January 26, 2012


I recently watched a PBS docudrama, God on Trial. In the film, a group of Jews are held at Auschwitz during the Nazi reign. Experiencing genocide at the hands of the Nazis moves many of them to question their religious belief that they are the chosen people of God. Consequently, they decide to put God on trial.

I rented the movie because I hoped that it would contain some strong debates on theology, both for and against. I was not disappointed. There was one particular section of the movie that I found most intriguing, which I will present here for the reader's consideration. It explores several parts of the Old Testament that are not typically discussed in Gospel Doctrine classes. Perhaps this will shed more light on the reasons I have such a difficult time believing the Old Testament is in any way literal or reflective of how a real god, as envisioned by the LDS church (among others) would behave. See this previous post for an example more specific to LDS doctrine. The opinions expressed in this scene do not necessarily reflect my own. Please see my comments below the scene.

The setting is that several male Jews are gathered in a dark, cold room with dirt floors, discussing what they are to interpret from their experiences as they relate to God. A rabbi who has been silent so far begins to speak (the transcript was provided from this site; or you can watch the scene here):

Rabbi Akiba: Who led us out of Egypt?

Judge: God led us out of Egypt.

Rabbi: I have a question; Why were we in Egypt to start with?

Judge: There was a famine, so we took shelter.

Rabbi: Who sent the famine?

Judge: Well, we don't know much about the famine...

Rabbi: God sent the famine. So God sent us to Egypt and God took us out of Egypt.

Judge: And later He sent us out of Babylon in order that we might...

Rabbi: And when He brought us out of Egypt, how did He do it? By words, vision, miracle?

Judge: Moses asked Pharaoh...

Rabbi: And when Pharaoh said no?

Inmate: The plagues.

Rabbi: First Moses turned the Egyptians' water to blood (Exodus 7: 17-21). Then God sent the plague of frogs (Exodus 8: 1-7); next a plague of mosquitoes (Exodus 8: 16-18); then a plague of flies (Exodus 8: 21-24). Then he slew their livestock (Exodus 9: 1-6). Next a plague of boils (Exodus 9: 9-11). Next came the hail (Exodus 9: 18-25), which battered down the crops and even the trees and structures everywhere, except in Goshen where the Israelites lived.

Judge: But still Pharaoh did not agree.

Rabbi: And so a plague of locusts (Exodus 10: 12-15). And then the days of darkness (Exodus 10: 21-23). And finally what?

Judge: God slew the firstborn of Egypt and led us out of Egypt.

Rabbi: He struck down the firstborn: from the firstborn and heir of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the slave at the mill. He slew them all (Exodus 12: 29-30). Did He slay Pharaoh?

Judge: No, I don't think so. It was later.

Rabbi: It was Pharaoh that said no, but God let him live. And slew his children instead. All the children. And then the people made their escape taking with them the gold and silver and jewelry and garments of the Egyptians (Exodus 12: 35). And then God drowned the soldiers who pursued them (Exodus 14:26-28). He did not close the waters up so that the soldier could not follow. He waited until they were following and then He closed the waters. And then what?

Judge: And then the desert and ultimately the Promised Land.

Rabbi: No. The Promised Land was empty and a new place, uncultivated.

Judge: No. There were...

Rabbi: When the Lord thy God shall bring you into the Promised Land you shall cast out many nations before you, nations much greater and mightier than you are. You shall smite them and utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them (Deuteronomy 7: 2).

Inmate: It shows us His favor. We are His people.

Rabbi: And he gave us a king in Saul. Now when the people of Amalek fought Saul's people, what did the Lord God command? I'll ask the scholar.

Scholar: Crush Amalek and put him under the curse of destruction.

Rabbi: Was Saul to show any mercy to spare anyone?

Scholar: Do not spare...

Rabbi: Do not spare him, but kill. Kill man, woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, cattle and donkey (1 Samuel 15: 3). So Saul set out to do this and on the way he met some Kenites (1 Samuel 15: 6). Now these were not Amalek's people, he had no quarrel with them. He urged them to flee. And the Lord our God, was He pleased by the mercy of Saul: by the justice of Saul?

Scholar: No. No he wasn't.

Rabbi: And when Saul decided not to slaughter all the livestock and to take it to feed his people (1 Samuel 15: 9-26), was God pleased with his prudence, his charity?

Scholar: No.

Rabbi: No, He was not. He said, you have rejected the word of Adonai, therefore He has rejected you as king (1 Samuel 15: 23). And then to please the Lord our God, Samuel brought forth the king Agar and hacked him to pieces before the Lord at Gilgar (1 Samuel 15: 32-33). After Saul, there came David who took Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, to himself (2 Samuel 11: 2-4). After arranging to have Uriah killed (2 Samuel 11: 14-15) against the wishes of God, did God strike David for this?

Scholar: In a manner of speaking...

Rabbi: Did He strike Bathsheba?

Scholar: In the sense that when they had...

