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.
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.”
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!”
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?”
“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.”
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.
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.
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, likethe 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.
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-falsifiedGerm 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.
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.
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.
Being raised a Mormon in the 80’s and 90’s, a common trope I heard oft repeated was that of the Lord preparing the way for the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. One of the highlights and, perhaps, high-points of this preparation was the work of the protestant reformers in Europe. The vague, relevant points of the stories of Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and John Wycliffe, among many others, received and continue to receive their praise from Mormon leaders and scholars alike.
(Note that my links are not to LDS sources because, frankly, I don’t want to drive traffic directly to their website. A quick search of “lds Martin Luther” or any other name will bring up a trove of results leading one to their sources.)
The church praises these men for acting in the mid-teenth centuries as John the Baptist acted in the first century. They each played a roll in preparing for the coming of one greater than they. Of course, Joseph Smith was the ONE for which each reformer, unwittingly and unintentionally, prepared the way. An easy co-opting by leaders and scholars of the lives and contributions of these men grants validity to the claims of the Mormon church. They even go so far as to quote Tyndale who is said to have told critics, “I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the scripture than thou doest.” Another example of holding in lesser regard Tyndale’s real intent in the saying to make him an unwitting, unintentional, and, I would venture if he were aware of its use in this way, unwilling prophet. For Joseph Smith was a common farm boy who, as well as claiming to know a great deal about scripture due to revelation, also claimed to know where to find treasure by use of a peep stone. Treasure that, when it was not found by his paying clients, he claimed with just as much conviction, had been taken by spirits and hidden elsewhere.
And it doesn’t stop there. Christopher Columbus and the Founding Fathers of the United States become tools for god. Despite the horror they inflicted on indigenous peoples, or the discoveries they made, or wars they won, or documents they penned, the ULTIMATE good all their lives did was to make way for a small cult to flourish in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The gist of what these reformers were attempting to throw-off was that oldest of human governments to which men, by choice, would willingly submit, theocracy. “I have a special connection with someone you cannot see or hear, but he speaks to me and tells me his will for you. How benevolent of him! Now give me your money and your women.”
When the only people who could read in any language let alone speak in a dying language like Latin are the one’s sermonizing, they control the narrative people may hear. Indulgences, witch-hunts, inquisitions follow. There is power in literacy and power may be taken by its employ. Divinely appointed monarchs, literate as they were, could have no reason to bite one of the the larger hands that fed them–the Church itself. The entity that granted them divine legitimacy. Common men and women, under threat of earthly torture and eternal torment, were slaves to their ignorance.
John Wycliffe, an English priest, in the late 14th century, pioneered the translation of the Bible from Latin to the vulgar or common language spoken, if not read, by common men and women. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the reformation was that of arguing for the scripture rather than the papacy to be the authority on doctrine and practice in the church.
Martin Luther, famous for declaring 95 reasons why the existing church was not operating or teaching in accord with the Bible as he read it, was excommunicated and placed on trial with secular authorities–as secular as they could be in the early 16th century. Condemned by the Pope and the Emperor, the was excommunicated. A former priest and monk within the church, he started a stone rolling that would fill the Earth. Which, perhaps, goes to show that for a ship as large as a world-wide church to change course, the influencers that come from within have a great deal of power, even and especially in excommunication.
Willam Tyndale, a contemporary of Luther, pioneered the translation of the Bible into English directly from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the text. As a direct challenge to the Christian leaders hegemony at that time, possessing a copy of the Bible in English was made a crime punishable by death.
Disagreements with the Bible as the last word in any disagreement notwithstanding, the work of these men and others like them was to challenge the theocracy that reigned over the minds and lives of humans. To say that the men in authoritative positions within the church are fallible and subject to selfish whims or well-intentioned misinterpretations yet that the Bible could become the sole arbiter of any and all things, is to create a self-deluded irony. The Bible, too, was written by men. Very few, if any, direct witnesses of claimed events. Yet, their word is made sacrosanct–unless it supports slavery or suppression of women or any other inane pronouncement that is inconvenient in our modern day. Rest assured, however, that if society would permit it, these god-fearing saints would gladly tell a woman she cannot speak in church, that to have black skin is a curse, and would be eager to call you to a church court for wearing fabric of mixed fibers.
Mormon’s celebrate the emancipation of man from the theocracy of the middle-ages only to embrace theocracy in another form in their own lives. If challenged, I can imagine at least one defense you might hear from a staunch Mormon since, as a missionary, I often used this myself:
“Well, every worthy male can hold the priesthood now, so all men can have authority, not just the clergy.”
Yes, that is the claim you make. But in order to act with the authority in any ordinance that actually affects a person’s salvation, you must do so ONLY with permission from and oversight by a presiding authority. These same men must authorize you to enter their temples! Believe me when I say, the ceremonies that go on in those whited-sepulchers are neither inspiring nor insightful. They are creepy, cultish, and downright bizarre.
Furthermore, only the prophet can interpret the scripture. Only he has a direct and personal line to God himself! He has the final word on all things doctrinal or procedural. Thus, when Joseph Smith calls you on a mission, don’t be surprised if you come home to find that he married your wife while you were away. Not only that, but you had better support him in marrying your 14-year-old daughter because he is the prophet. Regardless of how it makes your stomach turn at that thought, it is apostasy to oppose him. That kind of opposition sounds a lot like what you celebrate Martin Luther for doing in the first place!
How about the voices in our day that have come out against the bizarre, inconsistent, and cruel theocracy of the Mormon leadership? Let’s excommunicate you for standing up for the dignity of children and their safety against pedophiles “in high places.” Vile acts swept under the rug to protect the church at the expense of the victims. Sound familiar? How about asking for clarity on historical issues that have not only been neglected in the dominant narrative, but actively suppressed by the men at the top? Excommunicate him! Can we have equality for women in the church? Excommunicate her!
