, it actually fits remarkably well! In the Biblical sense, since all disciples may be considered sheep and the words lie and lay have their own sexual connotation in Judeo-Christian cannon, it may even be a prophetic title. Brigham certainly did lie with a bunch of women during his lifetime. However, they ought not to be ridiculed for acting as sheep in a man’s world. These women are and were victims of men taking upon themselves the name of God in vain.

The Lion House in Salt Lake City was the second Utah home of Brigham Young, built in 1856. (Remember that year…) The other home, The Beehive House, was built two years earlier. The former boasted twenty bedrooms with gabled windows–quite the extravagance on the virgin frontier. The latter, according to the LDS website, “was the anchor for Brigham Young’s large property holdings.” He had other homes built, of particular note in St. George, Utah, but these were built at a critical time as the saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley.

If you haven’t read “The Devil’s Gate” by David Roberts, you may find the unbiased report on the history of Mormon Handcart Companies a worthwhile if infuriating read. You won’t find milquetoast pandering or highfalutin, apologetic prose and sanctimonious celebrations of faith in the face of adversity. If you’d like another, more concise yet still intriguing discussion, I recommend the Mormon Stories podcast with John Larsen (Episode 1489) titled, “The Worst Regional Conference Ever.” I won’t rehash everything Mr. Larsen says and I wonder if I could duplicate his passion and indignation which I admire. Rather, I want to discuss the Mormon iteration of the cult of death that is Christianity.

Christians love to stress the the New Testament imperative that animal sacrifice is abolished by the sacrifice of Jesus. (This is somehow an expression God’s unending mercy despite their reality that the same God commanded it in the first place.) Christ became the final sacrifice of flesh and blood to atone for the sins of God’s people and, indeed, all mankind that had lived, did live, or ever would live on Earth. Mormon scripture outlines, in the words of Jesus himself to people in America (although there is now prophetic instruction, most recently as of this week, that we should not consider The Book of Mormon as a historical document)1, that with the completion of Jesus’ sacrifice:

…ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

3 Nephi 9:19-20

Perhaps Jesus still requires human sacrifice–the blood and lives of some on the altar to purchase the salvation of others. When I left the church and informed my family, at my request, they were not to respond to my email for a week in any form. I told them I wouldn’t look at anything they sent for at least a that long. About six months later, I received a conventional letter from my parents outlining how disappointed they were in me. They expressed their concern for my eternal welfare and piled shame upon my decision in light of the sacrifices of my ancestors who left Sweden, Denmark, and England to cross the ocean and then a continent to gather to Zion and worship as they wished. Some travelled by handcart, watching their children and parents and friends die along the way. And their sacrifice was to extend to me and my children that same freedom to worship as we please in a free land.

Oh, the irony that, for me, that means worshiping how THEY please…I’m sure many of you understand.

If you think this is unique to my family, it is not. Just posit the question on Reddit’s r/exmormon and prepare to be inundated with hundreds of comments from fellow descendants of Mormon pioneers who were raised to honor the sacrifice of those who died to make the journey to Salt Lake City. The idea is so ubiquitous that a Mormon off their guard would not hesitate to agree with you that the lives lost were a small price to pay. If they realize that you find the idea reprehensible in light of the facts (see David Robert’s book or the John Larsen podcast or dozen’s of contemporary and modern criticisms) they will make their clever plural marriage/polygamy-esque word swap. The behavior is annoying but not uninteresting.

Follow the story and what was asked of these poor people and the reality becomes clear: Despite Christ’s alleged torture and death to end the rite of animal sacrifice, Mormonism continues to celebrate human sacrifice in the name of their faith. And, in 1856, their leaders promoted and even ensured it. I’m not talking about “broken hearts and contrite spirits” which certainly were and are a foundational tenet of the faith. I’m talking about the creation of an environment, practice, and expectation that directly resulted in the unnecessary, preventable deaths of hundreds after periods of unimaginable suffering. The inspired leaders, themselves, are to blame. The culture of shaming those who spoke truth to power and exploiting the “widow’s mite” from the destitute faithful who’d already offered all they had except their lives to “the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and the establishment of Zion.” And, like all tyrannies, the elite, ruling class glutted themselves upon the crippling burdens placed upon those who viewed the said leaders as called by God, chosen to rule, and ordained by mystical, heavenly power to ensure blessings AFTER the faithful have died. They can’t promise them in the known and tangible world, but they make guarantees of salvation and exhalation for the unknowable, unseeable-and-unseen afterlife!

Coincidentally, one of my favorite bands released a new album this week. One of their songs is playing in my noise-cancelling headphones as I write this in my favorite coffee shop. Here is a lyric that describes a tyrant and I can’t help but think of Brigham Young:

There’s a man who swears he’s God
Unbelievers will be shot
There’s a man who walks around
Like he owns the fucking lot
There’s a man who takes his time
From his homemade cuckoo clock
And he makes us march around it
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock

Coldplay, “People of the Pride”

If you don’t yet hate Brigham Young, let me introduce to you Franklin D. Richards and Levi Savage. If anyone could be considered a hero, it would be Savage. If there is a villain it would take an Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, or Heath Ledger to pull off, its Richards. The lesson we learn from Levi Savage’s experience and the totalitarian regime ruling over the 19th century Latter-day Saints, it is that tyrants do not value wisdom at the expense of conformity and obedience. What’s worse, as we will see, the current Mormon narrative celebrates such conformity and repackages the horrific actions of the leadership during this time (and every time) as inspired, faith-promoting, and enviable. And we aren’t talking about using them as cautionary tales but heroic and hallowed.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Levi Savage was not an idiot. He’d made the journey across the plains and understood the way the weather works in Wyoming during October and November. (I’m from Wyoming. September has its share of blizzards and cold.) Savage may have known that the leadership in Salt Lake City, sitting comfortably in their mansions with shelter, fire, and food were dishonest in telling the eager pioneers just how long the journey would actually take. These men who’d already made the journey themselves, nevertheless deliberately misrepresented underestimated the distance by several hundred miles! Even after the disaster in which many saints starved or died of exhaustion or froze to death, the leaders that demanded others go out into the wilds to save the struggling pioneers in winter storms, claimed in a church conference that the handcart pioneers had made a miraculous journey in record time! All of it lies and, I’m convinced, not lies told in ignorance of the facts.

Many decisions were made to save money. While Brigham Young oversaw the construction of his second mansion in Salt Lake City, he required the poor saints from Europe to give all their possessions and money to support the effort of migration. And then, for those who couldn’t now afford their own handcart, he offered a solution: the Perpetual Emigration Fund! How about you give all you have to us and then, we will loan back to you some money to make a shitty handcart. But don’t worry, if you survive the trip, you’ll only owe us the money back plus 10% per year. And, oh boy, you get to build the handcart yourself with green wood! Oh, you’re a baker and have never done something like this? What an adventure for you. God showed Nephi how to build an Iron Age, transoceanic ship by himself. How could you miss this deal?

Savage realized that making handcarts of green wood, a perilously late start in August, a greater distance than they were being told, and the scant resources created an impossible situation. He wisely told everyone in a public speech that many of them would die if they left this late. That was something they might be able to change even with green wood and lack of experience. They could gain an advantage with proper timing. They would be better off to wait until the following summer and get an earlier start. For speaking wisdom to them, he was shamed publicly by the ordained leader of he party. Being the most experienced man among them, he realized that the people would die and, without him, many more were likely to die. His sacrifice, to join the fated handcart party, was done for his fellow saints. It certainly could not be for the church and its selfish leadership. After the shaming, he told the group that he would go with them and he would die with them. What would’ve happened had he not gone with him? He did survive the journey, but what if he hadn’t gone? What if he had come later and survived and lived prosperously with good health and happiness and wealth? I’ll tell you how the memory of a wise man would be handled by the church: he would still be considered a pariah. His experience would be told as a cautionary tale. Complete ostracization and ignominy for a man just for daring to be wise and speaking honestly.

You know who didn’t speak honestly? Franklin Richards. Franklin Richards, on his way to Salt Lake City with several other elders returning from the East with horses and all ability to travel with speed, came upon the fated Willey Company in September. Having heard, somehow, that Savage had already warned the pioneers of the very real and likely threat of bitter cold and deep snows with only thin tents and blankets to protect them, Richards proceeded to berate him in-front-of those he already promised to die with. Then, after promising the destitute saints that God would part the storms as he had the Red Sea for Israel, he demanded the fatted calf from their meager herd, had it butchered, and ate it, taking the remainder with he and his companions along their swift journey to Salt Lake City. He was obviously no moron for, upon arrival he quickly informed Brigham Young of the handcart pioneers likely dire condition in central Wyoming. Still, he promised them miraculous deliverance akin to the children of Israel in Exodus. A deliverance they did not experience and to say that they did is to neglect the memory of those who starved, froze, and were buried in shallow graves from Omaha to Casper, WY.

The difference: Levi Savage told his fellow pioneers, “I will die with you,” and Franklin Richards said, “You can die without me.” If ever there was a pig who walked on his hind legs and believed he was more equal than others, it is Frank. And amongst the company he held with Brigham Young and other tyrant-prophets, that’s saying something. Ask yourself, which man is more Christlike? If you are Mormon, which man is considered a special witness of Christ while the other’s story is told to you as one of a man who’s faith wavered?…faith in who/whom or in what? In a world of campaign posters that invite us to “Fuck ______” (name your politician). I think Franklin Richards and Brigham Young fit such a t-shirt or window cling like water to its puddle.

Not a lot has changed in 150 years. The wealthy brethren sit in their palaces in Salt Lake City while they expect the poor and rich alike to sacrifice everything they have and then come across proverbial plains with handcarts. The decision to utilize handcarts and then use green wood in their construction were money saving decisions and little more. They were told that they could not afford to wait nor could they afford wagons when Brigham–one of the wealthiest men in the western United States at the time–needed a second mansion built next door to his just-finished, first mansion. Current leaders could employ thousands of people in the U.S. alone to clean buildings, they actually did years ago. Instead, they expect the rank and file to clean the building, supply all the money for humanitarian aid separate from their tithing, fulfill missions and move members and offer all of their time, talents, and everything to the building of the Kingdom of God on the Earth! They sit, protected in their ivory towers while they grow their obscene stock and real estate investment portfolios on the back of consecrated widow’s mites and protected from government taxation, being told that the Soviet Party-esque apostles are God’s anointed that rightly bask in the recognition and then demand everything from the members. They demand that members covenant in temples to “give their own lives, if necessary” to build the church. They are a cult centered around a bronze-aged human sacrifice that revere the practice and hallow it even in this time of their plenty. Brigham Young wouldn’t even let the handcart companies purchase iron to make their wagon wheels because it was too expensive.

