The “Vote of Thanks”

I’ve been a Mormon all my life. Sadly, I mostly tune out during sacrament meeting, and I usually bring something to read because 99.9% of the time, I come away from sacrament meeting feeling less in tune with God than before. With a good book in hand, I can have some face time in the ward but simultaneously worship God my own way (currently reading Grant Palmer’s Insider’s View of Mormon Origins – IT’S EXTRAORDINARY!). Last week, I heard something I’ve heard all my life, and like a good intellectual, I questioned it. It was a “vote of thanks” for Brother Jones who had “served diligently” for two years in the Boy Scout troop.*

Just exactly what is a “vote of thanks?” Where did it come from? (Duh. The obvious answer is Utah. What I meant was When did it come from?). What if someone votes against it? If a vote of thanks is just some quirky motion we go through with no basis in anything, why can’t the leadership just ask members to go thank Brother Jones individually? I suspect the latter might even generate more feeling of true gratitude than a robotic motion of raising the hand in order to thank Brother Jones.

* I have issues with the mixing of Church and Scouts because the BSA is not affiliated with a religion of any kind. I have blogged on this before at FPR.

Herod’s Tomb Discovered

While everybody has been discussing the PBS film on Mormons, a recent archaeological discovery in Israel might be of some interest: Herod’s tomb has been found. Unfortunately, no body was found, but the excavators at the site are quite sure that the tomb does indeed belong to Herod.

Herod is that bad guy in Matthew that you’ve all read about – the infanticidal maniac who “pharoah-ed up” and thought he could rid the Jewish faith of its Davidic Messiah (a threat to his seat within the Empire) by slaughtering all the babes of Jesus’ would-be neighborhood. Luckily Joseph and Mary bolted just in time, Jesus was born, lived, died, and here you are now gathering up precious pearls of truth. Well, add one more pearl of great price to your necklace: Herod was probably a real guy.

Not that I doubt the historicity of the NT per se; I actually find it more historically entrenched than the OT, but I suspect that the infanticide about which we read in Matthew may have been an invention of sorts so that it fit with the Exodus tradition – Matthew seems to coincide his account of Jesus with Moses on several levels – macro and micro. Regardless, I think it’s cool that they concluded that this is Herod even without finding a body.

So rejoice, ye Mormons, for one more artifact has been dug up which ads a kernel of rationality to your faith – which is a good thing.

Mormon Support for War Waning

I always figured that the last sign of the apocalypse would be that the Boston Red Sox would win the World Series. And then they did. Then I shifted to the White Sox, and they did too. Then I tried to imagine something that would prolong the apocalypse (in my mind, anyway) until far, far beyond my own lifetime: Mormons giving up on all things conservative.

Well, the majority of Mormons may not be heaving out conservatism entirely (one can only dream in my case…), but they are beginning to not feel the glow of the spirit when the Iraq war comes to mind. I found this today at one of my usual daily reading websites. It appears that the usual Mormon support for whatever is painted Republican, in this case Bush’s (illegal/unconstitutional/unprovoked) war in Iraq, has begun to wane. It is no secret or even matter of opinion that Bush is quite obdurate, but when the good state of Utah and its predominant redness begins to turn on you, you gotta know your time is about up.

Perhaps Utah isn’t as neo-conned as I thought. Or maybe Bush is just that bad. Who knows.

I like this little quip at the end of the synopse: “Mormon leaders in the church and government have been signaling that good Mormons can oppose the war” (emphasis mine). Oh, so I guess before these statements from the church the general consensus was that those of us anti-war Mormons were not good Mormons…

The Intellectually Ousted

I have been thinking a lot lately about ex-Mos. In so doing, I imagine what their excommunications are like, or what their mindset was like when they petitioned to have their ‘records removed.’ I even know some ex-Mos; some who have taken the long way back into membership, others who have left the church, and others who have left the church but cannot leave it alone (There was a great post at BCC over this, but I can’t find the link). Instead of concentrating on the ex-Mo himself, I have been thinking about all the people affected by the ex-Mos departure (assuming he/she decides to stay out and not seek a way back).

