Friday, January 30, 2009

Why the Issue of Blacks and the Priesthood Is Still Relevant

The following comes from a conversation on PostMo:
Daniel Defoe:

"The racism in the church lasted a really long time, from Brigham Youngs presidency through the early 1970's"

While it is quite true that early members, and even modern ones, were racist, the same thing could be said about the american founders. Are you going to leave america because the early leaders were more racist than Brigham Young (Thomas Jefferson had 175 human beings as property as he wrote 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness', by 1822 he owned 267 slaves).

Remember gab92 said:

I know it is in the past but it bothers me that they don't accept it as one of Brigham Young's many human mistakes and one of his prejudices.

And therein lies the problem. America has acknowledged that its racists laws were a mistake. The LDS Church has not. Racist doctrines are still in the Book of Mormon, which they claim is still the Word of God.

You see the Church tries to paint this picture that it is led by God and the practices of the Church are led by God. If they were to admit that the Church was wrong about denying blacks the priesthood and temple sealing ceremonies and everything else, they would undermine the idea that the policies they set in place are god's policies. That would free the members to think for themselves and question the Brethern.

How might that play out? Some might then say, "Hey they were wrong about blacks and the priesthood, so they might also be wrong about gays now." Every decision, policy and doctrine could then be questioned. The Church would be vastly different then. Some members question the Brethren now, but are seen as on the high road to apostacy, but if the Church admitted it was wrong, then it would not be out of line to think they might be wrong again.

So, this blacks and the priesthood issue that is supposedly "in the past" continues to impact the present in a very significant way, and that is why it matters.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Evolution

Yes, I believe in evolution. I am often surprised by how little my fellow Americans know about it. I mean they all had to take Biology in school, but apparently many were taught by teachers who themselves did not believe in evolution and so de-emphasized the material they were supposed to teach. Many people remain willfully ignorant and will not educate themselves. The evidence is all out there and the reasoning is so easy to follow, but people would rather listen to their religious leaders who hold fast to ancient views of the world. You know, humanity has learned a few things over the past 2,000 years, but you wouldn't know it by listening to the evangelicals.

Here are some links:

PBS site on Evolution

Understanding Evolution

Evolution Exhibit

Intelligent Designers want the public to think there is all this evidence that challenges the validity of evolution by natural selection (like irreducible complexity, for instance how could the eye develop when primitive forms of the eye would give the organism no survival advantage). But, it is simply not true, primitive eyes would give survival advantage, as has been demonstrated by many scientists since. IDer's misinformation is only persuasive to the uninformed.

I Really Did Truly Believe

I absolutely truly believed "with every fiber of my being". People often try to negate a person's "loss of testimony" by saying that "they never really had a testimony in the first place". They say this because it is less threatening to them. They think to themselves, "I could never fall like that person because my testimony is too strong".

Anyone who ever knew me before my apostasy would have to confess that I really did believe probably more than most members, so if I could come to believe it is all false now, then that should shake them that there really might be something to what I claim to have learned about the Church.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Skeptical of Near-Death-Experiences

There are hundreds of articles online illustrating problems with NDE's and alternative explanations for them. But, I wanted to highlight a copy, the first of which I always have the hardest time finding when I am looking for it and the information it contains is rather unique as far as I can tell:

You have to read this article: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/HNDEs.html

Even if we disregard the overwhelming evidence for the dependence of consciousness on the brain, there remains strong evidence from reports of near-death experiences themselves that NDEs are not glimpses of an afterlife. This evidence includes:

(1) discrepancies between what is seen in the out-of-body component of an NDE and what's actually happening in the physical world;

(2) bodily sensations incorporated into the NDE, either as they are or experienced as NDE imagery;

(3) encountering living persons during NDEs;

(4) the greater variety of differences than similarities between different NDEs, where specific details of NDEs generally conform to cultural expectation;

(5) the typical randomness or insignificance of the memories retrieved during those few NDEs that include a life review;

(6) NDEs where the experiencer makes a decision not to return to life by crossing a barrier or threshold viewed as a 'point of no return,' but is restored to life anyway;

(7) hallucinatory imagery in NDEs, including encounters with mythological creatures and fictional characters; and

(8) the failure of predictions in those instances in which experiencers report seeing future events during NDEs or gaining psychic abilities after them.

And here are two more good articles:

Near Death Experiences & the Medical Literature by Mark Crislip

NDEs Redux Skeptics need to reclaim, redefine & embrace Near Death Experiences by Sebastian Dieguez

OK, one last article on Out of Body Experiences

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Most Influential Factor That Led Me To Leave

The following came from a thread on PostMormon:

Hiram:

While we may disagree regarding some topics, I am interested to hear what the most influential factor was that led you to leave the church.