Brigham Young, who road in the back of a wagon with plenty of food and bedding, orchestrated this tragedy and Franklin Richards as well as other leaders sold it. Individuals gave up cherished items to make required weight limits. Not only that, but they sacrificed shelter and bedding and food and clothing to reach the allotted weight limit of seventeen pounds. And Brigham managed, in the midst of this poverty, to have his heavy, solid wood furniture carried from the east to Salt Lake City? He walks on his trotters incredibly well while he watches the dedicated, hardworking, loyal and naive Boxer build the windmill for his benefit.

The pioneer anthem, Come, Come, Ye Saints is propaganda at its finest. Contemporary accounts tell us that the captains of the company, on more than one occasion, herded and whipped every child under eight as they moved along the trail because they thought the children were the problem with the companies many delays. This was a forced march–crosses on their shoulders and whips at their backs. If you fell along the trail you were left behind! A man crawled up next to his sick wife in the wagon while they were stopped just to comfort her and was beaten mercilessly for it…while they were stopped! A boy falls down on the road and his beaten with a stick until he gets up–until he wakes up from falling unconscious from malnutrition and exhaustion. Their planned ration, to save money that didn’t need to be saved, was 1200 cal of flour to walk 15 miles each day. That ration was repeatedly cut as the hardship increased. Restocks promised to wait for them at U.S. military outposts along the way, were not there. Most of the people who died, died of starvation when the boiled leather of their boots and wagon wheels failed to make up for the lack of nourishment. But, at least they had they privilege of sacrificing their best calf to a prophet of God.

How many individuals have been sacrificed on the altar of faith–not for themselves? And then, how has the church treated their death and sacrifice? As propaganda to promote their growing investment firm fronted by a church. They ignore the horrid stories and hundreds of not-miracles to tell of the seventeen miracles that are claimed to have happened. Isaac was spared, but the impulse to grotesque obedience is still celebrated even if it means sacrificing your child for your faith.2

We’re still sacrificing people on the altar of faith today. I lived in the neighboring stake from which a woman died doing a handcart reenactment for the youth in Oklahoma. I’m sure that if you asked her bishop or state president they would tell you how tragic it was and also that it’s not a reason to lose faith in God. This woman two left children at home to facilitate this reenactment and died of heat stroke on LDS church-owned property northeast of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I filled the same role she did a couple of years earlier, in the same place. In three days of barely strenuous activity in the summer heat, we had at least three adults taken to the hospital to be treated for heat stroke. Why? Some strange attempt to build the faith of teenagers? I hated it then and, mostly, was already on my way out when my wife and I went to be a ma and pa for a pretend handcart family. Yes, we pushed a handcart. We were lucky. I would certainly never consider my luck a blessing. The woman’s two children and husband will be without her. And I guarantee her death is packaged as a sacrifice for their faith by some clergy-assholes out there.

On that same trek in which the woman died, five of the youth were taken to the hospital including three who were already unconscious when paramedics arrived to rush them to an emergency room. I’m not a betting man, but I’d wager that the church didn’t offer a dime to this bereaved husband who watched his wife die. You know who will foot any financial expense: good members willing to donate. Crowdfunding from people who don’t know her or her family and a canned apology from the one-hundred-billion-plus-dollar church that exasperatedly reminds everyone that IT bears the name of Jesus Christ as HIS church.

So, here I am exploiting this woman’s memory in a way with which she might disagree and, perhaps those who know her best would also do. I express no shame. I would say the same regarding thirteen year-old girls living under religious tyrannies who are stoned to death for being raped.

Human sacrifice is an idea we have not yet managed to transcend. In coming to terms with it, we will debate abortion. We will also debate whether or not we should feed, clothe, and otherwise honor the life of those forced to birth by our laws. There are slippery slopes and guiding principles will not always be as clearly facile as pundits want us to think that they are. But I hope we can agree with regards to our human brothers and sisters that all animals are equal and no animal is more equal than another. The next barrier will be convincing the zealot that this means a one man or class of men should not have their second mansion built while demanding that others give their money to build it and then take out a loan to come and build it for him…if they survive the journey. One man doesn’t deserve your fatted-calf just because he calls himself a special witness. I mean, isn’t the term special witness evidence enough that these pigs think of themselves as more equal than others?

__________________________________

  1. Within 48 hours of publishing that LDS Prophet/President instructed members that The Book of Mormon is not to be taken as a book of history, the same report in LDS Living online. (See links in original blog text)

2. Judges 11:30-40

Featured

Inclusivity: On Demand

If there’s one thing you can count on from the overly vocal spokesman of Jesus, its the self-congratulatory, gratuitous usage of really shitty metaphors when trying to make a point. Typically, the bombastic preacher employs these metaphors when they must defend their archaic position on a matter that is only made controversial by the dogmatics’ devotion to it. After years of being disappointed by unfulfilled prophetic words and unanswered prayers, it’s hard to see any other consistency in the sayings or doings of prophets. I realize now that such metaphorical speaking grants these narcissists safety in vagaries and inherent misunderstandings. “That’s not what I meant,” becomes a natural sequitur employed by themselves, media spokesmen, and apologists to nearly everything the anointed will ever say. And the misunderstandings are always the fault of the listener rather than the divinely appointed speaker.

My sister has made several trips to Holland, The Land of the Tulips. I’ve become enamored with her descriptions of the friendly people, the Old World charm, and the tulip-carpeted countryside. But, I seem unable to think of the Netherlands without thinking of another “Holland” with whom I am more well acquainted. This “Holland” is Elder Jeffrey R., a senior apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He, too, has two lips and should consider keeping them tightly pursed more often. A side benefit from sparing us his vitriolic, pretended empathy, is that not wagging his jaw would also prevent his massive, bull-dog-esque jowls from flapping.

Most of my readers will already be aware of the speech Mr. Holland gave at Brigham Young University to faculty and staff. Mr. Holland is both a member of the board of trustees for the LDS owned and operated University as well as a senior member of the same Church’s governing body (he is not only ordained as an Apostle: Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, the members sustain him as such on at least four occasions each and every year). As such, those in his audience are obligated as employees to take his word as direction for the course they help the University maintain. In addition, for those who are members of the church–at least 99 percent of attendees–are under sacred covenant to consider his words the same as God’s own (Amos 3:7).

This is why the church is so adamant about individuals not recording the proceedings of events where General Authorities speak such as stake and regional conferences. The words are prepared for that audience and not intended for general consumption. The leadership seems to disregard the admonition of God, himself, repeated so often in the Doctrine and Covenants as to be ubiquitous. “What I say unto one I say unto all.” (Type it into LDS.org as a search)

A few weeks ago, the ward of which I am still a member sent out an email survey regarding inclusion. It asked us questions such as: Did we feel included, welcome, wanted at church? What were barriers to us feeling included? And other questions of this ilk. I responded honestly and without longing. I don’t really need to feel included. In large part because, like polygamy or salvation or friend, inclusion means something different to Mormons than it does to nearly everyone else. If you needed further evidence of this, Mr. Holland’s talk should settle the debate once and for all.

An aside: can we think of a better term than talk. “I gave a talk in church on Sunday,” or “Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk to BYU faculty.” There is something so casual and dismissive about the word. We’ve created a noun out of a verb. While I’m a big fan of verbing nouns, there seems to be some laziness or indifference here.

“I heard you ran a marathon this weekend.”

“Yeah, I gave a run.”

Back to inclusion. Earlier this week I told my wife that I had responded to the survey and she told me that the congregation was having a combined, fifth Sunday meeting of the youth and adults to talk about the survey and inclusion. Considering myself a friend of the Bishop, I sent him a text message offering a “outsider’s view” of inclusion and that if he felt the need, I would be happy to share and to do so respectfully. This was before news of Holland’s talk aired.

The Bishop responded that their agenda was already set and that, in the spirit of inclusion, there would be nothing approaching questions or an open discussion. The implication being that, as with all agenda’s in the patriarchal organization, the presentation would be a “Y” chromosome exclusive, top-down sermonizing. While I’m confident our local leaders actually do work for real inclusion of the marginalized, they must follow the example of the Apostles at the top. Dissent or even open-minded discussion cannot be tolerated.

The gist of it: please come and listen but we can’t include any other ideas into what we are presenting. It didn’t bother me. I really prefer not going to church anyway, but I did see, for a moment, a chance to be a contributor in a very real way that could be beneficial.

When Holland’s talk came to light, I realized that my level of respectful speaking would be, perhaps, beyond my ability to muster. How can a member even speak of genuine inclusion after a talk like Holland’s? After all, “When the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over.” This is not a controversial saying. The church still embraces and endorses this. The exact words of counsel can still be found quoted in messages from the First Presidency and general conference speakers on the church’s official website. Mr. Holland has spoken. Inclusion Sunday can’t have a discussion because that is too much like a debate and, as we know, the debate is now over.

Of course it’s been over for decades. This is not new. This is exactly how the church has preached regarding sexual orientation since long before its conversion therapy experiments conducted at BYU under then president, Dallin H. Oaks–sitting, next-in-line to be the buck-stops-here mouthpiece of the Lord when the current weasel wearing the mantle dies. Good old Oaks has spoken against and been suspicious of gays since before we learned that there are, in fact, no Quakers on the moon. Here is Mr. Oaks concept of inclusion: In a 2006 television interview, speaking of a hypothetical gay or lesbian son or daughter, he said:

I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, “Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

–Angry, Old Bigot

This, is how the top brass view inclusion and Mr. Holland’s recent talk was no exception.

Under the shadow he casts over his entire talk, of an adolescent feeling of love for BYU that has lasted for over 70 years, Holland sets the tone of someone suffering from “Golden Age Thinking.” If you’ve never seen the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, I highly recommend it. One of the interesting quotes from a pedantic know-it-all is that another character suffers from this problem of Golden Age Thinking.

Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking — the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in — its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.

While Holland is pining for the BYU of the 1940’s and 50’s, which was, in his mind, “greatest University in the world,” he might as well bring back attitudes and practices of segregation. Under direction of the University’s Board of Trustees (the very same Board of which Holland cites his membership and authority on University matters) black student applicants were encouraged to apply and seek degrees elsewhere. That’s the kind of Board of Trustees Holland dreams of being a part of and, with his position, can attempt to make a reality so far as LGBT inclusion is concerned.

The substance of his talk can be found in its original form as a video with transcripts easily obtainable by web search. In his great speech on inclusion, Holland wastes little time in reaffirming:

“If we (BYU) are an extension of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [excessive, overly-dramatic filler to garner sympathy from the acolytes in the audience who, like most good people, respect people who take their responsibilities seriously]…But until “we all come [to] the unity of the faith, and . . . [have grown to] the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed, those whom he has designated to declare church doctrine and to guide Brigham Young University as its trustees.”

