The Skeptic's Guide to The Universe

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chapter Two; MY MORMON MISSION part five


When I recently visited a Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints in Ponca City, Oklahoma, this was shown not to be the case. To give a little background, before I proceed, would be helpful. While I was serving in the Army, one of my roommate’s was a Mormon from Idaho. I think our commanding Sargent thought it would be a “good” idea to put the more outspoken religious believers together to make sure they wouldn't mess with the men that wanted to go out, party and have girlfriends, while their wives were back in the United States. Or so, that is the conclusion we both came to. We also thought that we wouldn't get along since we had different beliefs. If that was their hope, they were sorely wrong.
We actually became pretty good friends, more than happy to talk about our faith and beliefs. I wish I could recall his name, but we usually referred to each other by our last names in the service, so I will call him Watson. Watson came from Idaho, which come to find out also has a large Mormon population, as does Utah. He served his church in the two year mission that Mormon males do. I believe he did his mission in England. From what he told me, the missionaries are never from the place that they are from. For example, a missionary from Chicago will not serve in the Chicagoland area. Also, the two missionaries are unknown to each other, prior to mission training. I am not sure why this is but when it comes to religious rules you really don't even need a reason.
Watson shared that his church had a living, real life, prophet in Salt Lake City and a series of twelve apostles. I also learned that women are not able to be “saved” regardless of how much of this dogma they believe. Women have to get married to make it into heaven. Plus, when this little family unit dies and goes to what they call heaven the reward they get is not only eternal life but a whole new universe of their own.
Mormons believe that each man that follows their teachings not only gets to live forever with his family, again living past ones own death, they get to take their family and become gods of their own new world or universe. I have heard it both way, so I am not sure which one they get. According to Watson, the church still believes in the principles of polygamy, but their prophet was told that they need to obey mans law concerning this issue. I guess the threat of jail is a powerful motivator even for a god.
I also have background knowledge of Mormonism involving getting their book and talking to member of the Reformed LDS back in 1984. Yes it is true, the Mormons have had splits in their church as well. They have since dropped the “reformed” moniker and gone with a more mainstream name. They now call themselves the Community of Christ. These are a group of Mormons that think the LDS from Salt Lake City are too liberal. They say they follow the leadership of Joseph Smith III, as the one true heir of the Mormon founder, instead of, let's say, Brigham Young.
That was my first exposure to the teachings of The Mormon religion. I found their book to be quite rudimentary and lacking in what might call inspiration, not to mention the 1381 times the phrase, “And it came to pass”, was used in the book. I have looked into that phrase. I think it comes to about one in six verses begin that way. That in itself shows a total lack of creativity. As a practice, most writers try to avoid reusing the same phrase over and over. It can create a parody of itself, and distract from the subject that is being discussed.
Another idea about Mormonism I learned in my discussions with Watson is the concept that humans are “alive” in some pre-birth form. That is to say, as sentient beings, each and every human that enters into the phase of life, in which we are know as human beings, they also existed as pre-humans in some sort of heaven or place. I recently heard a song about this when I attended a service at an LDS church. I have not found the name of the song, but it was quite strange to hear such dogma in a children's song.
To go on, Watson and I had many long discussions about my dogma of Fundamental Christianity and his view of Mormonism. Through these, I felt I had a fairly good understanding of how the church began, as well as how it struggled and grew in the 19th century in America. I learned stories of the gold plates; the travel across the nation and the persecution in various towns as they made their way west. I also heard the idea that Independence, Missouri is the location of the Garden of Eden. I am sure this was news to Harry S Truman, who was from Independence. I am sure he liked his city just fine, but have you actually been to Independence? It is a nice enough Midwest town, but I have been to far nicer places that I would have an easier time calling The Garden of Eden.
However, it may be more of an ironic name, similar to Greenland, Iceland and Garden City, Kansas, not to mention the more accurate names like Dodge City, Kansas.
At my visit to the LDS church in Ponca City, there was a small group of us that attend. Eight of us, included Elder Rock, Elder Palmer, the missionaries, Rocky, Alvin, the teacher, two women and myself. It is quite humorous to attend the “basic” Sunday School meetings as if the people in them have no prior exposure to the ideas of religion in the United States. It is possible and happens from time to time, but it is not that common. The first verse they used to “show” evidence of God was John 3:16. They asked everyone to turn to it. I said, “I have it memorized.”
It was during this time that Alvin, a Ponca Indian, mentioned that he or his wife had seen three dead relatives in their home. He told us of the experience. Of course my initial reaction was to laugh, but I decide that it might be good to pretend that he had as much validity as these people do. Which he does. The two missionaries looked puzzled at him. The teacher went on to the verse and read. What I liked about Alvin was not so much that he disputed what they were saying, but he just had his own stories to add, that they couldn't disprove either. I am not sure if he was doing that on purpose to mess with him or not. I saw him later that day but I was unable to go back and talk to him. It would have been nice to know if he was just messing with them.
So back to the lesson. The teacher read the verse, and in case you all do not have it committed to memory, or heard it many times it is: God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever would believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The first question went something like this after the verse was read; So how do you think you would feel if your son had to die? If you have a son. Of course I reject the premise of the statement That is, if this was the son of God there is no way in The Universe that his son would have to die if this God is an “omni” God. And if this is not an “omni”i God then there really isn't any reason to follow it in the first place. So a God that:
• cannot prevent harm to his own son is weak.
• cannot change the actions of his creation is weak.
• would create sentient beings that would knowingly act in conflict to his will, that god is masochistic.
• any God that would love his World and yet allow pain suffering and the ultimate eternal punishment to fall upon the World he loves is psychotic and a psychopath.
• any God that thinks it can offer eternal life without offering even the least proof of it's existence is petty, cruel and hurtful.
• any God that would put his innocent son in place of what he views as guilty mankind is surely a sadomasochistic, unjust, evil, father.
These are just some of the attributes of God from one of the most famous verses from the so called holy book, The Bible.