Rabbi: Adonai said, since you have sinned against me, the child will die (2 Samuel 12: 13-14). [Turning to the judge] You asked earlier, who would punish a child? God does! Now did the child die suddenly, mercifully, without pain?

Scholar: In a-

Rabbi: Seven days! Seven days that child spent dying in pain while David wrapped himself in sack and ashes and fasted and sought to show his sorrow to God (2 Samuel 12: 15-18). Did God listen?

Scholar: The child died.

Rabbi: Did that child find that God was just? Did the Amalekites think that Adonai was just? Did the mothers of Egypt -- the mothers -- did they think that Adonai was just?

Scholar: But Adonai is our God, surely...

Rabbi: Oh, what? Did God not make the Egyptians? Did He not make their rivers and make their crops grow? If not Him, then who? What? Some other God? But what did He make them for? To punish them? To starve, to frighten, to slaughter them? The people of Amalek, the people of Egypt, what was it like for them when Adonai turned against them? It was like this. Today there was a selection, yes? When David defeated the Moabites, what did he do?

Judge: He made them lie on the ground in lines and he chose one to live and two to die (2 Samuel 8: 2).

Rabbi: We have become the Moabites. We are learning how it was for the Amalekites. They faced extinction at the hand of Adonai. They died for His purpose. They fell as we are falling. They were afraid as we are afraid. And what did they learn? They learned that Adonai, the Lord our God, our God, is not good. He is not good. He was not ever good. He was only on our side. God is not good. At the beginning when He repented that He had made human beings and flooded the earth (Genesis 6: 6) - why? What had they done to deserve annihilation? What could they have done to deserve such wholesale slaughter? What could they have done that was so bad? God is not good. When He asked Abraham to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22: 1-2), Abraham should have said no (some of my thoughts on this story here). We should have taught our God the justice that was in our hearts. We should have stood up to Him. He is not good. He has simply been strong. He has simply been on our side. When we were brought here, we were brought by train. A guard slapped my face. On their belts they had written "Got mit uns" -- God is with us. Who is to say that He is not? Perhaps He is. Is there any other explanation? What we see here: His power, His majesty, His might, all these things that turned against us. He is still God, but not our God. He has become our enemy.
That is what's happened to our covenant. He has made a new covenant with someone else.

My Comment: Naturally, I do not agree with the suggestion that God made a covenant with the Nazis. My purpose in sharing these thoughts is that it seems appropriate to question these and other alleged acts of God (more). If God is the ultimate example of righteousness, we may either judge each of these acts as righteous because they allegedly were God's, or we can examine the acts and ask ourselves if they fit the criterion of righteousness. If not, the only conclusion remaining is that these acts were not God's, or, at a minimum, the Old Testament is not inspired scripture. As we wrestle with such difficult mysteries of the divine, I again pose the question of what is more reasonable here; are there sensible justifications for God's alleged actions as outlined in the Old Testament, or is the explanation more acceptable (however uncomfortable) that God did not command or cause these things to be done? Whether there is higher order to the universe is still up for debate, but the aforementioned stories are some of the many reasons I do not endorse the Old Testament as sacred text, or as a description of any god I can possibly believe in or worship. Lastly, I think it clearly calls into question the LDS teaching that the god of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ (more on that here).

January 13, 2012


In a post from last year, I raised a concern as to why Joseph Smith, Jr. never offered to give up his wife to another while he was taking women from their husbands. I recently learned that my concern may have been obsolete, as Smith may have done just that. Whether it was from revelation or simply to get Emma to give him some peace and quiet about polygamy is, of course, up for debate. As we know, Emma did not marry another man until after Smith was killed.  For more information on the situation, click here.

After learning this information, I removed a paragraph from the post that brought up that concern. This blog continues to be a work in progress, and I will make updates as necessary to ensure clarity and accuracy.

January 12, 2012


Over the Holidays there are often several moments that tend to direct attention toward the differences in  beliefs among people. I had an enlightening and somewhat disturbing experience that I feel has some relation to this blog.

While speaking at the dinner table with another diner, the topic of Judaism came up briefly, regarding the faith's most basic premises. I was shocked to learn that one of the most devout LDSs present had no idea what we were talking about. She made it clear that she lacked even the most elementary knowledge of what Jews believe.

The conversation quickly moved on to other things, but I pondered what had transpired for several minutes afterwards. What I found most interesting from those few minutes is that this person is absolutely convinced that her chosen religion is the one and only true one, without having the slightest clue about what else is out there, even relating to a religion that has been as prominent throughout history as Judaism. This disturbs me because I feel it is irresponsible to call something an absolute without at least some consideration of alternatives. An analogy may be helpful here:

Suppose a new resident of a city goes out in search of the best restaurant. A coworker recommends an Italian restaurant a few blocks away, so he goes there to try it out. He orders the spaghetti and it tastes excellent. Thus, he declares that the Italian restaurant is the best in the city.

Naturally, the problem here is that the diner cannot, with a surety, claim that the restaurant is the best after trying only one meal. Equally true is that this person could not make that claim after trying several meals at the restaurant, nor could he claim it after trying everything on the menu. What he could reasonably say is that it is a spectacular restaurant, but he cannot claim that it is better than any other restaurant without first trying every other one. It may, in fact, be the best restaurant in the city, but that claim cannot be made without first trying each candidate.