He makes the token mention of Jesus and alludes to following Him, but that’s not what any of the talk is really about. Not love or even coming to a unity because we aren’t there yet and ostensibly have a long way to go. It is about getting students and more particularly, faculty, in line! Goddammit! That was the essence of this entire talk. Captured in the last line of the above quotation, “our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed.” THAT is all that his diatribe was about.

Note that he doesn’t emphasize actually measuring one’s self against Jesus, he emphasizes being a yes-man to the apostles. We see, two days after the talk, a BYU student attempting to erase a simple gesture of support for the 5-10% of the BYU faculty, staff, and student body or, approximately, 1800-3500 individuals, who identify as LGBTQ. When someone drops the term homophobia near the feverishly in-harmony-with-the-Lord’s-anointed “saint” high on his saintly ecstasy, he declares with orgasmic rapture, “Faggots go to hell.”

The overwhelming rush of sidewalk-chalk artists who converged on on the city sidewalks at the base of the hill upon which BYU campus sits, is inspiring. The city set on a hill can’t be hidden and I hope it isn’t. I hope the world sees the hate of Holland and his covenant-keeping followers who call their words–like “musket fire” and “faggot”–words of inclusion and love. The faces of the artists will not be remembered for their inclusive demonstration. In fact, the powers-that-be professionally and thoroughly baptized the sidewalks to purge the colorful and kind works of solidarity for the BYU students living under fear of those who feel obligated (under divine covenant) to do God’s work.

It’s no wonder Holland quotes Dallin Oaks in his talk. Since the death of the beloved curmudgeon, Boyd Packer, whereelse in amongst the Apostles of Jesus will he find such a repository of words that affirm and extend love? The venerable Oaks said some time ago, “I would like to hear a little more musket fire from this temple of learning.” To claim that Holland could have been speaking about any sin or offense to God would be to ignore the entire context of the totality of his talk thus far. He further referenced faculty that aren’t supporting the brethren’s stated position regarding LGBT members; he referenced Matt Easton, the BYU valedictorian who came out as gay during his commencement speech in 2019; he spoke of crying for those who “struggle” with the affliction of loving someone that doesn’t fit Holland’s own conception of what two kinds of people can experience legitimate love. Musket fire is a violent reference to mounting an opposition against, well, what must feel to him like opposition.

My wife is a huge fan of the television show Queer Eye and a follower of ex-BYU Cosmo, Charlie Bird. If people like Jeffrey Holland think they are about to be violently opposed by an army well-dressed, energetic, and truly kind people, Holland’s tears can only be for how little he actually knows or cares to know about individuals like Matt Easton and Charlie Bird. And I must be careful not to make objects of these men as I throw stones at some old pharisees sitting in Moses’s seat. I’m likely to fail in that regard.

Holland’s expression of tears for LGBTQ individuals is based the preposition he perpetually posits that they “struggle with” or are “afflicted by” same sex attraction. He continually assumes that it is a struggle. I’m sure it is a struggle, not because of the feelings experienced, but because of the world in which they are wont to experience them. What I really heard Holland saying was: “The whole world wants to include and embrace these wonderful people just as they are! Well, the whole world doesn’t know what include means. If I could just get them to shut up, feel ashamed, and change so I’m comfortable with them, we could include them, finally!”

Holland even brazenly declares:

“So, it is with scar tissue of our own that we are trying to avoid — and hope all will try to avoid — language, symbols, and situations that are more divisive than unifying at the very time we want to show love for all of God’s children.”

Do I really need to point out the irony of the language and symbols this man of God has already employed just breaths earlier? What about the situations he’s promoting that do and will divide? Simple chalk art meant to unify were destroyed in a “situation” inspired by HIM! Parents unable to include their LGBT children in their family, even deliberately and cruelly telling them they are not welcome, yet blame the child for not including themselves. “Don’t expect to stay the night or go out in public with us…we love you!”

If you want everyone else to be inclusive, and preach as if you have little left to learn about it, why don’t you old codgers demonstrate how you’d like everyone else to act. You’re blaming everyone else for being divisive and claiming that you and your bigoted buddy Oaks and the other apostles are somehow blameless, full of caring and inclusivity. You’ll blame a faculty member for being divisive for verbally and emotionally supporting a gay student. Why is he/she being divisive by your definition? Because, as you said earlier, “our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed.” Unfortunately, when your morals and commandments are offered to you in tablet form, whatever God says is moral, be it genocide or stoning to death for wearing clothing made of of mixed fabrics. God’s word is moral even if its murder. Holland speaks believing he is one of Jesus’s anointed servants and to do so is the same as God, himself, speaking. By extension, anything other than following the brethren is divisive.

Jeff, can you really say the following with a straight face? “Too often the world has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters.” Ahh! Your favorite nemesis and convenient scapegoat–the World. Isn’t your speech precisely one of these crushingly cruel instances? You would shift the burden of blame for what you are saying the environment created by others. You’re not wrong: the world has been historically cruel to these, our brothers and sisters. But you fail to claim your own responsibility in this. At best, you don’t care to do so; at worst, you shift the blame to God. “I’m only speaking what God tells me to…otherwise I weep for you.”

Not to put violence aside: let’s bring it back up and then give license to the Deznats of the church and those who feel a need to audition for their ranks. “Musket fire? Yes, we will always need defenders of the faith.” Just make sure that you don’t injure “the church, its leaders and some of our colleagues within the university community.” That’s the real “tragedy” and, yes, he used the word, “tragedy.” Not regarding the excluded teens that find life so unbearable that Utah’s teen suicide rate is among the highest in the country. Not tragic that students who want a place in the church and at Jesus’s flagship University of Inclusivity, BYU, leave heartbroken and often with their hard-earned college credits frozen. No. The tragedy that makes Jeff cry is when “the church and its leaders” are wounded by unpopularity.

“There are better ways to move toward crucially important goals in these very difficult matters — ways that show empathy and understanding for everyone while maintaining loyalty to prophetic leadership and devotion to revealed doctrine. My brethren have made the case for the metaphor of musket fire, which I have endorsed yet again today.” (emphasis added) NOTHING about following Jesus and letting the sinless cast a first stone. Nothing about inclusivity. Just another reminder to fall in line. But, isn’t that inclusivity?

There was never a moment when I felt Holland was about to shift gears or truly inspire anyone to make an inclusive gesture as simple as chalk art. That resounding, simple act came from the goodness of people without prophetic incitement. If you want to know who you incited, Jeff, it was the hideously cruel, presumable BYU student declaring the eternal destination of those who, like David simply loved a person of their own gender as they loved their own soul. Or, greater than the love he had for a woman. (1 Samuel 18, 2 Samuel 1).

The only thing Holland loves as much as a woman may be BYU. In addition to earlier affirmations, he quotes another beacon of inclusion:

In his discourse, President Kimball used the word “unique” eight times, and “special” eight times. It seems clear to me in my 73 years of loving it that BYU will become an “educational Mt. Everest” only to the degree it embraces its uniqueness, its singularity. We could mimic every other university in the world until we got a bloody nose in the effort and the world would still say, “BYU who?” No, we must have the will to stand alone, if necessary

Under the talk’s long, inquisitory shadow, my wife’s (and mine, technically) ward carried out their long-planned inclusion Sunday. Several weeks ago they issued a survey to members asking questions about inclusion and how included/welcome each individual felt at church. I responded honestly and without vitriol. This Sunday meeting had been planned for several weeks and I’m sure the well-meaning leaders were blind-sided with Holland’s words. My wife’s sister sure was. Her husband had to continually remind her that Holland’s tone and message were not new, however. This is the modus operandi for the church as long as I can remember with regards to LGBT. It’s been attempting to cleverly disguise itself as temporally impotent and even changing (they like to say, “ongoing restoration”) entity for the last few years. With some ups and downs, permissions and reversions, they have managed to avoid alienating the last of the really decent members. This talk back-tracked a great deal–Proposition 8, sneaky handbook refusals to baptize children of same-sex parents, and BYU acceptance to witch-hunt reversal toward LGBT students notwithstanding. Or, perhaps, they’d simply managed to get to us stop thinking about it. Nothing trumps a good, old scandal like a good, new scandal!

What would I say on inclusion Sunday? I thought about this for several days, even after the Bishop told me not to worry about it…though he would like to hear my thoughts on the subject after-the-fact. This refusal was probably a good thing because, after Holland’s remarks, I don’t think I could have shown much respect. But, even respectfully disagreeing can be a problem for most Mormons I know. Most monotheists I know, when encountering disagreement revert to their default setting which is to feel and respond as if personally attacked. Even and especially much of my family, some of which seem to be very progressive and open-minded in how they present themselves, bristle at disagreements over the proper wording to tell someone that a girl is fourteen years old. What’s more interesting is that, in line with Holland’s attitude, I am permitted to disagree with Jesus, but if I suggest that Holland or Oaks or any of the prophets, past or present, are wrong or cruel or bigoted, they always come to the defense. Jesus can be disagreed with and disparaged, but not the Lord’s anointed. “There’s a covenant for that.”

I didn’t attend the meeting though I tuned in online. Due to the online link timing out at noon, the end of the meeting was cut-off. All I heard was the first speaker, a counselor in the bishopric, and the Relief Society president who spoke immediately following. (I learned later that the Bishop and Stake President both addressed the congregation as well). As a fellow exmo friend who also watched the meeting commented: they like to talk about inclusion as a concept but they don’t want to talk about the real, tangible issues that people are dealing with. I agree, particularly regarding the first speaker who toed the party line with the deftness of a skilled if frightened ballerina. The second speaker, in lieu of Holland, demonstrated that the rank-and-file members are good people trying to genuinely follow a loving version of Jesus but whose hands and hearts are tied to sustaining the prophets at the low cost of their personal integrity and moral decency.

When I share this with the Bishop, I’ll edit but, essentially, here are my thoughts on inclusion in the Mormon environment:

I think you need to ask yourself what you mean by “inclusion.” I think the church has commandeered the word for its own purposes because it sounds Christ-like, but you don’t really know what it means outside of your bubble. The word is thrown about like candy at a parade. Elder Holland spoke about it yet failed at even demonstrating an iota of it. He blatantly and proudly contradicted himself while letting all the blame settle on everyone else for failing in it. Like the word inconceivable, “You keep using [it]. I do not think it means what you think it means.” A word that hits closer to the mark for Mormons is “assimilation” which implies “conformity.” Your intentions may be impeccable and even godly, but if we really analyze what you mean–i.e. how you plan or attempt to be inclusive–what you really mean is assimilation.

