Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Range of plausibility; or, Does God keep the Church from appearing too true?

In conjunction with my last post, I have often heard it said that in order to test our faith, God has suppressed certain evidences of the truth of Mormonism.

No Nephite artifacts? If we had those, there would be no faith required. In fact, just about any concrete corroboration of the BoM seems to be regarded as a potentially faith-shattering event. If evidence was uncovered that a man stood on the walls of a Mesoamerican city and preached about the coming of Christ, apparently people would start signing up with the missionaries in droves. If we actually had golden plates with reformed Egyptian engravings, people would join the Church solely based on intellectual facts, not faith.

This scenario seems to have a couple problems to me. First of all, it is not at all clear to me that more people would join the Church if there was more concrete evidence of, say, the Urim and Thummim, or a close correspondence between BoM and archeological history. I guess we might get a few more converts, but Mormonism is a lifestyle, not just a historical world-view. Even if we had Laban's Sword sitting in a glass case in Temple Square and allowed it to be examined by metallurgists, people would not be chasing down the missionaries to get baptized (except maybe sword-freaks, like Ethesis).

So my question is, does the Lord really suppress favorable evidence just to make it harder to be a Mormon and thus increasing our requisite faith? Would the Lord allow some damaging, false information to come out, knowing that it would destroy the faith of some? It seems to me that hypothetically, if certain information is so damaging that it destroys the faith of some, that it is an involuntary response. Perhaps we can force ourselves to believe certain things simply through sheer will-power, but it doesn't strike me as a particularly good thing or Christ-like. Would we be blamed if we stopped believing?

Why would the Lord try to confuse us in this way? It is my contention (sure to be controversial) that if we allow certain troubling things to damage our testimony, that it isn't really our fault. Would we really blame Abraham if he stopped believing in God after he was told to kill Isaac? It seems like good sense to me that any God that required the murder of your son, probably wasn't the real God.

I wish it were easier to believe. I'm not entirely sure that it's my fault though.

Conservation of matter; or, why did Moroni take the plates back?

Having grown up in the Church, there are certain details about Mormon history that I have never really thought about before. These stories have always just been. Every once in a while an aspect will jump out at me that I have never considered as an adult.

One thing that has been bothering me lately is the fact that Moroni took back the golden plates from Joseph once he was done translating. Actually, that is not entirely accurate. Despite the fact that we say Moroni took the plates back, he didn't have them in the first place. They were sitting underground for 1200 years, not in heaven. Anyway, I think the common explanation for this is that we wouldn't have to have faith if there was a stack of finely engraved golden plates lying in the First Presidency vault. I don't know if I necessarily agree with this, but this isn't the part that bugs me.

What disturbs me is the lack of conservation of matter. Removal of an artifact from Earth to wherever the angels hang out seems to be unprecedented in the history of the world. God is omnipotent. He doesn't have to beam down here for cheeseburgers. It just seems odd that he would send an angel to physically remove something. Has God ever taken physical objects (not counting humans) from our world into his before? Was the city of Enoch translated along with all of their buildings too?

Secondly, why bother having the plates at all? We know that Joseph barely looked at them; often they were hidden in nearby woods while he translated indoors. He presumably could have made the same translation even had the plates never existed, just like his translation of the Book of Moses. Why mess with the reformed Egyptian and smelting ore to make plates, and laboriously engraving them if they are just going to function as a "faith intensifier" for Joseph?

Are the plates sitting up in heaven or have they served their purpose? If, say, we receive more of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, will Moroni have to physically deliver the plates back to the prophet? Why were they okay underground for so long, but now they have to be safe-guarded in heaven?

Obviously, I don't have any answers to these questions. The golden plates are very interesting because of their sheer physicality. It would have been much, much easier for Joseph to just get revelations through his stone, whether he was a true prophet or not. Why didn't he?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ned in the city

Though I had to endure another miserable holiday at the in-laws, trying to sleep on a sofa-bed with a bar in the back and a noisy cat mewling through the night, my Thanksgiving went surprisingly well. Unlike everyone else in the bloggernacle (it seems), I have no connection to any of the participants in our little community and had never met any before this weekend. Thanks to Steve Evan's gracious hosting, I met a raft of honest to goodness 'nacle celebrities at the bloggernacle soiree at his apartment on Friday night. I caught a train into the city and escaped my in-laws for an evening at least.