I'm not interested in changing your belief system or world view or arguing doctrines, I just want to respectfully hear the points of view of anybody willing to share them.


Hiram, your post makes me very happy. I rejoice whenever I see a person earnestly inviting others to share things that currently go against what that person believes. It is a hallmark of maturity and wisdom when we invite those kind of dialogues, for that is how we set the stage to learn. We listen and consider. It doesn't mean that we will necessarily give up our beliefs, but we will be better for at least having considered and weighed another's point of view. We might even find that we did not know as much as we thought we knew and in light of the new info must change our thinking on the matter. I once wrote a post on the critical necessity of reading articles critical of your current beliefs - it is as important for non-believing postMormons as it is for TBM's. I invite you to not make this post a one time thing, but continue to seek out opposing view.

Now, on to your question. Occasionally, polls are conducted on the forum to ascertain what the final straw was for each of us. Here is a link to one such poll. As you will notice, the Book of Abraham topped the list, followed by the Book of Mormon. The Book of Abraham was my personal coup de grace as well. First, let me tell you a little about myself. I once was an uber-TBM. I went to BYU, taught at the MTC for almost 3 years, was 2nd Counselor in two Bishoprics, and was an amateur apologist for the church resolving people's concerns with Mormonism both online and in person. Members looked up to me as someone very knowledgeable in the gospel and very spiritual. I knew most of the issues that can concern Mormons about their history and the standard apologetic responses, from Joseph's peep stone money digging to polyandry and Joseph's marrying his own teenage foster daughters to Masonic origins of temple signs and tokens, etc.

The apologist actually has an easy job. His is not to prove the Church is true. All he needs to do is demonstrate that the critics' evidence is not sufficient to prove the Church is not true - that there is some possibility that the Church might be true despite all of this challenging evidence. If the possibility remains, then it falls on each individual to exercise faith in that possibility that the Church is true and receive a witness of the Spirit that it is true, etc. The apologist is not concerned with what is most likely to be true (probable), only with maintaining that the Church might still be true (possible). That approach works very well in maintaining one's faith. One can find all sorts of ways to twist and adjust one's understanding of what it means to be a prophet to make it work. We PostMormons call that mental gymnastics.

Then, I had a friend whose mother left the Church and had supposedly become "anti". That friend wanted to save her and show her the error of her ways. He began studying what she had read so that he could counter her arguments, but he ended up being convinced himself that the Church wasn't true. Well, as an amateur apologist, I felt that I had been around the block a few times because "I had heard it all before". I thought I might be able to show him why whatever he had read did not prove the Church wasn't true. We discussed many issues from Blood Atonement to Adam-God doctrine to Danites to Masons, etc. But, then we got to the Book of Abraham. Now, I thought I knew all about the Book of Abraham issues, that it wasn't an actual translation of the rediscovered papyri, etc. But, my friend did bring up some things I had not heard of before, like the penciled in drawing of a priest in facsimile #1 where Anubis was supposed to be. I didn't really understand the significance at the time, I let it go and "shelved the issue" as we say around here. I never made any progress with reconverting my friend and figured he was just hopelessly lost, having no faith.

Anyway, two years later, something someone said on one of the apologist websites renewed the issue of the Book of Abraham in my mind. This time I determined I would get to the bottom of it so that next time I came across someone with Book of Abraham concerns I could intelligently resolve them. This launched a six month long investigation. I read everything critical, apologetic, and original sources. I took no one's word for anything. If I read an article in which the author claimed anachronisms, I read books on Egyptology until I knew for myself that yes, the land of Egypt got its name from the Greeks, not from the character Egyptus as the Book of Abraham claims. I read the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, including Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, I read Ritner's actual translation of the recovered papyri, I have seen high quality copies of the papyri, read the writings of Hugh Nibley, Jeff Lindsey, Kerry Shirts, John Gee, Daniel Petersen, etc, John Larsen, Kevin Mathie, John Day, etc, I have learned a lot about the ancient Egyptian religion, including Breathing Permits, Anubis, Osiris, Book of the Dead, etc. My knowledge of this Book of Abraham issue approaches that of an expert.

I began with the eye of an apologist, looking for any interpretation I could find that would still leave the possibility open that Joseph was still a prophet, seer, revelator, and translator. I, of course, encountered numerous apologetic explanations, but I eventually had to reject them all, for they were unworkable, the evidence simply left no room for them. They only work if you are either ignorant of or ignore parts of the evidence. There is no hole for the apologist to exploit. The case against the Book of Abraham is air tight and bullet proof. There is no uncertainty for faith to work in; no doubt to give the benefit of. If one wants absolute proof of fraud within Mormonism, one need look no further than the Book of Abraham. I think that is one reason why it ranks so highly in the polls of what was the final blow to our faith in Mormonism.