Inclusion not only implies but demands “making room” for new and different ideas. Just having someone in the same room is necessary but not sufficient to claim inclusivity–perhaps it’s not even necessary. A physical, mental, and emotional space must be conceived of and implemented, where people want to be and feel safe, welcome, and appreciated. Not appreciated for the imprint of their rear on a cheap, fabric chair, but for contributing even a contrary view to the discussion and direction of the organization. A place where they are heard even if they are in opposition. Otherwise, why would they make time and invest emotionally to be with you?

If you want them to come, ask yourself “Why do I want them here?” Is it because you think you have something they need? If they don’t want what you have then do you really want what’s best for them, or do you want what makes you feel better about yourself? I’ve been in bishopric meetings and trained bishops as a High Councilor to utilize something referred to as the New and Returning Members Progress Form. We were taught to ask, “What’s the next ordinance for this person and how do we get them to it?” If they don’t want what you are offering but you insist on persisting, then you are making them an object of your devotion. You have a format to follow in “including” them that, by it’s very nature, is a tool to “assimilate” them. The very website that introduces this form on LDS.org states: “Ward council members help strengthen new and returning members in the ward.” The assumption is very clear that you need to create an environment of inclusion to get people in the door so that you, who knows how to strengthen them, can strengthen them.

Do you view them as “in need” of being with you on Sunday? Why? The foundation of your entire discussion on inclusion is divisive. It is coming from a place of arrogance and conceit. “I have something you need. You are broken and here, with us in this sterile church building, you can be fixed.” Now, you add quickly, “We are all broken and need to be fixed,” to somehow seem less condescending. You truly believe that ONLY your church is Jesus’s established church with God’s authority. The first speaker during inclusion Sunday said almost exactly this!

The admonition of Isaiah to “enlarge the place of your tent” ought to be taken quite literally as well as figuratively. We are not simply making space within an enclosure by extending its physical borders, but also by expanding our minds and hearts to take in those seeking community without utter annihilation of their personality. If we are all broken, as Mormons love to remind us, then making space for the broken without expectation of them mending in the way we see fit, is true inclusion. We see lines being shorn, borders drawn tighter, and the wings of Jesus’s proverbial “hen” metaphor, made smaller and more particular. Wouldn’t we rather see wings spreading to include the adulteress, the pharisee, and the other who’s practice of romantic love may seem foreign to us? They need not squeeze and compress into the small-minded, strict thinking manner of Mormonism.

How can you preach inclusion after Holland’s talk? He’ll be anathematized within a couple of years of his death and this entire speech disregarded and even disparaged as “words of men.” Except, you can’t do that while he’s alive. So you perpetuate the cycle of hate and exclusion–assimilation masquerading as inclusion. And if his words are not condoned by Russell Nelson, then the Prophet’s silence on the matter is as good as consent. And then, when he does die, the words and attitude will be so ingrained in a new generation of believers, his words may be anathema, but the culture of exclusion will not be.

Do you, Bishop, see what he and others like him have done? Just like you would make an object out of someone for the sake of inclusion, he is making an object out of you for the purpose of conformity to his antiquated and hateful opinions. You will “follow the prophet” with a well-practiced, conjured smile, affirmations of devotion to and gratitude for living apostles–until he dies. Will breath a sigh of relief when he is gone and you can go on to really loving and including as your basic, innate morality is suggesting to you through the bitter haze of dogmatic conditioning? This episode simply confirms to me that for good people to do wickedly, you need religion. Within a day of Holland’s talk, we saw it and heard it from the most BYU-looking male you’re likely to see.

Holland speaks of crying tears for these people but they are not tears for the environment of hate, derision, and exclusion that He–yes, the Apostle of Jesus–and the church have promoted for ages. Nor are they for the pain and loneliness and self-hate countless individuals have experienced. It’s not entirely the Brethren’s fault alone, but they haven’t been on the side of progress. No. His tears are because of the mounting social pressure he feels. His sorrow is for himself, not for the LGBT individuals he uses to his own end. He and his fellow apostles mourn because the others “sinning” frightens him though, it’s not because it does him any real harm. And, if he cried for any perceived harm to himself, his tears are absolutely selfish.

Why do you want me here?

It will be good for me.

Conceit, condescension, and judgment toward and of others. It validates your assurance that you’re in the one true church. It has nothing to do with what’s really good for me, and it seeks no understanding of me. When I was freshly into my disaffection from the church, I asked to be released as first counselor in the bishopric and eagerly assumed my seat in the pews with my family. I continued to attend with my wife and children. I said nothing. I didn’t pray. I contributed little other than a few BTU’s of body heat and some carbon dioxide into the stale, chapel air. In short, I acted precisely how a recently disfellowshipped brother behaved–silent presence within the carpeted walls. Not one person asked me what what going on–not a single one.

Several months later I heard from a non-Mormon co-worker that a mutual friend who was a Mormon had told her that everyone at church thought I had committed adultery. And the person I’d done so with, was named. This was, apparently, the scuttlebutt of the ward, from people I’d served with and with whom I’d worked, played, and prayed. NO ONE asked me but they assumed. My wife felt this and said of that time that she “wanted to disappear.”

You can’t know what’s good for someone if you don’t ask them and, when you do ask, you will find out that you do not know what is good for them despite your assurances of personal, divine favor.

We want you with us.

Why? because it makes you feel better about YOUR decision to be here. You need the confirmation of others presence to validate your own choice to be here. In the 1993 comedy, “Dave,” the man, Dave, suddenly acting as President of the United States, finds out that there is a federally funded program designed to bolster consumer confidence in their previously purchased, domestically manufactured automobile. That’s what this kind of inclusion feels like. My silent presence at church, like Nelson’s silence regarding Holland’s talk, somehow provides validation. Nelson’s silence validates Holland’s message; my silent presence at church validates your own decision to devote your life to Mormonism. Yes, I think this is exactly what happens for many member. It’s about them feeling good about a decision they already made.

We are to invite everyone to come unto Christ.

It’s about you, again. I’m an object of your devotion. If you really cared for me you would ask me about myself, what I believe and why. You wouldn’t judge me as wrong out of the gate, in need of fixing or healing at your hands which work in the place of Jesus’s hands. I’m here so you can fill out your periodic reports to Salt Lake City that you had a “less-active” member in church and that you have his/her name on a New and Returning Member Progress form.

Inclusion does not put one person or their beliefs above that of the person they are trying to include.

A word about the kid erasing chalk art and using horrible slurs. He, and many like him, have been waiting for this moment. The dog-whistles sounded after some time in which only society clamoring for real inclusion and love of LGBT individuals could be heard. He’s relieved. He won’t care if society at large vilifies him. He finds solace in the idea that “the wicked take the truth to be hard.” And, that sometimes you have to “dare to stand alone.”

I’m not suggesting every group needs to make room for everyone. If you don’t like chess, don’t join a chess club. Every club and every “click” is not for everyone. Interests are diverse as are personalities. But if you are going to position yourself as representative of Jesus, proselytize, and demand inclusivity of everyone, you ought to actually practice it yourselves.

Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church

If you are looking for a repository of absolute truth, unalterable mental meanderings, or in-amendable sophistry I suggest you stick to your favorite house of worship with its preferred texts and energetic spokesmen. One of the beauties of empirical science and philosophy are their willingness to be censored and amended. Not long ago, I didn’t see it that way. I felt that knowledge or wisdom failing to stand up to the scrutiny and competition of new and better data was a glaring weakness. An idea or affirmation should stand on its own merits and, if it does not, deserves to be cast aside under the appropriate pressure of new, better-supported theories. The dichotomy of the faith-affirming mind is it’s tendency to believe in this standard of evidence while remaining so devoted to its affirmations that it refuses to see or hear new, contrary information. Both reason and faith espouse the superiority of ideas that withstand the test of time. The difference being that reason would seem not only open to but eager to be proven correct in the face of contrary facts or inconsistent dogma. It would not disregard new data because it makes claims on probability, not on feelings.

Leaving a theory open to amendment or falsification is not a weakness, it is an incredible strength! A researcher will often declare ahead of time what criteria or finding will nullify their hypothesis. Theories are, by definition, subject to revision and even negation. Any idea that leaves itself open to being disproven also permits itself to be proven right while not making itself a prisoner of its own conceit. Theories are expressions of confidence based on repeated demonstrations of accuracy. Ask a theist what would cause them to renounce their belief. For most of them, nothing could do so. Ask a scientist what would disprove evolution or ask an atheist what would induce them to believe in god. Even at their most evasive, they will simply and honestly reply, “I don’t know.”

As a Mormon missionary, we had an entire discussion with potential converts regarding the changing knowledge and wisdom of men. We actually talked about how the prevailing theories of a flat earth or geocentric dogmas in science and religion in the past were evidence of damning inadequacy. Societal disagreements regarding race, gender, and sexuality provided proof that we needed divine revelation now more than ever. We appropriated the stories of men like Galileo for our own purpose, oblivious to any self-effacing irony. We relished the fact that the Roman Catholic Church convicted the 16th and 17th century Italian astronomer of heresy for challenging the prevailing scientific model and official church dogma of geocentrism. Based on the evidence and future observation, science caught up with his theory much more quickly than the representatives of an omniscient deity. And that was precisely the problem we Mormons wanted to capitalize upon…so long as the potential convert or committed adherent didn’t look behind the curtain.

One of these individuals is the greedy, narcissistic leader of a toxic empire and the result of the deranged creation of men trying to make money on a stupid idea sold for popular consumption. The other is a popular cartoon character from a comedic television show.

You see, we wanted it both ways. We wanted to use science when it suited us and spurn it when it did not. The merry example of the corrupt, Catholic church being so dependent upon their dogma as to refute science and imprison and silence its brightest minds to protect their authority as arbiters of truth helped us promote the idea of all religion having “fallen away” truth and into apostasy. The Mormon prophet now is the Mr. Burns-esque figure of Russell Nelson. By any account, Nelson’s medical career is one of phenomenal accomplishment and well-earned accolades, appointments, and honors. Perhaps he didn’t find it fulfilling and the call to church service was a welcome one. As an apostle and church president, he has overseen the acquisition of numerous pieces of valuable real estate, defined the “M-word” that offends God, and convinced destitute people all over the developing world that the cure for poverty is to dutifully pay a full tithing to the hundred-billion dollar church investment empire over which he presides. We could speculate on the thousands of lives he would have saved or improved as a talented if unfulfilled surgeon and the many millions of lives other hands down the line would have saved from techniques or technologies he pioneered. But why save people’s hearts when you can save their souls? His expertise as a man of god extends to economics as, from his Ivory Tower and sacrosanct pulpit, he so genuinely extorts the impoverished with prosperity-gospel guarantees. The LDS church PR machine makes big news about donating some $9 Million dollars to the NAACP while quietly purchasing, in the same week, a $148,000,000 Marriot resort on Maui.

