Thursday, May 26, 2005

Real World Julie and Bad Advertising

The stock-ticker of my testimony shot up on Monday night with the elimination of Julie from the Real World/Road Rules Challenge. She was eliminated while wearing a T-shirt reading, "Jesus is Real." (Earlier in the episode she chanted, "The path to God is straight and narrow, the path to God is straight and narrow," just seconds before careening on a motorcycle into a lake.)

Why do people feel compelled to advertise Jesus with their clothing and with their cars? Fortunately, most Mormons don't seem to have this problem (RW Julie excepted). Has anyone ever had a spiritual experience while trapped behind a Jesus bumper sticker? It doesn't seem like a very effective method of sharing the gospel, and probably puts off more people than it interests. For some reason, however, I am less put off by Spanish bumper stickers. Is this my cultural snobbery showing through?

On a related note, my parents were visiting from out of town last week, and we were cut off in traffic by a Jeep with a Brigham Young University sticker in the back window. Obviously, stuff like this happens all the time in Utah, but when you are out in the world, shouldn't you try to drive a little better when you are advertising your religion on your car?

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Hofmann Forgeries and Occam's Razor

Every once in a while, an event will come along and remind us how limited our understanding of the past is. The Hofmann forgeries fascinate me, mostly because of how close we came to completely misunderstanding the restoration and Joseph Smith. Even more remarkably, the man responsible was not a contemporary of Joseph Smith, but a returned missionary living 150 years afterwards. We have enough trouble reconciling stuff Joseph said (see Zelph); what would we do if we had to defend white salamanders too?

My question is, considering the relative ease with which Hofmann fabricated Mormon history (and he could have succeeded too, had he not been greedy), does this undermine your confidence in other sources for early Mormon history? Are we under misapprehensions about troubling aspects of Church history or do we pretty much have the right idea? Are falsifications like Hofmann's likely to get found out, simply because people are terrible at keeping secrets?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Anti-Mormon at the La-Z-Boy Gallery

I love La-Z-Boy recliners. I love that feeling when the chair tilts back even further than you thought possible. I love just lying there and feeling, well, lazy.

I was a very deprived child; my parents never owned a La-Z-Boy and I always coveted the chairs I encountered at other people's houses. Once I finally got a decent job and a bigger apartment (about a year and a half ago), I decided that the time had finally come to purchase my very own La-Z-Boy recliner.

Now, I can spend all day at the La-Z-Boy Gallery, just trying out all the different chairs. My wife, for some reason, thinks this is stupid, so she didn't accompany me when I went to the store. Once there, I quickly discovered that all but the discontinued lines were out of my price range. The salesman was very nice (even though he could see that his commission would be miniscule) and helped me locate a discontinued chair that wasn't a floor model. I headed over to the delivery desk to set up when my chair would arrive. As I waited (testing out more chairs near the desk) I couldn't help but overhear the woman in charge of deliveries talking to another salesman. Basically, what she said was this:

"The Mormons are trying to legalize polygamy because they want to have a whole bunch of wives. It's disgusting. Men can't handle more than one woman anyway. If anything, it should be a whole bunch of men for one woman."

As a totally irrelevant aside here, I would like to point out that this woman was about 60 and looked every bit her age. Now, at this point in my life, I hadn't been to church in years and hadn't even heard of the bloggernacle. For some reason, I think this lack of all contact made me more sensitive to statements such as this. It offended me that someone could spout off such nonsense at her place of business, and not even care that a customer was sitting right there. It offended me that she thought Mormons were so beneath her, that she couldn't possibly get into trouble by saying bad things about them.

I composed a thousand indignant replies in my head. I mentally drafted several angry letters to the store manager explaining how they had lost a paying (though just barely) customer. I didn't know what I should do. Should I tell her off, and risk my chair arriving smelling funky? Should I make an arch comment about how you shouldn't say bigoted things because you never know who is listening?

I sat and stewed, and genuinely considered walking out. I would like to say that the lack of another La-Z-Boy Gallery in the area did not enter into my deliberations, but it did. I considered going through with the purchase and then sending a nasty letter to the store afterward. In the end, I did the predictable thing: I said nothing, and got my chair.
If something similar happened to me today, I'd like to think I would react differently. Maybe laugh it off and tell her that she was all wrong in a friendly manner. But I don't know that I would.

So there the chair sits in my office, a big, comfy reminder of either my cowardice or my restraint, depending on my mood. What should I have done? What would you have done in this situation?

P.S. I am going on vacation shortly, so that is why posting will be light over the next week or so.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Polygamy and Masonry: Mormon paradoxes

Reading through this fascinating thread over at T&S, I learned that some Mormon scholars think that the Gadianton robber passages of the Book of Mormon were influenced by the anti-Masonic feeling in the early 19th century (and transmitted into the Book of Mormon through Joseph's translation). I don't know how comfortable I am with the expansion theory (nor am I convinced it is absolutely necessary to explain away the problems of the BoM) but it brings up a really interesting point. Two things that the Book of Mormon is very clear in condemning are secret societies and polygamy. And yet, in many ways, the church came to embody those two things it had expressly condemned.

