Wednesday, June 20, 2012

21st century mormonism

Sam Brown's comment #52 on this post on Mormonism and Masonry inspired today's thoughts:

I believe there is an obligation to assist with the denaturation of that poison (the “poison” being this system that has evolved of staking Mormon truth claims on their entire independence from cultural touchstones like Masonry)

I have been re-orienting my position over the past several months. Anyone who desires and commits the time and energy will find out both that Joseph Smith was likely very sincere in his proclamations, but also that his beliefs, writings, and translations are inseparably connected to the environment in which he grew up.

When we find out our early assumptions are wrong, what do we do about it? I belong to a church which insists that its claims which evolved out of a nineteenth century environment will somehow measure up to 21st century assumptions and expectations. It makes many of the same mistakes our fellow fundamentalists of other religions make.

That being said, just because fundamentalist ideology is fundamentally wrong, doesn't mean one should part from the faith. Why make it any more fundamental than it already is? It needs the chatty voices of the liberal minority to keep it afloat and help it transform into the 21st century church it had ought to be.

I am stumbling forward into an orientation that I hope is true to myself and true to my church. I don't personally accept a lot of things on the religious level. I don't accept that the earth was intelligently designed, nor that humans are much more than a brilliant accident of natural selection and speciation. I don't accept that he we call Jesus Christ was raised by God or likely considered himself more than a mortal, perhaps chosen by God. I don't believe the Book of Mormon contains, by 21st century standards, "real" history or authentic early American, Jewish, or Egyptian traits. I don't think Joseph Smith's theology, as he seemed to interpret it, had much literal truth to it, by today's scientific standards. The Book of Abraham is not a translation of an ancient work, nor is it independent of ideas floating around in Joseph Smith's environment.

That all being said, again, I don't believe the church should be abandoned. I believe Joseph Smith and others were sincere, and made sense of their experiences by believing things I do not accept. It is how they experienced the divine. I have experienced the divine through them, and my soul has resonated with the documents they left behind.

Likewise, I believe many Mormons sincerely made sense of the Book of Mormon in the 20th century by reading it as an ancient document, and finding tenuous connections with the ancient Near East or Mesoamerica. I don't accept their conclusions. It is how they made sense of the divine as the world slowly came more of age. I have experienced the divine through them, and my soul has resonated with a few of the documents they produced.

I try to live by modern standards of rigour in what I accept as true. My soul resonates with this approach. I experience the divine in discovering mathematical, historical, and even interpersonal truth -- truth upheld by standards of plausibility, probability, naturalistic skepticism and analytic rigour. I accept and my soul often resonates with the vastly divergent experiences of others. I do not often accept their interpretations as truth, but I am open to enriching my own understanding through them, and hope to return the favor.

This is my current, modern Mormonism. I accept modern and historical experiences and worldviews of church members as legitimate and often inspired, whilst not dogmatically asserting their universal applicability.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Atonement and Gethsemane

a comment I added to

The author of Luke-Acts portrayed a very saintly Jesus who never lost his cool, and seemingly out of nowhere, in Lk 22:43-44 we have him needing the help of an angel and sweating blood. IMHO, the f13 group of manuscripts place these 2 verses, as well as the pericope adulterae, in much more logical places within the gospels. Even then, we still deal with the possibility of a fraudulent insertion.

Outside of that scripture, other NT references to Christ's blood atonement seem to refer directly to the cross. And the meaning of said atonement seems to vary from author to author. Luke seems to indicate that God will vindicate us after we feel guilt for our sins (recognizing our guilt via Christ's innocent death), and seek forgiveness, are baptized, and live a saintly life thereafter. Christ's death only "atones" with the likely late addition of Lk 22:19b-20. (Elsewhere, Luke seems to intentionally rewrite or remove references to Christ "atoning" with his death: Lk 23:47 vs Mk 15:39, Lk 22:26-27 vs Mk 10:43-45. Seems like Luke prefers the perspective that God had the power to forgive all along). Paul indicates that all are guilty, and Christ's atonement reconciles us to God if we believe in his resurrection / participate with him in the resurrection through baptism.