It’s not Mormon’s, alone, that conveniently choose which scientific theories they will reject and which they will commandeer. I’m no expert on logical fallacies–you may find many within my writing–but I believe the tendency to take ideas or data that support your position while rejecting any that do not, is simply and colloquially referred to as Cherry Picking. One of the most prevalent examples of this from apologists is with regard to The Fine Tuning Argument. Herein, the apologist takes the scientific observation that the values we observe for gravity, the expansion of the universe, the weak and strong nuclear forces, the mass of electrons, protons, and neutrons are so precise that should just one of them be changed by infinitesimal, almost inconceivable amounts, life as we know it would not be possible. For them, this scientific conclusion demonstrates, conclusively, that God is the author of the universe! Forget the fact that we cannot, outside of mathematical proof, actually demonstrate that such variance would be incompatible with life–theists love it! Forget that they have yet to demonstrate the existence of deity; they inductively conclude that not only is a god outside of space and time the cause but, from that assertion, they are capable of deducing this deity’s mind and will and are sanctioned–even commanded–to tell everyone else how to live their life.

The scientists such as Stephen Hawking who have described this incredible degree of complexity and the perception of fine-tuning have not gone so far as to postulate a deity to fill-in the gaps of understanding. Humans need an explanation so badly for every happening that we will make up a bad one rather than persist in not knowing a why. Deity provides a convenient deus ex machina, not only here, but in every explanation for every natural occurrence. Theists have gone from explaining lightening, earthquakes, plagues, and every disorder of mind and body as the active punishment of God to the passive, benign, but equally deferential “will of God.” He didn’t cause them but he could have prevented them. Except he didn’t. And the death of millions of children from the lack of clean drinking water to abuse at the hands of God’s anointed is so apathetically dismissed with the trite refrain, “God works in mysterious ways” that even I begin to wonder how I could ever have said such a hideous thing!

The God of monotheists went from a being who used his corporeal finger write the Ten Commandments after speaking with Moses with the equally corporeal description, face to face, to a being who exists outside of space and time. The Nicene being without body parts or passions becomes more critical than ever. The infinite regress of God’s existence is cleverly ignored or refuted by an equally unknowable assertion that God does not exist within space and time. Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, offered an interesting perspective on the tendency of humans to perceive fine tuning in the universe. 

“Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!”

–Douglas Adams

While the religious often appropriate science for their purposes (I was taught to as a missionary), they have become adept at also rejecting any claim it makes that doesn’t fit their inviolable, bronze-age mythos. Two of the most consistently confirmed, testable theories of biological science, Germ Theory and Evolution, find their only opposition from the religious. What is obvious when you discuss either theory with a believer, is that they do not know what they don’t believe any better than they know what they claim to believe. Ask a Catholic to what the “immaculate conception” refers. Chances are you, the reader, are incorrect. Look it up! It’s easy to find and well-defined by Catholicism. I also have found that an atheist is more likely than a Christian to know the correct answer to “what is the immaculate conception?”

A recent, person experience for me involved my chiropractor. In the middle of the COViD pandemic he quietly and in all sincerity whispered to me with a conspiratorial smile, that “we both know masks don’t work.” As a dentist, I have worn one daily for my protection even before it was mandated for everyone. In shock that one of my health care providers would say something like this, I was also not surprised to hear it from someone who’s profession is rife with devotion to homeopathy and promises of cancer cures that result directly from realignment of the spine. When he explained that one of the men who first postulated Germ Theory recanted it on his death bed, I realized that the spirit of Theocracy and its attendant, desperate desire to force recantation from heretics or slyly interpret their final words as a recantation of heresy, is alive and well even in the twenty-first century. Said chiropractor, at my dubious expression, explained that its not germs that get us, it’s something called “host theory” in which the host must be susceptible to disease and that alone is why some get sick and some do not. I challenged him in that moment to enter a closed room with me. I get a KN-95 mask and he has nothing. Tuberculosis is then released into the air of the shared space. How strongly does he believe Germ Theory is a hoax in that situation? I might have gone with condoms and HIV, but we simply aren’t that close…not yet.

He balked, back-tracked, and mumbled some deflective statement but, unfortunately, did not recant. Perhaps on his death bed as many COViD-deniers, gravely ill in their final moments, gasping for breath, have done to their caretakers. What actually bothers me most regarding this entire exchange is that my chiropractor doesn’t know what he doesn’t believe. A susceptible host is a key component of Germ Theory along with a route of transmission and a viable infective agent, or “germ”. Coronavirus wants human cells to infect. I’m human, and cannot change that. What I can do is make the route of transmission a greater obstacle for the virus with a mask. Who do we see in this country claiming masks are an outrage? The religious right. Friends and family in the south and in the Mormon, Intermountain West, confirm to me that there exists a large, vocal subset among whom the prevailing ethos is that mask mandates are a breach of their rights and by extension, religiously discriminatory or even blasphemous.

Akin to this is the Catholic church’s campaign against condoms, opens a route of transmission for the HIV virus in Africa. Not just amongst the sexually promiscuous but in the babies born with it due to the piety of their parents who’s sin of adultery was far less preventable and damning than the life of a child that will be damned to suffer from a disease that is often very preventable in the neonate. While children born in wealthy, western societies have access to expensive medical treatments, the already destitute child born in Africa of an HIV positive mother is almost certainly damned to a short and horrible existence.

Even more fundamentally, the disdain of the Theory of Evolution, most often bares its ironically maladapted head in discussions of the origins of life. How many times have you heard seemingly eloquent and well-educated people of faith aver, “Humans didn’t evolve from monkeys!” Some hit a bit closer to our own DNA profile by saying chimp instead of monkey. However, both statements are actually technically correct though the speaker is wrong in their own understanding. Evolutionary theory does NOT teach that humans evolved from monkeys or chimps. In this, the speaker, quite unwittingly, declares a demonstrable fact of evolutionary theory. The problem is, like the immaculate conception or germ theory, many with firm opinions on the matter do not know that what they have so confidently decided upon. They think evolution makes the case that humans did, indeed, evolve from a primate we see today like chimps or another ape. They even go so far as to say, “If humans evolved from chimps, why are there still chimps?” I’m not here to teach evolution and many of the the religious seem incapable of teaching it let alone comprehending it. The fact remains that they willfully remain ignorant of the theories they deny and in so doing acknowledge that the theory is an actual threat to their faith. Having lost their monopoly on teaching and affirming facts of nature, they now must fearfully, if not silently, watch the last corner of their moral soap box disintegrate.

There is a great difference in trusting a book or another human and in trusting a process. The process of scientific enquiry is trustworthy not only because it has been demonstrated to work, but because part of how it works is by being open to amendment–We can trust it because it will let us know if it is wrong. Trusting a man or a book as infallible or, if fallible, still excusable in their failing, is not only sufficient, but also necessary for cults and tyrannies to rise from their predecessors ruins or even from utter obscurity. Faith, that most exhausted and counterfeit ideal to be named a virtue, makes credulity respectable in its vast shadow.

Rather than trust that our current understanding is dynamic and always improving with modification and clarification and that such a position is perfectly alright, the faithful only trust unanswerable questions that pose no threat to their paradigm. When Jesus supposedly placed the mantle of leadership upon the broad, fisherman’s shoulders, he told Peter that “upon this rock I will build my church.” Catholics claim this meant that Peter, himself, was to be the cornerstone and foundation of the church he would build in his fulfillment of the law of Moses. Mormons claim that the teaching in the verses previous to Christ’s “upon this rock” declaration is that revelation is the rock upon which the church would be built. Thus the need for living prophets and the string of con artists to take up the mantle since Joseph Smith. If there is one universally applicable and unifying tenet of all religion is its un-falsifiability. Jesus may as well have told his chosen apostles that he would build his church upon the rock of the lack of contrary evidence. Both the claims of divine appointment and equally arrogant claims of being receptacles of divine revelation cannot be disproven. The other side to the coin that never lands “up” when a theist pulls it from their pocket is that neither has any man managed to demonstrate their claims to such lofty posts.

Hitchen’s Razor has become an easy standard for those of us who believe a claim should stand on its own merits not just the bombast or confidence with which it is spoken. The absence of contrary evidence to supernatural claims is not in and of itself evidence for the claim.

That which can be affirmed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

–Christopher Hitchens

Consider the unanswerable question regarding life after death. This may be the penultimate mystery upon which a theist builds their faith. How many, facing the death of a loved one or their own passing, hasn’t wondered at or even hoped for life beyond the grave? One cannot be blamed for hoping for another moment with loved ones who passed, particularly those who’s death was premature. The religious double-think on salvation is also curious to behold. The believer’s son who rejected Christ, who abused his wife and kids, and who died in an alcohol related car accident that claimed the lives of two children may, nevertheless, be “saved.” The same believer who claims the grace of God and salvation for their wayward son offers no grace to those currently living who, despite their best efforts, cannot find the credulity to believe in Jesus. A physician who volunteers her time to community service needs saving so desperately because she was seen reading a book by Richard Dawkins! And she needs saving before she dies! Otherwise, her time is up! Debts will be called due and Jesus won’t be able to make the payment when his name never fell from her lips. I’ve been on the faithful end of this conversation, and I’ve been the atheist doctor as well albeit with a “Y” chromosome.

I don’t begrudge these parents their need for hope. Over seventy years, their entire world-view has been built upon hope of Christian salvation. Unlearning or deprogramming was difficult for me as a 35 year-old man. The entirety of religious history seems to have been formed by mankind’s need to explain the unexplained. Shakespeare described death well in one of his most well-known soliloquies, musing “that the dread of something after death,” is common among men because it is an “undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveler returns.” He admits to the un-verifiability of life after death–a journey we must all make but, for which, no one can claim certainty regarding the destination. And considering a sample size of zero, any likely probability is impossible to substantiate. But that doesn’t keep the frocked from claiming their certainty!


The belief in this afterlife in which a person will see all their deceased relatives, friends, even pets, and get to meet the long deceased, epileptic narcissists that they call prophets, is unfalsifiable. Anyone can claim to have knowledge of anything, but unless it is open to empirical review and testable by indifferent, third parties, no on can add any degree of legitimacy to their claim–be it alien abduction, visions of angels, near-death experiences, or witnessing miracles that defy our notions of natural law. I’ve ridden a unicorn to the city of Atlantis: A benign claim that would make the most credulous among us scoot farther away on the subway. What matters is when the claim carries the claimant into the realm of speaking for deity and demanding control over the minds or actions of other fellow primates. Those who make extraordinary claims have only one logical determinant on their side: in most cases of extraordinary claims, no one can prove that what they claim did not happen or is not real. Like Bertrand Russell’s teapot, we can’t prove it isn’t there. For the believer in supernatural, eternal beings, their God’s existence and the reality of an afterlife can’t be proved–or, at least, has yet to be. The alleged apostle Paul made a faithful refutation scriptural when he drearily taught that without faith we can’t please God. The strength of their conviction comes not from evidence but from clinging to the fact that their God’s existence cannot be falsified.