I may sound reductionistic, but it seems like there are two kinds of ex-Mos: 1) those who commit a sin the church considers egregious and are excommunicated, and 2) those who leave without committing serious sin, or who leave for intellectual reasons. In both cases, membership is revoked (ie, I’m not discussing the habitually inactive). It seems to me that the group who fall into the first category are generally welcomed back, given the hand of fellowship, and receive a lot of help along the way. However, I have known a few people (mostly from my days as a missionary a long time ago) who left the church for intellectual reasons. Their faith could no longer support Mormonism’s claims. With this latter group, I almost never saw the same heart-warming reactions among those affected by the ex-Mo’s decision to leave. Instead I noted contempt, disdain, abandonment, and often ridicule. Sometimes I wonder if things might have gone easier/smoother if the person who fled over intellectual disagreements had instead confessed to an (imaginary?) egregious transgression in order to avoid some of these post-membership complications.

Again, I know I might appear like I’m being overly reductionistic, but I do believe there is a kernel of truth in this. (If I could steer the comments, I would ask only those who have observed the same thing or something very similar to respond). In my sincere heart of hearts, I wonder why those who choose exile over intellectual incompatibility seem to receive ill treatment over those who fall victim to their passions.

Any suggestions why this may be?

The TK Smoothie Rule

In light of Ronan’s helpful rules on cultish behavior and public orthodoxy, my brother and I have developed yet another rule by which to measure our collective worth; especially in light of our place among the religions of the world. Introducing The TK Smoothie Rule.

You’re probably thinking, “David J, WTF is a TK Smoothie?!” Let me give you some background: I believe it was Joseph Fielding Smith who, in his typical cavalier doctrinal musings, indicated that the heirs of the telestial kingdom (that’s the worst one, btw), would not be able to reproduce sexually. The logical conclusion for JFS, then, was to say that the people in the TK would not have male or female genitalia. One also needs to remember that the Mormon view of sexuality in heaven is quite liberal, and that those who go to the celestial kingdom (that’s the best one, btw) will be able to eternally pro-create (possibly a TK Smoothie in itself, but bear with me). In order to do that, they will need their genitalia. So, for JFS, those who go to the CK will have their genitalia and be free to use it for reproductive means, and those who go to the TK will not have their genitalia.

This raises the question: “What will they have then?” Enter the TK Smoothie. About 1 year ago at BCC, some lively discussion ensued in which someone mentioned a TK Smoothie. The TK Smoothie, I came to find out, is the crotch(al) area of a person doomed to the TK. Since it has no features, it will be “smooth,” much like that crotch(al) area of a Barbie doll or a Ken doll. Sound ridiculous? I think it is, and that’s what the TK Smoothie rule is for.

Here’s how it works. If a doctrine of the church seems like it has been created in order to “fix” or explain another, it might be a TK Smoothie. The TK Smoothie is eponymous for all doctrines that are probably bogus but exist in order to clarify some other doctrine or speculation. This begs the question: what was the TK Smoothie doctrine attempting to clarify? We may never know, but at least we can invoke the TK Smoothie rule in order to identify it.

What are some of your (suspected) TK Smoothies?

Silent Night w/ Walter Cronkite

My daily reading for all things Libertarian comes from LRC. I noticed today an interesting post referencing the Mo-Tab and a new CD/DVD collection based on the oft-quoted story of soldiers in WWII from opposing sides coming together to celebrate Christmas. (Could someone take the time to verify the historicity of this story? If it’s coming from the church, you can’t blame me for being a little bit skeptical…).

I haven’t heard it yet, but mine is on the way.

On the “Baptismal” Covenant

We frequently hear of our “baptismal covenants” in church and conference. I cannot quite pinpoint the exact spot in space-time, but I can say that a few years ago I began to view the “baptismal” covenant with suspicion. Why? It seemed that a lot of people were discussing the baptismal covenant, but I could not recall for myself what exactly that covenant entailed. With all the other covenants of the gospel, most of them housed in the temple, I could easily recall their stipulations, scope, focus, (and before 1990, their) penalties, etc. etc. I made a covenant of chastity which was laid out in detail before me, one of consecration that was explained to me, one not to reveal the little tidbits of the rituals, etc. etc. In each case, I bowed my head and said “yes.” I had volition. The ceremony itself allowed me to back out before it began (“if you don’t want to take upon yourself these obligations, raise your hand”). Same thing when I was married. The proctor (I still have a tough time calling them “sealers” if they’re not performing the fullness of the priesthood) looked at me and asked me if I would enter a covenant to keep my wife and I said “yes.” I could have said “no.” Same with her. Volition was present. The choice was mine, and I made it. The ceremony allowed for this. None of the stipulations in these covenants were given by implication, all were explicit and given to me in plain speech.