The Book of Mormon says Christ will bleed from every pore (literalizing the "as it were" of Luke) because of "his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people" (Mosiah 3:7), not necessarily because of taking upon himself their sins at that point. It could reasonably fit the role of strong apprehension at what is about to take place, similar to the rest of Christendom. The anguish seems to come in large part due to knowing the true nature and consequences of wickedness -- exactly the kind of which Christ is about to experience (and the Book of Mormon makes clear in Alma 28:14 and throughout, that needless death, destruction, and loss follow sin). Alma 7:11-12 jumps straight from His going "forth, suffering pains, and afflictions, and temptations of every kind" to his taking "upon him death". It seems there that his sufferings were the experiences of mortality, experienced through his life as a mortal rather than something extra happening in Gethsemane. The big deal in this regard throughout the Book of Mormon seems to be that God Himself will choose to become mortal and experience the afflictions of mortality, whereas nowadays we take for granted that a God would become mortal (because after all, aren't mortals gods in embryo?) and maybe thus interpret that God had to do something extra special, like suffer every last pain and wrong in the universe in Gethsemane, for it to be all that special. Alma 7:13, to me, indicates that in His role as a sacrificial substitute, He takes upon Himself our sins, as He dies in our place. The point is driven home in Alma 34:8ff, that since God Himself sacrifices His life ( = His atonement), the sacrifice is thus infinite and eternal, and thus accomplishes everything it needs to.

Moving on, D&C 19 introduces some new ideas, and leaves plenty of room for some interesting interpretations. 19:16 leaves room for the possibility that God suffered "these things" once for all, and v.17 indicates to me that those who sin must suffer in the same way. Verse 18 indicates the type of suffering required of the unrepentant is the same kind of anguish Christ experienced in Gethsemane (it may be argued, not the physical side effects). It follows from above that this anguish is knowledge of what might have been versus what is, due to wickedness. As Joseph Smith later said, "A man is his own tormentor and his own condemner.... The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone. I say, so is the torment of man." (HC 6:314).

I don't think that such anguish really has to do with atonement per se. I don't know why such anguish was so intense immediately before the atonement happened on the cross, but it certainly makes a few points clear. One is that it points to the importance of what Christ did for us, so that we need not feel such anguish. Instead, we can be forgiven of our sins and have things righted so that the gap between what is and what could have been no longer smarts. (I tend to think of the "cosmic" nature of atonement from Judaism wherein sin reverses God's divine ordering of the cosmos, and leads to chaos, and the blood of the atonement, as applied to representations of heaven and earth in the temple, restores the divine order once more). Another is that suffering has its place, but so does joy. Christ was certainly capable of fully comprehending and mourning the effects of sin at any time of His life, but He chose to do so only at the end, in preparation for what was to come. It's great to know that we need not dwell on the negative.

I fear we mythologize sin, and suffering, in church culture. In turn the nature of the atonement has been complicated in a harmful way. We turn an infinite atonement into an incomprehensible one. Whereas, the only "incomprehensible" thing mentioned in the scriptures is the joy the sons of Mosiah experience in their missionary work (Alma 28:8). And it's incomprehensible to me why we've done this. As if complicating God brings us nearer to Him (which is the approach *ahem* that classical Christianity seems to take).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Comment on goodly parents

I posted this to

You might add the 1828 webster's definition from,goodly:

GOOD'LY, adv. Excellently.

GOOD'LY, a. Being of a handsome form; beautiful; graceful; as a goodly person; goodly raiment; goodly houses.

    1. Pleasant; agreeable; desirable; as goodly days.

    2. Bulky; swelling; affectedly turgid.

Although the apparent meanings of some words in the Book of Mormon seem to diverge from the norm of both King James English and 1820's vernacular..

Perhaps some of us have been overly zealous in reading far more into the text of the Book of Mormon than we fairly ought to. We use the "therefore" in 1 Ne. 1:1 to connect "goodly" to being "taught somewhat", and then somehow think Nephi is being modest concerning his education, pointing to the "gold, silver, and precious things" that are "exceedingly great" (1 Ne. 3:25) to indicate that Nephi's parents must have been wealthy, therefore must have afforded a great education for themselves and their children, including erudition in Jewish lore and Egyptian hieroglyphics (and, if you follow Nibley et alii down the rabbit hole, an expansive milieu of philosophical schools of thought from across the ancient world). Further speculation leads many to believe that Lehi must have been a merchant of sorts, in order to explain his (speculated) wealth and especially make plausible the host of supposed 'parallels' between his philosophies (esp. that of 2 Ne. 2) and those scattered across time and space in the ancient world.