They care less, if at all, about positive evidence for their claim yet irrevocably place the entire burden of their faith upon the lack of evidence that could refute it. “Is there any position a person could not take on faith?” Matt Dillahunty often asks on the Atheist Experience call-in show. The answer is, “No.” And most callers will admit this because most callers have the vestiges of an understanding of logic. Public school hasn’t utterly failed them despite the religious’ attempts to commandeer it. Unfortunately, most callers understand logic only insofar as it applies to everyone else’s unverifiable claims. Their own faith, however, is a case of special pleading because, well, it is special. In the eyes of the Evangelical: Islamist, Mormon, and Eastern religions are all falsifiable. Catholicism is three-fourths correct and Judaism may be half-right. But to be wrong even in the slightest is to be completely in apostasy or aligned with the repugnant gentiles.

The reality to which I slowly became aware as a rosy-lensed Mormon is that an overwhelming majority of religious claims throughout history have been falsified and only adapted under immense secular pressure. While many historical aspects of scriptural stories are accurate with regard to places, people, culture, and events, the miraculous are often refutable by evidence and probability. But their foundations, the belief in an unseeable God and a blissful afterlife cannot. And in this age of rapid scientific progress, the existence of God and an afterlife are the pillars of faith that remain because they cannot be negated by any information we have or that we might even imaging acquiring in the future. Upon this rock they must place the entirety of their hope which, as they love to profess, cometh of faith.

While there are some differences in Atheists and Agnostics, the majority of both take the stance that when a claim is made that affirms the reality of a being, the burden of proof resides on the maker of the claim. We are simply not convinced. Our stance is a default position until reliable evidence is presented to support a claim. Theists believe the burden of proof is upon the people who are not convinced due to lack of evidence rather than upon themselves and their affirmations despite the absence of any evidence. Why should we be surprised when they also believe that the Sun stood still in the sky without any attendant cataclysmic events. And any evidence that they require as a standard for belief, trust, and action in any other area of their life need not apply to how they evaluate the truth claims of their religion.

Only…ask them if they believe in unicorns…

Fine tuning and the moral argument, among others, are thought provoking rationalities for the existence of deity. What they are not, is evidence. They may involve clever deductive or inductive reasoning but they could care less about habeas corpus. Convenient that there is no resurrected Jesus to examine. Convenient that the Mormon’s haven’t access to “the gold plates” from which their scripture was “translated.” Nevertheless, proponents fall back on arguments like fine-tuning or the moral argument eagerly if not in desperation. All-the-while, they easily dismiss scriptural evidence that the god they worship is a sadistic narcissist. They proclaim him to be a god of love when he clearly states in his sacrosanct, approved text that he is a jealous god who answers disbelief upon the head of generations beyond the offender.

Coming upon the heels of his policy failure surrounding the great flood, the god of Israel decided to choose one tribe and make a nation of them. Rather than destroy everyone, he would use this chosen people to wipe out entire races. Why? For the reason Mel Gibson gives as the title character in the 1994 film, Maverick. Of the Native Americans, Maverick jokingly declares that he tries to kill one [Native American] every day. His justification: for them “being on [white man’s] land before we got here.”

Despite the fact that those with the greatest to gain from it, well-funded Israeli archeologists have not found one jot or tittle of evidence for the Exodus story. Perhaps piously, perhaps innately, perhaps professionally, these researchers have chosen not to bear false witness to evidence or attempt to substitute the trivial or unfounded as authentication of their tribe’s mythology. If the “Exodus” story teaches us anything, it is that the god of the Old Testament eagerly utilizes plagues to reach one of two ends. The first goal would be to humble someone or an entire people enough to bend them to his will, using torture to permit free will to play out. Or, secondly, he may punish and destroy those who do not accept and cow to his will. Even if the story is no more than mythology, the lessons taken are intended to be the epitome of morality and godliness. Consider the example of the Christian missionary, John Allen Chau, who died at the hands of those he to whom he was determined to proselytize. The Sentinelese, an indigenous tribe inhabiting an island in the far east Bay of Bengal, had already attempted to kill him once but failed when, miraculously, their arrow struck the Bible he carried. Having already willfully neglected not only the warnings and advice of others but the law of India as well, he proceeded to land his boat on their shore for a third attempt at preaching Jesus to them. He knew that death was a real possibility and, I suspect he also realized that the foreign microbes he carried and to which his immune system had evolved to combat posed a genuine threat to these people. It’s no surprise that our species has an innate fear of outsiders when they often bring disease and death with them.

Such was Chau’s conviction that he was right in his belief, that the risk to himself was nothing. How could the Indian government claim any authority to prevent him from preaching the Good News when he was on God’s errand? If he considered the danger contact with him would pose to the Sentinelese lives, we have no record. No doubt the arrow that struck his Bible confirmed to him his Godly errand and the words of Isaiah echoed in his head, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” (Isaiah 54:17) He would attempt to communicate with them and, if he was lucky or blessed, would succeed. The gift of tongues is a thing…right? Undoubtedly, he would share a refined and virulent microbiome. Language and immune systems evolve divergently but susceptibility to disease needs no translation. Anyway, their deaths were a small price to pay so long as they could hear about an obscure preacher from two-thousand years ago. What is un-falsified Germ Theory against the power of my un-verifiable God?

One might translate the Christian, proselytizing ethos to: it’s better to make a child an orphan than to allow its parents to “serve other gods.” We are so convinced that god will protect you from our diseases and us from your arrows, that we will go forward in faith. If I happen to die, that’s God’s will. If you die, at least your heard his word and can now be condemned to hell for it. And if your kids have to be raised without a mother or father as a result, well, that is God’s will too. And believe me, he loves them so much, it must be good for them.


While we may refute a great deal of a person’s beliefs, their faith is founded upon claims we cannot hope to falsify.
I say this as a once devout and utterly convinced Mormon: Joseph Smith’s claims are ridiculous. The Kinderhook Plates are a verified fraud. The Book of Abraham is an even greater example of Joseph’s con. Despite the divinely translated record declaring that it was “Written by his own hand,” no credible examiner of the original documents–who is not a Mormon themselves–has concluded that Joseph’s story about their translation could be correct. Now, contrary to the declaration of the book itself to have been written by Abraham’s own hand, we are told that maybe the common funerary text simply acted as a catalyst to inspire Joseph to translate.

Joseph even claimed to produce an “inspired translation” of portions of the Old and New Testament. Research out of Mormon flagship university, BYU, concluded that “it is arguable that [Adam] Clarke is the primary source Smith used” to make inspired changes to the King James Bible. Not revelation from God, in other words.

The Book of Mormon is not respected by ANYONE as a book of history of ANY people that lived in the pre-Columbian Americas. (I had a patient that once upon a time who spent over forty years as a professor of North and South American anthropology. I once carefully brought up the Book of Mormon and needed smelling salts to bring his rolled eyes back to facing forward.) Being considered “the keystone of [their] religion, the Book of Mormon may be the hill Mormon’s choose to die on. In 2009, Mormon Apostle, Jeffrey Holland, offered a stirring and rousing sermon on the divinity of The Book of Mormon. During a diatribe in which doubters and skeptics were called foolish for being unconvinced, he proceeded to make the case for the book based entirely on its un-falsifiability.

For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator.

Jeffrey R. Holland

Upon this rock, I will build my church. How appropriate, unmoving and unthinking. To borrow from an old Chevrolet truck ad-campaign: “Like a Rock.” Holland commits a fallacy here, essentially a false dichotomy in which he asserts that, since another explanation has not been proven correct (by his pathetic, faith-addled standard) then ONLY his explanation could possibly be an alternative. All of it, however, rests on the foundation of un-falsifiability.

Joseph not only lied, he was a compulsive liar. Consider polygamy in which his spouse was kept in the dark for years and, just shortly before his death, he publicly declared that he’d been accused of polygamy but, (see the pattern) since no one could prove it, he could confidently affirm that he “could find only one.” The Mormon temple rituals are simply appropriated from already bizarre, male-centric Masonic rites. It helps to claim that they were inspired, godly rituals to endow mortals with the power to become gods. It helps even more that no one can prove they weren’t inspired. Despite his long history of deceit or incompetence, most of my family hope to meet Joseph in heaven and thank him for his dedication to “restoring” the gospel.


The afterlife…their yearning and hope for and faith in an afterlife that cannot be verified. Yet this dream accounts for such a large contribution to their faith that they will disregard all else. Nothing, NO THING!, could be given credence enough to call their faith into question. The belief proves it, and that is enough to build their life upon it.

What’s In a Name?

I don’t like the circumcision of my name. When I was a kid, being called Pete didn’t bother me. Only a couple of my friends did it anyway. Here’s the thing, I don’t get angry or offended when someone calls me Pete. For some, it’s a term of endearment, for others it’s just their way. To be honest, the only time my name was used in derision was when someone called me Peter. If you can’t guess why, I’m guessing you were never in public or private middle school America.

I suppose I’ve reached a place of self-confidence and self-acceptance that the juvenile joke doesn’t bother me. I used to say, “The chief apostle of Jesus was named Peter,” as if that meant something and justified or made noble the name. It was the name of two of my revered great-grandfathers. If someone is going to call me Peter to mean Penis they could do worse. After all, the name means rock or the rock. With so many men my age beginning to ask their doctors about Viagra and Cialis prescriptions, being named after something hard could be taken as a compliment. If that’s the heads side of the coin, the tails side would be the allusion to something cold and lifeless. I suppose in this case I can have it both ways.

That’s exactly what the Mormon church seems to want. But when you’re playing with the devotion of your tithe payers under the guise of being led by a prophet, I don’t think you can. Might as well claim we have always been at war with Eurasia when last year we were always at war with Eastasia. So, can you change the name of a church carte blanche? Can using the term Mormon be a delight to God and a badge of honor until 2018 only to suddenly become an offense to God and to members?

I have heard it said and seen it written by devotees: “Calling us Mormon is the same as using the N-word.”

John Mulaney’s wit and wisdom sum this point up pretty well:

Mormon prophet, Russell Nelson declared:

“It is a command of the Lord.”

“…the name of the Church is not negotiable.”

