Wednesday, September 10, 2008

That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain

Hamlet, disgusted at his partying, murderous, adulterous uncle, makes a mental note that "one may smile, and smile, and be a villain".
One of the difficult things people face as they try to reconcile the two images of Joseph Smith (God's spokesman and coniving fraud) is how can one man produce both the majestic, loving scripture as found in the D&C, and the evil deeds post-mo's are all too familiar with. I think that huge contrast is one reason why so many TBM's have a hard time believing the awful truths about Joseph Smith.
Here is Joseph "smiling":
"Let thy abowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let bvirtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy cconfidence wax strong in the dpresence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the edews from heaven. "
And "smiling":
"Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. aCourage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into bsinging. Let the cdead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the dKing Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to eredeem them out of their fprison; for the prisoners shall go free.

23 Let the amountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid brocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the cmorning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and dimmortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!"
And being a villain...All the remainder of this post comes from ( ):
One of Joseph's ambitions was to resolve the heavy debt incurred by the church by establishing the Kirtland Safety Society Bank on January 1, 1837. However, due to being denied this privilege by the Ohio legislature, he established the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company the following day. The bank was said to have been established through revelation from God, and it was rumored that Joseph predicted that like Aaron's rod, the bank would swallow up all other banks "and grow and flourish, and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins." (According to Warren Parrish, who succeeded Joseph as cashier of the bank, in a letter dated March 6, 1838 in Zion's Watchman. This letter was certified to be a statement of fact by Luke Johnson and John F. Boynton (former apostles) and Sylvester Smith and Leonard Rich (former seventies).)
The Messenger and Advocate published an appeal for investors which said:
"…we invite the brethren from abroad, to call on us, and take stock in our Safety Society; and we would remind them also of the sayings of Isaiah…'Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold (not their bank notes) with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God.'" (The parenthetical expression is part of the original text, reprinted in History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 473)
According to several individuals that left the church, the bank was established on fraudulent claims of capital security. They related that the bank vault was lined with many boxes, each marked $1,000. These boxes were actually filled with "sand, lead, old iron, stone, and combustibles," but each had a top layer of bright fifty-cent silver coins. Anyone suspicious of the bank's stability was permitted to lift and count the boxes. According to C. G. Webb:
"The effect of those boxes was like magic. They created general confidence in the solidity of the bank and that beautiful paper money went like hot cakes. For about a month it was the best money in the country." (Interview by W. Wyl. See Mormon Portraits, p. 36; also Oliver Olney: Absurdities of Mormonism Portrayed, p. 4; the letter of Cyrus Smalling in E. G. Lee, The Mormons, or Knavery Exposed, p. 14; and Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, pp. 194-8).
William Parrish, secretary for Joseph and cashier of the bank for a short time, wrote in 1838:
"I have been astonished to hear him declare that we had $60,000 in specie in our vaults and $600,000 at our command, when we had not to exceed $6,000 and could not command any more; also that we had but about ten thousand dollars of our bills in circulation when he, as cashier of that institution, knew that there was at least $150,000." (Letter to Zion's Watchman, published March 24, 1838. Cyrus Smalling also wrote that Joseph had collected only $6,000 in specie. See E. G. Lee, The Mormons, or Knavery Exposed, p. 14)
It should be noted that Parrish left the church following this fiasco and began openly to describe Joseph's banking methods. He was later accused of absconding with $25,000, probably in bank notes which ultimately proved worthless.
On January 27, less than a month after the bank's opening, the Painesville Telegraph reported that Joseph had "shut up shop…saying he would not redeem another dollar except with land." Everyone with Kirtland anti-bank bills now realized their quandary and tried desperately to get rid of them. By February 1 the bills were selling for 12 ½ cents on the dollar. (According to Cyrus Smalling. See E. G. Lee, The Mormons, or Knavery Exposed, p. 14. Also William Harris: Mormonism Portrayed (Warsaw, Illinois, 1841), p. 30)
From the beginning, the bank had been operated illegally and Joseph was eventually ordered by the courts to pay the standard $1,000 penalty as well as court costs (see Chardon, Ohio, courthouse, Vol. U, p. 362). Needless to say, the dissolution of the bank and the catastrophic effects it held for those that trusted Joseph's word resulted in widespread disillusionment with the prophet. Under accusations of fraud, Joseph threatened to excommunicate any Saint who brought suit against a brother in the church. As Heber Kimball put it, during this time "there were not twenty persons on earth that would declare that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God." (Sermon delivered September 28, 1856. Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, p. 105)
To be fair, many other banks failed during the "panic of 1837" and Saints who were ready to apostatize decided that Joseph's speculation looked more like an indiscretion than grand larceny. As related by Christopher Cary:
"It was marvelous to see with what tenacity they held to their faith in the prophet, when they knew they had been robbed, abused and insulted." (Pioneer and Personal Reminiscences, p. 45)
However, given the dishonest claims that appear to have been made regarding the bank's capital, the seemingly prophetic promises of prosperity in return for investment, and the fact that Joseph authorized and perpetuated the illegal operation of the bank in the first place, I personally consider this a poor reflection on Joseph's character and his ability to act under inspiration from God.

