Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Joseph Smith Manual and the Ellipses--

This is just too good not to post.

From p511 of the JS manual:

“I … hold the keys of the last kingdom, in which is the dispensation of the fullness of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy Prophets since the world began, under the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood.”

I was intrigued by those ellipses and decided to look up the actual quote from "History of the Church". Now, here's the actual quote in context:

"Shall I, who have witnessed the visions of eternity, and beheld the glorious mansions of bliss, and the regions and the misery of the damned,--shall I turn to be a Judas? Shall I, who have heard the voice of God, and communed with angels, and spake as moved by the Holy Ghost for the renewal of the everlasting covenant, and for the gathering of Israel in the last days,--shall I worm myself into a political hypocrite? Shall I, who hold the keys of the last kingdom, in which is the dispensation of the fullness of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy Prophets since the world began, under the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood,--shall I stoop from the sublime authority of Almighty God, to be handled as a monkey's cat-paw, and pettify myself into a clown to act the farce of political demagoguery? No--verily no! The whole earth shall bear me witness that I, like the towering rock in the midst of the ocean, which has withstood the mighty surges of the warring waves for centuries, am impregnable, and am a faithful friend to virtue, and a fearless foe to vice,--no odds whether the former was sold as a pearl in Asia or hid as a gem in America, and the latter dazzles in palaces or glimmers among the tombs.

"I combat the errors of ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the guardian knot of powers. and I solve mathematical problems of universities, with truth--diamond truth; and God is my 'right hand man.'"

Now, the LDS church is to be commended for providing the citation, but can you imagine the full quote ever showing up in a talk or lesson? I don't know that it's totally different in the actual facts communicated than the original, but the tone is totally different.

I love the phrase at the end: "God is my 'right hand man'". I believe JS needed to keep his ego in a little better check. I provided links to both originals for the curious.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Toxicity --

There are some combinations of scriptures and correlated LDS materials that are unpredictably toxic for me, like mixing ammonia and chlorine bleach. Unfortunately I happened to hit one this morning.

This is I believe the key sequence of verses in the John passage:

Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." . . . Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . . For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

This whole section in John should fill anyone who has come to faith in Christ with an exuberant hope. The law is dead, along with the hundreds of commandments required to be reconciled to God. What remains is faith in Christ and throwing ourselves on his mercy for salvation. Not just eternal life at the end of our earth lives, but some measure of relief from our burdens in this life as well, as we come to Christ and seek to lay our cares at his feet, as we trade our imperfections for his perfection and our brokenness for his grace.

Then I had to go and read two sections in the Joseph Smith lesson manual back to back. Big mistake.

The first is a paean to Joseph Smith. This statement naturally caught my attention:
“[The Prophet was] incomparably the most God-like man I ever saw. … I know that by nature he was incapable of lying and deceitfulness, possessing the greatest kindness and nobility of character.”

Of course we know that the entire “restoration” was steeped in deceit about polygamy and many other things such as the reprisals the Saints executed in Far West, the existence of the Council of Fifty, and other things too numerous to mention.

The second was a paean to the entire “restoration” that brought back so many memories of what I used to believe about the LDS church.

For about six years my mother was the smartest person I knew, and the one I relied on for guidance. I thought she was perfect. I wondered how I could ever live my life without her wisdom and guiding hand. That feeling passed in my teenage years. She died in 2002, and I went through those horrible experiences in nursing homes, and finally in an ICU with her head shaved and without her being able to recognize me or anyone else.

I went through that experience once.

By contrast I loved the vision of the LDS church I had for over twenty years, during the formative days of young adulthood. I likewise thought it was perfect and wondered how I could ever live without it. That feeling passed when I used google to refresh my memory on the temple recommend questions and began to learn the truth that had been kept from me for so long. My grief from the death of my innocence about the LDS church was much worse than my grief over my mother. She was old, and it was time to go. By contrast the LDS church was almost my second bride. At times maybe my first, as I knew it would never fail me or desert me. I never cried over my mother. I cried repeatedly over the LDS church.

And often when I read things out of the correlated lessons or the Ensign, that grief comes back. Those visions of a shining city on a hill, those memories of those people dressed in white in the temple that I knew would look just like that in the Celestial Kingdom. It all comes back. Over and over again.

Today was a two Starbucks morning. I needed that much of a caffeine jolt to snap out of the pit of depression I was thrown into.

That, and the lyrics to the following songs from the “Glory Revealed II” album. They were a reminder to me that the true gospel turns us toward Christ and His Father and not towards fallible men and their equally fallible institutions. Placing our faith in Joseph Smith and the deceptions we are told about him now will always cause the world to come crashing down at our feet at some point or another. Only by placing our complete trust in Christ can we have any hope of real peace in this life or in the world to come.

Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord, oh my soul
I will praise the Lord as long as I live
I will sing praises to my God
Even with my dying breath

He is the One who made Heaven and Earth
The sea and everything in it
He is the One who keeps every promise forever
He gives justice to the oppressed
And sets the prisoner free

He is the One who feeds the hungry
And opens the eyes of the blind
He lifts up the burdens of those beneath heavy loads
The stranger, He protects

And the righteous one He loves
The Lord will reign forever
Our God is King to all generations
The Lord will reign forever Our God

We will praise the Lord, oh my soul
We will praise the Lord as long as we live
We will sing praises to our God
Even with our dying breath

And this one:

To You Be The Glory
Who could hold the wealth of god?
Such treasure found in him
Who could comprehend his heart and mind?
His wisdom has no end
For from him, through him, to him are all things
From him, through him, to him are all things

To you be the glory, forever
To you be the glory, lord, amen
To you be the glory, forever
To you be the glory, lord, amen

Verse 2:
Who has known the mind of god?
Who has counseled him?
Who has given gifts to god
That he might be repaid?
For from him, through him, to him are all things
From him, through him, to him are all things

To you be the glory, forever
To you be the glory, lord, amen
To you be the glory, forever
To you be the glory, lord, amen

In dark and light, in death and life
When hard times enter in
In all things we will worship you
With you there is no end

To you be the glory, forever
To you be the glory, lord, amen
To you be the glory, forever
To you be the glory, lord, amen
For from him, through him, to him are all things
From him, through him, to him are all things

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More of the same --

Lesson 38 in the Joseph Smith manual reprints the Wentworth letter.

There were some good things about this lesson.

As near as I can figure they reprint the letter in its entirety and include familiar (yet unfamiliar, if people really consider the words) stories about Book of Mormon translation methods and other things. The footnotes point out that there are multiple versions of the first vision, and that this is not the canonical one found in the Pearl of Great Price.

The unfortunate thing that struck me about it, though, was Joseph Smith's description of the Missouri persecutions. Again he gives the impression that they were peaceful people just trying to live in harmony with their neighbors, who rose up against them out of misunderstandings. All the persecutions are made out to be one-sided, when the historical reality is quite different.

This article IMHO is quite a good summary, based on information I have read before:

I don't believe that every church class, lesson, or handbook has to present absolutely all the historical details, but I do believe that they should reflect the general tone of what took place. Positioning the mobbings that took place in Missouri and other places as unprovoked persecution is simply not true. It's deceptive, and harmful to people's testimonies when they discover that the LDS church has not been honest with them about its orgins, and that its leaders have not told the complete truth.

As in my previous post I have to ask the question, "why must Mormonism be shrouded in such deception?"

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Why Must Mormonism Be Steeped in Such Deception? --

I was just not going to do this. I was having a relaxed Sunday today and was trying to enjoy a positive Sabbath devoted to the things I believe in, rather than some kind of death spiral with the issues that depress me and make me angry.

I was reading what seemed like such a positive article about evangelical dialogue with Mormons in Christianity Today:

And then I just had to come across this statement:

"The LDS scriptures teach a plurality of gods (in the Book of Abraham, though Mormons reject the label polytheistic) and the millennial prospect that human saints will be "made equal with" God.

Smith asserted other radical beliefs in an 1844 discourse shortly before he was assassinated while running for U.S. President. He revealed "the great secret" that God the Father "was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man," and that humans will progress to "become Gods … the same as all Gods have done before you." His discourse was transcribed by four aides, published by the church, later included in its compilation of his teachings, and officially reaffirmed thereafter.

Mouw believes such thinking "has no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine," based on statements from Millet and church leaders. He also noted that in How Wide the Divide?, Robinson said these controversial beliefs are not official doctrine and were never incorporated into Mormon scriptures. But LDS officialdom has never repudiated Smith's tenets."

Now, Richard Mouw is president of Fuller Theological Seminary, and I have no reason to believe that he's either an idiot or has a hearing problem, so I have to take this statement at face value and assume that it's an accurate reflection of what Robert Millet and other "church leaders" have probably told him.

Now, anybody who has read the latest Joseph Smith manual and keeps up on General Conference talks and reads the Ensign knows that the idea that we have abandoned either the doctrine of exaltation or of God having once been a man is pure fantasy. This is doctrine that we may dissemble about in public ("I don't know that we teach that anymore"), but both are central elements of LDS theology, as much as many might wish that they would go away.

I just have to think about Elder Ballard's commencement address at BYU suggesting we don't practice polygamy and that the question should just go away (we do practice it and it won't go away), and it makes me wonder why Mormonism must always be steeped in such deception about its doctrines, history, and practices. This deception just seems so endemic to everything we communicate, whether it's Joseph Smith and his wives, General Authorities and their "living allowances" (i.e. their salaries as paid ministers), polygamy, the First Vision, Thomas B Marsh and the cream strippings myth, and I could just go on and on. The LDS church was deceptive about polygamy from the very beginning, until the 1850s, and is still deceptive about the extent of post-manifesto polygamy, which continued into the mid 20th century.

Why can't we just tell the truth? Why is it invariably those who are closest to us that are the most deceived? If God is truly behind this work, what is it we are so afraid of?