I believed that the Spirit had told me the Book of Abraham was exactly what Joseph claimed it to be: a translation of papyri written by the hand of Abraham; and I now had evidence to prove that it was nothing of the sort. It could not even be a true revelation, despite the whole translation issue, because the text contains anachronisms and incorrect reconstructions of history. Oh, and lest you buy into that old line that the text has all these marvelous parallels to ancient traditions about the life of Abraham, I invite you to really take a look at it. Read John Gee's book and then critically evaluate it running through every reference. You see so very few apologists or TBM's put the time into this that they need to. They hear a good theory that maintains their faith, embrace it, and pass it on, without having researched it themselves. I am currently working on a paper that will be a more formal rebuttal of just this "parallels with ancient text" argument. You can read a preview here.

OK, so the "Spirit told me the BoA was true", and yet it absolutely could not be. And it was not just a personal failure to interpret the Spirit correctly, for all the latter-day prophets and apostles presumably also believe the Spirit has told them it is what Joseph claimed it to be. I mean, it was ratified as scripture as part of the Pearl of Great Price in general conference. Yet, they all were mistaken. It appears that no one can tell when the Spirit is telling them the truth or a lie. At minimum this means that the Spirit is an unreliable way to discern what is true from what is false. And now that the witness of the Spirit is suspect, what does that mean for the weight of the evidence against the church. One starts to get sick to one's stomach when they consider that Joseph's promiscuity was not sanctioned by God. He slept with girls as young as fourteen, as close in relationship as foster daughters, and he slept with other men's wives. How revolting? How disgusting? And Brigham Young's Blood Atonement and Mountain Meadows Massacre and the deeds of the Danites...how corrupt and evil? And the discrimination against blacks, and gays, and the subjugation of women...ohhh*puke*. Mormonism begins to look no different from any other cult.

Well, what about the good that is done and answered prayers and such? Doesn't that prove the Church is true? I have found that there is nothing that requires us to reject natural explanations for those things in favor of supernatural explanations. We could talk about this for hours. But, if you want to understand why I no longer believe in Mormonism, begin by investigating why the apologist explanations for the Book of Abraham don't work and why there is no room for any explanation to work that doesn't result in acknowledging that the Book of Abraham isn't what Joseph claimed it to be.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Origins of the Word of Wisdom

At dinner tonight, my non-believing wife was wondering why coffee and tea are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. I said, "You know, Joseph didn't come up with that on his own; he borrowed it from the temperance movement (and the Cold Water Society) that was popular in the area at the time." She said she didn't know that, so I told her I would show her when we got back home.

True to my word I looked it up and showed her. So, I figured since I already looked it up I might as well share it with you, just in case some of you didn't know. The following is from the Tanner's book, "Changing World".

It has been suggested that the temperance movement led to Joseph Smith's "Word of Wisdom." Leonard J. Arrington, who has since become church historian, provides this enlightening information:

In recent years a number of scholars have contended that the revelation is an outgrowth of the temperance movement of the early nineteenth century. According to Dean D. McBrien .... the Word of Wisdom was a remarkable distillation of the prevailing thought of frontier America in the early 1830's. Each provision in the revelation, he claimed, pertained to an item which had formed the basis of widespread popular agitation in the early 1830's:

468


469

"A survey of the situation existing at Kirtland when the revelation came forth is a sufficient explanation for it. The temperance wave had for some time been engulfing the West.... In 1826 Marcus Morton had founded the American Temperance Society.... In June, 1830, the Millenial Harbinger quoted ... an article from the Philadelphia 'Journal of Health,'... which article most strongly condemned the use of alcohol, tobacco, the eating intemperately of meats.... Temperance Societies were organized in great numbers during the early thirties, six thousand being formed in one year... On October 6, 1830, the Kirtland Temperance Society was organized with two hundred thirty nine members.... This society at Kirtland was a most active one.... it revolutionized the social customs of the neighborhood."

McBrien then goes ahead to point out that the Temperance Society succeeded in eliminating a distillery in Kirtland on February 1, 1833, just twenty-seven days before the Latter-day Saint revelation counseling abstinence was announced, and that the distillery at Mentor, near Kirtland, was also closed at the same time (Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1959, pp.39-40).

In his book The Burned-Over District, pages 211-12, Whitney R. Cross points out that "the temperance movement ... began much earlier... During the 1830's it attained national scope. ... Further, if alcohol was evil because it frustrated the Lord's design for the human body, other drugs like tea, coffee, and tobacco must be equally wrong ... Josiah Bissell.... had even before the 1831 revival 'got beyond Temperance to the Cold Water Society—no tea, coffee or any other slops.' "