What happens if instead we emphasize the "somewhat" in 1 Ne. 1:1, and the "exceedingly young" in 1 Ne. 2:16? Can't we just as fairly suppose that Nephi must have been too young to have been formally educated too much before their flight into the wilderness? Then we might speculate that Lehi took pains to educate Nephi (and Jacob and Joseph) in the wilderness. After all, why waste those 8 arduous years in the wilderness (1 Ne. 17:4)? Plus, the early Nephi was more of a visionary than a hands-on, read-the-plates-to-find-my-answers kind of guy. This reading also gives us explanatory power as to why Nephi would have his father inquire of the Lord as to where to get food in the wilderness -- at that time maybe only he could read the writing on "the ball" which seems to be how instructions were given by the Lord (1 Ne. 16:23-30). It also may help explain how Jacob became literate in the same ways Nephi was. Nephi also indicates that they couldn't preserve the language of their fathers without the plates (1 Ne. 3:19). Strange comment if he had any inkling that he could later become a writer and thus preserve their language himself.

Sure, Nephi took a wife (1 Ne. 16:7) at that age, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was barely a teenager or younger. I mean, people speculate that Mary was 12-14 when she married Joseph... and what with the flight in the wilderness, circumstances might have called for early pairing off. Some young folk look like adults, and apparently Nephi was one of them.

Also, consider that "gold, silver, and precious things" is formulaic to symbolize worldly possessions across the Nephite records. If Nephi was as young as he indicates, then perhaps he unconsciously exaggerates when he recalls the "exceedingly great" property that Laban lusted after. Certainly, my perspectives when I was younger were filled with more hyperbole than they are today. This reading, to me, also helps me justify Nephi's tiring of writing his own words and resorting to Isaiah, and also his treatment of himself and his brothers in his writings.

Some food for thought... for those of us, at least, not entirely enraptured by Hugh Nibley's rhetoric.

EDIT - additional comment

Per the above discussion, I will continue to maintain that Lehi was not necessarily wealthy, and to me Nephi was pretty unlettered. Arguments in support of Abraham not being the actual physical author of the Book of Abraham might even be applied to Nephi’s authorship. In the Abraham intro, the record purports to be written by the hand of Abraham, but it has been argued by those of Nibley’s ilk that it can mean that Abraham commissioned someone to write for him. 1 Nephi 1:3, 6:1, etc, might be explained this way. Then the peculiar language of certain parts might have better explanation:
1 Nephi 9:1-2 (and elsewhere) first mentions about things that can’t be written on the plates, and then Nephi says, “And now, as I have SPOKEN concerning these plates…”. Note the language in 9:3, “there should be an account engraven” rather than “I should engrave an account”. 2 Nephi 11:1, “these things have I caused to be written”, rather than “these things have I written” (even though in verse 2 it says, “I, Nephi, write more”, that can be explained in the same way as the BoA. To say that you wrote, or even that you wrote with your own hand, doesn’t necessarily mean you physically did it. Then again, he might have done 2 Nephi 11ff himself, given most of it was copying, or in other words, didn’t require as much effort).
It is enough for me to say he was a blacksmith / shipbuilder / architect / hunter / warrior / ruler / visionary / prophet without assuming he also had time to be a great man of letters as well. And maybe what little work he was acquainted with before they left Jerusalem had more to do with blacksmithing than with merchanting. It could better explain his fascination with Laban’s sword, his own great strength, his apparent familiarity with creating tools and manipulating ores and bellows in Bountiful (the first), and his continuing metallurgical forays in the promised land.
Furthermore, if Lehi (and thus Nephi and perhaps Jacob) was as rich or educated as some people seem to assume, I would be more surprised at the tone of the statements of Jacob in 2 Nephi 9:28-30 about riches and learning. I also would be more surprised at Jacob’s method of defeating Sherem, relying on testimony and especially the blanketing argument in Jacob 7:11 rather than proving Sherem wrong by opening up the scriptures. Likewise, the weak dialectic in most of the philosophical portions, like 2 Ne. 11:7. All this being my opinion, of course, but it seems as valid as any other explanations I’ve seen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

funny quote

Sterling: Oh, I thought you were going to ask me to comment on Elder Packer.
Jack: Oh, I wouldn't restrain you from doing that.
Sterling: I was kind of looking forward to the opportunity. Well, I will just make a very short statement. I think he is a total disaster to the LDS church.