Each of these cuttings-off is done under the guise of protecting the members from wicked and evil influences that seek to destroy their souls. Somehow, the powers that be in Salt Lake City think this action delegitimizes the accused. You want us to learn from Luther, Wycliffe, Tyndale, and others like them? They are made famous and revered by men. The institution becomes infamous and distrusted.
When your thoughts are at the mercy of the whim of the current leader, you are in a dictatorship. When the leader stands for or is a supernatural individual, you have a theocracy. Perhaps a case in point:
Nearly a year ago, I had a conversation with someone very close to me. This came on the heels of a leaked audio of church apostle and member of its highest governing body, the First Presidency, Dallin H. Oaks teaching young men in a congregation about the sacrament, aka: communion. He instructed them that it should be taken by the recipient with their right hand. Such a pharisaical distinction on his part would, to him, seem appropriate considering that all ordinances of the holy priesthood have a scriptural injunction to be done in proper order.
This individual is still a believing Mormon and our relationship, since my disaffection from the faith, has experienced a near constant if not intense strain as a result. Recalling a moment from childhood, I expressed that my mother had taken the chance when I, as a young adolescent, more than once reached for the communion bread or water my left hand to kindly inform me that it should be done with the right hand always. Considering how this person feels about my mother, her response was too scoff and roll her eyes. I mentioned the comment by “Elder” Oaks. She then said, “Well, some people just don’t know what it is all about.”
Does she really believe that? I wonder, in my apprehension to bring up the recent change to the church’s official handbook–as close to scripture as their official cannon though subject to easier modification–, if she would come to the sudden and abrupt defense of the direction considering it is codified as an admonition in the official instructions (section 18.9.4, Item #7)? They would not prevent anyone from taking if their right hand were absent or incapacitated. They wouldn’t call you to repentance if they saw you take it with the left hand when the right was capable. But they have established a written expectation that will be bandied about in sermons, lessons, and discussions. It will become a means of virtue signaling to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is precisely the rigorous straining at gnats while swallowing camels by the religious authorities of Palestine during the first decades A.D. that elicited strict rebukes by a fringe preacher of that time and place who was called Jesus.
While rejecting the gnattish dogma’s of original sin and it’s corollary, infant baptism, paid clergy, the sale of indulgences, papal authority and infallibility, just to name a few, Mormons swallow or have swallowed in the past the camel-like and eerily reminiscent dogmas of the inferiority of people of African descent and their proscription from priesthood authority and temple ordinances. Their upper quorums leadership and mission presidents enjoy a “modest stipend” that puts them each amongst the most wealthy 1% of people in the world. Yet they claim with great aplomb that the distinction of the true church of Christ is to have “no hirlings in the flock.” Which begs the question that, since they are paid by the church and receive parsonage, health insurance, travel expenses and other benefits, do they, like the pigs in Animal Farm, privately believe that, indeed all members of the flock are equal, but some are more equal than others?
Ask a Mormon to truthfully tell you where those who do not pay tithing will go after death? Certainly not to one of their complicated and class-based degrees of the heavens. They cannot go to the temple which is a representation of heaven on Earth, a metaphor for the standard we must reach to be worthy to be invited into heaven after death. Pay to play, I’ve heard it said. Indulgence by another name. Even the destitute cannot receive assistance from the church unless they are paying tithing. And, to refer back to the handbook change (they’ll call it a clarification) that the sacrament ought to be taken with the right hand, those who called such a thing ridiculous months ago, will find themselves defending by gaslighting and other means, this pharisaical jot and tittle because it was approved of by their infallible leaders. Leaders who are infallible only when alive but who’s words can be swept under expensive temple rugs hanging under chandeliers that cost more than most people make in a year of hard labor.
This rabbit hole goes as deep as one is willing to dig. George Orwell acknowledges in his essay The Prevention of Literature, that every observer can only view an event, present or historical, “as truthfully as is consistent with the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which [they] suffer.” Orwell’s descriptions of totalitarianism in his fiction and essays always put me in mind of the theocracy in which I was raised. A theocracy I did not realize at the time. A Plato’s cave, if you will.
Since “taking the red pill” several years ago, I have come to believe that the real, eternal struggle of the human species, is against totalitarianism. Regardless of the form in which it comes to us, learning to recognize its enticing and comforting tropes is a key in shaking its chains. Emancipation from it depends to a large degree on the appreciation of irony as we work at becoming aware of our own self-deceptions. Can we see the unpleasant but striking humor in our celebration of reformers who threw off theocracy, even as we subject ourselves to tyrants with modern business suits who “recycle…familiar rhetorical themes, and…stale rhetorical expressions“? Shall we even attempt to hold the more-equal members of the flock accountable for those standards they have set for others? Will we give them a pass because, though other totalitarian systems gave privilege to the ruling class, the one to which we belongis both uniquely not totalitarian and inarguably sacrosanct?
Perhaps we fight to battles in life, one we may win and another we are doomed to lose–as the elves of The Lord of the Rings who, no matter if the ring were to be taken by the enemy or destroyed would ultimately result in the end of their lives in Middle Earth. Galadriel called this catch-22 “the long defeat.” Death comes for us all. Totalitarianism will make its attempts.
Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote in her poem Conscientious Objector, “I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.” Totalitarianism must remain a part of our collective memory as we relegate it to history. I will remember the reformers and patriots who struggled to emancipate me from monarchy and theocracy, but that is all that I shall do for tyranny.