It is well-known that Joseph became a Mason and started a Masonic lodge in Nauvoo. It is also clear that the temple ceremony has many Masonic elements. This is why it is jarring to read Helaman 6:22 in this context:

"And it came to pass that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant, that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant."

It seems odd that the church would come to utilize very similar means to draw closer to God, but I suppose it could be argued that Satan merely apes heavenly forms in corrupted ways. Modern polygamy, however, it much harder to reconcile with the text of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Jacob unequivocally condemns polygamy and also Solomon and David for practicing it:

"Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord...
"Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
"For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts."

What changed between 1830 (the publication of the Book of Mormon) and 1831 (which, from the very circumspect allusion in the introduction of D&C 132, I take to be the date of Joseph's first plural marriage)? How did Mormonism change so quickly into the very things it condemned in the Book of Mormon?

Friday, May 06, 2005

The New Missionary Discussions

I've missed a lot of Church News over the past six years or so. I hadn't heard about the Palmyra or Nauvoo temples until fairly recently, and I got to tour the New York Manhattan Temple almost by accident. One of the major changes I've heard references to in the Bloggernacle is the revamping of the missionary discussions. Although I've looked online, I can't find a summary of the changes or what the discussions are like now. Can anyone enlighten me?

Are there still specific points where the commitments to observe the Sabbath/obey the Word of Wisdom/etc. are made? Is there still a memorized text?

I certainly won't mourn the passing of the sixth discussion (the most pointless of all discussions) but I would be interested how the church is organizing the missionary presentation nowadays and if people think it is better or worse than before.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Faith and the elevator button

The up button for the elevator at work has burnt out. I hit it, nothing lit up, so I hit it again. Even though the logical part of my brain knew that the signal had been activated, I was still unsettled. I doubted whether or not the elevator would come, and debated taking the stairs instead. After a nervous minute, the bell dinged and the elevator doors opened. Was the button really working, or was this merely a coincidence?

In life, I tend to write off prayers being answered as coincidences (the Angry Mormon also has a recent post about this). Are they, or is the elevator button just burnt out?
Sometimes it really is just a coincidence. Other times you wait so long that you are certain the elevator is not even moving.
Sometimes I am ashamed I don't have the same faith in God as I do in the elevator.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Are you embarrassed by LDS advertising?

A couple of Sundays ago, Maude and I were enduring the "Pre-Show Entertainment" at a local movie theater, waiting for a 4:20 screening of Sin City to start (Flanders' patented two word review: thumbs down).
This particular movie theater plays local ads before the previews (which now also include advertising). These local spots usually have pretty lousy production values and are typically for real estate agents or local car dealerships.

The final ad before the trailers began was for a local protestant church. It showed people enjoying themselves outside, having a barbeque, laughing with neighbors. At no point did it actually show the church building or the services. My wife whispered to me sarcastically, "Wow, church is like a picnic everyday."
I whispered back, "I don't think people seeing Sin City on a Sunday are really their target market."

Are these ads with their low production values any better than the ads our church puts on TV? Our ads don't actually show the church or services; usually, they are some kind of Hallmark moment with the patented, "brought to you by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" following soon after.
The advertisements that focus on the Book of Mormon are a little better. They seem like they could interest people enough to call the 1-800 number, but they remind me a little too much of Dianetics-by-L-Ron-Hubbard ads. Also, I think it might be misleading to send the missionaries out to people's houses when all they probably want is a free book in the mail.

I am conflicted about these ads. My wife always needles me when they come on, and rightly so. I think we could do better. We need to get the message out, but I'm not sure this is the right way to do it.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Swatting at Nats

Having gone to three Washington Nationals games in the last five days or so, I have several observations to offer:
  1. It's no fun cheering against the home team. Maude and I are big Mets fans, and, true to form, the Mets gave us little to cheer about over the weekend. It would be nice if there could be a section reserved for the opposing teams' fans, like in European soccer. At least we could have commiserated with fellow Mets fans instead of having it rubbed in by Nationals fans. It would make a lot of sense in a place like D.C., where most of the residents are from somewhere else. We saw lots of Mets and Phillies fans but they were scattered all around the ballpark.
  2. You might not think that there could be obnoxiously boisterous fans of a team that has existed for all of three weeks, but you'd be wrong.
  3. Alberto Gonzalez threw out the first pitch in Saturday's game and was booed. I felt bad for the guy; I mean, he's only been Attorney General for a couple months and people are already all over him. The lesson is: don't volunteer to throw out the first ball, unless you are certain you'll get a good reception.
  4. Screech is the worst mascot in baseball. Worse than the San Diego Chicken. There, I said it.
  5. Spend the extra $1.75 and get an Italian sausage instead of a hot dog. You'll thank me for it.
  6. Maude and I rode the Metro to two games and drove to the last one. Driving was (shockingly, for this area) much more convenient. The parking lot emptied out right on to the freeway and the traffic was not bad.
We had a good time, in spite of the Mets, Screech, the Nat Pack, the drunk guy screaming after every pitch and the abominable music snippets that are now a part of every major league game. But at least we didn't have to drive to Baltimore.