That was true in 1993, and it is still true today. Kind of sad. Good thing we've got some fairly decent authorities among the twelve, though I haven't done enough research to have an opinion on all of them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Response to essay

I was just wondering,

how do you justify the ending to your mostly decent essay regarding science and religion, in the section on naturalism and science? If cognitive faculties evolved to be completely unreliable, as the essay seems to imply, in what way could the mechanism of natural selection have been used to evolve them? Doesn't it make better sense to acknowledge the possibility that more accurate cognitive faculties, at least in certain areas of thought, have a more competitive advantage? One doesn't need to accept that all of our faculties evolved to be reliable, either. After all, scientific naturalism doesn't really come naturally to the common man. Personally, our cognitive faculties seem geared toward assimilating what we experience into what we believe is a consistent understanding of the world around us.

Not that much of the above matters, only I am a bit bugged that the argument at the end of your essay seems to be a weak misapplication of statistical reasoning in an attempt to demonstrate an imagined fault of naturalism in conjunction with evolution, as if that somehow buffets the logical support of theistic religion. Is there a reason you ended the essay this way? I hope it was not due to political considerations or personal theological views, but I can't imagine what else would have motivated such an unfair conclusion...



Sunday, October 16, 2011

continuation of second discussion on

Again from

  1. Jacob Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    October 15th, 2011 at 11:59 pm =) sounds good. We will discuss more in private.
    Minor note: I’m guessing you believe I dropped out or quit because of my saying “leaving” rather than “graduating” BYU. I simply transferred schools upon finishing my mission, because I felt I had acquired about all I could there and needed a change of scenery.
    This place is proper to bring up problems with LDS scholarship, because so many LDS are hoodwinked into thinking that somehow all the apologist material adds up to something substantial. The truth is that it doesn’t. I thought here would be a good place to comment, because if an LDS apologist such as Brother Ash reads it, perhaps they could be inclined to steer me right if I am wrong. I feel that they will not comment, because engaging in an honest discussion with me will force them to admit the weakness of their position on many points, including those I have previously mentioned.
    To quote John L. Sorenson, a respected LDS archaeologist, “As long as Mormons generally are willing to be fooled by (and pay for) the uninformed, uncritical drivel about archaeology and the scriptures which predominates, the few L.D.S. experts are reluctant even to be identified with the topic.” We really need to stop the drivel. Strides have definitely been made since the sixties when this quote was given, but there is really no excuse for the mountains of hogwash that still get peddled as scholarship.
    Debates don’t solve anything, but they sure do a good job at pointing out holes in logic or scholarship that many on the other side are unaware of. It helps both sides. My reasons for not believing the church are academic. This site had ought to be academic, and as such, should allow for debate. If the church is true, a serious debate and discussion of the available evidence will do nothing but bolster its claims. That the apologists aren’t willing to engage fairly and openly should be reason enough realize the need for a critical evaluation of the evidence.
    Most people who leave the church actually just leave it. That’s the end of things. I know that is the way for many people from my former wards and stakes. To claim that people who leave it can’t leave it alone is to make an awfully big deal out of the church that really has no statistical significance. Everyone has a somewhat different response to a change in beliefs. I’ve left the church alone for a long time, without really any hubbub, believing in general the church to be a decent organization that improves people’s lives, and that conversion for an individual can mean everything to them, and bring about much good.
    But with thought and time I’ve come to see how dangerous it is to persist in false beliefs. Beliefs shape attitudes, which shape behaviors, which shape our world. Falsehood may be locally soothing, but globally destructive. And as painful as it may be to realize that your cherished beliefs aren’t quite as genuine as you once thought them, the longer we wait to change course, the more destructive and painful our decision to uncritically accept our belief systems will be. Maybe not for you and me, but what about our children and their children?
    What a divided future they have ahead of them! I happen to be somewhat specialized in general Mormon studies, though I am branching further and further out into biblical research, with a focus on archaeology and textual criticism. Thus, I would like to speak up in behalf of honest representation of the current state of the scholarship, and help end the endless rehashes that refuse to engage all the current material and thus don’t get us anywhere. I am a voice for the future.
*** UPDATE ***
It looks like I've been officially blocked from
  1. Jacob Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    October 16th, 2011 at 12:04 am looks like my reference to the dialogue magazine was flagged, so my last comment was moderated and will have to be viewed here. Thanks.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

second discussion on

one of my comments that is "awaiting moderation" for some reason. Full discussion here:

  1. Jacob Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    October 8th, 2011 at 3:14 pm Thank you, S. Goodman, for your honesty!
    This is where our conclusions do indeed diverge, although we have in view the same problems and similar data. I am aware of the interesting historical data regarding prejudice against not only blacks but homosexuality as well, and many of our previous church leaders’ pseudo-scientific ideas, claims, and methodologies. None of that really was ever an issue for me.
    However, the scriptures are our keystone witnesses to the gospel. Minor inconsistencies can be explained away, and I did so for a long time. My bigger issues were with the New Testament texts and the Book of Mormon, and this Isaiah stuff is just icing on the cake. I use words like “likely” because the evidence is strongest for the readings I gave, but it’s always possible one could be off. But not all of them.
    It really hit me hard to see how non sequitur the apologists have been about the Book of Abraham. Consider Michael Rhodes’ classic look at the hypocephalus here. Some notes: the 3rd century demotic magical text referenced on page 6 can be found here. Notice that the magical word Abraham is part of a long line of nonsensical words, similar to those found elsewhere in the papyrus. Page 7, compare here, columns XII and XIII, although the translation isn’t as good as in Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, if you have that. The “judgment” Abraham sees borrows from Egyptian judgment theology in general, and trying to connect it to the Book of the Dead 125 (either the A or B version) comes just short of utter nonsense.
    The discussion of the Apocalypse of Abraham is interesting. Note that “[what] is in the heavens, on the earth and in the sea, in the abyss, and in the lower depths, in the garden of Eden and in its rivers, in the fullness of the universe” is the full phrase from the apocalypse. It’s hard to see how the words on the hypocephalus and these could possibly have been related. Is the “striking” similarity with the hypocephalus really that striking? Moreover, the four figures in Abraham 18 are a lion, a man, an ox, and an eagle, and how is that “clearly” a description of the four canopic figures in facsimile 2, figure 6, which are, as p. 11 states, the 4 sons of horus: a jackal, a baboon, a falcon, and a human? Moreover, read chapter 18 yourself and then read Ezekiel chapter 1 and tell me where the chapter’s imagery came from.
    Anyway, you can continue in the same vane and read his words, check his sources, consider his arguments. Isn’t it obvious how non sequitur the conclusions are? It really, instead, demonstrates the lack of evidence supporting Joseph Smith’s interpretations, and the fact that he just got it wrong. Why else do apologists have to invent such arguments out of thin air? Why do they have to obscure simple truths and lie just to make a case for the Book of Abraham?
    Hugh Nibley, by the way, in making his defenses, had to draw on materials spanning over 3000 years of Egyptian history, and treat them as if they all somehow corresponded to the subject at hand. You can check his sources the same way, and see how poorly his arguments pan out. One of his most honest admissions was preserved in CWHN 18: An Approach to the Book of Abraham, chapter 10: “I refuse to be held responsible for anything I wrote more than three years ago” (p. 494) – which includes a huge bulk of his works. He is basically admitting that much of his words on Abraham were utter nonsense, in case you didn’t want to check and discover that for yourself. Moreover, on page 495, he says, speaking of Facsimile 1, figure 3, “in this case I think it was Anubis”. What an admission! You look at the original papyri yourself and it seems pretty obvious to me that figure 3 was Anubis, and especially figure 1 was a Horus-headed hawk.
    Add the translations to the text of facsimile 3 to the mix, and what mystery is there left to understanding the nature of the Joseph Smith Papyri? Heck, even reading the Kirtland Papers in volume 18 as opposed to just taking Dr. Nibley’s arguments for granted should make it pretty clear how tied they really were to the translation of the book.
    Anyway, food for thought. To me, there is a final and definitive answer, and you can know it now. I respect your stance, however, and you don’t need to respond to my arguments listed here — just, if you really are interested in the truth, we have enough evidence. Let me know if you do the readings I indicated and what you think. Are the LDS apologists really being completely honest with us? Why, or why not? Thank you again for your responses. I respect an honest, open mind, willing to give any truth the full benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.