LDS Church counts almost 33 % more people as members than reported themselves to be Mormons

The following paragraph comes from a recent article in the UUWorld magazine entitled, "Three in a thousand: A new survey estimates that 0.3 percent of American adults identify as Unitarians—a lot more than belong to our churches". In it, the author refers to the recent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted by the Pew Forum.
Gaps between self-described and formal membership are common, said David A. Roozen, a sociologist who tracks religion trends as director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, in Hartford, Connecticut. For example, 25 percent more people identified themselves as Episcopalians and 33 percent more people claimed to be Methodists than either national body counts. The gap works the other way for some traditions, however: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints counts almost 33 percent more people as members than reported themselves to be Mormons in the Pew study.

Most churches don't count someone as a member unless they actually attend. If someone stops attending or donating after a period of time, the church drops them from the rolls. When asked in a survey, some of these people will still consider themselves as belonging to a particular religious movement.

The LDS Church on the other hand counts as members not only those who no longer attend, but also those who no longer consider themselves Mormon. This has long been suspected and infered from the Church's own statistics, etc, but here we have yet another well-conducted study showing that the church grossly inflates its numbers.

Parenting Resources for Non-Theists

Since there are a number of us non-theists here, I thought we might share things we have found to help raise our kids to be skeptical and ethical. (Some of the religious parents might find these resources helpful, too).

Books - I haven't read all of these, yet.

"Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion"

"Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide for Young Skeptics"

"How Do You Know It's True?: Discovering the Difference Between Science and Superstition"

"Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution"

"Our Whole Lives" - A series of books for teaching children about healthy sexuality

Summer Camps

Camp Inquiry

Camp Quest


Secular Parenting Blog

Parenting Beyond Belief forum


Jahedgpeth wrote the following on PostMormon:

from wikipedia:

In the natural sciences, abiogenesis, or origin of life, is the study of how life on Earth emerged from inanimate organic and inorganic molecules

Basically, I can't believe that we could ever get to a viable single celled organism and have that organism reproduce without some sort of "god" x-factor to begin the process.

It never has made sense to me.

Here is how I get past the probability issue.

First, it must be clear that we are not talking about pure chance. There are organizing forces at work. Electrostatic attraction organizes atoms into molecules, and molecules into protein stuctures. Spheres (the shape of the cell membrane and the neucleus) are very stable due to the laws of physics. That is why soap bubbles take the shape of a sphere.

So, we are not saying that all of these atoms just randomly aligned out of pure chance. Chance played a large role, but there are organizing forces of physics and chemistry that were at work naturally, just doing what they do.

Let's also remember that the formation of a cell without a god-like creator is not impossible. (A point which Jahedgpeth has already admitted to).

So, let's estimate the probability of the formation of a cell to be very, very low. Here is where the law of very large numbers comes in. If the numbers are big enough, even very, very improbable occurances become likely. To illustrate, let me use easy numbers to work with. The probability of one Powerball lottery ticket having all the numbers that are drawn on a particular day is 1 in 100,000,000, so very unlikely. However, if 1,000,000,000 lottery tickets are purchased, the odds are that 10 of those lottery tickets are winners. So, an event that is improbable becomes probable if given a whole lot of chances.

Now, the odds of a cell forming are a lot smaller than 1 in 100 million. But, no matter how infinitesimly small the chances are, we have to remember how large the universe is and how long billions of years are, and how many interactions atoms have each second. I mean we don't even have names for the number of interactions atoms had throughout the entire universe over the entire time from the Big Bang to the creation of replicating cells. Even very improbably events can happen. And remember it is not just chance at work, principles of physics are at work organizing the elements and holding the pieces together when they get in place.

I find that the formation of replicating cells become likely due to the law of very large numbers. I see no need for a Creator, and I don't believe there has to be a reason why.