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“The Fingers of One Hand”

Recenly, I read a comment that the realm of “Outer Darkness” does not really qualify as “Hell” because there will be “so few” who inherit it, probably about 6 or 7 people in total. Not only does this border on unitarian universalism, but we would be making a mistake, I believe, in completely dismissing the word “Hell” from our vocabulary as a substitute for “Outer Darkness.” The word “Hell” comes in handy when teaching discussions as a missionary and in discussing soteriology with non-Mormons. Among other members, the term “Outer Darkness” functions just fine.

But why the idea that so few will go there? I scoured the scriptures and the teachings of JS and came up empty-handed on this idea. Furthermore, I believe that there will be many who wind up in that dreadful place (maybe even me), and that to indicate that one knows the exact number of folks who go there is not only passing judgment on others (and therefore putting judgment in God’s mouth where none was invited), but also an admission that God’s punishment is fixed and knowable to the finite mind.

Here are some of the tidbits that I found:

“Evidently many among us have made a dreadful mistake, but not unpardonable, in thinking that the sons of perdition will be very few. We have heard it said at times that they will be so few that they probably could be “counted on the fingers of one hand.” Where this thought originated we may not know. From the reading of the scriptures it appears that there will be a large number; far too many even if there were but one, for their punishment is most severe without any question.” Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966), 1: 78.

And again:

44 Wherefore, he saves all except them—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment—
45 And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, NO MAN KNOWS;
46 Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof;
47 Nevertheless, I, the Lord, show it by vision unto many, but straightway shut it up again;
48 Wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation.(Doctrine and Covenants | Section 76:44 – 48)

It seems from this that for one to know how many people are going to be in Outer Darkness serves as a qualifier for candidacy therein.

It is commonly believed, and I think correct to say, that those who find themselves in this place have commited the unpardonable sin. About that JS said that “this will be the case with many apostates of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (TPJS, 358).

Regardless of who qualifies as an apostate doomed for outer darkness, it seems clear that in the early days of the church, this notion that one could count the people who will wind up in that place on the fingers of one hand did not exist. Perhaps this notion ought to be re-examined.

Survey-driven Revelation?

I’ve struggled for a little while about asking those of you in the bloggernacle who read FPR about this topic for some time, but I resolved that I really, really want your opinion on it. I know what my file leader’s response to some of these issues would be, but your opinion is the one to which I most adhere, and to which I listen best. It’s also a carefully calculated opinion, and is generally well thought out. I like that about you, bloggernacle. You’re smart and courteous.

We change our rituals and ceremonies on occaision, for reasons which are largely nebulous. Some say it’s because of sociological changes, others due to direct revelation, others say it’s in order to speed up the posthumous ceremony process. Regardless of why they might change, the fact is that they change. And when they do, something is usually trimmed off. Something new is rarely added, unless it’s some form of clarification or alternate way of doing what was once done in the past.

In my own temple-going lifetime, the changes in 1990 were the most drastic. Again, details aside, much was trimmed off which was probably uncomfortable for many people. In fact, it has come to my attention that this is perhaps why some of those elements were trimmed off. People were uncomfortable.

A good friend of mine pointed out to me that the 1990 changes (and perhaps even the February 2005 changes to the initiatory) were survey-driven changes. Folks in certain regions were polled on what they thought about this or that, and then changes were made. My own grandparents were among those who were polled. Before I knew about the surveys, I remember asking Grandpa about the changes, and why the church would do such a thing. His response: “Progress!” He said that this is what the Lord revealed. It made me wonder: if we keep “progressing,” will the Lord continue to “bless” us by trimming away his ceremonies until they’re all gone? Probably not. I learned a few years later that he was polled about the 1990 changes before they went into effect. It seems that even though Grandpa was polled, he still thought that it was revelation which kickstarted the changes. Enter the paradox.

So it makes me wonder: Are our rituals susceptible to our own wills? If so, what changes can we expect in the future?

Contrast in the Elijah Narrative

While studying the Elijah narrative in school last semester, and now once again for Sunday School, I was impressed with the literary flavor the book displays. There are many literary devices and tools by which an author may express him or herself. Some of these devices are given various names. Some use causation as a way of moving a story forward (“Because you have sinned against Yahweh, then…”), others use comparison (“consider the lillies of the field”), etc. etc.

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