“…if we allow nicknames to be used and adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He (Jesus) is offended.”

“To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan.”

Mormon’s have been trained to cringe when the name of Jesus is uttered away from a pulpit in their church. Their own scripture from which Nelson plucked his feverishly fundamentalist interpretation and of which he has made a hobby horse for decades, also states that the highest level of the priesthood in Mormonism should be named after the great high priest, Melchizedek, from the Old Testament. The real name of the high priesthood is revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 107 to be, “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.” Why should the name be changed? The verse that immediately follows gives the answer: “out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.”

The irony is laughable. The emasculated reminiscence of Orwell’s 1984 can’t be lost on those viewing from the outside. However, I know it is lost to those on the inside who are convinced that their Big Brother can make 2+2=5 simply by decreeing it.

The Mormon church has a long history of utilizing Newspeak and the memory hole. In response to Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful Presidential campaign, the Mormon church initiated a campaign of their own. In 2010 they began sinking hundreds of millions of dollars in a worldwide public relations effort. What was this program called? The “I Am A Mormon” campaign. From Times Square to the London underground, the LDS church placed adds depicting Mormon celebrities and ordinary members proudly declaring, “I am a Mormon!” Youtube videos and the church’s own sites published these videos.

“I sell essential oils and recruit for a large, Provo, Utah-based MLM. I am the wife of an amazing husband, father, and dentist. I like sewing and canning vegetables I grow in the garden with my five, oddly-named children. I am happy and not weird. And, I’m a Mormon.”

“My name is Randon Blooms. You might know me as the lead singer of The Murders. I’ve recorded two gold records. I have my own line of non-alcoholic sugar drinks and anti-aphrodisiac colognes. I’ve travelled the world and founded a charity. I’m married to my cool wife for time and eternity. I’m totally normal and not weird. And, I’m a Mormon.”

This has been done before. Why not? Joseph Smith, the founding father of Mormonism taught that the name Mormon meant, more good. Like Melchizedek, Mormon is the name of a prophet so great that a book of scripture bears his name. What a great way to avoid repetition of the name of the Supreme Being! Then underling apostle, Russell Nelson spoke about the name of the church in April 1990. In response, member of the church’s first presidency and senior apostle, Gordon Hinkley, gave his own talk to the church six months later, in October 1990. After affirming the revealed and proper name of the church and admitting that not only would changing the nickname be difficult, it was also unnecessary. He said, “if there is any name that is totally honorable in its derivation, it is the name Mormon.

In addition to the I Am a Mormon campaign or, rather, part of it, was a church published feature film titled, “Meet the Mormons.” (Search it yourself, I don’t want to give their website yet another external link to push it up the search queue.) For one-hundred and eighty-eight years, the church and its divinely ordained prophets embraced and promoted the use of the nickname, Mormon. A reasonable choice considering their egomaniacal God’s strange reverence for and aversion to the use of the Greek derivation of his own earthly name. From 2010 to 2018 not only was Mormon accepted, it was sold to the world under divine guidance and with outrageous marketing funds.

By the day following Nelson’s revelatory scolding to members for the long tradition of reverencing Jesus’s name despite previous prophet’s endorsement, the term Mormon became a bad word. Members now recoil at it as a “victory for Satan.” A membership already stretched thin in lay callings to support the church–leading, teaching, planning, organizing youth groups, etc–in addition to their jobs and families, they are now expected to further exhaust themselves by repeating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It is equally as exhausting to hear someone say though I must chuckle to myself at the discomfort and haste with which devoted church members seem to regurgitate the bitter cud. They would do well to take the advice of Brad Pitt’s character, Rusty, to Matt Damon’s character, Linus, in Ocean’s 11: “Don’t use seven words when four will do.”

As if members don’t have to give enough time to the church’s growth, how much do they lose with this banal and ridiculous exercise? Don’t use an eight word title when one will do. When Rusty offers the advice to Linus, it is to help him allay suspicions of the man whom he is conning–make him seem legitimate, even genuine. Ironically, that reasoning and advice apply well here. The word Mormon means something to people, for good or ill. During my time as a missionary, it seemed to predominantly have a quaint connotation for outsiders. They associated it with quirky but friendly folks who can be a bit annoying but mean no harm. Watching those quirky members try to honor their prophet’s counsel has a less favorable connotation. And outsiders aren’t stupid. They’ve seen the videos and advertisements from the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. They aren’t citizens of Oceania who have been trained to let things go down the memory hole. Mormons moved themselves from their comfortable, scriptural label of “peculiar people.” Lengthening the name has, by the very nature of it, taken them from peculiar to the forgivable but annoying, pedantic. Add to that the unforgivable, pretentious, and you’ve alienated yourselves further from a world you desperately want to be accepted into.

Ask yourself if you think it is ridiculous for God to to condemn an artistic rendering of the Prophet Mohammed be produced? Does the idea make you recoil? I hope that’s the least of your visceral reaction to such fundamentalism. What Russell Nelson and those members who went from making “I’m a Mormon” video’s on Saturday night to claiming that the use of the M-word is a victory for Satan by Sunday afternoon clearly demonstrates that fundamentalism is alive and well in Mormonism. Prophet Nelson demonstrates that either he and his predecessors have never been prophets or revelators or that their god is petty, capricious, and tinkering. If they are, indeed, revealing the mind of God, it doesn’t mean that they can’t agree, it means that their source, God, can’t agree with himself. He’s like a paranoid schizophrenic that thinks the world is out to get him! Even his covenant people. He can hear them talking about him. They’re following him! Time for another flood!

I don’t prefer the circumcision of my name and I am beginning to oppose the circumcision of the genitalia of children. But one circumcision I would support is with regards to the name of the church. Make Members-of-The-Chruch-of-Jesus-Christ-of-Latter-day-Saints Succinct Again!

Creating a God in Whom I could Believe

For all the outcry over individual mental and emotional and sexual autonomy in society, it seems that in finding shoe on the other foot we have discovered steel toes on both. Society largely agrees and vehemently declares that no one should compel another to believe anything they don’t want to. Anyone who uses societal shame to silence, de-platform, or shell any nut with an opinion is only doing what those who went before them have done. Tyrion Lannister, charming imp of the Game of Thrones series, cleverly observed that “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

Throughout history, men and women have been subjected to gruesome deaths or the very real threat of injury to life or limb for holding their own views and expressing them. Usually, their indictments and punishments came at the hands of some or other clerical bully who truly believed he had God on his side in passing and executing punishments for blasphemy or heresy. The excuse that it must be done “for the children” ought to be a red flag for any critical, free-thinking human.

The pressure to believe in god is all around me. It was in my upbringing, my marriage, the births of my children, my own devotion and faith of over thirty years. It’s programmed into my firmware and there don’t seem to be any updates beyond the age of twenty-five. About as far as I am able to take it is to reason that the belief is unfounded by any standard to which I hold any other aspect of my life. Martin Amis observed, “What one doesn’t learn from one’s parents one never learns, or learns awkwardly.” This must include the negation that whatever we learn from our parents we never unlearn or unlearn awkwardly.

I don’t exactly find myself yearning or pining for a relationship with god, but sometimes I want to believe that there is a being in control of the chaos. A creature that can really see the end from the beginning and who, with our ability to choose, allows the course of human events to play out to their natural conclusion. But that’s the extent of it. I can’t bring myself to believe in any of the gods postulated by any monotheism or the other religious traditions as I understand them. Vengeful, jealous, willing to command genocide and infanticide in his name. Eager to subject women to the superstition and sexual whims of men.

That’s not my god! It says right there in the Bible: God is love!

God punishes disbelief to the third and fourth generation. That’s not love.

You just don’t understand him. God can’t hate anyone or anything!

Have you read Proverbs 6? It clearly lists the things that your God “hates.”

Oh! That’s not what it means. He hates bad behavior!

Okay, what about Pslam 11:5? Clearly his hate is directed toward the people who exhibit bad behavior. Wicked is a pretty broad term.

That’s not what it means!

Forgive me while I scratch. I a severe allergy to double-speak.

Sixty-four percent of American’s responded affirmatively to the question, are you convinced god exists. From my experience amongst and as one of the devout, I presume that these same respondents also promote their belief that freedom and morality cannot exist without God. Each tradition has its slippery slopes that follow, but those are easy to ignore if you’ve been programmed to find comfortable in reassuring swaddling of cognitive dissonance. My proprietary, sixteenth-century firmware has been updated, but it really needs to be wiped clean and replaced with twenty-first century, open-source programming. (I do hate to think of a new paradigm as programming at all. Don’t carry the metaphor too far.)

Since the first anthropoid sought to explain the volcano, earthquake, tsunami, plague, crippling defect, or epileptic spasm, they have created gods and devils. Dreadful or benevolent–even some dichotomous combination of both–they have created many gods to fill the gaps of their understanding. Our species’ minds prefer a poor explanation to no explanation at all.


This long-honored the tradition involved man creating a God or gods in whom they could bring themselves to believe. Created in their own image, in other words–though perhaps not in totum. I realize there is a certain arrogance in this idea, a self-delusion against which one’s own faults must be ignored or embraced and rationalized. That is why I must confess, with a strange combination of pride and disgust, that the god I am now capable of conceiving is a deity in which I could believe rather than one in which I feel I must believe.


Such an imaginative undertaking is not that difficult. Most American’s have been exposed to Christianity. We have popular movies with their serious or comical depictions of gods and goddesses. The trick is to reconcile that god with reality in a way that allows that god to be as we all want him to be–loving, concerned with our individual and collective fates, omnipotent without being arrogant or negligent. My god is still derivative of the monotheistic interpretation of deity. It depends in part on the God revealed in the Torah, Bible, Book of Mormon, and Quran–a God we know to be petty, vindictive, demanding of uncritical and unending praise, homophobic, racist, and-on-and-on-and-on.

I don’t believe in the deity I am about to describe and, just to prove that he/she/it is my creation, I have conceived of a god that doesn’t care if I believe in them. That was really the nidus for my conceptualization. If you were truly eternal and all-powerful–not like an Earthly king who can be killed or could lose their power in defeat–would you care about endless praise? Would you care if someone said, “Oh my God!” It’s not even your name! It is a title in one, infantile language! Would you be so hurt if someone defiled a day you decreed as sacred by walking more than the allotted number of steps or buying a meal or going to the laundromat? Would you be so concerned with mandating a “day of rest?” Would inane observances of a single day of the week mean enough to your ego that you would threaten destruction for those who didn’t follow your edicts on it? And that’s just one of the most benign of the commandments!


Speaking of edicts and mandates and commandments: Why would covenants matter to God? Why would people need to make promises, binding themselves to oaths and promises of conformity and obedience to satisfy you? It feels like this eternal dictator of monotheism has an incredibly fragile ego that is idiotically disproportionate to their infinite capacity to comprehend, create, and foresee.