Here is some reading:

Law of Truly Large Numbers

law of truly large numbers

I don't believe we matter at the cosmic level; we don't matter ultimately or permanently. But, I do believe we can matter at the local level in space and time - temporarily.

Incidently, that is also how we reconcile the law of entropy against the other organizing laws of physics such as those that arrange carbon atoms into diamonds, etc. At the cosmic level, the universe is cooling down and becoming more disorganized (entropy rules). But, at the local level we see matter moving into more and more organized and complex forms (organizing laws of physics rule).

Preparing Young Atheists for the Draws of Religion

Someone named Draconis posted the following on PostMormon:

I was talking to someone today and the subject of religion came up. It turns out that he is an atheist who has never really been taught much at all about religion. What was interesting to me is that his world view seems to be very naive, based on lack of reason to believe anything in particular. He's never given it much thought, never been too concerned about it, and only knows that he disliked Christianity because to him they are "too pushy." Beyond that, he has never much pondered the mysteries of the universe at all.

In stark contrast, while I don't necessarily disagree with his conclusions, I almost found it offensive that he reached them so callously. He's never pondered the big questions. He has never yearned for the truth. He was totally ignorant to the reasons why somebody might choose to be an atheist and instead just never chose NOT to be an atheist. In short, he has no good reason to be an atheist.

I started wondering whether part of the reason I was annoyed by his apathy and gross ignorance was due to some jealousy on my behalf. What would it have been like to be raised without the concept of some all-powerful control-freak watching over me and judging my actions and thoughts? What would it have been like to not have to break free from the chains of spiritual bondage and fight my way to freedom?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what was unsettling me was that he didn't appreciate what he had, because he'd never earned it. Most of us here know what it means to suffer in order to find our own spiritual freedom, and here this guy has never been without it and doesn't even begin to appreciate what he has.

Once I understood the reason for my feelings I was able to change them. I know that I have something he does not have. I recognize the value of my perspective because it is based on hard-won experience. I will not be easily duped in the future. I have valuable experience to back up my convictions, where he merely has a lack of convictions due to a lack of experience. That is to say, I have good reason not to believe, whereas he merely has no good reason to believe.

Here was my response:

I have been thinking of this topic a lot recently. Obama was much like the guy you described. Obama's father was raised Muslim, but by the time he got involved with Obama's mother, he was atheist. Obama's mother was raised protestant, but was basically agnostic/secular humanist throughout he adult life.

Obama spent a lot of time with his maternal grandparents. But, while living with his mom in foriegn countries he was exposed to Catholic and Muslim beliefs, but never really internalized those beliefs. In his young adult years, he aimlessly wandered a bit using some drugs and alcohol. Then, he got his education on track and earned a law degree.

It was while he was working with the poor in Chicago that he realized that the people he was helping had something he did not - a spirituality that got them through the tough times. He wanted that, too, so he studied with the Rev. Wright and was really introduced to Christ. Obama challenged the pastor a bit, but eventually acepted Christianity as true.

See, I think Obama was unprepared like so many nontheists are today. I think those of us who are atheists need to teach our kids two important things: 1) spirituality that does not stem from the supernatural, and 2) all the evidence of why we find the dogmatic religions of the world false.

My kids are very young now, but they will know why I don't believe Mormonism is true, and they will know the evidence against the Bible, thereby ruling out a literal belief in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They will be free to choose to believe what they wish and I'll take them to many different religions' services, but they will also know the evidence and logical arguments I use to determine what I think about those religions.

But, the other thing I'll do is teach my kids to experience awe, transcendence, elevation, peace, connectedness, wonder, etc, outside of the supernatural context. They will know what I believe to be the natural mechanisms at work during "spiritual" experiences. I don't want my kids to feel like this is a gaping whole in their lives that can only be filled through superstitious religion.

I know why I am atheist and am proud of the research I have done into Mormonism and Christianity that convinced me that they could not be true. I hope that I will equip my children with critical thinking skills and a willingness to thoroughly investigate any religion before they believe in it. And I want them to know how to create those wonderful and calming experiences that are traditional thought of as spiritual without having to believe in the supernatural.

I think young atheists need to be religiously literate. Religion plays too large a role in world affairs and domestic agendas for any of us to not be educated in it. I don't believe one can have a suitable, welll-rounded education and be prepared to be a citizen of the world without having some working knowledge of religion. So much of great art and literature allude to religious icons. Religion is a very real and influential cultural phenomenon even if the beliefs they are founded on aren't true.