This is why I find it so disturbing that members of the LDS faith so loudly proclaim that theirs is the one and only true (thus inherently "best") belief system. I have an easier time understanding this statement from converts, as they have likely sampled from other belief systems (analogous to an Asian or Mexican restaurant for the comparison), but again, unless a person has seen all systems, he or she cannot claim that the one he or she has experienced is better than all others.

Thus, an LDS could accurately say, "I get everything I need from the LDS faith. I am not looking for anything more," just as the diner could say, "I had a fantastic meal at the Italian restaurant, so I see no reason to look any further." In both instances, however, it is unreasonable to say that the LDS church (or the Italian Restaurant) is superior to all others, because the person in question has not tried each of them. Who can say that the faithful LDS member would not feel just as strongly about Islam had he or she been more exposed to it than to LDS doctrine? Who is to say that the diner would not have been equally or more satisfied eating at the seafood place across the street from the Italian restaurant?

Most members of the Church I know were born into it, attended every Sunday, had Family Home Evening every Monday, went to mutual activities midweek, and attended seminary every morning throughout high school. After finally moving out on their own, most of them attended LDS universities, or served LDS missions. In this way, what little exposure they have to other belief systems is sheltered - viewed through LDS lenses. One might smell the scents of what others believe, but he dare not taste them for loyalty's sake.

To believe in something is admirable. But to simultaneously claim that others are ignorant because they do not believe that same way is folly.

January 5, 2012


During the Holiday season, I witnessed the innocent joys and excitement that accompany Christmas morning. I recall with pleasure the anticipation on Christmas Eves when I was a child. It can be such a joyful time.

This Christmas I stayed with a family with several young boys. The parents encourage belief in Santa Claus, and spent several days before the holiday reinforcing this belief. They told the stories, they showed the movies that encourage faith in him even when others doubt, the kids even received emails regarding their status on the "naughty or nice" scale. It is quite the elaborate scheme to keep a false belief alive in children who are so eager to accept the fantastic.

Christmas morning, when all were awake and the children were noisily attending to their presents, one of the younger boys approached me and told me that he was sure he had heard Santa's sleigh during the night. I asked him to tell me more, and he told me that he had heard some taps from somewhere above him, so he was absolutely sure that it must have been Santa's sleigh and reindeer. I smiled and he moved on to his presents, but I found the experience applicable to this blog. My interpretation is this; the young child had been taught a lie since he could speak, and had been taught from other sources that his reward would come if he believed even when others did not. He was eager to take part in the fantasy because it is an enjoyable story that teaches us to be mindful of others and to be kind to our neighbor, and because he was promised a reward for believing. Naturally, after being told that a supernatural being would visit that night, he listened carefully for any sign at all of his coming. Because normal household noises were all that came, he insisted that these must be the evidence of the supernatural being's presence, and the truthfulness of the premise upon which his belief was built.

I cannot help but relate this experience to the LDS faith. Children are taught the Book of Mormon stories from birth, these stories are reinforced through books and movies throughout their lives. At several points, they are promised rewards for belief even when others doubt, and even when there is clear reason to doubt. They are told that a supernatural being will visit them to confirm their belief, and so they search for any sign at all that he has come. Any naturally occurring positive emotion is labeled as evidence that the supernatural being is present, and so the belief is emotionally validated.

It appears to me that emotional validation is what both examples are really about. We train children to want to believe in Santa because if they do they will get a toy. Similarly we train children to want to believe that the Book of Mormon is sacred because if they do they will get special powers (e.g., the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the priesthood, etc.), they will gain blessings (e.g., joy, knowledge, etc.), and ultimately, they will receive mansions in the highest glory imaginable for eternity. Why would one not want to believe that? After instilling this desire to believe, they search hungrily for any validation of that belief, whether it be tracks in the snow that might be interpreted as a reindeer's or whether it is something pleasant happening that can be interpreted as a "tender mercy" from God.

Indeed, it seems that what the LDS call "the Spirit" is not necessarily anything more than the feeling of validation. Any word or song that sends the message that it is okay to believe what you do, and you are not the only one, is described in the LDS world as "the Spirit". Members often speak of attending church to be edified (e.g., D&C 84:106); in other words, having gone through a trying few days between meetings, members need a spiritual uplifting. I have heard on more than one occasion a member say something like, "I really need to feel the Spirit today." Perhaps the more accurate statement would be something like, "I really need to feel validated today." In many ways, an LDS testimony meeting does not appear to be much more than a series of like-minded people validating each others' beliefs. Once a member feels validated, he or she describes it as feeling "the Spirit".

While beliefs may offer comfort and hope, and anything providing validation of that belief is held as sacred, isn't it reasonable to expect the LDS teachings to be backed up by some logic and consistency? If it is not, why would it be unreasonable to bear testimony that Santa Claus is real?