Everyone at Steve's was extremely nice. While it was odd to see people attempt to karaoke without the aid of alcohol, it just goes to show how fearless we Mormons are in the face of adversity. It was great to finally be able to put a face to such illustrious 'nacle names as Elisabeth and Kris. Plus, now when I read everyone's posts I will hear their real voice in my head. Ronan's comments in particular will sound even better with an authentic English accent.

The only sour spot in the whole experience was the fact that I left my Fall issue of Dialogue on the train ($10 down the drain). Perhaps a MetroNorth employee will find it and convert after reading 74 pages on early Mormon polygamists. Now that's a conversion story! Consider them inoculated against future anti-Mormon literature.

Thank you again, Steve. If I had an apartment that nice, rest assured I would never invite anyone like me over (or Rusty, since he seems to drop food a lot).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

FAIR's scummy board and its scummy moderators

I've never particularly cared for apologetics, but this just takes the cake. Over at the FAIR message boards they are discussing this case, which has also been discussed over at BCC. Here are some salient quotes from the news story:
"...Jessica Cavalieri, now 24, said she first told her church bishop in 1994 that Taylor had started abusing her when she was 7. She said her bishop, the local congregation leader, met with her mother and Taylor. But the bishop did not tell her mother about the abuse, Cavalieri said. Instead, he encouraged the family to work out problems through worship, she said.

"The girl was unaware her mother did not know of the abuse, and because her mother did not come to her aid, Cavalieri said, she felt ashamed and frightened to tell anyone else. She endured the abuse for five more years, while Taylor started abusing her younger sister, Ashley Cavalieri, according to court documents.

So she told the Bishop about the abuse and he did nothing. Other stories say that there might have been conflicting reports about the abuse, but frankly, the bottom line is that she told the Bishop and he sat on it for five years.

So how do you think the Christ-followers at the FAIR board reacted to this? (FAIR is a non-official, "amateur" Mormon apologetic organization.) They blamed the victim, of course! How dare she sue the Church! What a money-grubber! After several pages of criticism, the victim (or someone claiming to be her) then posted on the board. Were the posters shamed by the presence of the victim? No, they redoubled their personal attacks on her. At no point did the moderator appear. Finally, someone registered and insulted one of these bullies and was promptly reprimanded by the moderator for personal attacks. (To be fair, a few posters also jumped to Jessica's defense, but they have been shouted down by the majority and the moderators.)

I will post their comments because I think human trash like this need to be shamed publicly instead of hiding behind their scummy moderator.

One user with the ironic handle "Charity" left this message:
"The victim in this case is in a far worse situation now than she was. When you get revenge, you don't 'feel better.' You feel worse because you are disobeying cannot forgive when extracting vengeance. Every dollar she spends of that settlement will drive her further away from a healthy state. "
Thanks doctor!

No, he isn't done. He tops it with this disgusting diatribe:
"Of course, she should have told. And should have told sooner to save her sister from going through what she did. I find that pretty repugnant that she didn't. And I am sure she is suffering pangs of conscience that she could not get up the courage to do that...But in sueing [sic] the Church, she knew she was not going after those most responsible, her father, and her mother for telling her not to tell. She went after money. Money would not restore her stolen childhood. It was vengenace [sic] pure and simple. In our mortal experience, vengeance comes from the adversary. Whenever you give in to the enticings of Satan you are worse off."

This is wrong on so many levels that I'm speechless. Did he just blame a 12-year-old for the abuse of her sister? Yes, he did. I usually don't get all riled up about garbage on the Internet but that makes me want to pound some "charity" into his face.