If people were more willing to look at the evil that is done in the name of God and the words of his books that are credited to him, they would have to run away in droves, using their time and money to fund schools and hospitals and build homes feed those in need, promote education to show what good mankind can do in spite of this pervasive evil dogma of religion that not only fills the society in America and the Mideast but the entire world where more than three people live.
And this was just the first verse the Mormons used in the Sunday School lesson. I would have continued talking about that verse, but it was that insistence that we are just explaining what we believe and it is up to you to decide. “We are not trying to convince you of what we believe.” Elder Rock would say over and over. “ We are going to let you pray and let the Holy Spirit convince you.”
I decided to let them talk about their faith. So they went in to a discussion of the Priesthood. They said something that only men can be priest in their church and of course that set off another series of question in my head. About this time, Alvin made a comment about his Uncle turning into a spirit dog or wolf and I just turned and let him speak. I wanted them to hear his stories and hear it clearly the wild stories he was telling with as much respect that I was giving their stories. I was actually hoping that one of them would say something condescending to him. My reply was going to be, “His story makes just as much sense to me as yours does.”Alas, I didn't get that chance. They might have sensed I was willing to stick up for him.
The reason that they gave me for men not being able to be priest was that “So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God He created him.” But of course they failed to include the rest of the verse, “male and female He created them.”ii Which changes the word man to mean male and female. No difference and according to Webster man can mean mankind as it does in that particular verse.iii The teacher of the class goes on to say that Jesus appointed the twelve disciples or apostles, which ever you wish to call them. These twelve, according to the leader, were all men. I guess he hadn't heard about the school of theology that placed at least Mary Magdalene among the apostles. There were also other women that many church leaders said had full authority as the men including Martha, Phoebe and others, were leaders in the new religion.
The missionaries and the teacher didn't want to discuss that point, they just wanted to talk about their faith and how men where the only ones that made decisions about their dogma.
So they asked if they could use a verse from their Doctrines and Covenant iv book. I said, sure, I haven't read that book yet.
Maybe it had the key piece of information I needed to put all this together and finally see the proof of a deity supernatural being in the sky. [Play song, Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum here]
But isn't faith really a lot like evolution in that respect. I mean, if you had never heard of the idea of a man being born of a virgin or walking on water; turning water to wine or walking on wine. Oops I got that mixed up. Anyway as the story goes, Jesus threw a really nasty curve ball in the temple. Who says Jews can't be good at sports? And the raising the dead, healing the sick and feeding the thousands with some fishies and pita bread. Where is the Humus, Jesus?
Anyway, the stories go on and on and can lead us to the ones in the Hebrew Bible aka Old Testament which we have the rivers turning to the blood of Christ or something like that and the water splitting on the Red Sea or Reed Sea, not sure which, but it is really cool. Not to mention the 400 years of slavery that no one has any evidence of, outside the single story of the people that claim it happened to them. Of course there are many other cultures at the time that dealt with both cultures during that time period, yet fail to mention any slaves of the Hebrew people.v, vi
But enough of the set up. You hear these stories over and over again and you see people acting like they are true, including spending their money on tie clips with fish on them and even building multi-million temples to the ones that preach this story. Then the story begins to come together. Well if Jesus had his ministry and the twelve disciples then it makes sense he would have been a bit of a pain in the butt to the Temple Priest. He really didn't want people to so much go to the temples but to love God wherever they were. Then he had all these low life sinners hanging around him, which he forgave, just like God would do if He were here Himself. And sure enough, soon you find one or two of these things that makes sense and you run with it totally deluded to the facts of the story.
So what is the similarity between this and evolution? Glad you ask, take a seat. The factual changes that occur in natural selection happen over time and only when such changes are able to manifest themselves. But each change in the DNA sequences can cause other attributes to occur that are not related to the change. This is the idea that is reflected in the numerous stories of the religious dogma. The stories are like the many sequences of dormant DNA that do not manifest a physical change until the “trigger” DNA makes it activate. However, the main difference is that the sequence of DNA are real and the stories of dogma are for the vast majority, unfalsifiable and myths.
The teacher and the missionaries are continuing with their dogma of how they have faith in this or that idea. They use examples of a cop having authority similarly granted by those in power to pass it to them. They fail to recognize that the police are given authority by the people of the government and are actually responsible for laws that protect people.
The priest are just a bunch of the people that agree to play the same game and pretend that it is real. There is no proof of the pre-birth heaven for kids; the multiple heavens where the dead Mormons go to make their own worlds, or the evidence of the gold plates of Joseph Smith, and so on and so forth. So the cops have actual authority and the priests have only make believe authority. No more valid than the dungeon master of a Dungeons and Dragons game, prior to it being played on video form.
Needless to say, the missionaries really didn't like all my questions and it looked like Elder Palmer was getting a bit mad. Especially when I laughed that Peter, James and John came back to New York or wherever Smith was at the time, to make him the new person to restore the priesthood. Well of course my next question was, if they could come back to restore him why can't they come back anything and restore anyone they want to. They didn't know that other than it was, “God's will”. Or by the way John the Baptist came back to anoint Joseph Smith as well. Or so Elder Rock says.
My Mormon friends that read or hear about this book, please do not take this as an attack against your religion. In your faith you are well suited for having someone like me coming in and asking pretty much any question I want. I view your religion with the same lack of validity as every other one. In my view, all religions are equally useless.

v An “omni” God is omniscience; all knowing, omnipotent; all powerful and omnipresent; at all places simultaneously.

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