Are you all-powerful? If you are able to make laws simply by decree, why do you rely on a barbaric, human sacrifice to “save” people? Why not demonstrate to your creations the example of forgiving by simply forgiving those who recognize when they have wronged another, made an effort to make things right, and changed not only their behavior but their attitude? When you don’t establish a simple standard of forgiveness but require bronze-age blood-myths to achieve reconciliation with your less-than-the-dust-of-the-Earth creations, you promote the creation and perpetuation of religions from which holy martyrs, honor killings, and blood-atonement are preached as doctrines and praised as worthy of emulation. On top of this inanity, you find that your acolytes in Christianity, for example, adore the blood of their savior and the means by which it came, yet they recoil at the barbarity of rampant blood-sacrifice in other ancient civilizations.

When one defines someone’s god as vindictive, petty, narcissistic, punitive, greedy, or applies any other unseemly adjective to him, the condescending response that person must often be prepared to entertain is, “that’s not the God I’ve come to know.” Well, based on your holy scriptures, what other god could you know? Are not the sacred cannon the final word regarding God? Even you call the extremists in particular sects–including your own–“fundamentalists.” Why? Because they not only preach the verifiable fundamentals, they live according to them!


Once, during a long drive with a colleague who happened to be, broadly speaking, an evangelical Christian, the discussion meandered to my recent shift away from belief in a God or any god. I explained that I could no longer reconcile either intellectually, ethically, or in any other fashion, the fact that god had condoned and even commanded so many horrific things to be done in his name and for his glory. Of course, the Old Testament came to the fore and we settled on the injunctions to slay entire civilizations such as the Amalekites for the crime of, as Mel Gibson’s character said in the movie Maverick regarding the Native Americans, “being on our land before we got here.” My colleague, without any hint of remorse, irony, or even difficulty in saying it, defended the act as his God showing his love for his chosen people by keeping his promises to them. The God he knows is a promise keeper which is far more important that a respecter of life, as innocent as it may seem to me. To ancient Israel, the Amalekites were aggressors for living on a certain real estate that, as Christopher Hitchens ironically said regarding this territorial gift from an omniscient creator, is the only place in the Middle East with no oil.


So, what God could I believe in? I could believe in a monotheistic God who has allowed the holy scriptures to be written just as they are. Not to see if we will abide by them in every detail, but to see if our innate sense of solidarity, irony, and humanity can overcome the siren song of clerical authority. Are we courageous enough to speak out against slavery despite scriptural prescriptions of how to do it? Will we refuse to stone the adulterer or ostracize the homosexual? Mine would be a being that allows suffering but does not condone or command it. This deity would permit those that profess to speak for him to teach hideous, dangerous doctrines though he would not inspire them. My God, if he has allowed all of this wickedness and suffering, does so with pain and anguish so that he can see if we will rise above it. If we will subject our confusion and social desire to conform to our own humanity. My God does not need to be praised. I ask again: why would an eternal, all-powerful being need the praise of any mean mortal? What could our adoration give to him that he would make it a commandment that includes a penalty consisting of eternal torture as the punishment for the failure to obey?


In a more recent conversation, I expressed to my wife that, if nothing else were to change in the divinely allowed/proclaimed, revelatory database, I could believe in a certain type of God. After outlining what I have thus far written, she agreed with me. This is indeed the God in which she believes. I was taken aback by her concession for I have heard her justify Noah’s ark, Nephi decapitating Laban, and bears devouring rowdy, if rude, children. And I have heard her justify these divinely condoned happenings to our children. How can she claim to believe in the God I have just described? Were she to say that she had come to know Hitler, Stalin, or any other tyrant as a loving, caring, personal father-figure, I don’t think I could have been more surprised. It is as if, after studying chemistry first-hand, and teaching it to others, she were to say, “Sodium and chloride ions together make sugar.” The salt of her convictions would seem to have lost its savor.


It is a case of Stockholm syndrome? Defending the indefensible because of fear of offending and enticing to violence? Or even a misplaced affection for one’s tormentor? Or is it out of a duty to make palatable for consumption rather unsavory ideas that keep people like me from joining–or, rather, rejoining–the feast?
In Mormonism, one of their interesting doctrines revolves around punishment. In The Book of Mormon, Alma 42, instruction is given that God does not punish people, rather, they bring the punishments upon themselves. “There is a law given, and a punishment affixed…and the law inflicteth the punishment.” The tricky position is to ask the believing Mormon if they believe their God to be omnipotent. If they even know the definition of the word and do not attempt some sophistry in redefining it on the spot, some will claim that, in fact, their God is not all-powerful for he is bound by eternal laws. Their obsequious deference to the Book of Mormon does have its limits, but any doctrine–including polygamy, racist ideologies, and capital punishment for heresy–is not utterly dismissed, only deferred until the hereafter.


Many atheists, when asked what they will do if, upon death, they find themselves before the God of the Jews or Christians or Islam. (It seems only monotheists really care to challenge with this scenario.) When asked how he would respond to a God that asked him why he didn’t believe in Him, Bertrand Russell famously replied that the God had not provided enough evidence for himself. Other, more contemporary critics of religion like Dawkins and Hitchens have said that if God is really as loving and understanding as Christians make him out to be, they aren’t afraid to meet Him because they have lived their lives with the reason and moral integrity that this god would have created them with. They challenge the concept of a god of love by expecting that god to live up to his billing. A god that would not be impressed with people who espouse belief only to avoid punishment. That he would look at your life and judge you according to who you became despite the pressures of religions organized around barbaric, primitive writings of credulous peasants who knew nothing of germ theory, plate tectonics, astronomy, physics, biochemistry, or meteorology.

These same men and others have said that they would not wish to go to the heaven presented in the Christian, Jewish, or Islamic tradition. An eternity of praising the god of easily bruised ego.

So, here I am, doing what generations before and after me have and will do: creating a god in whom I could believe. And as much as he/she/it is beholden to the traditions of the past while being a reformation from them, I still cannot bring myself to believe. But, hey, my god doesn’t care about that. He appreciates my assimilation of new science and philosophy. I’m not a “good” person, but I don’t need to be. A “good” person in Mormonism, for example, used to support segregation and racism under prophetic teaching. They used to alienate and attempt to therapeutically heal gay people. They made women servile to men. They did all of these things, claiming the moral high ground…until they didn’t. My god isn’t impressed with this and, being created in his image, neither am I.

Trial of Faith or Trial of Our Humanity

Before I stopped believing in Mormonism, I stopped believing in God–at least in the way Mormons claim Him to be. Fortunately, he seems to be essentially the same character in all monotheistic religions. Why not? They all find their roots in the Old Testament. I could see that trying to find a version of a truly loving and benevolent and omnipotent deity became a catch-22. I was dependent upon the ancient texts and their revelations of God’s character. Are we not taught–indeed preached to–that they are gods complete and final word on everything including himself?

I found one of the first books I chose to read after accepting my doubts regarding god quite by accident. In The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, he offers one of the most concise definitions of God yet given. It is a pleasing irony that the definition should come from an avowed atheist. And, in contrast to the faithful avowals of believers, is the only definition that seems entirely consistent with the sacred texts. Dawkins asserts, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Perhaps the only point at which a believer could argue against this definition without coming across as ignorant of their own scripture, is Dawkins’ categorization of the Bible as “fiction.” A skeptic can no more prove it is a work of fiction than a believer can prove that it is. Though the evidence does not seem to tip in favor of believers, when they attempt to stand upon the claim that it is factual in content and factually God’s revealed word, they become hopelessly bound to the remainder of Dawkins definition with little recourse to changing a skeptical mind from the reality of it.

Rationality and integrity left me with only one viable option for belief–leave faith at the door if it comes to me unwilling or unable to show its credentials. 

I don’t know where I first heard this, though I’ve heard it from catholic, protestant, and mormon alike:  God put fossils in the ground to test our faith.

I don’t mind this type of imaginative apologetics. It’s creative and interesting. It may even be true.  When you tie your hands to an Earth that is roughly six-thousand years old, something has to give. Worse, when you tie your hands to the idea that god might command you to kill your own son to show your faith, this is a trivial, whimsical postulate. It’s not going to be faith, so let it be reason and Occam’s razor. Though this line of thinking doesn’t make sense, it fits in well with Dawkin’s definition of him for such a being seems as if they would, like a cat, enjoy toying with the mouse over which it has ultimate power.

My sister and I were discussing the idea of god recently. We agreed that, even if it were true, would we want to worship such a God as portrayed int the Bible or Quran? We spent a good deal of our lives attempting to be worthy of his blessings and his approbation. Worthiness is a big deal for mormons and you get it by following the rules. You have interviews with a lay-clergyman at least twice a year as a teenager in which they evaluate your worthiness. To enter the temple, the most sacred place on Earth in which the most sacred covenants are made, requires passing a worthiness interview with the same lay-clergyman. You must be worthy to the end of your life to be with your family after death. They sing a hymn that states, “Then, when we have proven worthy of thy sacrifice divine, Lord, let us regain thy presence.”

As sister and I discussed the idea of God, she presented and idea about which I–an I assume many–have often considered. What if God has indeed given us–or allowed the publication of–such horrible texts as the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon to test our integrity, empathy, and humanity? An apologist can so easily accept that the deity they defend as infinitely-loving/benevolent and that respects not persons would deliberately place fossils in the rock or any other doubt-inducing idea/object/knowledge to test our faith. But if their god were truly as loving and knowing and eternal as they claim him or her to be, would this god actually have sanctioned slavery, genocide, and sexism? Would he, being all-powerful, have designed a plan that required the barbarism of a human sacrifice to save us from sins–many of them so petty as to be laughable–that he so graciously gave us?

If there is a god like religions claim him to be, it would seem more likely that he allowed the horrible Bible, self-proclaimed prophets, and divisive dogmas and racist, sexist practices simply to see if we can use the intellect and empathy inherent in our nature to overcome such blind faith? Maybe he wants to see if we will trust our own goodness and intuition more than we will trust the word of others. Maybe he wants to see if we will have the moral courage to break man-made conventions rather than assimilate them.

I don’t believe in God. But if I did, that might be one I could believe in. Nietzsche wrote, “We outgrew Christianity, not because we lived too far from it, rather because we lived too close, even more because we grew out of it.” Reconciling our belief in this perfect god–created in our own image–with the God revealed in the holy texts, is a devastating experiencing. Perhaps it is a necessary experience to transcend bronze-age dogmas and move forward into an exponentially expanding enlightenment held back, if anything by the poorly represented but militantly defended God of revealed monotheism.