At this point Jessica (the victim, or someone claiming to be her) has joined the conversation. What words of comfort will the next poster bring? Scumbag #2? You're up.
"Enjoy the bling. It will be so much more comforting than addressing the real issues here...Were you truly LDS and not an opportunist, you would know [that the sex abuse reporting guidelines have been changed]."
Our final slimeball starts out by calling the victim "a greedy opportunist." He follows with a letter addressed to her:
"I'm sorry, but that last remark is simply untrue. It is clearly an attempt to claim immunity from criticism by exploiting your 'Victim'[TM] status. If you read this thread, you will discover what you presumably already know, namely that the Church made specific policy changes in 1994 to address this very issue. The criticism you have bought for yourself with your ill-gotten $4,200,000 is not for being an abuse victim (sob) but for your opportunistic money-grubbing. I don't have a problem with you going after the abuser; so you should. But siccing that vile ambulance-chaser onto us on the flimsy pretext that your stepfather was a member of the Church at the time was utterly cynical and self-serving."
If this is what its amateur apologists are stooping to, the Church should disavow them and their scummy message board immediately. How embarrassing and enraging.

No offense intended but I hope these people rot in hell.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Joseph Smith and Sudoku

A relatively obscure but fascinating fact about Joseph Smith is that he allegedly often carried what is known as a Jupiter medallion in his pocket. This medallion was supposedly discovered on his person after he was assassinated in Carthage Jail. A Jupiter medallion or talisman contains several several interesting inscriptions, including the astrological symbol for Jupiter and various Latin and Hebrew phrases. It also contains a "Magic Square," a box where the digits add up to the same number (in this case 34) horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. The Magic Square on Joseph's purported medallion uses Hebrew characters to represent these numbers, which in total add up to 136, yet another symbol of Jupiter.

I can't help noticing that the Magic Square is simply another variation on the principle behind the newly popular Sudoku puzzles. For those (poor souls) who are unfamiliar with Sudoku, it is a number puzzle where you fill in a 9 by 9 grid so that each row, column, and 3x3 box have the digits 1-9 in them. There is no math involved, just logic, and it really is quite addictive. I have been enjoying Sudoku ever since the Washington Post introduced them earlier this year.

Now, admittedly Joseph did not use his Magic Square like I use the Sudoku puzzles, but I think both forms hint at the same transcendence of numbers. It is a satisfying feeling when all the pieces fall into perfect place against all odds, just as it is satisfying to see all the numbers in a magic square add up perfectly and improbably.

Though I may not be in church on Sunday morning, I will be filling out my Sudoku and occasionally thinking of Joseph.

[Edited to reflect that Joseph may or may not have actually owned a Jupiter talisman.]

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My conversation with my converts...

First of all, I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. It really helps to have an outside perspective on these things. Anyway, I promised to report how it went, so here goes.

I called without having a chance to brush up on my Spanish, so it was quite a shock when they started talking to me. This family speaks fast, very fast. The connection wasn't great, either, so I had some difficulty understanding them at first. I spoke with the mother first. We had been talking for about 30 seconds before she got to the question I had been dreading.

The Mom: So, are you still strong in the Church? What calling do you have?
NF: Um, well actually, I moved recently.
TM: Oh, so what calling did you have previously? What callings have you had since the mission?
NF: Er, I actually haven't had any callings since the mission.
TM: [speaking to someone in the room] He must not understand me, he says he hasn't had a calling since the mission. [resumes talking to me] Are you sure you haven't had a calling?
NF: Nope, no calling. I'm not always there, so...
TM: It seems to me you have been lazy with regards to the Church.
NF: Uh, well, yeah, I guess.

At this point someone else grabbed the phone. I had great conversations with everyone, including one son who recently returned from his mission. We talked a little bit about my church activity but not too much. He said he was mostly around Americans in his mission. He didn't say anything outright, but I am guessing that this was a tough experience for him. I imagine that the culture shock of the mission is just as great (if not greater) coming from living in a single apartment with nine family members.

I got to talk to the mom again at the end of the call, and we had a more positive conversation. I tried to communicate to her that it was really her family that was great, not the influence of the church on her family. I also tried to say that her family probably would have converted even without us (her sister was a member before she met us), but she definitely didn't buy that.

I could tell she was disappointed with my inactivity but I am still glad I told the truth. Maybe this will help her be more open-minded if her kids fall away from the Church. Maybe not. But life is too short to go around pretending you are something you're not. Thanks for the advice.